Monday, August 22, 2011

Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base

Oy vey, this tardiness by El Jefe is truly becoming unacceptable!  If there was an excuse for posting almost a month late, it would only be that El Jefe actually expected to finish the book one of these days and make an incredibly insightful remark about the ending.... but a no less heartfelt thanks to Ms. K for hosting a lovely summer's evening BC even while up to the elbows in a home renovation--and to Logan's Run for supplying an alternative venue!  You know we've been together a long time when we start swapping houses!

We started off the evening with zucchini keftedes with feta and dill, and a Greek yogurt dipping sauce, followed by a fusilli salad with garden vegetables and breast of chicken, mixed green salad, and chocolate chip cookies--all enjoyed alfresco in a candlelit atrium patio.  Dalish!

Zucchini Keftedes with Feta and Dill

Annie Jacobsen's Area 51:  An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base certainly was just that:  uncensored.  Clocking in at a whopping 544 pages, in hardcover, this book was anything but light summer reading.

"Area" matched its heavy-duty weight with a heavy-duty score:  8.5.  For those of you in attendance, this may come as a surprise, as you perhaps recalled the book hovering (pun intended) around 6 or 6.5.  However, El Jefe has taken the poetic (or whatever) license to retroactively rate this book to a 10!  You heard me right, Doctor, the mother of all grade inflations!  And that makes two 10s for the group, matched, if El Jefe's memory serves, only by the double-10 given to Zeitoun at the last holiday BC.

Redundant though it may be to say it, this work was truly an oeuvre.  Jacobsen covered, in exacting detail, the entire history of the "Black Ops" at Area 51 from the beginning of the Cold War to the present.  Not only did the book reveal information that the public had never before been exposed to, but it also raised questions about violence, morality, and the place of "America" in the world, both then and now.  The shit that went down at Area 51 was unreal, although unfortunately it does seem to have been real.  While the clandestine development and testing of spy planes is to be expected, what's amazing is the complete lack of governmental oversight--in some cases even the President did not have a "need to know."  Not sure that's such a good idea.  And what certainly is a downright bad idea is sending guys out with a Geiger counter to test radiation levels by hand with no protective clothing or vehicles.  Actually, the entire classified program of nuclear testing, from Operation Crossroads, to the atmospheric testing, to the underground testing, to the testing on animals, to the testing on fighter pilots, was (is?) sickening.  As many of us pointed out, if that was going on then, just think what's going on now. 

Well, that was not entirely a rhetorical point.  One of the things that is going on now is that the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (or "DARPA," as we know from the book) recently lost its latest and greatest aircraft:  the Falcon HTV-2.  This "hypersonic" aircraft was built to travel at 20 times the speed of sound, or 13,000 miles per hour (remember, the Oxcart traveled at 3 times the speed of sound, or "Mach 3").  The unmanned plane was supposed to be able to fly from Los Angeles to New York in 12 minutes.  However, up, up, and away....!  The $300 million aircraft went missing just minutes after its launch on August 11, when the ground crew "lost contact" with it.  The plane is believed to have crashed into the Pacific Ocean.  Losing a multi-multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art aircraft on a test flight?--that is so 1960's Pentagon!  C'est la vie.  Apparently we'll have to wait a bit longer to be able to strike rogue states anywhere in the world with nuclear weapons in under 60 minutes--the intended use for the Falcon HTV-2. 

Welcome to Area 51.

Operation Crossroads, 1946

Lockheed U-2 Spy Plane, 1957

Oxcart A12, 1964

 Falcon HTV-2, 2011... oops

Our next book (which, El Jefe trusts, everyone is well into by now) is In the Garden of Beasts, by Eric Larson (author of Devil in the White City--our March 2006 book!).  Until next time, which is right around the corner.  xoej