The Military's Secret Weapon: Magic
Writer Jon Ronson, previously known to me for his segments on This American Life, has made a documentary series based on his book The Men Who Stare at Goats for the BBC called Crazy Rulers of the World. This story of the devotion of U.S. military resources to psychics, mentalists and other bullshittery is hilarious when it isn't downright terrifying.
A retired general - and former head of military intelligence - straight-facedly explains how he remains disappointed that he was unable to will himself to walk through walls. A guy who teaches ballet at a strip mall discusses his role in a project conducted by the PsyOps unit at Ft. Bragg to kill a goat with his mind. Of course, you stop laughing when you see how what began with the new age ideas of Jim Channon and the First Earth Battalion manual slowly devolved into the psychological torture techniques used in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
As I watched one serious (but clearly batshit-crazy) military man after another discuss "chakra points" and "remote viewing" I couldn't help but think that I liked it better when I thought our military was full of End Times Christians.
History Is Coming Soon!
Alexandra Ringe has posted an excerpt of a speech from June 17, 1962 given at the Zion Hill Church in Los Angeles. Take six minutes today to remind yourself why you shouldn't care that your mail delivery will have to wait until tommorrow. Thanks, Alexandra.
Happy Presidents' Year!
Monday is Presidents' Day. Many of you won't have to work or go to school. A few of you might actually participate in an event that honors one or more U.S. Presidents. And two of you are moving to a neighborhood I've never heard of.
Now, I can readily accept someone referring to "Presidents' Day Weekend." We are fond of three-day weekends. But I keep seeing ads that mention Presidents' Week. And today I heard a car commercial talking about Presidents' Month. No no no no no no no. First of all, a very prominent group already has dibs on February. But also, I assure you, Presidents' Day is one day long. On Tuesday, mail a letter. Enter a bank. You will succeed. Though perhaps not in Bangladesh, where it is Shaheed Day.
New from Stay Free! magazine
How we learned to stop worrying and love plastics
Jeffrey Meikle discusses the history of plastic and its place in American culture
Interview by Allison Xantha Miller from Stay Free! #24.
On the other hand, chimps can be quite charming
According to The Scotsman, Josef Stalin tried to create a race of "super warriors" by cross breeding people with apes.
[E]xperiments [in West Africa to impregnate chimpanzees] ... were a total failure. [The program director] returned to the Soviet Union, only to see experiments in Georgia to use monkey sperm in human volunteers similarly fail.
I may not be an expert on Stalin's Soviet Union, but am I the only person who thinks that the Scotsman is using the phrase "human volunteers" a little loosely here?
Beer and babies
This recent story in Smithsonian Magazine about attempts to sell "medical beer" during Prohibition reminded me of another another curious alcohol story during the Prohibition era. Circa 1929, Scientist Charles R. Stockard conducted a study measuring the effect of alcohol fumes on pregnant rats and concluded that alcohol increased "prenatal mortality." Prohibitionists, who tended to be eugenicists, had a field day with the study and used it to promote their agenda: Alcohol kills! In response, their opponents (aka "Wets"), including Stockard, argued that the fumes of alcohol were a good thing, because they weeded out inferior individuals while they were still eggs.
...alcohol is highly beneficial as a selective agent tending to eliminate weak and defective individuals from the stock. It also may be noted that this elimination of defective individuals is performed in the gentlest manner by pushing the death moment back into the prenatal life-time, which in popular opinion is before the individual's existence has begun.
So, as fanatical as both groups of people were, they found a form of fanaticism they could agree on: eugenics. (I found this bit in a book by one T. Swann Harding called The Joy of Ignorance, 1932).