The Pentagon, On The Mulder Beat

The New York Times is reporting that the Pentagon recently created a highly classified project to examine claimed UFO sightings.  The project, called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, came into existence in 2007 at the urging of former Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who in turn was reacting to conversations with a friend, a billionaire aerospace company founder, who believed in UFOs and alien visits.

i-want-to-believe1The secret program, which was funded with “black” money and was never discussed during debate on the floor of the Senate, also was supported by other senators, including Ohio Senator John Glenn.  The AATIP studied video and audio footage of “close encounters,” including an incident where a Navy jet was surrounded by a glowing object of unknown origin traveling at a high rate of speed, and interviewed people involved in the encounters.  The program was shuttered in 2012, and a Pentagon spokesperson explained:  “It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change.”  According to the Times, however, the Pentagon is still involved to a certain extent in investigating new close encounters.

Is it worth checking out credible reports of close encounters with UFOs?  Sure, why not?  I’m not sure I believe there are aliens among us — if they are, why haven’t they stepped forward and shared the advanced technology that allowed them to get here in the first place? — but there is certainly enough room for doubt to justify investigating such incidents.  UFO report investigation is at least as worthy of funding as many of the boondoggles the federal government is involved with.

But here’s the disturbing thing — the thing that might cause Fox Mulder on the X-Files beat to nod knowingly.  The program was funded with “black” money and kept totally secret from the American public.  Why were the Senators involved unwilling to allow the people to know what was going on at the time?  Did they really think the American public wasn’t ready to hear about a UFO investigation unit, and what it concluded from its investigations?  It smacks of appalling paternalism, at least — and Mulder and Scully might detect a whiff of deep-state conspiracy, too.  It also makes you wonder:  how many other super-secret programs are out there, being funded with “black” money at the direction of our elected representatives, that we don’t know about?

From Ex to X

In a few weeks filming will begin on six new episodes of The X-Files.  The mini-series of new adventures of Mulder and Scully will be broadcast on Fox starting next January.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this, really.  Any good TV series that goes off the air is capable of being reintroduced years — in the case of The X-Files, more than a decade — after the network run ended, so long as the actors who played the main characters haven’t kicked the bucket.  TV shows spawn movies, and movies spawn TV shows.   They are working on a Galaxy Quest TV show based on the classic 1999 movie, and planning another version of Celebrity Deathmatch.  Old ideas, characters, and settings get recycled, and the writers and producers hope they can connect with new viewers while not offending the diehard fans who want the new to stay true to the old.

The X-Files is a classic example of the challenges presented by this exercise in threading the needle.  The original show ran from 1993 to 2002 and was fresh, interesting, and delightfully creepy; it was one of the first adult shows we let Richard watch, and I always hoped he wouldn’t be permanently scarred or haunted by his exposure to people with black oil in their eyes or serially inbred families.  The early years of the team of by-the-book Dana Scully and true believer Fox Mulder and their encounters with the paranormal and sprawling governmental conspiracies were brilliant, distinctive and memorable.

But the show seemed to lose steam, and then there were X-Files movies, too.  Where did the plot line leave off?  I can’t remember — are Mulder and Scully married now?  Is The Lone Gunman still around?  What about Skinner?  I’m betting that I’m not alone in not remembering everything that happened in a series that ended 13 years ago and a movie that also sees like it came out long ago.  I need a refresher course.

I want to believe — just remind me what it is I’m supposed to believe, will you?

The Value Of Vitamins

This week the Annals of Internal Medicine published an editorial about the growing use of vitamin supplements in America that may come as a surprise to many Americans.

Entitled Enough is Enough:  Stop Wasting Money on Vitamins and Mineral Supplements, the strongly worded editorial summarizes three articles and the results of a number of large scale studies that produced “sobering evidence of no benefit or possible harm.”  The editorial’s concluding paragraph states:  “In conclusion, B-carotene, vitamin E, and possibly high doses of vitamin A supplements are harmful.  Other antioxidants, folic acid and B vitamins, and multivitamin and mineral supplements are ineffective for preventing mortality or morbidity due to major chronic diseases.”

America has become a nation of pill-poppers.  About half of Americans take some kind of dietary supplement, and Americans spend $12 billion a year on vitamins alone and $30 billion for all dietary supplements.  The notion that the vitamin supplements Americans are swallowing in record numbers are ineffective — or even harmful — may shock people. Of course, whether Americans learn of the editorial and the results of the studies, and then whether they stop taking the vitamins and dietary supplements, is anybody’s guess; one vitamin user interviewed by CBS said she would keep slugging down the pills anyway.

Why are Americans so committed to vitamins and supplements?  Some people blame the aggressive marketing of the products, but I think the root cause lies in two other factors.  First, for years Americans have been bombarded with stories about studies that conclude that something is good or bad — be it cyclamates, red dye #2, or something else.  These studies, I think, have conditioned people to believe that taking one substance, or avoiding another, could have significant health benefits.  If a “medical study” shows that avoiding something has a material effect on health, why is it so outlandish to believe that taking another substance — or a combination of substances — might have a similar beneficial effect?  The context created by the onslaught of “medical studies” establishes fertile ground for hawking vitamins and supplements.

Second, people clearly hope that a magic little pill or two can make up for their lack of exercise, poor diet, or other questionable lifestyle choices.  Like Fox Mulder on The X-Files, they want to believe — but unlike Mulder, they lack any true skepticism.  If they skip a walk and eat a quart of ice cream but take a vitamin or “fat-burning” concoction, they can rationalize that they are doing something positive about their health.  They simply don’t want to get the advice offered by one of the authors of the Annals of Internal Medicine articles:  “fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, low fat dairy, things like that ..exercising would probably be a better use of the money.”

And that’s probably why the Annals of Internal Medicine editorial won’t have much impact.  Believers believe, and hard advice and facts usually don’t get in the way.