Area 51, Annie Jacobsen's new exposé of the military's so-secret-it-doesn't-exist base in the Nevada desert, is a very odd book. On the one hand, much of it is a sane, grounded history of the installation's key role in Cold War nuclear testing and spy-plane R&D, full of previously undisclosed information based on declassified records and dozens of interviews with people who worked there. It's a refreshing antidote to the popular idea, promoted by ufologists and screenwriters, that Area 51 is part of a massive cover-up involving alien autopsies and the reverse engineering of interstellar spacecraft. Those associations are understandable, Jacobsen explains: Area 51 launched its fair share of unidentified flying objects over the years; after all, it was in the business of developing flying objects no one (especially the Soviets) could identify.
Jacobsen sticks to that sensible course for about 90 percent of the book. But the other 10 percent—the parts that are already getting attention in places like NPR's Fresh Air and The Daily Show—are kind of, well, nuts. Things get weird when she links Area 51 to the Roswell incident, the legendary crash of some kind of flying object in New Mexico in the summer of 1947. Jacobsen says the remains and debris from the crash were eventually brought to Area 51, where they were studied by one of her sources.
Based on this single, unidentified source, she spins a truly amazing tale of what really happened in Roswell. The crash didn't involve a weather balloon, as the Air Force insisted, or a UFO. Rather, it was a super-duper-hi-tech remote-control stealth Soviet flying saucer developed at Stalin's behest, designed by a couple of ex-Luftwaffe aeronautical-whiz brothers, and manned by "child-size aviators." These diminutive fliers appeared to be 13 years old and had oversized heads and "haunting, oversize eyes." But they weren't little gray men; they were "biologically and/or surgically reengineered children" created by…fugitive Nazi doctor Josef Mengele! The crash, reasons Jacobsen, was staged as part of a Kremlin plot to send Americans into a fit of UFO-induced hysteria.
The Social Security Administration has just released its annual data on all the names given to babies last year. Besides revealing the nation's most popular names of 2010 (Jacob and Isabella), the files are loaded with details about all the unusual names people give their offspring, from Lazer (the given name of 20 boys) to Symphony (86 girls). Pop culture definitely influences people's picks—Isabella is the hero of the Twilight series; her nickname, Bella, has gone from being the 259th most popular name in 2004 to the 48th in 2010.
What about politics? Does it have any influence on baby names?
To find out, I searched for incidences of the following names between 2007 and 2010: Barack, Palin, Malia, Sasha, Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig. Each of these names is distinctive enough that any changes in their popularity after 2007 might be partly attributed to parents intentionally naming their kids after Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, or their kids. Sure enough, all of those names saw big bumps in 2008 and 2009. In 2007, fewer than 5 boys were named Barack; there were 52 in 2008 and 69 in 2009. In 2007, fewer than 5 girls were named Palin; in 2008 there were 14 and in 39 in 2009.
Likewise, all the Obama and Palin kids' names saw significant rises in popularity after their namesakes entered the limelight (except Track, which didn't show up at all). I won't speculate on what the trends for Sasha and Malia (both peaked in 2009 and fell in 2010) versus Bristol (still climbing in 2010) suggest about the political fortunes of the First Dad or the Grizzly Mama. But their names would certainly be even more popular if they dated vampires.
Getting tipped overboard is just the beginning. The gory—and fascinating—science of sleeping with the fishes.
Dave GilsonMay 9, 2011 5:30 AM
A guest at a sea burial signs a shroud before it is placed in the ocean.
Last Monday, at around 11 in the morning local time, Osama Bin Laden's body dropped from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson into the Arabian Sea. According to the Pentagon, the hours-old corpse had been washed and placed in a simple white sheet in accordance with Islamic practice. It was then sealed inside a weighted bag and laid on top of a board, which was tilted until "the body slid off into the sea."
Back on land, the controversy surrounding Bin Laden's last splash was just beginning. But beneath the waves, nature was taking its course, quietly and methodically turning the world's most-wanted terrorist into fish food. You could say Osama bin Laden had received the ultimate green burial, courtesy of the United States Navy.
Obviously, the decision to consign Bin Laden to the deep was motivated by expedience rather than eco-friendliness. Seafarers from Odysseus to Ahab have long known that there's no better way to quickly be rid of a corpse than to toss it overboard. But only recently has this salty custom been rediscovered as a relatively efficient way to be laid to rest with minimal environmental impact.
"I have noticed a great increase in interest in burial at sea," says Ann Rodney, an environmental protection specialist in the New England office of the Environmental Protection Agency's ocean and coastal unit, which oversees burials in American waters. The agency doesn't have hard data on how many Americans choose sea burial, but Rodney suspects the numbers, though small, are growing. "Ten years ago, I might get one or two calls a year about it. Now I get at least one call a week."
On Monday, Andrew Breitbart's Big Government site posted "exclusive, explosive" video of what it described as "Thuggery 101"—a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a union official advocating "violence and industrial sabotage" to a classroom of college students. This led to instant hyperventilation about "taxpayer-funded courses in union violence". Now, like many a sensational video linked to Breitbart, this latest scoop has disintegrated in the bright light of day. Crooks and Liars has the definitive takedown, which shows how the supposedly inflammatory soundbites posted on Big Government were intentionally edited to strip them of their context and twist their intended meanings. In other words, yet another "classic Breitbarting."
On the positive side, the original video did not get much traction beyond right-wing sites, which may suggest that the rest of the media has wised up to the Breitbart/James O'Keefe M.O. Or maybe it was just too distracted by the birthers to be bothered.