Is It So?
There are many concepts in the human experience that, despite their fallacy, are still held up as reality by many.
In such a world of tenaciously blind belief there are some things, although not true or real, that would make our lives infinitely more interesting if they were legitimately extant.
In my world, a world of cold logic and rational thought, there isn’t room for fanciful things such as fairies and unicorns and wildly contrived conspiracy theories. I’m glad these things don’t exist – who needs a half-ton horse running amok, wielding a spear on its forehead? Not me! And fairies are just plain . . . um . . . you know!
But there are a few things in the world of the impossible and the never-was that I wish were true, things that would amuse me if they held a place in our lives.
So, let’s take this trip together, shall we? Only, don’t hold my hand, though – I hate hand-holding with strangers. And watch out for the poop!
5. All Animals Deserve Their Place on the Planet
Animals are not myth, of course, but there is a misplaced belief that each and every one of them has utility. That is not true, and some endangered species illustrate the point that evolution may not always smile kindly upon the woodland critters.
The only thing saving the Giant Panda from extinction, now, is humanity because . . . well . . . the Giant Panda is cute! If it looked like an iguana (or your old spinster Aunt Bertha, with her hairy chin wart and her smoker’s squint) we wouldn’t be falling all over ourselves to keep it sustained.
The panda is evolving out of existence though no fault of ours. Well, maybe our fault to a minor degree: we have taken some of its habitat away through civilization, but the evolutionary changes causing its decline and inevitable extinction were well in place before then.
It developed the ability to eat and digest bamboo, forsaking almost all other foodstuffs, as a response to long-ago environmental stressors. Bamboo, while abundant, carries little nutritional value; pandas are unable to even do the one thing bears are known for, hibernating, because their diet precludes gaining enough body fat to winter several months in stasis. They must continually forage for food or starve to death.
Birthrates are low, and pandas generally have only one offspring at a time. In the unfortunate circumstance where twins are born, the mother’s milk is so thin and lacking in food value she must decide to let one baby starve to death to keep the other alive. Pandas’ evolution is so bad that the newborn bears cannot urinate without help; the mother presses and strokes the baby’s lower abdomen until a stream of urine flows. Without this action the baby bear would die of uremia. So, we are left with an animal with a bad diet whose young can’t pee.
Hmmm . . . but pandas are really cute, so they are worth saving, unlike our nearest relatives, the great apes.
There is no majesty or dignity in their feces slinging and sloth. I understand humanity’s basic uselessness in the Grand Scheme of things, but as the top dogs in the food chain it’s our job to eat everything else lesser than we. I’m not saying this is good or moral, but it is true: “morality” and “good” are human constructs, and are not the way of Nature.
But the apes? What, exactly, is their function in the Big Picture? Granted, we share a common ancestor, but so what? You and your “slow” second-cousin Bubba Ray are related, too, but you don’t necessarily like him, either.
I don’t “get” apes or chimps. We don’t make cool jackets or shoes out of them, and I'm pretty sure they'd taste terrible. [Baboons, however, have a special place in my heart because we, in our earliest hominid form, ate them as a regular part of our balanced diets.]
Anthropologists claim we can learn from the apes. What, exactly, can we learn from them? Any trans-species “learning” should be analogous; termites, for example, could perhaps learn from ants. But we cannot “learn” from a form we discarded millennia ago. They have nothing of merit to teach us. Apes, chimps, orangutans, etc., provide entertainment mostly, with what we anthropomorphize into human-like antics.
I don’t know the apes’ place in the food chain. I don’t see why we need to protect them. They are useless and should evolve out of existence.
Yes, that makes me a jerk.
But it makes me an honest jerk.
4. Loch Ness Monster
I love Nessie!!
I mean it – as a six-year old in the late 1960s when I first saw a photograph of the Loch Ness monster, combined with my insane mother’s tales of said creature, I was captivated.
The idea of a surviving, solitary dinosaur living in the depths of a dark Scottish loch all these millennia fired my childish imagination in ways perhaps no other story had.
Imagine my chagrin as my coldly logical self developed. I rationally had to draw the obvious conclusion (and there can be no other): there is no Loch Ness monster.
There is mystery about the lake, though, with its abandoned keeps and towers guarding its shores, isolated and grim. There is a Gothic, romantic atmosphere here, sufficient to create the mien for a mysterious creature.
Sightings of something in Loch Ness have been reported for several centuries. The lake itself promotes such fantastical imaginings. It is glacially carved and of fantastic depths for its size (only 24 miles long and averaging about a mile wide, it is about 780 feet deep at its deepest point; the immensely larger Lake Michigan’s maximum depth is 922 feet for comparison).
Loch Ness is subject to massive thermal inversions (huge volumes of colder water flip-flopping with warmer water, creating major surface disturbances). The runoff from the surrounding hills carries peat moss taint, which means the water is black just a few feet from the surface and impenetrable to light.
Legend tells of the monster’s roughly 45 foot length, gray/green skin, undulating body, and smallish head on a long neck. Prior to photography, wisdom came from eyewitness accounts.
There is no doubt people over the years have seen something in the lake, but that is because they expect to. The phenomenon is called “pareidolia” (morphing the amorphous into recognizable shapes in the mind’s eye, sort of like seeing the image of Jesus on the surface of a burnt grilled-cheese sandwich). With the ready access to popular photography, however, the story went wild in the 1930s and gained its status today as the greatest mythical beast search/research project ever.
The first classic Nessie photos are frauds. The hoaxer took the pictures using a two-foot long model pulled slowly behind a trolling boat. His whole reason for doing it was to promote tourism in the area and to get one over on the public. He succeeded wildly on both counts.
The photo is intentionally grainy, out-of-focus (as all such sighting photographs are, regardless of whether it is Nessie, Champ, Bigfoot, et al) with no background to help assess scale or motion. As an iconic photograph it is wonderful and will stay in the public mind for a long time. As a document of what is in Loch Ness it is useless.
Completely useless, as are all other photographs and shaky videos of Nessie. Some are floating logs, some are large fish schooled near the surface, and some are nothing but tricks of light on wave patterns. But they are all Nessie to the viewer.
Science has made many attempts (and spent millions of dollars) to prove the existence of the monster. Such attempts have failed every time – sonar treks up and down the lake, soundings, even attempts at baiting the creature have all come to naught. These failed not because of bad science but because of one thing: there is nothing in Loch Ness!
The Loch Ness monster cannot be as long-lived as it is claimed (with “sightings” allegedly reported in the 16th century) and be only one creature. At the minimum this allegedly land-locked dinosaur would have to have been part of a breeding pair.
Similarly, there is no way out of the lake for such a leviathan. Once trapped, it is stuck there. If the animals bred in these confined quarters their food supply over time would be exhausted (and Loch Ness mysteriously has an abundance of very large fish). This means there is nothing eating the fish; thus, there are not several mystery dinosaurs living in the lake (as would be necessary for sightings to continue for the few centuries they have).
Nope, sorry, kids, there’s no Loch Ness monster.
I wish there were, though. There is a quiet elegance, an element of panache about the Loch Ness monster that is absolutely non-existent in its land-lubber mythical counterpart, Bigfoot. [I hatehillbilly name, “Bigfoot”; I’ll bet whoever thought of that stayed awake all night to come up with it. It lacks imagination. That’s like having a baby and naming it “Face-Head”. I will use the more dignified Native American “Sasquatch” when referring to the hillbilly primate.]
First, Sasquatch is a hillbilly primate, roughly 7- to 10-feet tall (depending upon which drunken, eleven-toed illiterate you ask), weighing in around 600-plus pounds.
You couldn’t miss it, especially when it obviously would have acclimated to society and would almost routinely be seen knocking over your garbage cans (like the raccoon, which also has the benefit of having little monkey hands without being an actual monkey).
And there are two more obvious reasons there is no such thing as a Sasquatch. In the first place no one has ever found a pile of Sasquatch poop. Yet animals leave these little calling cards everywhere, and some wildlife experts actually have the unique skill of identifying critters by examining their feces alone. And secondarily, no one has ever stumbled upon a Sasquatch carcass anywhere. Ever. Dead animals drop where they die. They are never “DOA” since there is no “Arrival” place for them. We see dead varmints all the time when we are in the woods. Not only that, hunters routinely find human corpses that are intentionally hidden by serial killers deep in the woods.
This thing could not hide.
If Sasquatch is a primate it isn’t smart enough to understand the concept of “hide from the puny humans”. We would be seeing these things all the time, like black bears, wild turkeys, or deer. All we have as “proof” of the existence of this mythical creature is a spectacularly amateurish (and hilarious) few seconds of film footage from the latter 20th century (an obvious hoax but classic nonetheless) and some crummy out-of-focus photos that, like the Nessie photos, show us nothing but unsubstantiated blurs. Oh, let’s not forget the big footprints!!
The last reason there is no Sasquatch (or its equally ludicrous Asian brethren, the yeti): new species are found on this planet every day, from the deepest parts of the oceans to the highest elevations. Over 2300 species of new plant and animal life (including many insects and arachnids, some no larger than a pinhead) were discovered in 2010 alone.
This bunny, for example, weighs in around three pounds or so, and it was found in the steaming, remote jungles of Vietnam.
The world does not need another useless primate. I am glad Sasquatch doesn’t exist – who wants a big hairy goober upsetting the carts in the Wal-Mart parking lot at 3 AM looking for Pringles’ crumbs?
Something amusing about these two creatures: I’ve noticed that belief in either Nessie or Sasquatch can be divided along class lines, sort of like a neat little social barometer. If inclined to believe in such things the more educated and urbane tend to believe in Nessie; the NASCAR set stands firm on its belief in Bigfoot. Neither is correct, but it’s still an interesting observation about humanity – snobs exist even in the realm of make-believe.
In the end I do wish the Loch Ness monster was real. I would gladly share this planet with Nessie. There is elegance in the idea of a prehistoric creature silently gliding under the surface of a murky loch, its ancestry older than human kind.
Bigfoot, on the other hand, can suck it.
I wish they existed if and only if they wouldn’t show up and kick us around as we would a termite mound.
Sadly, that’s exactly what would happen, and I am ambivalent about aliens because of that very real threat.
Just to set the record straight: aliens do not, did not, and will not live and work among us. If they ever visited this planet in the past it was very briefly. They didn’t stick around long enough to build the Pyramids or Stonehenge or to lay out the Nazca lines.
And don’t give me that garbage that aliens could have built all those things in a day. That’s just grasping at straws. Science proves these monuments were built in stages over many years. People built all those wonderfully quirky things, dedicated Stone Age and Bronze Age people, with crude tools and a lot of chutzpah.
I don’t know what really happened to all those sadly pathetic shlubs who claim to have been anally probed by aliens, but I know it wasn’t alien abduction. Maybe they’re just lonely and want attention. Maybe they’re covering up for some other “bad” behavior. [Like a couple of Dixie guys in the early 1970s in a May-December type “relationship”. Perhaps this tryst was discovered and they were in for a good ol’ fashioned Southern beat-down until the guys deflected suspicion from that issue by claiming they were abducted by aliens in the swamp, and weren’t really out there Brokebacking each other.]
Physics is why there could be no alien abductions. It is, of course, arrogant to assume that our species is the only sentient one in the universe (notice I do not use the word “intelligent” but “sentient” – there is a difference). Simple mathematics divines the probability of other life in the universe as a reality, not a mere possibility.
But physics is what keeps them away from us and us away from them. The nearest star system to our own is the Alpha-Proxima-Omega Centauri ternary system. It has no planets (for comparison purposes one of the closest planets to our Solar System, Gliese 876, is 15 light-years from Earth). Proxima Centauri (the faintest of the Centauri stars, but the closest) is 4.1 light years away from Earth. That means at light speed it would take 4.1 years to get there and 4.1 years to get home. That’s a mighty long time.
Relativity theory requires almost limitless resources to move an object of greater than quantum masses through space at light speed; relativistic mechanics and physics actually prohibit light speed because Einstein’s famous E=mc2 equation simply states it would require a nearly infinite amount of energy to move any substantial object (such as a starship) at such speeds. The resources required just aren’t there.
However, science has a way around this limitation: warp theory. This is not just something in Star Trek, but a real hypothesis that has been kicking around since Einstein’s day. [Where do you think Gene Roddenberry, a former California motorcycle cop, got the idea?] Warp theory presumes the four-dimensional “fabric” of space-time (and this is very high-level abstract thinking, not easy to get one’s head around) can be moved toward or away from an object (such as pushing a carpet toward one’s feet while standing in the middle of it). This “carpet bunching” shortens the distance to the carpet’s edge – the “astronaut” hasn’t moved. It’s the classic case of the mountain coming to Muhammad, and it preserves every law of relativistic physics because the “observer” did not move through space at light speed; space came to him or her, then accordioned away.
All the physics aside, we do not have the technology to do anything more than make a few short hops around our own Solar System.
But let’s assume some alien sentients have done one of two things. The first practical thing is to make a long-term commitment and build a multi-generational spaceship and set out with yourself and a bunch of others on board. You would not live long enough to see the Promised Planet, but your children’s children, born and raised on board, will. That is one helluva resources commitment to make just to pay a visit. That’s an invading and colonizing force, not celestial tourists.
Since we have been neither invaded yet nor colonized, let’s move on to Scenario Number Two.
The other solution is to have something that travels by warping space. That'll getcha there, all right. We can’t do it, but maybe someone else “out there” can. Fair enough.
Here’s why aliens don’t live and work among us, nor visit us.
Early broadcasts of I Love Lucy – seriously – are still traveling outward from Earth; Voyager is still alone out there, silently gliding through the Cosmos with its gold plate recordings of human kind (including the rockin’ of Chuck Berry).
Relatively speaking, we are not that interesting despite our own inflated sense of our lofty place in the universe. If you are of an alien race with sufficient technology to cruise the galaxy at will, from these artifacts alone you would already know through intelligence gathering that we are of no more significance than the termite mound is to us.
Aliens with warp technology, if they ever bothered to stop here for any reason other than to let their kids out to use the bathroom, would not and should not be welcomed here. In the same
There’s no guarantee, either, that they would not simply come here and wipe us out (maybe they’ll have some kind of ET AIDS that is harmless to them but would kill us all accidentally).
I would, however, welcome a long-distance phone call from an alien civilization.
[And just to add another slap at someone’s “reality” – M. Night Shyamalan movies be hanged: crop circles are hoaxes. People made the first ones and they continue to do it today, more elaborately than ever, all caught on tape. They started simply enough with two British drunks, but the practice blew up almost globally within a short time. The British and the Aussies make the best, most complex ones, by the way].
2. Santa Claus
Santa Claus is based loosely on St. Nicholas.
St. Nicholas was a very real man, a Church bishop, who lived in about the 4th century CE. He was imprisoned under Emperor Diocletian but released by Constantine. He is the patron saint of Russia. He is also the protector of youth, merchants, sailors, travelers, and – oddly – thieves. His identification with Father Christmas began in Europe, most popularly with the Dutch who called him Sinte Klaas (feast day is December 6). The concept spread to America where the name was anglicized to the current Santa Claus. The tradition of exchanging gifts on Christmas Day derives from a legend of his benevolence.
The Eastern Orthodox Church worships St. Nicholas as one of its patriarchs. No, they do not worship Santa Claus, but they revere the real St. Nicholas. [Also their clergymen can get married, and Orthodoxy is also one of the earliest forms of Catholicism, sort of like punk Catholics. Along with Mormons they are one of my favorite Christian groups.]
I particularly love the vengeful, wrathful, Old Testament Santa, the one of the Germanic people. He beat naughty children with switches and left lumps of coal (that was the Old World skinny Santa; I guess he had low blood-sugar and was cranky).
The benevolent, morbidly obese, jolly Santa of the modern era is a complete wuss compared to that guy. [The modern benign image, by the way, is not the creation of the Coca-Cola Company as they would like you to believe. The fat, jolly icon was created by cartoonist Thomas Nast in the 19th century well before Coca-Cola was even a gleam in Dr. Pemberton’s eye. Coca-Cola mass-marketed that archetype in its early advertising but they did not create it.]
Who doesn’t wish Santa was real? Just admit it – a guy who dresses in a bright red, fur-lined suit, looking like a big pimpin’ golfer, heelin’ in a phat ride? He gives you stuff and all he asks in return is that you be nice. Ummmm . . . that’s kind of like what pimps do, too, isn’t it?
[Oh, I shouldn’t have to say this but I will: pimps are the lowest life forms on the planet and are in no way to be emulated, admired, or lionized. They are scum. This essay is humor; describing Santa as “big pimpin’” is social satire, not a validation of pimps or their bottom-feeding lifestyle. Pimps are nastier than freshly flung ape feces. In fact, maybe I need to reconsider that ape thing and wish pimps extinct instead.]
Santa is perhaps one of the few truly global and universally accepted icons that are cross-cultural and inoffensive (along with Mickey Mouse). Controversy does not surround him until a child’s parent or the neighborhood bully tells a kid there is no such thing. The letdown is very real.
I really do wish, though, there was some really cool gift giver who floated around dispensing joy and material wealth. That’s my idea of Nirvana. [And I’d ask for the same thing every year: Salma Hayek!]
1. Albert DeSalvo Was “The Boston Strangler”
This is not to suggest for one moment that Albert DeSalvo is mythical. He was very real. He just wasn’t The Boston Strangler.
I would like Albert DeSalvo to have been the Boston Strangler so that mentally I could say, “case closed”. It’s a calming feeling to know the answer to something.
Cases like the Black Dahlia Murder and the Ripper Murders continue to interest because they remain open and unsolved. No one loves a mystery (anyone who professes that is a liar); what we love are the solutions to mysteries. If we really loved mysteries the first outsiders to see the statues on Easter Island would have said, “Hey, neat statues,” and left the island none the wiser, accepting the “mystery” of the statues. [Maybe aliens built them? Nah, it was the natives in days of yore; their obsessive statue building actually denuded the island and wrecked their ability to thrive on it in the process].
Modus operandi (meaning all the elements of a crime, not just the coup de grâce) is relatively invariant in serial killers. The Boston Strangler slayings in the mid 1960s were true serial killings. From June 1962 to January 1964, thirteen women, ranging in ages from 19 years old to 85 years old, were murdered in a string of slayings that terrorized the city of Boston. Most had been sexually assaulted in their apartments, and then strangled with articles of their own clothing. The oldest died of a heart attack. Two of the other women were stabbed to death, one of whom was also badly beaten.
Operating at the same time was Albert DeSalvo, a highly-sexed manual laborer. His sexual drive was so great his German-born wife (whom he met as a member of the US armed forces while stationed in Germany) was tormented by h
One such ploy came to be known as “The Measuring Man”. DeSalvo, as “The Measuring Man”, would scope out the apartment building of a young female he found attractive (and all his Measuring Man victims were young women). [This is the first strike against his being The Strangler – almost all Strangler victims were elderly.] He generally gave the young woman a story about having seen her on the street; he worked for a modeling agency, and he thought they could use her as a model.
Invariably the woman would let him in. He would then produce a tape measure, claiming he needed to get the girl’s “vital statistics” to report back to his boss. The woman allowed this, and DeSalvo would dutifully measure her bust, waist, and hips, taking his time, making sure to get a good feel of her.
Some of the women, thinking he could maybe help them get such a modeling job, willingly allowed him to have sex with them. Others rebuffed him, and he left when his overtures were rejected. Still others were forcibly raped, although for some bizarre reason he was always remorseful. Many of the women did not report these assaults out of embarrassment over their own gullibility.
DeSalvo also had another similar predatory operation running known as “The Green Man” (so named for the drab green works pants and shirt he wore in this activity). As The Green Man he also approached women in their apartments, pretending to be the building’s maintenance man. Or he would randomly select a building and knock on doors until he found a young woman at home who suited his whims. Sometimes he posed as a service man.
Albert DeSalvo was a hard case (theft and assault at age 12 in 1943; auto theft in 1946 – he joined the Army after this second sentence was up to stay out of trouble). He was picked up on a rape, unrelated to the Boston Strangler killings, in October 1964.
While in stir pending charges and trial for his other offenses, he met a real killer named George Nassar. After spending time in lock up, DeSalvo (a complete egomaniac) suddenly confessed to being the highly-sought Boston Strangler. His confessions were to fellow inmate, George Nassar, then again later under hypnosis, and still later in regular interrogations by an assistant attorney general. All of his “recollections” were wildly inconsistent.
Overnight he was infamous. He went to trial but thanks to some stellar legal defense work by his lawyer, a young F. Lee Bailey, DeSalvo was not only not convicted of any of the Boston Strangler crimes, he was only convicted of his “Green Man” crimes. During his trial any allusions to his possibly even being the Strangler were prohibited.
DeSalvo entered prison in 1967, broke out that same year, and was on the lam for a short period, then turned himself in to his attorney. He was then transferred to a maximum security prison where he was shanked six years later by another inmate in 1973 and died. The inmate who killed DeSalvo, Robert Wilson, went to trial but a hung jury ended the matter.
DeSalvo was not the Boston Strangler.
The MO of the Strangler killings does not fit his sex crimes MO, nor does it fit his profile as a criminal. DeSalvo (and this should not be construed as an apology for him – he was a sexual predator and a rapist) was no killer. He used the minimum of violence necessary to get what he wanted, sex. His Measuring Man activities were more successful than his Green Man ploy, without the use of violence. Some of his victims later reported his shamed apologies after an attack (small comfort, of course, but this expresses a degree of remorse that the real Boston Strangler would not have shown; the Strangler victims were sadistically brutalized both ante- and post-mortem in several cases).
DeSalvo’s “confession” details, accepted at face value at the time, in more recent years have proven false. Also, then as now, there was no physical evidence linking DeSalvo to the Boston Strangler murders. Suspect DNA recently analyzed from one of his victims does not match DeSalvo’s; it is from an unknown individual.
Another DNA sampling from a victim, Mary Sullivan (aged 19, murdered in 1964) matched that of DeSalvo in an analysis done in 2013. All this proves is that he had sex with her (with her duped consent) or maybe raped her during one of his “Measuring Man” forays. [Sullivan was a chubby white woman (by the standards of her time); there is no doubt she would not have been very flattered indeed by DeSalvo’s claim she had potential to be a model.]
There are many more details that point to his innocence of the Strangler killings, but it is his MO that carries the day. The Strangler killings did not bear the mark of sexual predator/rapist Albert DeSalvo.
There is a possibility, too, these killings were committed independently and concurrently by at least two different people (the important details of the specific crimes vary, indicative of more than one killer). Chances are there were a primary killer and an opportunistic copycat at work. However, the true Boston Strangler will probably never come to his reward.
Realistically, the best single candidate is George Nassar, a misogynistic psychopath. Nassar was imprisoned for the May 1948 murder of a shop keeper. He was released on parole for that crime in early 1961 (several months before the first canonical Boston Strangler murder occurred). He went back to prison and was sentenced to death (commuted to life) in 1965 for the shooting death of a gas station attendant. Magically, the killings stopped after Nassar was in custody. [As late as 2008 (aged 75), he was denied parole again.]
Regardless, the Boston Strangler case is closed. As far as the law is concerned it is over. As far as I am concerned, however (like the Black Dahlia and the Ripper murders), this case is not solved. The Boston Strangler was not Albert DeSalvo.