Critics & Especially Horror These Days

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Written in response to a writer angry about critics:

So someone sneered at your latest work of fiction, calling it “mere horror”. You immediately hate all criticism.

That leads to a problem.

You’re no good as a writer without good critics. Sorry but that’s just true. Good critics are rare. Most who call themselves that are just bullies. Louts. Dolts. But that does not invalidate good criticism, which is insightful and in context can elevate the art.

A genuine critic is knowledgeable and keeps things honest. Same with a real pundit. TV has degraded both into basically promoters of ideology or nasty carping dolts. The hypocrisy of Fox’s mincing mocking motto, “fair and balanced” when they are anything but, shows their agenda. To rape fact until truth dies murdered.

Objectivity, as Dr Hunter S Thompson howled, is bullshit smeared on subjectivity to hide agenda. What’s needed is clear positions explained clearly by those who know a given genre or field well enough to analyze it honestly from their view.

This is why word of mouth sells you books better than almost all other things; you understand your friends and their tastes and views. Trust them.

Some of the most useful critics are the ones with whom you consistently disagree. If some prissy prude is offended and hates it I know there is a good chance I’ll like it.

So remember, as C S Lewis wrote, fans make the best critics because they know the field and its major and minor works, which gives them context, and they understand what to expect from a given genre work, and whether it succeeds in its own artistic terms. Outsiders cannot fathom such things.

So if some academic pisses all over “horror”, consider the source and move on. If Harold Bloom throws a hissy fit over Stephen King getting a National Book Award, laugh at his bigoted ignorance and petty closed-minded snobbery. He’s a bigot unable to escape categorical thinking.

On the other hand, if King or Ramsey Campbell or another knowledgeable source points out lax spots or errors, you’d better learn new things fast.

Horror has as much good work as any style or genre or market category of fiction. Learn to discern good from bad criticism and we can always improve.

Turning away from all criticism merely isolated you and we all know we are among the worst at assessing our own work. Without critics we’d all be Shakespeare.

/ Samael Gyre

“The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

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What Suits the Audience

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I watch SUITS.

I see how it is manipulative, simplistic, and shallow, using every cheap soap opera trick to jerk the feelings of sappy open-mouth viewers. Every move is obvious, predictable, and as familiar as your own discomfort.

I realize people eat this shit up. It’s the ice cream and chips of writing. Sugar and salt. It’s really bad for you but so basic it works on a basic level every time.

I get that I’m under-published because I won’t write such stuff. In trying to offer more I’m losing readers with each word I use to offer something better.

In a world demanding whoppers, I’m a vegetarian hoping for haute cuisine. Were I an Ivy League lit journal alumnus I might have the right pedigree and connections to prevail among the snobs as a fashionable flavor. Being other, I’m left to genre for the most reasonable set of outlets.

Genre is not what I write. My work is Ficta Mystica. It’s eerie realism. Comes out that way naturally as my voice, due to my interests over a life many would call misspent, others just wiccanthropic. I own that voice neither resentfully nor swaggeringly. It overlaps many genres while being of none, yet unlike a style is not always a comfortable fit.

In trying to parse all this I write essays like this one. In trying to sort the puzzle pieces of putting my work in front of people who might resonate with it I reveal ambition, frustration, and self sabotage swirling in all I write. It strikes me this is probably true of all of us afflicted by a vocation to any of the arts.

Building on a solid foundation of basics is a good approach. Using basics to bash heads is simple assault.

Still, I watch SUITS.

 

/ Gene Stewart writing as Samael Gyre

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A Tribe Among Us, Unseen

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Finished Vol. 1 of Missing 411, subtitled Western U.S. by David Paulides.  Began Vol. 2. The Eastern U.S. & Canada.  Also reading The Phantom Killer by James Presley.  Also Finders Keepers by Stephen King.  A YA novel, two anthologies, and Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon.  Many other things have my attention, too.  I read a lot of things.

Been immersing myself in the Paulides investigations.  There are many radio and video discussions and interviews with him online.  You Tube has dozens.  He reinforces his points and clarifies his patterns in calm, clear factual reports.  He does not offer guesses, speculations, or conclusions.  Just the facts, ma’am; befits an ex cop.

Most impressive is how organized his work remains.  It’s consistent throughout. It stems from his approach, which is both methodical and detailed.

He spots clusters invisible to anyone who is not seeing the big picture from a span of years, even decades.  Age, sex, location, circumstance, and soon, all are factored.  Given statistics of known events and crimes, these clusters come into focus only once you compare them to what is usual.  They stand out in contrast.

It’s as if they’re hidden this way, by spreading them out over time.  Steeply oblique views show how they pop up only over a comparison to long term observations of the same areas.

My current obsession with mysterious disappearances may bore you but then again it may intrigue you, so either way I’ll likely keep researching.  And talking about it.  It’s not like we don’t rehash unsolved mysteries of other kinds endlessly:  Black Dahlia, Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, Elisa Lam and so forth.

Interestingly, Paulides addresses Elisa Lam’s case.  He draws no conclusions as yet.  None of us do, or can.  Insufficient data.  It seems certain she was put into the water tank.  They had to cut the tank open to get her body out.  As you know, situations surrounding her ending up there remain unexplained, including locked access to doors leading to the roof.  A janitor or employee of the creepy Hotel Cecil, which as since changed its name, must be considered.  Was she playing games with someone we did not see on the elevator tape, someone who then playfully raped and killed her?

Water removes DNA traces.

As DARK WATER, 2005, or its Japanese precursor from 2002 make clear, some choose to factor into the story a hungry ghost or malicious spirit.  Could be.  If any hotel is haunted it would be the Cecil, where Richard Ramierez, the Night Stalker, lived in l984 and where in 1991 Jack Unterweger, an Austrian serial killer, also lived.  Other deaths, including murders, suicides, and skid row overdoses, happened there over the years from 1924, when it was built, through the 1950s, when it hit hard times, to 2007, when part of it was refurbished.  Hauntings are reported consistently though its history but, even if we don’t buy into ghosts, Lam may have, and that could suffice to explain some of her odd behavior.

Google Elisa Lam and watch the video.  I defy anyone to explain that, although of course many do, reaching for comforting prosaic explanations when in fact there is not enough to make such leaps.

Yes, some suggest ghosts in the National Park disappearances, and UFOs, Bigfoot, Unmarked Black Helicopters, Pterosaurs, Thunderbirds, etc.

As mentioned, Paulides began his retirement from police and business by looking to apply police investigative methods and business organization to sorting out Bigfoot.  This means physical evidence, including DNA.

He gathered a lot, convinced separate groups to cooperate for the first time, and found a prominent scientist and her lab to analyze the DNA.  Further, he got many to chip in to pay lab costs.  All this amounts to his certainty that yes, Bigfoot is real and is likely a species not of ape but of human, surviving from the Ice Age.  Is it the Denisovans, recently identified and considered extinct?

One fascinating effort was using a police sketch artist to elicit good descriptions from witnesses.  These came out looking more human than animal.  Better, when facial hair was removed from the face shown in a still frame of the Gimlin-Patterson film, it matched First Nation faces and looked native American.  It’s not a gorilla or a person but something between, more on the human side.

My bet is Denisovans.  Makes sense.  Enclaves survive on high ridges, above the trees, at altitude.  The Denisovan genes found in Tibetans, especially in the Sherpa, allow the Sherpa to work in altitudes that kill others by keeping denser red blood corpuscles from clumping.  Blood with those genes stays thinner.  No embolism, thrombosis, or stroke occurs.

Paulides, wisely, won’t come out and say any of this until the lab has its work nailed down.  Dr. Melba Ketchum is the geneticist doing the DNA analysis.  Her lab work moved her from skeptical to certain and she says her lab co-workers range to include a stone-cold skeptic who keeps them honest in adhering to protocol.  She’s aware how solid her work must be if she is to announce confirmation of a large unknown primate.

My analysis of Paulides’s books is that he suspects Bigfoot is snatching people for various reasons.  They’re taken from wilderness areas near large bodies of water.  If they are, as First Nation tribes state, another tribe — they never call Bigfoot or Sasquatch an animal — they may also need fresh breeding stock.  They could also go rogue, in individual cases, as with any species.  We may for those rogues be tasty cousins.

Paulides refuses to state conclusions and sticks to facts but preponderance of evidence points to the disappeared having been taken by an overwhelming force capable of whisking them long disances, almost always steeply upslope to gasping altitudes, at speeds even expert outdoor types have no chance of emulating.

Another tribe among us, on our fringes, of a distinct line of development, huge and hairy, evolved to survive in high mountains and deep wilderness, makes sense to explain Bigfoot, and provide a good candidate to explain people disappearing mysteriously.  They’d be a culture.  They’d avoid us, sometimes use us.  Prey on us.

We get the inter dimensional folks raving, too, trying to explain Sasquatch’s amazing elusiveness.  They’d say Elisa Lam fell into the tank though a vortex or portal, clinging to a conceptual explanation too fanciful to count as persuasive and fitting none of the few facts.

Then we move into the urban areas.  That’s unsettling.  No handy Bigfoot to fall back on, unless it’s a variant of the Wolfen concept from Whitley Strieber’s book or the movie with Albert Finney.

Again, that’s far-fetched.  Factually, in urban areas people very often vanish from the midst of friends, from crowded bars, and from family gatherings, only to turn up several days later in water.  Rivers, canals, tanks.  None had drowned, none were in the water even half as long as they’d been missing.  They seem to have been kept somewhere, then discarded.  Cause of death unknown.

Over the last nine years there have been sixty-one deaths in Manchester, England, UK, all the dead found near or in canals rarely deeper than two to four feet.  If you fall in, stand up and you’re fine.  Oh, and they didn’t drown.  They’re called the Canal Murders in Blighty.  Stateside we have the Smiley Face Killer, linked to the Clown Killer, both names stemming from a smiley face found at the scene or glimpses of someone, or some thing, dressed as a clown in the area.  All are young men, college aged and responsible in life.  No one sees them vanish, and friends frequently report, “He was right there, then he wasn’t.”

Surveillance cameras in bars and on streets fail to show the missing person leaving or passing by, yet the body ends up near or in water.

As I said earlier, water removes traces.

Then there are shoes with feet in them, almost always left shoes and left feet, coming ashore along the northwest coast and on the shores of the Great Lakes and other large bodies of water.  DNA matches no known missing person.  There are hundreds of them so far.

Could these have anything to do with missing people?  What could explain this, a harsh form of captivity, piracy, or slavery?

No proven cause of death, no reason they vanished, and no explanation how they got to where they’re found.

About sixty percent of those who go missing in National Parks are found alive but are either too young to speak or cannot recall what happened or where they were.  They sometimes offer surreal explanations such as a toddler saying, “A big dog ate my shoe and carried me in its paws, then slept with me to keep me warm,” and so on.

Ten to fifteen percent of those who go mysteriously missing are utterly gone.  No trace, or sometimes tantalizing clues such as one inside-out glove liner, clothes folded neatly, or weapons discarded. Despite such hints, they are never found.  Dogs can’t or won’t track them.  Skeletal remains never show up.  They’re just gone.

The rest are found dead.  Sometimes only tiny fragments are found, such as a tooth, part of a skull cap, or flakes of crushed bone.  Some bodies are found without enough blood to identify even the type.  Utterly drained.  That is rare and even weirder, in such cases there is not a mark on them.

Most mysterious disappearances are male, white, and, strangely, a high percentage are of German descent. No explanation is evident or offered.

Most are superior physically, which makes sense given that they’re in wilderness areas, and mentally, which seems a fluke.  Many are doctors or scientists.  Almost none are troubled or poor.

Of those who vanish in cities, ninety-nine percent tend to be found dead.

Dogs being unable to find scent is one of the standard oddities.  Another is bad weather striking soon after someone goes missing.  Is this timed to cover tracks?  Should we be extra cautious prior to heavy weather striking a wilderness area?

The Kathy Ann Shea case, from Thursday 18 March 1965, in Tyrone PA, where the six-year-old was last seen by her mother and the crossing guard as she walked the remaining couple blocks to school after having come home, as usual, for lunch.  At that time Tyrone, a small town now, was a village with no near-by highway and only winding roads through mountain forests as a way to reach it.  Or flee from it.  Outsiders were noticed.  Nothing unusual was noticed that day.  Massive searches revealed no sign of her.  No remains of any kind were ever found.  She simply vanished.

Most feel she was abducted, which makes sense.  Are her bones moldering in someone’s basement dungeon? did a passer-by snag her into a car and simply drive off?  Did she chase a puppy into the woods, only to get lost, die of exposure, and have her bones scattered by animals and time? Did a teacher keep her in the trunk all school day and drive her to a secret place?  Or was it even more mysterious?

All those theories and more have been considered.  Her family continues to hope she is still alive, somewhere.  Somehow.

I know of a case in Omaha, that of a school girl who managed to vanish in half a block after getting off a school bus and walking toward her house in the middle of the block, and another in Peru, a small college town, where a college student went missing and has never been found despite river dredgings, divers, and searches of farmland and woods.  Nebraska is not part of the usual patterns or clusters, but people vanish from here, too.

There are even incidences of people disappearing while on the phone.  They’ll say, “Oh, no,” or “Help me,” or “Oh my god,” and some sound as if they’re moving rapidly away from the phone.  In a terrifying case, screams and growls are heard.

Most of these are never found, which is chilling.

One wonders if there may be witnesses who see things they won’t discuss, perhaps because they don’t understand them.  No one ever seems to see a thing.  Very rarely do people hear things.  SAR people have sometimes heard cries for help, whimpers, or other distress sounds.  Those almost never pan out, but a few have led to the discovery of an unharmed child who should have died from freezing over a few days of being naked in the wilderness.

This indicates these people are being taken at opportune times when they are momentarily alone, whether in wilderness or urban settings.  This hints strongly at stalking, stealth, and confident ambush.  No attempts to grab have been known to fail.  There are no slip-ups, attempted abductions that fail and leave angry, upset people and witnesses.  Something is well within its comfort zone, operating at a level of efficiency we don’t usually see.  The disappearances are eerily seamless.

There are about one per week that we’re aware of, disappearances featuring weird and mysterious details or aspects.  They come in clusters, rather than regularly, and often there are lapses of years or even decades between clumps in certain cluster centers.  It is as if some plan to hide these statistics with a broken pattern is in play.

Paulides created a profile for the disappearances he considered mysterious, so he could cull kernel from chaff.  After all, many vanish in wilderness, taken by bear, falling off cliffs, or drowning.  Being lost, starving, freezing to death, and many other mundane causes are not necessarily mysterious at all, and those people are found, or their bodies are found.

It is baffling, chilling, and ignored by the authorities.  They’ll find a few bone chips and declare it a “death from exposure”.  They’ll stop searching in a short time and declare the missing person “obviously dead by now” and forget it.  Once declared “presumed dead” they have no obligation, legal or moral, to do more.  It’s an easy out.

This dismissal of case lets them move on, perhaps, but also leaves families and loved ones hanging, and blocks further search and investigation.  They seem not to want to understand what’s going on.

There is some indication that the Dyatlov incident could have featured human mutilation, something not openly discussed among the National Park rangers.  The Dyatlov incident happened in Russia, of course, but there is a Bigfoot overlap in those mountains where it happened.  Pictures show jaws stripped, eyes, taken, even a tongue removed.  That one was a woman, and her stomach had a lot of blood, meaning it happened to her while she was still alive and swallowing.  Note how the mutilations parallel those of so-called cattle mutilations, which actually began with a horse and involved mostly cattle but many other animals as well over the years.

A map of American cattle mutilation sites matches an overlaid map of nuclear test drift zones, incidentally, prompting some to speculate the mutilations are soft-tissue samples being taken to check for radiation from a random population.

Both the Dyatlov and American cattle mutilation events hint strongly at attack from above.  This, along with lights seen in the sky, make people mention UFOs without specifying what they mean.  Unmarked black helicopters are sometimes cited.

All these unsettling details are supposedly why Russia kept the Dyatlov incident under wraps for so many years.  It freaked them out at official levels because it could not be categorized or explained.

Incidentally, a recent TV show purported to be a documentary of the Dyatlov incident showing “new” photographs depicting a Bigfoot-type shape in a blurry picture turns out to be fiction, and should be discounted as a source for anything factual.  It is made by the same types who did the fake mermaid documentary and the fake mega shark documentary. Ignore those sensationalist hoaxes.

Not surprisingly, myth fills in where facts are scarce.  Alma, the bigfoot of the area where the Dyatlov expedition met its grisly, mysterious end, were mentioned as culprits to explain why dead students seemed crushed.  So many bones were shattered that their injuries were compared to having been in high-speed car crashes.  Bigfoot attack?  Or were they, as so many cattle mutilation cases indicate, dropped from 200 feet or more?

Really, UFO abduction and mutilation explains things better than a yeti attack.  It’s eve better than the soviet special forces squad explanation, that cites a roving band of Spetznaz deciding to obliterate the athletes for seeing something classified.  Why then the scattered carnage?  They’d simply have been shot once in the back of the head and buried in shallow graves.

It was not locals.  Those tribes are not violent.  They even helped search when the Dyatlov expedition failed to show up on time.  Nor would there be motive, considering nothing was taken or missing from the camp equipment.  Impoverished attackers steal of necessity.

Galling that the apparent ETH provides the most elegant, persuasive explanation, given how targeted any Extra-Terrestrial Hypothesis is for ridicule by so-called establishment scientists.

Attack from above could explain why some of the Dyatlov expedition members ran for the trees, from which, presumably, an attack was not coming.  The three found single file headed up the hill could have been dropped that way, not in their tracks but from a height.

In fact, these bodies were found only by using probes in the snow.  They were four feet down.  All lay face down.

Seems we have no further details from the reports even though there should be more.  Russian paranoid protocols and secretive practices have thwarted investigations for decades.

As for National Park disappearances, they are often found dead miles away and many hundreds of feet higher.  Many are gone for a week or two or three before being found, yet the times of death are only a couple days prior to the body being found, in conditions such that they seem to have been held indoors or protected somehow from weather.  Their bare feet or socks are clean, unmarked.  Their boots and other clothes are often never found.  No explanation of why they’d remove clothes or especially boots is indicated. Often they’re found in places that have been searched repeatedly, as if placed there as a taunt.

What, Paulides asks, are their stomach contents?  They had to have been eating something to be found in such healthy a state of death.  With no supplies, how were they eating at all?

One little girl stated the “dog” that carried her in its paws made a nest of leaves for them and curled around her to keep her warm, and also stated that it had gone off and brought back berries in its paw.  Talented dog.

Many are found in or near berry bushes but berries alone won’t sustain anyone for long, at altitude, in inclement climate, often harsh storms.  Bushes offer no shelter from severe weather.  Mountain weather is wet, cold, and unpredictable and its effects should show.

As Paulides emphasizes, anyone who reads all five (so far) of his books realizes there is, and likely cannot be, a single answer.  Conventional answers don’t apply, especially across so many cases over such a wide area over so much time.  These mysterious disappearances date back into the 1800s, and that is only as far as his research in newspaper accounts can find.  Earlier accounts surely explain folk tales and local legends.  One thinks of the Pied Piper of Hamelin Germany or the Green Children in England.

Paulides chooses cases for his books using a set of clear, well-defined parameters.  There are many more cases that fit, and new cases continue to arise, so he cuts the clutter.  Clusters and patterns revealed seem designed to baffle and frustrate.  There is also an eerie sense of will in them.  This is intelligence at work.  These things are being done on purpose and with awareness.

Kathy Shea is not in the Pennsylvania section of the second Paulides book.  Her case should be; perhaps he elided it, or does not know of it.  He states that PA is a cluster in and of itself, so many children have gone missing in mysterious and inexplicable circumstances.

It is mostly children in PA.  There is an odd cluster of older men around Timmins, Ontario, Canada.  Other clusters show other slants.

My guess is the local patterns involve different needs.   Unless they’re simply falling into random space-time holes they’re being taken for reasons we can’t yet spot.

Cases of bone fragments being found, sometimes tiny flakes and little else, or a single tooth, or a skull cap, beg the question of where does the flesh, blood, and skeleton go?  Why?

Blood is rarely found on any clothes or the ground around them.  These seem to be taunts, or dump sites, not murder scenes.  If murder it was.  It is next to impossible to confirm cause of death from mere fragments of bone.

Then arose awareness via a TV limited-run documentary series of the six Chillicothe, Ohio women who went mysteriously missing.  Four have been found dead.  Two remain missing entirely.  This is likely an active serial killer.

Some think he was killed in a motel room by a potential victim who managed to grab his gun, which he’d set aside in order to strangle her more efficiently with both hands.  She fired blindly over her shoulder, instantly killing him with a bullet to his head.  This killer apparently roamed from Ohio to the West Coast, and ended up dead in Reno, Nevada.  Whether he’s linked forensically to the missing Ohio women is being investigated.

The Chillicothe disappearances happened between May 2014 and May 2016. Interviewed cops, including the chief, do not speak clear English, which makes me think it unlikely they’d think logically or with much awareness of other aspects that may apply to a given crime.  This in turn makes the serial killer’s continued evasion more understandable.

Small town hunting grounds work best, it seems.  They are the urban echo of wilderness, with few witnesses and no overview.

The Chillicothe Gazette’s editor, Mike Throne, is literate and articulate but only a newspaper editor.  He won’t be investigating personally and won’t be privy to inside details of police investigations, if any such details arise.

As a commercial venture, the ID Channel’s show THE VANISHING WOMEN has a companion guide on sale at news stands and grocery stores, as well as a discussion thread on the Investigation Discovery website. I’m wondering if this will be a trend as a new multi-media approach, as TV continues to change, struggling with the urge to mesh all media into one thing.  To stay productive and competitive, TV must offer changes that stick with the internet and other audiences.

It’s a six-part series while the murders and investigations continue, so I guess it’s focused more on process and situation than solution.  This has become a norm in nonfiction TV.

One wonders if they’ll milk it.  Probably not, unless there is a big break in the case, when a follow-up single episode would suffice as excuse to show the whole thing over again.  It’s summer filler, so who knows?  Maybe an annual update?
Piracy of books is so bad now that publishers and sellers are ridding their lists and shelves of tea-cosy mystery stories, even though this sub-category is hugely popular, especially among women, who read more than men overall, apparently.  It’s very popularity undermines it, allowing pirate sites to profit even if offering free books as enticements.  These proliferate.  It’s theft but it’s what killed music’s profitability.

Worse, a generation now feels entitled to free music and books.  They defend the theft by saying writers or musicians wanting money are greedy for asking for pay for something they’d do free.  These entitled thieves don’t see creating as a real job not everyone can do and have no appreciation of how hard creative work is.  Some imagine all creators of entertainment are rich.  Writers are all Richard Castle or J. K. Rowling or Stephen King.  Musicians are all the Beatles or the Stones or business moguls like Sean Combs.  It’s bizarre and infuriating, because it’s willful blindness.

How much more marginalized must writers and artists be before something fundamental breaks and works in our favor for once?

This is the backdrop not only TV faces, but even investigators such as David Paulides, who understands books reach only a small portion of his potential audience.  Wisely, he avoids putting out electronic versions.  That way lies automatic piracy.  If it costs them only a few key strokes to pirate a work, they’ll do it on spec.  If they have to spend big to make hard copies on the off-chance a book will sell, they’ll skip it, or focus only on the sure-fire best-sellers.  So Paulides sells his books through his Missing 411 CanAm Project website.  Amazon does have them, but at grossly inflated prices by gougers.  Avoid that and buy direct, where they are fairly- and regular book-priced volumes.

As stated, he knows this is only a small part of the people who’d be interested, so to widen the audience for this ignored, uncovered, and some say covered-up story of mysterious disappearances in National Parks, he has crowd-funded a movie, which is in final editing to be released later in 2016.  Movies reach more people, so this could mark a turning point in breaking down National Park Service stonewalling.

As you will hear Paulides mention often, the NPS told him flat out they don’t keep tabs of any kind, not even a list, of people who go missing in National Parks.  Further, they demanded huge fees to process Freedom of Information requests; any billionaire interested in funding these, please get with Mr. Paulides.  FOIA applies because the NPS is Federal.  State Parks are exempt.

Worse than all this, one person he contacted at NPS told him he’d never get those files.  When he asked why, he was not answered.  Paulides concludes the NPS does indeed have extensive records and does not want the public to know what’s in them.  He believes if the extent and nature of these mysterious disappearances got out, visits to parks would plummet, and National Parks are a many-billion dollar a year proposition and enterprise.

Capitalism, ironically, has destroyed the artistic community’s ability to make a living, demolished small business, and wiped off competition by favoring corporate big money homogenized extruded product.  Making even a paltry living is nearly impossible for most creative folks, unless they allow their work to be co-opted by corporate in some way and thus rendered non-creative.

Sickening but typical, these corrosive, even cancerous effects spread also to investigative journalism.  Without funding or officially-sanctioned access, without government approval, and without resources to back you, you’re left flailing in a choppy sea of indifference, and no one is looking for you.

The Jennifer Kesse disappearance from Orlando, Florida — scene of both a mass-shooting hate crime at a popular nightclub called Pulse and a gator killing a toddler at a Disneyworld resort — in 2006, as detailed in the DISAPPEARED episode #705 titled “Girl Interrupted”, on ID Channel, fits Paulides’s parameters.  She became mysteriously and utterly gone amidst her ordinary life.  Her father believes she was trafficked, a possible solution certainly.  Others think she was grabbed, raped, and killed, there being so many places to dump bodies in Florida.  The boss who lusted for her instantly said, “Gators ate her,” when a co-worker told him about her being missing.  That’s creepy and suspicious, of course, but no evidence has linked him or anyone to her disappearance.

She vanished, apparently, in the twenty foot walk from her car to her condo’s door.  Argues for a car abduction, you’d think, but parking lot cams show nothing of another car.  The lot abuts a wild, swampy area, however.  Could someone or something have dragged her into that?

Her car was found parked elsewhere in the complex and her keys were never located.  Her apartment remained undisturbed except for the oddity of her MACE, found on a table instead of in her purse, where she was known always to carry it.  Another urban mysterious disappearance, no trace of the missing found.

I’m convinced the Kathy Shea case fits well into David Paulides’s books and study.

Here is a contrast:  Locally, here in Omaha, there is the case of 12-year-old Amber Harris.  She is the girl who vanished on a half-block walk from the corner to her house, having gotten off a school bus.  This was on 29 November 2005.  On 14 February 2006 her book bag was found on top of a cement mixer used as a garbage container, at a location near her home, leading eventually tot the arrest and conviction of Roy Ellis.  In 2008 he was sentenced to death.  Amber’s remains were later found in Hummel Park, a particularly wild area of Omaha.

Here we see the expected, usual situation.  An abduction, rape, murder, and body dump.  We see evidence sifted, the crime solved, and the body found.  What was mysterious at the start was revealed as a heinous crime and the victim was not gone forever.  Certainly some of the National Park disappearances are the work of serial killers, if statistics can be believed.  However, so many over so long a time, in so many places, in clusters separated by long stretches of time during which nothing happens, with the patterns always the same?  That would require an army of serial killers all disciplined, all following the exact methods, and never making a mistake.  Ludicrous.

This example shows how facile answers and superficial resemblances do not necessarily serve to dismiss the unresolved cases Mr. Paulides discusses in his books.

In one such case a woman who’d left her toddler outside in a fenced front yard to play while she cleaned the house came outside in time to see what she at first described as a bear carrying the child off.  With the child slung under its arm.  Running on two legs.  She screamed.  A neighbor passing by joined her in chasing after this abductor.

At a high fence, the child was dropped and found to be without a scratch.  When the woman’s story of a bear doing this elicited incredulity among reporters, who knew bear did not behave this way, she offered, “Maybe it was a wolf?”

Rationalizing what she could not understand would explain why her tale was unbelievable.  She could not believe it herself and had no terms to describe what she’d seen.

Yes, this hints strongly at a Bigfoot situation, although would that not have prompted her to call it a big hairy man without clothes, or perhaps a large ape of some kind?  She seemed genuinely baffled and unable to say exactly what she saw taking her baby.

In THE VANISHING WOMEN, a suspected serial killer case is presented in well-filmed artful documentary style.  Testimonials are from participants and the cases remain cold as ice.  It’s still happening.  One is curious whether any of the money the series and its concordance booklet generates will go toward either the cops or to a private effort to fund further investigation.

If the serial killer angle doesn’t pan out, it could mean a criminal got away with it, or the cops were inadequate to the cases, or it might mean that something more mysterious is happening.

Sifting the genuinely mysterious disappearances from the creepy ones, from the mundanely-criminal ones, from the disappearances that only seem mysterious until the solution is presented, is difficult.  It requires patience and time, focus and concentration.  It requires organization and an ability to stay alert to small indicators across a wide range of material.

David Paulides possesses all these traits and more.  He’s doing important, interesting investigations, and where they leads may require us to loosen our grip on what we imagine is quotidian reality.  He’s also spreading the word, so more of us can start to realize that something mysterious, dark, and appalling is going on, and being officially ignored or covered up.  We expect and must demand more of our society’s officials.

There is another tribe among us, it seems.  It prowls at the fringes of our awareness, in wilderness and in urban areas.  It takes some of us, returning only a percentage, entirely keeping others.  This tribe can be sensed the way astrophysics notices celestial bodies it cannot see, by observing their influence and deducing their aspects and qualities.

Look askance and ask yourself if that shadow moving in the corner of our society’s vision is going to grab you next.  It has already snatched thousands.

///  ///  ///
5500 words
18 June 2521 Athenian Era

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Review of The Sign and the Seal by Graham Hancock

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The Sign and the Seal
by Graham Hancock
Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1992, Trade
600pp, $14.00, Index, Reference Notes,
2 maps, 61 b&w photographs

A Review by Gene Stewart

Then a world economics reporter, the East Africa correspondent for The Economist, and author of several books about Africa, Hancock first visited Axum, Ethiopia in 1983, shortly after civil war died down enough to allow foreign nationals to visit again.  It was then he experienced his first tingle of interest in the mysterious, and mysteriously lost, Ark of the Covenant, the one mentioned in both the Bible and Indiana Jones movies.  This began a decade of searching for him, as he traced tantalizing leads, whispered hints, and decoded clues.  He admits he was led from his beaten path of prior success but to judge from the result, he chose wisely.

He began with surveying the Parzival and Holy Grail stories, reading up on King Arthur, the Knights Templar, and other old tales of powerful, god-touched artifacts and revealed hidden knowledge.  As patterns emerged, Hancock started piecing together a rational, if untested, time-line for the Ark, the core talisman of the Moses-led Jews, the Levites, the early Christians, and so much else, to have vanished without so much as a mention in the array of records.  How had such a thing happened, why, and where might such a holy relic have been hidden?

Hancock writes vividly of his dusty, exhausting experiences traveling in places, through conflicts, most of us would avoid.  He is excellent in his descriptions and compelling in his narrative; the book reads like an adventurous mystery novel, yet it’s reporting, not fiction.  Being open to new things, be they cultural or conceptual, allows Hancock freedom of action and logic perfect for unraveling this great mystery.

He wants to know.  How he goes about finding out, the scholars he consults, the places he investigates, and the discoveries he makes, combine into a cogent, trenchant work that cost Hancock much but gained him far more.  Example:  His marriage deteriorated during the grueling years of researching this book, done on his own ticket.  Example:  His first solo non-fiction work, The Sign and the Seal became an international best-seller and allowed him to continue expanding his life inwardly and outwardly, with further pivotal books on such topics as aqua-archaeology and ayuhuasca.

Intelligence shines from every page, his sentences being balanced and clear.  He presents information systematically and keeps the reader in context, with just enough reminder or nudge when called for.  We see the mystery as he discovered and unfolded it, sharing the thrill of making links and confirming them.

While he openly admits he is neither academic nor scholar, he demonstrates remarkably wide knowledge and knows how to delve deeply when the need arises.  These abilities add up to persuasive, rational argument awaiting only the picayune detail of scientific sifting, much of which already done by Hancock.

Definitive is a description remaining to be claimed but I know of no other work, scholarly or popular, that comes even close to The Sign and the Seal in regards to tracing the origins, aspects, and fates of the Ark of the Covenant.  What it was is understandable from reading this book.  How it may have worked is strongly hinted at, too.

Hint:  Not mentioned in this book, which was written long before they happened, are replication experiments performed by many engineers and college classes.  By constructing a replica using the exact specifications from the Bible, and they are quite explicit, one ends up with what is today recognized as a capacitor.  It builds up and stores electro-static energy which can release through the cherubim mounted atop the box lid.  It gave off sufficient volts and amperage to be fatally dangerous and college classes have had to dismantle their replica arks as a safety precaution.

Now imagine a powerful capacitor, decorated with carved gold, able to deliver fatal shocks, as happened to Aaron’s sons when they ill-advisedly got too close, imagine such a device’s supernatural qualities for people living 2000 years ago in the desert.  They’d be justifiably terrified and unable to explain it.

Fortunately, the man who built it, Moses, was steeped in esoterica and other hidden arts, having been raised as a Pharaoh’s son, which automatically made him a priest of the hidden orders.  He’d have learned the magic illusions he used to such good effect to keep his rabble in line for the forty years of indoctrination and training needed to whip a horde into an army, which then successfully challenged and conquered an established military.

Aaron, his son, was taught such matters, too, but his own sons apparently got cocky or had not yet properly been taught and so paid the price of being electrocuted by a huge discharge.

Add to all this electrical mayhem other evidence that the Ark also contained strong radioactivity and one can see how and why it was worshipped as a seat of a god, as a place where a god manifested — as the blue-white spark of degaussing electrostatic charge, perhaps?

Yet letting such an astounding item simply vanish from the records without comment is a mystery no one, until Hancock, has solved.  He sifts out reasons, then tracks down evidence to deny or support his speculations, always allowing the evidence to lead him.  In this way, he comes at last to gratifying steps and satisfying conclusions in this persuasive, rational book.

Along the way he even offers a reasonable explanation of why both the Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Sumerian civilizations started at their apexes, only slowly to wind down, with no prior hint of growth before they suddenly appeared.  Both, he finds, are rooted in a third civilization, already at an apex with monumental architecture and world-class artistry, transplanted to the general Egypt/Sumer area by a catastrophe, very possibly a flood.  Yes, echoes of Atlantis without the crazy shouts of aliens; it’s even supported by much archaeological evidence, albeit considered fringe so far by orthodox, received-wisdom defenders.

In this book we also trace the Jewish diaspora, with strong evidence presented concerning where the oldest Jewish culture ended up, and remained virtually untouched.  To this day, practices long expunged by the Jerusalem-centered Jewish rituals continue unaffected, deep inside Ethiopia’s war-torn, shattered shadows.

If archaeological matters interest you, and if this kind of adventure of logic, hardship, and discovery appeals, then The Sign and the Seal is strongly recommended.  Make sure to get a new copy; mine’s burning up from age, an archaeological relic in and of itself.

///  ///  ///

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Review of Psi Spies by Jim Marrs

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Psi Spies:  The True Story of America’s Psychic Warfare Program
by Jim Marrs
New Page Books, 2007, $15.99
318pp, Appendix, Notes, Index
ISBN-13:  978-1-56414-960-2
ISBN-10:  1-56414-960-9

A Review by Gene Stewart

This book was suppressed from the summer of 1995 until publication in 2007.  In the interim, other books covering this topic came out, based on or rooted in magazine articles leaked by insiders or those with inside contacts.  Reasons for its suppression are many but boil down to military and government policy, politics, and procrastination.

Stupidity makes most conspiracy unnecessary.

///

In the interests of full disclosure, this:  In the 1980s, my wife was in the US Air Force and stationed at Ft. Meade, MD.  We had one car, so I’d drive her to and from work if I’d be needing it.  That day, after dropping her off, I drove through base and spotted a road leading off at an angle toward a clump of pine trees.  Thinking perhaps it was a camp, I turned onto the road to investigate.

It led to a dirt parking area beside two dilapidated Army barracks.  There were two or three cars parked under the trees.  As I pulled up, still thinking it might be a camp administered from one of the old buildings, three men in civilian garb, two lounging by a car in the trees, the other coming from the screen door in one of the barracks, waved to me and wandered over.  They asked what I was looking for.

When I said camp, they exchanged looks, then told me I’d have to go back to the main road because they knew of no camp grounds.  They told me to go ahead and turn around and just follow the same dirt path to the road, and I did.  Thought nothing much about it.

Turns out I’d met the Star Gate guys, who were at that time on Ft. Meade in those barracks doing remote viewing.  Maybe they’d thought I was a new recruit.  That none wore uniforms should have struck me more forcibly, perhaps, but I figured they were clearing out or refurbishing the old barracks.  Renovation was always happening on Army bases, most being from the WW II era or older.

///

Jim Marrs does a thorough, systematic job of explaining both how the military came to have its own psychic spies and the roots of what they labeled remove viewing, or RV.  (There’s that echo of camping again, on the edge of a definite wilderness, too.)  In nine concise chapters he introduces many of the key personnel who comprised the very small, elite cadre who developed working methods still used to this day.  Marrs also explains the method and recounts many of their successes, along with, at the end of the book, glimpses from what the RV’ers themselves called The Enigma Files.  Those are far-flung, wildly surreal experiences they’ve all had, opening eschatological, epistemological, and other philosophical and cosmological vistas.

That millions of dollars were spent on GRILL FLAME, STAR GATE, and other such programs featuring ESP is confirmed even in the federal records.  That these small programs, often fewer than a dozen people, moved from one host unit to another, finally going entirely dark, demonstrates how strong the reaction for and against such information-gathering techniques could be.  None could argue whether it worked, few could agree how to account for it.

It was ambiguity and indifference, along with the occasional religious hysteria, that drove the Remote Viewing programs that continue into the deniable realm.  As one officer put it, “If you have information from Remote Viewers, you have to act on it to confirm it, and that can require a lot more faith than many field commanders can muster.  Do you put people at risk on the say-so of people who saw it from an armchair or in a dream?”

Consistently demonstrated, and proven reliable, Remote Viewing refined itself as methods developed by trial-and-error.  Experience helped, too, along with adding coordinates from maps or using multiple RV sessions and people on a single target, say, a missing, kidnaped officer or a sunken sub or downed plane.

RV has since moved from military-only to the business world.  As the first generation of Remote Viewers retired or matriculated, some founded companies to teach RV, or to offer its revelations to any corporations that might pay for such insight, such as oil companies, mineral companies, and even law enforcement agencies.

Psi Spies is the best book I know for a solid, well-grounded overview of Remote Viewing.  Another book featuring a year-long well-funded free-descent deep dive into what the American government bubbles know, or think they know, or don’t know they know, is Out There by Howard Blum, 1990, which covers Remote Viewing among other outré topics.  For a more in-depth delving into Remote Viewing, go for Jim Schnabel’s 1997 book Remote Viewers, which rounds out what ends up being, among these three books, a thorough look at what is known about the attempt, which seems on-going, to put the ESP into espionage.

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Review of All Those Broken Angels by Peter Adam Salomon

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All Those Broken Angels
by Peter Adam Salomon
Flux/Llewellyn, 2014
227pp, $9.99 US
ISBN:  978-0-7387-4079-9

A Review by Gene Stewart

At age six, Richard hid his eyes and counted to a hundred while his friend, Melanie, scampered off behind him to hide.

She was never seen again.

Except… when he is 16, a new girl shows up at school, claiming to be Melanie.

Richard isn’t sure because, since she vanished, Melanie’s shadow has haunted him continually, a ghost able to enter his mind, flow on walls, floors, and in corners, and this shadow ghost is the jealous type.

Worse, he knows where bones are buried.  The shadow leads him there, to Melanie’s grave.  Or is it?

Desperate to find out what’s really going on, Richard and the living Melanie begin investigating and find themselves woven deeply into the fabric of at least a decade of serial murder.  Worse, this killer is still active, and now is after them.

This elegantly-written, concise YA thriller is eerie, well-informed about its people and places, and compels the reader toward a crescendo ending.  Although the protagonists are 16 and face typical teenagers’ challenges, this book works as a thriller to please any adult, too.  It evokes a place and the people vividly, never strays too far into the surreal, yet offers a lingering sense of a bigger, deeper world than we know, one that surrounds us with what many would call the supernatural.  Maybe it’s just us.

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From Behind as by Everett Bedford

IMG_1715Marla T., 30, slender, wearing a one-piece dress, her long dark hair loose, got onto the elevator in her building at the end of a long day of sorting legal briefs and doing research in the stacks for the law firm where she worked.  She barely noticed the man in the suit already in the elevator, wanting only to get to her apartment, kick off her high heels, and unwind with a glass of chablis.

The instant the elevator doors slapped shut the man pinned her face first against the wall.

She felt his erection pressing eagerly up under her ass, probing for entry.  Her body tingled as anger and outrage mixed with fear in her formless thoughts.  She realized, too, she was relaxed and surprised herself by saying, “No, wait.  Not here.”

“Where, then?  This is going to happen.”

“My apartment.”

“Sure, sure.  Where hubby’s waiting to brain me.”

“I live alone.”

He kept her pinned.  “You’d better.”

She heard the rustling of cloth, then felt something slip over her head and tighten around her throat.  She’d been leashed.  Noosed.

When the elevator stopped and the door opened, she felt him yank her, using a handful of her blouse’s collar and a clump of her hair that pulled the back of her neck.  Wincing, she let herself be pushed ahead and guided him to her apartment, feeling the cincture on her neck tighten.

“Keys.  Unlock it.”

She fumbled them from her clutch and unlocked the door, noting that her hands trembled.  Her face was hot now, from the blood pumping in her past the noose. Yet she felt calm.  This struck her as odd.

Once inside, he pushed her forward and made sure the door was shut and locked.  “Anyone here?” he called out.

Marla, knowing there was no one, smiled to herself.  She dropped her clutch on the sideboard, then bent, at the end of her leash, to lift her skirt and slip out of her underwear.  She let the panties drop.  She pressed herself against the wall now, her breasts and belly flat on the cool surface, and waited.

He was on her immediately, his cock if anything harder now.  He bunched the back hem of her skirt at the small of her back.  She felt cool air on her ass.  She trembled to her core now as he pulled the loop tighter on her throat, making her breath ragged.

His cock slipped between and down, searching for a way in, so she cocked her hips a little forward by raising herself onto her toes, by arching her back.  He found her warm wet welcome and thrust into her, at once going into piston mode as fast as he could.

He slammed into her repeatedly so fast and hard her body was overwhelmed and she realized she was having an orgasm without any of the savor.  She let it pass, feeling him spurt warm wetness into her, and this caused her to begin a deeper, better orgasm.  She gushed, dizzied, and when he felt her pouring down over his cock and balls he stiffened again at once and this time fucked her slower, his long out-strokes and longer in-strokes a caress that sent her into shivers of pleasure.

They both came hard again, her knees buckling, his elbow across the back of her neck holding her face pressed against the wall.

He slipped free from her and muttered something about a beautiful mess.  The noose stayed tight.  She heard him zip, then the door open.  It closed and he was gone, all but his spunk, oozing down the insides of her thighs, reminding her how much she’d taken, how sweet it had felt.  This prompted her to reach down and find the slick wet in her fur, where her fingers found her clitoris.  She made herself come again, like a burst of rippling fireworks all through a sky inside her still throbbing with the thunder of bigger explosions.  Only then did she loosen the cloth around her throat, to find it was his tie.  It smelled of his cologne.

Turning her back to the wall, she slid down to sit for awhile in the beautiful mess, not thinking, not feeling, just wonderfully alive and empty and full and solid and electric.

Her glow ebbed, the pool under her cooled and congealed.

With a chuckle she got herself to her feet, used her underwear for a token clean-up.  She cleaned the floor and a couple spurt stains from the wall, too, then went to take a shower.

Wearing her robe fresh from the shower, with the tie draped on the back of her neck, she lay on her couch and put her feet up.  The glass of chablis was cool and tart.

She wondered who he was as she breathed his hint of cologne.  She wondered if he lived in her building.  She wondered if he’d find her again and hoped so.

When her cell phone vibrated she held it against her crotch and let it go to voicemail, hoping it would be him, who ever he was.  She hoped, too, it was that shifty-eyed, cute newbie the law firm had hired, although a neo would not be able to afford her building.

She thought about being taken from behind and it aroused her all the more now that she’d experienced it.

Marla drifted to sleep with a half smile on her face, a hint of which smile stayed with her the whole next day.  No one met her eye or winked, even though she wore the tie knotted in the collar of a plain white blouse, so she knew her mysterious intruder was not one of her co-workers.  She hoped he’d come again soon, so she would.

///  ///  ///

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A Thousand Words on Ed & Sherlock

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Ed Gein’s cauldron came up for auction and Zak Bagans of GHOST ADVENTURES fame, or notoriety, bought it, to be used on his new show DEADLY POSSESSIONS, about haunted objects associated with death in some way.  Each episode he displays and discusses two items added to his cabinet of curiosities in Las Vegas.

He’s got commercial savvy, that’s for sure.  He gives good TV.  He’s also not strict about confirming provenance.  This cauldron comes with testimonials from a couple of Minnesota yokels whose grandparents once smelled Ed Gein.  Neighbors and such.

One told of his grandmother brandishing a shotgun while telling Gein to get and stay away.  Another told of relatives who helped clean out Gein’s garage and who had been in the house before it was destroyed.  He saw carnage beyond imagining.

One guy claimed his relative had helped render ‘hog fat’ in that very cauldron, which he recognized later in part because the hair on his body stood straight out.  Better than an art expert yapping about brush strokes, you’ve got to admit, even as we’re all thinking ‘long pork fat’.

It’s almost sure Gein was a cannibal.  He’s the original for Hannibal, Francis Dolarhyde, Jaime Gum, Norman Bates, and a host of other fictional serial killers.  Details from his endless atrocities are used singly because no fictional creep with all Gein’s excesses would be acceptable to an audience.  Too over-the-top.

No one knows all Gein’s crimes and perversions in part due to the police in rural Minnesota being reluctant to investigate such horrors, and in part because the house was burned by angry locals soon after the crimes were uncovered, before the scene could be thoroughly explored, let alone catalogued.  Much evidence was destroyed, probably including evidence of crimes we now will never know about.  This is a historical as well as a forensic loss; every detail could help us figure out these monsters and how to prevent them.

Outraged that he’d been among them, his neighbors burned the house one night, despite supposed police quarantine.  It is just this sort of peasant intolerance that blocked full strides in understanding aberrant criminality.  It keeps us stumbling like hapless horror movie victims, instead of letting us turn and confront such beasts.

It is questionable whether Ed Gein was even the worst serial killer known.  H H Holmes set up a literal murder hotel and killed an unknown number of people in nightmarish ways.  Jack the Ripper tore his way through Whitechapel in 1888.  Who was the worst?  Too many others vie for that despicable title.  Take Albert Fish, who ingratiated himself with families, stole their children away, raped, killled, and ate them, then sent taunting letters over the years to keep the pain sadistically alive in the hearts and minds of the parents and siblings.  He also inserted fish hooks (pun on his surname?)  and needles into his own scrotum and so on.  There are far too many others, but you get the point:  Ed Gein, digging up dead bodies, eventually murdering a woman, making furniture and clothes from the bodies, making a woman costume so he could dance in the moonlight as his mother, with whom he apparently had an incestuous relationship, cooking and eating the dead people, and so on, him doing those things only fits into a spectrum of sick human behavior, rather than defining him as anything special.  Serial killers are boringly dull.  Their solution to everything is death.

What is undeniable is how deeply affected many families are by Gein’s and others’ crimes.  Neighbors, relatives, and descendants of locals alive during the crimes all haunt Gein’s property and are in turn haunted by his horrors.  It seems never to let go, this dark energy.

Some young folks, raised in this era of ghost hunting as a popular pastime even on TV, visit Gein’s land to court his spirit, seeking to evoke his morbid energy.

One wonders if such shadow clings to, say, Dahmer’s apartment, if it still stands, or to John Wayne Gacy’s house, or to sites associated with Bundy or Shawcross, et alia.  Certainly the people directly affected, who lost loved ones, who lived through the fear, were harmed permanently.  They carried marks, and seem to pass them along for, is it seven generations?  Is it both the sins and the pains of the fathers and mothers passed down?

///

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I saw the film MR. HOLMES, about a 93-year-old Sherlock (Ian McKellan) retired in Cornwall with his bee hives.  His housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her son (Milo Parker) are his main links to humanity.  It’s an excellent movie.  Side note:  Such gravitas from such a young actor as Milo Parker is rare to see.

There is in this movie, based on the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, a conceit that Sherlock Holmes visited Hiroshima in connection to a case of a Japanese man whose son (Hiroyuki Sanada) blames Holmes for the father having abandoned the family.  This is in turn entwined with a case Holmes in his dotage is trying desperately to recall, involving a woman upon which had centered his last case, the one that prompted him to retire.

Intertwined with all this is a mentorship of the housekeeper’s son, who is without a father figure due to WW II, in which he, a pilot, was shot down on his first sortie.  The housekeeper is bitter that her husband was not content to ply his trade as mechanic and serve out his service in a motor pool.  “All his mates in the motor pool came home without a scratch,” she says at one point.

John Watson, whose face we never see, plays an integral if oblique role in a personal breakthrough Holmes makes, and the fact that he can still make them and, even better, act upon them for the sake of kindness, proves he’s still a viable character study.

This is not Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce dashing after the game afoot, nor is it a morose wallow in revanchism.  It’s a movie about aging, growth, and life, presented expertly and with great charm and heart, if also with British diffidence and aplomb.  Bravo and brava and hooray all around.

///

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Review of A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris

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A Wilderness of Error:
The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald
by Errol Morris
Penguin, trade pb, 553pp
Copiously illustrated, extensive notes, indexed
$18.99, ISBN:  978-0-14-312369-9

A Review by Gene Stewart

On 17 February 1970 Army Captain Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald’s wife and two children were murdered and he was stabbed.  He was blamed, tried, (in 1979, by the way), and convicted.  He remains in prison to this day.

This book proves conclusively he did not get a fair trial.  Not even close.  It also presents a preponderance of evidence pointing toward his innocence but guilt cannot be apportioned or assigned after all the years, all the obfuscation, and all the layered cover-ups, dodges, and outright lies.

As a consequence, this book, which is so thoroughly detailed, well-organized, and clearly presented as to be a prime example of how to investigate crimes and their aftermaths, ends up being about the so-called justice system.  From the ground up, character flaws, malfeasance, incompetence, and bigotry rule.

We learn that narrative counts more than fact.  Who ever tells the best story first wins.  In law it’s called a theory of the crime, in fiction writing it’s narrative.  Imposed, it’s structure on what are usually chaotic events that leave random, often-misinterpreted evidence.  A given fact marks the spot where people stop asking questions.  It’s shocking to see how fragile our sense of what’s real can be, and how malleable our memories.  History is a lie agreed upon, many cynics have observed.  It needn’t be a lie.  In many cases, it’s a misperception, or a limited angle of view, or just a false conclusion based on false impressions.

“We live in a universe of false leads,” Morris writes at one point.  As if the world seeks to mislead us.  As if anything BUT plain fact insists upon dominating our view of what we call our world.  Whose it is, and what it is, remains up for grabs, as A Wilderness of Error makes clear.

In this particular case, an Army Green Beret medical doctor serving on Ft. Bragg found himself accused of killing his family despite his story of being awakened by a group of what he called hippies attacking him.  An amazing amount of evidence was destroyed right off the bat by incompetent MPs tramping around the place, some actually moving things they came across.

Other evidence was kept carefully out of the case by a prosecution in collusion with a bent judge focused on convicting MacDonald.  It went so far as to exclude the repeated confession of a woman, Helena Stoekley, who kept telling everyone she’d been there and, although she’d been stoned, she remembered vivid details, many of which only a direct witness would or could know.

Maybe.

Blur was applied so thickly, for so many years, with participants literally remaining in office for 40 years in part to stonewall successive appeals, that no clarity is possible even for the sequence of events.  Much evidence has been destroyed by now.  Witnesses and participants have died.  DNA evidence was eventually processed but what usually takes six months took over eight years to make its way through a reluctant system.  Blocks were thrown up at every possible turn, and delays were built in.

Justice, turns out, is maintaining a corrupt status quo, not meting out sentences based on evidence and fair trials.

Like the recent HBO mini-series MAKING A MURDERER, A Wilderness of Error is not so much about an accused man’s guilt or innocence, but about how cops, prosecutors, and judges use the system for their own ends without regard to the ideals supposedly enshrined in a Rule of Law.

Errol Morris is a documentary film maker.  The Fog of War; The Thin Blue Line; Mr. Death; A Brief History of Time; The Unknown Known are all his work, with many others.  He’s won awards and has, in The Thin Blue Line, gotten a wrongfully-convicted man out of prison.

Not so here.  He did not find overwhelming evidence either way, but most of what was excluded without conscience from MacDonald’s trial was exculpatory, and as I’ve said, this book proves without doubt a fair trial was not conducted, not even the appearance of one.

You will also come away from A Wilderness of Error knowing how treacherous and disingenuous author Joe McGinnis was in his book Fatal Vision.  Yes, it’s that case, and in fact that book and subsequent mini-series made sure a false narrative was imposed, removing any chance of a fair trial while convincing most of us at the time that, oh, yes, of course that’s what happened, just another one of those types of things…

Morris, a film-maker, demonstrates in A Wilderness of Error a remarkable ability to sift, organize, and present a baffling array of evidence, claims, and conflicting testimony in a clear, readable way.  This is some of the best reporting I’ve ever come across.  The book’s layout helps, too.  Each chapter has but a single focus.  Quotations and excerpts are well marked.  Morris writes concisely.  He maintains admirable balance amidst dizzying swarms of accusation and dissembling.

If you like true crime, if you like intelligent analysis of criminal law processes and media frenzies, if you are interested in seeing how the muddle of life becomes selected, even cherry-picked history in our minds, or if you like philosophical existentialism presented without preaching using real world examples, this book will compel you.

Strongly recommended for those of us angry at the corruption.

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Review of Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

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Bellman & Black
by Diane Setterfield
Emily Bestler Books, Atria, Simon & Schuster
HC, 328pp, $26.99, ISBN:  978-1-4767-1195-9

A Review by Gene Stewart

A memento mori presented as the life of William Bellman, who makes the fatal error as a boy of killing a rook, an act which haunts him ever after.  We see his childhood, his adolescence, and his youth, then watch him apply remarkable ability at analysis to move from working at a fabric mill to running it to, eventually owning and transforming it.

Along the way we witness his hardships and struggles, his challenges, triumphs, and abject failures.  We see how hard life is, even for those we’d otherwise call successful.  We see how tiny influences have huge ramifications and consequences.

William Bellman is inclined to vertical integration.  Black is his color, once his main adult idea flocks to him.  An emporium focused on providing all the needs and wants of those in mourning, he realizes, will thrive because death is always thriving.  He becomes expert in black, aware of more variations of the color, and its absence, than the Inuit know of snow.

At this stage, the book brings to mind Selfridge’s store and success, without the man’s dissipation through gambling.  Bellman is all work, no waste, even as his daughter, terribly afflicted, almost wastes away until, somehow, she changes yet again.

Written crisply, with a focused, elegant, and concise prose both well-paced yet brisk, caring yet astringent, expansive yet telescoping, Bellman & Black rises from eerie mystery to literary soul-searching.  Epic living is presented in only 300 or so pages.  Life in all its circuitous, meandering, whimsical, and perverse layering comes alive for us in William Bellman and those around him.  There is not a false step.  Setterfield grants access to myth, too, and the plain magic of the workday world.  Occasional excursus pages of information about ravens, blackbirds, crows, and other corvids provide counterpoint reminding us of time passing and eternity motionless and watching it all.  The fall of a sparrow comes to mind, as does geological epochs.

The tone is unemotional throughout, often presenting gut-wrenching scenes with an almost placid precision that evokes eerie detachment, as if we’re seeing this all from above.  From, say, a bird’s eye view.

While there is no overt manifestation, the novel is infused with the supernatural.  Dark lurks, shadows influence, and people divert mysteriously into stretches of life or death that cannot easily be explained, yet that seem perfectly natural in the course of things.  Context matters.

Bellman & Black is a joy to read, to savor.   Beautiful sentences, scenes, and chapters are offered like gems on black velvet. Nothing strikes as ill-considered or ad hoc.  Woven tightly, life in Setterfield’s hand and eye is inevitable, even as it is surprising, at times shocking, and always comes with a touch of glossy dark whispery winged magic.

Strongly recommended for those poised for dark flight.

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