Saturday, January 30, 2010

Blood and Fire

The Haiti earthquake has led to some reflections upon my own earthquake experience.

As a young lad I was living in a small housing development about 40 k north of Naples, Italy during the wild and woolly anni di piombo--the "years of lead." The many assassinations and kidnappings of those times were background noise for what was for me perhaps the most secure and idyllic period of my life.

Our housing development was then brand new and the construction sites of numerous new villas were our (forbidden) playgrounds. Soon after moving in I was given a tour of the sites, all of which had colorful names. The only one I remember was called the "wiggling worm" because of all the electrical sheaths hanging out of the walls. This was the Italian countryside; we could awake one morning to find sheep grazing in the field next to our house. On another day it might be water buffalo. No matter, I could leave the house in the morning and return in the evening and my parents never needed to worry.

Anyway, the earthquake struck in 1980 on November 23 and is known as the Irpinia earthquake. The quake measured 6.89 on the Richter Scale and killed over 2900 people. Thousands were injured an as many as 300,00 left homeless. It was a major catastrophe and fortunately, scared was all I got.

This veers into LoS territory because of the reputed miracle of San Gennaro, patron saint of Naples. The miracle involves the annual liquefaction of the saint's blood. The faithful gather three times a year to witness the event. Not surprisingly, if the blood fails to liquefy, it's interpreted as a bad omen and means bad luck until the next try.

You can imagine what comes next: the blood failed to liquefy on September 19, 1980. Then the quake struck two months later. Dots were connected; faith in the blessings and curses of the liquefaction were confirmed.

Like many "miracles," there are non-supernatural theories, but given that it hasn't been adequately researched, no conclusive scientific explanation has been offered:

"Whether these simple tests will be allowed to go ahead wholly depends upon the Catholic Church. At present however, given that the phenomenon has been replicated, it would be rather too naive to consider it irreproducible or unexplainable."

Our point with all this is that people will readily ascribe supernatural origins to natural phenomena, especially if the phenomena are poorly understood. This was the case in 1980 and, at least for one prominent American televangelist, the reason for the earthquake in Haiti.

Remember Pat Robertson:

"They were under the heel of the French ... and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.' "True story. And the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal,'" Robertson said. "Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another."

The name Gennaro, by the way, comes from the Roman god Janus, god of "gates, doors, doorways, beginnings and endings." If anything, the Haitian earthquake was the end of one thing and the beginning of another. LoS, for the attentive reader, has also over time become increasingly interested in the concept of gates and transitions (see "pillars" for example).

Finally, Janus also left us with the name of January, or doorway to the new year, month of the earthquake; "January" in Italian is "Gennaio".

One thing leading to another, I Googled "Parco Lagani"--my old stomping ground--and came across this blog, in Italian. Google translates it thusly, in other words, poorly, but you get the idea.

I was stunned by the way the old neighborhood has turned out, also by the fact that on this website (first photo) one can even see a picture of a duplex version of my old house! (Mine was a freestanding version exactly like the one on the left....

According to the blog, Parco Lagani began to decline in the wake of the earthquake with the arrival of many IDP's--internal refugees from the quake zone, mostly poor. When these people went back to where they came from later in the 80's, the houses remained empty, often as a result of structural problems due to the quake. Instead of paying for expensive renovations, the owners began renting to the migrant workers who flocked to the area. This was the country, remember?

Over time, Lagani became a kind of free zone, anarchic, where the police never went. African immigrants set up illegal stores, it became a center of drug trafficking; prostitutes who plied their trade in Naples made it their home.

Meanwhile, across the highway, there are luxury resorts for the rich. Reminds me of those reports of the cruise ship docked on a private Haitian beach where tourists frolicked in the surf while people were still being pulled from the rubble a few kilometers away.

The blog entry, from January 29, 2009, reports on the reaction of the enormous police raid on Lagani, in search of drugs and weapons. From what I gather it was a heavy-handed affair and is seen by advocates for the immigrants more as a form of harassment than anything else. "The police raid last Thursday was greeted almost with wonder by the locals, accustomed to living with widespread illegality."

Somehow it all ties together; race, class, divine retribution, displaced people.

Parco Lagani is part of the commune of Castel Volturno, a small city whose origins date back to before the Etruscans. Now, it's most famous for the 2008 murder of African immigrant (alleged) drug traffickers over turf and royalty disputes by members of the Casalesi clan of the Comorra. The massacre is also known as the Strage di San Gennaro because of the date, September 18, the day before San Gennaro's feast day. The day, you'll recall, that his blood failed to liquefy back in 1980. The Casalesi--this night excluded--generally keep a lower profile than most Comorra clans, focusing not so much on drug trafficking as on construction.

Interestingly, on the Italian Wikipedia, translated:

"Castel Volturno is best known for building development insane, and in most cases illegal, due to development policies derived from the reconstruction after the earthquake of the eighties. The municipality is also notorious for high crime rate.
Castel Volturno is in fact highly sensitive to the power of the clans Camorra, and its name can be made to refer to some facts of crime news."

Oh how it all ties together. The earthquake led to a rash of substandard and illegal housing, most obviously connected to mafias specialized in the trade. These places were unsellable and unrentable to most Italians, so they got stocked full of the illegal immigrants who came to the area for honest work and work not so honest. Rivalries arose and, on a violent night in September, almost the feast day of San Gennaro, whose reticent blood indirectly brought them there, the Africans were gunned down.

So, recent riots in Calabria by migrant workers have a bit of background. These migrants work in orchards and are paid as little as a dollar a day. Again, the mafia is involved in this exploitative setup.

Displaced Africans are exploited and as in Haiti 200 years ago, they rebel. In the end, not much changes.

Authorities are already predicting that the widespread corruption in the wake of the Irpinia quake, which led to the aforementioned decline of Castel Volturno, could happen again in the wake of the 2009 earthquake in the Abruzzo region. Journalist Robert Saviano:

"What is a tragedy for this population," he wrote, "for someone else can become an opportunity, a bottomless mine, a paradise of profit."

The displaced poor are exploited and as everywhere else, are fucked in the end. Not much changes.

Double-faced Janus, looking to the future and to the past, god of transitions, namesake of San Gennaro, god of blood which changes, Naples and massacres, whistles an old refrain and relishes the truth found in a clichéd aphorism: the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Trout Thursday

Winter’s long and we need a reason to celebrate. Therefore, Happy Trout Thursday!

Started in Canada back in 1996, the holiday has spread around the world, thanks, no doubt, to its egalitarian and whimsical nature.

* Who can celebrate? Everyone!
* What are the rules? None! Well, one. Eat some trout!
* When do you celebrate? The Thursday before Groundhog Day.
* How do you celebrate? Eat some trout, hopefully with family and friends.

So what are you waiting for? Go get your trout on!

Well, perhaps Beefheart's trouthead is taking it all a bit too literally...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Detachable Arms

I've been reading Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain". In the "Research" section (of Chapter V), the narrator describes a curious creature that I cannot identify:

In others [i.e., other animals] the male parent reached with his arm down the gullet of the female to deposit the semen within her; after which, bitten off and spat out, it ran away by itself upon its fingers, to the confusion of scientists, who for long had given it Greek and Latin names as an independent form of life.

Now, it's possible that this is just a flight of Mann's fancy, but I'm inclined to think that Mann was describing something that was actually being reported by scientists of the day; of course it also possible that the science of the time was wrong.

Nonetheless, I am curious and would like to learn what animal this is.

Googling for it, I came across an interesting article on BBC entitled Animal Sex that covers some of the same ground as "Research"; both writings, for example, describe the anglerfish's strange mating practices.

The BBC piece also describes some strange cephalopod practices that sound remarkably like the animal that Mann described. Some octopus species have an arm (3rd on the right) that doubles as a penis; they only mate once, and lose that arm in the process--it often remains stuffed inside the female. Some cuttlefish actually have a penis-arm that detaches itself and swims off on its own to empregnate a mate.

Now this all sounds remarkably like what Mann describes except for one key detail: cephalops do not have fingers!

So I ask you: What animal is Mann describing?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Trijicon responds!

Statement from Trijicon, Inc.
Monday, January 20, 2010—For two generations Trijicon, a Michigan-based family owned business, has been working to provide America’s military men and women with high quality, innovative sighting systems for the weapons they use. Our effort is simple and straightforward: to help our servicemen and women win the war on terror and come home safe to their families. As part of our faith and our belief in service to our country, Trijicon has put scripture references on our products for more than two decades. As long as we have men and women in danger, we will continue to do everything we can to provide them with both state-of-the-art technology and the never-ending support and prayers of a grateful nation.

Update Jan. 24: Trijicon will no longer ship sights to the military with the scripture references. Their statement.

LoS sent a question about the company name and logo as well as a comment that we respectfully disagree with the practice of putting scripture references on taxpayer-funded property. We'll keep you posted as to the reponse.

Hunimals on the Rise

Last June an intrepid freelance reporter for LoS described a visit to NY's Plumb Island, long rumored to be a US biological warfare experimentation facility.

Recent news reports that a corpse with "very long fingers" was found washed up upon the island's shore.

We at LoS pride ourselves on our reputation as vigilant anti-obscurantists, so we feel compelled to point out that the Plumb Island that produced this giant-fingered human corpse is *not* the same Plumb Island that produced this giant squid corpse.

In other news, a human-headed sheep was born in Turkey last week.

This event was echoic, apparently, of a human-headed goat born last fall.

A good friend of mine grew up on Long Island--in the same neighborhood as the Amityville Horror house. He claims that that there are long-standing rumors of 50-foot cows on Plumb Island--specially purposed for providing milk.

This sounds less far-fetched when you consider the long-standing dream of cows that produce human milk.

For more:

* Hunimals
* Chicken Scream
"photo by Alan Light"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

chefsam | #22 | 12:44 on Mon, Jan.18 : If I don't believe in the tooth fairy, am I a sheeple?

I thought I was on the ball by Googling "haiti earthquake conspiracy". This fellow beat me to it. The comments at both sites are worth a read. Paranoid times.

Angry at the Earth

After an earthquake in 1755 destroyed Lisbon and killed tens of thousands of people, Voltaire wrote these words1, which, to contemporary ears, seem marked at Pat Robertson and his ilk:

The vulture fastens on his timid prey,
And stabs with bloody beak the quivering limbs:
All’s well, it seems, for it.

We're not the first to quote Voltaire in reference to the disaster in Haiti, but we thought you might appreciate reading Voltaire's poem in its entirety (see the bottom of this page for notes on the translation & the cartoon2):

UNHAPPY mortals! Dark and mourning earth!
Affrighted gathering of human kind!
Eternal lingering of useless pain!
Come, ye philosophers, who cry, "All’s well,"
And contemplate this ruin of a world.
Behold these shreds and cinders of your race,
This child and mother heaped in common wreck,
These scattered limbs beneath the marble shafts—
A hundred thousand whom the earth devours,
Who, torn and bloody, palpitating yet,
Entombed beneath their hospitable roofs,
In racking torment end their stricken lives.
To those expiring murmurs of distress,
To that appalling spectacle of woe,
Will ye reply: "You do but illustrate
The Iron laws that chain the will of God"?
Say ye, o’er that yet quivering mass of flesh:
"God is avenged: the wage of sin is death"?
What crime, what sin, had those young hearts conceived
That lie, bleeding and torn, on mother’s breast?
Did fallen Lisbon deeper drink of vice
Than London, Paris, or sunlit Madrid?
In these men dance; at Lisbon yawns the abyss.
Tranquil spectators of your brothers’ wreck,
Unmoved by this repellent dance of death,
Who calmly seek the reason of such storms,
Let them but lash your own security;
Your tears will mingle freely with the flood.

When earth its horrid jaws half open shows,
My plaint is innocent, my cries are just.
Surrounded by such cruelties of fate,
By rage of evil and by snares of death,
Fronting the fierceness of the elements,
Sharing our ills, indulge me my lament.
"Tis pride," ye say— "the pride of rebel heart,
To think we might fare better than we do."
Go, tell it to the Tagus’ stricken banks;
Search in the ruins of that bloody shock;
Ask of the dying in that house, of grief,
Whether ‘tis pride that calls on heaven for help
And pity for the sufferings of men.
"All’s well," ye say, "and all is necessary."
Think ye this universe had been the worse
Without this hellish gulf in Portugal?
Are ye so sure the great eternal cause,
That knows all things, and for itself creates,
Could not have placed us in this dreary clime
Without volcanoes seething ‘neath our feet?
Set you this limit to the power supreme?
Would you forbid it use its clemency?
Are not the means of the great artisan
Unlimited for shaping his designs?
The master I would not offend, yet wish
This gulf of fire and sulphur had outpoured
Its baleful flood amid the desert wastes.
God I respect, yet love the universe.
Not pride, alas, it is, but love of man,3
To mourn so terrible a stroke as this.
Would it console the sad inhabitants
Of these aflame and desolated shores
To say to them: "Lay down your lives in peace;
For the world’s good your homes are sacrificed;
Your ruined palaces shall others build,
For other peoples shall your walls arise;
The North grows rich on your unhappy loss;
Your ills are but a link In general law;
To God you are as those low creeping worms
That wait for you in your predestined tombs"?
What speech to hold to victims of such ruth!
Add not, such cruel outrage to their pain.
Nay, press not on my agitated heart
These iron and irrevocable laws,
This rigid chain of bodies, minds, and worlds.
Dreams of the bloodless thinker are such thoughts.
God holds the chain: is not himself enchained;
By indulgent choice is all arranged;
Implacable he’s not, but free and just.
Why suffer we, then, under one so just?
There is the knot your thinkers should undo.
Think ye to cure our ills denying them?
All peoples, trembling at the hand of God,
Have sought the source of evil in the world.
When the eternal law that all things moves
Doth hurl the rock by impact of the winds,
With lightning rends and fires the sturdy oak,
They have no feeling of the crashing blows;
But I, I live and feel, my wounded heart
Appeals for aid to him who fashioned it.
Children of that Almighty Power, we stretch
Our hands in grief towards our common sire.
The vessel, truly, is not heard to say:
"Why should I be so vile, so coarse, so frail?"
Nor speech nor thought is given unto it.
The urn that, from the potter’s forming hand,
Slips and is shattered has no living heart
That yearns for bliss and shrinks from misery.
"This misery," ye say, "Is others’ good."
Yes; from my mouldering body shall be born
A thousand worms, when death has closed my pain.
Fine consolation this in my distress!
Grim speculators on the woes of men,
Ye double, not assuage, my misery.
In you I mark the nerveless boast of pride
That hides its ill with pretext of content.
I am a puny part of the great whole.
Yes; but all animals condemned to live,
All sentient things, born by the same stern law,
Suffer like me, and like me also die.
The vulture fastens on his timid prey,
And stabs with bloody beak the quivering limbs:
All’s well, it seems, for it. But in a while
An eagle tears the vulture into shreds;
The eagle is transfixed by shaft of man;
The man, prone in the dust of battlefield,
Mingling his blood with dying fellow men,
Becomes in turn the food of ravenous birds.

Thus the whole world in every member groans:
All born for torment and for mutual death.
And o’er this ghastly chaos you would say
The ills of each make up the good of all!
What blessedness! And as, with quaking voice,
Mortal and pitiful, ye cry, "All’s well,"
The universe belies you, and your heart
Refutes a, hundred times your mind’s conceit.
All dead and living things are locked in strife.
Confess it freely -- evil stalks the land
Its secret principle unknown to us.
Can it be from the author of all good?
Are we condemned to weep by tyrant law
Of black Typhon or barbarous Ahriman?
These odious monsters, whom a trembling world
Made gods, my spirit utterly rejects.
But how conceive a God supremely good,
Who heaps his favours on the sons he loves
Yet scatters evil with as large a hand?
What eye can pierce the depth of his designs?
From that all-perfect Being came not ill:
And came it from no other, for he’s lord:
Yet it exists. O stern and numbing truth!

O wondrous mingling of diversities!

A God came down to lift our stricken race:
He visited the earth, and changed it not!
One sophist says he had not power to change;
"He had," another cries, "but willed it not:
In time he will, no doubt." And, while they prate
The hidden thunders, belched from undergound,
Fling wide the ruins of a hundred towns
Across the smiling face of Portugal.
God either smites the inborn guilt of man,
Or, arbitrary lord of space and time,
Devoid alike of pity and of wrath,
Pursues the cold designs he has conceived.
Or else this formless stuff, recalcitrant,
Bears in itself inalienable faults;
Or else God tries us, and this mortal life

Is but the passage to eternal spheres.
‘Tis transitory pain we suffer here,
And death its merciful deliverance.
Yet, when this dreadful passage has been,
Who will contend he has deserved the crown?
Whatever side we take we needs must groan;
Nature is dumb, in vain appeal to it,
The human race demands a word of God.

‘Tis his alone to illustrate his work,
Console the weary, and illume the wise.
Without him man, to doubt and error doomed,
Finds not a reed that he may lean upon.
From Leibniz learn we not by what unseen
Bonds, in this best of all imagined worlds,
Endless disorder, chaos of distress,
Must mix our little pleasures thus with pain:
Nor why the guilt1ess suffer all this woe
In common with the most abhorrent guilt.
‘Tis mockery to tell me all is well.
Like learned doctors, nothing do I know.
Plato has said that men did once have wings
And bodies proof against all mortal ill;
That pain and death were strangers to their world.
How have we fallen from that high estate!
Man crawls and dies: all is but born to die:
The world’s the empire of destructiveness.
This frail construction of quick nerves and bones
Cannot sustain the shock of elements;
This temporary blend of blood and dust
Was put together only to dissolve;
This prompt and vivid sentiment of nerve
Was made for pain, the minister of death:
Thus in my ear does nature’s message run.
Plato and Epicurus I reject,
And turn more hopefully to learned Bayle.
With even poised scale Bayle bids me doubt
He, wise enough and great to need no creed,
Has slain all system -- combats even himself:
Like that blind conqueror of Philistines,
He sinks beneath the ruin he has wrought.
What is the verdict of the vastest mind?
Silence: the book of fate is closed to us.
Man is a stranger to his own research;
He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes.
Tormented atoms in a bed of mud,
Devoured by death, a mockery of fate.
But thinking atoms, whose far-seeing eyes,
Guided by thought, have measured the faint stars,
Our being mingles with the infinite;
Ouselves we never see, or come to know.
This world, this theatre of pride and wrong,
Swarms with sick fools who talk of happiness.
With plaints and groans they follow up the quest,
To die reluctant, or be born again.
At fitful moments in our pain-racked life
The hand of pleasure wipes away our tears;
But pleasure passes like a fleeting shade,
And leaves a legacy of pain and loss.
The past for us is but a fond regret,
The present grim, unless the future’s clear.
If thought must end in darkness of the tomb,
All will be well one day — so runs our hope.
All now is well, is but an ideal dream.
The wise deceive me: God alone is right.
With lowly sighing, subject in my pain,
I do not fling myself ‘gainst Providence.
Once did I sing, in less lugubrious tone,
The sunny ways of pleasure’s genial rule;
The times have changed, and, taught by growing age,
And sharing of the frailty of mankind,
Seeking a light amid the deepening gloom,
I can but suffer, and will not repine.
A caliph once, when his last hour had come,
This prayer addressed to him he reverenced:
"To thee, sole and all-powerful king, I bear
What thou dost lack in thy immensity—
Evil and ignorance, distress and sin."
He might have added one thing further — "hope."


1Voltaire's "Poemes sur le Desastre de Lisbonne" was published in 1756. This translation is from Joseph McCabe's 1911 translation in "Selected Works of Voltaire". We thank our source.

2I first saw this cartoon on a's ireport posting by "brixton". Is this the original source?

Monday, January 18, 2010

"spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ."

The company that makes the sights in question, Trijicon (another triangle logo!) makes no bones about the fact they put 'em there. Which is their prerogative, of course. But Bible verses on guns? Doesn't do much to counter the charges that the US is on a "crusade" in the middle east. (Remember the claim that Blackwater (now Xe) are Christian supremacists?

I dig the "about" page:

Guided by our values, we endeavor to have our products used wherever precision aiming solutions are required to protect individual freedom.


• Morality
We believe that America is great when its people are good. This goodness has been based on biblical standards throughout our history and we will strive to follow those morals.

Praise the lord and pass the ammo!

I suppose this is where Pat Robertson would have bought his gun sights if he were on a mission to assassinate Hugo Chavez....

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Devil in Pat Robertson

You may have heard about religious bigot televangelist Pat Robertson's claim that Haiti is cursed due to an old pact with the devil. Say what you want about dear old Pat, he's a sensitive fellow! In all fairness though, his organization is sending millions in medical aid to Haiti, according to a spokesman.

Revisionist historian Michael Hoffman uses the occasion to get in his digs at Zionism (calling PR a "crypto-rabbi" for example) but he at least gives some background on what PR was on about, seemingly rejecting the idea of a devil pact.

Hoffman cites the Louverture Project for his info. Apparently and perhaps apocryphally, like Washington's coin across the Delaware or the cherry tree, PR was referring to a voudou ceremony at Bois Caïman "widely accepted as the starting point for the Haitian Revolution."

Just for a dash of the conspiratorial, Corey D.B. Walker says in his book A noble fight: African American freemasonry and the struggle for democracy: "There are hints of connections between Freemasonry and the Haitian Revolution" (p.255) Haitians apparently joined Lodges in "great numbers" after independence.

But anyway, I'm not going to ride my hobby horse in the face of what is evidently a tragedy of enormous proportions. I have already received one email from a scammer soliciting donations to help the stricken.

LoS suggests that if so inclined, go directly to the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Valkyries and Other Madness: A Book Review

The D'Aulaires published many beautiful children's books. My favorite so far is, under its most recent title, "D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths". The illustrations are as beautiful as the retellings are grabbing.

I'm maybe halfway through, and I'd be hard pressed to name a favorite tale. Would it be one of Odin's horrors: hanging himself for nine days and nights on Yggdrasil, the World Tree; plucking out his own eye in exchange for a sip of wisdom and then growing out his bangs to cover the hollowed eye-socket; or breathing life into Mimir's severed head so as to keep a trusted counsel literally on hand?

Or would it be one of Loki's tales, perhaps when he turned into a beautiful mare in order to trick a mason by distracting the mason's great steed; waggling his mare's tail, he lead the lusty steed into the woods ... only to emerge from the forest months later with a colt in his hands! And then, to tie this all together--that eight-legged colt grew up to be Odin's mighty steed, which, to quote the D'Aulaires, he rode "like a storm wind from Asgard to battlefields on earth".

Ahh, here, perhaps here we find my favorite tale-to-date: the Valkyries. According to the D'Aulaires (whose picture lies above):

Odin was followed [into Earthly battles] by a band of tall and handsome warrior maidens clad in shining armor, with winged helmets on their heads ... They were the Valkyries, Odin's maidens ... The Valkyries chose who would die in battle and brought the dead heroes up to Asgard. There they lived a life of glory in Odin's guesthouse, Valhalla ...

And so it was that during a battle a warrior would feel a light tap on his shoulder. Turning, he would see a maiden with a winged helmet, and then he would know that he had been chosen as one of Odin's heroes.

With reckless fury, he would leap forward to bring down as many of the enemy as he could until he himself fell in battle, Then the Valkyrie would sweep his fallen body from the ground, throw him across her saddle, and ride with him to Asgard, while far down below the galloping hoofs of her horse the earth faded away.

Let's wander from the D'Aulaires' and their beautiful tales now and travel down a path of my own supposition.

Suppose, as I do, that the Vikings really believed in the Valkyries; perhaps not outright--let's say that they may have the outgrown that stuff as we do Santa Claus--but I'll still bet that there were many a warrior on the battlefield who "felt a light tap on his shoulder" and turned to see a winged maiden in the corner of his eye and went Berserker: ready to die and determined to prove his worthiness first.

Now compare this Berserker-like behaviour to "amok"--an infliction that used to hit Southeastern Asian men, causing them to fly into a murderous rage, literally killing people until they were themselves killed, suicided, or simply calmed into an amnesiac state. Wikipedia draws such parallels across numerous cultures and times.

I was actually disappointed to stumble across that Wikipedia article since I, egotistically, thought I'd come up with that idea on my own (well, I guess did, just not first is all). But let's take this a little further and tie this behavior into the "story" of the United State's "first single-episode mass murderer," which we've written on, Howard Barton Unruh, September 6, 1949. Unruh's behavior is remarkably similar insofar as it was suddenly and shocking turned on (supposedly by the discovery that his gate was vandalized), and, not to be callous, off he went a-murdering. Furthermore, like the other examples, there was an element of pre-meditation combined with some seeming madness. Warriors gone mad on the battlefield are simply carrying out their original plans--only with sudden berserkness and no regard for personal consequence. Likewise, Unruh had detailed notes over the years that pre-identified some of his victims, so we can see that he was "simply" carrying out his plans, yet with no regard for the lives of others who "got in the way" (or simply wandered by)--or even for his own well-being.

Unruh's killing spree feels markedly different from what killing sprees morphed into. The Columbine massacre seems to have become the definitive execution of a different type of killing spree altogether, one in which the aim, advance planned in detailed, is to take out as many innocent victims as possible. I'm sure that this wasn't started with (or possibly even expressed in) Columbine, but that's where mythology seems to have set it--and now copycat killings have spread across the U.S. and all over the world.

This is madness. Pure and utter madness. And it appears to be contagious.

In "The Americanization of Mental Illness", Ethan Watters argues that specific mental illness are, in fact, "sparked and shaped by the ethos of particular times and places"--that is, different cultures give expression to madness in various fashion. For whatever reason, call it the lure of scientific reasoning or the lure of the dominate culture, the U.S. has become, according to Watters, the global definer of behavioral abnormalities. As we export our definitions and examples of madness, other cultures adopt them like cheeseburgers and rock-and-roll. We have, in short, begun the wholesale export of our "maladies". And so, as other cultures take on our own peculiar madnesses, we find that the world is our mirror.

I cannot fix the world--but I can consider what I may be doing to myself. If, just as a totally hypothetical example, I were to fall under sway of the understanding of mental illnesses as being the extreme ends of a spectrum, and then I were to read, fascinated, about hypergraphia, onomatomania, Objektophilie, etc., then, by definition of my pre-concept of spectrums, I must necessarily exhibit some these symptoms (or, conversely, reject them to an unhealthy degree). Keep chugging down this train of thought and you'll find that I will have to take certain behaviors and thoughts that used to be uniquely mine and drop them onto a ruler, a larger matrix, a spectrum upon which I now lay. It's like the "Silent Sister" in the "The Magic Mountain".

At this point I have lost my uniqueness--I am simply an expression of a specific point along a continuum--a continuum defined by others to which I will now probably confine my roaming.

And just in case I thought I might escape these roamings, along comes Big Brother--and there's a whole host of "abnormalities" soon to be defined in 2013 (fortunately, the world will end one year before this occurs), including an expanded definition of "paraphilia [as] an 'erotic target location error,' part of a range of 'courtship disorders' that can occur in men". That, friends, is some glorious use of the English language--but don't be charmed by these sweet nothings. You, too, are going to become ill, ill like many, many others--and you will need help.

Before the scientists transgress these Mountains of Madness--escape!

If we can, as Watters maintains, "catch" the specific madnesses expressed by other cultures via exposure to their definitions, examples, and exhibitions of aberration--thereby diminishing our own personal "thang" (it's *your* thang!)--then isn't the cure to stop believing this or that definition and to innoculate ourselves holistically by exposure to more and more examples of unique weirdness, madness, and possibilities, i.e., by steeping ourselves as deeply as possible into the waters of other cultures and other times and other beliefs?

Most of us are stuck--stuck in time and place and thought--so immersing ourselves elsewhere seems unfeasible. Ahh! but for the wonders of imagination and reading!

That's right foax: this whole post is nothing but a commercial for reading.

So go read, already! The "D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths" is a wonderful place to start!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"The Pearl of Africa's Crown"

"One man said he had clients who had captured children and taken their blood and body parts to his shrine, while another confessed to killing at least 70 people including his own son."


The U.S. produces the like of Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and Anthony Sowell--not to mention estranged husbands, a stunning variety of sociopathic criminals, gang-bangers and Blackwater.

Uganda needs an anti-human sacrifice and trafficking task force.

Which country actually has more murders per capita each year? On this list of 62 countries, the U.S. is #24. Uganda isn't even on it.

Just in case you were wondering, 84% of the population of Uganda considers themselves Christian. Not that we're implying anything, nothing whatsoever.

Incidentally, a recent bill introduced to the Ugandan parliament--Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009--suggests hanging gay men and women. This came one month after three American evangelicals came and presented a three-day series of talks about the evil homo agenda to destroy the traditional African family.

That is all.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Lo-tech noir

Jon Frankel, some-time comment-maker and friend of LoS, is a talented writer of books I like and not simply because he is a friend. He sent me this:

I want to invite everyone to listen to the weekly podcast of my book The Man Who Can’t Die at:

My friend Miette, who has a regular podcast, Miette’s Bedtime Stories,, will be reading the whole book, for which I am eternally grateful.

Jon's books are very good and worth a read....and now, a listen. I've been privileged to read novels in progress and it means a lot to me that he'd share before publishing, solicit my opinion and take those opinions seriously. Please check out these podcasts and investigate further.

I've read, Specimen Tank, The Last Bender, The Man Who Can't Die and his latest work in progress Babes of the Abyss.

These books are savage, dark, cynical, and "true". As is often the case with authors of books of a like nature (which isn't to say they are of a "type" or fall into an easy genre), Jon is one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet. Please take a look.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Baden-Powell: Sun God

Whilst "scouting" for pictures of the Boy Scout Memorial for the last post, we came across this picture of Lord Robert Baden-Powell (and wife Olave's) gravestone. Note the circle with the dot inside; ostensibly this is the traditional Boy Scout trail sign for "I have gone home."

What made us look twice is that this very same sign appears in a quote on our post about the Voortrekker monument:

The creator aspect of Ra, symbolised by the sun at mid-noon, was in ancient times known as Aten. Aten was written as a dot enclosed by a circle in Egyptian hieroglyphics. The monument incorporates the Aten-hieroglyph by allowing the sun to shine through an aperture in the sky dome. Looking upwards at mid noon, the aperture is visible as a backlit dot inside the circular sky dome. At 12:00am on 16 December the sun is projected as a disc-dot onto the cenotaph stone. Looking down from the top dome, the floor aperture in the Hall of Heroes is once again seen to encircle the disc, as the sun's rays strike the cenotaph stone. Moerdijk's message as implied by the interior design is: through exodus out of the British Cape Colony, God has created a new African civilization inland.

Taking that quote out of order we see that:

Based on Moerdijk's reference to the watery floor of the Hall of Heroes, as well as his statement about old Egypt, the opening in the water-floor can be identified with the watery abyss, as in the creation theology of ancient African civilization. Rising out of this watery abyss, was the primeval mound, the Benben stone.


Via the sun, heaven and earth are simulated to be visibly connected through a ray of light.

It should be remembered that B-P first made a name for himself as a hero of the Boer War at Mafeking in South Africa.

Another coincidence for us is that this monument, as described in the quote, would appear to symbolize the regeneration of the Boers as they forged a new nation for themselves.

This idea of regeneration was also mentioned in the context of the Boy Scout Memorial (see comments), which led us to the picture of the B-P grave, whose hieroglyph reminded us of the Voortrekkers and now back again to the Scout Memorial. Full circle.

Voortrekkers, incidentally, means "those who trek ahead." Like say....Scouts, or, as they're known in much of Europe, Pathfinders. In the Netherlands, Scouts 18-21 used to be called Pivo's, an acronym for (Pionier(st)er/Voortrekker Ranger/Rover).

Neat, eh?

Monday, January 4, 2010

It ought to be just as difficult for a good Scout to pass up a Good Turn as to pass up a second piece of pie.

I recently got into an email skirmish with Catholic apologist John Salza over his use of my essay "Freemasonry, Scouting and the Order of the Arrow"--in its entirety--as an appendix to an essay of his own, without asking. After an initial feisty and sarcastic exchange, politeness won the day and the end result was that while there's not going to be a beer summit anytime soon, we've worked it out; as the kids say: "we're cool."

Salza has problems with Freemasonry and the Order of the Arrow (OA) for three basic reasons as far as I can tell.
  • oath-taking
  • secrecy
  • ecumenicalism
Those are all accurate points and if they go against your faith, there's not much to say other than that these organizations are not for you; they are legitimate points of contention. While I don't agree with Salza's conclusions or the point of view that led him there (a point of view which also seems to support geocentrism and the idea that the earth is only 14,000 years old), at least he's theologically consistent. To paraphrase Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski: "Say what you will about Roman Catholicism, at least it's an ethos!"

I can't be so conciliatory with these f-- er, folks. They have taken a big chunk of my essay, sprinkled in a few asinine comments and, although kind enough to keep the attribution, have changed the title to that of Salza's essay: Freemasonry has infiltrated the Boy Scouts? So, anyone reading that blog might think that this is my title and my feeling. Infiltrate. A loaded word which connotes nefarious designs. Not at all my conjecture. These people (not Salza) are either lazy or disingenuous and the only reason I don't take it up with them directly is because they haven't put a contact email on their blog.

So, let me state categorically once and for all that I have no affiliation with anti-Masons and the intention of my essay was an attempt at a neutral history. I do not believe Freemasons have infiltrated Scouting or the OA. Influenced it, yes. There's a big difference.

Finally, Henry Makow Ph.D cites Salza's essay in a piece I can't bring myself to name it! Now, Salza can't control how people reference his work so it's not his fault. After all, the author cites Salza and not me directly; but, since my essay is such a big part of Salza's, I am implicated. The point of this last essay is that Baden-Powell was something like William S. Burroughs in short pants (come to think of it, Uncle Bill did write that Revised Boy Scout Handbook....) and that the Boy Scouts is basically a big hunting ground to feed Freemasonic pedophiles. Absurd. Sample quote:

"Like most major institutions, the Boy Scouts appears to have been subverted by Freemasonry, which has a hidden agenda of promoting homosexuality and denying God."

My well-reasoned response to this is: "Sir, you are an idiot." (Sadly, he is not an idiot at all).

As a result of seeing my essay so mangled, I occasionally Google its title to see where it pops up. I found it referenced on a Finnish blog, of all places, and in so doing came across the following photo, which doesn't do much to dispel the pedophile theory. I mean, I know it's not meant to depict anything unwholesome, but you gotta admit that in the context it's a bit weird.

The National Parks Service has this to say:

Boy Scout Memorial

The memorial to the Boy Scouts of America stands on the site of the first Boy Scout Jamboree in 1937. It is one of the few memorials in Washington, D.C. commemorating a living cause. The funds to build this memorial were raised by Scout units throughout the United States, and each donor signed one of several scrolls that were placed in the pedestal of the statue. The memorials was unveiled in a ceremony on November 7, 1964. The statue was accepted for the country by Associate Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark, who noted that the day marked his fiftieth anniversary as an Eagle Scout.

The bronze statue consists of three figures. The Boy Scout represents the aspirations of all past, present, and future Scouts throughout the world. The male figure exemplifies physical, mental, and moral fitness, love of country, good citizenship, loyalty, honor, and courage. He carries a helmet, a symbol of masculine attire. The female figure symbolizes enlightenment with the love of God and fellow man, justice, freedom, and democracy. She holds the eternal flame of God's Holy Spirit.

Travel website Gridskipper has a funny comment about the memorial:

Speaking of ugly memorials in Washington DC, an irate reader points out the Boy Scout Memorial near the Ellipse. "Very appropriate, nude man, hand on boy's shoulder, clothed woman doing magic trick."

Funny stuff. Apparently, a propos of nothing, there is an oval pool in front the triad.

I have no reason to think this statue means anything other than what it's purported to mean, but even in 1964, it must have made some people a little uncomfortable. Considering the rampant pedophile paranoia of our culture, it's a bit of a surprise the BSA doesn't discretely lobby to have it removed.

I rather like this summary of interpretations:

"The Boy Scout Memorial located at E & 15th Street NW of a naked man and woman led by a boy scout evokes delusions around its meanings based on the dark consciousness of sexuality. From incest and homoeroticism to painfully repressed sexuality the interpretations have been many. Yet, its beauty reveals the creation element of sexuality through the familial triad of father, mother & child."

Do a good turn daily!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I ♥ Phoenicia

Cruising Google Earth the other day, I came across the picture you see above, taken by one Mihaly Barosi, a Hungarian amateur photographer. These columns are just before the France/Spain border crossing at Le Perthus. Now, I've passed this border several times and of course remarked upon them; in fact, back in April I posted about the pyramid you can see in the background. But I never really went gog-eyed over the pillars.

The pyramid was designed by Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill and was an attempt to mitigate the damage done to the mountains by the construction of the autoroute, in 1976. According to Bofill's website:

"The garden that surmounts it creates a false perspective that highlights the temple on the top, a monument in homage to Catalonia. Its red brick columns symbolise the four stripes on the catalan flag, the origin of which goes back to the IX century when count Guifré el Pilós, wounded in a battle against the moors, was rewarded with a new banner by the king of France: soaking his fingers in his own blood, the count drew four red lines on his golden shield. With the imminent disappearance of the frontier post at its base, the pyramid became the symbol of a united Europe."

Given the fact I'd already posted about the pyramid, it's much to my discredit that I neglected to remember these two columns because I've recently posted about pairs of columns at the entrance to cemeteries and civic offices.

We've already noted that the Egyptians used pairs of obelisks at the entrance to their temples. Ditto the Phoenicians. Phoenician architect Hiram of Tyre reproduced these two pillars in his design for the Temple of Solomon. From this precedent it entered Masonic iconography.

We would argue that among other meanings, the pillars marked the transition between states; in this case from the profane world to the sacred world. The pillars represent boundaries. Thus, finding them at this border is no surprise. It represent both the transition from France to Spain, but also, paradoxically, the disappearance of boundaries altogether: a divided Europe evolving into a united one. A redistribution of space is evoked.

It's interesting that the "temple" at the top is evocative of Mesoamerican pyramids; the Pyramid of the Sun, for example, once had a temple at its summit and there are many reconstructions available which Bofill is clearly referring to.

We have already mentioned the benben stone in connection with the Voortrekker monument. This stone was a sacred stone in the solar temple at Heliopolis. It was designed so that the first rays of the rising sun would fall upon it; in this it served as the inspiration for the Voortrekker's cenotaph, or empty tomb. More germane to our purpose it that the benben is thought to have inspired not only the design of the obelisks--seen by the Egyptians as petrified rays of lights, but also the capstones of the pyramids.

The phoenix, or "benu bird" was also venerated at Heliopolis; apparently the connection between the benben, the phoenix and the sun might have been based on alliteration in the original Egyptian: benben, benu, and weben, or "the rising sun". It's not difficult to see that the Phoenix, which dies and rises from its own ashes, would be associated with the setting and rising sun. We can also see this metaphor extended in the Voortrekker monument as the continual regeneration of a people, the Afrikaaners. That a cenotaph, or "empty tomb" is involved, it's also hard to ignore a link to Jesus and the resurrection.

And why not, we've recently here at LoS had a fruitful exchange with Somehow it all ties together.

Incidentally, our friend Dave Lettelier wrote us:

"The old mythological legend of the Phoenix is a familiar one. The bird was described as of the size of an eagle, with a head finely crested, a body covered with beautiful plumage, and eyes sparkling like stars. She was said to live six hundred years in the wilderness, when she built for herself a funeral pile of aromatic woods, which she ignited with the fanning of her wings, and emerged from the flames with a new life. Hence the phoenix has been adopted universally as a symbol of immortality. Higgins (Anacalypsis, ii., 441) says that the phoenix is the symbol of an ever-revolving solar cycle of six hundred and eight years, and refers to the Phoenician word phen, which signifies a cycle. Aumont, the first Grand Master of the Templars after the martyrdom of DeMolay, and called the "Restorer of the Order," took, it is said, for his seal, a phoenix brooding on the flames, with the motto, "Ardet ut vivat" - She burns that she may live. The phoenix was adopted at a very early period as a Christian symbol, and several representations of it have been found in the catacombs. Its ancient legend, doubtless, caused it to be accepted as a symbol of Jesus Christ's resurrection and immortality."

The idea that two pillars represent the liminal or transition between states may also be found in the Pillars of Hercules. Literally these are the rocky promontories that flank the Strait of Gibraltar. They are so named because:

"Legend tells that Heracles (Roman Hercules), after traversing various countries during his twelve labors, raised two mountains in Spain and Africa as monuments of his progress. According to another account, Hercules had little time to climb a high mountain, so he split it into two halves, forming the straights of Gibraltar and opening the Mediterranean Seas to the Atlantic Ocean."

There were dissenting views; Greek historian Diodorus Siculus "held that instead of smashing through an isthmus to create the Straits of Gibraltar, Hercules instead narrowed an already existing strait to keep monsters in the Atlantic Ocean from entering the Mediterranean Sea."

The northern pillar is usually accepted to be the Rock of Gibraltar and the southern is either Monte Hacho in Ceuta or Jebel Musa in Morocco.

Interestingly, these pillars appear on the Spanish coat of arms along with the motto "Plus ultra" or "further beyond." This may indicate the desire to see the pillars not merely as a gate to the Med, but rather the opposite: a gate to the wider world. It may also indicate Spain's New World possessions and by implication, its power. A power made possible by its naval superiority.

The Pillars of Hercules also appear on the title page of Sir Francis Bacon's Instauratio Magna or "Great Renewal" (shades of the Phoenix, the Sun, Jesus....) which appeared in 1620. This text was the forward to his Novum Organum or "New Instrument." The book develops a new system of logic based upon inductive reasoning and is considered a critical text in the development of the scientific method. The Latin motto at the base--Multi pertransibunt et augebitur scientia comes from the Book of Daniel 12:4 and means "Many will pass through and knowledge will be the greater". Although far from widely accepted by mainstream historians, many authors have theorized that Bacon may have been involved in Rosicrucian and early Freemasonry.

As John Mongiovi states in his essay "The Two Pillars" (already quoted above):

"The two pillars are often depicted in esoteric symbolism [Tarot, for example] as an entry to hidden knowledge that permits the balance between opposite forces."

Bacon also wrote a novel called The New Atlantis (1624 as Nova Atlantis; 1627 in English). The novel is a mythical island "somewhere west of Peru" stumbled upon by a lost European ship. This island was called Bensalem (remember the benben and the benu?) Plot details aside, the focus becomes the workings of a state-sponsored scientific institution called, evocatively in our context, Solomon's House, where "scientific experiments are conducted in Baconian method in order to understand and conquer nature, and to apply the collected knowledge to the betterment of society." Bacon weren't just pissing in the wind; admirers of his idea created the Royal Society (the UK's national academy of science) in 1660.

The Pillars of Hercules probably have a Phoenician provenance. The Phoenician merchant navy established several bases near the Strait of Gibraltar. One of these, near modern Cádiz, housed a temple to the Phoenician deity Melqart, who the Greeks called the Tyrian (as in Hiram of Tyre) Heracles. Two bronze pillars inside the temple were said to be the true Pillars or Hercules, but ancient commentators (Strabo) disputed this. There were, however, columns in the temple of Melqart at Tyre with religious significance and we have already noted this Phoenician custom in a previous post; indeed the Pillars are said by some to have originally been the Pillars of Melqart. Given the identification of Melqart with Heracles, we might as ourselves just what difference it makes anyways.

Incidentally, Herodotus describes the pillars of the temple to Heracles/Melqart in Tyre, with one being of gold and the other of emerald, the latter "shining with great brilliancy at night." Boyd Rice speculates that this shining may indicate that the emerald column was hollow and that a flame was lit inside. In his observations about the pillars of Melqart and the pillars of Solomon's Temple, Rice posits that "El" or "Yahweh" was not originally alone in a monotheistic masculinity. He had a consort which was either a partner or emanation from himself, or both. He concludes:

we can see that even as the patriarchal Jehovah was gaining a stranglehold on the hearts and minds of his emerging cult, Hiram and Solomon remained true to the more ancient tradition of the divine couple. Rather than being heretics on eccentrics, they were purists maintaining a tradition in its original form."

At any rate, it is clear that Hiram and Solomon were followers of the same basic doctrine. They employed the pillars of Jachin and Boaz for the same reason they refused to abandon the principle of the divine couple: both represented the dual nature of God. "

Rice may be on to something here; these pillars might be considered phallic and at the origin they probably were; but a pair of them might indicate a recognition of the dual nature of the life-force. It takes two to make a thing go right, as the song says.

Jachin and Boaz, were presumed to be made of copper, although some versions of the Bible say brass or bronze. The Jewish Virtual Library offers a different explanation:

"Even those scholars who agreed that these pillars played no structural role in the Temple were divided in their opinions regarding their function. One suggestion was that they had a mythological significance, as "trees of life," or cosmic pillars; or perhaps they fulfilled a ritual function as cressets or incense lamps, like those found in a drawing of a tomb in Mareshah (Smith, Albright). Another possibility is that they had only symbolic significance, symbolizing the dwelling place of God in the Temple, like the monuments found in the temple in Shechem and the temple of Mekal in Beth-Shean (Yeivin); or perhaps they were imitations of Egyptian obelisks (Hollis)."

The idea that they imitated obelisks or represented the dwelling place of God is not so unlikely. Remember, the Egyptians felt that obelisks contained part of the essence of Ra. In Egyptian temples, statues representing the gods were also believed to contain part of that God's essence and were treated as living beings. Priests placed offerings of food and drink before the statues and in some cases temple dancers performed in order to "entertain" the god.

Melqart was associated by the Greeks with their own Hercules, but he was originally the patron and protector of Tyre. According to Wikipedia, the annual observation of the revival of Melqart's "awakening" may identify Melqart as a life-death-rebirth deity (ergo Adonis, Dionysus, Osiris, Jesus, etc.) Melqart may also be in certain contexts, the Ba'al of the Bible. Melqart appears in many forms in the ever-changing syncretism of the ancient Mediterranean world, but seems consistently to be associated with fecundity, including solar attributes, notwithstanding his importance as a sea-god. That he could be both a solar and sea god is not at all incongruous in the ancient Mediterranean context. Ra, for example, sun god par excellence, travelled the sky accompanying the sun in a boat. Not surprising as the Egyptian sky goddess, Nut--bent over the earth--had a star-spangled belly which was a great ocean. Before GPS, before the sextant and compass, sailors navigated by the stars; no weirdness need ensue for their equation of the sea and the heavens.

Melqart's cult was still active during the RomanEmpire.

Let's get back to our pillars. This article at speculates that the concept of pillars
"would be recognised by all sailors as a religious prohibition, a warning that only the approved might pass between them."

This religious prohibition might also have served a decidedly more secular purpose:

"....I propose [the need to control access through the Straits of Gibraltar was], in order to keep secret the bearings and directions to the tin mines of the Celts on the Atlantic European coasts. The Phoenicians had competitors in the Mediterranean, the Greeks in the Eastern Mediterranean and later the Etruscans in the Western Mediterranean, and customers, the Egyptians, it was important to keep them away from the secret of bronze, the source of their naval power. What better way to warn seamen that arrival at the straits was arrival at a restricted place, that passage through here had to be approved by a higher authority."

On a literal level, this may not be so far-fetched; as early as the 4th millennium BC, the city states of "Sumeria" defined their limits with canals and upright boundary stones.

Interesting in that in Bacon's Instauratio Magna and in this possible Phoenician concept, the pillars represent a gate between "common" and "hidden" knowledge. In the Spanish coat of arms it may be indicative of sea-power; remember that our friends at propose they represented a warning in order to preserve the hidden knowledge that was the source of their naval power. In The New Atlantis, it is a ship which "discovers" Bensalem, a utopian island where the pursuit of scientific discover and perpetual improvement is the predominant activity. In all cases we are not dealing with knowledge for its own sake; there are definite realpolitik concerns involved, but concerns not entirely divorced from a spiritual or intellectual ideal.

It is also noteworthy that the pillars have again and again led back to solar deities and the sun's regenerative power. (Remember Bacon's Great Renewal). The sun, as we know, makes a westward journey, like the ship which "discovered" Bensalem, and west of the pillars is where we find the closely guarded secret of the Phoenician's naval power. To the west, we find that hidden knowledge and the source perhaps of renewal. It's not difficult to imagine the Bacon envisioned the New World as the way to regenerate the Old.

Interestingly, this led me to think of Buckminster Fuller's notion that in history (which I know about thanks to Robert Anton Wilson in Cosmic Trigger II p. 56), there is a movement "westward and mildy northward" of civilization, technology and power. Googling a few phrases I came across excerpts from his Fuller's Critical Path, which discusses at great length....the Phoenicians.

Wilson points out that the civilizations which originated in the Bronze Age were all similar in that they had a pyramidal structure--alpha-male son of the Sun God at top, women and slaves at the bottom. These "sun-kingdoms" eventually conquered the better part of the world; even in the 18th century Louis XIV was called the "Sun King" and the Mikado of Japan remained a literal sun-god until the end of the Second World War.

[Here a portion of the manuscript is missing]

If a pillar falls in the woods and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

That's just a cute koan to highlight the idea that there is no inherent meaning in objects. What we see in an object is a matrix of our personal knowledge, cultural interpretations and lastly and perhaps least, the author's intentions. What we see isn't reality, but a reality. Our interpretation of what we see isn't The Meaning, but a meaning. Any one of Wilson's Cosmic Trigger books can explain this better than I can.

The above is an attempt to expand upon the possible interpretations of two very evocative public monuments; to enrich the experience of seeing them. I would wager that the architect of the Le Perthus columns could not fail to be aware of the complex and varied symbolism of the two pillars; what he or she intended them to mean, absent any documents or explanation, I cannot say.

And that's just an easy way out for an essay that was leading me in too many directions. Soon, I'm gonna go all James Frazer and implicate the three major Abrahamic religions in stone fancy.

Trust me, it's not too difficult.

On Ineffability

Friday, January 1, 2010

Cure the Blues, or Happy New Year!

Acetaminophen, which is derived from coal tar, may cure the blues. From the University of Kentucky:

"A research team ... has uncovered evidence indicating that acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) may blunt social pain."

Damn--and all these years we thought that was what booze was for!

Curious, though, that Kentucky produces coal, whiskey, and Loretta Lynn, all three now remedies for social pain....

But seriously, the theory hinges on overlap in our circuitry for social and physical pain. The pains of a broken heart have neural overlap with the pains of a broken bone.

Booze has long been used to dull both forms of pain. Speaking of which, this acetaminophen discovery sounds remarkably similar to the tale of heroin.

The Hard Stuff

"Heroin" was originally brand name product, a pain killer made by Bayer.

LoS has been all hung up on words lately, started by our Boxing Day posting about Platzangst, a German word for "place fear"--so of course we just happen to know that Bayer is a German company--and that "the name heroin probably derives from the German word heroisch, which means powerful" (BBC).

Originally marketed as a cough suppressant, heroin's pain killing abilities are indeed powerful--famously, for both for physical and psychological pain.

A Little Science Followed by a Little Verbal Abuse

This link between the twin pains seems obvious (in retrospect, perhaps)--not only due to the link between the self-medicated use of narcotics and booze to dull the blues--but also by virtue of the overlapping symptoms exhibited by depression.

I know this sounds somehow callous and uncaring (it's not--I'm actually writing this as an expression of sympathy)--but if you've spent much time around depressed people you've probably noticed how often they have headaches, backaches, stomach aches, lots of whining about much how their foot hurts after I've stepped on it thanks to my always clumsy dancing, complaints about how cold it is, etc.

This observation isn't just your (or my) imagination at work. There's a well established link (e.g., this Harvard article) between physical and psychological pain--both apparently capable of causing the other.

The link (reversible causality) between physical and psychological pain leads to some uncomfortable areas of discussion, specifically, for example, when I yell at you, screaming, "Your foot really didn't hurt that bad when I stepped on it, you imagined it! It's pyschosamtic! In your head!" Somehow, screaming at you doesn't make you feel better, but that bottle of vodka you keep hidden in the garage does, and so you "take out the trash"....

A Tongue-in-cheek Proof

Now here's the final kicker in my thesis. Red-heads, as it turns out, feel more pain that anyone else, and require more pain killers. Who drinks the most? Who feels the deepest?

Quod erat demonstrandum....

My Two Cents

Here's my take on all this--psychological pain is real, and it hits you just like "real" pain.

I remember, as a kid, wishing that I had that genetic disorder where you don't feel pain--before seeing one of those horrifying documentaries on the condition (imagine looking down at blisters rising on your hand as you slowly realize that the pan you are holding is scalding hot).

There is, in other words, a purpose for pain. The trouble is, pain outlasts its usefulness. For example, when you wipe out after jumping off that ramp on your bike, it hurts like hell and you learn your lesson. When it still hurts four days later, well that's mostly pointless pain, one of the many stupidities in our evolutionary-based body design.

That's why pain killers are such a blessing. So it is, too, I argue, with psychological pain. A broken heart is a teacher--until it lingers on to become a millstone about the neck, draggin' you down.

Someday, perhaps, you'll head to the doc with that broken heart, and he'll tell you, "Take two of these, and call me in the morning".

Until then, here's mud in yer eye!

Happy New Year!