Unknown Knowns & The Obfuscation King

April 13th, 2014


Donald Rumsfeld & Saddam Hussein in happier times…

Just went to see the Errol Morris documentary The Unknown Known, an interview with Donald Rumsfeld. Before the movie, my girlfriend and I wandered onto the Santa Monica mall and saw the novel sight of a Ukrainian cultural booth. First time I have ever seen such a thing. I wonder of the State Department is behind some kind of government campaign to use that little bit of smoke and mirrors to push what seems to be a fairly transparent power grab to use the new gas and oil surplus to steal markets away from the Russians in Europe, long range granted, but a national security scare could help give cover to the President signing the Pipeline bill as a national security measure. Why else would such an intense war drumbeat be induced on such a distant and murky affair?


“The Western World Screams for War… Who’s Standing for Peace? » Barbara-Marie Drezhlo” some pro-Russian Propaganda.

But on the the Donald, cocky bastard that Rumsfeld, someone my girlfriend, who was in high school during the Iraq war, thought to be charming. Charming obfuscation perhaps, Rumsfeld came off as an ambitious schemer and dreamer, so misunderstood, he welled up with tears a the thought that a dieing soldier returning from Iraq, a war he Rumsfeld had bungled badly, came back from the dead, a Lazarus who, by association Rummy himself seemed to be hinting was also his historical fate, to be raised up from the depths of his own failure, as the Secretary of Defense responsible for declaring enemy combatants to not be POW’s, for the mishandling of the Iraq insurgency and the eventual end of his tenure as Secretary at the insistence of military professionals tired of Rumsfeld’s experimentation, and incessant questioning of the meaning of the nature of reality, constantly riding on his egocentric desire to know the unknown, to imagine the unimagined and to seek the dictionary definition of all in an ongoing quest for his ultimate conquest of fate. History is in Rumsfeld’s world to be mastered, by imagineering, to borrow a Disney phrase that seems quite in line with the Rumsfeld imagined world.


Ford appointed Rumsfeld White House Chief of Staff, where he served from 1974 to 1975.

Consummate political operator, he managed to evade the fallout from Nixon’s failed regime, sidestep the defeat of Ford, put a good face on Reagan passing him over for Vice President when his nemesis, George Bush senior took the position and managed to parlay the coattail effect to become President. Rumsfeld managed to become special envoy to the Middle East after the Lebanon bombing in 1983 of the US Marine base, part of a peacekeeping force after the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon. Rumsfeld gave some good advice then, he advised that the US stay out of Middle Eastern affairs until called upon, no more volunteering for peace keeping forces and such. He ignored his own advice when he and Vice President Dick Cheney, advised President Bush to go after Saddam Hussein despite his knowing that Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11,


Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, President Bush the second and Vice President Dick Cheney

Rumsfeld came off as a full of himself and someone who was attempting to use Morris’s documentary as his soapbox, but alas for Rumsfeld, Morris, simply let him go on and we end up with an example of another man who would be king.


Cheshire Rumsfeld Through The Morris Looking Glass.

Personal Notes On Racism In America

March 23rd, 2014


Police Serve and Protect

Someone trying to rationalize the reality of race by using the example of the supposed common experience of the majority of Americans to be afraid when black or Hispanic youths make an appearance and to be unafraid in the presence of Asian or Caucasian appearing youths. This is something of an old stereotype that is often trotted out to justify the existence of race. I not denying the belief in the existence of race, and certainly not the harm caused by racial stereotyping, so much as I am calling into question the validity of these distinctions and the damage they cause in society to those unfairly stereotyped, something that hopefully is becoming a thing of the past despite the Tea Party and racial allusions around the Obama presidency. Racial stereotypes, and racism itself, must be eliminated from American discourse and assumptions about people.

Wikipedia Commons

Minstrel Poster Billy Van Ware

I live in a mixed black, white, Hispanic, and Cambodian neighborhood. I walk around the neighborhood all the time. The only people who I am careful about are the police. Otherwise I have no problems in my area of East Long Beach. I am an older white male and have been in and out of so called “hoods” since I was a teenager and find that they are no more dangerous or intimidating than anyplace else. I grew up in almost exclusively white suburban Connecticut, but because of a seemingly inherited sensitivity to injustice have always tended to feel more comfortable among the underclasses than the over class. In general the only areas I worry about are rich white neighborhoods, because even though I can pass, my class orientation has always left me feeling a little intimidated.


Good Old Boys Training Dogs

Perhaps if I was wealthy I would have a different orientation, or had not been around a wide variety of people through my life. But I find subtle racism to be inculcated into our culture. Throughout my life I have consciously attempting to do my part in ending it. I as a youth, participated in support work for the Black Panthers at the trials in New Haven, CT, later when working in radio I helped organize Rock Against Racism chapters in the USA, and have participated in Anti-Racist Action events over the years, sometimes focused on Hispanic, sometimes African American and sometimes Arab American issues. Mostly I have a class analysis in which I see a deliberate attempt on the part of elements of conservative elites and their supporters to maintain a race divide in this country by subtle measures mostly as part of a system of maintaining and propping up exploitation of workers and justification for class stratification.


It’s the old divide and conquer rule. Although I am not as firmly an anti-capitalist as I once was, I do see that its social usefulness is declining as a more equitable system must evolve to adjust for systemic imbalances that create tensions and conflict in the world. Demagogues of all stripes find it easy to justify racial, ethnic, linguistic, class and other distinctions to promote their own self interests. Fair and just people must in my mind resist these tendencies, because they inevitably lead to conflict and exploitation. At some point it comes down to a competition for resources and as more and more people are on the planet the opportunities for conflict will increase. It is important that we find peaceful and equitable means of resolving these resource allocation related tensions. Otherwise there will be increased conflict and there will be those who will utilize race as one of several methods to justify the oppression of others. I do not thing being anti-racist is idealistic; I think it is essential in an increasingly pluralistic, mixed and crowded world.


Rock Against Racism/Anti Nazi League: An original concert poster for ‘Carnival 2′, 24th September 1978,

The race bating and stereotyping switches from one group to another as the political discourse of those who benefit from such stereotyping desire to focus the locus of hate or misdirection of legitimate complaints from those in charge to those least able to fight back.


Ironic self depiction to bring awareness of stereotyping as indicated in this “Ask A Mexican” logo.

Arabs and Jews have been singled out as objects of stereotyping by antisemitic cartooning and propaganda both of these peoples are Semitic and racial distinctions in this case are particularly meaningless. Just as Hispanics are not a racial category, but an amalgamation of different cultures under one rubric for the convenience of demographers.


Lest we forget the racial stereotyping in times of war, the anti Japanese stereotype went beyond the possibly legitimate targeting of an enemy into the rounding up and detention of US citizens.


Conquistadors, Bolsheviks and Aggressive Tendencies

March 22nd, 2014


New Yorker Cartoon by Robert Leighton

Reading a statement by a classmate in my Philosophy class on law and ethnicity, I was led to respond to the seemingly uninformed comments that a natural desire to oppress others is the inherent reason for inequity in the world. The examples of this were the cases of the Conquistadors and the Bolsheviks. Unequal power relations was postulated as the essential problem, and while I agree that unequal power relations is a huge problem I disagree with the origins being in an natural desire to dominate others. There are biological tendencies but there is not in my mind an alpha male gene that insures that there will always be the oppressor and the oppressed. Although there may be a tendency, for some to dominate in certain types of situations, as culture changes this tendency, which also could be called aggressive or competitive behavior can be just as much a hindrance or something to be directed in a socially useful direction.


Conquistadors giving the heathens a taste of hellfire

The conquistadors were after gold, wealth and a place in the sun, they sought to better themselves. The desire for personal gain motivated the adventurers who came from Spain, not an inherent desire to oppress others. Many had been in the wars to free Spain from the Moors and simply were using their skills as warriors in a new context hoping for booty and wealth, as was the norm among those who sought their fortune in the late medieval period. The ideology of promoting the one true religion provided a moral justification. Thus secondarily they sought to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism and fought under the Spanish flag in the case of the conquest of Mexico. Otherwise their efforts would be simple banditry and that would have been hard to gain financing from cautious bankers. After all the initial goal was for trade not for conquest as Columbus was not seeking to conquer but to reach the indies and find a way to bypass the Islamic stranglehold on trade with the East Indies, as also were the Portuguese and the Italians.


Ferdinand and Isabella with Columbus

To obtain the financing and ships to explore and ultimately invade, the conquistadors needed state support, although it would have been interesting to see what might have happened if say an Italian banking consortium had initially sent Columbus to the west to find a route to the Indies instead of the Spanish government. Perhaps then instead of conquering the Aztecs, trade might have been the result. Diseases still would have spread but the political consequences might have been different. The Aztecs themselves were no picnic, maintaining a rather ruthless and bloody dominance over several Indian peoples in central Mexico. It was largely due to the massive number of allied warriors from different tribal groups that Cortez succeeded in defeating the Aztecs, along with his superior weaponry and the diseases that ravaged the Aztecs soon after the arrival of the Europeans. The conquest was more accidental than anything else, Cortez and his band would have been just as happy if they simply had carved out a lucrative trading post or found a path to the East Indies.


Aztecs Suffering from Smallpox.

As for the Bolsheviks, they were not the most powerful group in Russia at that time. They were simply taking advantage of the relative inefficiency and incoherence of the Kerensky government in Russia, who were more preoccupied with maintaining their commitment to prosecuting the war against Germany than taking care of domestic problems. The Bolsheviks were perhaps more determined and ruthless than the other contenders for the power to implement their vision, but it was also because they were the peace party, demanding an end to hostilities and withdrawal of Russian troops from the First World War. This was certainly popular among the war weary citizenry and the troops. Even so it was not until after several years of civil war that the Bolsheviks came out as the party ruling the nation.


Revolutionary ideas spread very rapidly in an army demoralized by so many defeats and so much senseless carnage, bread demonstrations at home sparked the initial overthrow of the Czar.

Their initially rather idealistic plans of sharing power among the soviets, other parties such as the Social Revolutionaries, and the workers of Russia hit against the realities of war. Contending forces such as the Allied powers sent expeditions to overthrow the new Soviet government. The Bolsheviks and associated revolutionary and patriotic Russians increasingly utilized harsh tactics to maintain their position among the contending forces for control of Russia. But the Bolsheviks themselves were not a large group and they had to essentially do things that were supported by the Russian people, until they became a large organized group. It was not until the modernization programs under Stalin that the oppression of the Kulaks etc. became policy, as part of the Five Year Plans. This was opposed to earlier tactical actions such as expropriating wealth from surrounding farmers during the civil war to feed the people starving in the cities, which were more acts of desperation than policy. Even so the Bolsheviks were sustained by a social vision of serving the purposes of history, and not merely seeking power for personal gain.


In the economic sphere the Bolsheviks’ initial experiments had involved the initial support and then suppression of “workers’ control”

There was nothing inevitable about the Bolshevik rule in Russia, it was more a result of the people being fed up, with the mismanaged war efforts of the Czar and the replacement government after the Czar was overthrown, that resulted in the Bolsheviks seizing the reins of government. Because they enacted the will of the people, which was to end the war and promote socialism, that they were able to sustain themselves as legitimate in the first place, that and the skill of their leadership and the determination of their cadres. Theirs was not a desire to oppress others, but to promote social revolution and the advancement of humanity according to their interpretation of Marx and Hegel’s spirit of history. The fact that Bolshevism failed, and because it threatened the interests of capitalists in the west, that history in the west has been so critical. A Russian version of the period of Bolshevism would be very different that one here in the USA. Marxists see it as a failed attempt to promote the progress of humanity, not as a desire to oppress humanity. What history ultimately decides is determined by lens from which the actions of others in the past I viewed, often rather than based on any objective criterion.


Meeting in Putilov 1917

Ultimately I contend that although there are certainly aggressive and competitive tendencies in individuals, ambitious individuals. There is no reason why becoming a great athlete or great peace maker like Gandhi or King, could not satisfy such needs for recognition. Warfare and oppression of others is socialized activity, and not inherent although there are tendencies to aggression and competition that perhaps are encouraged due to cultural values and historical circumstance to be channeled in one means instead of another. It would be best for our civilization that we find less destructive alternatives in an increasingly crowded, resource constrained world. But as long as there are major inequities in society and people are oppressed by unjust systems of governance, there will be resorts to violence if there is no resolution of grievances. It is one thing to socialize people away from violent behavior, if the society is essentially just this would be rational, but in a society that is unjust, then resorting to violence may be the rational way to deal with the oppressive situation. Merely to say people seek power is to beg the question and a deeper look into history and the requirements for justice will go a long way to resolve problems, by at least giving us a deeper perspective on how the world around us came to be.


Freedom Fighters

The Shelly’s, Byron And The Year Of No Summer

March 5th, 2014


Imaginary(?) View of Tambora

William Turner Flint Castle

The World Eruption in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein
By Gary Crethers

Reading Frankenstein, one of the first impressions is that of man in nature, man engaged in endeavors to discover the secrets of the natural world, and the stormy nature of the times. The storms that frequently erupt and engage the reader are no mere literary trope. The period of 1816 and 1817 when Mary Shelly wrote her tale of the modern Prometheus, is a time of great climatic turbulence that had ramifications all around the globe. For not only was this a time of man’s effort to conquer nature, but it was a time when nature struck out at man most effectively, if unintentionally. Some of the ambivalence Shelly shows towards science can be directly attributed to the experience of the world as she wrote. Modernity, in the time of Mary Shelly, had not yet become the triumphalist march of progress that would blind man to nature’s reality, as a power beyond control. Mary Shelly, as she writes, would seem to be very much influenced by the forces beyond the rational in nature and man.

More than one significant event had occurred in 1815, New Orleans perhaps, Waterloo without a doubt and, “the eruption of the Tambora volcano on the island of Soembawa in Indonesia on April 15th 1815… The mountain elevation dropped from 14,000 feet to 9000 feet, killed close to 10,000 people on the island and another 80,000 people would eventually die from starvation and diseases related to the eruption. Tambora was one of the largest recorded eruptions with estimates of 1.7 million tons of dust put into the air equaling 6 million atomic bombs” (Foster).


Villa diodati where Byron and the Shelly’s resided

This event overshadowed the entire period in which Frankenstein was composed, adding a gloomy and romantic aura to the days of the middling classes, such as the Shelly’s. Mary Shelly, recently having spent a year or more in Scotland, was no stranger to foul weather as she says in the author’s introduction to Frankenstein, “I made occasional visits to more picturesque parts, but my habitual residence was on the blank and dreary northern shores of the Tay, … Blank and dreary on retrospection I call them; they were not so to me then. They were the aerie of freedom, and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy” (Shelly, xxi-xxii). For “the dashing young sybarite” Byron, the weather was likely a distraction (Perrottet).


For others it was an opportunity to go upon a grand adventure, and as most of the temperate climates had been explored, discovered and were in the process of being exploited, adventures were to be found in the extreme climes, as young Walton writes in breathless enthusiasm “I feel a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks… Inspirited by this wind of promise… I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation” (Shelly, 1). There was real excitement in the period for conquering the poles, as Jessica Richard writes, “In articles in the Quarterly Review, beginning in the October 1816 issue (published Feb. 1817; Shelley notes reading the Quarterly on May 29 & 30 1817) and in a book-length study, Chronological History of Voyages into the Arctic Region (1818), Barrow worked to secure governmental and popular support for British polar exploration” (Richard, 297).

But to claim that this hubristic excitement for exploration and conquest, for Barrow was interested in finding the northwest passage, just as Walton says, “you cannot contest the inestimable benefit which I shall confer on all mankind,… by discovering a passage near the pole” (Shelly, 2). This advancement, as young Frankenstein says “when I considered the improvement which every day takes place in science and mechanics, I was encouraged… of future success” (38). This is the progress machine in action, as Charles Van Doren says in The Idea of Progress, speaking of stages of man’s conception of progress, referring to Louis Mumford’s system, “that by which Old World Man become ‘New World Man,’ was brought about by the scientific and technological ‘revolutions’ of the last several centuries” (Van Doren, 54). This machinelike inevitability “is perhaps another way of saying what Godwin says – namely, that man is capable of achieving everything that he is capable of conceiving” (55). This is the view that Mary Shelly is critiquing. In that critique is a powerful dose of mother nature.

Discussing the effects of the power of nature, specifically coming back to the effects of the 1815 eruption, Gillen D’Arcy Wood writes, in “1816, The Year without a Summer,” of some Mary Shelly’s correspondence:

In a letter to her half-sister Fanny Imlay, written on her arrival in Geneva, Mary describes—in hair-raising language that would soon find its way into Frankenstein—their ascent of the Alps “amidst a violent storm of wind and rain” (Letters 1:17)…. Mary’s famous second letter to Fanny is one of the most vivid documents we have of the crazed volcanic weather during the summer of 1816: “An almost perpetual rain confines us principally to the house,” Mary wrote on the first of June from the shores of Lake Geneva. “One night we enjoyed a finer storm than I had ever before beheld. The lake was lit up—the pines on Jura made visible, and all the scene illuminated for an instant, when a pitchy blackness succeeded, and the thunder came in frightful bursts over our heads amid the blackness’ (Letters 1:20)” (qtd. in Wood, 3).


This scene is reproduced almost verbatim in the text of Frankenstein, “I quitted my seat and walked on, although the darkness and storm increased every minute and the thunder burst with a terrific crash over my head” (Shelly 59). Moving into the plot, Victor Frankenstein has just arrived outside the gates of Geneva, which, closed for the night will not allow him admittance. He decides to go seek the site where his young brother William has been murdered and in a romantic moment of what seems more a reflection of ego than concern “While I watched the tempest, so beautiful yet terrific, I wandered on with a hasty step. This noble war in the sky elevated my spirits; I clasped my hands and exclaimed aloud, ‘William, dear angel! This is thy funeral, thy dirge!’” (59). A moment of gothic “gloom a figure which stole from behind a clump of trees near me… A flash of lightning illuminated the object… it was the wretch, the filthy demon to whom I had given life” (59). This scene illuminates many of the elements that made the year 1816 so momentous in its own right. Stormy weather, a wandering man kept out of a gated city and a dangerous monster in the shadows. Not only is this high melodrama, but it is symptomatic of that time and importantly shows reality in the physical world introducing itself and shaping the contra vision of progress that Mary Shelly so effectively describes.

Shelley’s waking dream vision which inspired her to write of “the pale student of unhallowed arts, [h]e sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes’ (xxv). Wood notes, “The description is reminiscent of numerous impressions of European beggars in this period. One English tourist, travelling from Rome to Naples in 1817, remarked on ‘the livid aspect of the miserable inhabitants of this region.’ When asked how they lived, these ‘animated spectres’ replied simply: ‘We die’ (Matthews 192-3)” (Wood, 4).


The conditions were extremely harsh all over Europe, as Wood continues to describe:
[T]he scale of human suffering in Switzerland was among the worst in Europe. When the crops failed, thousands died of starvation during continental Europe’s last ever famine, while the numbers of indigent homeless ran into the hundreds of thousands. Mortality in 1817 was over 50% higher than its already elevated rate in the war year 1815. Everywhere, desperate villagers resorted to a pitiful famine diet of ‘the most loathsome and unnatural foods—carcasses of dead animals, cattle fodder, leaves of nettles, swine food. . . .’ (Post 128)” (Wood, 3).


In the light of these conditions it becomes perhaps understandable why the city of Geneva would shut its gates. People would be hard pressed to provide for themselves as the monster of Frankenstein describes for family that he had adopted as his teachers, “They often, I believe, suffered the pangs of hunger very poignantly, especially the two younger cottagers, for several times they placed food before the old man when they reserved none for themselves” (Shelly 92). Yet the monster has sympathy, and instead of stealing food as he had been, “I abstained and satisfied myself with berries, nuts, and roots” and then sought to help them “during the night I often … brought home firing [wood] sufficient for the consumption of several days” (92

The reaction of the monster is very human, humane. It shows greatness of soul, not of the sin of Adam, but of the tabula rasa, the unwritten book. Akin perhaps to Rousseau himself, who finds himself locked out of Geneva, and wanders like one of these vagabond poor, but not to doom, but “wandered on foot to Annecy in Savoy – where he was taken in by Mme. de Warens, Rousseau’s protector and then [1733-1740] lover” (Riley, 3). Frankenstein instead of finding a port in the storm, becomes part of the process of destroying a poor servant girl Justine, who when falsely accused of murdering Victor’s brother, he remains silent and allows her to die while experiencing great pangs of guilt, but he rationalizes, “a thousand times rather would I have confessed myself guilty of the crime ascribed to Justine, but I was absent when it was committed, and such a declaration would have been considered as the ravings of a madman” (Shelly 64).



How ironic it would be to connect the fate of this poor girl with that of the French transgressive writer De Sade’s own Justine, who in Justine, ou les malheurs de la vertu, published in 1792, was victim of horrendous treatment as a reward for her virtue. According to Anne Williams “We do know that Byron owned a copy of Justine in 1816, just before he left England… Mary Shelley, then, may have heard about more than Galvanism while listening to Shelley and Byron’s conversations that fateful summer” (Williams, 13).

This lack of compassion on the part of the upper classes, which is especially seen in the tragic story of the servant girl, reflects poorly on the levels of empathy regarding the fate of the lower classes by the relatively well to do circles from which the Shelly’s and their even more affluent friend Byron who “crossed the English Channel to France, visited the battlefield of Waterloo in Belgium, then traveled south along the Rhine in a reproduction of Napoleon’s coach, accompanied by a squadron of servants, a peacock, a monkey, and a dog” (Perrottet), were escaping. Yet they were seemingly above the fray of the travails of the average people. They weep, as Elisabeth, who, in what seems a moment of self-pity rather than revolutionary zeal, ‘“Alas!’ said she. ‘How shall I ever again believe in human goodness?’ (68). As a middle class person, Elisabeth is indignant at Justine for not living up to her idealized version of reality, all her weeping leads to naught and she can go home consoled that Justine has left her troubles behind. Troubles cause by Frankenstein, creator of the monster, which, in this case in the real world was a time of troubles, when good citizens locked their gates and let young innocents die, as examples, for the rest of the restless and hungry lot of humanity.

The poem “Darkness” by Byron, written that summer might indicate something of the effect of that weather:
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day, (1-6)
Traveling earlier that year to Lake Geneva, Byron could not have helped but to notice the effects of the combined weather and war on the populace, just as the traveler Wood notes above mentions. Again from “Darkness”:
All earth was but one thought—and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails—men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh; (42-45)


The monster that is stalking the earth, the opposite of the dream of freedom, now conquered, famine, disease and death rule the land. Sensitive souls might weep, and eventually a new man would have to arise from this charnel house. Man and nature have conspired to turn Frankenstein’s monster, the mutated dream of freedom, revolution betrayed by the man on Elba, buried by the Metternich’s of the world, transformed into a howling madman and mankind reaps the whirlwind. The Prometheus has been released and Shelly was one of the first to see dire consequences in the hubris of man both in his indifference to suffering and to the power of natural forces that then, as now he pretends to master (a bit of a polemic, but it is late).

Works Cited
Byron, Lord (George Gordon). “Darkness.” Poetry Foundation. Chicago: Poetry Foundation. 2014. Web. 8 Feb. 2014.
Foster, Lee. “1816 - The Year Without Summer” Climate Corner. Maine-ly Weather. A newsletter publication from The National Weather Service in Caribou, Maine. Web. 8 Feb. 2014.
Perrottet, Tony. “Summer of Love: The Romantics at Lake Geneva.” Biblion: Frankenstein The Afterlife of Shelley’s Circle. Courtesy of The New York Public Library. www.nypl.org. Web. 8 Feb. 2014.
Richard, Jessica. “’A Paradise of My Own Creation’: Frankenstein and the Improbable Romance of Polar Exploration.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts, 25: 4. (2003). 295–314. Web. 8 Feb. 2014.
Riley, Patrick. “Introduction: Life and Works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.” The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau. Ed. Patrick Riley. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge U. Press. 2001. Print.
Shelly, Mary. Frankenstein. Forward, Walter James Miller, Afterword, Harold Bloom. New York: Signet Classic.2000. Paperback.
Van Doren, Charles. The Idea of Progress, New York: Frederick A. Prager, Pub. 1967. Print.
Williams, Anne. “‘Mummy, possest’: Sadism and Sensibility in Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Romantic Circles. University of Maryland. July 2003. Web. 8 Feb. 2014.
Wood, Gillen D’Arcy. “1816, The Year without a Summer.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Ed. Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. Web. 8 Feb. 2014.

Columbo’s In Eagle Rock

February 17th, 2014

February 17th, 2014
Columbo’s Restaurant in Eagle Rock
By Gary Crethers

I took my girlfriend out for a belated Valentines dinner to a restaurant she picked because it had crab cakes, her favorite appetizer and because it has live Jazz music. The prices seemed reasonable and most of the reviews on Yelp seemed positive, especially the ones saying it was old school Italian, dark and Godfatheresque, with red Naugahyde booths.
We got a 9 pm reservation, just before the music was set to start, and arrived at 8:40 after a not too harrowing drive up the I-110 from Torrance. We got through downtown, onto the I-5, and the Glendale Freeway without much trouble. With “Jamzilla” constantly being talked about on the news radio station, I was expecting a freeway holocaust. Instead we were there in less than 45 minutes, nothing for an LA drive.

Parking sucked, there was no space when we arrived, but I trusted in the magic of that blue disabled tag to find us a place in reasonable walking distance, and I did, next to a vegetarian Thai place a short block away. We walked in through the bar, narrow NYC style, neighborhood bar, standing room only. We shoved our way back to the restaurant where when we told them we had a reservation at 9, they told us we had 5 parties ahead of us. Over booking, or simply previous guests not leaving was not clarified. We sat in a well lit room, next to the door of the real entrance, not the bar entrance we used, on the side of the building. People were not leaving their tables. The hostess asked us if we wanted to sit outside, my girlfriend said no, she wanted to see the band. They offered us a space in the banquet room. Again that did not have access to the band, so we nixed that option. Finally they dragged a tiny table in from outside and offered us that. We reluctantly accepted after sitting around for over half an hour playing with cell phones. I tried to parse out exactly what a friend’s email about Heidegger meant. It was a long dry tale…. And if this were through the looking glass it would have been a rewarding experience.

Seated, at our cold and tiny table, at the back of the room, with the wind striking us full on every time the door was opened, needless to say I was not a happy camper. My girlfriend was doing her best to put a positive spin on it. I asked about a booth, the red Naugahyde kind. It was closer to the mini stage where the band was setting up and more significantly it was out of the doorway breeze. When I asked about it, since we were next on the list, some guy, manager I guess, said it was going to someone who had been waiting for an hour. Well that was what we had been waiting and I was told by the hostess that we were next in line. I was going from being mildly irritated, to pissed-off and about to go to my ready-to-make-a-scene, the-revolution-is-now stage of escalation. If I went there, it would not be a pretty sight. My girlfriend began to grimace and give me the look. A St. Valentine’s Day massacre was not what she was looking forward to. We ordered our crab cakes and drinks. I got a Bombay Sapphire. She got some peach female wine thing. I told the waiter we wanted to move. I went back to the hostess and asked her about the next booth being cleared, since the maître d’ or whatever he was had seated the other couple in ‘our’ booth. My booth, the one I coveted, claimed, was due!

The band “Erica Lake and The Angry Dolphins” began to play an old blues tune, did a moderately decent version of “do right woman do right man,” an old Aretha Franklin standard, but the singers voice was distorted at the end of the room and the sound hadn’t been adjusted by a drink from mediocre to tolerable at that point. The drinks came rapidly, the crab cakes not so much. But the cakes were decent, not too wet and not too hard, sort of just right, served in a bed of arugula with balsamic vinegar and oil. My gin and tonic was beginning to work, but then we had a long wait for the waiter to take our main course order. I spied the maître d’ and told him I was not happy with being passed over. This was not the lord taking our first born child. This was a crowded Italian place with crappy service. The waiter finally took our order. I pointedly asked hostess to give us the next booth, her boss hostess or perhaps the manager, came out and apologized, and made the excuse that because it was Valentines a lot of people were lingering.

I wasn’t having it, my girlfriend was beginning to get her things together for the exit stage left routine, but then a booth opened and the waiter, and head hostess whisked us off to the magical red Naugahyde promised-land. The meals arrived just as we made ourselves comfortable in our red plastic love nest. I got the Seafood Valentino special, scallops, jumbo shrimp and lobster in linguine and some kind of pink sauce. My girlfriend ordered Four Cheese Ravioli. The meal came with a soup or salad. I ordered a salad. It was nothing special, chopped iceberg lettuce, some tomato and creamy Italian dressing. I was trying to figure out what kind of wine to have with my pink concoction and settled on a Pinot Grenache that the waiter recommended. It was light and fruity, almost a brute in its effervescence. By now my gin and tonic had hit me and as I don’t drink much anymore, I was feeling good, the music got better, and I was satisfied that my playing the squeaky wheel paid off with a better seat.

I gave most of the lobster to my girlfriend, it was not particularly special. My shrimp and scallops were great. The sauce was bland. The baby carrots were uninspired but crisp. My girlfriend had desert some kind of brownie and vanilla ice cream made out like a slice of pie. It was tasty in a gooey intense chocolaty way. The band got better as the drinks took hold, and they did a very decent version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” They were not a jazz band, but a rock and blues cover band, although they did one of their own. We stayed for both sets. And it was pleasantly entertaining. The guitarists were decent and the singer was ok as long as she didn’t overreach, she didn’t have enough range to do a really good belting blues tune.

On the walls were a series of paintings of vaguely Italian scenes, with one decent portrait of a courtesan with a big hat and another of what looked like the artist’s girlfriend. The crowd was mostly in their forties and fifties, largish, Italianish, some with teenagers, a few thirty some-things and lots of Trader Joe’s looking flowered shirts wearing Sinatra hats. This was not an especially hip crowd, but a comfortable bunch of semi drunks and their foreign exchange adopted teens. The bar, as full as it was, did not seem to be in conflict with the general ambiance. In other words the whole place was noisy. People got up and danced between the tables later in the evening and best of all we got 50% off for our inconvenience. The entire meal was less than fifty bucks. I added a tip that would have covered the full hundred bucks it would have cost and we left reasonably happy. Happy enough to have decent sex when we got home and that is saying something. So I give the place a B, at least they tried.

Angels In America

February 1st, 2014


From Angels In America

I went to a performance of Part One “Millennium Approaches” of Angels in America, at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, UC Irvine, Friday night Jan. 31. It was a credible production of the play, first performed in 1990, with the standout roles of Roy Cohn performed by Jacob Dresch and Louis Ironson played by Josh Odsess-Rubin, the only equity actor in the company. The rest of the performers gave decent performances with none that struck as being amateurish. The performance was longish, over three hours with two ten minute intermissions, but it was riveting throughout as the use of lighting and sound effects were put to good effect. Minimal staging, with only the final appearance of the Angel being of a truly fantastic nature, did not distract from the acting or the storyline.

The essence of the story being the tale of two couples one straight and Mormon in which the husband comes out as gay as he is being enticed by Roy Cohn, the infamous lawyer and former protege of Senator Joseph McCarthy (according to the play), to leave his estranged wife to take a Justice Dept. job in Washington, DC. The other a gay couple where one is diagnosed with AIDS. His partner can’t deal with it and abandons his partner, eventually winding up with the Mormon who eventually rejected Cohn’s offer because of the strings attached involving corrupt practices. The wife of Mormon, Harper Pitt acted by Bri McWhortor, is addicted to valium and has visions as does the drag queen partner in the gay couple Prior Walter played by Matt Koenig who, as the scion of a family that traces itself back to the 1066 Norman Invasion, has visitations from his ancestors, one who died from the Bubonic plague, another who was apparently gay and from some time after the Stuart Restoration, as well as an ominous voice warning of the coming of the Millennium.

Louis goes through agonies of guilt at his lack of constancy to his AIDS suffering boyfriend Prior. A former drag queen Belize performed by Anthony Simone, acts as a go between between Louis who has left Prior and Prior who is in the hospital through much of the play. Louis who represents the somewhat militant polemic leftist faction of the gay community, goes on a particularly insensitive rant about oppression in which he tries to explain that racism in the USA is political and not race based as he claims it is in Europe. This argument does not fly with Belize a black, gay person who experiences that racist oppression. This very clearly portrays the lack of relevance of much of the radical left in the mid eighties, as well as Louis’s own inability to commit to love.

There are various displays of psychotic/prophetic episodes that revolve around the seemingly end of the world presence of AIDS which emerged in the 1980’s in the Gay Community and was initially almost invariably fatal, much like the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages. The play’s author Tony Kushner, who wrote it in 1985 in the midst of the AIDS crisis, does an admirable job conveying the sense of despair, fear, and escapism of the period before ACT UP had appeared in 1987, demanding greater Government funding and research to cure the disease. There is something of a Poe like macabre quality to the play whose “The Masque of the Red Death” Kushner’s work evokes at times.

The carnival mask, which had its origins in the plague, perhaps analogized as the Drag Queen’s makeup both could be symbols hiding the presence of the immanent death inherent in these mass killers. What made AIDS particularly demonic was the seemingly specific type of victims, Gays, Intravenous Drug Users and Hemophiliacs, that inspired religious fundamentalists to revile its victims as suffering from the wrath of a deity. This is turned on its head by the author by focusing on Mormons, a fundamentalist religion that was also somewhat outcast, thus creating a duality. This duality the extremely conservative, no drug, no sex except for reproduction Mormons weighed against the pro-drug and promiscuous sex of the Gay community, creates an interesting set of straw men for Kushner to then demolish with his humanistic approach that defies the conventions of each community, offering a way for a deeper understanding of the human fallibility and commonality found with this.

Cohn is an interesting example, extreme right winger, hounded Judge Irving Kaufman in the Rosenberg Trial, according to the play, to execute the convicted Ethel Rosenberg, who could have been spared the death penalty but for Cohn’s efforts (according to subsequent evidence was only guilty of supporting her husband, not of espionage). Cohn was an assistant to United States Attorney Irving Saypol, successful prosecutor of Alger Hiss and prosecutor in the 1951 Rosenberg trial.

In the play Cohn is portrayed as a Machiavellian schemer and power broker who is at the end of his tether, sick with AIDS himself, although denying it to the end, even threatening to ruin his doctor if information was released. Yet he is portrayed with some sensitivity, a warped soul who turns to his young proteges for affection, and in turn promotes them to positions of power in the Republican establishment. He brags at one point of having Nancy Regan’s personal number. This is a commentary both on the dark side of the Gay community, and also on the corrupting influence of power. Cohn’s protege, the Mormon Joe Pitt, played by Adam Schroeder, although in the closet, is admirably able to distinguish between the ethical position of his office, as a low paid law clerk in New York, and the temptation to power and better pay in Washington, DC., working for Attorney General Ed Meese, but owing Cohn a favor, in this case to bury the investigation that would lead to Cohn’s disbarment.

Many issues are brought up in the play, subtitled “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” and I have only mentioned a few. Excellent well worth seeing. Last performance in Irvine is Feb. 2, 2014.

The account of the Rosenberg trial given by Doug Lindner can be found at this link:


Biased Anti-Iran Expert Testimony In House Hearings

January 29th, 2014

I was watching hearings on Iran in which every one of the experts were opposed to the deal with Iran made by the Obama administration. I decided to look up the four experts. One is a right winger Mark Wallace who is head of United Against A Nuclear Iran, Gregory S. Jones, whose connection to the Rand Institute is tenuous and has produced material of dubious quality.

From “The RAND Report That Wasn’t One”

But back to the issue of Mr. Jones. I finally found his report via a link at Business Insider. It is a simple five pager issued on June 2 without any letterhead or mentioning of RAND. It does some very simplified calculation of possible enrichment scenarios Iran could take in Natanz or elsewhere. Its exaggerated time-line calculations totally ignore that any higher enrichment in the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) in Natanz would require a serious reconfiguration of the enrichment cascades working there as well as the need to solve other technical problems and details of building a bomb. Jones also includes this falsehood:

since the FEP is not continuously monitored by the IAEA, the process could be well along or even completed before it was discovered.

Anyone with a bit of knowledge on the issue knows that the plant is Natanz is under 24/7 IAEA video observation. There are radiation detectors installed which immediately would let ring bells in Vienna should they sniff some higher enriched stuff and IAEA inspectors regularly visit the plant unannounced. Joshua Pollack, who certainly knows more about nuclear stuff than any BA program in biology will have taught, finds that safeguards at Natanz are sound and cheating them impossible.


David Albright is head of ISIS his own organization, he also has dubious qualifications. This is from SourceWatch.

“Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, wrote an extensive critique of Albright’s posturing for the media on nuclear issues. Ritter writes:

There was recognition among most involved that bringing an outsider such as David Albright into the inspection process was a mistake. Not only did he lack any experience in the nuclear weapons field (being an outsider with only secondhand insight into limited aspects of the Iraqi program), he had no credibility with the Iraqi nuclear scientists, and his questions, void of any connectivity with the considerable record of interaction between the IAEA and Iraq, were not taken seriously by either side. Albright left Iraq in June 1996, and was never again invited back.
This is the reality of the relationship between Albright and the IAEA, and the singular event in his life which he uses as the justification for prominently promoting himself as a “former U.N. inspector.” While not outright fraud, Albright’s self-promoted relationship with the IAEA, and his status as a “former U.N. inspector,” is at best disingenuous, all the more so since he exploits this misleading biographical data in his ongoing effort to insert himself into the public eye as a nuclear weapons expert, a title not supported by anything in his life experience.


Mark D. Wallace and Olli Heinonen are both involved with Wallace’s group. So four out of four experts are either of dubious expertise, anti-Iran, right wingers and amazingly allowed to testify before Congress.

This was the:

“Joint Subcommittee Hearing: Implementation of the Iran Nuclear Deal
Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa | 2172 House Rayburn Office Building Washington, DC 20515 | Jan 28, 2014 2:00pm”


If I wasn’t up to my ears in school work I would write more but the P.R. being spouted on CSPAN, as it rebroadcast the hearings is incredibly biased and unbecoming of a supposedly bipartisan committee. I suspect the hand of AIPAC in this. When I have more time I will research the influence of AIPAC on the sub-committee members. This is politics as usual in the US, lobby groups often write the talking points used and in this hearing there were plenty.

Short Comments On Transfering To CSULB

January 26th, 2014

I am back in school, and having switched from junior college to a four year institution, last week was mostly spent getting used to the new campus and the different way of dealing with the institutional bureaucracy. At Cal State Long Beach, the department advisers are critical. They make determination on what classes can be accepted and which cannot. I have found that the dept. secretaries and assistants are critical also. I have already switched majors, and am looking at a minor. Adding classes is a matter of also contacting teachers and petitioning for enrollment in many classes. The first day, at the orientation one is expected to take classes as they are available with a few guidelines, for me that was a series of fortuitous accidents and bumbling about with a vague outline.

Having been dealt this hand the enrollment is shut off later the same day, not really time to reconsider and research options. Similar to poker, the next step is to trade cards, which is a laborious process of attending desired classes, petitioning the teacher, waiting to see if the petition is accepted and then taking a chance by dropping a less desired class in the hopes that the desired one is available. This is a gamble and I hedged my bets by consulting instructors about when they would send the petitions to the department for the class to be added. Then I went to the department and asked the assistant who does the enrolling if it had been done. In my case the assistant, being helpful enrolled me there on the spot. But this is not the case in all classes, some, are open on the first week of class and if there is room all one has to do is add them. I assume that is the case with all classes that do not have an instructor permission required note next to the class listing.

Each day I became more savvy and I parlayed my hand to add a minor, in my case Geography or Geographic Information Systems or GIS as it is known. I will find out on Monday I assume if this is working out. Meantime I have a full 18 units, and as I can see from just the initial assignments I will probably have to drop at least one class this week. Problem is I like all the ones I have, even the intimidating computer lab GIS class I am taking which is most likely to be the toughest for me.
So before I actually start playing this semesters hand, I will have to attempt one more trade of cards, er, classes.

Despair had overwhelmed me Friday night as I listed all the reasons in my head why this was futile. Primarily due to my age, my disability, the IRS hassling me, and my undoubted poverty once the props of attending school are withdrawn. One part of me, the fearful one says simply drop it all and take whatever job I can get, another part the proud one says, you have made a mess out of your life and you should, in the immortal words of little Alex from A Clockwork Orange, simply snuff it. Instead, feeling the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, to Hamletize myself, I simply had a glass of some decent Italian Chianti and slept on it.

Feeling ready to take on the world the next morning, instead of chucking it all as I had felt I would do the night before, I pressed on preparing to draw new cards into my hand. After all I am no Miniver Cheevy, although I do admit a more than passing pleasure in burying myself in a good history, medieval or Roman preferred, as a solace. I even considered taking a History minor, but self denial is part of the puritan ethic, and as a son of New England, I determined not to give into the temptation of taking literature and history classes to the exclusion of more practical matters, and so I forage on taking classes to prepare myself for a reentry into the world of business that I so loathe. I consider working as my punishment for unspecified past misdeeds, karma so to speak. Or perhaps the white mans burden that was inculcated into my young mind in suburban Connecticut public school where most parents worked in Manhattan serving the corporate mega-machine.

As a son of a dissolving farm family and horse people I had a sense of being landed gentry of a sort that was unjustified by life experience in which my family was evicted by an uncle with a scheming wife who wanted the cash. Such devious machinations robbed my youth of an inheritance, more imagined than real. Ah if only I were one of those Russian Gentry living off of my estates. Then I would have it made, right? Ha, fantasies from a bygone age. I read Tolstoy, and have reached Book 13, Chapter 11 of War and Peace, I will probably get no further as school responsibilities press for attention.

The big question in my mind is am I betraying my nature by going for practical classes or am I following an instinct for survival that trumps romantic desire? In either case I doubt my own bravery and wonder if I am living a worthy life or a trivial one? Questions like these have no real answer and only serve in my mind to provide devilish pitchforks to prod my suffering soul to further efforts in the world of man. Prabhupada, the Hare Krishna guru called this the life of an ass or a donkey. Ass that I am its back to the books.

Barbie-ization, Ennui Vs. Spirit of History & Struggle For Consciousness: Cracking The Egg

January 18th, 2014


I am half asleep, drugged by the lethargy of knowing I am preparing for a period of great activity and not wanting to start, rather watching the mental processes move like molasses, hovering here in my own bubble of consciousness, feeling the thoughts burbling around, not in any directed pattern, but in a random process of secretion from the springs of mental activity, that swamp of trapped sensation, the superficial memory.

That comic balloon quote got me going. Heraclitus’ vortex when googled, turned up this book by Martin Cohen, Philosophical Tales: Being an Alternative History Revealing the Characters, the Plots, and the Hidden Scenes That Make Up the True Story of Philosophy. A mouthful of a title and when I found his section on Heraclitus, there was this bit:

“But Plato himself was echoing Cratylus, who had only earlier decided for himself what Heraclitus must have meant. Cratylus’ idea that everything was changing all the time was then taken up by Empedocles, who embellished the other Heraclitian notion of a world continually torn between the two evocatively named forces, ‘love’ and ’strife’, in order to reveal its essential character. The world is a sphere of perfect love in which strife, like a swirling vortex, has infiltrated” (Cohen 42).

Cohen goes on to mention Hegel used Heraclitus to form the kernel of his new world philosophy and from there I decided to check out some Hegel and found this on a Marxist site with Lenin’s notes on Hegel and Heraclitus:

“Heraclitus says: Everything is becoming; this becoming is the principle. This is contained in the expression: Being
no more is than not-Being….” (p. 333)
“The recognition of the fact that Being and not-Being are only abstractions devoid of truth, that the first truth is to be
found only in Becoming, forms a great advance. The understanding comprehends both as having truth and validity in isolation;
reason on the other hand recognises the one in the other, and sees that in the one its other” (NB “its other”) “is contained—
that is why the All, the Absolute is to be determined as Becoming.” (334)

I am interrupting Lenin for this from “hegel & the logic of ‘the real’ barbie” to help you dear reader appreciate the concept of becoming.

2.bp.blogspot.com beach-fun-barbie.jpg

the explanation below is from the blog site http://mbourbaki.blogspot.com

“g. f. hegel has a telling paragraph in his logic, under the title “being determinate”:

in becoming, the being which is one with nothing, and the nothing which is one with being, are only vanishing factors; they are and are not. thus by its inherent contradiction becoming collapses into the unity in which the two elements are absorbed. this result is accordingly being determinate (being there and so). (p. 133)

this is no galimatias: “being there and so” is in fact valerie, “the real” barbie. she finally absorbed flesh&bones into what used to be a mere doll/ideal. but things are never static. we should expect a new becoming, i.e., the next more than to come.

meanwhile valerie “the real” barbie is petrified in her own determinate being category. and as such, valerie’s more than is no more. she’s not unsurpassable by another more than.”


And now that you understand we return to the Lenin interpretations of Heraclitus and the meaning of becoming.

“Aristotle says (De mundo,[26] Chapter 5) that Heraclitus ‘joined together the complete whole and the incomplete’ (part)” … “what coincides and what conflicts, what is harmonious and what discordant; and from out of them all (the opposite) comes one, and from one, all.” (335)

Plato, in his Symposium,[27] puts forward the views of Heraclitus (inter alia in their application to music: harmony consists
of opposites), and the statement: “The art of the musician unites the different.”

Hegel writes: this is no objection against Heraclitus (336), for difference is the essence of harmony:
“This harmony is precisely absolute Becoming, change,—not becoming other, now this and then an other. The essential thing is that each different thing, each particular, is different from another, not abstractly so from any other, but from its other. Each particular only is, insofar as its other is implicitly contained in its Notion….” (Lenin).


Heraclitus (LXXv) From the Nuremberg Chronicle Morse Library. Beloit College.

Looking for some real words of Heraclitus, I found this old book on line edited, translated or at least introduced by this guy named Patrick. Since all the quotes of Heraclitus are from Aristotle, I find these fragments to be somewhat doubtful.

XLVL Aristotle, Eth. Nic. viii. 2, p. 1155 b 1. In reference to these things, some seek for deeper principles and more in accordance with nature. Euripides says, ” The parched earth loves the rain, and the high heaven, with moisture laden, loves earthward to fall.” And Heraclitus says, “The unlike is joined together, and from differences results the most beautiful harmony, and all things take place by strife” (Patrick 96)

Aristotle, Metaph. iii. 5, p. 1010 a 13. Context : From this assumption there grew up that extreme opinion of those just now
mentioned, those, namely, who professed to follow Heraclitus, such as Cratylus held, who finally thought that nothing ought to be said, but merely moved his finger. And he blamed Heraclitus because he said you could not step twice into the same river, for he himself thought you could not do so once” (94).

Damn my curiosity anyway. I am waking up. Still there are doubts, lingering shadows, lethargic melancholia, and I don’t even want to go there…. a dream of being a trickster salesman/gardener… nothing good would come of this, but still I persevere into the flux of Plato’s forms and all that, see what a cartoon can do.


We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought …

Is this failure? A cursed dependency on mythologizing my own experience has become one of denigration. Becoming not a barbie but first a model failure, in my attempts to become a ghetto denizen, and later my artificial redemption via the miracle of modern medical science, my psyche screams fake! But my Hegelian prospects are of more becoming and thus hope is sustained.

My friends keep telling me to write, write my novel and I have attempted, several times only to give up in disgust with my lack of organization, loss of interest, and overwhelming sense of the futility of the endeavor. In my creative writing classes I realized that most of the references I was making, fresh and vital in the 1980’s, were now history, and for the young reviewers of my material, barely relevant, largely incomprehensible, after all who knew or cared about people like Allen Ginsberg, Anselm Hollo, the Poetry Wars of Boulder in the late 1970’s, Rock Against Racism, the early days of punk rock, my experiences with the Yippies, and so on and so forth. Only a small circle of friends, otherwise a novelized life was uninteresting, unless there was fame, great tragedy, and supreme sacrifice. Who cares about the life of a mediocre failure. Not to become weepy and disconsolate, but I knew I had to have some reason to write besides my own self aggrandizement.


… that it might be lacking when it comes to its ability to be profane, …

Listening to Tolstoy’s War and Peace, I am not very impressed with Tolstoy’s grasp of the motivations of historical process that he ruminates upon in the beginning of Book Nine, chapter one, where he states “Consciously a man lives on his own account in freedom of will, but he serves as an unconscious instrument in bringing about the historical ends of humanity” (Tolstoy 565). This sense of a goal in history is reminiscent of the Hegelian spirit of historical process. And yet not so purposeful as Hegel, for in Tolstoy we see the randomness of history as his description of the battle of Borodino states “Kutuzov and Napoleon acted without design or rational plan. After the accomplished fact historians have brought forward cunningly devised evidences of the foresight and genius of the generals, who of all the involuntary instruments of the world’s history were the most slavish and least independent agents” (705).


Napoleon on the battlefield Bonopart at Borodino. Illustration by artist A.P. Apsit from book “Leo Tolstoy “War and peace”, publisher - “Partnership Sytin”, Moscow, Russia, 1914.

This is from a blog Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History

We assert then that nothing has been accomplished without interest on the part of the actors; and — if interest be called passion, inasmuch as the whole individuality, to the neglect of all other actual or possible interests and claims, is devoted to an object with every fibre of volition, concentrating all its desires and powers upon it — we may affirm absolutely that nothing great in the World has been accomplished without passion. Two elements, therefore, enter into the object of our investigation; the first the Idea, the second the complex of human passions; the one the warp, the other the woof of the vast arras-web of Universal History. The concrete mean and union of the two is Liberty, under the conditions of morality in a State. We have spoken of the Idea of Freedom as the nature of Spirit, and the absolute goal of History (Hegel on line 26).


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) Date Unknown pre1831

Reading the text of the lectures in the book version The Philosophy of History, Hegel states “The History of the World begins with its general aim - the realization of the Idea of Spirit - only in an implicit form (an sich), that is, as Nature; a hidden, most profoundly hidden, unconscious instinct; and the whole process of History (as already observed), is directed to rendering this unconscious impulse a conscious one…. This vast congeries of volitions, interests and activities, constitute the the instruments and means of the World-Spirit for attaining its object; bringing it to consciousness and realizing it. And this aim is none other than finding itself-coming to itself-and contemplating itself in concrete reality” (Hegel 25).


Hit & Miss, the English television series “about a hit woman who’s a preoperative transsexual”… it’s title exudes Lautreamont’s famous definition of beauty as the “chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table,” (screamingpope.com).

And again in the “Introduction” which seems to be what most people are interested in, as the actual history is for the most part forgotten, “The destiny of the spiritual World, and-since this is the substantial World, while the physical remains subordinate to it,… the final cause of the World at large, we allege to be the consciousness of its own freedom on the part of Spirit, and ipso facto, the reality of that freedom” (Hegel 19).


Lenin: page 100 of his notebook for “Conspectus of Hegel’s book The Science of Logic”

Tolstoy says “In historical events great men - so called - are but the labels that serve to give a name to an event, and like labels, they have the least possible connection to the event itself.
Every action of theirs, that seems to them an act of their own freewill, is in an historical sense not free at all, but in bondage to the whole course of previous history, and predestined from all eternity” (Tolstoy 566).

This statement takes Tolstoy outside of the Spirit of History in Hegel, striving to realize itself, into some more static view, closer to Calvin perhaps? Perhaps not, he certainly in his own form of historical determinism sees more of the flukes and randomness in history than the spirit of history, and perhaps he was a supreme critic of the Hegelian belief that the spirit of history lay behind the actions of men.


Because the city of Jena was occupied by French troops under Napoleon in 1806, G.W.F.Hegel was forced to leave the city. But he did witness Napoleon’s entry into the city and, as an admirer of the French Revolution, was delighted to witness first-hand this “world spirit on horseback” passing by. Image from Harper’s Magazine, 1895.

Hegel states “For that Spirit which has taken this fresh step in history is the innermost soul of all individuals; but is in a state of unconsciousness which the great men in question aroused. Their fellows, therefore, follow these soul - leaders; for they feel the irresistible power of their own inner Spirit thus embodied (Hegel 30-31). For Hegel even though the “fate of these World - Historical persons, whose vocation it is to be the agents of the World - Spirit - we shall find is to have been no happy one” and he goes on to cite the fates of Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon (31). Thus he shares with Tolstoy the conception of leaders as tools of history, but without the cynicism of Tolstoy. For Hegel this is serving the Spirit of History, a noble duty, not a cursed fate, even if it results in being discarded when history has no more use for the personality.


This is perhaps one basis for Marxist ruthlessness as is bemoaned by Ralph Ellison in his Invisible Man, when the protagonist is taken down by the “Brotherhood” for acting on his own initiative to regain a following in the black community by leading a protest of the police shooting of a black man. They accuse him of adventurism and clearly state “We do not shape our policies to the mistaken and infantile notions of the man in the street. Our job is not to ask them what they think but to tell them!” (Ellison 408). The protagonist is angry at this and sees it as a lost organizing opportunity, but because it was not sanctioned by the Communist Party, called the Brotherhood in the novel, it is not a bold act of initiative but a reprehensible breach of party discipline. Demonstrating dramatically, the leader of the party committee, Jack Tobitt, takes out a glass eye and tells the protagonist “you don’t appreciate the meaning of sacrifice. I was ordered carry through an objective and I carried it through. Understand? Even though I had to lose my eye to do it… And do you know what discipline is, Brother Personal Responsibility? It’s sacrifice, sacrifice, Sacrifice!” (410). Ellison is describing the blindness of party loyalty to an opportunity to organize in the black community, as well as the fact that a man, an unarmed black man was shot dead by the police. For him the party is out of touch as his protagonist says “Ask your [black] wife to take you around to the gin mills and the barbershops and the juke joints and the churches, Brother…. You’ll learn that a lot of people are angry because we failed to lead them in action” (407).

Ellison in chapter 22 of his novel is describing the circumstances that lead to his protagonists breaking with the Brotherhood, their blindness to the realities of life among the masses, as Tobitt says, “The committee makes your decisions, it is not its practice to give undue importance to the mistaken notions of the people” (407).
This reflects the Marxist belief that the correct interpretation of the Hegelian Spirit of History, or as Marx transformed it into the material conditions of history, trumped the experience of every day life, and thus theory trumping empirical data leads to disasters like the ultimate fate of the Russian Revolution, although there certainly were other factors. But I digress.

Jeff Wall After “Invisible Man”…
First shown at Documenta 11, After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Preface, 1999-2001, represents a well-known scene from Ellison’s classic novel. Wall’s version shows us the cellar room, “warm and full of light” in which Ellison’s narrator lives, complete with its 1,369 lightbulbs.

I am getting all worked up over the past, and this whole question of what is history? Does it have meaning, and purpose?

Tolstoy saw randomness and predestination. Yet his novel abounds in profoundly interesting personal stories full of insight into human nature. I sought out some more expert opinion on the man, and doing a google search constantly found references to THE HEDGEHOG AND THE FOX An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History by Isaiah Berlin. Rather than reading it I decided to cheat and read a review in the New York Times by William Barrett “Sharp Eyes for the Multiple Things,” an almost incomprehensible title but from the review I was able to drag some quotes that state the problem fairly well.

The theory maintains, very simply, that the human understanding can never comprehend history, since the historic process involves an infinity of causes that lie beyond our grasp. Mr. Berlin seems to me to be altogether right in rescuing his theory from the charge of “mysticism.” It is, rather, an entirely lucid and intellectually cogent theory, and a deterministic one to boot, though rather discomforting to the facile determinism of some historians. The individual, from the point of view of history, is never free, since he is caught in a web of infinite circumstances and causes.


On the other hand, “War and Peace” as a novel swarms with an extraordinary number of vivid personal lives each of which throbs with its own sense of decision and choice. This conflict between the feeling of freedom and the rational truth of determinism Tolstoy never succeeded in resolving for himself during his whole life.

Dissatisfied with the patness and artificiality of the historians’ theories, Tolstoy was led in turn to distrust all theory as the falsification of the fullness of life itself…. Indeed, “War and Peace” is one of the most formidable attacks upon rationalism ever penned (Barrett).

Tolstoy himself relates in War and Peace, in the persona of Prince Andrey who upon being assigned to the main battle front in 1812 with Barclay de Tolly, commander of the First Russian Army, but having no particular duty spent time assessing the camp, Tolstoy has him reflecting “He had already, from his own military experience, formed the conviction that in war the most deeply meditated plans are of no avail (as he had seen at Austerlitz), that everything depends on how unexpected actions of the enemy, actions that cannot possibly be foreseen, are met; that all depends on how, and by whom, the battle is led” (Tolstoy 590). Hence his continued criticism of the vanities of the commanders in the Russian army, due probably to his own experience in the Crimean war.


Ah so I am not alone in my indeterminate determinism. I perused some interpretations of Tolstoy’s beliefs and I especially liked reading some of the fundamentalist Christian views of him who saw him as a liberal believer in the good works Jesus promoted as opposed to the mystical and more literal views. I don’t know enough about Tolstoy personally although a lot of pacifists and anarchists seem to like him. I think that more to do with the later experiments, when writing War and Peace, Tolstoy was a recent war veteran, having served in the Russian artillery during the Crimean War, “April 1855, in the midst of the Crimean War, a twenty-six year old Russian sub-lieutenant, Leo Tolstoy, was commanding an artillery battery in the besieged Black Sea city of Sevastopol” (Moss). Having been on the front line of defense as Moss describes, Tolstoy had seen death in warfare at first hand, “Lieutenant Tolstoy’s private attitude toward the Russian military and the war was ambivalent and confused. It is true that in a letter to his brother Sergei he wrote of the heroism of the troops and thanked God for allowing him to live in such a ‘glorious time,’ but in his diary in late 1854 he was much more critical of the way the Russian leaders conducted the war, of corruption, ignorance, and poor training, weapons, hygiene, and food” (Moss).


Grigoryi Shukaev. Siege of Sevastopol 1855. 1856

As a young man, Tolstoy, adrift in Russian society, he knew first hand the dissolute lives of the upper classes that he describes so well in the novel. But it is not the rest of the novel I am concerned with but the nature of determinism and purpose in history. A question that naturally cannot be resolved in a short blog posting, but it is fun to bring up and perhaps I will continue this at a later time, as it is I have spent much too much time, wasting an entire afternoon on this particular folly, but at least I am no longer stuck in mental lethargy.

Works Cited

Barrett, William. “Sharp Eyes for the Multiple Things.” The New York Times on the Web. 14 Feb. 1954. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Cohen, Martin. Philosophical Tales: Being an Alternative History Revealing the Characters, the Plots, and the Hidden Scenes That Make Up the True Story of Philosophy. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Pub. 2008. Google Books. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Ellison, Ralph. The Invisible Man, New York: New American Library. 1952. Print.

Hegel, Georg W. F. The Philosophy of History. “Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History.” Hegel-by-HyperText Home Page @ marxists.org. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Hegel, Georg W. F. The Philosophy of History, Trans. J. Sibree. Amherst: Prometheus Books. 1991. Print.

Lenin, Vladimir Illyich. “Conspectus of Hegel’s Book Lectures On the History of Philosophy: Volume XIII. Volume I of The History of Philosophy. History of Greek Philosophy.” Lenin’s Collected Works. 4th Ed. Trans. Clemence Dutt. Ed. Stewart Smith. Moscow: Progress Publishers. 1976. 38. 247-268. Lenin Internet Archive (2008). Marxists Internet Archive. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Moss, Walter G. “Classics Revisited: Leo Tolstoy’s Sevastopol Stories.” Michigan War Studies Review. 2008. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Patrick, G. T. W. Ed.The fragments of the work of Heraclitus of Ephesus on nature; translated from the Greek text of Bywater, with an introd. historical and critical. Baltimore: N. Murray. 1889. Perseus Archive. Open Library.org. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. New York: The Modern Library. 1931. Print.

Evil Medieval Comets: Astrology, History & Portents

January 12th, 2014


A fanciful interpretation of the Salem Witch Trials. Is that light a comet or some other malignant force?

Comets in pre-modern belief were harbingers of ill. They wandered into the affairs of the orderly cosmos of man and brought about disruption. H. G. Wells wrote his In The Days of the Comet as a utopian vision of how mankind could benefit from an alchemical like transformation in which elements in the comet affected the atmosphere of the earth and humanity breathed in sanity and out irrationality. Certainly with World War One hovering over the heads of humanity, those were wistful and wise thoughts. Unfortunately, not to be, war resulted and la belle epoch had been consumed in bloodshed and the modern era, was born. The world of the Gatsbys, self made men, hucksters, and flim flam artists arose, the Great Depression resulted and the Second World War in which the old world powers were swept away leaving the Soviet Union and the United States to struggle for the hearts and minds of humanity, Equality, Liberty and Pursuit of Profits, over Equality, Community and Pursuit of Perfection. Profits, at least temporarily, won out over perfection, liberty and community still struggle with Equality, remaining a common value of the age, if only given lip service.


From BRITISH ART SHOW 7: IN THE DAYS OF THE COMET. Anja Kirschner & David Panos.

I found an interesting blog of Margherita Fiorello that deals in medieval astrology and it had a piece about an astrologer’s view of Hailey’s Comet’s appearance in 1301. This anonymous astrologer seems fairly typical, writing with some exactness about the position, and reading into it portents that can only be called interesting.

About the comet motion from North to South, I believe it’s the attraction motion, i.e. the Comet is attracted by Mars, from which was generated. Mars in fact, which was not exceeding the zodiacal southern latitude, was in aspect with the Comet, whose latitude was more than 20 N degrees. For these reasons the Comet seemed to move from North to South toward East, so its eastern longitude grew and grew while northern latitude decreased and decreased.

In the same way and for the same reasons its tail moved. In fact in the beginning of its appearance, its tail stretched toward North and following its motion moved Eastwards, inclining towards South to the stat which is called Altayr, i.e. Vultur Volans, which has a longitude of 21.15 Capricorn and a latitude of 29.25 N. And in this way, slowly, it moved towards Mars.


Medieval Astrologers

So, after having carefully considered the nature and the temperament of the producing planet and of the receiving sign of the comet and its motion and every other detail about its nature, which I omit in order to be brief, I will go to the judgement.
So I say that this comet, for its different and several causes, it means several accidents.
It means in fact strong winds and earthquakes in the regions which are in familiarity and sometimes a dryness of the air preceding profuse rains, but this because of “accidens”, i.e. because southern and western winds, which will cause clouds and rains.

And because of the corruption of the air, death and plague, famine and illness to the genitals, to the bladder and lungs and pains for parturient women and miscarriages and difficult deliveries and plenty of visions.
It means that there will be many fights between powerful people, wars and murders, and the religion of Moors will be weaker, and on the Earth thieves and robbers will be more and more.
It means wars, quarrels and massacre, the death of the kings, princes and nobles, the coming from the West of a King’s enemy and the King violence on his people and his lust for money. It means at last the destitution of courters and the unfairness of their acts that will correspond to a great hardship for them. So, Mars was in Scorpio, in which it has many rights because it has here the triplicity and the domicile: having 8 points (5 because of domicile and 3 of triplicity) will make stronger the meaning of the comet.
These judgements are based on the most important astrologers, Ptolemy and Albumasar and Aly Habenragel.


Giotto, Adoration of the Magi

Giotto’s Comet. This beautiful fresco named Adoration of the Magi on the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, completed by the great Florentine Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) has always been regarded as the Halley’s comet in its 1301 apparition. In 1993 Hughes et al.(Q.J.R. Astr. Soc. 34. pp.21-32) suggested instead that it could be the comet seen at the beginning of 1304 (C/1304 C1).

And many poets talked about the meanings of a comet. Virgil in facts wrote in the ninth book of the Aeneid:

“Sanguinei lugubre rubent de nocte comete”

Lugubre, gloomy: he used the name as an adverb. And he calls the comets “sanguineos”, bloody because they mean bloodshed.
Claudianus adds, talking about the comet:

“Et nunquam celo spectatum impune comete“

A comet was never seen in the sky without a disaster.

And Lucanus, talking about the wonders when the war between Pompeus and Caesar was near, says that the appearance of a comet means a change in the kingdom (Margherita Fiorello).


Drawing by Peter Apian of the Comet of 1532.

A more pedesrian interpretation sums up the ancient and medieval view of comets. This is from “Unexpected Visitors: The Theory of the influence of Comets.”

The ancient Greeks had a method to anticipate them from ingresses and ideas about their significance based on their colors and shapes but theirs was an astrology and astronomy of the naked eye and far freer of pollution and night light than ours. Atmospherics certainly played a role in their observations and their interpretation. The Greeks and later traditional Medieval and Renaissance astrologers thought them wholly malefic. These same astrologers held that comets and other portents in the heavens were fleeting appearances of the sublunary sphere. An event for our punishment or (very rarely) benefit from the Logos appearing in the space between the Earth and Moon. In their model of the heavens, change does not occur beyond the sphere of Luna except for the movements of the planets. The effects of comets were supposed to last for 1/8 of their period; to the ancients this would most likely have been their period of visibility, and to begin in earnest when the Sun or Mars transited their place of closest approach to the Sun or perihelion. Their appearance was heralded by disturbances in humans, animals, and the weather. The comets then dispensed, by perihelion position and their dispositor, their good or ill effects - usually ill. They also often heralded the rise of an agent. This agent could be a war leader but might, depending on the position of the comet, show a religious leader, reformer, or great trader (Jonathan Flanery).

I couldn’t resist adding this image of the reputed cause of the most famous conflict in Florence and Italian medieval history. I don’t know if it was preceded by a comet, but Villani does refer to the fatal statue of Mars, and Villani is a firm believer in astrology.


The Buondelmonte murder, from an illustrated manuscript of Giovanni Villani’s Nuova Cronica
in the Vatican Library (ms. Chigiano L VIII 296 - Biblioteca Vaticana)

“In the year of Christ 1215, M. Gherardo Orlandi being Podestà in Florence, one M. Bondelmonte dei Bondelmonti, a noble citizen of Florence, had promised to take to wife a maiden of the house of the Par. xvi. 136-144. Amidei, honourable and noble citizens; and afterwards as the said M. Bondelmonte, who was very charming and a good horseman, was riding through the city, a lady of the house of the Donati called to him, reproaching him as to the lady to whom he was betrothed, that she was not beautiful or worthy of him, and saying: “I have kept this my daughter for you;” whom she showed to him, and she was most beautiful; and immediately by the inspiration of the devil he was so taken by her, that he was betrothed and wedded to her, for which thing the kinsfolk of the first betrothed lady, being assembled together, and grieving over the shame which M.-122- Bondelmonte had done to them, were filled with the accursed indignation, whereby the city of Florence was destroyed and divided.


Here’s Giovanni Villani himself. Florence lost this gifted (if not always nonpartisan) historian in the terrible Black Death of 1348.

For many houses of the nobles swore together to bring shame upon the said M. Bondelmonte, in revenge for these wrongs. And being in council among themselves, after what fashion they should punish him, whether by beating or killing, Mosca de’ Lamberti said the Inf. xxviii. 103-111. Par. xvi. 136-138. evil word: ‘Thing done has an end’; to wit, that he should be slain; and so it was done; for on the morning of Easter of the Resurrection the Amidei of San Stefano assembled in their house, and the said M. Bondelmonte coming from Oltrarno, nobly arrayed in new white apparel, and upon a white palfrey, arriving at the foot of the Ponte Vecchio on Par. xvi. 145-147. this side, just at the foot of the pillar where was the statue of Mars, the said M. Bondelmonte was dragged from his horse by Schiatta degli Uberti, and by Mosca Lamberti and Lambertuccio degli Amidei assaulted and smitten, and by Oderigo Fifanti his veins were opened and he was brought to his end; and there was with them one of the counts of Gangalandi. For the which thing the city rose in arms and Cf. Par. xvi. 128. tumult; and this death of M. Bondelmonte was the cause and beginning of the accursed parties of Guelfs and Ghibellines in Florence, albeit long before there were factions among the noble citizens and the said parties existed by reason of the strifes and questions between the Church and the Empire; but by reason of the death of the said M. Bondelmonte all the families of the nobles and the other citizens of Florence were divided, and some held with the Bondelmonti, who took the side of the Guelfs, and were its leaders, and some with the Uberti, who were the leaders of the Ghi-123-bellines, whence followed much evil and disaster to our city, as hereafter shall be told; and it is believed that it will never have an end, if God do not cut it short. And surely it shows that the enemy of the human race, for the sins of the Florentines, had power in that idol of Mars, which the pagan Florentines of old were wont to worship, that at the foot of his statue such a murder was committed, whence so much evil followed to the city of Florence. The accursed names of the Guelf and Ghibelline parties are said to have arisen first in Germany by reason that two great barons of that country were at war together, and had each a strong castle the one over against the other, and the one had the name of Guelf, and the other of Ghibelline, and the war lasted so long, that all the Germans were divided, and one held to one side, and the other to the other; and the strife even came as far as to the court of Rome, and all the court took part in it, and the one side was called that of Guelf, and the other that of Ghibelline; and so the said names continued in Italy” (Villani).

Image credit: NASA/JPL

Woodcut showing destructive influence of a fourth century comet from Stanilaus Lubienietski’s Theatrum Cometicum (Amsterdam, 1668).

The above will give the reader some insight into Florence. There was no lack of disasters in Italy and in that year, 1301, the occupation of Florence by the French representative of the Papal authority and the loss of power on the part of the White Guelphs of which Dante belonged, to be replaced by the Black Guelphs who allied themselves to the Papal legate in order to gain control of Florence and persecute their enemies, the Whites. I also find the reference to Virgil to be satisfying and intend to return to that revolutionary period in Roman history with an eye to the literary angle, and focusing so much on the politics. Certainly Virgil, initially something of a pacifist and spiritual idealist, going off to live in an Epicurean community in Naples, to escape the conflict between Caesar’s adherents and those of the old Republican order. In my own life, after the conflict in Vietnam had ended, I temporarily left the life of radical politics to retreat to a commune in Colorado in an attempt to create some idealized cooperative society under the sheltering parental guidance of a gnostic spiritual vision. I eventually rebelled at the direction of the community, a certain Maoist anti-intellectualism and my own impatience with sitting out of world affairs, at least as I saw it, by not participating in the radical politics of the day. Perhaps that is what drove Virgil into the affairs of state, or perhaps it was merely self interest, desiring to regain properties that had been confiscated and given to war veterans of the victorious Octavian in his native Mantua. Dante, had upon exile from his native Florence, joined briefly in White and Ghibellines conspiracies to regain control of the city. He soon became disillusioned with their vain efforts and spent the rest of his life writing his famous literary works and advocating for the return of a worthy Emperor to restore order to Italy. I am now in my own way retired from active battle, and doing my part as a literary warrior.


Masonic initiation. Paris, 1745

I am still somewhat obsessed with medieval Florence. But this is about comets, and the times. Although I cannot say much about our own times, not aware of any particular comet, although I am sure there are comets galore with the advances in astronomy. Listening to an audiobook version of War and Peace as I write, I am captured from time to time by the plot and distracted from my writing. I found the descriptions of Pierre’s spiritual journey with the Masons, reminiscent of my own adventures with the Ministry. He also wanted to work on the political level rather than the boring and tedious task of self improvement. Youth wants change to be rapid and revolutionary, and for a young man to live in interesting times is not a curse but a relief. And as I have indicated previously, I in my own way continue my spiritual quest, expecting less, and with many regrets over failures especially in the personal realm of family. Family as Tolstoy constantly reminds us in his great work, is of such importance. Having just returned from the east coast and visiting my own mother and sister, confronting the remains of those youthful devils that still cling to the soul, like Pierre’s dream dogs biting at his heals (Tolstoy 408).


Pierre Bezukhov at Noble Assembly - illustration by artist A.P. Apsit from book “Leo Tolstoy “War and Peace”, publisher - “Partnership Sytin”, Moscow, Russia, 1914. - stock photo

But back to the comet issue Pierre riding home on a sleigh, observes the comet of the winter of 1811-1812, reflecting on its portending disaster, yet falling in some kind of love with the foolish Natasha, “in Pierre’s heart that bright comet, with its long luminous tail, aroused no feeling of dread” (Tolstoy 562). As well it should not have for the Russians, but for Napoleon, it was of course a very bad year.

Now I must move on, leaving Pierre to his thoughts, and consider, could the plague have come from outer space, via comets? I love digging around on the web and finding all these other people who are pondering the different angles. Makes it hard for copyright protagonists and academics will decry such public pandering without any fees attached, but I use my access to university sites as a student for some material, and google for the rest, seeking other seekers.

This is from Joseph and Wickramasinghe’s article “Comets and Contagion: Evolution and Diseases From Space.”

[P]lagues are all bacterial diseases which are spread by infected fleas, by contact with the body fluids of infected people and animals, and by inhaling infectious droplets in the air. How did fleas come to be infected? Were they also contaminated by pathogens in the air?

Bacteria and Viruses From Space?

Yersinia pestis is one of the causative agents of plague. Yersinia pestis are anaerobic and must live within host cells during the infective phase of its life cycle (Brown et al., 2006; Perry and Fetherston 1997; Wickham et al., 2007). Infection takes place through a syringe-like apparatus by which the bacteria can inject bacterial virulence factors (effectors) into the eukaryotic cytosol of host cells. Yet, as they are anaerobic, Yersinia pestis (and other pathogenic bacteria) are completely dependent on their host species, and cannot be propagated over evolutionary time if the host dies (Brown et al., 2006). Thus it must be asked: what is the origin of these plague-inducing bacillus which periodically infect and kill huge populations over diverse areas, and then reemerge hundreds of years later to attack again? In fact, Yersinia pestis is the causative agent responsible for at least three major human pandemics: the Justinian plague (6th to 8th centuries), the Black Death (14th to 19th centuries) and modern plague (21st century).


Yersinia pestis infected flea.

The keys to unlocking this mystery may include the fact that these microbes are anaerobic (Brown et al., 2006), resistant to freezing (Torosian et al., 2009), and they periodically obtain many of their infective genes from other bacteria and viruses such that their genome is in flux and undergoes periodically rearrangement following the addition of these genes (Parkhill et al., 2001). A major anaerobic, freezing environment is located in space. Therefore, could these microbes have originated in space?

A variety of microbes have been discovered in the upper atmosphere, including those who are radiation resistant (Yang et al., 2010), and at heights ranging from 41 km (Wainwright et al., 2010) to 77 km (Imshenetsky, 1978) and thus in both the stratosphere and the mesosphere which is extremely dry, cold (−85 degree C (−121.0 degree F;), and lacking oxygen. It is the mesosphere where meteors first begin to fragment as they speed to Earth (Wickramasinghe et al., 2010). Could these upper atmospheric microbes have originated in meteors or from other stellar debris? Or might they have have been lofted from Earth to the upper atmosphere?” (Joseph and Wickramasinghe).


Contours of the spread of the Black Death.

The Black Death (1334-1350AD) for example, has all the hallmarks of a space incident component or trigger. That this disease spread from city to city has been well documented (Kelly 2006; McNeill 1977). However, the progression of the disease did not follow contours associated with travel routes, displaying a patchiness of incidence including zones of total avoidance (Figure 6). Moreover, the pattern of infection appear to travel the course of prevailing winds (Figures 7 and 8). This does not accord with straightforward infection via a rodent/flea carrier as is conventional to assume. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe (1979) interpreted these patterns as indicative of a space incident bacterium.


1577 Great Comet Woodcut by Jiri Daschitzsky, Von einem Schrecklichen und Wunderbahrlichen Cometen so sich den Dienstag nach Martini M. D. Lxxvij. Jahrs am Himmel erzeiget hat (Prague (?): Petrus Codicillus a Tulechova, 1577).

I am not so sure I am convinced by this, but it is from an academic source, and so should be taken seriously. It certainly puts a different twist hon my previous posting. I am not going to list all their sources, so if you want to see them go find the article on line, I have info about it below.

I am also reading volume two of Hajo Holborn’s A History of Modern Germany, reading about the after effects of the Thirty Years War, the later I had read about in the last year or so. Incipient Germany and the shattered remains of the Holy Roman Empire, are such a complex jigsaw puzzle. It is impossible to read this history without recourse to a map, simply to place oneself in the setting, at least mentally. Only being a few chapters into the book, I find my pedantic side attracted to the satisfactory experience of placing the pieces of the German jigsaw in the appropriate places. And now I shall quote a line more or less at random, actually not, some comments about the aftereffects of the Thirty Years war reminds me of our own times.


The miseries of war; No. 11, “The Hanging” Jacques Callot 1632 (published in 1633).

In many respects it had been a new discovery to find that it was physically possible to siphon off so much money from the population. Public finance, including taxation, had been in its infancy before the war. Now it became a deliberate, if still clumsy, art. A century earlier it had been a widely held opinion that the prince was to defray the expenses of government with his own income from domains - mining rights, monopolies, tolls, etc. - usually called the ‘camerale,’ and that taxes were to be levied only for extraordinary purposes, such as defense… Throughout the war taxes had gone up, and even at the end of the war it was impossible to return to the earlier level. Payment of debts, resettlement of the population, land improvement, and maintenance of troops - all these called for revenue…The princes now demanded them as a matter of right and also claimed discretion in the use of the tax income (Holborn 43-44).


Comet of 1618 was associated with the coming “end of the world” and spreading death and disease, during the Thirty Years War.

Through concessions and compromises, the princes won the battle to establish standing armies. Once a standing army - a ‘miles perpetuus’ as it was called at the time - had been created with the assent of the estates, it became self perpetuating; it gave the prince a weapon that could be used against the estates, especially since it could sometimes be financed by foreign subsidies (45-46).


Bonus Army marchers confront the police.

This naturally brings to mind the military industrial complex, but even more, thinking back to history, Hoover called out the army to destroy the Bonus Marchers in 1932, who had Marched on Washington, DC to demand immediate payment of the Veteran’s Bonuses promised to soldiers who had participated in World War One. The DC police could not remove them from their encampments, and the army was called in led by Douglas MacArthur, who ordered Major Patton to clear the campsites. Patton did so with a cavalry charge followed by six tanks and then infantry who had fixed bayonets and used tear gas. Without a standing army this might have had a negotiated solution. Certainly it was one factor in Hoover’s defeat in that years elections. Roosevelt, the next year, upon another march, gave them a campsite, and meals. He sent Elanor Roosevelt to meet the marchers and she was able to offer them entry into the Civilian Conservation Corp. “One veteran commented: ‘Hoover sent the army, Roosevelt sent his wife.’” (Wikipedia Bonus Army).

I am not even going to look for a comet to determine the fate of the Bonus March, perhaps an intrepid astrologer can look up predictions from the time and see if they can post-prognosticate on this.

Credit: NASA/JPL

This photograph of Halley’s Comet was taken January 13,1986, by James W. Young, resident astronomer of JPL’s Table Mountain Observatory in the San Bernardino Mountains, using the 24-inch reflective telescope.

Works Cited

“Bonus Army.” Wikipedia. Bonus Army-Wikipedia.Web. 12 Jan. 2014.

Fiorello, Margherita. “A Medieval astrologer about Halley Comet in 1301.”heavenastrolabe.net. 24 Feb. 2009. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.

Flanery, Johnathan. “Unexpected Visitors: The Theory of the Influence of Comets.” Web. 11 Jan. 2014.

Holborn, Hajo. A History of Modern Germany 1648-1840. Princeton: Princeton U. P. 1964. Print.

Joseph, Rhawn, and Wickramasinghe, Chandra. “Comets and Contagion: Evolution and Diseases From Space.” Journal of Cosmology. 7 (2010). 1750-1770. journalofcosmology.com. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.

Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Trans. Constance Garnett. New York: The Modern Library. 1931. Print.

Villani, Giovanni. Villani’s Chronicle. Trans. Rose E. Selfe. The Project Gutenberg eBook, Ed. Philip H. Wicksteed. casasantapia.com/art/nuovacronica/nuovacronica.htm. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.

Wells, H. G. In the Days of the Comet. London: The Century Co. 1906. In the Days of the Comet-Wikipedia. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.

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