Mysteries That Go Deep

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Wilhelm Reich became fairly well-known during the first half of the 20th century. He became  a psychoanalyst in the 1920’s, and was associated with Freud and Freud’s Psychoanalytic Society. He seems to have been a very effective psychoanalyst, but quickly became controversial, in part because he took Freud’s theories on sexuality further than Freud had. For one thing, he advocated creating situations in which teenagers could experiment with their sexuality safely. In western cultures the teenage years are the time of the highest sex-drive, though most teenagers aren’t mature enough to engage in sex responsibly. This is less true in so-called primitive cultures.

Another controversy was over his introducing physical manipulation to psychoanalysis. His finding that neurosis was manifested in the body, as well as in the mind and emotions, by chronically tight muscles, which he said were trying to hold in emotions the person was afraid of feeling. When he manually loosened these muscles his patients would often have bursts of deep sobbing, which Reich characterized as “the great softener”. When these muscles became soft, the patient could be more sensitive, though that sort of sensitivity may have been what some of them feared in the first place. Some emotions can be very threatening to some people.

Reich was also a Communist in the 1920’s, reasoning that only the German Communist party was strong enough to combat the Nazis. He was frustrated, though, because German Communists had very little idea about effective propaganda, unlike Hitler and the Nazis. Whatever else you might care to say about Hitler, his rallies weren’t boring.

Eventually Reich’s controversial ideas and behavior rubbed enough people the wrong way that he was expelled from the Psychoanalytic Society, and decided to leave Austria and Germany for more hospitable countries. If I remember correctly, he went first to Denmark, and then to Norway. In Norway he was first welcomed, but once discovered by the press (and after some quarrels with associates), Norway became less welcoming too. On the eve of World War II he emigrated to the United States.

By the time he arrived in this country, his focus had widened. He had begun microscopic investigations, and claimed to have discovered dead materials coming to life, and to have found particles which transformed the dead materials and enhanced the function of living entities. He called these particles “orgones”, and after having established himself in this country, used his psychoanalytic practice mainly to finance his research into orgones and related subjects.

One of his experiments was to create what he called an “orgone box”, made of altermantiong layers of metal and organic materials. He claimed that sitting in one of these boxes for short periods on a regular basis enhanced human bodily functioning.

One interesting example of his use of them was treating a woman with terminal cancer. She hadn’t been a person with a happy life. She had been married, the marriage had ended, and she had never remarried. After several weeks of treatment in the orgone box, her cancer went into at least partial remision. However, she became uncomfortable with the physically healthier feelings she was having, discontinued the treatment, and sometime later did die of the returning cancer. Reich’s theory (he didn’t treat her long enough to be able to confirm it) was that at least one of the factors in her having contracted cancer in the first place was her discomfort with sexual feelings.

Sex, he felt, at its best was a total body experience, and a way for the human organism to get rid of all sorts of tensions. If one or more people involved had chronic tensions they were unable to let go of, the sexual experience would be incomplete, and sexual feelings might be experienced as threatening rather than joyful. From this insight he devised a view of how people’s sexual functioning related to their political views. The more free and relaxed people could be in the sexual act, the more healthy they were likely to be in general, and their political views were more likely to be life-affirming than against life. This would mean that people with unhappy and incomplete sex lives were more likely to be attracted to authoritarian or totalitarian ideologies.

Reich didn’t see any humans as being totally healthy in this sense, but thought the true conservative to be closest to sexual health, and the true liberal next. These two positions formed a spectrum: the further from the relatively healthy position, the more likely fanaticism. Fanaticism on the conservative end of the spectrum he called, “black fascism”. On the liberal end, “red fascism”, and discerned little difference in the relative behaviors besides rhetoric.

In the later 1940’s after World War II had ended, a journalist did a story on Reich, making him out to be a total charlatan. The US Health Department picked up on this story, began investigating, and eventually condemned Reich, fined him, put him in prison, and burned his books. Book-burning has seldom happened in the USA, so someone must have felt very threatened by his findings. Reich died in prison, shortly before he was to be released.

In all fairness, Reich’s research got into some very weird areas, including UFO’s, atomic radiation, etc. His son, Peter, wrote a memoir of his life with his father, which he published in the 1970’s. One of my friends was acquainted with Peter Reich, and commented to him about all the weird stuff he talked about in his book. My friend told me that Peter Reich had said that he’d left out the REALLY wierd stuff.

A contmeporary of Reich’s, Immanuel Velikovsky, also became a psychoanalyst, at about the same time, after being something of a child prodigy: he learned several languages when young, earned a medical degree, with a strong background in history and law, before going into psychoanalysis. He practiced psychoanalysis in Palestine, did scholarly work, and took his family to the United States just before World War II began. There he spent a lot of time in the many libraries in New York City.

One question on his mind was whether there was a description of the plagues that afflicted Egypt before the Israelites left the country from the Egyptian point of view. He discovered one, by someone named Ipuwer, who described catastrophes that matched descriptions in the book of Exodus pretty well. He also noted the anecdote in the book of Joshua about the sun standing still, something which, if it had actually happened, must have been noticed all over the world. He researched mythologies for that period from all over the world, and found that episode connected with a whole series of catastrophes. Eventually he theorized that the planet Venus had not always been where it is now, that it had come close to the earth several times within the time of recorded history, and had caused the plagues of Egypt, among other things.

Velikovsky’s theory was that Venus had originally been ejected from Jupiter, and had become a comet. That’s a literalization of the myth of the goddess Athena having been born from the head of Zeus. The theory sounds strange, but Velikovsky made several predictions that mainstream science of the time disagreed with, but which turned out to be accurate. For one thing, in the latter part of the 20th century, it was discovered that Venus has a tail, though it’s no longer visible, but extends some 45 million kilometers. Venus also spins in the opposite direction from all the other planets. And it’s hot, which Velikovsky had predicted, some 1000 degrees Fahrenheit on its surface. He also predicted that Jupiter would be found to emit a lot of raido waves, and that evidence of hydrocarbons would be found on Mars. All of the above turned out to be accurate.

His first book along this line, Worlds in Collision, took some time to find a publisher, but finally was published about 1950. Interestingly, a number of the publisher’s scientific author pressured them not to publish the book, and though it did anyway, the pressure was enough to cause them to fire the editor who had accepted the manuscript (although it had become a best-seller), and to transfer rights to the book to one of its competitors. That seems like rather strange behavior, not only on the part of the publisher, but also on the part of the scientists who brought pressure on the publisher. Why should the subject Velikovsky was writing about have aroused so much anger? And irrational anger at that. Scientists aren’t supposed to behave that way: they’re supposed to evaluate evidence on its merits before jumping to conclusions. Velikovsky may not have gotten everything right in his theories, but he clearly wasn’t entirely wrong either.

It’s not entirely surprising that Wilhelm Reich should have drawn the wrath of society on him. His work was in the area of sexuality, which remains a hot-button topic for lots of people. But why should Velikovsky’s work have aroused such an outcry? He did have one theory having to do with sexuality: that the Pharaoh Akhenaton was the original model for Oedipus of Thebes, who gave his name to Freud’s famous Oedipus Complex, but most of his work had to do with astronomy and mythology, which are not closely linked with sexuality.

Velikovsky’s own theory, which came from his psychoanalytic background, was that there had been catastrophes in the historic period, some caused by the proximity of Venus, some with other causes, which had been very traumatic for humans all over the world, and that being reminded of these past catastrophes was painful. I don’t know how true that idea is. I find Velikovsky’s ideas interesting, and I’m not sure how far I believe them, even though a number of his fairly startling predictions have proved accurate, but I haven’t experienced any trauma having to do with those ideas, as far as I’m aware. On the other hand, how else can such violent reactions be accounted for?

Obviously, not all people will react in the same way to the same stimuli. Ted Bundy claimed that pornography made him do it, but not everyone has that kind of response to pornography. Likewise with scientific theories. Sexuality is a powerful force in human matters, so some will inevitably experience it as threatening, but why should scientists (of all people) be threatened by ideas about astronomy? One possible reason is that they found these theories more plausible than the ones they were committed to. Threaten a person’s livelihood, and you may rouse a fairly irrational reaction. Even so, those events seem strange.

Others have since taken Velikovsky’s theories further. The planet Mars has been identified with a god of war for many cultures, not just the ancient Greeks and Romans. One author suggests the reason is a gigantic canyon on Mars’s northern hemisphere that looks like a scar a warrior might have. Also, the gods were often portrayed as using lightning as a weapon, and at least one scientist describes the canyon on Mars as having characteristics that suggest it was caused by electricity. It must have been an extreme amount of electricity, if that actually was the cause, which suggests that at one time the planets were much closer together, so their characteristics could readily be seen by the naked eye. That author suggests that the trauma had to do with the planets moving further apart, that humans had identified the planets with gods, and felt they were being deserted. This seems at least a bit more plausible as a cause for irrationality. We don’t see lightning flashes between the planets anymore, but since there’s electricity in earth’s environment, it doesn’t seem out of the question that it could also be generated by planets on the level of the solar system. Just how this electricity may have been generated, and just what caused the planets to move further apart (if in fact they did) is unclear to me.

But both men mentioned here seem to have penetrated some distance into the mysteries surrounding our life here on earth. Not only did they discover mysteries that haven’t been adequately explained, to my knowledge, but the response to their researches was mysterious too. Our lives may seem prosaic, but they’re built on mysteries that go very deep.

President Obama’s Speech

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Maybe I’m wrong in my interpretation of what President Obama said in his speech in Roanoke, VA. Maybe he really does believe that government, rather than private enterprise, provides the best life for most people. I’m inclined to see this controversy as part of a continuing argument as to whether competition or cooperation is better, with lots of buzzwords included. There were a lot of essays in this past Sunday’s Roanoke, VA Times addressing both sides (at least) of the issue.

One said that if the takers take everything from the givers, the golden goose will stop laying eggs. The author didn’t address just who the takers are, because that’s been established in the public mind: the government is the taker, and it passes along what it gets to welfare recipients. The author didn’t define just who the welfare recipients are either. They’ve been identified in the American mind as poor people who don’t want to work. But some have begun to come to different conclusions after seeing the Wall Street and other bailouts that began four years ago.

Another essay is enraged that the President didn’t give respect to business people who started or enlarged businesses. He said that government had nothing to do with the success of the businesses, but I don’t think that’s entirely true. Government has provided lands for businesses to use, as well as subsidies and tax loopholes to benefit businesses. And that’s not mentioning the infrastructure and services that benefit businesses as well as ordinary people.

I don’t disrespect businesses for the initiative and hard work that made them successful. What I don’t respect is the ethic of profit above anything else. Any business that provides a good product or service for a reasonable price, treats its employees well, and doesn’t leave toxic messes behind it has my complete respect. The problem is that many, but by no means all, seem to have no other ethic but profit.

Apple is a highly profitable company because they’ve made a lot of products people like. But we’ve been discovering that their factories in China keep their workers in dormitories, make them work 30-60 hour shifts (which makes little sense to me), leaving their workers unable to use their hands for the rest of their lives, poorly paid, and with high rates of suicide. Is all this true? I haven’t seen those conditions for myself, so I don’t know. Does it make sense as a business plan? In the short term, it probably does. In the long term, I doubt it. I don’t believe that kind of injustice pays in the long run, which may make me naive. And I don’t know how much Apple dictated the work conditions, but whether they were Apple’s idea or not, Apple is complicit, and from what I read, they haven’t been willing to change them. So Apple is a successful business, at least for now, but what is its ethic? How many people would want to work in those conditions?

That sort of exploitation hasn’t exactly been unusual in history. Take a look at the history of slavery and colonialism. Then take a look at the history of some of the businesses in this country. The coal industry, for example, which I wrote about in a previous post. I certainly didn’t say all there was to say there. The history of coal mining in the Appalachian mountains, for instance, is one of exploitation. Coal companies bought mineral rights from people who thought they could sell those rights without giving up their land. When they discovered they were wrong, they had few choices: they could work for the coal companies, leave the area entirely, or starve. Most took the first choice, living in company towns where they were paid with scrip that could only be redeemed in the company stores, and generally be perpetually in debt to those stores. The coal companies rarely enforced good safety standards in the mines, so many miners were killed in cave-ins or explosions, or got silicosis from breathing too much coal dust. Then some of the companies began mining by blowing the tops off mountains, contributed heavily to the presidential campaign of George W. Bush, and were rewarded by having environmental regulations changed, allowing them to dump toxic waste anywhere they wanted to, creating health hazards for the people living in those areas, and potentially for much of the rest of the eastern United States, by polluting the aquifers that provide drinking water to millions. Who exactly were the givers and takers in this scenario?

Do the bad deeds of business make government noble, and therefore the best hope for most people? Of course not. Governments are as fully capable of evil deeds as any other entity, as we’ve seen in the history of the past century or so. But evil deeds by governments don’t excuse those of businesses, or vice versa. Businesses are the engine of the economy, but if they only benefit the few, of what use are they? There are a lot of people in the world, most of whom are willing and able to work. If they’re unable to find work that enables them to survive and have a decent material life, whom does that benefit?

When I was beginning to work for a living there was still a lot of manufacturing in the United States, though it was beginning to go away. That meant there were a lot of entry-level jobs available for young people that didn’t require high levels of skill, and where people could decide to stay and make a career, or decide to move on to something that better suited their talents. That’s no longer true. There are few entry-level jobs available even for those with college degrees, and those degrees are generally necessary to get any kind of well-paying job. Government loans and land-grant colleges (as one essay in Sunday’s paper pointed out) have enabled a lot of people to get good educations and jobs. That’s an example of positive interventions by the government. So why were Republicans trying to get the interest on college loans doubled recently? So fewer people could go to school and acquire the skills to get good jobs? What sense does that make? One of the columns in the paper decries Obama’s speech as class warfare. I think the above example was class warfare: the warfare obviously doesn’t go only in one direction.

The column by the businessman also decried excessive regulation. No doubt there are foolish regulations, but there are also regulations that aren’t so foolish, and need to be enforced for the benefit of all the citizens. Not just environmental and safety regulations (would CEO’s want to work in conditions where they could be crippled, or there families to live in areas where gold has been mined by soaking the environment in cyanide?), but regulations to prevent banks from speculating with their customer’s money. There was such a regulation, the Glass-Steagall Bill, enacted during the Great Depression, but that was repealed during the late 1990’s. It didn’t take many years for the worst economic downturn since the Depression to happen. Without good laws, intelligently enforced, all kinds of things can happen that are not only bad for ordinary citizens, but eventually bad for business too. I recently saw a poster on Facebook that asked, Of all the crooks on Wall Street, why did only Bernie Madoff get convicted? Answer, Because he stole from the 1%. That seems to be only too true. When power becomes concentrated in too few hands, laws are made only for the benefit of the powerful. It’s happened in many places, and throughout history.

That’s why there has to be a balance between government and the private sector. Neither should be allowed to get too powerful, but neither should get too powerless either. Governments that aren’t powerful enough can be precursors to totalitarianism or other forms of tyranny just as governments that are too powerful can be. Governments and private businesses both have a responsibility to the communities where they exist. Those communities have contributed to the success of both, by providing assent to their existence in the first place, as well as workers, consumers and tax-payers to make them run. Competition isn’t a bad thing in itself (though as John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out, many industries have devoted much effort to eliminate it), any more than cooperation is. A balance is needed there too, and without these balances, the whole system will fail. It would be a tremendous tragedy to see the best things about America end that way.

Scientific Cover-Ups

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I wonder why some people are generally open-minded, and others generally closed. This election year is a particularly good time to ask that question, but that’s a subject for a future post. I’ve been rereading Forbidden History, an anthology of articles from the magazine Atlantis Rising, which publishes articles about “alternative science”. That is, scientific ideas that the mainstream scientific establishment refuses to consider, no matter how well-founded they seem to be.

One of these subjects is Darwin’s theory of evolution. The way mainstream media frames this question, we can only choose between believing Darwin and believing what is known as “creationism”, which is pretty exclusively an excuse for taking the Bible literally. Literalism seems foolish to me, and to a lot of other people, but, for one example, if we take the creation story in the book of Genesis as a metaphor it’s not so different from the modern scientific version of what happened, in that Genesis describes our world as having been created in stages. So does modern science. Its general narrative is that it took time for conditions to support our type of life to develop, that the first appearance of life was one-celled creatures that eventually joined together to produce the vast array of life we see around us now. Someone remarked that life higher than single cells is an arrangement that produces more attractive environments for cells, which is an interesting way to look at it. The main difference between this description of creation and that of the Biblical literalist is the scientific assertion that the “days” were much longer than literal days, and that accident, rather than God, was the prime mover. Historically, one reason for this difference was the response of organized religion, especially the Roman Catholic church, to scientific discoveries. Roman Catholicism had claimed to have all knowledge (a very risky claim), and didn’t take it well when science began proving that they didn’t, at least as early as the 16th century.

What is peculiarly ironic is that mainstream science has demonstrably become a “religion” like the one they historically struggled against. Darwin’s theory is one of a number of areas in which scientists have ignored evidence they find inconvenient. Relatively few people buy into the idea that the Bible is literally true. That idea is reserved pretty exclusively for fundamentalist Christians. But some scientists have now identified problems with Darwin’s theory, which means that neither hypothesis is tenable.

According to Darwin, evolution occurs because of random mutations, some of which continue, if they help a species better adapt and survive. So Darwin predicted that fossils would be found showing the transition from any ancient species to a new and improved version. But no such fossils have been found. The new and improved versions simply appear. One fairly famous scientist was asked about the “missing link” (meaning the transition between ape and man (current theory says that we and apes are descended from a common ancestor, which seems plausible, since our species have most of the same DNA), and the scientist replied that there are HUNDREDS of missing links. The author of the article adds that it’s not that there is any scarcity of fossils, just of the ones that would prove Darwin’s theory.

Another objection to Darwin’s theory is that if evolution is going on constantly, as he thought, we should have seen species evolve from one into another in historical times. Science is constantly discovering new species, but they’re all species simply not noticed before. They’re not familiar species turning into new ones.

A particularly difficult question for evolutionary theory to explain is the transition from non-flowering plants to flowering ones. Flowering plants reproduce sexually, and depend on symbiosis with bees (and possibly other insects) to bring the male pollen to female plants to fertilize them. How could flowering plants have evolved independently of these insects? And how could the insects have evolved independently of the plants? Flowering plants are a gigantic step forward from non-flowering plants, and are thus considerably more complex. How could such a plant produce such a complex mutation without the symbiotic partners that would make it work? Some scientists still believe that accidents could have created life as we know it, but “accidents”  really don’t explain the complexity of the DNA molecule, for just one example, upon which all life on this planet is based. One article quotes Michael Behe, a biology professor, as saying that there are several other examples: “…blood clotting, cilia, the human immune system, and the synthesis of nucleotides.”  “These are so irredemiably complex that no gradual, step-by-step Darwinian route could have led to their creation.” Darwin, of course, came too early to know anything about microbiology, but he did know about the problem of flowering plants, and could find no answer to it. Neither have his succesors.

But the very human tendency, once a person or group believes something, is to ignore any evidence to the contrary. And not just to ignore it, but often enough, to actively persecute anyone who dares to believe otherwise, of which there are many examples; not just in the history of religion (mainly the Judeo-Christian religions), but in the history of science and politics as well.

Another article in the book cites the case of Virginia Steen-McIntyre, an archaeologist, who was asked to date archaeological sites in Mexico, where very sophisticated stone tools had been found. This was in the mid-1960s. The sites were thought to be very old, perhaps as much as 20,000 years. Steen-McIntyre wanted to date the tools and sites as accurately as possible, so she used four different techniques. To her surprise, the age was determined to be more like 250,000 years. Rather than accepting that result, and altering theory to account for it, contemporary scientists denounced her so enthusiastically that she could never find a job in that field again.

More recently a scientist was analyzing chemicals in the bodies of Egyptian mummies, and was startled to find both tobacco and cocaine in many of them. She too was denounced, but continued to replicate her results with other mummies. Some plant related to tobacco might possibly have been available from Africa or Asia, but the coca plant, from which cocaine is derived, is only grown in one area of the world: South America. There may not have been a very regular trade between the Old and New worlds at that period, but obviously there was SOME trade. No other credible explanation has been suggested as to how ancient Egyptians had acquired those drugs.

The same article talking about the experience of Steen-McIntyre uses that as an example of what Richard Thompson and Michael Cremo discuss in their book, Forbidden Archaeology. They relate many discoveries made in the last two centuries that were either overlooked or actively suppressed by the scientific establishment. Another example is of human fossils and artifacts found in California at levels identified as between 9 and 55 million years old, well before humans are supposed to have been around. No comment from the scientific establishment.

There are other examples cited, but the question is, why wouldn’t mainstream science investigate the evidence? One fairly obvious reason is that mainstream science is invested in a particular view of things because that view gives them a position of privilege, which alternate explanations might remove. So  senior scientists enforce that view by failing to encourage younger scientists to look at alternative explanations of a whole range of phenomena (or refusing to publish, or denouncing their results if they do), so young scientists, knowing on which side their bread is buttered, may decide not to conduct research in controversial areas. That leads to the question of why scientists are so invested in a particular worldview.

Thompson and Cremo say that when they began their book they expected to find a few examples of evidence that contradicts the line of official science, but actually found tremendous amounts of it, leading them to believe that a conscious cover-up has been going on for a long time. They deecided to make their book as scientifically irrefutable as possible.

“‘The standard,’ says Cremo, “[meant] the site had to be identifiable, there had to be good geological evidence on the age of the site, and there had to be some reporting about it, in most cases in the scientific literature.'” That didn’t prevent their efforts from being denounced, and I’ve never read about the work of these two scientists anywhere else, have you? I don’t read scientific literature, but their thesis seems controversial enough to me that it might have been picked up by the mainstream press. It’s now pretty commonly accepted that the dinosaurs died because of an asteroid falling on what is now the Yucatan peninsula, which was once a pretty controversial idea. Apparently too many wish for Thompson and Cremo’s controversy to go away for it to get much publicity. Cremo mentions an investigation by one Davidson Black in Zhoukoudian in China, which was financed by the Rockefeller Foundation, and quotes from the correspondence between them and Black.

“…thus we may gain information about our behavior of the sort than can lead to wide and beneficial control.” Cremo’s response is, ‘”Control by whom?'” That is indeed an interesting question.

In a future post I want to concentrate more specifically on the outright persecution of two fairly famous scientists, though I’m not too sure how much more light I can shed on the reasons for such persecution.

General George C. Marshall

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In the Sunday Roanoke (VA) Times this past week was a piece, by John Winfrey, a professor emeritus of Washington and Lee University,  about General George C. Marshall, a man prominent before, during and after World War II, and best known for the Marshall Plan, which helped European countries begin reconstruction after the war. The latter is perhaps the wisest single act of foreign policy the USA has ever undertaken, since it helped millions of people, including those in formerly enemy countries, survive and eventually have comfortable lives. That contributled mightily to peace in the post-war world, and prevented Communist Russia and China from claiming new adherents. Had our country simply allowed most of Europe to starve because they didn’t have the resources to feed their people, the consequences wouldn’t have been bad just for Europe, but for us, and the rest of the world too, in my opinion.

Marshall had been a commander in Europe during World War I, and had become an aide to General John J. Pershing, who oversaw the entire American military effort there. After the war he bacame prominent again, first in organizing the training of US troops, then later in Washington DC. He arrived there in 1939, was rapidly promoted, and was called upon to do all the testifying in Congress about why it was necessary for this country to prepare for war. Winfrey emphasizes that most of Congress knew and agreed that this was necessary, but that didn’t prevent them from playing political games with the issue. Democracy isn’t the greatest system for getting urgent issues realistically addressed, because of the separation of powers built into our system of government (one reason why some have favored authoritarian or totalitarian governments). Separation of powers is meant to assure that no one branch of government gets so strong as to be able to override the other branches, but it can also be an invitation to political game-playing, which, as Winfrey points out, has been the historical norm in this country.

How did George Marshall make his contribution before, during and after World War II? Winfrey says it’s because he had developed a reputation for being strictly nonpartisan. His interest seems to have been in getting necessary work done, the people he dealt with seem to have recognized that, and his view of things was realistic enough to enable enough people to agree, so that the USA could prepare for, and eventually play a major role in winning World War II. Winfrey says that had preparations for war been characterized as Roosevelt’s suggestion, they would probably have been defeated. Since they were seen as Marshall’s suggestion, they passed.

Of course we can debate whether World War II is something we as a country should have been involved in, but I don’t think there’s much question that it was the most popular of our wars, and seen by most people as necessary. Things weren’t perfect after the war, but consider what the world might be like now had the Germans and Japanese won. Probably few of us would be happy with such a world.

Marshall retired after the war, but was recalled to Washington by President Truman to be Secretary of State. He agreed to go, and before taking the job, promised that he would never run for office. He knew, Winfrey says, that his lack of partisanship would be more important than ever. He then negotiated the Marshall Plan, which I suspect was an unprecendented piece of diplomacy. Has any other country helped countries it has defeated in war to recover, and left them relatively independent? I can’t immediately think of any. Winfrey says that had the plan been called the Truman Plan, it would never have been enacted. Calling it the Marshall Plan made it politically acceptable to most of Congress.

Contrast that act of statesmanship with the situation in Congress today. When Mitch McConnell said, two or three years ago, that his overriding goal was to make President Obama a one-term president, he was essentially saying that he would do nothing to help improve the economy for the average American, because if he did, President Obama would get the credit, and might win a second term. McConnell may or may not sincerely believe that getting rid of Obama is in the country’s best interest, but is it in the interest of all of his constituents (and not just some) for the economy to fail to improve or get worse? He certainly seems to be saying that the welfare of average Americans is unimportant to him, certainly in the short term, and arguably in the long term too.

Winfrey points to the administration of Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression as paralleling what is happening now. During his first term Roosevelt used economic stimulus to give out-of-work Americans jobs, to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, and push the economy towards recovery. According to Winfrey, there was so much resistance to economic stimulus that during Roosevelt’s second term policy shifted to balancing the budget–and the economy started going downhill again. It took the economic stimulus of World War II to pull us out of the Depression entirely, and create the relatively broad-based wealth that characterized this country after the war. General Marshall didn’t create that vibrant economy, but he did make major contributions to our winning the war, and then sharing the fruits of our economy with other countries in a way that promoted peace and freedom rather than poverty and tyranny.

It seems clear to me (not that I’m unbiaseed) that the lack of cooperation in today’s Congress is adversely affecting a whole lot of Americans. Who does that benefit? It seems to benefit those in a position to direct government policy for their own benefit, but not the American people as a whole. I think President Obama may aspired to a role like Marhall’s, but he’s obviously been unable to succeed at that. So the question is, is there anyone who can or wants to? I believe there’s a great need for impartiality in our government, as well as in our daily lives, if this country is to retain its high position in the world, not only as a powerful country, but as a country that inspires people in the rest of the world because of our ideals and our success in carrying them out. This country has never been perfect, but we’ve done some very good things, and it would be nice to think that we will again. But without impartial leaders, as well as ordinary people, trying their best to do what is best for all, rather than what is best only for some, or only for themselves, recovering a moral vision and acting effectively on it seems less and less likely.

Ice Ages and Disruptions Following the Last One

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Ice ages seem to be part of a natural cycle, related to the earth’s axial tilt with regard to the sun, and to variations in the earth’s orbit around the sun. The earth rotates on its axis tilting between 25 degrees at its greatest tilt, and 22 degrees at its least. That tilt changes regularly and slowly over time. So also does the earth’s orbit around the sun. On a regular basis the earth’s orbit may vary by millions of miles. When the axial tilt and the and this irregularity of orbit coincide, so that most of earth’s surface get fairly equal amounts of sunlight, though the sun is further way, ice ages are likely to begin. The most recent ice age lasted about 100,oo0 years, thought its extent fluctuated. Peak glaciation was reached about 17,000 BC. Strangely, most glaciation was gone about 2,000 years later, which suggests that some unknown factor affected the ice melting. What that was is unknown, though someone wrote that a great way to start an ice age is for a comet or asteroid to land on a continent. This would send an immense amount of dirt into the atmosphere, causing the earth to become generally cooler, by screening off the sun. On the other hand, a good way to end an ice age is for a comet or asteroid to land in the ocean, sending immense amounts of water vapor into the atmosphere causing a great deal of rain, which would begin melting the glaciers. We don’t know if this is what ended the ice age, though it seems plausible, but it also might have been some other mechanism  at work.

In any case, the end of the ice age, according to Graham Hancock, in Fingerprints of the Gods, began a period of geologic volatility: lots of earthquakes, lots of extremely large volcanic eruptions (which he compares with Krakatoa), a lot of reglaciation, followed by deglaciation again, and plenty of floods. For those who don’t know, Krakatoa was a volcano in the Indian Ocean which erupted with extreme violence in the 19th century, and put so much debris into the atmosphere that the following year had little or nothing in the way of a summer, worldwide. Picture a whole bunch of Krakatoas if not erupting at once, then erupting in fairly close succession. This was probably the period in which the human race came closest to extinction, and, according to Hancock, it lasted SEVEN thousand years, longer than all our recorded history. If there was no worldwide flood during this period (and there’s evidence to suggest there was), there were at least a lot of local ones, all over the world.

Evidence includes fossilized whales at fairly high altitudes in Alabama, Vermont and Ontario. Also large numbers of animals in at least one site in both England and Sicily, suggesting that both were entirely underwater at some point. There also seems to have been a very large lake created from ice-melt, which covered large parts of Canada and the USA, and took at least a hundred years to drain. There are also legends associated with this time. Most parts of the world have flood legends, and many of those legends are remote from the area of the Middle East. Not just in Europe, China, India and the Pacific, but also in the Americas. Many of them parallel the legends in the Bible and other Middle Eastern sources in citing divine help in saving the few humans that did survive, whether in the building of an ark, being saved inside a tree or on top of a mountain, one of which had the useful property of being able to float on water.

Robert Lomas and Christopher Knight, in Uriel’s Machine, say that salt plains in Utah are made from sea salt, which suggests a tremendously high tsunami to be able to reach through the mountains separating the area from the Pacific Ocean. They also menion the Caspian Sea (far from any ocean), and Lakes Van and Urmia in the middle east, which they say are salt lakes at a relatively high altitude. A comet or asteroid hitting an ocean might plausibly be enough to produce that kind of flooding.

Lomas and Knight experimented with structures similar to Stonehenge and other henges found in the British Isles, France, and elsewhere in the world, and found them to be devices that enabled the people who constructed them to keep track of what was happening in the sky, so they could tell if another comet was likely to hit the earth. Rand Flem’Ath, in The Atlantis Blueprint suggests that these henges could also help people keep track of movements within the earth, which could also cause terrifying destruction.

He also says that many of the earth’s ancient cities and holy places were constructed at fairly regular intervals, often right on latitudes whose numbers frequently end in 5 or zero. This is less clear when using the Greenwich prime longitudinal meridian, but when the Great Pyramid is used as the prime meridian, then numbers come out more evenly. And there are a lot of such places. Not just Jericho and Jerusalem, as one might expect, but also Nippur (which he calls the holiest city of ancient Sumeria), and cities like Pyongyang in Korea, Lhasa in Tibet, Quito in South America, and Easter Island. He theorizes that a worldwide civilization set up observation posts in many of these areas, since they were aware that potentially catastrophic earth movements were coming, and hoped to be able to predict where they would come, and in which directions the earth would move. Later peoples, unaware of their original use, considered them holy places, and frequently built cities around them.

There are various dates and causes ascribed to a worldwide flood. Lomas and Knight think there was a worldwide flood about 7600 BC, and then another more localized in the Mediterranean area, which they think happened in the 4th millenium BC, just before written history began, both of which they think were caused by comets. Rand Flem’Ath thinks there was a tremendous earth movement about 9600 BC, which put the earth into its current configuration. His theory is derived from that of Charles Hapgood, who believed that it’s sometimes possible for the earth’s crust to move relatively long distances relatively quickly under certain conditions. This would be a separate phenomenon from the slow earth movement that happens through tectonic plate movement, and which happens at a fairly constant rate. Hapgood had sent his theory to Albert Einstein, who thought it was scientifically sound. He and Einstein thought such movements might be caused by the large asymmetrical ice packs at the poles interacting with the forces of the earth’s rotation. Whether their belief in the cause was accurate or not, there’s evidence that earth’s landmasses have moved in the past.

There’s evidence that both Antarctica and islands around the north pole were once tropical, for instance. On one such island remains of a fruit tree 90 feet tall was found, and fossils of tropical life have been found on Antarctica. There’s also evidence that the poles have moved. The current north pole is located in the ocean near Greenland, but during the last ice age it was in the Hudson Bay area, and previous to that it was somewhere in the Yukon. Thee’s also evidence of previous ice ages beginning in Africa, India and Australia.

Another theory has to do with the magnetic poles (different from the geographic poles) reversing. Apparently this has happened a number of times, and one geologist suggests that it could cause the earth to lose its orientation, and to roll in a chaotic manner. This last seems unlikely to me, as earth’s rotation on its axis works like a gyroscope. Disturbance to its axial rotation would also tend to disrupt its orbit, in my opinion, which makes me think it would either move to an orbit further out, or fall into the sun. The latter seems more likely to me, but I lack the scientific knowledge to be able to say definitively.

Earth’s crust shifting seems more plausible, because it explains a number of things. One is that North America has had a generally pleasant climate for the last 10,000 years or so, which would seem less likely if the north pole were still located around Hudson Bay. Another is the number of quick-frozen mammoths found in Siberia, Alaska and the Yukon. This suggests that whatever happened was very quick, as the mammoths were found with undigested food in their stomachs, and food that hasn’t grown in those latitudes for a very long time.

It would also explain at least one of the 16th century maps I referred to in a previous post, which seems to show Antarctica without an icepack, at a time when Antarctica wasn’t even known by modern civilization, as far as we’re aware. Hapgood’s theory, taken up by Hancock, Flem’Ath and Colin Wilson, was that at least part of Antarctica was originally as much as 2,000 miles further north, where it would have had a much more pleasant climate, and where humans could have evolved to a very high level during the many thousands of years prior to the end of the last ice age. It was a large landmass, with mountains, a large river system, and plenty of fertile land. If this is true, it may well have been the land that Plato referred to as Atlantis, and evidence of its civilized past may now be buried under some 2 miles of ice.

My Mother’s Birthday Celebration

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I returned from meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio with my brother, my sister and her husband to celebrate my mother’s 95th birthday. My mother has clearly begun to fail. Her memory is no longer good, as we saw a number of times during the visit, and her physical balance isn’t good either. Her energy level is low too. We tried going to a local historical museum to see an exhibition related to Pompeii, but decided not to. She came back to my sister’s place and had a long nap. Then we had a very nice supper, provided by my sister, and sat around talking. It was very pleasant. My mother provided memories of relatives and other people we’d known, but kind of dropped out of the conversation after awhile, until about 9:30 pm, when she said she needed to get home to bed. She lives in the independent living part of an assisted living facility just a few blocks from my sister and her husband.

So I think this is a good opportunity to write something about her and her life. She didn’t have a high public profile, but I think she made a difference in a number of people’s lives, including those of her children. All of us have been at least moderately successful, and I think she had a lot to do with shaping us. For one thing, she read to us regularly, so all of us became interested in reading, which I think is a useful interest. She also interested all of us in music because music was frequently being played on our record player, and she encouraged us to sing. She and my father also decided, I think consciously, not to have a TV in the house, which I think was also a good decision. Television has a lot of good information, but also a lot of useless information, and can also waste a lot of time.

She was born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh), before her parents moved the family to Cleveland, Ohio, probably about 1920. Her sister has written an autobiography, and one of the things that impressed me in it was how they had to be constantly cleaning. There were many steel mills in both the Pittsburgh and Cleveland areas then, so there was a lot of soot in the air. I also remember, when we used to visit there in the 1950’s, that there was a chemical plant nearby that had an odd smell. Most, if not all those factories are gone now.

She grew up in the Evangelical and Reformed Church (now part of the United Church of Christ—I’ve heard there’s at least one other of those organizations). Interestingly, she had a black friend whom she met, I think, during either Junior High or High School, which was relatively unusual then. When I asked her about it, in recent years, she said that their church had no objection, which I think was probably also unusual then. She and her sisters had relatively liberal sentiments, though by no means radical. They and their brother went to local colleges: their brother to Case University, which was primarily a technical school, and the sisters to Western Reserve, which was a liberal arts school. My mother became a teacher, and worked (I think ) for several years at that after graduating from college.

But one of the things she found enriching in her life happened around the time World War II began. She went to Berea College in Kentucky to learn how to weave, and during that time found out about Pine Mountain Settlement School in Eastern Kentucky, which was started by a wealthy Kentucky woman to serve children of the mountain people in the area. She visited, and decided to work there, which she did for several years. The school was, I think, primarily a boarding school, as a lot of the students didn’t come from the immediate area. All had chores to do, in addition to classes, and one of the emphases of the school was preserving the heritage of the mountain people in terms of stories, music, dances and crafts. After my parents married we lived there for a couple of years, and my first clear memories begin there. My father worked as maintenance man there, but my parents decided to move to Ohio, as the sister who came immediately after me was retarded, and they thought they could find better care for her in Ohio.

So we moved to Salem, where my father grew up, and where his parents and brothers still lived. We rented a place until my father was able to build us a house across the street from one of his brothers, from whom he bought the land. My mother lived there for 44 years, before moving to a nearby assisted living facility with her older sister.

As my mother was busy raising children, she couldn’t do much about the Civil Rights movement going on in the 1950’s and 60’s, but she was interested in it. I remember a comic book my parents bought, probably in the late 50’s, about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, so I was aware of the movement, though I didn’t follow it closely. Later, after my father had died, and we children had left home, my mother’s older sister moved in with her, and they worked together with a museum in town to put together a database of all the black families that had lived in the town. Salem had been a stop on the Underground Railroad, but evidently wasn’t too welcoming to black families who settled there, as most of them moved on.

She worked as an elementary school teacher in Salem for probably about 20 years, before retiring. She (and her younger sister) had a lot of interest in children’s literature, and she exposed us to a fair variety of it. I suspect she also influenced a number of her students during that time too.

She had corresponded with my father during World War II, when he was serving as a Conscientious Objector in a Civilian Public Service camp. Actually, three different camps. He first served in Richmond, Indiana, where he worked for Earlham College (and later got a job there after the war). One of his brothers was a doctor, and served the armed forces in that capacity, while his other brother drove ambulances (in France, I think). My father was the only one of the three to refuse any service with the armed forces, and I think standing up for his principles in that way opened up his life. Besides the friends he made in that service, he corresponded with my mother, met her after the war, and decided to get married. I came along a couple of years later.

I’ve never met anyone who had a bad thing to say about either of my parents. Both were devout—my father had grown up a Quaker, and my mother converted, and I’ve heard that at least one person said she was exactly what a Quaker woman should be. Slightly ironic, since she wasn’t born in that faith. She was concerned about the Civil Rights movement, while my father had a concern that Christians ought to stand together, and drew no distinction between black and white Christians. He attended an ecumenical group from most or all the other churches in town for many years, which was how we met a retired black pastor and his wife, and eventually their son (I don’t recall if we met any other of their children) and his children, so that we knew them before we attended the private Quaker high school where my father and his brothers had been students. My brother, sister, and I were students there too.

I think both my father and mother were pretty exemplary parents, though that wasn’t as unusual then as now, particularly within the Quaker community in which we grew up. I’m afraid a lot of children are less fortunate today, so I have to be grateful to them both. My mother’s long and productive life is now coming to an end, and I think it deserves to be celebrated. She and my father were ordinary people in a lot of ways, but I think not so ordinary beneath the surface. I think people like them were less unusual then, but they seem to be fewer now. It’s easy for people to lose their way, and more seem to now than did then. Maybe there were more lost people then than I was aware of, but I think it’s incontestable that things have gotten worse in this country, and I think if there were more people like my parents now that might not be true. We were always well taken care of, and my parents always provided a good example for us. My mother was always interested in the wider world (my father to a somewhat lesser extent), so I think that’s something all of us got from them.

I’m hoping my mother doesn’t have to be bedridden, or at least not for long, and when her time comes, I hope she can go quickly and easily. She’s led a long and good life, perhaps with some failings, but I think not many. I think a lot of people will miss her when she’s gone, as I think she’s touched a lot of people’s lives. My brother, sister and I agreed we should try to meet for her birthday every year for as long as possible. We’ll have to say goodbye fairly soon, so it makes sense to spend as much time with her as we can before then. I’m afraid the world will be a poorer place without her.

Violence

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Sunday night I was driving home from Cincinnati and listening to Coast to Coast AM as I drove. The man being interviewed was named something like John Suzer, but I’m not sure of the spelling of his last name. He said he was an anarchist, and his take on the modern world was interesting. He’s generally anti-technology: he says that technology is supposed to fix all our problems, but that a good many problems are CAUSED by technology; that technology is supposedly neutral, but isn’t; that we feel we have to continue down the technological path even though it’s causing us great harm. Some of the harm he cites is pollution and drug-taking, the latter of which most Americans (at least) need to get through the day. So far, so plausible. Pollution is certainly an immense problem, and Americans don’t just take illegal drugs. They take all kinds of legal ones too. Not just tranquilizers and anti-depressants, vitamins,  and supplements, but alcohol, tobacco and sugar. I should know, I’m an American too.

But then he starts talking about violence, and how we shouldn’t have to need police to keep people from being violent. But then, he adds, in our present situation, police are needed. If someone is elderly, for instance, and lives in or visits the wrong part of town, they need to be able to call the police to protect themselves. So his assumption is that anarchism works if the population is less. He doesn’t say how we get to low population, and I can hardly imagine it’s going to happen without catastrophe. The number of people in the world I’ve been hearing for some years is 7 billion, but my brother said it’s now 9 billion. An awful lot of people are going to have to decide not to reproduce if we’re going to reduce population nonviolently, and I don’t see that happening.

Then it turns out that his assumption that a less populous world will be less violent is also flawed. Stephen Pinker has statistics to show that we’re actually in the least violent period of history, as far as we can tell. That seems pretty hard to believe, especially with all the violence of the last century; but, says Pinker, that’s because we haven’t looked closely at any other centuries. In the 19th century there were the Napoleonic wars, the American Civil War, numerous colonial wars (including our own wars against the Indians), the Zulus in South Africa, etc. The wars weren’t quite as large-scale, but they were big enough. And there has been a consistent drop in violence that’s not war-related too, he says. The murder rate in this country now is almost the lowest in our history, surpassed only by the later 1950s.

Why has there been relatively less violence? And it is only relative, of course. He cites Thomas Hobbes and Jean Jacques Rousseau as providing the opposite viewpoints in the 18th century: Hobbes opinion was that in the “state of nature” life was “nasty, brutish and short.” Rousseaus’s was that nature is kind, and man is not. Humans have the potential to be kind, but often aren’t, but nature often isn’t either. There have always been natural disasters: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, fires, floods, famines, etc. Hobbes’ point (reiterated by Camille Paglia in Sexual Persoanae) is that society is created to protect us from nature. Nature can be bountiful in both good and bad ways, from the human viewpoint. And anthropologists, who have sometimes been romantic about primitive life, have been discovering that there’s a lot of murder in primitive societies, as well as warfare. So it seems that Hobbes’ view was more accurate than Rousseau’s.

So why have we become less violent, to the extent that we have? Pinker thinks one reason is the modern state: feuding is discouraged by law enforcement. If a policeman will arrest someone who’s trying to do violence to you, your family, or tribe, there’s less need to do something about it yourself. A lot of people won’t like that formulation, if they’re in favor of less government, and they won’t be entirely wrong, but if the choice is between more government or more violence, many will opt for more government, which doesn’t make government entirely good, but maybe preferable.

Pinker suggests another factor is that civilization means meeting people other than your family and subculture. When you do, you’re less likely to be xenophobic or moralistic, and more likely to make accomodations to people strange to you. Literacy may also be a factor, in that through reading you  can get an insight into how others think and feel, so that you  sympathize with them rather than immediately condemning them.

Pinker reminds us that this is a trend, and that it may not continue. Individuals and small groups can get access to weapons of mass destruction, which can put a large bump in the statistics, for one thing. He suggests that famines may not be that productive of violence, but Jared Diamond, inCollapse, disagrees with him, saying that countries with severe ecological problems are also the ones with severe political problems, which usually means violence. I don’t think Suzer is wrong in condemning unrestrained technology in terms of both pollution and in making machines to do for us what we could just as well do for ourselves. In talking about smartphones, for instance, he mentions an app that will tell you what your baby wants when he or she cries. That’s something humans should be able to figure out for themselves, without needing technology to help them.

So humans continue to bumble on, doing better in some ways, and worse in others. Unfortunately, we have a lot of problems coming our way in which bumbling may not be very productive. Pollution, and its results is a very severe problem. Diamond outlines a number of ecological problems, and recounts stories of several past societies that failed to solve them. But he also tells stories of several that did. One is Japan, which, in the 17th century, was well on its way to becoming deforested. One of the shoguns of the time decided to change that, and Japan now may be the most forested of any First World country. Another was a small island in the Pacific Ocean, which was well on its way to ecological catastrophe, but decided to get rid of its pigs, even though pigs were a status symbol in that culture. Iceland was  a third example, where the colonizers initially treated the land as they would have in Europe, found that didn’t work, so found ways to at least prevent environmental degradation from getting worse. The lesson seems to be that we CAN make positive changes if we really want to. The question is always whether we really want to.

An article in Sojourners magazine points this up. It talks about the popular books, movies and TV shows about vampires, and how some of them recently have been portraying vampires who find blood repulsive, even as they depend on it for life. They find ways of getting blood differently, taking it only from willing donors, for instance, and never too much; or stealing it from bloodbanks. That takes discipline, and discipline isn’t a bad thing. The author of the article says that vampirism has often been seen as a metaphor for deviant sexuality, but it might better be seen as a metaphor for our economic behavior. In a sense, we all are vampires, since we all depend on other forms of life to live ourselves. Among so-called primitive peoples there has often been a tradition of veneration for nature, and only taking from the natural world what you really need. That’s a tradition that hasn’t been honored too much in the modern world, though more people have begun to at least think along those lines in past decades. But society in this country in particular is built on exploiting nature, and we’re beginning to see that that form of behavior doesn’t work so well. When we destroy other forms of life out of greed, our lives eventually get more difficult because the foundation for it is going or gone. At that point we don’t have a lot of comfortable choices, but eventually we’ll have to make a choice whether or not to be vampires.