| No More Aches and Pains|
| Titanic and Lusitania|
| Downloading Music|
| A Short History of the RIAA|
| Are You Smarter Than a Dog?|
| A Noxious Weed|
| Bash The Botanists|
| Brain Washing|
| In Defense Of Cheating|
| Pandora's Box|
| The Golden Bough|
| The Ideal Textbook|
| UFOs and ETs|
| Never Diss a Guy with a Tiny Dick|
| Up Yours, Copernicus!|
| The Origin Of Pie-Eyed|
| In Praise Of Violence|
| Mothers and Sons|
| Freedom and Slavery|
| Eulogy For Margaret|
| Viva La Revolution|
| The Nature Of Politics|
| On Dying Well|
Evolution is described to us as a process in which the environment exerts certain demands on an organism, and those which respond best to such demands tend to survive and propagate their species. As a result, over time, each species becomes better and better adapted to its environment, assuming that environment remains constant. Its also well known that evolution is not constant; but proceeds in bursts of frantic development when the environment changes rapidly, as today; interspersed with periods of no evolution while the environment remains constant. In other words, a changed environment rapidly refines each species population to optimal adaptation to that environment, then while the environment remains constant, mutations are almost universally maladaptive.
Surely there are actually two kinds of evolution. The one I've just described we might call "involuntary evolution", in which the organism simply accepts whatever the environment dishes out to it. The second kind we could call "voluntary evolution", wherein the organism does not just meekly accept, but instead modifies its environment to be more to its taste. Nest-building is the obvious example of this; but plainly, we practice this form of evolution more than any other species.
Now it seems to me that one's "quality of life", what it actually feels like to be alive, will be quite different for the "involuntary evolver" than it will for the "voluntary evolver"; but not at all in the way you might expect.
Among mammals, deer are probably the most extreme example of involuntary evolution. I used to feel really sorry for them. From the outside, their life appears incredibly harsh and ruthless, and it starts the moment they're born. Momma licks and nudges them a few times, but if they don't get up on their feet and follow her in short order, she just walks away and abandons them. When it rains, they get soaked, when it freezes they freeze, and they usually die suddenly at the teeth of a cougar. Who would want such a life!
But that is looking at their life from the outside. I no longer think deer experience their life like that, because their environment has selectively bred them to not merely tolerate, but be comfortable in that environment. After all, if you are distracted by constant discomfort, you'll likely fall to some predator that you fail to notice because you are distracted; meanwhile, your undistracted cohort saw the danger and escaped. So, inevitably, the quality of life for deer must be very high. And even their death, so sudden, is likely ecstatic.
In hanging countries like England it has long been known (though not widely) that hanging victims die in orgasm, because they ejaculate at the moment of death. When a person is hung they do not die by strangulation if they are dropped a few feet. When the rope is brought up taut the knot of the noose smashes into the back of the victim's head right where the spinal column enters the skull. It is this impact that kills them instantly and induces orgasm. When someone is simply strung up, with no drop involved, they die slowly by asphyxiation, without orgasm.
This orgasm response seems rather odd, but is probably inherited from our days as fishes in the ocean. Fish reproduce when the female squirts her eggs into the water and the males swim by and squirt their semen likewise. Doesn't sound like much fun, but no doubt the fish enjoy it. And in such environment, if you die suddenly in the jaws of a predator, there likely is a reproductive edge to releasing semen or eggs at the moment of death. Apparently this trait survives in us, and as deer also have fishes in their genealogical tree, the trait surely survives in them too. So when a cougar leaps on their back and sinks his canines into that same spot on the spinal column, then the deer no doubt dies in ecstasy.
Now consider the situation for voluntary evolvers, notably ourselves. When an organism first decides to change from involuntary to voluntary evolution, say by building itself a nest, it gains an immediate and obvious rise in its comfort level, with no apparent adverse effect at all. But there is one; by this change the organism enters a new environment to which it is slightly less well adapted than the one it has left behind. If it stops at this point and makes no further changes, then what it has is almost all gain and almost no loss. But if the organism decides that this environment modification business is a really good idea, and that the current situation can be endlessly improved with new environmental modifications, then something quite different arises.
Objectively it is inarguable that we are better off as a result of the environmental modifications that we make. We're richer, better fed, have better health care, have more creature comforts and more options than ever before. But concomitant with this improvement is an ever increasing sense of malaise, of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Older people constantly yearn for the "good old days". Traditionally, we describe life as "a vale of tears", or in its modern equivalent, "life's a bitch, and then you die". And wherever you go people are constantly lamenting how hard life is, how much they suffer. Our physical comfort-level is unprecedentedly high, our psychological comfort-level unprecedentedly low.
Do you think this might be because we now live in an environment that we are not adapted to at all, and thus constantly uncomfortable in, or worse? Genetic change through evolution is extremely slow, and genetically we are still very close to being hunter-gatherers, which is when we took up environmental modification on the grand scale. But our environmental changes are very rapid, and we have now made millions of them, each of which has carried us further and further away from our natural environment.
Now, if the foregoing is correct, doesn't it necessarily follow that if one deliberately changed one's personal life-style to simulate that old hunter-gatherer life-style, then one would experience an immediate improvement in one's psychological comfort-level? When I moved here in 2009 I did exactly that, and the result still astonishes me. I expected only psychological change, but it has gone far beyond merely that. Certainly these days I'm almost disgustingly pleased with myself, I'm happier now than ever before in my life; but consider these unexpected physiological changes.
Arthritis in 2005 became so bad I could not put a shirt on, had to wear tees and sweats instead. Glucosamine controlled it, but I haven't taken glucosamine since 4/2009; I no longer have arthritis.
General stiffening of the joints, particularly in the neck, since my mid-fifties; this became so bad I would turn my whole body rather than try to turn my head. Gone completely, my joints are now as limber as they ever were, I can turn my head freely in any direction.
Walking down stairs or down hill was something of a problem for the last 20 years, if I didn't want to get a shooting pain just above the knee with each step. I can now skip down the stairs like a child.
Pruritis; again of 20 years duration. The most excruciating itch, so bad you willingly tear yourself to shreds scratching it, only relieved by hydrocortisone cream. I haven't used that cream since March 2009. I no longer have pruritis.
Vertigo; which causes you to lie down on the ground abruptly, else you will fall down; the world then spins around you, sickeningly, and you want to throw up; lasts about 5 minutes. Starting in 2005, I would get this each spring, April and May, 2 or 3 times each year. My last attack of vertigo was in May 2008.
Headaches were a constant feature of my life since childhood. I have not had a headache since moving here.
Indigestion; since my forties I had to be increasingly careful about what, and particularly how much, I ate. I no longer get indigestion, and by volume I'm eating more now than I used to when I did get it.
One or even two of these I'd attribute to coincidence, temporary remissions. But all of them, all at the same time? Never in a million years; and after so many years these improvements certainly don't seem to be temporary. I don't think its something in the air here, if it were this would be a geezer Mecca like Arizona or Florida. The only thing left to account for this is the lifestyle changes I made immediately before their improvement. A study of contemporary hunter-gatherers (Bushmen in the Kalahari desert) revealed that their work-week was a mere 20 hours (which included everything, preparing for, on the hunt and bringing the catch home). How long is the average work-week now when you add in commuting time, grooming and dressing for it, and maintaining all the necessary devices like cars etc. that you need to do the job?
But 20 hours in a desert, so probably less in a benign environment; I decided that 2 hours daily of fairly strenuous exercise (brisk walking up and down hills) should suffice to simulate that work week. Why not 3 hours? you might say; largely because I wasn't willing to devote more than 2 hours a day to this.
Food; evolution, or god if you prefer, gave us a tongue to tell us what and when we should eat or drink; so I determined that my tongue should be the arbiter of my diet, with the following proviso, that anything I eat be in its natural state, or as close to it as you can get with modern marketing. Further, supposedly we evolved from monkeys into hunter-gatherers; as far as I know, monkeys hang out in tree-tops and eat fruit, while hunter-gatherers eat fruit, vegetables and meat. These two lines of approach lead to almost exactly the same place, giving me the following diet.
Breakfast: very fatty meat and fruit; more fatty meat with dried fruit soaked overnight in winter/spring, half the meat and fresh fruit in summer/fall.
Whenever hungry: adds up to 12-15 servings of fresh fruit each day. I use fruit in the technical sense. Anything carrying the plant's seeds is fruit, anything from its structure is vegetable.
Everything fresh or dried, nothing frozen or canned, and particularly, no condiments, herbs or spices, no salt, no flavor "enhancers" or additives of any description. I'll have more to say on those subjects in a later essay.
A caution for the cautious. This diet and life-style has given me ldl cholesterol of 171, which supposedly should not exceed 100. I do not believe that anything my tongue tells me is good to eat is harmful (so long as it is a natural and not an "enhanced" food), and that the pundits will eventually reverse themselves on this point, as they have reversed themselves on the desirability of eggs (twice!) and margarine, for example.
If I'm right, I'll live a long and merry life with a much more enjoyable diet than that of most old people. If I'm wrong, my life will be short and merry.
Every generation since has made a new movie about the Titanic, every one a blockbuster tear-jerker hit. Movies have been made about the Lusitania, but none of them were hits. The Lusitania went to the bottom in about 1/4 hour, the Titanic stayed afloat almost 3 hours. And there was an extreme difference in the demographics of those who were saved from each ship. From the Titanic, relatively very few men were saved; from the Lusitania, relatively a lot of men were saved.
So what do we have? Men behaving nobly on the Titanic, in accord with the social rule "women and children first", and men behaving ignobly on the Lusitania, and selfishly saving themselves instead. That's what the sociologists tell us, but let's examine that in more detail.
Farley Mowat, a Canadian author who wrote extensively about the traditional Eskimos, described the experience of one such family on James Bay during an exceptionally severe winter. The family consisted of grandparents, parents and child. They had food stored for the winter, but relied on the father's hunting to supplement it. The hunting failed, there was no game to be found, and the stored food was insufficient to carry five of them through the winter, but it would support three. One night there was a blizzard, and the next morning the grandparents were gone. While the others slept they walked out onto the ice to die, and went during a blizzard so that the others could not follow their tracks and bring them back.
To me that seems an eminently sensible solution. The old folks lives were nearly over anyway, they weren't going to do anything else significant with their lives. Their children, the parents, might have more children of their own if they survived, and their grandchild needed his parents protection until he became an adult. Their sacrifice ensured the survival of their children and grandchild. Absolutely the old should sacrifice themselves for the young when needs must.
But what if it were just the parents and child facing some lethal threat. What then should happen? Suppose the three were out walking in the woods one day and suddenly were confronted by a hungry predator. Should it be every man for himself. That pretty much guarantees the child gets eaten. And what do the parents do thereafter? Sit around and recriminate and hate each other for having thrown their own child to the wolves? Won't do their relationship much good, will it? Probably put a damper on their having another child too. Very likely it will cause a bitter split, from which they will have to recover before they can look for new partners and start over, by which time their best years may well be over.
Should the mother sacrifice herself so that the father and child escape? That's better than the former, but still not very good. Despite the supposed "wisdom" of our age, guys are not cut out to be nurturers of young children. Most likely the child will be neglected, or the father will remarry and the child will have a stepmother, which historically has never been viewed as a fortunate outcome for the child.
Should the father sacrifice himself? This makes much more sense. Of the three he's much more likely to be able to beat the predator off and survive the encounter, and then have the gratifying experience of being the family hero. And if he dies in the struggle, at least his wife and child will have survived, at least the child will have his own mother, and again he'll be their hero, in memory.
Now suppose that he is unmarried and with some single maiden. If he really likes her and figures he can beat off the predator, then it makes sense to save her like a goodly knight. But if he doesn't care a rap for her, or the beast is too formidable, then every man for himself makes a lot more sense.
Suppose he is with someone else's wife and child, should he sacrifice himself then? Social mores say yes; but frankly, why? Doesn't he have a duty to save himself for his own wife and child, if he has them. And if he doesn't, shouldn't he save himself for his potential future wife and child. Why on earth should he throw his life away for some stranger.
On the Titanic, many men did exactly that. It may be the stuff of song and story, but how foolish! And it gets worse; many of these saved women were old, meaning that many guys, just starting out on their adult life, simply threw it away so that some ancient crone should live just a few weeks more.
And how did such behavior come to be? It certainly isn't innate, we see that reaction on the Lusitania, every man for himself. So it must be culturally induced. And who induced it? Not the advertisers, their only interest is inducing us to open our wallets. Not the schools, I never heard of such an item on any school curriculum, and if it were the equal treatment crowd would be up in arms. By elimination, it has to be dear old mom. Now, I doubt that every mother does this to her male children, but the vast majority must do so, or this behavior would not be the expected social norm. That is, in our culture, most mothers brainwash their male children to commit suicide, under certain circumstances.
So, guys, how does it feel to know that your mom almost certainly has done this to you?
In a Short History of the RIAA I described the emergence of Napster and other p2p file-sharing apps and the subsequent "criminalization" of a large segment of the population for an action previously completely legal, giving recordings of their music to other people. This "criminalization" was established by a judge's fiat in the lawsuit the RIAA waged against Napster, and its result was eerily similar to an 80 year old decision in another lawsuit brought by the RIAA, that the buyer of anything does not own it.
Which may have come as a surprise to you. Or perhaps it leaves you unmoved: that you think those were the bad old days when cds were the only recorded music choice to be had; that you now buy your music online from iTunes or Amazon and pay just 0.99 each for most tracks, and a whole cd's worth for about 40% of the price of a cd. Such a good deal, you may say. But is it really? Let's do a little comparison of the prices charged by two companies who deliver their product via the internet, amazon.com's mp3 sales and netflix.com's movie streaming. You might object at this point, say I'm comparing apples to oranges; but really I'm not. Both these organizations are in the business of transferring megabytes to you via the internet. The fact that one's sets of megabytes can be heard as music while the other's can be viewed as movies is irrelevant. They are both in the same business, and though their websites are visually quite different, they both provide similar functions, a search engine to find what you are looking for, the ability to hear or see part of it before committing yourself to it, a shopping cart function, and the ability to pay for it online. Its the same business type, selling the same product, downloadable megabytes.
So let's establish our benchmark for amazon.com first. I did a brief survey of the current pop top ten groups on amazon and found that individual tracks ran from $0.89 to $1.29, with the vast majority at $0.99, and of that latter group track times ran from 1:49 to 5:36 minutes. My guesstimate for the average is a little under 3:30, but throughout this comparison I am going to consistently round figures off in amazon's favor. It makes the arithmetic easier, and ensures that our final result cannot possibly be better than it is, and certainly is worse.. So for amazon's benchmark I am going to take an average transfer of 5 minutes of mp3 for $1. But these aren't our final units, a minute of mp3 occupies far less bytes than a minute of movie, so we must convert minutes to megabytes for both. amazon uses a variable bit rate for its mp3s which mostly runs around 220 kbps. Using the lame mp3 encoder with their recommended setting of VBR 2 I get very similar average bit rates. lame declare that this produces sound quality indistinguishable from a cd, which would seem a reasonable standard for amazon to employ. But again, to favor amazon and make our computations easier, I'm going to round up to a rate that has 1 minute of mp3 occupying 2 megabytes (2 MBpm * 8 = 16 Mbpm = 16 * 1024 kbpm / 60 secs = 273 kbps vs. our previously calculated figure of 220 kbps). So amazon transfers 10 megabytes for $1.
Netflix's benchmark is a little more complex to establish, because they offer you unlimited video streaming for $7.99 a month. Theoretically you can watch netflix movies 24/7 for your $8, but the average number of movies each netflixer watches a month is far less. We can turn to netflix's original service to establish that average.
Originally netflix mailed a dvd to a customer, who would view it and mail it back. On receiving it, netflix would mail the next dvd. With usps 6 day delivery schedule you could watch 2 movies a week that way. Currently this service adds $2 a month to the $8 netflix fee for streamed movies, and if you want more than 2 dvds a week, you can pay another $2 to up it to 4 a week, and so on. Which strongly suggests their original average with the mail only service was 2 movies a week, and we'll round that (down in this case to favor amazon) to 8 movies a month.
Almost certainly the average for netflix streaming exceeds 8 a month (if it costs the same however many you watch, its an open invitation to pig out on movies). Comcast, netflix's ISP, obviously thinks so (and they should know) because they have reneged on their contract with netflix, and declared that netflix must pay them more or they will cut netflix off entirely. Currently netflix is suing comcast to have the contract upheld.
Disregarding such increase, we'll use 8 movies a month as the netflix streamer's average, which works out nicely to $1 a movie. The average movie runs about 4.3 gigabytes on dvd, but netflix certainly uses an encoder to reduce that size, much as an mp3 encoder reduces the size of a cd. I use the free encoder Handbrake to reduce my dvds for computer storage. Like the lame mp3 encoder, Handbrake's standard setting guarantees a video quality indistinguishable from a dvd. Using the standard setting I get an average of 1.2 GB per movie. But again, to favor amazon and make our arithmetic easy, let's round it down to an even 1 GB. So netflix delivers 1 GB for $1, more than 100 times as much as amazon does for the same price. And remember, we have favored amazon at every turn, the true figure probably approaches 200 times.
Let's see if we can do anything to redress this figure in amazon's favor. Certainly amazon needs about 100 separate purchases to equal the 1 GB that netflix transfers to a single customer, but in practice that means little or nothing. Both amazon and netflix must keep their mainframes online 24/7, regardless of whether, at any instant, the machine is fully, partly or un- utilized, so those 100 extra purchases are simply absorbed by amazon's excess unused capacity, they have no effect on their operating costs.
You certainly could argue that amazon would need extra capacity to process all those extra purchases at ordering time. But by the same token, netflix needs extra capacity at delivery. Neither you nor amazon particularly care how fast your mp3 downloads, but netflix is intensely concerned with how fast your video stream goes on. If it drops below a certain speed the movie gets interrupted repeatedly, which irritates the consumer immensely. The end result is probably a wash, amazon commits more resources to taking orders, while netflix commits more resources to streaming the product.
Again you can argue that amazon also suffers on the delivery end, because they have to make 100 separate deliveries for every one that netflix makes. Certainly for a conventional business this is a very real factor, but because of the way internet transfers are handled, that consideration simply shrinks to nothing. You could handle internet transfers the same way as physical transfers. You'd send to the hard drive and read the entire file into memory. That corresponds to fetching the product from the warehouse (HD) to Shipping (memory). Shipping (memory) then sends the product (file) to UPS or FedEx (an output port) which delivers (downloads) the product (file) to the buyer.
But it is foolish to handle internet transfers like that. The HD is relatively very slow and much time is wasted waiting while the entire file is read into memory. Memory is really expensive so it is wasteful to occupy so much of it with the entire file. Internet transfer frequently damages what is transferred, so if you transfer the entire file at once you virtually guarantee that the delivery is bad.
The same solution solves all three problems. The file is split up into thousands of individual packets of about 2 KB apiece and shipped separately. You don't have to wait while the entire file is read into memory, just the first packet's worth, which the cpu instantly ships through the port to the buyer. You don't have to commit the entire file's worth of space in memory, just a few packets' worth, so the same memory can handle hundreds of times as many transactions. You ship thousands of separate packets across the internet so some of them are certainly damaged in transit. But you don't have to resend the entire file, just the few packets that were damaged. And the cpu overlaps the input and the output processes, so that the HD is reading the next packet into memory at the same time as the port is transferring the previous packet to the buyer.
Even so, the I/O processes are so slow compared to memory and the cpu that the computer would be in a wait state most of the time if there were just one transaction going on. But there are hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of transactions going on simultaneously. So the cpu overlaps all these transactions with each other. It checks the first transaction, is there a packet read into memory. If so it sends that packet through the port to the buyer, starts the next read and jumps to the 2nd transaction; while if not it jumps immediately to the 2nd transaction. There it does the same and jumps to the 3rd, to the 4th and so on all the way around every ongoing transaction, before coming back to the 1st one again. The result is, as long as there are enough transactions going on simultaneously, there is no wait time. As a corollary, given that netflix has far fewer transactions than amazon, netflix is far more likely to experience idle time than amazon is, not, as we first assumed, the other way round.
I can't think of any other factor that might affect this situation, so we are left with these conclusions.
1. Netflix, a profitable company with higher unit costs than amazon, for the same price delivers between 100 and 200 times the amount of the same product as does amazon, itunes etc.
2. Netflix apparently treats its customers fairly, while businesses in the music racket gouge their customers to a degree that I have never heard of before, neither in my own life-time nor throughout history. A profit margin between 10,000% and 20,000% is not fair trade, it is theft.
Do you understand now why so many people now refuse to buy music (other than to put it on a p2p network) and willingly become "criminals" by so doing? The real question is not whether those who do so are thieves (how can you steal something whose true value cannot even be expressed in our currency?). The real question is; if you buy music, how long will you go on spinelessly handing over a dollar for something worth less than one cent?
I have quite an extensive music collection on my hard drive. Until recently about half of it came from cds, but I really resist buying cds any more. Far too many times I've paid $16 to get just a single track, which always leaves me feeling put upon. The other half came via P2P downloads, with Napster long ago and after that was put into forced retirement, with Shareaza. Supposedly this activity made me a criminal.
P2P is an excellent device for building a collection of popular music, but of little use for more exotic fare. So, having gotten all the popular music I'm interested in, the righteous among you will be gratified to hear that I have renounced my wicked ways, and returned to the fold of legality. I no longer use Shareaza, but now acquire music from the radio, a completely legal activity, and I presume my recently pygmy moral stature is returning to its former, no doubt Olympian, height.
But I am left in confusion. Doubtless there are legal subtleties here far too refined for my coarse intellect to grasp, but for the life of me I cannot see why, if one is legal, the other should be a crime. Let me make the comparison even closer. Given a fast enough internet connection, you can go online to the web-site of the radio station of your choice, and it will freely stream audio content to you across the internet, which you can capture on your computer and thereafter record in any way you choose; all perfectly legal. But if an individual does exactly the same thing, streams audio content to you across the internet, which you then capture on your computer, then you both are committing a crime.
The only perceptible difference is that one is a corporation, the other a person. Now the Supreme Court recently ruled that legal entities like corporations and unions could not be restricted as to who or what they chose to support politically, any more than humans could be so restricted. This has been roundly condemned for tilting the political playing field even more steeply in favor of corporate deep pockets, but it is interesting to note that this also removed the last significant prerogative that actual humans had over corporations. True, corporations still can't cast an actual vote, but what is one vote now that they are so much more able to influence your votes.
So corporations are now pretty much of equal legal worth as human beings, yes? Actually, no, for as we see from the third paragraph, at least certain corporations now enjoy legal prerogatives that are denied to human beings. So how does it feel to learn that you are now a second-class citizen in the land of your birth?
Such a state is nothing new, legally speaking. It prevailed through much of the 19th century, when the Court went so far as to quantify the relative worth of citizens. Perhaps it will do so again, they're very fond of precedent in law, and this time we may all be on the short end of 3/5:1
The architect of my moral downfall was the RIAA, the professional organization of sound recording engineers. These are the people who secured Napster's demise, and the ruling that only P2P file transfers of copyright material are illegal.
Thomas Edison gave us the technology to capture sounds, before that all music was live music, and completely ephemeral. Soon after, amateur enthusiasts took to appearing at concerts to record them along with professional recorders usually hired by the musicians. This led to a lively debate as to who actually owned the sounds produced by the musicians; was it the musicians themselves, or was it the audience who paid them to produce those sounds, and this went to the courts for settlement. At the time prevailing opinion was that the audience were the owners, based on the well established legal principle that "if you had paid for that product, then you owned that product".
The RIAA came into existence at this time, and as far as I can discover it was formed with the express purpose of intervening in this dispute, to promote the interests of professional sound recorders. And when the dust finally settled, who owned the music? The musicians? No. The audience? No. In a complete reversal of established legal precedent, the ownership of recordable sounds was granted to the RIAA.
To obtain this upset, the RIAA must have produced an overwhelming and irresistible legal argument in their favor. But strange to say, such argument cannot be found. Apparently, the court recorder went to sleep that day, and this jewel of the lawyerly art is lost to history.
Certain cynics have suggested that there was no such argument, that the RIAA simply bribed the judge. But I say, fie upon them! That a judge, a judge! would accept a bribe! Whatever next!
But life went on; amateur recorders largely disappeared from concerts under the threat of lawsuits from the RIAA; technology advanced and new methods were developed. By the 1950s the open reel tape recorder was freely available to the public, and many people took to archiving their records on tape, and to trading or even simply giving such tapes to other people. No objection has ever been made to such practise. The prevailing wisdom was that the records being copied were the property of the people making the copies, and what they did with their own property was entirely their own affair.
Recording technology continued to develop. From the late 60's until their retirement after the death of Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead famously and openly encouraged their audiences to make bootleg recordings of their concerts. The RIAA gnashed their teeth, but did nothing to prevent it. The vast majority of bands were just as oriented to raking in loot as the RIAA, and it was considered more trouble than it was worth to try to bring the Dead to heel. One result of this is that virtually every note the Dead ever played is on record, and they thereby assured themselves a permanent place in history and people's hearts. Many technically far more proficient bands, but obsessed by their bottom line, have gone into oblivion.
In the 90s technology changed rapidly, music was freed from its physical media, Napster was written and P2P networks were established for the free exchange of largely music, film and pornography. CD sales went into permanent decline, the RIAA cried foul and sued Napster. At the time prevailing wisdom expected that Napster would win, that the file exchangers were simply giving away copies of their own property, an ongoing practise that the RIAA had ignored for more than fifty years.
But when the dust finally settled, the RIAA prevailed again. In yet another complete reversal of established legal precedent, the ownership of *all* recorded sounds was transferred to the RIAA (yes, that is exactly what that judgement did). When you buy a cd, you have not bought the music, you have merely bought the medium on which it is recorded. The "learned judge" did not enlarge on such mysteries as "if that is true, why does a recorded cd cost about 40 times as much as a blank cd, and particularly when the pricey one can't even be recorded on anymore. Just what have you bought for all that extra cash?" Talk about activist judges rewriting the law! Quite clearly, you no longer own what you buy, you are merely renting it.
To obtain this upset, the RIAA must have produced yet another overwhelming and irresistible legal argument in its favor. But strange to say, such argument also cannot be found. Apparently, the court recorder again went to sleep on the job, and this jewel of the lawyerly art is also lost to history.
Do you believe that? I didn't think you'd swallow it a second time around, even if you did the first time. Which leaves us with the cynics theory. These are dark days for the old republic, dark days indeed. The very fabric of society is starting to unravel over this issue. Read on.
Smug in the possession of their pet judge, the RIAA embarked on that course of action that has ensured their permanent place in infamy; by suing and financially ruining such arch-criminals as grandmothers and single mothers, who were held legally responsible for children in their care who downloaded mp3s without their knowledge. Most shamefully, a Minnesota single mother was twice hit with a jury verdict exceeding $1,500,000.00 for 24 tunes, that even by the RIAA's inflated valuation are worth less than $24.00. Punishment should fit the crime?
Belatedly, now an object of derision and contempt, the RIAA has thrown in the towel, its pet judgement simply blew up in its face in the court of public opinion. P2P networks continued unabated throughout their pogrom, and do so to this day.
Like King Canute, the RIAA tried to hold back the tide, and the tide has rolled over it too. Perhaps now it will finally face reality, that its business model is obsolete, and will go the way of thatchers, buggy whip makers, and sound recording studios. Many newer bands have already adapted to the new reality, that in future they can only make money by live performances, just like the old days. Such bands post their music on their web sites for free download, simply to promote their live performances.
But most copyright holders continue the fight, throwing in their lot with Digital Rights Management, essentially a slew of techniques for preventing accurate copy of recorded media. In opposition, an army of volunteer hackers has arisen, working on the principle that anything a man might devise, another man can undo. The web has a growing number of sites devoted to publicizing techniques to subvert DRM methods. My money is on the hackers, I think copyrights will become unenforceable.
Came across a web page the other day, purporting to rate the relative intelligence of different breeds of dog. Such things always make me laugh. With the usual human condescension for other species, the page declared that the most intelligent dogs were no smarter than a two year old, about the level of an imbecile. Straight off the author reveals his basic ignorance of intelligence; a two year old is smarter than he ever will be again, because faculties decline with age; what he lacks is experience.
This whole notion that we can measure intelligence is completely bogus. You can take a tape measure and measure the dimensions of some physical quantity like a pile of earth or some lumber. But intelligence is a quality, and inherently unmeasurable. So what is one's IQ actually a measure of? It measures how similar your mind is to that of the person who compiled your IQ test. And that's all it can do.
Black people have long recognized this fallacy of IQ tests, and declared them to be culturally biased, because they are all devised by white people. And they're absolutely right, they are biased. So, returning to the dogs; if that is true when we apply an IQ test across a cultural boundary, how much more so is it true when we apply such a test across a species boundary?
The dog is not consulted as to what constitutes his intelligence, we simply demand that he perform on our terms, and according to our value system. That does not measure the dog's intelligence; it measures how well he can simulate being a human. Quite a different thing; it may require intelligence to make that simulation, but it is not measured by it.
However, that does give us a means to make an unbiased comparison of the relative intelligence of dogs and humans. To fairly compare the relative ability of two species, one must test each species on the other species' terms. We measure a dog's intelligence by having him perform on our terms, and according to our values; and find that the best they can do is equivalent to a human imbecile. To get a fair comparison, all you need do is turn that around, and test yourself by doggy terms and doggy values. That's right; cover your eyes and rely on your nose and ears.
How did you get on? Did you make it as high as a doggy imbecile? Be honest now; you didn't even come close, did you? The fact is, a dog can simulate being a human quite well, but when it comes to a human simulating a dog? We haven't got a clue. So, on neutral ground, who is smarter; the human, or the dog?
Not happy with that? Consider these additional points. Cities and towns are entirely human constructs, and organized for human convenience. And in particular, organized to facilitate police action, with virtually all points easily accessed by car, so a criminal fleeing on foot is usually easy to capture. Unless he manages to take to the woods, where the advantage lies with the fugitive. So, do they use human trackers to pursue him through the trees? No, as soon as he takes to the undergrowth, they bring in the dogs, because the woods are not set up for human convenience, and dogs negotiate them far better than we do.
A few years back, Oregon banned hunting cougar with dogs, much to the chagrin of hunters, who say it is impossible to hunt cougar without dogs. So now you must also consider; are we smarter than cats? Because again, on neutral ground, we can't compete with them either.
In other words, take away the advantage we gain by always considering this subject in terms that are biased in our favor, put ourselves on a level playing-field with them, and we really don't compare well with either cats or dogs, do we?
I don't buy his argument at all. I have allergies now and never had them when I was a kid. I've never been dewormed in my life, so if I had worms as a kid then I still have them, so why aren't they still keeping me allergy free? Spurious arguments like this guy's really piss me off. We're constantly breathing this toxic miasma and the ruling classes are constantly throwing out red herrings like this as a diversionary tactic; anything rather than admit the obvious.
It was the same in england back in the early fifties. For more than a hundred years responsible people had been sounding the tocsin about their so-called fogs, that they were smogs caused by burning soft coal, and that they were killing people. And the government and the coal industry just pooh-poohed it. They refused to call them what they were, smogs, and insisted on using the benign term fog instead. As a result of that propoganda, London is famous for something that actually it almost never gets. True fogs are rare there.
In 1952 these particular chickens finally came home to roost. In the winter I would get home from school a little after dark and my father would get home about 6:15 after buying something for dinner on the way home. We lived out in the country about 35 miles from London, and he worked in a little town about 5 miles from where we lived.
On this particular evening he didn't come home for hours, and I was absolutely starving when he finally came. He said the smog was so thick he couldn't see anything through the windshield, and had to drive home with his head hanging out the window watching the center line. In town he was afraid of hitting someone so he went at a crawl, and out of town there was no center line so he went at a crawl as he was afraid of going in the ditch.
Popularly these smogs were known as pea-soupers, because of their consistency and distinctive yellow-brown color, like a soup made from yellow split peas. And this one was the worst ever. We lived way out in the sticks, and you couldn't see a damn thing in it, so god knows what it was like in town. At first the government, with typical ruling class deceit, tried to hush up what happened, but there were just too many leaks to keep it quiet. It finally became public knowledge that on that one night, in London alone, more than 7000 people died of asphyxiation, suffocated in their beds. Pity that so many people have to die before the liars who rule us will ever face the obvious.
Yet poisonous as they were, those smogs didn't give people allergies. The next spring, when I was eight, a new kid came to our school with a bevy of middle-aged women. One of the women informed us portentously that this was an extremely special kid, because he had a really rare disease. So I looked at him with interest, and he was smirking and preening himself, obviously proud that he was sicker than everyone else. This rather amazed me, my gut reaction was that it was more something to be ashamed of. And I think that was the prevalent response of the class, and that it showed on our faces, for he never did attend the school.
What was this exotic disease he had; hay fever! Quite a change on that in 60 years, and who knows when or if it will stop. To my mind its not hard to find the source of this pandemic of allergies (for that's what it is). In chemistry lab one day our teacher mixed up a beaker of several different colored liquids and stirred them vigorously, then let the beaker stand on his desk a few minutes. And, voila, the liquids separated themselves and set up as four colored layers in the beaker, a demonstration that the liquids each had different densities. The whole earth pretty much behaves the same way; from the outer atmosphere on down to the center of the earth the substances common at any stage progressively change and grow denser and denser as you work your way downwards. Atmospheric and ocean mixing, volcanos and earthquakes stir it up somewhat, but by and large the earth tends toward being a series of layers. And almost entirely we live on the boundary between two such layers. In the natural course of events, that severely limited the number of different substances one would come in contact with, and, with some exceptions, they are non-poisonous, because we are composed entirely of the elements from which all these substances are made. Ergo, we belong on the surface of the earth.
Then we developed such depraved practices as mining and chemistry. We started mining, burrowing into the bowels of the earth and dragging up all sorts of exotic minerals. Most of what gets brought to the surface is worthless and would be tossed in the nearest convenient low place, some kind of hole that we could fill up with mine tailings. Very often this was the nearest water course, and much of what was thrown in there would be carried downstream. That wildlife and indigenes downstream frequently died after a mine started up was not considered significant by the ruling classes who owned the mines. Such ruling classes have ever brainwashed the subjugated classes with a number of pernicious lies, e.g. "hard work is good for you"; certainly its good for the employer, but its extremely bad for the employee, forcing his muscles and joints into unnatural actions and over-stressing them, eventually leading to their distortion and breakdown. But the most pernicious lie such ruling classes ever promoted is that of the impermeability of the body, that the skin is a natural barrier to harmful substances. Certainly the skin is a barrier, but to some extent it is permeable by just about everything we come in contact with. Total impermeability has never been necessary, because we evolved among the substances of which we are composed, and hence they are non-toxic to us. But when we change that mix, by dragging up a bunch of heavy metals from the inner earth?
As a group, heavy metals can be characterized by the fact that every single one of them is poisonous, and most are acutely toxic. The more common of them, like lead and gold, we have evolved a slight tolerance of; but a very small amount of any of them will kill you if the body cannot excrete it in time. The pure metals tend to be chemically unreactive, but their metallic salts are far more reactive and often water-soluble, hence much more dangerous. Its not just the possibility of cave-ins that makes mining one of the most dangerous occupations. But there are extreme profits to be made, and miners are just as expendable as downstream wildlife and indigenes, so mine-owners have ever promoted this lie and enforced it viciously.
Similarly with the chemical industry; one of my sons is a chemistry major, and remarked to me once "everything I handle is poisonous" and the history of this industry is also littered with the corpses of its less fortunate employees. But all these poisons introduced by mining and chemistry do not give you allergies, they kill you.
Then, just before WW2, a profound change occurred in the chemical industry. Organic chemistry, which had always been the minor player, became very much the major player, largely driven by the huge proliferation of plastics that our world is today filled with. Organic chemistry is the chemistry of the carbon atom, and particularly the compounds it forms with other elements commonly found in our own environmental milieu, the boundary between earth and atmosphere. First the chemical industry gave us the slogan "better living through chemistry" and later followed it with the vainglorious "designer molecules". And what exactly do they mean by "designer molecules"? They mean organic compounds that have never existed before, because the conditions necessary to allow their creation do not occur naturally.
But they are made up of elements that we are long adapted to, so they won't harm us, right? Not so fast; we are well adapted to most of the elements found in our environmental milieu, but there are some that are extremely toxic, chlorine and phosphorus, for example. And the chemical industry has produced a whole slew of organic compounds incorporating these 2 elements, expressly designed for the mass murder of plants, insects and fungi that we have a grudge against. And most of the world's farmers and gardeners are busily spreading them over the entire planet. And these chemicals can be found in the body tissue of every single one of us. For most of us, not at toxic concentrations; but do you seriously think they have no effect on you because they're not at a concentration high enough to kill you? That there is some magical boundary of concentration level, below which they are entirely benign, and above which they poison you? That's what the ruling classes tell us.
But most "designer molecules" are made from non-toxic elements, so they won't be harmful, right? Think again; "designer molecules" have never existed before so we are NOT adapted to them, and following is how they can screw us up. Organic molecules tend to be much larger than inorganic molecules, and proteins, which control almost all of the body's chemical reactions, are very large indeed. Protein molecules are not rigid, they can be freely folded into multiple shapes. These shapes are persistent, because unused chemical bond points in the molecule will attach to each other when brought into contact. In effect the molecule is sticky and adheres to itself. And the chemical reactions and processes the molecule will undergo change as its shape changes.
As an example, the wall of every cell in one's body is peppered with proteins known as "sodium-potassium gates". In its waiting state one side of this protein faces into the cell and is folded in such a way as to present an orifice that exactly fits only the sodium ion; the other side of the protein faces out of the cell and is folded in such a way as to present an orifice that exactly fits only the potassium ion. When both orifices become occupied the protein transfers the two ions through itself, releasing the sodium ion outside the cell and the potassium ion inside the cell; the protein then returns to its waiting state to capture and exchange the next pair of ions. Incredible as it may seem, almost exactly half of all the energy used by the body goes to power this one process, which should tell you something of the cell's opinion of sodium.
Such proteins, that capture a specific ion or molecule, are called receptors, and are the means by which the cell ensures that certain chemical reactions occur and that others do not, i.e. that chemical reactions within the cell occur only in repeatable cycles instead of degenerating into a chemical free-for-all. Receptors that capture large organic molecules do not have an orifice that exactly fits the entire molecule, they match to just a specific part of that molecule, and in this day of "designer molecules" that creates a serious problem, because some of them, and not just a few, have parts that are identical to the molecular part sought by certain receptor proteins. And when they latch onto one of these "designer molecules" instead of the one that the receptor really seeks, it can't tell the difference and so sets off a cycle of chemical reactions in the cell that should not have occurred.
So when you read a news report that, say, bisphenol A (BPA) mimics a bodily sex hormone, it means that part of the BPA molecule is a dead ringer for part of the sex hormone molecule, and the receptor protein can't tell the difference. So, in the presence of BPA, the cells carry out reaction cycles that should only occur in the presence of the sex hormone. Currently we have an epidemic of girls undergoing puberty at younger and younger ages, and of men developing breasts and depleted sperm counts.
But that is only half the story, concerning "designer molecules" that the body CAN'T distinguish from appropriate molecules. The other half concerns "designer molecules" that the body CAN recognize as alien (we're finally getting to allergies). As these "designer molecules" are so new the body has no evolved defenses against them specifically. So, at least for airborne "designer molecules" it falls back on its general purpose defense, and smothers everything in snot. Your mucus membranes get a hugely enlarged blood supply which makes them swell up and block your airways and your nose is both bunged up and drips in the attempt to trap and flush out the offending substances. Your lungs also get in on the act, producing a thicker and stickier mucus to trap such offenders as get through the nose, and which you have to perpetually cough or hawk up to get rid of. Hence the epidemic of allergies.
Now you might say that that is bullshit, that you have hay-fever, have been to an allergist and been tested and found allergic to, say, ragweed pollen. Certainly pollens are irritating substances, and you can easily induce an allergic response by sticking your nose into a flower and taking a sniff. You sneeze and then blow your nose to get rid of the flood of mucus released to flush away the sudden burst of pollen. But normally that would be only a temporary response. We've coexisted with pollens for millions of years and have evolved tolerance to airborne concentrations of them. Your grandparents, at least in their youth, were not allergic to these pollens. That you now are hyper-sensitive to ragweed pollen (and likely many other pollens as well) does not mean that ragweed pollen is the cause of your problem; it is a symptom rather than the cause. And your allergist does not test for the cause.
The cause is some other airborne pollutant that is constantly, rather than seasonally, present in the atmosphere and which keeps your body in a constant state of red alert. Molecules that we have no evolved tolerance for, i.e. molecules that have only come into existence since the mid-twentieth century. That is exactly the period of the emergence of this allergy epidemic, and exactly the period of the "flowering", shall we say, of the organic chemical industry and their "designer molecules". There still are remote places in the world where allergies are virtually unknown. They're characterized by having no chemical industry.
As a further indication of the allergenic effect of these "designer molecules" consider the cosmetics industry. Isn't just about every cosmetic product stamped with the word "Hypo-allergenic"? Why do you think the cosmetics industry feels the need to restrict themselves only to "designer molecules" that have minimal allergenic effect, if not because run-of-the-mill "designer molecules" are overwhelmingly allergenic, and the applicatioin of such to the face pretty much guarantees an allergic reaction. But for other, less sensitive applications, that ruling class is impervious to any suggestion that all "designer molecules" should be hypo-allergenic. Outrageous! The expense! The loss of profits!
What I've given you here is not "proof" per se that any particular "designer molecule" gives you allergies, and I'm sure you'll agree with the ruling classes dictums that profits must be made and that no product should be removed from the market until it is specifically proven to kill or maim (a lengthy process, giving the industry time to develop 10 new molecules for every one that gets banned). The Chemical industry agrees with them, and they're doing very well off you, thank you. Your allergist agrees with them, and he's doing very well off you, thank you. What's that, you say, you've had to declare bankruptcy because you lost your job, due to being sick so much, and now you can't pay your allergist's bills. Aah, stop whining and get a job!
The picture is one of my favorite flowers, wild Scotch Broom in full swing. Its classified as a noxious weed, and looking at the picture you might be tempted to say, "I can see why". But nothing could be further from the truth. Its a legume, so it grows in symbiosis with a fungus, a mycorrhiza that feeds it nitrogen in exchange for sugars that the Scotch Broom makes by photosynthesis. It is only ever found on nitrogen depleted soils on which more agressive plants cannot grow, and as you can see, given the right conditions it does very well. But only for a while; it progressively builds up the nitrogen content of the soil, allowing more agressive plants to move in and displace it. In the picture you can see an odd clump or two of blackberry. In twenty years time all the broom will be gone, replaced by blackberries.
And where does it grow in western oregon? Almost exclusively found on thin mountain soils after clearcuts (all the nitrogen was in the logs). In other words, its only found on soils that we have damaged by clearcutting, it repairs the damage we've done to the soil, and then bows out. And we call that a noxious weed?!
Yet another example of the lies and distorted viewpoints force-fed to us by the ruling classes, in this case the logging industry. Their relatively recent objection to this plant dates from the mid-eighties, for thirty years prior to that they exterminated this "noxious weed" with 2,4,5-T, more familiar to us as an ingredient of Agent Orange of Vietnam fame, a mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. The Wiki article on Agent Orange is well worth reading, makes you proud to be an American. 2,4,5-T was banned in the US about 1985. 2,4-D is still freely available everywhere. The reason for this disparity is that the damaging agent was determined not to be 2,4,5-T itself, but an inevitable contaminant it acquires during manufacture, the dioxin TCDD. 2,4-D does not acquire this contaminant.
Both the US Army and the logging industry engaged in the courteous practice of aerial spraying with this chemical, blithely unconcerned as to what or who got drenched by it, a small example of the ruling classes evaluation of we peons. As early as 1969 the effects of 2,4,5-T on animals were well known and led to the army quietly discontinuing the use of Agent Orange in 1970. But the ever increasing flood of GIs reporting adverse health effects from having been repeatedly sprayed in Vietnam were persistently stone-walled by the government, another example of the ruling classes evaluation of we peons. One reason for the GIs difficulty was that the EPA concealed the animal data from the general public.
Meanwhile the logging industry went on merrily spraying all and sundry, which affected a more influential group than ex-grunts. Mothers along the Alsea River in Oregon noticed in the early 70s that they no longer were (becoming mothers). Their miscarriage rate was astronomical, their livestock and surviving children were afflicted with mysterious birth defects, and eventually their lawsuit forced the EPA to publish the animal data it was hiding. This led in turn to an EPA study of human exposure in the Alsea region. The preliminary results of this study, in 1979, were so bad that the EPA suppressed their publication, denied access to it by its own scientists and pressured them to not publish their own individual results. The motivation seems to have been the desire to protect government and industry from lawsuits based on it. The EPA also issued an emergency suspension of the use of 2,4,5-T in forests and along roadways, and again its major motivation seems to have been to avert the threatening storm of litigation.
Over the next few years the EPA connived with Dow Chemical Co., the major producer of 2,4,5-T, to bring the substance back on the market with "allowable" levels of dioxin contamination, which was forestalled by some hero leaking some of the suppressed data. Both Dow and the EPA abandoned their effort to resurrect 2,4,5-T and the chemical was finally banned in 1985. To this day their survey results have never been released. By 1993, 39,419 GIs had made disability claims to the DVA for Agent Orange damage. 486 had received compensation. In 2004, Monsanto declared that they should not be liable for Agent Orange claims. In 2011, US funded decontamination of former air bases in Vietnam finally began, almost 40 years after the war ended. US courts have consistently denied that the Vietnamese have any claim for the damage done to their country and people by Agent Orange.
They're really look out for our best interests, don't they? I think they do things better in China in cases like this. Over there in their recent melamine baby formula scandal several heads rolled, quite literally; they were executed for killing babies. We should have done the same to whoever presided over the EPA through those shenanigans, his cover up killed babies too. Fat chance in this land of the free and home of the slave. Far from being held responsible for their actions, our bureaucrats are extraordinarily protected from any repercussions. The following three statutes are true for both the DMV and the IRS, and I imagine are also true for any government bureaucracy: they can issue or retract any regulation they choose, and such are legally binding, i.e. they can make and repeal laws as they see fit; they have no legal responsibility for adverse outcomes of their activities; and if you, frustrated by the lack of redress available to you, take independent action, such action will be tried as a felony, even if your action would be only a misdemeanor if applied to a member of the subjugated classes. Aaah, equality!
Perhaps 15 years ago I read a web page that has intrigued me ever since. I looked for it many times but could never find it again. Almost certainly, the page was a hoax, but of such a nature that it might have been expressly designed to sucker me. It described an experiment attributed to Edgar Allan Poe.
The page described Poe as, among other things, an amateur botanist who became intrigued by the question, "How does a climbing vine find its support?". Poe surmised that the plant must be able to detect the shadow of such support falling on its leaves and thereby locate that support.
To test his hypothesis he purchased a specimen of Monstera and planted it in his garden. He set a pole a few feet from it. The only other possible support was a tree some 20 feet away.
After several days it was plain that the vine was growing directly towards the pole. So Poe moved the pole. Several days later it was apparent that the vine had changed direction and was growing towards the pole's new location.
Poe moved the pole again, but this time the vine did not grow towards the pole's new location. Instead it made a bee-line for the tree 20 feet away.
As you can see from the previous paragraph, it has to be a hoax; but, given my well-known esteem for science and scientists, I so dearly want it to be true. As it has nagged away at me for 15 years it will do so till I die unless I put it to the test and repeat the experiment. Monstera won't survive the winter here, so I've substituted honeysuckle instead.
Today is "bash the botanists" day, and though I can't do that with the result of the above experiment, I do have something to tweak their noses with. This is a story of threes. I've been assured by three different professional botanists that the following fable is gospel truth, and it has three separate logical fallacies in it. No mean feat for such a simple "scientific fact".
Ask a botanist how the sap gets to the top of a tall tree, and invariably they tell you that it is done by evaporation. Consider the sap as a long chain of sap molecules extending from the leaf down to the roots. The topmost molecule evaporates and escapes to the air, leaving a miniature vacuum behind it. As "everybody knows" nature abhors a vacuum, so this vacuum instantly sucks the nextmost sap molecule up to fill the vacuum, which in turn sucks up the next sap molecule into its old place, and so on down the line all the way to the roots. So here we have logical howler number 1; that the vacuum "prefers" to lift as much as 360 feet of connected sap molecules against the pull of gravity, rather than sucking down a gas molecule from the atmosphere with the help of gravity.
Not wanting to spoil the fun outright by introducing that objection, I exposed their logical howler number 2, saying innocently "Yes, I can see that might work for an evergreen tree, but just how does a large deciduous tree get the sap to open its leaves in the spring, when there are no open leaves to evaporate sap from to draw the sap up?" Stopped all three of them dead in their tracks. Two of them hastily changed the subject and the third stood and angrily wagged his finger at me. I guess he knew he'd just been suckered.
So I never got the chance to expose logical howler number 3, that the process has to be powered by some kind of pump, from the roots, whose design and method is completely obscure to us. Consider maple sugaring. In early spring, as the buds just start to swell, holes are tapped in the sugar maple's trunk near the ground and buckets are hung to catch the sap which then drips steadily from the holes. Being just ignorant peasants, maple sugarers don't talk about the sap being sucked up, but that the sap is rising from the roots. Yes, indeed; its well known that the sap is entirely reabsorbed by the tree before freezing weather arrives, to avoid the possibility that the sap freeze and thereby expand and possibly crack the tree, which often happens with early hard freezes.
So in early spring there is no sap up there to be sucked, and it really doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that it has to be pushed up from below. Ignorant peasants can figure that out, but apparently botanists can't, for they persistently deny it. I find their denial really odd, and think perhaps it is rooted in our species' disdain for all "lesser" creatures, that they cannot bear to admit that a mere plant has been able to figure out something that persistently baffles us.
What with learning linux, and how to program in awk and bash, I haven't written any essays in quite a while. So here's an overdue update on Edgar Allan Poe and how climbing vines find their support. If you recall I told you last fall how Poe supposedly planted a vine, then kept moving the support each time the vine grew towards it, until finally it shunned that nomadic support and made for a tree on the far side of his yard. I so wanted that to be true, yet felt sure it was a hoax, but planted a honeysuckle vine out in the woods last fall to find out for sure.
I checked on the vine about once a month through the winter; then in March I couldn't find it, so I figured a deer must have eaten it, and it looked like my experiment had died a-borning. But I checked again in April, and there it was growing back from the root. So I brought it some fertilizer and it flourished. By early May it was plainly ignoring the 5ft Scotch Broom 2 ft to the north of it and instead making a beeline to the 6ft Scotch Broom 4 ft to the south of it. Which pretty much vindicated poe's assumption that the process was directed by the shadow of the support falling across the vine.
Time to test the next stage of the experiment. I cut down the Scotch Broom it was heading for and staked it up 3ft due west of the honeysuckle. Checked on it the next day and everything looked exactly as predicted; the leading tendril had dutifully made a 90 degree curve to the right and was heading due west, the other tendril had not yet reacted. But the following day all was confusion; the leading tendril was now heading north, the other to the east. The day after that both were pointing south again. And so it has gone on, every day a new direction. The plant is completely disoriented, and no longer knows what to do. More than that, it has made no growth at all in the last 3 weeks, and the leaves are no longer an obviously flourishing bright green, but have become dull and mottled. I feel really bad about this, that my simply moving its selected target has plainly devastated it; and, with hindsight, I should have been able to predict this would happen, but was too much concerned with the end objective to consider possible side-effects.
Mostly vines grow on trees, which don't walk around. So vines have never evolved to deal with one that does, the idea of it is completely alien to them. One might say that the plant has gone into shock, but I think this may be something much heavier than that, with it still not recovered after 3 weeks. I think its suffering the vegetative equivalent of cognitive dissociation. This is the very unpleasant effect produced when one's belief system collides head on with reality, and that reality can't be escaped. In humans its seen whenever "savages" are absorbed into "civilization". The effect is invariably the same. Their existing belief system is overwhelmed by the new, their old way of life is untenable, and they have no clue how to deal with the new system, or make a living in it. They go into catastrophic decline. Many simply curl up and die, literally, while the male survivors become drunks, for its anesthetic effect, and usually take to theft to support themselves. Similarly, female survivors become drunks and prostitutes.
There is a similar. though lesser, effect on adult immigrants, who often can escape the new reality. Sooner or later they realize that they grew up in another country, and everything non-academic that they learned there is now useless. Everything that they know and believe about the workings of society is now worthless because they no longer live in the society where their knowledge and beliefs are valid, and the new society does everything differently. So you see 1st generation immigrants almost universally reacting to this the same way; they retreat into ghettos of their own kind, and as far as possible avoid dealing with the larger society. The parents won't even learn the language, so their kids become their interpreters and go-betweens. The kids become assimilated, which usually mortifies the parents even more because they throw off the parents' belief system.
I won't be doing any more experiments with living tissue. In the early 90's I enrolled in UO to study biology, but quickly changed my mind, dropped out and became a math tutor instead. The cause of it was some of the work I did in the biology lab to earn my financial support. Carl, the lab manager, handed me a bunch of fruit flies and a soft artists paint brush. He wanted them separated into two groups by sex, the idea being that one would use the brush to flick each fly to one side or the other. And I couldn't do it; for no matter how careful and gentle I was the process mutilated the flies which were left crawling around in a litter of detached wings, legs and eyes. When I mentioned this to Carl he replied not to worry about it, the damage was unavoidable, but I told him I just couldn't stomach what I was doing to them and someone else would have to do it. Clearly, if I were to go on with biology, such incidents would regularly recur.
Thinking about that now in the light of this latest thing, I maybe on the extreme end of squeamishness, but I think most people feel more or less uneasy at the prospect of inflicting suffering on other life forms, and for no other group of people is this more to the point than for lab biologists. For field biologists its not an issue, but really what lab biologists do is torture other life forms for their employers profits. To be able to live with themselves while doing such things, biologists have had to develop psychological blocks against ever admitting the nature of the things they do to lab animals. They deny anthropomorphism, insist that humans are completely different from all other life, so that they can maintain their pretence that all other life is unfeeling and therefore do not suffer. Other life forms are regarded as objects, with no more feeling than a rock. Without this denial, their consciences would torment them for what they do in the name of science. Small wonder that PETA are so mad at them.
Belatedly, it occurs to me that there may be a solution to that botanical problem, what makes the sap rise in early spring? Clearly it is driven from below, from the roots, but how can they do it?
At the onset of winter it is known that the sap in the trunk and branches migrates downwards into the roots to preserve the tree from being split open by hard freezes. There is an obvious objection to be made at this point: where is the space for all this sap to be stored? There isn't any, and the only feasible alternative is to reduce the volume of the sap, by concentrating it, excreting most of its water content to the surrounding soil. This leaves a very concentrated sap solution in the roots. The point being that a very concentrated solution is one requirement for the phenomenon of osmosis to occur. The other requirements are a very weak solution, and a semi-permeable membrane separating the two. Given those conditions osmosis occurs; water migrates through the membrane from the weak solution to the strong, diluting it until the two concentrations are about equal, at which point the process stops.
At the end of summer the soil tends to be bone-dry, vegetative growth has completely stopped, and presumably the subsequent dearth of fresh nutrients causes the tree to start shedding its leaves. As fall progresses, the tree completes shedding its leaves, and the increasing fall rains percolate through the soil, setting up an extremely concentrated solution outside the root, and the normal sap, a weak solution, inside the roots. Osmosis occurs, drawing water out of the roots and into the surrounding soil. The rains continue and intensify, the soil solution weakens, and at the point where the two solutions are of equivalent strength, the tree must do something. It must refold certain proteins in its root wall so that the semi-permeable root wall becomes impermeable. It must do so, for if it does not, the solution outside the roots continues to weaken from the increasing rainfall, and the osmotic flow will restart, but going the other way, out of the soil and into the roots, filling the phloem all the way back up the trunk and branches, making the tree totally vulnerable to freezing and splitting.
So the roots become impermeable at the end of fall, and remain so until the following spring, at which point the tree reverses the folding of those certain proteins, and the root walls become semi-permeable again. The soil is saturated at this time, either from the winter rains or the thaw, and the soil solution is much weaker than that inside the roots. Osmosis resumes, water flows from the soil into the roots, driving the sap solution up the phloem. Maple sugarers go to work, the sap is driven to the top of the tree, delivering the energy and nutrients for the buds to unfurl themselves into leaves. And note that almost the entire process is completely passive. The only energy investment that the tree has to make is to fold the proteins in fall, and fold them back again in the spring. The only real question remaining is whether osmotic pressure can be powerful enough to drive this process for large trees, i.e. does it exert enough force to support a column of sap several hundred feet high?
The technique did not originate in Korea, in fact it is extremely ancient, but it was perhaps first openly defined by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, when explaining his propaganda technique we called "The Big Lie". Goebbels declared that to establish an item of propaganda as truth it was not necessary that the item be true, it was not even necessary that the item make sense; all that was required was for the item to be constantly asserted and never significantly contradicted.
In essence, that is the technique of brain-washing. The subject is isolated and the set of beliefs to be instilled in him are perpetually repeated to him. If he balks and asserts his own contrary beliefs, they are immediately denied and the new belief system reiterated. The process can be speeded up by stressing the subject, such as with sleep deprivation, and using relays of trainers, but it is not necessary. Subjected to this treatment, virtually everyone will succumb to it. And it is not merely acceptance of the new belief that is achieved, the subject entirely believes the new belief and repudiates his former belief.
How ancient is this technique? Isn't this exactly the method that moms use to domesticate their children, simple repetition? Very ancient indeed; and, judging by our local bear's behavior whenever it sees a human, its mom used it too.
When the North Koreans pulled their stunt the US was of course shocked and outraged that they would stoop to such iniquity, and asserted that such a thing would never occur in a free society. Which is absolute baloney, the US is certainly the most heavily brainwashed society on earth, along with every other so-called "free" society. In a totalitarian state you only need worry about mom and the government brainwashing you; but in a "free" society all the ruling classes get in on the act; at first mom has you all to herself, but if she is typical, before the first year is out she's letting the advertisers have a crack at you, then follow the educators, the law, government, preacher, doctor, old uncle Tom Cobbley and all. Choose your authority figure, to one extent or another they all brainwash us.
They use it because it works. I am the most advertising-phobic person I've ever met, destroyed my tv in 1969 and have never had another. But it still seeps in. Whenever I go to buy an unfamiliar item and start to think about how I shall buy it, instantly national brand names come to mind. We can cite the Constitution and the Bill of Rights til we're blue in the face, but how can we possibly be free when our minds are constantly and repetitively admonished to buy the advertisers products?
You might think what I did was shameful, after all, I knowingly helped them to "cheat". Several U of O faculty members expressed open disapproval to me, for I made no secret of what I was doing; but, strangely, no official action was ever taken to prevent me, e.g. I was never banned from the campus, and for years provided my services in the EMU (student union building). That inaction may have had something to do with the following argument, perhaps they felt that its best to 'let sleeping dogs lie'.
In the past in the USA people who practice the jewish religion were strongly repressed, simply for being jewish. They were denied access to certain kinds of employment, housing and schools, etc. Today that practice is abandoned and it is generally agreed that it had been an extreme injustice to jewish people. Similarly, people with black skins were even more ruthlessly repressed, simply for being black. Today that also has passed away, and it is generally agreed that it had been an extreme injustice to black people. I imagine that you personally approve of these changes in society.
If you then disapprove of my tutoring methods, perhaps you would now answer this question. If it is not right and proper to repress the jews and the blacks for being jewish or black, why do you think it right and proper to repress the less intelligent merely for being less intelligent? This is not a frivolous question. Such repression is the exact result of our insistence on meritocracy. The less intelligent are thereby denied access to the better jobs and confined to labor that is menial, unstable and ill-paid; just as the jews and blacks were before them. As a consequence of their unstable and low paying jobs, they are denied access to more desirable residential neighborhoods and schools; just as the jews and blacks were before them.
In their time of travail, jews and blacks who were able to, often concealed their stigma, dissociating themselves from their brethren and pretending to be members of the dominant class. Blacks referred to it as 'passing (as white)'. Today the less intelligent employ similar compensatory behavior. The dominant class refer to such compensatory behavior as "cheating". They compensate thus for the same reason as the jews and blacks before them. If successful, it has a profound effect on their entire future life; while if unsuccessful, they're no worse off than they were anyway. For the less intelligent, then, to not "cheat" is the ultimate stupidity.
I'm not advocating that training for particular jobs be abandoned, nor that people should be barred from earning their living in jobs they are incompetent for. It is entirely desirable that people enjoy their work and be adept at it. Our present system does not ensure that outcome, rather the reverse. Far too many able people take up an occupation that they do not care for, because it pays well and has high social status, while they practice what they love as a hobby. Such people often feel they have condemned themselves to a life of servitude and put the least amount of energy and interest into their work as they can get away with. Others embark in college on a life of professional deception, concealing their inability from those they deal with. Worse, as Laurence Peter observed about 50 years ago, if a person is good at what they do they get promoted out of it, and go on being promoted until they reach a level at which they are incompetent. And if you insist on doing what you love, rather than seeking the most reward, you will pay a high price for your self-indulgence; reduced income, lesser status, your wife may leave you, your children may come to despise you.
In our society, there is a direct inverse relationship between the needfulness of particular work and its social status and reward. At one end you have field hands, nurse's aides, child care workers; at the other, film and rock stars. As you move from one end to the other, there is a steady decline in needfulness, a steady increase in pay and status. As an occupation rises in status and reward, its members more and more come to employ a special argot, so that what they say to each other is unintelligible to the uninitiated. This is done quite deliberately to induce a sense of awe in, and to conceal the essential triviality of their doings from, the laity. At one time we all used to piss. As medicos gained status they stopped pissing and began to urinate instead. As the secret slowly leaked out, more and more people gave up pissing and took up urinating. This provoked the medicos to find a new way to empty their bladders. They no longer urinate, they micturate.
It is this inverse relationship that is the problem. In reality, there is no justification for paying a brain surgeon more than a shit shoveler, actually the reverse is true. Society would promptly collapse without shit shovelers, would go on just fine without brain surgeons. If all occupations were paid the same, there would be no inducement to take up work you do not care for, there would be no inducement to "cheat" and connive to gain entry to particular occupations. The general performance of society would improve, because people would do what they enjoyed and were good at, and would resist promotion to their level of incompetence.
The only societies I'm aware of that operate on such basis are total primitives. As soon as any surplus beyond immediate subsistence arises, people begin scheming to get it all. We have no evolved mechanism to deal with surplus, wealth, and it drives people mad. They kill for it, and are killed for it. Civilization, the engine with which we produce surplus, ultimately reduces to the method whereby such people enslave the rest to enrich themselves; consumer goods are the carrot, and social ostracism the stick of this enslavement. To paraphrase Leonard Cohen, civilization locks us into our suffering, and our pleasures are the seal.
Have you ever wondered why boys get into so much more trouble than girls while they're growing up, and why men comprise more than 90% of the prison population? Popularly, this is attributed to men being innately more aggressive than women, but if you investigate that, the claim doesn't hold water. I'm not disputing that men in our society are more aggressive than women, crime in general is a male province, and no crime more so than violent crime. What I'm disputing is that it is innate. For it is well demonstrated that humans in their natural state are markedly non-aggressive, in fact, like almost all wildlife, their salient feature is timidity.
Yet introduce even a smidgin of civilization, and aggression rears its ugly head. Charles Darwin noticed this contrast, in 'The Voyage of the Beagle', when at Tierra del Fuego, the southern end of South America. Of two tribes there, one, the Yaghans, he described as the most primitive people on earth, routinely sleeping outside without any shelter, forever naked and barefoot in an extremely harsh climate (by land, Tierra del Fuego is as close as you can get to Antarctica). The women were even hardier than the men, daily diving for shellfish in the tremendous seas of Cape Horn (average temperature 48 degrees; in contrast summer water temperatures off the Oregon coast are above 60 degrees). Their only concession to the elements was the use of fire, their only tools wooden spears, bark canoes and fishing nets. Yet Darwin despised them for what he saw as their dishonesty (3 converted natives were put ashore as missionaries with a considerable cache of supplies and equipment, which the Yaghans promptly appropriated and distributed among themselves); and their cowardice (they lived in terror of another tribe, the Onas, whom they made no attempt to resist, simply fleeing into the forest whenever they appeared). Darwin didn't despise the Onas, he was appalled by their bloodthirsty habits, but considered them a cut above the Yaghans, because they had at least a rudimentary "civilization", revealed by their stone tools, bows and arrows, clothing and leather footwear, ritual dress and decoration. And of course, their charming habit of hunting the Yaghans for sport, a "civilized" trait that they shared with British settlers in Newfoundland. As we all know, the British are a recent fount of "civilization". The Onas certainly weren't as "civilized" as the British, demonstrated by the fact that they did not hunt the Yaghans to extinction; whereas the Brits hunted down every last man, woman and child of the Beothuck indigenes in Newfoundland. But what else could they do, poor things, they came all that way from England with their horses and their hounds, only to discover that Newfoundland had no foxes.
I'm digressing, back to establishing the timidity and non-aggression of natural human societies. The San tribe of the Kalahari region of South Africa are even less violent than their neighbors the Xhosa, the Kalahari Bushmen. The San were extensively studied in the mid-20th century precisely because of their extreme peacefulness, what could we learn from them? Their daily life has been described as a continual, never-ending encounter group. Not only is violence unknown with them, but even personal disagreements deeply distress the entire tribe, resulting in these non-stop encounter group sessions that go on until every aspect of the dispute has been thrashed out by the entire tribe, and the dispute resolved.
There are very few natural human societies on earth, the Bushmen are really the only remaining examples, protected by the desert they live in. The Yaghans (and the Onas) are gone, both victims of western "civilization". The Bindi-bu were forcibly relocated to a reservation, and took the customary route to crime, alcoholism, prostitution and rapidly declining population. The Tasaday in the Phillipines are now considered to not be hunter-gatherers at all, but descendants of local farmers who returned to the forest, and carried on a steady trade system with those who remained as farmers. But always natural men have been observed with this characteristic timidity. Once there is any form of culture, e.g. stone tools, the tendency to aggression and warfare arises. The question is, what induces this aggression?
Its not a foregone conclusion that a "civilized" people will become aggressive and warlike, only that the majority do so. Worldwide, there are a number of nations that have no military force at all, and only rudimentary police forces. They tend to be small island nations of the Pacific and Caribbean, but one, Costa Rica in Central America, is of fairly substantial size. So aggressiveness cannot be simply a concomitant of the process of "civilization" itself, it must have some other source. Which really leaves no other possibility than that it is deliberately induced.
Evidence of such induction is not hard to find. As soon as he enters elementary school every boy encounters violence, even if he has never known it at home, and quickly learns that he has little choice but to become aggressive and fight back, or become a perennial target for bullying and name-calling, such choice epithets as sissy, wimp, faggot, coward, yellow, etc. Authority figures exhort him to "act like a man", "take it like a man", "be a man", "stand up for yourself", "grin and bear it", "never complain, never explain" and so forth. Plainly our entire culture is intent on inducing aggressiveness in boys, but not in girls. But this still does not tell us how the process began, it only tells us that it is now a cultural institution whose origins are lost in history.
We don't have a culture conveniently to hand, just starting down the road of culturally induced aggression, for us to observe how it begins, but clearly there had to have been a first generation of boys who began indoctrinating their younger brothers with the creed of aggressiveness. What was it that set them off? We have nothing to study to determine that, but we can model it. Let us suppose two neighboring tribes, hunter-gatherers since time immemorial, getting along quite amicably like the San and the Xhosa do today. Let us suppose also that the hunting grounds of one tribe, that we'll refer to by the imaginative name of Haves, included a land-locked canyon with a very narrow entrance, but inside it opened out into a substantial valley of excellent grazing, and with a year round stream. Every year, at a certain time, a herd of game would enter the valley and graze for a while before moving on to greener pastures. One year the Haves' leader had a bright idea. "You know", he said "the only way in or out of this valley is through this narrow defile. And if we block it off with rocks now, that herd will be trapped in there. Then if we just leave them there and do not hunt them, when the Hungry time comes again, we will always have meat to eat". And so they did; and animal husbandry, and property, were born.
The other tribe, which we'll call the HaveNots, knew nothing of this innovation, but when the Hungry time returned, they soon noticed the difference; they grew lean and miserable, while the Haves continued fat and happy. The HaveNots grew resentful; clearly the Haves had plenty of food, but weren't offering to share it. So the HaveNots took to going over to the Have village just before dinner time, knowing that the laws of hospitality would require the Haves to share their meal with them. At first the Haves were friendly and generous, but every day more HaveNots came around with a lean and hungry look. The Haves grew resentful. They had enough to get their own tribe through the Hungry time, but two tribes? Yet they were honor bound to offer food to whoever came by at dinnertimes. So they became stingy and grudging, those characteristics of charity that give rise to the folk phrase 'as cold as charity'. And the HaveNots were introduced to new sensations, that they had never felt before, humiliation and shame for their neediness. Here's a possible conversation.
Haves: "What, you're here again. Why don't you hunt for yourselves instead of mooching off us every night".
HaveNots (shamefacedly): "We go out every day, there's no game to be found".
Haves: "Then go get a job, work for your food".
HaveNots: "Jobs haven't been invented yet".
Haves: "Oh, right. Well, what the hell, we've invented agriculture and property, might as well invent slavery too, while we're about it. There's something you can do for us. The plants in our valley are changing since we blocked off the entrance. Plants the herd won't eat are growing bigger and spreading because nothing is eating them. You pull these weeds, or dig them up, or whatever it takes to get rid of them, and we'll go on feeding you our scraps each night".
HaveNots: "Yes, Master".
Meanwhile, back at the HaveNot village, the proud ones grew desperate and bitter. The women said to the men, "we're having miscarriages, our infants are dying, our parents have died. Do something".
And the men replied, "what can we do, there's no game to be found".
"The Haves have game, take it from them".
"But we're gentle men, we don't do such things".
Next day when the men went out to search for game again, the women gathered to discuss the problem. Perhaps the discussion went something like this.
"Our men are nice, but they're too damn nice for our own good. They're milksops".
"Half the tribe have become slaves to the Haves, and if we are to survive, we must become their slaves too".
"The Haves make them do tabu things, they kill plants the Haves do not want to grow. The gods punish them for that with aches and soreness in their joints".
"We can't let this happen again, or we'll be slaves to the Haves forever".
"We have to have men who are mean and violent, who will kill the Haves and take their meat".
"If our men become mean and violent, they'll be mean and violent to us".
"Which would you rather; starve with a gentle man, be a slave, or eat with a thug who beats you now and then".
"How can we do this, the men won't change".
"Its too late for the men and the boys, but we can change the little ones."
"We teach them what to eat, and what is poison; what is safe, and what will eat them. We can teach them to be mean and violent, so they will never know being different".
"We will regret doing this".
"What choice do we have. Before the Haves did that with their valley, when we starved, they starved, and things remained even. Now we starve, and they remain fat. Our numbers shrink, while they increase. As we grow less and they grow more, they will take our lands. In the end, we will die out".
"And besides, once the Haves are dead, we can stop doing this to the little ones, and all will become as it was before".
"We must never tell the men".
Of all possible actions that ancient peoples may have taken, I consider the adoption of animal husbandry as the opening of Pandora's box. At one stroke, with very little effort, it created substantial property that was eminently stealable, and that no other people would regard as anything but their right to take. In hard times, it would have exerted exactly the pressures described above, and for hunter-gatherers, hard times mean hard winters.
The form of animal husbandry I've described is static. Certainly the other form of animal husbandry, nomadic, would have arisen independently, and just as easily, by a tribe deciding to solve their meat supply problem by accompanying a herd wherever it went. This sudden acquisition of property would have exerted similar pressures as those described above, only this time the herders themselves would have been driven to aggressiveness, by an immediately perceived need to protect their herd from predators, both human and animal. So whether we be Haves or HaveNots, property takes us immediately to the same place. Property requires aggression.
Our society is rife with shattered relics who, at some point in their lives, encountered something that they are completely incapable of dealing with. Mostly, we describe them as alcoholics, or, more generally, as addicts to one vice or another. Property is the universal alcohol, that thing which none of us are capable of dealing with. We kill for it, lie, cheat, steal, swindle, torture, debase and die for it. To be destitute, have no property, is our most feared fate. From property all our social ills derive, It is the ultimate evil, and we all adore it.
In the early 1880s a young anthropology student, one James Frazer, became obsessed by the very unusual tradition of a small Italian village, Nemi. There is a forest nearby dedicated to the goddess Diana, which was guarded by an individual known as the King of the Wood. The King of the Wood was constrained never to leave his domain, under penalty of death. In return, the villagers fed him, every day a day's supply of food would be left at the forest boundary. There were a couple of other stipulations; the first that anyone could become King of the Wood who so desired; the second that, to do so, you had to murder the incumbent, there could only ever be one King of the Wood.
When I first read the details of this it induced, that night, the most vivid nightmare I have ever had. That day I had become King of the Wood; when the dream began the sun was going down and I was searching, feverishly, for my would-be assassin; quartering back and forth, back and forth, through the wood in a frantic hunt to drive him from his hiding place before dark arrived. Of course this was old-growth forest, every tree-trunk massive and fine concealment for a lurking killer so the effort was futile. But I had to do it and realized as I did so that this now would be my life; every day an endless impossible hunt for someone who almost certainly was not there that day, but one day certainly would be. So every day I must hunt, and every day would end in terror in the dark, certain that this was THE day, and that I had missed him, but that he knew where I was.
Not conducive to a good night's sleep, in fact the most paranoia inducing situation I've ever come across. Frazer was fascinated by this concept and, a methodical man, set out to get to the bottom of it, a project that would consume the majority of his working life, establish his scholastic reputation and place in history, and draw the apparently permanent enmity of two different influential groups, first the christians and later his fellow anthropologists.
Calling Frazer methodical is an understatement. He definitely was an anal-compulsive, and its probably fair to describe him as the anal-compulsive's anal-compulsive. People doing a thorough job say that they have "left no stone unturned". Frazer left no grain of sand unturned. Or maybe his project just acquired a life of its own and dragged him along with it. But he embarked on a life-long voluminous correspondence with hundreds of missionaries world-wide, appealing to them to record all the details of their local natives mythology and belief systems. Ironically, he used christian missionaries to record and preserve details of ritual and belief that those self-same missionaries were engaged in uprooting and destroying. That seems to have been salt in the wound felt by christians when the work was published.
The Golden Bough was first published in 2 volumes in 1890, but grew rapidly. The three-volume 2nd edition soon followed and it grew to 12 volumes by 1915. Frazer produced the 1st edition himself from the reports sent back by his missionaries, which instantly made him famous and had a huge influence on the literature of the 20th century, and gave him access to a lot of grad students, who no doubt were the means of expanding it to 12 volumes.
I don't know if Frazer ever satisfactorily answered his original question. I much prefer inspired thinking to painstaking research, and quickly decided that the inhabitants of Nemi had created the first insane asylum with their tradition. That they early on had had to deal with a murderer that they recognized as insane, and were loth to execute like a common murderer. So they made a deal with him; he was banished to the wood and would be killed if he left it, but the village would feed him, so he could live without any need to forage for himself and thereby stray out of bounds in the search for food.. So the "bleeding hearts" faction won the day, but the "red in tooth and claw" crowd got their oar in too, with their stipulation that the King of the Wood could only be replaced by murder, thereby hoping that some entrepreneural type would do the dirty work that they were too squeamish to do themselves.
The Golden Bough was a best-seller, but that was the 2 volume edition. The 12 volume monster it later became is unreadably boring because it is so repetitious. It describes the basic form of a ritual, and then follows it with umpteen variations of that same ritual from diverse societies all over the planet. By sheer reiteration Frazer thoroughly established two points. Humanity is preoccupied with the occult, and that preoccupation is expressed in surprisingly similar forms world-wide.
Following the initial success came a fire-storm of vituperation by the christians. Two things seem particularly to have got their knickers in a twist; first, Frazer thoroughly demonstrated that the details of christ's ending (ordeal of carrying the cross, crown of thorns, the crucifixion and resurrection) are also the main features of innumerable religions world-wide that antedate christianity by millenia; second, that Frazer had the extremely bad taste to exploit christianity itself, via his missionaries, to document the former, -- what shall we call it -- christianity as plagiarism? One can understand their displeasure, for one can't help wondering, if all the salient details were simply "borrowed" from somewhere else, then did the guy actually exist?
But as the things christians mainly object to are logically indisputable, they instead attacked it with a smear campaign; and over the years The Golden Bough has acquired a somewhat unsavory reputation as an occult work. This is completely false. The work, particularly the 12 volume edition, describes many occult rituals along with many more non-occult rituals. It does so, not from some "morbid preoccupation with the occult", but because it is essentially little more than a listing of folk-lore and ritual world-wide, and makes no discrimination for or against the inclusion. It follows a consistent pattern throughout; the main form of a ritual is described and the various peoples who practise(d) that exact form; there follow any variations on the main form, and the peoples who practise(d) each variation, which is what makes it so repetitiously boring to read. But if you have a question about folk-lore and ritual, this the place to go to answer it, and probably always will be. Frazer got there just in time to salvage all we know of ancient ritual and folk-lore from the very vandals who were prosecuting christianity's obsession with exterminating other religions.
The christians maintained an unremitting persecution of Frazer, and eventually he (or rather his wife) was induced to bowdlerize the work and pander to their prejudices. Late in his life he published a one volume synopsis that is now the edition that most people read. It cuts out all the repetition and completely eliminates all material revealing christianity as a knock-off of the old religion. As a reference work its pretty much useless.
Later on the anthropologists took issue with Frazer, for a reason that I consider incredible. Between Frazer's thoroughness in salvaging whatever he could, and the christians' thoroughness in extirpating any other religion that they could, by the 1920s it was becoming apparent that The Golden Bough was largely the only practical source of information on ancient ritual. Would you think that they would have been grateful to him for salvaging as much as he did? Hell, no! They assailed both his methods and his conclusions. Levi-Strauss, in particular, derided his conclusions; and one of Frazer's own students, Malinowski, his methods; being so far moved to develop what is now the accepted method for gathering information in the field. Anthropologically speaking, Frazer is now a pariah. The particular objections to his methods (he sent out a detailed questionnaire with a letter describing his objective and requirements to all his missionaries -- all of them, incidentally, hand-written, he had a personal aversion to the typewriter) were; he did no first-hand research, everything was done by proxies; and his proxies were not scientifically trained (oh, horrors!) but mere laymen whose evidence was therefore only "anecdotal".
The accepted method of gathering anthropological evidence today is video-recorded personal interviews in the field with direct participants. Sounds like a great improvement over Frazer's "armchair" method, does it not? Let's examine it more closely. In the first place the prof rarely chooses to conduct his own research, instead palming off such sweaty endeavor to proxies, grad students. Yes, but, you'll object, they are scientifically trained proxies. Indeed they are, but in reference to ancient rituals, that is of little moment. Direct participants in such rituals are now virtually non-existent. What you get instead are ancient crones (usually) recounting what they remember of stories told to them by their grand-parents about the ancient religion. In other words, a proxy recording the anecdotal evidence of an untrained proxy describing the bed-time anecdotes of a third untrained proxy to the ritual. For sure, such methodology delivers an astonishingly accurate account of the ritual. Yes, but, you may say, the hand that held the videocorder was scientifically trained -- pause for trumpet fanfare, cut to choir of angels singing hosannas in the sky.
Scientists! Pfui! Cockerels on a dung hill stridently asserting their "turf".
Tertiary education is an out-and-out racket, designed to separate its victims from a large amount of their cash for minimal return. Tertiary education behaves like any industry with a captive market; it delivers a piss-poor product at a grossly inflated price, and treats its customers like cattle. Virtually all jobs paying above minimum wage now require college education. Essentially, what you get for your many thousands of dollars "invested" in a college education, is permission to apply for jobs that demand at least a college degree. On the way to getting that permission, you will be relieved of as much cash as the institution believes it can get out of you, primarily through its system of "required electives" (for you oxymoron collectors). About half the classes you take in college are pertinent to your field of interest; the rest, the so-called electives, are claimed to give you a "well-rounded" education. These tend to be classes that were deemed essential to the education of a "gentleman" in the early 19th century, their main purpose being to differentiate you from the uncultured rabble. Highly irrelevant to all but the few who choose to major in them, but an excellent device for preserving future employment for some of those who major in them, and for stuffing the university's coffers.
Individual professors often subscribe to the ideal of "Education for education's sake", borrowing freely from the artists; but the institutions they work for do not share that sentiment. If you want to take a single class, for its own sake rather than as part of a degree course, you are pointed towards Continuing Education classes. These invariably turn out to be very light weight introductions to your subject of interest, whose major purpose is to introduce you to other people with the same interest. If you decline such, and insist that you want to take a particular college course, your reception will become quite frosty. Grudgingly, you will be permitted to petition the professor for permission to take his class. He will probably agree, but with a proviso; that if his class fills up with full-time students you will lose your place in the class. In other words, they'll relieve you of your paltry few hundred dollars if they can, but not if it risks offending one who may deliver many thousands to them.
All of which leads you to: just buy the textbook and learn it on your own.
Fifty years ago, textbooks were an honest product. None of that mendacious tripe about making learning "fun", they at least tacitly acknowledged that learning is a grind, and did nothing to actively hinder that learning. They followed a very similar pattern. Each chapter consisted of a block of text and some questions on that block; then another block and its associated questions; and so on to the end of the chapter, where there would be a test on the entire chapter. But around 1960, some bright spark in educational publishing realized that students did not determine which textbooks were purchased, professors did. And so the process of corrupting textbooks began. Rather than serve the needs of the student, publishers began concentrating on inducing professors to assign their text rather than some other. Very soon it was realized that professors did not actually read a book before assigning it, they merely glanced through it; and whether they assigned a particular text or not depended entirely on what caught their eye as they did so.
Monochrome texts became passe. Coloured illustrations, proliferating sidebars outlined with lurid borders, highlighted text for emphasis, all devices to catch the prof's eye on a casual glance. But by the same token, when the student actually tries to read the text, he is constantly distracted by these devices, because they catch the eye! And more; nowadays textbooks all come with a CD/DVD stuffed with software and other goodies that you can play with for hours (rather than getting down to the dreary business of reading the text), and feel virtuous while you do so. And you can visit the web page for your text, where you'll find lots of highly priced "aids" to learning it, and waste more hours debating their merits with yourself and your budget. And then there's the forum for your text where, any time you get stuck on a point, you simply ask your question and some other student who knows the answer will tell you, maybe. No more going back in the text and ploughing through it again trying to suss out the answer to your question for yourself; just hop online, tap in your question and wait for the answer. So what do you do while you wait? You can't study any more till its answered, so you close the book, go out, get a beer, take in a movie, while away a few hours before going back to the forum to see if someone has answered your question, or not. Either way, you've lost a few more hours study time.
In short, the modern textbook is a device designed to impede the student's attempt to learn the subject, and costs at least twice as much as it need (someone has to pay for all those glitzy additional "features", and it sure isn't the prof they were designed for).
Learning seems to be my major interest, I spend more time either learning directly, or devising methods to preserve what I have learned, than anything else. Early last summer, when I decided I wanted to learn botanical taxonomy again, I immediately ran into all the problems I've described above. Botanical texts are impenetrable to the uninitiated. Plants have myriad variations in their forms, each of which is distinctly named. So before you can do anything in botany you have to learn a very extensive technical vocabulary, even just to read the text. I took a class at LCC in this 20 years ago, and of course stopped using it and so lost the ability. The first several weeks of that class were entirely occupied by learning and taking drills in the vocabulary. So last summer I discovered that, as I didn't want to go back to LCC and take that class again, and as I can't read existing texts, I would have to make my own text. With these stipulations: that it be self-teaching, making that dreary grind of taking and rewriting notes unnecessary; that it be immediately readable without any pre-learning, albeit slowly at first; and that it be possible to take it out into the field and immediately start botanizing with it, again without any pre-learning, though again slowly at first; and that it should make the inevitable loss of knowledge over the winter irrelevant. A tall order, but I think I have succeeded.
Clearly, the way we learn in school is inadequate. I think the majority of people never learn anything from books or in the classroom either, now. Very few people take to those methods of learning with ease, while the remainder learn them with difficulty. Yet it is obvious that every one of us has a very similar innate ability to learn, for small children who don't mind their mothers and learn from her tend to die at an early age. So the child comes with an instinctive ability and desire to learn, which faculties schools immediately set about destroying in most people.
This ability and desire is not enough, you also need a teacher who is willing to teach the child by a method to which he responds. Mothers fulfill this requirement admirably, and virtually all small children learn very readily from their mothers. From my observation her method is simple repetition, she just keeps repeating a point she wants the child to learn until he internalizes it for himself. This method is very effective, for adults as well as for children, which is why it is the method by which people are brain-washed. The schools used to use this method, called it the "rote" method; but around 1960 (again, must have been the time the general rot began) began to abandon it because, they said, it was repetitive and mindless and the student didn't understand what he learned, he just memorized methods by repetition and imitation. So what! How many of the things you interact with daily do you understand? Does that prevent you using them effectively?
The fact of the matter is that teaching by this method is boring, for the teacher. So in the guise of making learning "relevant" and "fun" for the kids, teachers tossed the old effective method and ushered in relevant and fun methods. By their track record since, they have just one small drawback; kids don't learn by them. But perhaps they understand what they don't know, eh, and perhaps teachers don't have a job that bores them to tears anymore. Yet another example of a profession that professes to serve its clients and act in their best interest, while actually shamelessly exploiting them for their own selfish advantage; just like the rest of us.
It would be nice if one's mother were skilled in every subject one chose to learn and would teach it to us, but unlikely. It would be nice if one could afford a full-time private tutor to teach one any subject one chose to learn by this method, but unlikely. But now there is a third choice, for my textbook teaches by that self-same method. You can download it here. It will unzip into its own folder, Botany. In it 2click on OregonFloraIndex.html
Moving at maybe 15 mph in a straight line I watched it go tumbling on to the east, saw it just clear Mt Pisgah and finally fade blinking away. No shadow of doubt that it was a ufo, it did things that are impossible according to our science. We have 4 means of moving through the air, floating on thermals, pulled along by a propeller, pushed by a jet or a rocket. None of those means allow you to perpetually tumble end over end, you'd crash. Another impossibility was that it stayed up in the air. To fly we either ride on thermals or on a wing, a device shaped in such a way that as it passes through the air the air divides unequally so that most passes underneath it and produces upward thrust that counters the tendency of gravity to bring things to earth. TV antennas simply don't have the right shape to fly by our technology.
I'd never really thought about ufos and ets before that day, but I've thought about them quite a lot since, and my conclusions make me rather uncomfortable. I've always thought it a pity that we ever started radio and tv broadcasting, once I learned that such transmission just keeps going out into space and can be picked up out there. Since the late 60's in Arecibo, Puerto Rico I believe, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has been scanning the heavens with giant radio telescopes, looking for other sources of radio and tv transmission. They haven't found any, which means one of two things; either there's no one there to transmit, or there is, but they don't transmit, they just listen.
Why would they do that? Because they know from their own experience that soon after a technological civilization invents radio broadcasting it starts listening for radio broadcasts from the stars. They don't want us to find them, but I think they were very happy to find us.
The last few years there have been many reports of planets being discovered around nearby stars. But you shouldn't get your hopes up that this will soon lead to a sure-fire method for locating earth like planets. The theory is, that as a planet moves in its oval orbit about its star it exerts a gravitational pull on its star that varies with its distance from that star. This varying pull induces a slight (exceedingly slight) wobble in that star. By measuring that wobble, the size of the planet can be calculated. Which is true, in theory, but as Einstein is reputed to have observed, 'In theory, practise and theory are identical. In practise, they are not.'. There is no constant relationship between planet size and mass; there is no constant relationship between a planet's distance from its sun and the planet's surface temperature. Further complicating the issue is that every planet in the system is similarly influencing their star, and their number and individual effects at any moment are unknown. All you have to work with is the total wobble at any moment. And, finally, it tells you nothing about the constitution of that planet.
In stark contrast, if you locate radio and tv transmission from a nearby star, and that star's wobble indicates a planet in the right distance range from the star, then you have a high probability that you've found a colonizable planet. And you really need that high probability, because its such a long way to go to find out for sure. Radio transmission got going in the 1920's, and ufo sightings took off in the late 40's.
In India, the customary method of hunting a man-eating tiger is to take a kid (baby goat) and tie it to a stake in the jungle at sundown, when the tiger starts hunting. This makes the kid very nervous and it obligingly starts bleating for its mother to come and rescue it. But the people hunting the tiger hope, usually correctly, that the tiger will hear and come for the kid. Our radio and tv transmissions are the equivalent of the kid bleating.
Lots of people pooh-pooh the idea of ufos and regard people who report being abducted by aliens as harmless lunatics. Personally, I believe these "harmless lunatics", because what they tend to report about their abductors fits right in with the disturbing scenario I'm drawing for you. Usually they report that their abductors seem to have carried out medical procedures or experiments on them.
The pooh-poohers say that if there are ufos, why don't they visit. As they don't it must be because they don't exist. That's possible, but I think its wish fulfillment on their part, because the alternative is so disturbing. They don't visit because they don't have our best interests at heart, they're actually here to colonize; but they have to wait for our civilization to go smash before they can move in and take over. I think such creatures would be very likely to abduct individuals and experiment on them, to learn our bio-chemistry and our weaknesses, in order to help us along to the crash of our civilization.
Why don't they just invade us and overwhelm us with their superior weaponry? For the same reason that we pussyfoot around N. Korea and Iran. They have both passed the point at which the loser can ensure that the winner also loses. Long before nuclear winter was realized, way back in the early fifties, it was known that nuclear war was unwinnable. That even if you launched a successful first strike and took out all of the enemy's missiles and bombers before they ever got off the ground, the "loser" could still ensure that the "winner" would also lose totally, by deploying what they referred to back then as the doomsday machine. This got a brief mention in the movie Dr. Strangelove, but has never been widely publicized.
It is ridiculously easy to make an atomic bomb. All you need is two chunks of fissionable metal, whose combined mass would exceed what's called the "critical mass" for that element. Bring those two chunks together and kaboom (critical mass is the least amount of an element that will spontaneously explode in a nuclear reaction.) But even worse is what happens when you don't bring them together, just close to each other. You still get a nuclear reaction, but not fast enough to cause an explosion. Instead it just pours out hard radiation, so much so that very little is needed to poison the entire planet. That is the doomsday machine. I believe it is theoretically possible to sterilize the earth with the radiation that could be emitted by just 2 ounces of plutonium (its either that or 2 ounces of botulism toxin is enough to kill all 7 billion of us), but in any event its a really small amount.
Despite what we say about Jong Il and Ahmadinejad, they probably wouldn't launch a doomsday machine even if they were invaded (it would be cutting off their nose to spite their face). But they could, which means that they might, so we posture and bluster and threaten, but are unlikely to attack them (and, on a side note, this is a dead giveaway Bush and Cheney knew damn well that Iraq had no WMD, or they wouldn't have been anywhere near so keen to invade).
But if it were alien invaders stealing our planet from us, and we knew we were going to lose? I think that would ensure the use of doomsday machines. The ets don't want to colonize a poisoned planet, so they play a waiting game and give us their equivalent of smallpox infested blankets. The number of new lethal diseases, that first appeared in the last half of the 20th century, is extraordinary compared to the historical average.
He was not physically imposing, slightly under average height, but on close inspection you noticed that his bone structure was extraordinarily massive. He said he weighed 245, which is an astonishing weight for the non-obese on a 5' 7" frame; his limbs were also extremely short, even shorter than mine, and mostly I find men's shirts seem to be modeled by grossly fat orang-utans. He was much given to pounding inanimate, and preferably resonant, objects with his fists. Steel doors, wooden or concrete walls, it made no difference to him. And he did not pull his punches, I saw him hit a refrigerator hard enough to lift its front edge off the ground and leave a colossal dent in it. A very intimidating practice, but it certainly gave you fair warning of the man's capabilities, and otherwise he was extremely friendly and even-tempered.
One day he disclosed to me that he had a microscopically small dick, just a little button. I was unsure how to respond to this revelation, but finally I asked him if he found that to be a disadvantage. "Nah" he said, "I got a really big tongue", and waggled it like a Maori running amok. Indeed he was very successful with the ladies.
This surprised me, the general desirability of large dicks seems well established. In fact the female predeliction for them is very old, going back at least to the insects. Proportionate to body size the flea has the largest of all, its longer than he is otherwise. So I got to wondering if there was a connection between this and his other major characteristic, and I think quite likely there is, though I'm not about to conduct a survey of human pit-bulls and ask them if they have really weeny wieners!
In the last few years there have been at least 2 national news reports of attacks by pet chimpanzees on humans, that were extremely vicious and destructive. Among other damage, both victims had their noses bitten off, and the male victim was also castrated (entirely, not just the testicles were ripped off). Charming animals, eh! And quite a number of other species, walruses e.g., make a point of going for the genitals when they fight.
Desmond Morris, in the Naked Ape, smugly informed us that humans have the biggest dicks of all the primates; and I recall, as a boy of 8, studying the stuffed chipanzee in our local Natural History museum, and noting that his dick was nought but a little button, just like my fist-pounding friend. And, though I never asked this of my friend, I know that certain guys are able to retract their testicles back into their body cavity. So it seems pretty obvious, that for chimpanzees at least, tiny dicks and retractable balls would be a great advantage in personal conflicts, by offering so little that dangles to be torn off; as otherwise, losing it meant the end of your love-life.
Our descent from a common ancestor with chimpanzees is well established, which leads me to suspect that my friend comes from a very long line of particularly ruthless fighters. So, generally speaking, if you discover someone has a tiny dick, its likely not a good idea to tease him about it.
Common sense, one's innate ability to evaluate the merits of a situation, has been under attack at least since the time of Copernicus. Indeed Copernicus is the most commonly cited example of why common sense should not be trusted. Common sense tells you that the sun revolves about the earth. It certainly does, step outside on a fine day and study the situation for a while and you can see it for yourself. The problem with common sense, scientists sneer, is that it is subjective, it interprets everything from the viewpoint of the person using it; but to discover truth one must be objective and consider the problem from, if you will, the viewpoint of the problem itself.
At some personal cost Copernicus established the proposition that the earth revolves around the sun, a belief that is general to this day. But both this belief and the goal of objectivity are entirely bogus, Copernicus is dead wrong and objectivity is a chimaera, unattainable. To demonstrate this let us consider the former using the method of the latter.
The earth (and other planets) revolve about the sun. The physicists among you will immediately concede that, if there is any revolution, it will not be about the sun, it will be about the center of gravity of the entire Solar System. You will also concede that the center of gravity does not stay in one place, it moves around according to the current relative positions of the planets and the sun. But these are minor issues included only for the sake of objectivity. Let us go to the meat of it.
Usually revolve is taken to mean "some point following a circular path about some focal point, or axis". Actually, the path can be any shape (in respect of the planets, oval); the key requirements are that the point ultimately return to its starting point, and then repeat the entire process.
Now that's fine so long as the system you're considering is static, stays in one place. But the Solar System is not static, its actually downright lively, hurtling through space in the direction of the current apparent position of Hercules at about 16 miles per second. So the earth cannot possibly follow an oval path, if it did it would be left behind in the dark and cold while the rest of the SS goes sailing merrily away.
Clearly, if we are going to be objective about this, we have to consider that motion. To make things easier for ourselves let's assume that the basic idea is sound, the earth does something vaguely oval about the center of gravity (CG) of the system, and that CG follows a particular trajectory. Again to make things easier for us, let's assume for the moment that trajectory is a straight line.
So to get a better picture of what is going on, instead of an oval path around a fixed point, we take that oval path and stretch it so that it goes about a straight line of some convenient length. What we get is an oval form spiral.
Now that is better than what we had, but it is still wrong. Although we have admitted the presence of other forms of motion than simple revolution, we are still treating it as a timeless process, that what may be so, right now, must be so throughout eternity. That's not very objective of us, is it? And we don't want our definition to be a here-today, gone-tomorrow kind of thing, do we? Then we have to consider what happens to that oval form spiral in the passage of time.
Right now the SS is cruising through more or less empty space, other possible influences are minor, and that oval form spiral is close enough for subjective hicks like ourselves. But given eternity to play with, sooner or later the SS will have a very close encounter with a giant star, or with that cosmic vacuum cleaner, a black hole. In the former case our oval spiral will be seriously bent out of shape; in the latter case we can kiss it goodbye completely.
But even if we consider the effect of such things, we still won't have it right. You can probably see where this is going. To be truly objective our definition must consider the effect of every last sub-atomic particle in the entire universe at every moment throughout eternity. To say the least, any such definition will be verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry lengthy.
What I have told you here is nothing new. In another context this problem of objectivity was considered at length more than a hundred years ago, and his conclusions have been entirely accepted as true, to as great or greater extent than any other scientific theory in history. Among other things, he proved that objectivity is impossible, that however you may go about it or try to disguise it, any observation *must* be subjective, ie relative to the position of whoever or whatever makes the observation.
All observation is relative to the observer! Where does that leave us in the context of our developing definition? Doesn't it throw it completely out the window and take us right back to the starting point, that the sun goes round the earth? Actually, even further back, to before egotism became a sin; relative to the observer means that the sun does not go round the earth, it actually goes around you! And among philosophies, solipsism must be king. Courtesy of the Theory of Relativity, the subjective viewpoint is as close to Truth as you can ever get.
Now Physics is a stern, austere discipline, the hardest of hard sciences, second only to mathematics in its intellectual rigor. And scientists generally are commited to the pursuit of Truth. So when Einstein showed them that Copernicus was necessarily wrong and that the old geocentric theory necessarily more accurate, that their Holy Grail of Objectivity was merely a delusion, did Physics publicly announce this and return us to geocentrism and subjectivity? Certainly it would have meant their losing face, but these guys are dedicated to Truth. So which did they choose, Truth, or Saving Face?
The Theory of Relativity is really heavy going to read, and when Einstein first presented his theory to the convocation of his peers, he started with a preamble in which he generally described the nature of his discovery. This preamble is entirely non-technical, easily understood, and quite remarkable. Note that physicists are the most austere and dedicated of a profession generally dedicated to Truth, and that Einstein was not speaking to common-or-garden physicists, but to the creme-de-la-creme of the discipline; surely then, absolutely the last group of people that one would expect to indulge in the cult of personality (as if they were just a bunch of teeny-boppers). Yet for some strange reason, in his preamble, Einstein felt constrained to literally grovel before them, to apologize humbly and abjectly for daring to venture on Isaac Newton's turf, even if only in a very, very minor area, when dealing with the behavior of matter moving at the speed of light. Did Einstein know something of the real nature of his peers?
And Isaac Newton? Before Einstein's rise he was generally regarded as the greatest scientist ever, and probably still is in his home-land. But his reputation became somewhat tarnished in the late 60s with the publication of his correspondence with his secretary. No, not what you might immediately think; this correspondence revealed that Newton and his secretary routinely falsified his experimental results to conform with Newton's theories. Aah, Truth!
Mathematics is generally regarded as the most rigorous intellectual discipline. Every new development in it must be demonstrated by a careful proof, and accepted as proven by other mathematicians, who make it their business to try and rip the new development to pieces. Thus every new development in math can consist only of existing elements from established math; what is new is their arrangement, or pattern.
Certainly math is humanity's major effort to achieve precision, purity and exactitude in a world seemingly preoccupied with doubt, uncertainty and grubby compromise. Math confuses a lot of people, so much so that most people do not realize that it is actually a language, a system of description like French or Chinese. Most languages add new words casually, and most words have rather fuzzy meanings. In math, the vocabulary is rigidly controlled, each term defined with absolute precision and new terms must be formed by making new arrangements of existing terms. Unfortunately, its foundation is rotten.
When math first began there was no way of proving its first development, because nothing had gone before to prove it with. So certain basic axioms were accepted as self-evident, and all subsequent math has been built on the foundation of these basic axioms. With the math of numbers there were just three; the concept of 0, the concept of 1, and the concept of addition, that you could add 1 to itself and make 2, add 1 to that and get 3 and so on to develop the series of natural numbers. Nothing could seem more self-evident than these three axioms, but from the very outset they have produced nothing but trouble.
Mathematicians refer to basic processes as "functions", and addition was math's first function. A characteristic of all math functions is that they always come in pairs, the function and its anti- or "inverse function" which is simply the exact reverse of the function, and completely undoes it. So with addition came its inverse function, subtraction. And so it has gone ever since, functions are always developed in pairs, each of which is the inverse function of the other.
It was soon apparent that repetitive addition was no fun at all, but that you could speed it up by following a few simple rules; thus multiplication, which is just repetitive addition (e.g. adding 2 to itself 6 times is the same as 2x6). So school-children were introduced to the delights of the times-tables. And with multiplication came its inverse function, division. And we've just about covered all of arithmetic in 3 paragraphs. Don't you wish they would have done it that fast in grade-school.
They soon discovered the first fly in the ointment. Subtraction was not an exact reversal of addition, because you could start with some number and keep adding other numbers to it for ever if you wanted, and just keep getting ever larger numbers as a result. But if you started subtracting from some number, no matter how large, eventually you came to a barrier, 0. Must you stop there, or could you blow right past it into numbers less than 0.
The ancient Greeks were the first to consider this problem. The mathematical purists insisted that function and inverse function had to be exact reverses of each other, and therefore negative numbers had to exist. The common sense crowd declared that it was not possible to have less than nothing, and therefore negative numbers were impossible. The Greeks decided in favor of common sense, and refused to have anything to do with negative numbers. Makes me wonder if perhaps they had honest politicians and bankers back then, no deficit financing or negative net worths for them.
But the issue would not die, and later mathematicians reversed that decision, function and inverse function were to be always exact reverses of each other, negative numbers were born, and another basic axiom added. So common sense was thrown out the window, and they started down the slippery slope. The next fly in the ointment was not slow in appearing, in multiplication.
They now had + and - numbers. If you multiply two + numbers together, it seems pretty obvious that the result will be +. And by the same logic, the product of 2 - numbers should be -. But then what is the sign of the result when you multiply a + by a -? It can't be + as that is already taken, and likewise it can't be -. It has to be a new sign, which for convenience we'll call a quirk. Mathematicians reared back right on the brink, seeing that would lead to total chaos. Admit the quirk, and all was lost, for what then would be the sign of a + times a quirk, or a - times a quirk. 2 new signs, leading on to ever more.
By this time common sense was surely crying out "Come on, there's something basically wrong with this whole idea of mathematics, it just keeps contradicting itself". Once again common sense was thrust aside, and they papered over the latest problem by fiat. Henceforth, + x + makes +, - x - makes +, and + x - makes -.
Worse was to come. Division also was defective. 6/3 = 2, a nice precise result, but 5/3 = 1.666666666666... and finally you realize if you don't do something drastic, you'll spend the rest of your life writing the digit 6. So you round it off with a terminal 7, and have to admit that exactitude is now forever lost. And this is math's great irony, though it goes to extreme lengths to be absolutely precise, virtually all its results are approximations. In school they hide this from you for a long time. If people discover this at all, it likely is in college when they take a statistics course. In statistics the answer to a problem usually can be paraphrased as "most likely the actual value lies between these two extremes", which of course has the corollary "so actually it might be anything".
But what was to be done about these divisions that would not yield an exact result. Well, if you wanted it exact, you had to express it as a ratio, like 5/3. Or you must settle for an approximation. And a new class of numbers was declared to exist, Irrational numbers, essentially numbers that cannot be exactly stated. The constant that expresses the relationship between the diameter of a circle and its circumference, π = 3.14159 ... and the base of natural logarithms, e = 2.71828 ... are well known examples that we will see again later.
The rot spread remorselessly, now into square roots. The square root of a number, multiplied by itself, returns that number. But the fiat that +x+ = + and -x- = + means that all positive numbers have 2 square roots, one + and one -, but poor negative numbers have none (4 has square roots 2 and -2, but there is no number, multiplied by itself, that gives the result -4). The symmetry of mathematics was lost forever, common sense was again brusquely rebuffed, and mathematicians again set about patching up their by now lop-sided edifice. Well, what do you expect, that they should give it up as a bad job, and lose one of the very few cushy billets in an age when almost all work was decidedly grunt? Aaah, Truth!
Some bright spark soon realized that, as you could express all negative numbers as the product of its positive counterpart and -1 (-6 = 6 x -1), you only needed an actual square root for just one negative number, -1 (√-1). Only trouble was, no one had the foggiest idea what it might be. So again they solved the problem by fiat, and declared that √-1 would be symbolized by i (for the imaginary number).
Imaginary number! You might think that was a bit much, but this was a group of people who had already been forced to admit the existence of irrational numbers, so perhaps from irrational to imaginary is just a single step more down that slippery slope they found themselves on.
Apparently, √-1 is dear to the heart of Electricity, because it occurs again and again in its equations. But Electrical engineers, who use a lot of math and usually as it is given, refuse to use the symbol i and insist that it be j instead. I guess √-1 must be very real to them.
So Math, which likes to present itself as some beau ideal, is actually a taterdemalion patchwork, and just as prone to expediency and grubby compromise as all the rest of us. But the way math is presented in school must have a very powerful appeal to a certain type of mind, anxious perfectionists. In essence, Math says to them, "Give yourself over to me, and I will never let you down. Faithfully follow my rules, and I will give you the exact right answer, every time". So what do you think the effect would be on such mathematicians when math does let them down? The examples given above occurred long ago, but our next example may help answer it.
Leonard Euler is generally regarded as the most prolific mathematician in history. It was said that he could read mathematics (ie mathematical proofs) as quickly as the average man could read a novel. Around 1750 he published what is now described as "the most famous equation in mathematics"; but when it was first published it seemed more likely to become "the most notorious equation in mathematics". It is very simple:
eπi = -1 (e to the power (pi times i) = -1)
Why did this equation cause so much excitement? It was the first equation containing i, the symbol for √-1 and the thing about equations is that you can rearrange them to solve for any of the terms it contains. Thus this equation could tell you the value of √-1, i. And every mathematician who saw this equation immediately solved it for i.
To manipulate equations, there is one rule that must be observed; whatever you do to one side of an equation, you must do exactly the same to the other side, or you will no longer have an equation. Beyond that, you can do anything that is mathematically valid.
We have eπi = -1 and we want to solve it for i, which is currently part of the exponent (power) of e. So we need to undo the exponentiation, with its inverse function the logarithm, and both logarithm and exponent must have the same base, in this case e. Logarithm to base e is the natural logarithm whose symbol is ln. But there are no logarithms for negative numbers (yet another aberration), so first we must square both sides to make the right hand side positive, giving us
e2πi = 1
Now we can apply ln to both sides of the equation and get
ln(e2πi) = ln1
As function and inverse function, the ln and the e annihilate each other, and the equation simplifies to
2πi = ln1 = 0 see Calculator on your pc for ln 1.
Dividing both sides by 2π we get the interesting result
i = 0 (0 divided by anything is still 0)
Squaring both sides leads us to
-1 = 0
Which is manifest nonsense (or possibly a vindication of the ancient Greek mathematicians). But we followed the rules, and it brought us to this ridiculous result. There was no way out. The proof of Euler's equation is impregnable, and the solution of it leads to gibberish. This was far more serious than the earlier problems we've mentioned, this time the entire rationale of mathematics had failed, that as long as you followed its rules it would always give you the right answer.
But you're used to these guys by now, and can predict more or less what they did. Truth or Expediency again hung in the balance, and again Expediency won hands down. The little contretemps was quickly swept under the rug and is no longer mentioned in polite society.
So math goes merrily on its dishonest way; but we are close to forgetting the entire point of this essay, the source of "pie-eyed". Consider that personality type that math offers such an appeal to, the anxious perfectionist. And of them consider those who were young, just starting out on their careers as professional mathematicians when this equation burst upon them. Impressionable and idealistic, as the young so often tend to be, they believed that deceitful promise and gave their hearts and souls to Math, made it their god. And then their god did not just let them down, it betrayed them, stabbed them in the back. Would you agree that they likely suffered something like loss of faith to a priest?
Now the Church has always been extremely kind to priests who suffer loss of faith, as long as they don't go too far and become heretic. Those it likes to burn at the stake, but the priest who is broken down into despair by it is protected, shuffled off to some quiet backwater and helped to recover; even though those in despair so often develop unsavory habits, like drunkenness, fornication and child molestation.
Universities are far less kind. Your despairing mathematician who takes to the bottle and can't keep up with his duties gets a few warnings, then he's given the boot. Then what is he to do? There is a saying here for things or people that have gone to pot, we say he has "gone south". There is a similar saying in Europe, only there they say "gone west", literally that the person has gone to America. And once there, wouldn't they naturally have gravitated to the Wild West, driven out of the more organized parts of society by social disapproval of their dissolute state.
They would have come in the 1750s and 60s when they were in their twenties. Young drunks and drug abusers are entirely shunned by the rest of society. But young men often have a soft spot for an old tramp, and will lend him a sympathetic ear. This is entirely practical, he might have some tale of youthful folly to tell that explains his ruin, and its as well to be forewarned of such things lest one fall into the same trap. By about 1800 some 40 years would have passed and those vagrant mathematicians would be 65 - 70. Can you imagine those young cattle drovers, listening to their drunken rambles of a world so alien to the drovers' experience, of i and pi and the treachery of their god, til they dismissed them with "Ah, he's just pie-eyed".
When I started what you would call middle school, I got a lot of disrespect from older kids, for I was dirty, scruffy and didn't talk like them. Many sneered at me and dissed me; consequently I fought, a lot. Adults are generally unaware of this, but if a kid is dissed, he has to fight, or the disrespect will increase and he will go under and end by disrespecting himself. As I fought a lot, I became good at it, and soon learned another fact about violence that most people are now unaware of. Fighting fairly is for fools, it maximizes damage; whereas if you attack suddenly, savagely, and with extreme violence, damage tends to be minimized. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is so. Someone who gets sucker-punched and knocked to the ground before he has even realized that a fight is on, overwhelmingly tends to just stay there; the experience psychs him out of wanting to fight at all. But if two people fight "fairly", they each get to psych themselves up to fight before they start and, as dirty tricks are forbidden, the amount of damage each can inflict on the other (at least while they are fresh) is minimal, and each little bit of damage inflicted doesn't deter, it makes them more determined. Consequently, when people fight fairly, they often batter each other into a pulp.
As I fought so much in my first year I naturally gravitated to a social group which nowadays I think would be called "The Thugs", though we didn't call ourselves anything. But we were all jocks, and were all very ready to fight, indeed entry into our group could only be obtained by personal combat with an existing member. If you won you automatically became a member, and you might become a member even if you lost, if you had put up a good enough fight. So you definitely had to be a scrapper to get in. But beyond that we were no more violent than anyone else; none of us went looking for fights to get into; mostly we just hung out and socialized.
We had hangers-on, notably Kent, who had no physical aptitude at all, but dearly longed to be a tough guy. So he hung around us and boasted a lot about his imaginary battles. One day I was in a really bad mood and Kent was particularly boastful. Finally I sneered nastily at him "Forced him?! You couldn't force your way out of a wet paper bag!" Given my first year in that school, I should have known better, eh.
Kent got up and he was spluttering with rage, challenged me to a fight. Told him not to be ridiculous. He comes up and swings at me, big old roundhouse, and I duck it. And he comes at me again. I throw him on the ground. He gets up and comes at me again. And so it went on. Finally I lost patience, punched him in the mouth and split his lip. And that stopped it, and so endeth the first day.
Next morning he starts again, and we repeat the process. And the next day, but this time I lose my temper and really hurt him. My second mistake; Kent lies bleeding on the ground, and I look up to find everyone glaring at me. Up to this point the other guys had been neutral, it was a private affair between Kent and me. Now all sympathies were with Kent, and I was highly disapproved of. We had an unwritten rule against excessive force, and I'd just broken it.
We were learning Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner" that term, and it really resonated with me. It features an albatross that the mariner kills, which then becomes fastened around his neck while it rots and reeks. Kent had become my albatross. The poem is very long but has a pronounced rhythm which makes it easy to learn and I memorized the entire poem. Even today, more than 50 years later, I can still quote chunks from it. You'll probably recognize this one, it also describes how I was coming to feel about Kent.
Like one who, on a lonesome road, Doth walk in fear and dread; And having once turned round, walks on And turns no more his head; Because he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread.
Kent had challenged me and we were fighting in a way I did not understand, and it was not going well. So I decided to get cute. I told Kent that if this went on I was going to hurt him a little bit more each time he started in on me again, and we could just go on like that until he did reach the point where he would quit. That way I figured the amount of punishment dealt out was in Kent's hands and if he chose to take it to the point of excessive punishment, then it was entirely his responsibility.
Kent didn't break, and day by day his face got more battered. It was swollen all the time, and covered with visible bruises. In this day and age his parents would have been hauled in for child battering, but in those days it was just an issue that kids had to work out for themselves.
I broke. Every day I had to pound his face a little bit more than I had the day before, and the next day he came back again for more. I couldn't take it. I stopped hanging out with the guys, and slunk around furtively by myself. We were fighting and I was losing, and the way things were going, Kent wasn't just winning his place in our group, he was driving me out of it. I spent all Sunday thinking about it, and finally figured out what I had to do.
Monday morning I went to school to the usual place in the play-ground, and there was Kent with the other guys. As soon as he saw me Kent started in on me again. And I lay down and let him beat me.
So Kent won his place among The Thugs, and gained a lot of face, and I lost a lot of face. But things soon went back to normal and went on just as they had before. Except, Kent never boasted any more.
Years passed by, I grew up, got married and immigrated, and Kent was completely forgotten, I never thought about him. Vietnam was in full swing when we arrived in New York, and LBJ announced his policy of "controlled escalation". As soon as I heard the details I remembered Kent, and said "America will lose". And so we did.
LBJ's policy was exactly what I tried with Kent, upping the hurt just a little bit more every time N. Vietnam made a move. Its bound to fail because it simultaneously insults and inspires the other guy to resist; insults him by showing contempt for his ability to resist, and inspires him to resist because he knows, if he withstood the latest onslaught, then he can withstand the next because it will only be a little bit worse. But there is nothing that inspires you into upping the hurt a little more each time, indeed everything in you cries out to stop doing it, as you look once again into his puffy, battered face, and start to batter it some more, while knowing full well that he can do nothing to stop you except take it.
I'm quite sure that LBJ's cabinet had, as usual, been children of privilege, that each of them had been educated in schools that were in the vanguard of this pernicious doctrine of anti-violence, that children should be protected and prevented from violence, lest they become so by imitation. But letting children experience violence does not make them violent (as if it has some irresistible allure?); it lets them learn the limitations of violence. And those who do not learn those limitations as children will learn them as adults, when the consequences are much more severe. And that is the first bitter fruit of the doctrine of anti-violence.
Meanwhile, back in middle school; our group, The Thugs, did serve a useful purpose; we were the refuge of last resort for the beleagured. In those days a kid who was being bullied did not go to teacher about it. That was frowned upon by both kids and adults, and considered being a sneak, or snitch, a very low form of life indeed. A kid who was being bullied was expected to deal with it himself, and did. If he personally was unable to deter or evade the bully, he came to us and appealed for help. The bully would be first warned, and if that didn't stop him, beaten. But such appeal was very rare; that entire last year when we were the lords of middle school only one kid ever made that appeal, and a simple warning sufficed to stop it. There simply was no bullying problem in that school, because kids then were left to deal with that problem as they saw fit. As the only kids who approved of bullying were the bullies themselves, the majority developed a social system that effectively suppressed it.
But consider what must happen nowadays, under the doctrine of anti-violence. The bullied kid is not expected to deal with it, he is told to be a sneak, and go to the adults. But this contradicts the larger system in which he is still being raised, that a boy should be self-reliant and stand on his own feet, that he should solve his problems for himself and not complain. So at the very least, this rotten doctrine puts him in self-conflict, should he be self-reliant or should he be a sneak.
If the victim chooses to be a sneak, everyone will judge him to be a sneak and despise him for it, because he has defied the injunction to take things like a man and not complain. And what happens to the bully? In all likelihood the bully has not been violent, certainly not, that is absolutely the last resort for a bully. Violence, by its very nature, is publicly noticeable and draws attention to itself. Bullying, by its very nature, seeks to be private and unseen. The preferred method is by threats and intimidation and, if that's not effective, a little surreptitious torture. But engage in fisticuffs? Leave actual marks on the victim's flesh? Dear me, no, that's hard evidence. So the bully will not have contravened the diktat against violence, and the worst he will get is a lecture. And then he goes back to take reprisals against the victim, who has shown himself to be in need of a little quiet torture.
If the victim decides to be self-reliant, and immediately jumps up and punches the bully in the nose, then he instantly becomes the villain. He has been violent, and off he goes to the shrink and a course of "medication", as in "we'll drug it out of you, you little brute". While the bully goes on his merry way.
Can the victim appeal to The Thugs? Its unlikely that they are allowed to exist any more in our "brave new world"; that instead they have long since been rounded up and shipped off to join that ever-growing group in our schools today, those vacant-eyed, slack-jawed victims of the pharmeceutical arts.
So that is the second bitter fruit of the cult of anti-violence, it promotes bullying. Now tell me, is there a bullying epidemic that has emerged in our schools in recent years, since this anti-violence cult took over?
We left off in that previous essay after establishing that violent aggression in males became essential to compensate for the immediate evil effects of the creation of property (herds of grazing animals). Mothers would necessarily have been the ones who induced violent aggression in males, because they were the only ones who could do so. The men could not do it, because that would have flown in the face of their existing taboo against it. Mothers could do it to their infant sons, before that taboo against violence was established, but as you can readily appreciate, this created problems.
The first, and most obvious, is that it creates a conflict in the male psyche. He is required to be non-violent, but sometimes he is required to be violent. The others are less obvious, but exert worse effects. Modifying their male infants as they did, proved to be something that couldn't be done just once; because, once set in motion, such modifications have a tendency to take on lives of their own.
When one writes computer programs, relatively little time and effort is expended getting it to do what one wants. The vast bulk of the time and effort goes to preventing it from doing anything else. A program is a complex network of interconnected pathways, and one often finds that doing something essential in one of those pathways, comes back and bites you in a different pathway. Such unanticipated side-effects are a major reason why computer apps have to be continually updated, they are the source of the weaknesses that malware writers exploit. Many of those side-effects defy detection and correction, persisting through one major update after another. Adobe Reader's Select Tool, for example, is still unreliable after at least 15 years of development. Some images it will only deliver fragments of.
A computer program may be complex in itself, but it is tic-tac-toe compared to our minds. If it is near impossible to correct some side-effects in computer programs, how much more so will that be true of side-effects induced in men's minds?
So what side effects might arise from making young boys violent? Isn't it true that in order to deliberately inflict violence on someone or something, one must necessarily be cruel? So that in order to induce young boys to be violent, you must first make them cruel. I'm not saying they had to be turned into sadists, people who take delight in cruelty, but that they had to be made capable of, and willing to inflict, cruelty.
Isn't it also true that people are most comfortable with their own kind, family, friends, countrymen? We choose our friends for perceived affinities, not for dissonances. First-generation immigrants tend to live in neighborhoods filled with people from the old country, and often resist assimilation. And don't we tend to shun those we perceive as alien and unpleasant, who do things that we consider taboo?
So what do you think would have been the reaction of their older brothers and sisters and fathers to that first generation of new boys? Is it possible that they were horrified by them, when they saw the kinds of things their young brothers were capable of, things that for them were taboo? Is it possible that they would have shunned them for it?
And how would the new ones have reacted? Would they have felt resentful, defensive and out-numbered? Would they have felt impelled to take out their resentment on their younger brothers and in so doing make their younger brothers like them? Isn't that exactly what older boys do to younger boys to this day?
Mothers didn't have to continue making their young sons cruel and aggressive, because cruel and aggressive boys do that for them. Too late, mothers realized they had lost control of their own creation, and let loose a monster. Now they found themselves compelled to resort to the same technique that created the monster, to try to rein it in, because they had no alternative. All hope, of quickly resolving the problem and returning to innocence, was abandoned there.
So they tried again to fix their creation, and when that brought more problems in its train, they tried again. Thus has it gone on, for so long now that the origin of this process is forgotten; all that remains is that mothers brainwash their sons, to make them into the kind of men that they want. Young boys get into trouble so much more than girls, because this process of repression is applied to them so much more extensively. Their innate nature is being broken, and like horses they kick against it.
Girls also are repressed, but to a much lesser extent, and largely in the area of sexuality. Nature makes females even more eager to copulate than males, but girls are repressed from copulating with anyone they fancy in order to capture a man deemed a 'good catch'. Girls really only have one way of getting in trouble, which is why they call it 'getting in trouble'. Like that first generation of boys made aggressive long ago, and all since, such girls resent, and have a very cruel name for, their sisters who do let men do to them what they so dearly want men to do to them.
In this context of male behavior, does such brainwashing achieve its objective? Clearly it does not; in fact, it is moving away from its objective rather than towards it. The level of women's expressed dissatisfaction for men is increasing with every successive generation. If this maternal brainwashing achieved its objective, such dissatisfaction would be decreasing.
Each applied maternal repression places a stress on the boy that he must bear for the rest of his life, and there are now so many of them that he is severely bent out of shape by them. Men have a particular affinity for alcohol because it anesthetizes such inhibitions, and women decry his use of it for the same reason. He may make a fool of himself, he may suffer for it all next day, but for a few hours alcohol gives him release from those inhibitions.
Men may not know where their repressions come from, but they resent them, and they do know that the majority of them concern their behavior towards women. From there it is a short step to resentment of women, which, when drunk, they express by being obnoxious to women. Indeed, a growing minority of such men are actively dangerous to women. Consequently, many women are now frightened of men.
There is another effect at work, the same one I drew attention to in 'No More Aches and Pains'. Men express little dissatisfaction with women, and such as they do concerns either their resistance to getting in bed with them, or their tendency to manipulate them. This is because women are otherwise little different to women of our hunter-gatherer days; that is, men get women to whom they are biologically adapted, and therefore are not disturbed by them. But women get men to whom they are not biologically adapted, because men have been altered so much. Women are disturbed by men, and feel instinctively that they are suspect, because men are now so unnatural.
This suspicion extends to maternal success stories, men who are perfect gentlemen, apparently all that a woman could want. Yet how often do women reject such men in favor of "scoundrels", who may abuse them, get them pregnant and then abandon them, but who do treat them like women, and not as decorative objects on pedestals.
Conversely, how many men marry respectable women that they love, but find them uncomfortable to be with, and far prefer the company of women that their wives refers to as "sluts". Men like "sluts" because they don't have to put on a charade for them. Women like "scoundrels" because they don't put on a charade for them.
As both sexes are disenchanted by the results of this maternal brainwashing, and as it is yielding negative returns (measured by women's increasing dissatisfaction with men), isn't it time to reconsider the desirability of doing it?
Now ask yourself: Who is more likely to be obsessed with freedom; the free, or the slave?
If the answer to that question is not immediately obvious to you, consider. When was the last time you flipped the switch and gazed in rapture at the light? Possibly right after the last major power outage, but mostly we take electric light for granted. We can only ever want what we don't have, and when we get it we may at first be delighted, later pleased, later still familiar with, and finally take it for granted. But if the thing we want is important enough to us, and we see no hope of attaining it, we may well become obsessed with it.
How can this be, in the land of the free, that we say we are free, yet behave as if unfree?
Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister in Nazi Germany, infamously declared that, for an item of propaganda to be accepted as truth, it was not necessary for it to be true, not even necessary that it make sense. All that is required is that it be repeated endlessly, and never significantly contradicted.
Could it be that we say we are free, yet we act like the unfree, because we are endlessly told we are free, and no one ever denies it; while in fact we are not free, and deep down we know it?
Perhaps you don't care for the above train of thought. Then let's try another, compare your situation with that of a person we can all agree was not free, a field slave in the Old South.
Slavery, as an institution, is abuse. The slave cannot conduct his life as he chooses, he is owned by another, and the conduct of his life is entirely oriented to making profit for that other
At first blush the slave's life seems very unattractive. He rose when massa (in the shape of the overseer's boy) told him to, ate when he told him, worked when he told him, knocked off when he told him, and went to bed when he told him, and wore the clothes he provided. In addition, the work was long and arduous, they had no privacy, they were housed in disgusting squalor, and treated with extreme cruelty and brutality.
But when we examine each of the above items closely, we find they are either outright falsehoods or selectively distorted. So let's take them one by one.
He rose when massa told him to; are you claiming that you don't? That is, if you have a job. The only difference is that you, being told that you are free, have to buy your own alarm clock.
He ate when massa told him; and again, are you claiming that you don't? That is, if you have a job. The only difference is that you, being told that you are free, have to buy your own lunch.
He worked when massa told him; and again, you don't? That is, if you have a job. But this time the difference is more significant. The slave got to stroll at most a few hundred yards to work, and usually in pleasant company, while you face an average 40 minute commute which you, being told that you are free, have to pay for.
He knocked off when massa told him; and again, you don't?... OK, this is getting monotonous, let us observe further only that many people today still go to sleep when they do because they must get to work at massa's time next morning, and often must wear there the clothing that massa provides.
But their work was so long and arduous? Think again. Certainly they worked long hours through the growing season, but in winter they mostly goofed off, there's only so much maintenance and wood-cutting you can do. But they had to work so hard? They didn't. Today almost no one does hard physical labor routinely, so if we ever have to we think it terrible; we pant and sweat, our muscles ache and burn, our hands are sore and blistered, and we think "how they must have suffered in the old days". But if we paced ourselves and kept it up for just 2 weeks we would no longer pant and sweat, our muscles would not ache and burn, and our hands would no longer blister. We would have learned how to do that work effectively, and our bodies would also have adapted to it. But the slave went much further with the art of intelligent labor. He knew well that it was foolish to work the tool, you let the tool do the work. If you were using a pick, you couldn't avoid lifting it, but you never drove it into the ground - you let it drop and guided it to its point of impact. If you were using a saw, you pulled it back and forth horizontally. The saw cuts at its own rate in a vertical plane, instead of veering off to one side or the other, as it does when you put downward pressure on it. Massa provided the tools, but each slave had his own set, and maintained it to his own standards, so his pick points and hoes were sharp, his shovels sharp and polished (to discourage dirt from sticking to it). The tool did the work, not the slave. And the slave sang as he worked, not because he was happy, but because physical labor goes much more easily when done to a pronounced rhythm. And the song served another purpose, it kept everyone together working at the same easy rate; the young tearaways didn't race ahead and burn out by lunchtime, the old and feeble didn't panic and drive themselves to exhaustion trying to keep up. All worked at the pace comfortable for the slowest, and they didn't go home exhausted at night. The Volga Boatmen's song is probably the best known working song, its beat is a tad slower than the March For The Dead.
By this time you may be saying that all this is baloney, that you know for a fact that slaves were treated cruelly and brutally, and flogged if they didn't work fast enough. Certainly some slaves were treated so, but they were a very small minority. The vast majority were treated with extreme kindness, because it was overwhelmingly in massa's economic interest to treat them kindly. Massa did not consider his slaves to be human beings, he considered them to be livestock, and treated them as livestock. As such, they were business assets on which massa expected to realize a profit, and his treatment of them was governed by that expectation. A successful farmer or rancher does not abuse his livestock; to the contrary, insofar as he can he tends to pamper them. Certainly some livestock gets abused, but only a very small minority, though they are the ones that get reported in the newspaper.
The price of a slave fresh off the ship, in today's money, ran from $5,000 up. And what did you get for your $5,000? Someone fit only for field work, who did not speak English, and who would have to be taught by example what to do for at least a year before any return might be seen for the investment. Someone who had been sold into slavery by his former king, forced to march in chains sometimes hundreds of miles to the coast, kept in chains on a ship that took several weeks to sail across the Atlantic, and finally auctioned off to you.
What kind of condition do you think your new $5,000.00 purchase was in? Do you think s/he was even able to stand up? So did you take them back to the plantation and start flogging them to make them work? Or did you do what farmers usually do when they purchase new livestock? Put them in a calm, isolated environment with ample food and fresh water and clean bedding for a while, so they can calm down and perhaps decide that they're not going to be imminently murdered, and so you can see if they are going to survive their ordeal, and if they may have communicable diseases.
A slave was a considerable capital investment, then requiring a year of training and feeding before you might make a profit off him. Now, so long as this slave shows willing to work, would you flog him or treat him kindly during his training period? And what would you do if his attitude said "Fuck you, I'll never be your slave"? Uncle Toms get treated kindly, rebels get abuse, then, now and always.
And when your Uncle Toms finished their training and were making a profit for you, would you flog them then, to make them work faster? Or would you let them go at their own chosen speed, so long as you made a good profit? And how much profit might you make off each Uncle Tom? In the words of none other than President James Madison, $257 a year for an outlay of $13 for his keep, $244 profit off each slave each year. Doesn't sound like much till you figure in the inflation factor, in today's money that $244 is worth at least $3660, and perhaps as much as $6100. So if you had an asset that delivered virtually its entire capital cost every year as profit, and did so for maybe 20 years, how would you treat it? And more, that particular asset produced more like itself, just like any other livestock does. And those didn't cost you $5000 each, just $150 before they started making you profit, and that for maybe 50 years. You wouldn't just treat such an asset kindly, you'd give it anything it asked that wouldn't interfere with your profit.
But not every slave owner enjoyed Madison's profits. Landon Carter complained that his slaves so neglected their work and were so uncooperative ("either cannot or will not work") that he began to wonder if keeping them was worthwhile. So what kind of slave did Madison have, and what kind did Carter have? And do you doubt that Carter abused his slaves, viciously; slaves that had cost him $5000 each and then wilfully refused to make him that much profit each year, that he knew other owners were making off their slaves. Do you think there is any abuse so vicious that it would not be brought down on the head of rebels? Sell them down the river, break up their families, whip them, hunt them down with dogs that tore them to pieces, lynch them.
And then they abolished slavery, or did they? Read your history books. There has never been a "civilization" in history without slaves, nor will there ever be, for the essence of any "civilization" is that a small minority have all the goodies, while the rest peck up the crumbs. In other words, a few are masters, and the rest are slaves. The slaves do the work, the masters smile benevolently, speak sweetly and laugh all the way to the bank. Off to one side, the recalcitrant are dealt with, jailed, beaten or murdered, according to need, "pour encourager les autres" as Voltaire so aptly put it.
You cannot have "civilization" without material surplus, wealth, and as soon as it exists people will begin scheming to get it all, or, failing that, at least more than you. If people did nothing more than work hard, no one would gain very much more than anyone else, hence the injunction "work smart". But if you only work smarter than others, but still do the work yourself, you still cannot end up with very much more than anyone else. What you have to do is induce others to "give" you the fruits of their labor, and immediately, the sky is the limit.
Essentially, there are only two methods to do that; either induce people to sell their labor to you for less than it is worth, or induce people to buy the fruits of such labor for more than they are worth, or, best of all, get them coming and going, pay them pittance wages in scrip that they can only redeem in your company store.
Historically, the most popular method of inducing people to sell their labor for less than it is worth boils down to:- you give me your labor, or I kill you. Very simple proposition that anyone can understand, but a little too stark in actual practice. The Uncle Toms, those who will cooperate with the proposition, need to be kept separate from the rebels; for two reasons, so the Uncle Toms don't become infected with rebel ideas, and so they don't have to see how the rebels are dealt with. This was the method favored in the old South. In any way possible, the Uncle Toms were indulged, the rebels were shipped to other plantations where a different ethic prevailed. The owner would select the most vicious of his slaves and make them overseers. His proposition to them was:- you can do anything you like to these slaves, men and women, as long as they produce me a profit; if they don't, I'll kill you. This is what we have been trained to believe was the typical Southern slave plantation.
The North did not object to the South having slaves, they had their own. What they resented was that the Southern method was more profitable than their own, and they wanted to transfer Southern wealth to more deserving ownership; and did so. The Northern system became general.
In the Northern system the slave is carefully shielded from the knowledge that he is a slave, primarily by brainwashing, telling him repeatedly that he is a free man. The old South method of brute force to ensure compliance is frowned upon, unless it becomes absolutely unavoidable, because that rather gives the game away. Another method of enforcement is used, debt and the fear of destitution. In boom times, consumer credit is made very easy to get, and consumers are strongly encouraged to run their level of indebtedness up to the maximum, and as long as payments are maintained, the maximum will then be raised. Everything is fine as long as the boom lasts, then it busts, out of a job, can't make payments, bailiff reposses all those electronic gewgaws half or more paid for, evicted for non-payment of rent, destitute on the street. When boom times return, start the process over again.
That is the position of the Uncle Tom minimum wage worker in today's society. Now let's compare what he has lost compared to Uncle Tom in the Old South. Imagine you are a slave, born on the plantation, grew up on the plantation, worked your whole life on the plantation, died and buried on the plantation. Put another way, you had womb to tomb security; you were never hungry, never homeless, never out of a job, never destitute. You had free medical care all your life, your food was far superior, it was real food, fruits, vegetables and meat that you grew yourself, organically. You didn't have to worry if you could ever afford to marry and have children, massa positively encouraged you to do that. And when you got to old to work any more, no one hustled you off to some geriatric warehouse to lie in your own body wastes for hours on end; you sat in your rocker on your porch with your life-long cronies, your children and grandchildren all around, sipping a little, or puffing mary jane or poppy if your joints got to hurting. Now be honest; don't you really envy the life they had?
Of course the rebels back then didn't have a nice life at all, though often mercifully short. What of rebels today? They don't ever get a job, because your dossier follows you from early childhood now. Every little temper tantrum in grade school, everything written down by that army of spies in the schools nowadays, it all follows you through your life. Employer looks over your record, "Hmm, this kid's a troublemaker", and you don't get hired. Pretty soon you take to crime, and end up in jail, and mostly you spend your life there. And jail is an environment ruled by the most vicious cons, who get to do whatever they like to you, and don't even have to make a profit.
So the rebels life is as bad as it always was, while Uncle Tom's has gone severely down hill. How could this be, after two centuries of progress and improvement, and we all being so much richer and better off than our ancestors like they're always telling us? In the Old South you were a slave, a significant capital investment with minimal maintenance expense and enormous long-term profit potential. In our brave new world you are "free", of no capital investment but very high maintenance expense and enormous short-term profit potential, in boom times. A catastrophic decline, any way you like to measure it.
And this is no aberration, the general trend of "progress" is always downhill. Back in the Old South, and North for that matter, there are thousands upon thousands of instances of men, women and children, black and white, who voluntarily abandoned "civilization" to live with the "savages" and refused ever to come back. There is not even one instance of a "savage" who voluntarily abandoned his "savagery" for "civilization" and stayed there. The same is true of other colonial empires throughout the world, the British Empire was plagued by what they called "going native", innumerable bureaucrats in far-flung trading posts managing the process of resource extraction for the mother country, who turned their noses up at it and took to wearing grass skirts.
But things have at least improved since the Great Depression, for surely that was the lowest point ever. Think again. Here is a couplet from a 30s song, King of the Road.
Another 30s song was "Buddy, can you Spare a Dime", which means that pan-handlers today should be asking for $1.60. Being realists, they ask instead for spare change, hoping for maybe a dollar bill, but usually just that, coins, of the few people who still carry them. How many times have you stood in line in a grocery store, impatient, while some unfortunate pulls out all the money in their pocket, and counts it out penny by penny to the checker, and you realize "she worked all afternoon, maybe all day for that, not much more than the price of a candy bar". There may be temporary uplifts, but the overall trend of "civilization" is always downhill.
We live in a binary universe. If a thing is no longer what it was, then it is moving toward or has arrived at, its opposite. We started out in paradise, decided it wasn't good enough, and voluntarily left it, nothing drove us out but our own folly. From paradise, there is only one other place to go.
I first met her in July 1972, at which time I was living in Atlanta, my first marriage had just ended and my first wife had gone with our children to stay with her sister in Texas. I was winding down my affairs preparatory to moving to California, and to that end had purchased a 49 Dodge, a great fat dowager of a car that waddled rather than rolled down the road. But my word, they certainly drove in style and comfort in those days; Dodge was a mid-range automobile, and I can't even conceive what the standard of luxury of Cadillac or Packard of that era would have been.
But getting to California required mechanical reliability rather than sumptuous upholstery, so I had serviced and tuned the car, and taken her for a day's drive to see if there were any surprises in store for a long haul. Late afternoon I drove through Athens for the last 60 miles back to Atlanta and saw ahead of me a most arresting sight at the side of the road.
A young woman, barely 5 feet tall, dressed in what I was to learn was her characteristic garb, an orange-brown granny dress that covered her completely from neck to foot, and gave absolutely no indication of the woman beneath. Surrounding her were perhaps a dozen packages, each wrapped in black plastic (garbage bags), and tied with pink baler twine. Naturally, I stopped and offered her a lift.
We stashed her packages in the trunk, took our respective places on the front seat, and rejoined the flow of traffic bound for Atlanta, studying each other surreptitiously in the way of new-met strangers. I must confess I was rather disappointed, having that characteristic male preoccupation with female beauty, and Margaret made no concessions to glamor at all. Her dress left everything to the imagination. She was not ugly, there was nothing malformed or unhealthy about her, but she was very, very homely, and had a most forbidding frown. Hair pulled severely back in a short, neck length ponytail, her face and complexion in the style of Sissy Spacek crossed with a wizened little monkey.
In addition, it seemed that she had a problem with me, in that she sat on the seat as if trying to get as far away from me as possible without quite pushing herself through the door. And an obsession with ventilation; here it was mid-summer in Georgia, every window and vent in the car was open wide, but she spent the first two minutes in a systematic hunt for any overlooked source of fresh exhaust fumes. I sighed, and figured, if she were as reticent with men as I was with women, we were in for a very silent ride, for in those days most women probably decided I was an unfrocked Trappist.
She proved to be the exact opposite of reticent; very outgoing and vivacious, extremely intelligent and witty, and quite happy to compensate for my extreme shyness. She interrogated me systematically but inoffensively, and of course I was charmed and responded, she wanted to know all about me. In less than a moment we were entering Atlanta and I took my exit ramp. Regretfully, I turned to her and said, "I get off here, but there is an immediate on ramp across the street". So clueless, I didn't even have the wit to ask for her phone number! Without missing a beat she said "I'd really like to see your apartment. Would that be OK now? Of course it would!
As we got out of the car she said "I've been hitch-hiking all day and I'm really dusty. Would you mind if I had a bath"? I showed her the bathroom and gave her a clean towel, made some tea and sat on the couch to listen to some music. About 10 minutes later she joined me, again wearing that shapeless orange-brown dress, but now with her hair bound up in the towel, like a turban. I gave her a cup of tea and she sat beside me on the couch and we resumed our conversation.
But it was not as before. Within a minute I was overcome by a tremendous unease that left me completely inarticulate. The reason: first that I had an obvious erection, aching, and I abruptly thrust my ass into the back of the couch and bent over to try to conceal it; second, and far worse, was the stone-cold certainty that within a few seconds I was going to rip her clothes off; whether she would or not, I was going to take her.
I was horrified. Never in my life before had I been possessed by such feelings. I was going to rape her, and could do nothing to prevent it. I crouched on the couch, paralyzed, while the final seconds ticked away.
At this point she stood up and moved a few feet to stand in front of me, pulled the towel off her head and shook out her hair, dropped the towel, unzipped her dress and let it fall to the floor. She wore no other clothing. The effect was like the sun coming out after 10 years of unbroken cloud, blinding, incomprehensibly beautiful. I squeaked "Oh-ah, that's very nice", about as inept a description as one could have made. Oh-ah, she was very nice, and so very much more that words do not exist to express it. Not in the least erotic, nor lascivious, really the only single word that comes even close is exquisite. In total, and in each of her parts, you gazed on something that you would never see the like of again, the golden mean of the female form, that you gazed on in silence, silenced, for that would have detracted from looking at her.
She, however, was in no way awe-struck, and in no mood for adoration. She took my hand and led me into the bedroom.
Clearly, we've reached the part I forewarned you of, and I want to reiterate that this is entirely a factual account. It is not my personal sexual fantasy, Margaret really exists (a year older than I so I assume she is still alive) and behaved exactly as I describe. You can not apply conventional morality to her and get anything but a completely false interpretation. Yet when you consider her actions from the viewpoint of why she might have needed to act as she did, then I think you will arrive at the same conclusion as I, that she is the only truly moral person I have ever known. Now back to the narrative. I was with her for a week or so. During that time, I drove her around Atlanta where she would visit with her various woman friends. We bought groceries and she cooked food for us. At night we slept together. Doubtless I was introduced to the various woman friends. Not one made any impression on me, for I was entirely pre-occupied by Margaret, waiting for the next moment when I would again become physically capable of fucking her. Then I would stand up and take her hand. She would stop whatever she was doing and we would retire to the bedroom. This went on day and night for a week. What the various woman friends thought of this I have no idea, but I do recollect one of them opening the bedroom door and looking in on us for a few seconds, with a broad smile on her face, and then closing the door again.
There was no lust or lechery involved in any of this. That entire week I did not once think about sex, conciously. My state of mind during that week was completely foreign to me, a constant sense of complete tranquillity, that I was doing exactly that which needed to be done. Concious thought was almost entirely absent, and seemed remote and trivial to me. I wondered vaguely about Margaret's woman friends, wouldn't they find the way we were behaving rather strange. I wondered vaguely about Margaret's instant compliance whenever I wanted her, so different to any other woman I ever knew; no complaint, no attempt to defer it. I wondered vaguely why she was always ready, never any need for foreplay, in fact an impatient rejection of it. I wondered vaguely why this sexual marathon brought no sense of fatigue or ennui, why every time was just as eager and urgent as the first. But mostly I just floated in a benign sense of "all's right with the world", complete contentment. I sat with Margaret while she hung out with her various woman friends, paying no attention to their conversation; went with her to the grocery store, stayed with her while she cooked our food and ate with her. And I thoroughly appreciated her cooking, she worked as a chef in an organic vegetarian restaurant, but was equally as indulgent of my taste for flesh other than her own.
At the end of the week we returned to my apartment. She was to return home to Athens, I to go to California. So I asked her to marry me, and she accepted. Of course I did, I understood nothing about her at that point. All I knew was that she cooked divinely, and that sex with her was unlike sex with any other woman, it was always ecstasy. Sex with other women was sometimes ecstasy, sometimes very good, sometimes OK, and sometimes a chore. Yes indeed a chore, for that's what foreplay means, that one or both of you has to be artificially stimulated, masturbated, to get you in the mood for fucking. And fucking a woman who is not eager to do it is no pleasure at all. Why Margaret was always eager to do it, I had no clue then. Why fucking her put me in such a strange and pleasant mental state, I also had no clue then. But I sure did like it all, and the thought of putting 2000 miles between us horrified me.
Then I ruined it all, I asked her about children. She was not going to have children, and the bubble burst, for, from my mother, I inherited a most pronounced reproductive drive. My mother and my legal "father" had two children together. He wanted only two children, so my father became a dedicated condom user. After 7 barren years, my mother cuckolded him and I was the result, which destroyed the marriage, and my mother went elsewhere to fulfil her reproductive ambitions. After the birth of Caleb, my first wife became a dedicted user of "the pill". Each year thereafter I would ask her when we would have another child, and each year she would reply "oh, maybe next year". After 7 barren years, I realized that next year is like tomorrow, it never comes, and I trashed the marriage to pursue my reproductive ambitions elsewhere.
I told Margaret this, and said that I couldn't marry her, children were essential for me. She was unperturbed, made no effort to dissuade me, and returned to Athens; and as we said goodbye, she said to me, "write as soon as you get a place, I'll be visiting friends in Mill Valley later this summer, and I'll come visit you". Of course I did.
So I went to San Francisco, and was soon sharing a house on Silver Ave with 3 other people; Roger, some 30 years older than I; Mimi, some 5 or 6 years older, and Sandy perhaps a year younger. A few weeks later Margaret arrived one Sunday morning, and we all sat down at the table to get acquainted. Two minutes later she and I were in my bedroom, confirming for the others the unspoken question that had passed between them in their looks as we walked out of the living room, "are they going to do what I think they're going to do?!". The atmosphere when we returned was rather strained, and Margaret soon left. I had my first glimmer of understanding about Margaret. Clearly her woman friends had been quite familiar with Margaret's effect on men, had seen it all before. To my California room mates it was quite novel, and though my relations with Roger were never other than coolly polite, neither Sandy nor Mimi seemed to hold it against me.
Though we corresponded sporadically, I did not see Margaret again for almost two years, by which time I was living in Santa Cruz and had a girl friend, Daphne, the daughter of a missionary. I wrote and told her about Daphne and a few days later Margaret knocked on the door early one morning. Daphne and I were drinking coffee and I gave Margaret a cup, but she did not sit down with us at the table, instead choosing to sit on the window ledge where the early morning sunshine was pouring in. She was wearing her habitual garb, and at that moment I learned something new about her granny dress. Though completely shapeless and covering her from head to foot, it was made of a very thin fabric that could become completely transparent under certain conditions, like east facing windows early on a sunny morning. Margaret sat in the window seat stretching and preening herself, and might as well have been completely naked. Not for my benefit, she had eyes only for Daphne, and Daphne was plainly quickly discomfited. When guys get competitive, they like to flex their muscles and stare each other down. I guess when women get competitive, they like to flex their assets and stare each other down.
Daphne dropped her eyes to the table, and Margaret drew up a chair and sat down beside me, giving me a sweet smile. I looked back at Daphne, still studying the table top, then back at Margaret, still smiling, waiting. I felt like a cornered rat. Clearly, this little incident had gone quite far enough, and it was high time I put my foot down.
When we came back to the kitchen Daphne had gone, and she never spoke to me again, would never even make eye contact with me. Margaret had given me a very long leash, 2000 miles of it, but very definitely a leash. She stayed with me that time some 3 weeks, and it was just like the week in Atlanta, except we didn't go visiting, and it went on three times as long. Making her point quite plain. Sex with her would always be ecstasy, and I could do it just as often as I was able. And I could never leave her. I was really starting to understand the situation with Margaret, but I still had a long way to go.
Margaret went on to her friends in Mill Valley again, and I put an ad in the Western Farmer-Stockman to be a caretaker for a ranch. I'd soon accepted a position at Tibbals Ranch, near Boulder, Wyoming. When I told Margaret I was about to leave for Wyoming she joined me for the ride, which would take her half way home to Georgia. We parted amiably, in Boulder, while I went on to the ranch.
The Tibbals yard was enclosed by a picket fence, and as I stepped through the gate I was immediately surrounded by their pack of eleven dogs. They smiled at me, and maintained a subdued growling. I took a step forward. The smiling and growling increased. Another step, and there I stopped, acutely aware that their toothy grins were at the same level as my testicles, which seemed determined to withdraw themselves into my body cavity.
Jim's dogs were the closest to a wild dog pack I have ever been. He asked nothing of them, just fed them and left them to their own devices. They had an extraordinarily pleasant and effective social organization, the lead dog, Weaver, being a most accomplished diplomat. A pup born after I arrived grew up to dislike me, and took to barking his disapproval of me with wearisome monotony. On this particular day we were at the river bank with plenty of rounded river rock available, which I began pitching at Barker. Desultorily, for Barker stayed at the extreme end of my rock throwing range, but there was a slight possibility that one of my pitches would come to earth and dash his brains out.
Suddenly I felt a grip on my knee, looked down to see Weaver's jaws closed on my leg, no pressure exerted but plainly stating that I could easily be hamstrung if I so desired. "Oh", I said, "you want me to stop throwing rocks at it. All right, but I want it to stop barking at me". I dropped the rock in my hand and Weaver went over to Barker, who gave one last defiant yelp and was ever after silent in my presence.
Weaver was a remarkable dog, but I particularly remember another thing about him, he gave me my first understanding of why Margaret had such a profound effect on men, for contrary to what you may think, my behavior whenever re-encountering Margaret was not typical of me. Certainly Daphne was disgusted and my San Francisco room mates shocked, but her Atlanta friends weren't put out at all, but amused. I was far from the first enthralled man that Margaret had toted around Atlanta.
What did Weaver show me? I came out of my cabin one morning and greeted him and received a very perfunctory response, a nod, but otherwise he ignored me. This was most unusual, we had a very affectionate relationship, so I looked for the reason for his apparent indifference. And soon found it; Weaver was standing guard over a young bitch, and entirely preoccupied by her. She was in heat, and Weaver's behavior with her that day exactly mirrored my own with Margaret.
Perhaps you don't care for the idea that women undergo estrus like every other mammal, but think about it. Estrus regulates mammals sexual behavior, when she is in heat, the female gets fucked; when she is not, she doesn't. Its simple and well-regulated, no one is constrained to do something that she doesn't want, nor not to do something that he does want. So why do you think then that evolution, or god, or whatever you will, should suddenly decide to abandon this simple and effective system in the case of humans? I can't answer for the vagaries of gods, but in respect of evolution the idea is ridiculous, it always tends to the most effective method, and eliminates the less effective.
Are human sexual relations simple and well-regulated, with no one constrained to do something that she doesn't want, nor not to do something that he does want? Could it be that our approved sexual behavior, romantic love and monogamy, is a cultural invention, alien to our sexual nature. Rather; romantic love was invented by French troubadours around the 11th century. And monogamous marriage has far more to do with the regulation of property, than it does with the regulation of sexual relations. You may not realize that when you get married, but you certainly do when you get divorced.
And consider women's sexual receptivity, how it varies between extremes of "hot to trot" and "a dry hump". Live with one woman for very long, and you notice this is not a random phenomenon, but a predictable monthly cycle. But culturally, we deny women's estrus, pretend it doesn't exist, for that feeds our favorite delusion, that we are distinct from the other animals, set apart, chosen by god, made in god's image etc, etc. Thus is our nature yet again subsumed by, and sacrificed on the altar of, property.
And in what way was Margaret different? With her, estrus, instead of following a monthly cycle as with most women, was perpetual, she was always in heat. She was always receptive, and spurned fore-play. She never objected or complained or tried to put it off, because she always enjoyed it. Most women expend great effort and expense on attracting men, because, without such effort, most of the time they are neither receptive nor attractive to men. Margaret had the opposite problem. Always receptive and attractive to men, she sought relief from constant attention, made herself a frowning frump to discourage men before they even started. Because she had the most effective allure going every day, not just once a month; she was always in heat.
But back to the narrative; after we parted in Boulder I did not see her again for almost a year, the following summer. Her arrival then was announced by a strange letter, the first half written on one side of a sheet of paper inside the envelope, the last half written on the back of the envelope, for all the world to read. It was far from complimentary to me. Perhaps our strange relationship was finally coming to its crisis point.
Our meeting was polite, but cool, and when the inevitable happened she gave the only negative response to my desire that she ever made; she scowled at me. Whether she was mad at me or not, the sex was as always. We pussy-footed around it for a couple of days, then had the fight that was plainly inevitable.
The essence of it, on her side:
"You're a liar, you're not looking for a wife. If you were, you wouldn't be hiding out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but grass and cows and bitter old bachelors for company, which is what you're turning into. You'd have stayed where the women are, in the cities. What's wrong with you? When I visit you can't keep your hands off me, but you won't live with me, you'd rather stay in this ice-box with your cows and sheep".
And on my side:
"I do want a wife, but you'll never let me have one. When I told you I was fucking Sandy you didn't care, never alluded to her. Same with Carol and Victoria; and when I told you I was strung-out on Felice, that didn't bother you either. You weren't concerned because I didn't care about them and she didn't care about me. But when I told you about Daphne, you were on my doorstep in 3 days! Means you read the letter, packed your bag and stuck your thumb out on the spot".
"Did not". Her sweet little smile. "I didn't read that letter till I came home in the evening. I set out next morning". And so to bed, again.
She stayed with me that time the whole summer, and soon after I left the ranch and went to Rock Springs to work in the oil-fields and get some money together. The following May (1976) I wrote her that I was leaving Wyoming and coming to see her to say goodbye, that I was selling all my stuff and taking to the road again. She sent me her address, for I had never gone to her apartment before.
Her apartment was huge, part of some decaying mansion split into 4 apartments by following the line of least resistance. Margaret got the ballroom and its annex, half the kitchen, a bedroom and bathroom. The ballroom contained nothing but several full-size couches, the annex a single bed. She seemed to have no use for these two rooms but furniture storage, all the living went on in kitchen and bedroom. When I asked her why she had so many unused couches, she replied vaguely that they were useful for friends to crash on. That seemed to imply that she led a debauched life, completely contradicting what I knew of her. In fact it would be much fairer to describe Margaret as a prude than a libertine. She never drank, never swore, never took drugs, referred to my tobacco use as "that vile drug" and would permit no off-color jokes, not even double entendres. She had quite a bit of the martinet about her, and her intimation of riotous living under her aegis perplexed me. I was soon to discover what she meant.
That night, about 3 am, I woke to find a conversation going on in the bedroom, some drunk talking to Margaret in a wheedling tone, begging her for a little comfort. So I spoke up and he became instantly apologetic and took his leave. In the morning I found not one, but two guys stretched out on couches snoring their drunks off. Margaret distracted me at that moment with breakfast, told me there was an excellent pool-hall downtown (during my last year in Rock Springs I became something of a pool shark) and that if I was going downtown would I pick up some groceries for her. I guess she was hustling me out of the way before the drunks woke up.
When I returned they were gone, but I'd been thinking about the situation all morning and had a few questions for Margaret.
"How did those two guys get in last night"?
"The door was unlocked".
"You didn't lock it after the first one"?
"I never lock it".
"But aren't you concerned about people coming in your house and stealing everything you have"?
"There's virtually no crime in this town, and I don't have anything worth stealing". Which was true, her indifference to worldly goods went beyond phenomenal. She had a few kitchen tools, towels and bedding, a single bed, two summer and two winter weight dresses and a raincoat. No underwear, she not only never wore it, she didn't even have any. She had a record player and a few lps, a few books, and nothing else.
"Well at least it would keep the odd drunk wandering in here at night".
"If I locked the door they would bang on it for me to let them in. I like a lot of space, and I couldn't get this much for 3 times what I pay for this place. Its much less trouble to leave the door unlocked".
"Well, the occasional pair of drunks knocking on your door won't affect your rental"
"This is a respectable house. The 2 apartments downstairs are families with young kids. How long do you think I could live here if I had drunks knocking on my door every night after the bars close"?
"Oh, I'm sorry, I just didn't understand. Those two guys this morning weren't here by accident, they were customers. Of course, that's why you were hustling me off to the pool hall".
"They weren't customers, would I be living like this if guys paid me for it. You know me well, how much could I charge for it"?
"Whatever you asked, probably. But this doesn't make any sense. You're not a nymphomaniac, quite the reverse, I've never known anyone make herself so offputting to men, with your face screwed up like a prune, you're the ultimate frump. But what you're saying is that you'll fuck anyone who asks you, anyone at all, for free".
"But why? You can't possibly like them all". And then she made the answer that blew away everything I thought I knew about men and women and sexual relationships, just 6 or 7 short little words.
"I have no right to refuse that".
Her answer left me speechless. In a world where virtually every woman seems to be asserting their sovereignty over their own bodies, and men keep off! yet here was a woman declaring that any man had the right to fuck her at any time. How could her attitude have been so contrary to that of most women? One might say that she was obviously subjugated by male domination, but the facts contradict that. This is a woman who does as she chooses regardless of any consideration other than her own conscience. If any were dominated, it was the men in her life, not the other way around.
Consider the two drunks who came into her apartment around 3 am that night. Who were they? From what was said you might think they could have been anyone. But in practice she definitely knew them very well, and was able to ensure that they kept her secret. Athens is a college town, meaning that it is full of horny young men looking to get laid. If even one of those had gained access to Margaret, her particular proclivities would have been all over town the same day, and there would have been a line, blocks deep, leading up to her apartment, 24/7.
The only conclusion one can draw is that, Margaret may have been telling the truth when she agreed that she would fuck any man who asked her, but she made very sure that few men ever asked her. Her frumpery, to deter even those pathetic losers who hit on every woman in the hope that sooner or later one will take pity on them. Her sitting as far from me as possible, and her obsession with ventilation; she wanted her pheromones blown out the window, not drifting across the bench seat into my nostrils. Later, when she had decided that she wanted me, she took me with a minimum of fuss and effort. And that's how she took all her men, with her in complete control of the situation from start to finish.
And who were those two drunks? Consider Margaret's problem if she decided she wanted a new man in her life. How does she dispose of the existing "alpha" male (I never can resist irony). If she won't let him fuck her any more, he likely gets resentful and blabs about her all over town. As there is no line of horny men outside her door, clearly none of them ever blabbed, therefore none of them were ever cast off. With a new man in her life, she tells the deposed "alpha", "everything goes on as before, but you're now second in line". And of course he accepts it, I think its a rare man that cuts himself off from ecstasy for a principle. And of course he keeps his mouth shut, the last thing he wants is the whole town lining up for her.
And why did they become drunks? Consider the effect it must have to achieve your life's ambition before you ever realize that it is your life's ambition. What do you do thereafter? They became drunks when they realized that their highest goal in life was to fuck Margaret, and that that was guaranteed to them for life. They became drunks because they could not give her up for a principle.
And the queen of this domain - a downtrodden victim? Not on your life.
Later that day a young man arrived who Margaret introduced as her brother. That evening I spent a couple of hours visiting the guy in the next door apartment. We sat on his porch drinking beer. Margaret had no visitors. When I went back in her apartment everyone was already in bed, so I climbed in beside her only to discover she was already reeking of recent sex. She hadn't wasted any time showing me the new world order. If I wanted my freedom so much, I could have it.
Maybe he really was her brother, helping her out to cut me loose, or maybe he was my successor. Either way, she was cutting me loose at last, and I left the next day, heading out west again. Within 4 days I met my second wife. For several years I lived in fear that Margaret would one day appear on the doorstep and pull another Daphne stunt, but she never came. She let me go, finally. I have never tried to contact her since.
At the beginning of this account I declared Margaret to be the only truly moral person I have ever known, and by now you might be trying to decide which of us was the sleaziest. But there are a few more things I would like you to consider about her. For this we must venture into the realm of conjecture rather than inference, because I know virtually nothing about her before I met her. If a woman is interested in a man she likes him to talk about himself, and quickly grows cold towards him if he won't, because that is how she learns to manage him. Probably for the same reason, a woman is not inclined to talk about herself, nor a man to listen to her if she did, he'd much rather talk about himself to an admiring female. All of which is to say, Margaret didn't talk about herself, and I didn't ask.
One thing she did mention was rapists, and she referred to them always as turds, the only instance I knew where she resorted to using a curse word. I'd ventured that I hardly thought that could apply in her case, how could you rape someone who always said yes to that request. I got quite a flea in my ear for that, and she made it quite clear that a rapist, a turd, was a man who took it by force without asking, and with no contrition afterwards. As she put it, "its mine to give, its not theirs to take"! If he took her by force, but was contrite afterwards, he hadn't raped her. I asked her if she had brought charges against turds, and she said never again. When pressed, she said that police had raped her too, by which I understood her to mean that they were turds.
Consider what her life probably became at puberty. Would she have been warned beforehand? Probably not, who would have known what was coming. But she spoke with great affection of her family, so perhaps they rose to the occasion, kept her out of school or enrolled her in an all girls school. But if she did have to deal with that all on her own, she likely very often got what other women would call raped, until she figured out how she could control the situation. She did say that she had had 4 abortions in her teens, but apparently none since, and she offered no explanation for that. So either she took the pill, or the last abortion damaged her. That is a distinct possibility. In 1972 she was 28, so her fourth abortion could have occurred no later than 9 years previously, in 1963, when abortion was still illegal. Therefore, she had 4 illegal abortions, presumably of the coat-hanger variety.
All of which is to say she had a great number of reasons for resenting men and for exploiting them in revenge. And how did she react? Near universal forgiveness! That's one aspect of her moral character that I find extraordinary. The other is her complete refusal to exploit men. Very early on she must have learned that she could make an easy living, indeed become very wealthy, off men. Its a stone cold certainty that many of those contrite ones would have tried to buy her silence, particularly while she was still under age. Which means she probably made the concious decision not to go that route while still legally a child.
There she is, the most terrifying person I have ever known, but what a privilege to have known her.
In any society that has any material surplus, wealth, you will have at least one individual who determines to possess it all. The only way this can be done is to convince the others that it should be so. Pure subsistence societies, hunter-gatherers, have no social hierarchy, all are equal and the society is both communal and democratic. The first step away from subsistence to wealth produces a different society, the king or chief and his subjects. Everything, and everyone, is owned by the king and all good things come by the king's favor alone.
This social organization presents a problem when there is more than one who would be king. Revealing their ambition is a risky venture. If they kill the existing king all well and good, but if not they are disposed of instead. One way out of this difficulty is to establish another realm within the tribe. So we next see the emergence of the shaman, or priest, ruler of the tribe's psychological realm, while the king rules its material realm. As society grows larger and more complex, these realms are endlessly subdivided, until we arrive at the condition of society today. But at all levels, once that pure subsistence life style has been abandoned, once the pursuit of wealth has replaced it, one rule is always true. There are those who rule, and do largely as they please with those who are ruled, who do what they're told.
In practical terms, those who are ruled get to do the work of society, those who rule get to enjoy its fruits, which necessitates that those who rule be a minority, or there won't be that much fruit to spread around, and, ideally, that minority should be as small as possible. As a rule, to rule is seen as a more desirable state than to be ruled, which results in there being always a large supply of those ambitious to rule, but constantly frustrated by those who do rule instituting social traditions that keep them firmly in place.
What are these frustrated would-be rulers to do? What they need is a revolution, but revolutions are hard to come by, as they require the active participation of the ruled. But the vast majority of the ruled are Uncle Toms who will go along with any prevailing system so long as their lives are at least halfway bearable.
Consequently, any social philosophy with revolutionary potential inevitably attracts a large number of ruling class wannabes, and as it progresses to being an outright revolution this tendency accelerates. So the successful revolutionary government, from the outset, is largely composed of ruling class types with their traditional ambitions. The only thing holding them back is the continued existence of the great man, the revolutionary leader, a figure usually so exalted as to be inviolate. Thus the revolution maintains its integrity just so long as the great man lives. Thereafter it is business as usual.
For example, the Russian revolution lasted for about 7 years, Lenin died, Stalin took over after a brief struggle, then set about systematically murdering potential opponents, a common post-revolutionary feature allowing the new political ruling class to consolidate its position. Stalin was perhaps the most thorough example of this tendency, Henry Tudor may be his only rival in such attention to detail. Henry murdered far fewer than Joe, but his fanatic devotion to eliminating every single surviving Plantaganet after disposing of Richard III, coupled with his equally fanatic vilification of Richard's memory, achieved a much more lasting effect. Successive generations of writers have demonstrated the impossibility that Richard could have done, or had any motivation to do most of the misdeeds ascribed to him, and that Henry in contrast had very strong motives for doing the villainies now officially ascribed to Richard. To no avail; ruling classes are ever averse to rewriting history, they see it as a means of social indoctrination, and truth as an irrelevancy. To this day Richard III remains popularly known as Dick the Turd.
Sometimes the great man realizes the true nature of his henchmen and tries to avert the inevitable, as with Mao Tse-Tung's turning to the youth of China, the Red Guard, with his call for perpetual revolution. Much good did it do him. Today both China and Russia are also entirely given over to the ruling classes' preferred ideology of gangster capitalism. Doubtless their social propaganda differs from ours, but serves the same purpose, pacifying the masses.
Cuba may have had the longest just government, but not for very much longer. As Castro enfeebles, the vultures gather and ruling class types in America call for relaxing the 50 year sanctions against Cuba, anticipating imminent regime change and Cuba's return to its ordained function, providing America's ruling classes with that refuge to practice those dearly beloved vices they dare not indulge at home. Haiti is a very inferior substitute.
Bottom line: revolution is a waste of time and effort, it merely substitutes one group of social parasites for another.
Politics, local, state, national or international, is entirely about how the pie should be divided up. Almost invariably, a person who goes into politics does so to ensure that s/he gets a larger share of that pie than they would otherwise. Occasionally, some idealist enters this arena truly intent on the "betterment" of society. Such an individual quickly becomes embattled, marginalized and isolated, and rendered completely ineffective. As that point approaches, such idealists do one of two things; they sell out their principles, or they enter another line of business. A local example of the former is Peter DeFazio; of the latter, Kevin Hornbuckle.
Back in the days when politics was relatively honest, it was conducted in a somewhat different manner than it is today. There were no elections, instead power changed hands by coup, sometimes bloodless, but usually not. Because, when power changes hands under that system, the main immediate concern of the new "ins" is the extermination of the new "outs" and the consolidation of power. A recent example of a country that still practises this form of politics is Libya.
From the point of view of the governed, such a system has much to recommend it. There is a high wastage rate in the parasitic ruling class that keeps their numbers to a minimum, and keeps them preoccupied with survival and the accumulation of loot. Although the governed class is bled under such a system, it is otherwise left to its own devices in peace.
From the point of view of the ruling parasitic class, such a system has considerable drawbacks, the very same things that recommend it to the governed. Consider the effect on the ruling class; all their working lives they toil industriously, accumulating loot, then as soon as they relax and try to enjoy it, a coup cuts the rug from under their feet and they, and possibly their families too, get murdered. RIP, Moammar.
About 400 years ago, in that disgraceful country that is the modern author of so many of the world's ills, a "better" way was reinvented. The pitch to the political ruling classes went something like this:- "Under the skin we are brothers. All we are really interested in is fleecing the sheep. We do not need to fight and kill each other to gain power and access to fleeces. Instead, we could play a game every so often, to decide who gets or keeps power. The side that wins gets to fleece the sheep as usual, the side that loses gets to keep their loot, keep their lives and their families' lives, and nice comfortable sinecures thrown in to pay the bills while they may be out of power. The only stumbling block is who gets to be the referee, and decide which side wins. Obviously, none of us can be trusted to decide that fairly, so we grant the decision to the only group that can, the sheep. Every few years they get to vote which of our groups should be in power for the next few years".
Thus was the arch-corrupter, "democracy", reborn. The ruling classes get to live in ease and comfort rather than perpetual fear of coup, the sheep get to take responsibility for their own fleecing, that if they don't like the way things are, they should take their grievances to the voting booth, deceitfully ignoring the fact that, whoever may be voted into power, the sheep will be fleeced regardless.
Many people believe that "democracy" is an invention of western "civilization", but as Oswald Spengler so painstakingly pointed out, "democracy" is a universal feature of all civilizations; it is the final political stage before a civilization's collapse. His detractors claim that other civilizations did not practice "real" "democracy", that they limited voting to certain preferred groups only, and disenfranchised the others; that only we have "universal" suffrage. Sure we do, criminals, crazies and children can vote just like anyone else. And for sure, there are no other groups in the population, for which no plausible reason can be devised for denying their suffrage, but which are subtly, and at times not so subtly, discouraged from voting.
Thinking about "democracy" like this, for what it is, rather than as its propagandists present it, reveals it as nothing more nor less than a welfare system for the political ruling class. Four hundred years ago there were preachers, a few doctors and lawyers, the rulers; and everyone else -- the sheep. On the abandonment of their directly murderous ways, the numbers of the parasitic (ruling) classes proliferated, more and more of them in every generation. Comfortable sinecures had to be found for them, to keep them in a pleasant frame of mind; to prevent them falling into the temptation to return to the traditional lifestyle of conspiracy and murder.
Thus "democracy" shows the proliferation of all those "helping" professions we have today, lawyers, judges, preachers, medicos, teachers, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, social workers, etc. All those people who produce nothing, and need do little beyond utter the occasional word or two, though many are far more verbose than necessary.
Consider for a moment just how magnificent a tour de force our version of "democracy" actually is. In the long history of fraud and chicanery, has there ever been another con game on a par with "democracy", where the sheep are in charge of their own fleecing, and their only remedy is to fleece themselves again. Is it any wonder that this is the final political stage preceding "civilization's" collapse?
In Malaya monkey has long been a delicacy among butcher's meats. A unique and most remarkable system has been devised to trap them in the wild. The trap is somewhat reminiscent of a crab pot, a globular wicker cage about the size of a man's head, with a hole through which the monkey can easily insert its hand. The trap is anchored out in the forest, and a ripe fruit placed inside it. The trapper leaves and later a monkey discovers it and puts his hand inside to get the fruit. It then immediately discovers that it cannot get the fruit out of the trap. Its hand, holding the fruit, is too large to be pulled back through the hole.
This traps the monkey in a dilemma. If it lets go of the fruit, it can withdraw its hand and escape the trap. But as soon as it withdraws its hand, its desire for the fruit becomes paramount again, and it puts its hand back into the trap and grasps the fruit; and again it is trapped. Apparently this dilemma is so intense that the monkey is completely paralyzed by it; so much so that when the trapper finally returns to empty the trap, he can walk up to the monkey quite casually and openly, and take it alive.
Isn't that monkey's dilemma identical to the dilemma in which "democracy" traps the sheep? The sheep finally have the fruit in their grasp, control of the political system. But if they hold on to that fruit, they cannot escape the consequences of it, the endless proliferation of their parasites, the political ruling class. If they relinquish their hold on the fruit, they immediately seize it again by voting in a different subset of their parasites to "represent" them. What they cannot do is exactly what the monkey cannot do; abandon the fruit and walk away from it. So, again, is it any wonder that this is the final political stage preceding "civilization's" collapse? The parasites proliferate endlessly, fleecing the sheep again and again, more and more, until they break. Remarkable, is it not, that neither the sheep nor their parasites can do anything to avert the inevitable approaching end.
I quickly left the establishment and put the incident out of my mind, but never forgot it, and began collecting evidence of the reality of the end of life experience, reports of elder abuse in nursing homes that appeared from time to time in the newspaper, and a friend who inveighed bitterly against the doctor who presided over his father's demise from cancer, who apparently had been of the opinion that the world would end if one of his patients might die as a morphine addict, but all would be well if they died in agony instead. This was also back in the day when people would be kept alive relentlessly by machines, regardless of how they or their relatives might plead that they be allowed to die, simply by pulling the plug on the life support machine. It became obvious that, for many if not most people, the process of dying was prolonged far beyond the point of absurdity, as if, though death could not finally be denied, its arrival could and must be deferred as long as possible.
In 2009 I moved to Riverview Terrace, in Cottage Grove. This is a 60 unit apartment block, most of whose tenants are elderly, and with a smattering of younger, disabled tenants. The elderly tend to leave Riverview Terrace in one of 3 ways; to live with relatives, to an assisted living facility, much like the one I described above, or to the mortuary. It is the last place they are likely to live independently, in their own place. So it forms the first stage of that long slow decline into death that has become the norm for our society. Many such tenants have quite frankly lost all interest in living, and simply wait passively for the end. Some, tired of waiting, shut themselves up in their apartment and drink or (in past years) smoke themselves to death.
All of which led to decide me that I would have to take care of my own process of dying, to manage it so that it would be esthetically pleasing to me, rather than the protracted nightmare it seemed likely to become if I took no steps to ensure otherwise. The problem was:- exactly what to do about it.
The traditional religious preoccupation was not applicable, as I have neither belief nor interest in an afterlife. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has written a book on the mundane details of dying, but she is more oriented to reconciling the reader with the reality of his impending death, not at all with the manner in which one dies.
The poets were somewhat more helpful. Dylan Thomas abjures us to "Rage, rage against the dying of the light", which is all very well as a philosophical starting point, but of little use at the actual moment. Tennyson was much more promising, he does actually dig into the very core of the problem, in Ulysses.
In the poem Ulysses is old, and spends much of his time in the local tavern reminiscing with his buddies, much in the style of old men. But on this day he takes a new tack. He tells them how bored he has become with his life, that although he is king of this country, he has no joy of it. That if he goes to court he spends his day mediating disputes between surly wretches whose only true desire is to successfully swindle their current opponent. If he stays at home his wife bosses him around and sets him to trivial make-work tasks. So he ends by coming to the tavern and reliving past exploits with them. "But really", he says, "we are now just waiting to die".
"It does not have to be this way. We still have the ship, and can easily refit her. Then we could just step aboard and sail away in search of adventure as we did of yore, one last time. We are not the men we once were, and we probably will die in the process. But is it not better that we go to meet it on our terms, there to die fighting for our lives; than to sit here passively waiting for it to come to us when it chooses. One last adventure ere we die. We often talked of seeking the Happy Isles, but we never went to find them. Let us do so now, set sail into the setting sun, and see what we may find".
Now this is more like it. Tennyson recognizes that we need some last adventure, some project to care passionately about, instead of merely sitting and waiting for the end. But the poem is most ironic. As reader we know that he proposes sailing westward through the Mediterranean, out through the Straits of Gibraltar and into the Atlantic. The only isles they might encounter there are the Canaries or the Azores, thereafter lies endless ocean all the way to Bermuda. So, inevitably, he is taking them to their deaths. But there is a double irony; for by failing in their quest, and dying in mid-ocean, they will reach the Happy Isles, for they are the place all Greek heroes go to when they die, the Greek Valhalla.
Even so, this is not satisfactory, for it ignores the manner of their dying. And to die of thirst (probably) in an open boat in mid-Atlantic does not strike me as a desirable way of death. To solve that problem we shall look elsewhere, to the animal world again.
In the mid-70s I was caretaker of a ranch in Wyoming. Far from Texas, a surprising number of people favored sheep in that mountain country, and my employer maintained a small herd for meat and pin money, their fleeces. At slaughtering time we would drive the herd into a small corral, I would guard the exit, and Jim would do the dreadful deed.
The herd were quite familiar with this process and knew exactly what it meant, so at first all of them were agitated and nervous, milling around indiscriminately in their attempts not to be noticed by Jim. As soon as Jim decided upon his victim-to-be, the entire herd visibly relaxed, all except the chosen one, who began an intense, but inevitably doomed, campaign of evasion. In a small enclosure, no matter how nimble or crafty the quarry may be, his eventual capture, even by an inept hunter, is a foregone conclusion. But some of these sheep really pulled out all the stops, and would keep Jim on the run for minutes on end. Often he would have to take a break and start afresh. But always, sooner or later, he would get a firm grasp on the victim. Instantly, its behavior changed. It became completely calm and relaxed, and accepted its death without struggle or protest. It is not true to say that it surrendered. It did not, it was caught, and before its capture was entirely intent on evading that capture. Once caught, it wasted no time or effort on futile struggle.
At the time, that calm acceptance of its own death did not impress me, I was far more preoccupied by the extraordinary transformation of its death, how could something quite wonderful but intangible simply vanish without trace on an instant, merely by the passage of a knife across its throat, leaving behind nothing but an inert carcase.
Nowadays their examples impress the hell out of me; such grace, such dignity, such willingness to offer themselves for the sustenance of others, in return for the sustenance they had received from others all their lives. Contrast that with our own endless denial and deferral of that moment; our churlish refusal to ever acknowledge the debt of gratitude we owe to all the things that sustained us during our lives; and to deny others their sustenance on our flesh in their turn, by burning or burying the corpse below the depth of biological activity in the soil.
So that willingness to repay the substance of myself for the sustenance of other life is also an essential feature of my quest for a fitting form of death; that I be neither buried nor burned, but lie upon its surface to be eaten, as I have eaten other creatures all my life.
Nature films often show footage shot on the African Savannah, vast herds of herbivores all busily grazing, often with prides of lions hanging about in the near vicinity. The herbivores seem totally unconcerned by the proximity of the lions, who seem particularly to hang out near a herd of zebra, the striped horses. Is it that the zebra simply do not know that lions are their major predator, or do the zebra know when they are safe with lions nearby, and when they are not safe. It seems that either possibility may be true.
All is calm and peaceful; the lions move around, staying on the edge of the herd, and what they are doing is getting in position to take a potential victim who has strayed to the edge of the herd. The lions constantly know which of the zebras are the slowest runners, and like to take one of these who is at least close to the edge of the herd. The reason for this is to preserve the lions health and well-being. One lion has positioned himself behind the target, and when all is ready, it makes a certain noise, the lions' declaration of intent, that they have now begun to hunt. The entire herd of zebra instantly react to this sound, and stampede directly away from it. The result is that the target is in last place and as he is slower than the rest, steadily falls further back from the main herd. Meanwhile one or more lionesses (for usually it is the females who make the actual kill) who were positioned off to one side but ahead of the target, race in to intercept it, one leaps on its shoulders and instantly makes the kill by biting into the spinal column immediately behind the skull. Both zebra and lioness come down to ground, and because the hunt was arranged so that the rest of the herd would be ahead of the victim, the lions are in no risk of being trampled by the stampeding herd. If all goes as planned, and usually does, the zebra knows nothing but a sudden weight on its shoulders, a moment of ecstasy courtesy of his piscine ancestors and then oblivion, all in less than a second. Probably it does not even have time to become aware that it is about to die.
To my mind, this is as high quality a death as one could hope for. Only dying in one's sleep is comparably pleasant, but I find the zebra's death superior for the following reasons.
The zebra has no knowledge or awareness of death's approach. This is known only to the lions. Each day the lions test the zebras with their hunt, each zebra is compelled to demonstrate his right to go on living by being able to run away faster than at least some of the herd. To these zebras the daily test is but a brief state of panic, an exhilarating gallop that gets his circulation fired up for the day, then back to grazing on a fresh tract of pasture.
The zebra who is selected for the kill has no knowledge or awareness of his gradual enfeeblement in comparison to the rest of the herd. To his mind he is just as fit and strong as ever he was, and death comes to him as a complete surprise.
It is very rare for a person to die suddenly in his sleep without an earlier period of decline, and it is this aspect of human death, that we usually get a long period of years to watch it creep gradually closer and closer to us, that I find particularly objectionable about the human way of death.
Predators for humans are hard to find. It seems that every wild animal of comparable size to ourselves is terrified of us (and why not, they know what we're like), and all they are interested in is putting a large amount of space between us. In the past I had contemplated (briefly) the notion of visiting Montana, locating a grizzly bear and punching it in the nose. However, as this is a method of suicide, I knew I could never carry it out for real, even if a cooperative grizzly could have been found.
Regrettably, I abandoned the idea of ever locating a suitable predator. From the immediately foregoing, it must be obvious that I am planning my mode of death, but I should emphasize that I have no intention of deliberately bringing it about, i.e. suicide is NOT the object. What I want to do is to arrange my life in such a way, that when I do die, it is overwhelmingly likely that I will die in a certain chosen manner.
So to recap what we have established so far, I want my death to involve the following elements:- it should: come suddenly and without warning; be instantaneous; occur while I am in a state of great physical vitality or exhilaration; occur before I have surrendered any of my physical or mental faculties to the aging process; occur soon after I lose interest in living, but not before; and occur in such a manner that my remains go to sustain other creatures, that I be eaten.
This is a tall order to fill, but I think my chosen method comes very close indeed. I have bursitis in my left hip, and took to walking barefoot a few years back to see if it would allow it to recover. Although this has alleviated the condition tremendously, it is obvious that it is an ongoing condition and will eventually prevent me taking extensive walks as I do today. So I have turned to tree-climbing as an alternative method of exercise. Immediately outside my home is a 100 foot Douglas Fir, unusual in that it has retained its branches almost down to ground level. Each morning I climb this tree at high speed, enough to have me panting and gasping for breath before I reach the top. Most likely I will die an accidental death, falling from this tree.
I have my final project, a la Ulysses, to maintain my interest in living (of which more in my next essay). I believe that interest will preserve me from accidental falls; i.e. while I remain interested I will remain mindful of the absolute necessity of making no mistakes as I climb, that the next hold be always secured before the previous hold is relinquished. For the fir tree is my lion; each morning it tests my fitness to continue living, and the instant I fail that test death likely will follow immediately. I have never found any greater exhilaration than the imminent fear of dying, and thus exhilarated, I climb. One slip and I plunge to the ground and break my neck, my remains lying at the foot of the tree to sustain any passing creature and ultimately, the fir tree itself; so I have made it my predator.
Of course it is not infallible, nothing ever is. I will feel a total fool if I fail my test while 6 feet above the ground, and even from a suitable height, a clear fall to the ground is not guaranteed, I might strike another branch on the way down. But the lion is not infallible either. I recall a photograph I saw in National Geographic 40 or so years ago; a zebra, his hide completely ripped from one flank and hanging to his ankles, a wide expanse of red, raw flesh exposed to every passing fly. Clearly he swerved at the crucial moment, and now would die a most unpleasant death for his bad timing.