Conspiracies, Mysteries, Secret Societies – Ohh My!

As a child I somehow acquired several books along the lines of Reader’s Digest’s Unsolved Mysteries of the Past¬†and I always loved these sorts of books – learning about all the things that we can’t quite explain or understand. More recently I read (and reviewed) Man, Myth, & Magic (Vol. 1).

mystery box

More recently I picked up Brad and Sherry Steiger’s Conspiracies and Secret Societies. This volume was an enjoyable read, unfortunately, it lacked the more detailed methodology I prefer when reading these sort of books.

Namely, there is a bibliography at the end of the work but no notes on which articles utilized which bibliographic resources – and the bibliographic resources are quite varied in quality. Additionally, while the Steiger’s indicate they are taking a neutral voice, they oftentimes state things as if they were true and it is unclear whether they are pronouncing known facts or simply explaining the position of those who believe in x conspiracy.

All said, I can’t recommend the book as a reliable reference work, but it does provide a nifty jumping off point to learn about various conspiracies. Just keep in mind that what you read may be fanciful imaginings.

What I really wanted to share in this post is my list of interesting topics from the work – the things I’ve found interesting or would like to research further in the future (this is something I do recreationally). The reasons I am interested in various topics varies just as much as the topics – sometimes I think the idea is plausible while at other times I find the idea so implausible I want to know more about those who dreamed up such and such. Others seem far-fetched but are interesting enough for further exploration…

Topic Note
AIDS/HIV Origins of the disease.
Airship of 1897 What was it? Mass delusion?
Alchemy Predecessor to chemistry, attempted to turn base metals into gold.
Alien Abductions
Al-Qaeda Origins, relationships.
Alternative 3 Was there a 1960’s secret space program that sent a group of our brightest to colonize the moon?
American Protective Association Tried to keep Roman Catholics out of political office.
Anarchists On the Steiners’ list: William Godwin, Max Stirner, Henry David Thoreau, Mother Jones, Lucy Parsons, Emma Goldman, Big Bill Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Nicola Sacco, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Noam Chomsky.
Anthrosophy Founded by Rudolf Steiner.
Apocalyptic Millennialism Variety and history of beliefs about the end times.
Army of God Anti-Abortionist Terrorists.
Aum Shinrikyo Means “Supreme Truth” – a relatively recent (1987) cult responsible for terrorism¬†in Japan.
B-25 Ghost Bomber Where did this bomber disappear to after crashing into a river?
Dr. Fred Bell Died after being on Jesse Ventura’s conspiracy show, invented the “X-1 Healing Machine”, etc.

Okay that is enough for one day…I’ll add some more of the topics I found interesting another time.

Escape Plan (Movie Review, R)

I had a coupon for a free rental from Redbox. I’d been wanting to see Escape Plan and figured I’d pick it up…But I didn’t use my coupon. It would have taken ten minutes last night and ten minutes today to pick up and drop off the DVD. Instead I booted up HitBliss and watched slightly over 10 minutes of commercials – then I rented the movie using my credits from watching the commercials. Shorter time, no late fees, no need to leave the house.

The poster for the movie, Escape Plan.
The poster for the movie, Escape Plan.

The story is that Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is a private contractor who is hired to test prison security systems. Some people don’t like Breslin so much and arrange for him to be put into an escape-proof prison. Here he meets Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character – a rough “thieve from the rich, give to the poor” criminal and they make an awkward alliance to escape the prison.

Escape Plane is a fairly straightforward action flick with a few small twists and turns at various junctures. I’d complain that the storyline is unbelievable – the good guys dodge way too many bullets but then I remembered the biography of Chesty Puller I’d read when I was younger – a story which seems improbable, implausible – and yet is historical – a man who moved through wars as if invincible. I’d complain that the escape plans are too complicated, too ridiculous, that the chances of everything coming together are too mathematically improbable but then I remembered the book I read about about the Nazi prison camp for Allied officers called Colditz and the many ingenious and implausible escapes (and attempts) that took place there.

An action film telling a prison escape must take some liberties with how the individuals escape – an actual escape takes place over an extended period of time (as it does in the film) and requires numerous components to all fall into place through agonizingly painful and detailed work. Remember when watching the film that the film director decided not to force us to watch in agonizing detail how various components were scavenged or how certain items were built or compromised.

But even if the movie was implausible – I still wanted to see it. Why? Because it has two actors who’ve been in a lot of corny and a few good movies – who are feeling their age and yet still put on an enjoyable show (yes, I’m talking about Schwarzenegger and Stallone). Honestly, Schwarzenegger alone will usually attract my attention. I get a kick out of watching the Governor of California play a gun toting good guy.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, by a really robust cast – not necessarily your A-liners – but just some actors I really, really enjoy…you know, mainly the ones you can’t remember their names. There was Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ), the sadistic warden. Amy Ryan (The Office) plays a supporting role to Breslin in his contracting business. Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) is a morally conflicted prison doctor serving in the prison. Vincent D’Onofrio (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) plays Breslin’s business partner. Vinnie Jones plays his usual tough bad guy role…ohh, and don’t forget 50 Cent. I don’t listen to his music – is it permissible for me to like him as an actor?

There is plenty of hand-to-hand combat, lots of gunfire, some explosions, no sex, but a whole boatload of profanity and some crude humor. Watching this film with Clearplay would clean things up significantly.

The film clocks in at almost two hours – this is long for an action film – and you feel it with this one. Yet, the film is still enjoyable – and includes some laugh-out-loud humor primarily provided by Stallone and Schwarzenegger. If you are looking for some brainless fun – Escape Plan isn’t a bad bet.

For those who want more information on the objectionable content, I recommend checking out Common Sense Media’s review here.

Ohh, and did I mention it raises some interesting ethical questions, as well? The film presents the question, “How far are we willing to go to keep those who are dangerous away from the rest of us?” It then proposes that doing so requires us to effectively sweep up with the bad guys some innocents…and is this an acceptable cost? The film portrays our heroes taking questionable actions to gain their freedom (including acting provocatively to provoke race riots within the prison) and at the end of the film the question of whether there is cruel and unusual punishment that should be avoided even for the abominably wicked is raised…mind you, the film is no intellectual piece of art – but it does offer several entry points for thought provoking discussion.