Category Archives: Uninformed Opinion

Mahatma Randy’s Horror Show

My first real band after college was called, “Mahatma Randy’s Horror Show.” It was pretty much a disaster in every regard.

One day in 1992 or 1993 I was wandering through the Tarpon Springs Crappy Amateur Art Festival when, suddenly, a song struck me fully formed in my head. It was called, “My Baby’s the Last of the Communists,” which, only a year or two after the end of the cold war, seemed topical and funny. I quickly abandoned the poorly-soldered windchimes and ran back to my car to write the words down before I forgot ’em.

It was a pretty good song. Well, good lyrics. Not a song yet.

That motivated me to form a band. My previous (And first) one was “Technicolor Yawn,” which was also a disaster, but for more typical college band reasons. The good thing about a band, though, was that it gives you something to do, people to bond with, and hot-and-cold running chicks. All of that appealed to me as I was bored, lonely, and going through the worst breakup of my life at the time.

I put an ad in the personals section of Creative Loafing, a weekend entertainment paper or tabloid or supplement or whatever you call it. Eventually the phone started to ring.

Now the important thing to remember here is that I am not now, nor have I ever been a musician. I’m a slightly-better-than-average singer, and that is it. There endeth my list of talents. I had no idea what this song would sound like, but I intended to put together as large a band as I could with a horn section. I was going for something like Oingo Boingo or Bad Manners or something like that. As to how to write the music, I figured I’d just hum or whistle melodies, and have the other guys jam something together. (I can’t read music. I should probably mention that)

Recruiting was easy. Super-easy. I got a drummer in no time. As anyone will tell you, drummers are the hardest thing to get. Keyboardists? Dime a dozen. Gutarists?There’s so many of them you actually have to pay to keep them away from you. Everyone goes through that “I wanna be a rock star” phase. Bassists? Well, every guitarist can be a frustrated bassist if you ask ’em nicely enough. Drums, though? Drums are hard. There aren’t a lot of drummers, given the expense and size and noise of the kits, and such as there are are always in demand. They have bands lined up waiting for them, so they’re not gonna put up with my crap.

But, nope, I got a drummer. I bought him some Mexican food and he told me about his weird love life, and I listened patiently and said some up-with-people crap of some sort, and – bang – he was in.

Thus I ended up with a nine-piece band, including a four-piece horn section. Ten piece band, if you count me, which  you probably shouldn’t do as I’m not a musician. I’m just a singer.

The first problem was how to explain the sound I was looking for to these fine folks, and that just didn’t go well. I lacked the vocabulary to explain it, so all I could do was play them songs and say, ‘like that,’ which went over worse than you’d imagine because either the couldn’t copy the style, or didn’t understand it, or simply didn’t wanna do it. They wanted to play stuff that sounded like Thelonius Monk or Skynyrd.

Now, that would actually be pretty awesome, and I’d jump at the chance nowadays, but back then I didn’t know a lucky break when I saw it.

The second most obvious problem was scheduling. Most bands are 3 or 4 or 5 people, tops. This makes scheduling easy. Show up at the garage and we’ll jam. We can take my car! With each person you add, however, it gets more and more complicated. An order of magnitude more complicated.

One of the horn players was a doctor. Initially we met at his house. I had to go to the bathroom once, and there were needles all over the place. I don’t know if he was diabetic, or a drug addict, or very sick in some way that required him to treat it at home, but he was definitely a dangerously negligent housekeeper, so we decided to meet somewhere else from then on out.

And he stopped coming.

My drummer volunteered his place, so we met there and jammed in his living room.

You know what? I’d forgotten about it until this moment, but I don’t think we initially had a bassist. I think I tried to play bass. Honestly, my memories are fuzzy, but I know I took a turn at it. I couldn’t do it (Because I’m not a musician) but everyone liked my voice, so we kept meeting.

Well, I say we kept meeting, but the horn section evaporated quickly. Horn players get excited about playing with other horn players because they never get to. There just aren’t many bands with a horn section, though a lot used to have a sax or (Less commonly) a trumpet. Those guys were invariably the first ones to get kicked off the bus, so to speak, when the money doesn’t roll in. And the money never rolls in. So once we were down to just one horn guy, what point was there? He was more interested in playing with the others than with us, now we were just another band, so…gone.

The thing is, I really only had one song. I mean, I had a bunch of songs left over from my previous band, but never recorded any, so I didn’t have anything I could convey to these guys, so there was really just “My Baby’s the Last of the Communists,” which I wanted to be short and punchy and funny, but they were thinking long, serious, dramatic rock ballad. I can’t recall if I ever played any of ’em any They Might Be Giants, but I imagine if I did they probably told me to go straight to hell.

Our drummer had issues. He’d told over dinner one time that he’d been married up until recently. Then he was driving home from work one night and saw this hooker. Then he took the hooker home and threw his wife out, and now the hooker was his girlfriend.

Drummers, right? Amiright?

What can you say to that? “Gee, that’s keen.” I didn’t want to ask any questions because honestly no answer would be a good one. I mean, was she still hooking? Is it possible that I misunderstood her and she just made those hook rugs that were popular in the early ’80s? He never actually said hooker, exactly. Maybe I misunderstood? And he’s a drummer…I mean, I had to keep him, right? And we were practicing in his house. I just resigned myself to avoiding touching anything in his house, and compulsively washing my hands.

Since I wasn’t a bassist (And I can’t remember if we had one before me or not), Tom, the guitarist (And the only guy who’s name I can remember) brought in a friend of his. They’d played together in a band in the past. Power trio. On the surface this seemed like a good idea, as he was a really good bassist, and Tom was a really good guitarist. As one might imagine of a prostitution-enthusiast, our drummer had good rhythm. So: Power trio + me as singer.  I could work with that.

But by this point we still didn’t have any music written out, and the bassist flat out didn’t like my songs, so they took to playing their originals from back in the day. And as I didn’t know their songs, the bassist took to singing them.

I’m gonna be honest: He probably had a better voice than me. So in essence I’d gotten their old band back together.

Nowadays, this wouldn’t present a problem. A decade ago it wouldn’t have presented a problem. Twenty years ago it wouldn’t have presented a problem. Right then, though…well, nowadays I can talk anyone into anything by charm, bluster, or some humorous combination of thereof. Back then, though, I was in my mid-20s, and I just lacked the confidence – no, wrong word – arrogance to step in and force these guys to do my will. I didn’t even know how to explain my will, honestly.

It went downhill from there. The hooker had a serious conversation with her boyfriend about taking over “Some” of the singing duties, by which she meant all. Even then, I would have said, ‘yeah, sure, you can do harmonies and backing vocals and I’ll give you one song to a set,’ but, well, hooker. I honestly didn’t want her around.

The only thing that kept me from being forced out was that the Bassist didn’t want her singing, which was lucky as I didn’t have to get into it with the drummer. As a result she just became the worst cliche of local-band-girlfriend, hanging around all the time, banging a damn tambourine at random intervals and…well, to her credit, she didn’t warble much. Generally local-band-girlfriends who want to be in the band just spontaneously sing along.

The downside, of course, was that I was basically the second vocalist in my own band, and tended to be ignored at my own practices. I *did* manage to spruce up a song that Tom had played with an earlier band. It was called “Spot.” We recorded a demo of it. Well, half a demo. The drummer kept spontaneously stopping after the bridge. We could never explain to him that wasn’t the end of the song.

I don’t know where the demo went, but years later I recorded a version of it with another band, “Mahatma Randy and the Randy Mahatmas.” You can listen to it here.  It’s not bad.

The bassist couldn’t make it to practice one day, so I decided to stage a reverse-coup. I brought Dave Teach along to play bass. That would shift things in my direction somewhat. When we got to my drummer’s house, however, he wasn’t there. He’d forgotten. Tom was there, as were Dave and I, but the drummer didn’t show.

We plugged in our instruments on his front porch and jammed there for a bit. I’d like to say we played really loudly until the neighbors came out and drove us off, but we didn’t. We intended to, mind you but, again, I was going through the worst breakup of my life at the time, and just lacked the needed arrogance to front a band, much less that needed for a good pranking.

So we just noodled around for a few minutes, and then Tom left and then Dave and I thought, “This is stupid,” (Given that there was only a bass there now), so we left too. I wanna say Tom was kind of souring on the drummer by this point.

Later on I called up and asked the drummer where he’d been. He’d spaced on the whole thing. I told him, “It’s ok, we plugged in and practiced on your yard for a while, so it worked out fine.” He got upset at that. “You did what? That’s not cool at all.”
“It’s ok, the neighbors only complained a few times,” I lied.
“Look, it’s ok, we were gone long before the cops got there.”
“Cops?” He got weirdly quietly upset over the phone. By this point the silent spaces between his words were almost audibly announcing ‘crazy-crazy-crazy.’

He started in on wanting his girlfriend to sing, and at that moment I just gave up. “You know what? That’s a good idea. We could use a female vocalist to compliment my lack of vocals. I think that’d be a good sound.” He didn’t get it. He didn’t even notice it.

“Ok, well, I’ll see you next week,” I said, with no intention of ever going there again, and I never called him back. Never heard from Tom again, either, which is the real shame of the whole thing, as he was really good.

Ah well.

What brings all this up is that I’ve been converting old video and audio tapes to digital, and hear the one practice we recorded, which consisted of, basically, me sitting in the corner while my band ignored me and played their own stuff.

Good times. Good times.

What is a Memory but the Sum of a Man?

The cliche is “What is a man but the sum of his memories?” Cliches are used to the point that they’ve become trite, but that doesn’t mean they are inherently untrue. I think this one is true, or mostly so.  There probably is more to me than my memories, but I can’t tell you what that is.

I’m religious. I believe in a soul, but I don’t think anyone has ever defined that very well, and I certainly don’t think I’m capable of it. In my limited imagination, however, the soul seems pretty much like a self-aware repository of memories. This brings up the question, “What is the soul but the sum of our memories?” That’s way too frustrating to deal with for me, and assuming anyone ever reads this, half of them probably won’t believe in an eternal soul anyway, so I’m not going to bore anyone with my fanfic theories of the afterlife.

Instead, I’m gonna talk about my friend John. He died in January of this year. He was a year or two younger than me. I wouldn’t say that his death messed me up, but it has affected me uniquely. John was my best friend for my last couple years in high school, and probably my first year or two in college as well, though he didn’t go to college, or at least not with me. We saw each other increasingly rarely, drifted apart. Eventually we hit that point in our relationships when we only talked about stuff we’d done in the past, nothing new, because there was nothing new. There’s something sad about that.

I bumped in to John entirely by coincidence in an airport one night. Bought him dinner while waiting for his plane. We told lots of stories from 1983-1987, some stories from 1988-1993, and really nothing after that. There was nothing after that. Pretty much half a lifetime apart, and only a few years together.

I’ve had people die before. Hell, I’m practically swimming in death. In the last six years I’ve lost my dad and his entire family. In the last year,  I lost my aunt and uncle. I’ve lost friends, co-workers, bandmates, enemies, rivals both IRL and online. I used to point and laugh at those kids who took the “Death and Dying” classes in college because they’d been sheltered by their wimpy baby boomer parents. Me? The earliest funeral I can remember was my great aunt Ailene when I was about 3.

My point being that I’m depressingly jaded about death, and, though I didn’t think about it until just now, I’m something of an asshole to those people who aren’t jaded by it. Whups. Sorry ’bout that.

Just the same, John is the first best friend I’ve lost. He’s the first person’s death has made me think, “Well, what the hell was this all for?” This is the guy who used to work at JoAnn’s Chili Bordello, and who lusted after the waitress, Tobie, same as the rest of us. This is the guy who ended up as my subordinate in ROTC when he should have gotten my job simply because our teacher found him annoying. He’s the guy who chased after this girl for a year, went out to dinner with her, realized there was nothing there, then called me up and told me how strange that was. We used to sit around for hours on end listening to Huey Lewis, which was considered acceptable in those days. We’d talk about Star Trek – which was only just beginning to suck – endlessly. We both wanted to be filmmakers. I helped him move several times. I remember things that he himself had forgotten, like a hallucination he told me about once. I know he’d forgotten it because when I brought it up, he clearly had no idea what I was talking about. All trivial, but I remember them in vivid 70mm Eastman Kodak color with Dolby Surroundsound. (It was the ’80s, remember)

Why does this matter?

I don’t know. You know people in life, and they become part of your story. They’re your sidekick, and they probably see you as theirs. You drift apart, their story ends, and maybe you never even hear about it. Maybe you do, but you’re so removed in time and space that it means nothing. Somehow it’s different for me, though, because I feel like I was there at the beginning of the story.

I wasn’t, of course. John was 14 or 15 when we met. He had a big long life before that, and I did too. Maybe it’s just that I feel like it was kinda the beginning of my story. I sometimes don’t feel like I was really interesting prior to sixteen, but that’s a story for another day.

For whatever reason, though, I remember a million billion trillion things from “The start of the story” that seem to have no payoff now that the end credits have rolled. The day I was joking with him about this thing, or he insulted me about that, or we’d compare notes on girls we were too scared to ask out, of stories he’d told me he was going to write, but never did, not because his life was too short, but because he never really liked the act of writing. All those moments are….

Not lost. They’re locked in my head.

Another cliche is “Nobody is ever truly gone as long as we remember them.” Now that one truly is utter bullshit. It’s grossly unfair, too: everyone remembers Jeffrey Dahlmer, but very few people remember my friend John. People will remember the very bad man long after they’ve forgotten the perfectly average one. What the hell kind of piss-ass immortality is that? It’s bullshit, and I’ve never placed any stock in it. Not that I’d have to. I’m religious, as I said, so I believe in an afterlife, even if I don’t know anything about it. I don’t need to rely on Hallmark greeting card philosophy.

But I’m having trouble reconciling John’s loss because all those moments, all those stories, all those events, were building blocks leading up to, well, I assumed they were leading up to something other than a massive heart attack at 48 brought on by chain-smoking four or five packs a day for thirty three years. And now they are building blocks that lead up to nothing.

This isn’t about ‘a life cut short.’ Certainly he should have lived longer, and if John were alive to realize how badly he’d been ripped off in that department, he’d be madder than a wet hen. Just the same, people die all the time and I am depressingly desensitized to that.  Likewise, people die without reaching their goals so often that we don’t even comment on it. We only mention it when they did end up the way they wanted, since it’s so rare.

So I guess this isn’t so much about his story getting cut short – tragic though that is – as it is trying to figure out how to reconcile it into my story.

I’m a writer and an editor. If my life were a book, or more likely a long series of really boring books that no one reads, John would turn up, play a major part, and then just sort of disappear. He plays no real role in the larger story. While he was alive it was always possible that he’d turn up again in the third act and do something remarkable, however unlikely. I wasn’t holding out hope for that. Truth is, I didn’t think about it at all. Now that he’s gone, though, I look back at this theoretical manuscript, and I see that introducing such a major character with no narrative payoff is simply bad writing. John would be the first thing chopped in the editing process.

This bothers me. He’s dead, I don’t want him edited away, too. And yet there’s this huge file in my brain of John Stuff. Funny stuff he said, dumb stuff he said, incredibly stupid things we both did, girls we fought over, movies I’m pretty sure only we saw. He and I went to see “Psycho Girls,” just a terrible, terrible movie. We were the only ones in the theater. I laughed so hard at one point that I fell out of my seat, the only time in my life I’ve ever done that.

Well, now John’s gone. This reduces the number of people who even *remember* “Psycho Girls” by probably 10%, and it reduces the number of people who remember me literally falling down laughing by half. What do I do with memories like that? Furthermore, his loss has kind of eroded the persistence of that moment for me, you know? Only the two of us were there, he’s gone, the moment seems less real somehow. That “So long as someone remembers them” bullshit cuts both ways. Whenever someone dies, there’s fewer people to remember you, too.

I remember once in the parking lot I told him that I’d decided I was one of the 15,000 greatest people ever to live. He laughed and said, “You’re not.” John’s life was…not great. He definitely got closer to the 15,000 than I did, but certainly a triumphant third act would have covered over a lot of stuff. As for me, I’m left with all these dangling plot threads. A million Checkov’s Rifles set on a hundred thousand mantles (John always tended to be doing several things at once), and most of them are still sitting there, never to go off. I don’t know what to do with all the dangling plot threads he left in my formative life. I don’t know how to incorporate what remains of his story into my story. I need closure on that anecdote, dammit!

I’m not saying anything new here, and I have no great insights or answers. I can’t even seem to express it very well. Basically, lots of stories started back in the mid-’80s, and they ended with as little resolution as most of us get in life, but I need to believe that all of John’s stuff back then meant something. I suppose maybe if his endless whining about girls and obsession with grade-z movies and student films and nametag jobs and crap like that meant something, then maybe my life means something, too. That’d be a help, as I really don’t think my life matters. (Being religious doesn’t mean you’re particularly optimistic. When I die, assuming heaven is even an option, I expect St. Peter to refer to me as “That waste of human skin from Florida.” Likewise I have to think Satan would find me singularly disappointing.) I’d like John’s giddy hobbies and good days and bad days and all those useless memories to mean something even if the story is – like most stories – begun and abandoned, because, I guess, it means that his existence would have had some meaning, or at least value, beyond a bunch of memories locked in my probably-dead-in-a-decade-or-so head. By extension, that would imply that I am not completely valueless, and perhaps I’m more than the sum of my memories, too.

Like I said, I don’t know what that would mean. Perhaps my memories are the sum of me, and not the other way around. Perhaps I have value, and the value of the memories is derived from that. Certainly I hope so, because the alternative is that all those first pages of the unfinished stories that made up John’s life, and my life, and all of our lives, are useless.

How I wrote a story about the tides and got labeled a Racist

Assuming there are any planets out there that are capable of supporting human life – which there probably aren’t – it’s unlikely they’re going to be like the endless array of Star Trek and Stargate planets, which all look like the west coast of the US and Canada. Or all those Dr. Who planets that look like a strip mine in Wessex.

I mean think of all the variations you can have in planets: heavier gravity, lighter gravity, bigger oceans, smaller oceans, no moons, one moon, two moons, five moons, a different colored sun, the amounts of inert gasses in the air, different lengths of day and night, and a jillion other things that could be different. Ever since I started reading Larry Niven’s “Known Space” stories as a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of worlds that are only marginally habitable, or otherwise bizarre.

One of the questions that’s always interested me about this is what kind of psychological effect it would have on people, both the colonists and their kids. This is a subject that seems largely overlooked in the genre. Given that we evolved for a very specific set of environments, it didn’t seem to me like you could just turn that off and accept a planet that looked like a Yes album cover, no matter how cool it might look.

I invented the planet “Gagarin.” It’s pretty similar to earth, but it’s got two moons. One is about the size of Mars, the other is about the size of our own moon. As a result the tides on Gagarin are insane – a minimum of six hundred feet – twice a day. Think about that: Mountain ranges become island chains, then go back to being mountain ranges twice a day. There’s even a tide in the air, with the pressure gradually going up and down several PSI in time with the tides. And off course there’s the local exotic stuff: plants that have hair instead of leaves, weird animals, that kind of stuff, not to mention a thing in the sky that is way huger than humans are used to expecting in the sky.

Stick with me here…

For colonists on Gagarin, I dropped rural American Southerners. There were also a good number of Russians and Chinese – also rural – but the overwhelming majority were Southerners. Why? Because Southerners were low-caste enough that no one on earth would really miss them or care if they died. Such is the way of colonists through much of history: “Let’s ship off the undesirables.” This was a one-way trip for the 750,000 people I dumped there.

Well, once they got to Gagarin there was an epidemic of suicides. It wasn’t that the place was uninhabitable. As long as you stayed well away from the waterline, it was actually more hospitable than earth. It was just that it was strange. There’s a limit to how much people can adapt to, and how quickly. Food that doesn’t taste right, air that doesn’t smell right, not bad mind you, just different. The sun is a little too small in the sky. The stars are different at night. There’s that bigass moon in the sky, feeling like it’s going to fall on you at any moment. Add to this that they had to leave family and friends and most of their stuff behind, and were living in tents, and, well, it’s a recipe for mass psychosis, right?

Which brings me to the point of the story:

My “Gagariners” were so homesick, so starved for anything from their old lives, that they eventually chose the rebel flag as the symbol for their planetary government.

Well, duh, what else would you really expect a bunch of homesick rednecks to do, right?

This was not an uncontentious choice. Several people expressed extreme displeasure over it, but most people didn’t. In fact, even most of the Black people – who made up like a third of the colony – were on board with it, too.

“Why the hell would you do that?” you ask. Well, it wasn’t to be offensive. The very clear point of the story is to show how people can be sooooooooo far from home, both physically and emotionally, that they’ll cleave to anything familiar. There are hundreds of examples of this: the terrified kid on the first day of preschool who won’t let go of the little scrap of paper his mom gave him, the terrified Jew in a death camp desperately holding on to a star of David, Buzz Aldrin holding a communion service on the moon (really!), you name it. It’s human nature to grab on to what’s familiar and hold on for all it’s worth, until you get used to your new surroundings.

Those embers from the fire are important. They help us hold our heads together. They keep the monsters away. Of course they’re almost always arbitrary, and their intrinsic meaning isn’t the important thing. The important thing is familiarity. The more unfamiliar your situation, the more anything familiar becomes desperately important, be that thing good or ill, well, if it’s a good symbol you chose, so much the better. If it’s a bad one, well, any port in a storm, right?

So that’s why I did it: Not to be offensive, but to show how people react under stress, or at least one way they can.  I was pretty proud of the story. I thought it was well written, and it went in an interesting direction, and dealt with stuff seldom seen in Science Fiction. Not the best thing I ever wrote, but pretty good.

I’ve written a lot of stories, and I’ve deliberately pushed some boundaries with some of them. There are places I will not go, but to me SF is all about asking questions and dealing with the answers whether you like ’em or not. I didn’t consider this story to be controversial all. It’s very clear what’s going on, and why it happens. It’s also made very clear that this is not an objectively desirable choice, but it worked.

Of all the stories I’ve ever written, this is the only one to ever get me hate mail. I mean really vicious stuff. All of it, curiously, from white guys. I’m not saying “Hey, Black people are cool with the rebel flag.” I doubt they would be. I don’t really know or care what the color of my very few readers are. I did find it interesting that only white guys complained, though.

I don’t have a solid hypothesis as to why. I suspect that it’s because an issue can be so contentious that some people can’t look at it objectively. Even if the story clearly, objectively says one thing, they see the forbidden bit, and immediately take it to mean exactly the opposite.

I was pretty shocked by this. I’m not even remotely racist, and the thought of being labeled one really upset me. I thought about changing the story, but anything else I substituted for that damn flag lacked the punch to make it work. I thought about just pulling the story, but it’s a neat idea. Then I thought of what Harlan Ellison said (Paraphrasing) ‘when the story is published, it isn’t yours anymore. It belongs to the audience, and you can’t say ‘oh, I didn’t mean that’ or ‘just let me change this one bit’.’ I agree with that. I did it, it’s out there, and I’ll just take the consequences.  Is that wise? Hell, I don’t know. Obviously I don’t know anything. I was just trying to tell an interesting story. Fortunately, I suppose, no one ever reads my books.

It is odd, however, that a person’s reactions can become so rigidly programmed that they can’t accept contradictory information. I’m not saying I’m better than these people. I’m sure I’ve got some symbol or thought that triggers me the same way. I just find it odd, is all, that out of all the offensive and weird crap I’ve written, this comparatively trivial thing was what set people off.

But anyway, that’s the story of how I tried to write a story about really funky tides and ended up getting labeled a racist.

If you’d like to read the story and decide for yourself, and maybe discuss it with me, the story is called “The Cetian Sky”, and it’s included in this book here (Which, just to bring things full circle, contains a story that Larry Niven liked. Not this particular one, though)


Before, During, and After the Trail of Tears

Back in the 19th century, there were what they called “The Five Civilized Tribes.” These were the Cherokee, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw, the Creek, and the Seminole.

They were called that – even by themselves – because they’d recognized the times had changed, and adopted White ways. They’d abandoned most of their traditional ways of living, moved into American-styled towns and houses. Most took up then-modern farming and other jobs. Most of them had learned to speak English at least as a second language. Most of them had converted to Christianity. A great many had adopted White names. As all these tribes were Southern, they’d even adopted slavery. Despite this, Indians weren’t citizens in those days, and most of them lived in Tribal lands defined by treaty (This was before Reservations), in Indian-only communities. (Not counting missionaries, slaves, and the occasional White spouse). It’s important to remember that Indians weren’t citizens in those days.

The Cherokee were far and away the most successful of these tribes, mostly because they’d always been the most liberal. I mean “Liberal” in the sense of being quick to dispense with tradition if something better comes along. Pragmatic, as well. The other four “Civilized Tribes” were a bit slower. Indians as a whole were very reticent to change traditional ways. Who can blame them?

The Cherokee, meanwhile, had their own newspapers in their own language written in their own alphabet, they had a good school system, and they were pretty wealthy, as these things go. Though there were several groups in several different places, the bulk of them lived in a large hunk of land in Georgia, and their capital was a town called “New Echota.”

Eventually Gold was discovered on Cherokee land, and everyone was screwed. White settlers wanted that land, and started taking it, often violently. This led to what eventually became “The Indian Removal Act,” in which Congress decided to gather up all the Indians east of the Mississippi, and dump ’em in “The Indian Territory” (The eastern part of modern Oklahoma). While mostly this was just an attempt to get rid of inconvenient people to facilitate a land grab, there was a degree of mercy to it as well. They were going to grantee the Indians’ safety, move them to new lands where they wouldn’t have conflict with white folk. This was a shitty, racist thing to do, obviously, but in the wonky mindset of the times, Whitey Devil thought he was being nice.

Famously, the Cherokee mounted a serious legal challenge to this. It went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States and…surprise!…The Indians Won! It didn’t matter. Andrew Jackson challenged the Supreme Court to enforce their decision, and nobody knew what to do about it. They attempted (Eventually) to impeach him, but that failed. Now, it’s important to realize that Andrew Jackson didn’t hate Indians. Two of his sons were adopted Indian Orphans, and by all accounts he loved them dearly and didn’t care about their race. He really, really, really wanted the Five Civilized Tribes’ land, however. And he kinda hated the Supreme court.

Ok, so here’s where it gets interesting:

The Cherokee realized they were screwed. They had about two years before they were evicted. The Cherokee were ruled by a council, with two factions in it: The “Pin” Cherokee and the regular old Cherokee. The “Pins” were pureblood, insofar as anyone could be sure, and wore pins – essentially club pins – to make sure everyone knew. These guys had way more voice on the council than anyone else.

The council hatched a plan: Concluding that a little of something is better than all of nothing, why not approach the Federal Government with a counter-offer? Rather than wait for the deadline for removal, they’d offer to leave a year early *IF* the Federal Government would pay them for the land, and arrange transport and provisions. This would get them some money, whereas if they waited the lands would just be taken, *AND* it would allow them to get to Oklahoma a year before the other tribes and gobble up all the best land, giving them an advantage. They figured the federal government would jump at it. It really was a very clever plan.

The Pin Cherokee adamantly opposed it. After a lot of argument, and that deadline ticking closer, the regular Cherokee on the council decided to just go ahead and do it anyway. As predicted, the Feds jumped at it because it allowed them to open up tens of thousands of acres – some with gold – up for settlers much earlier.

This was only questionably legal. The Council went behind it’s own back and ignored the more powerful members, so it was probably an illegal treaty. The Pin Cherokee opposed it ’til their dying days, but the Feds said “No takebacks,” and thus we have the Trail of Tears.

All the bad stuff you know about it is true, but it’s more expansive. The first batch of Cherokee were supposed to be met at various locations along the route by various organizations – mostly church groups – who’d give them supplies, food, shelter, etc. Given this, the Army underestimated the amount of supplies and transport they’d need. For whatever reason, the civilian resupplies didn’t materialize. Mostly it was bad scheduling, people not keeping promises, or the Cherokee making slower progress than expected, meaning they didn’t make connections. It was FUBARED. As a result, the Army (Who weren’t particularly sympathetic, but didn’t hate them) didn’t have nearly enough supplies to make up the difference. Added to which, the weather was just beyond awful for months. The end result was that a whole bunch of people died, but it’s important to note that nobody was *trying* to kill them. I am not justifying this. IThis was a hugely awful racist thing to do, but its disastrousness owed more to typical bureaucratic fuckupery than flat out Nazi-styled evil. In fact, many of the Army complained about how awful the thing was.

So then they got to Oklahoma, and promptly gobbled up all the good land, as planned.

Now, not all of them went willingly. Many refused to accept the treaty, and there were several waves of forced migration. President Van Buren never opposed removal, but he did tell the army to stop the draconian shit (“show every possible kindness to the Cherokee and to arrest any soldier who inflicted a wanton injury or insult on any Cherokee man, woman, or child.” which is 19th-century-ese for “Knock it the fuck off!” He put nicer officers in charge) After that, things got better. Not pleasant, mind you, certainly not *right,* but more on the order of a normal long wagon train and less like the Batan Death March. The subsequent forced removal of the other Indian tribes was far less eventful than the clusterfuck the Cherokee were forced through. I’m not being glib, but volunteering to go first means you’re gonna be going through the system before the bugs get worked out.

So when the other Civilized Tribes got there, they had no choice but to live on crappier land. There were a lot of hard feelings. There were also a lot of hard feelings among the Cherokee themselves, and a bloody civil war broke out within the tribe almost immediately. It lasted for seven years, with the Pin Cherokee and their supporters on one side, and the regular Cherokee and their supporters on the other. The war didn’t really end until everyone of the Regular Cherokee Councilmen who’d signed the treaty were dead.

Except one: Standhope Oowattie, who also went by Standhope Wattie, Stand Wattie, or just Stand. This was a translation of a Cherokee word, but he seldom used it in Cherokee. Being just a hell of a cavalryman, he managed to survive the whole war, and negotiated his safety at the end.

There were understandably some super-de-duper-de pissed-off feelings towards the US after all this, so when the Civil War started, the Cherokee naturally sided with the South. Some Cherokee recognized this as a bad idea, of course, and went Union. This led to yet another civil war within the tribe, though not as bad as the first since the dispute came down to “I hate the United States” vs “I hate the United States too, but there’s no way we can win.” The angrier side made up the majority, again, understandably.

For its part, the Confederacy was surprisingly pro-Indian. They had a very weak Western boarder, and they knew it, and figured Indians were ready-made Horse Cavalry. The Five Civilized Tribes agreed, and were promised some kind of special representation in the CSA congress once they won. It’s unknown what the details of this would have been, and undoubtedly the CSA wouldn’t have kept their word anyway, but the Cherokee and the others fought really well.

Stand Wattie once again proved to be a really good military man, and eventually was promoted to Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. He was the first American Indian flag officer in North America, though of course he was on the wrong side. After Lee’s surrender, the Cherokee held out for more than two months. Wattie (Who was Principal chief of the entire tribe by then) finally negotiated a surrender that included freedom for all his men. Then he beat it off to Texas for a while to reunite with his family and see which way the wind was going to blow. Predictably the Confederate Cherokee were entirely removed from power, and the Union Cherokee were in power, so Stand lived as an exile with the Choctaw for a while.

The man must have been as good with words as Robespierre, though, as he managed to not only talk the Cherokee into taking him back (As a private citizen, no role in government), but also to get sent to Washington as part of a committee to renegotiate the US treaties with the various tribes in the Indian Territory.

So there you go: a broader picture of a disgraceful event in our nations history, in context, and a look at not only how clever the Cherokee of those days were, but also the very many ways in which they got screwed.

Comments? Thoughts? Don’t take my word on any of this. Check it out for yourself. It’s a fascinating period in history. And if I got something wrong, please let me know. I’m working from memory here.

Blade Runner and the Creation of an Artificial Soul

What the hell is Blade Runner all about?

Blade Runner (1982) is unquestionably the seminal SF film of its generation. From the stunning visuals to the bang-on performances, to the casual effects, to the enigmatic symbolism, it is basically the magical heaven of all Noir. It was like every broody existental detective film based on a book by Hammett, Chandler, and the rest had been a mere precursor, and Blade Runner was the culmination of the entire genre. It is rightfully an unquestioned classic.

What the hell is it all about, though?

“It’s a detective story, what are you, an idiot?” you say. Well, yes it is, it’s more than that, too. The best stories are often not about the thing they appear to be about. Apocalypse Now is not about the Vietnam war, it’s actually a study of mankind’s capacity for evil and the thin veneer of civilization we hide behind. Dracula isn’t about supernatural monsters, really, it’s a clever discussion of the spread of venerial diseases in late Victorian england. Horton Hears a Who isn’t just some dopey thing about an elephant saving a race of microbs, it’s a completely on target argument against Abortion. (“A person is a person, no matter how small.”) “It’s a Wonderul Life” is merely set at Christmas, it is not a Christmas movie in any way.

You get my point?

So what the hell is Blade Runner about? I’ve seen it so many times that I’ve sort of stopped noticing individual elements and just kind of let it wash over me. This week, though, after many years off, I’ve watched it a couple times closely, trying to figure out what it’s about, since “Detective story” is too simple, and “Noir Detective Story” was frequently just a convenient package for some deeper idea.

I won’t bore you with comparisons to the original novel. There are so few it’s almost pedantic to discuss it, and most of them are completely irrelevant. All I’ll do is point out the author’s comment that the “Androids” were bad because they had no empathy, and humans are good because we do have it. That, I think, is the only relevant element that makes the jump from book to screen.

Ok. The first thing I noticed were the eyes. There are a lot of eyes in the movie. I mean a lot of eyes. The opening sequence repeatedly shows close ups of an eye (Never identified) with explosions reflected in it. The Voight-Kampf machine (Expressly stated to be an empathy test) has a little monitor thing that is exactly at the eye level of its subjects. The biggest display on the machine is a screen that displays nothing but the subject’s eye in extreme close up. Doctor Terell wears ridiculously huge trifocal glasses which distort his eyes. Chu makes artificial eyes, and when Roy questions him, Leon pulls eyes out of a vat and starts playing with them, menacingly putting them on Chu’s shoulders. We get a close up of the owl’s eyes. When Roy is goofing around with JF, he takes two oversized eyeball paperweights, holds them over his own eyes, and says “We’re so happy you found us.” Pris does that weird raccoon stripe over her eyes, which either emphasizes them, or hides them, depending on your take on such things. Leon attempts to kill Deckard by gouging out his eyes. Later on, Roy does kill Terell by gouging out his eyes.

On top of this, there’s a ton of lines about eyes:

“I design you eyes!”

“If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes”

“Not an easy man to see, I take it.”

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe”

“Is this to be an empathy test? Involuntary contractions of the pupil?”

And so forth. Clearly whatever is going on in the film is locked up in the eyes somehow. What is it?

The clue is a repeated ‘cats eye reflection effect.’ You know when you’re driving down the road at night, and your brights hit a cat, and its eyes seem to glow, empty and without a pupil? That’s the light reflecting off the souped-up retinas cats have. We see that with every replicant character in the film. First it’s with the owl, but then we get it with Rachel, Roy, Zhora, Pris, Leon, and arguably Deckard, though that’s more ambiguous. Ridley Scott, the director, has expressly stated that this is an effect for the benefit of the audience itself, it is not something the characters in the film can see. It’s to let us know who’s fake and who’s real.

Why? Well, “The eyes are the window to the soul,” right? And when we look in to a replicant’s eyes, all we see is emptiness. There’s no soul there.

This “Soullessness” manifests itself as a lack of empathy. People often argue this point, showing clear examples of the replicants displaying emotion, but emotion and empathy are in no way the same thing. Emotion is the way you feel. Empathy is being able to project yourself in to the way others feel, being able to imagine their joy, their fear, their sadness, and so forth. A lack of empathy is generally called “Sociopathy.”

Are the replicants sociopaths? Hell yes! We’re told in the opening crawl that they led a violent, bloody uprising on one of the colony worlds that was vicious enough to make them illegal on earth. So illegal as to be subject to immediate destruction if found, and a death sentence for aiding and abetting them. Bryant informs us that six replicants hijacked a shuttle, killed all 24 passengers and crew, and ditched it in the ocean. They kill three more people in the course of the film, one of whom (JF) they actually seem to like. They do this without remorse. People often tell me that the Replicans are good, since they’re portrayed somewhat sympathetically and desparate in the film, but these people are clearly not paying attention. The Replicants are cold blooded mass murderers.

Want more? Rachel kills Leon without a moments hesitation, and displays no real remorse. She saves Deckard, but only because she wants him to deny her newfound revelation that she’s a replicant. Deckard himself kills Zhora as she flees, and displays no remorse, more like awkwardness or confusion. He stares at her body for a while, as if recognizing he should feel some way, but doesn’t. When he puts the second shot in to Pris, it has been argued to be a mercy killing, but if you look at his face, he’s clearly just frightened at all the noise she’s making and the flailing around. The love scene between Deckard and Rachel is awkwared and a little rape-ey. He won’t let her leave, he tells her what to do and say. Of course she wants it too (She starts telling him to put his hands on her while he’s instructing her what to say), but that’s immaterial. The scene is as awkward as to virgins on a church trip. It’s all about what Deckard wants, with no real feeling towards Rachel. Or at least not very much.

Much like comparisons to the book, it’s pedantic to get in to arguments about whether or not Deckard is a replicant. Yes, he is. The director said so, there’s eleventy kerjillion clues in the movie that he is. Let’s just take that as a given and move on.

Why do the replicants prefer to gouge people’s eyes out? Because the eyes are the window to the soul, in our case, and the window to the big blank spot in their case. They can’t bear to look at our soul. They gouge out our eyes out of envy.

There’s a long-dead religious beliefe called “Gnosticism.” The concept was that God didn’t actually create mankind. Rather, God created various supernatural beings for whatever reason, and then one of these created us. Depending on which Gnostic religion you believed in, this was done out of maliciousness, evil, insanity, or simple boredom. The god of this world, Gnostics believed, had taken eternal souls and stuck them in meat, which was a blasphemy against everything. We were supposed to be eternal and perfect, but we ended up as people. This false god was called the “Demiurge.” “Salvation” in Gnosticism consisted of knowing how to dodge the demiurge after death, and escape into wherever it is souls are supposed to go to, rather than letting him catch you and throw your soul back down to earth for all eternity. Mater was a prison.

Now, I’m not saying Blade Runner is a gnostic metaphor. In fact, I’d be very surprised if anyone connected with the film had ever even heard of an arcane 3rd/4th century religious heresy. It is, however, a useful tool for us to poke around at the film with.

Dr. Elden Terell is expressly called “The god of biomechanics.” He designed the mind of the Nexus 6 replicants. He then trapped them in a ridiculously short lifespan (4 years), gave them enough brains to recognize and resent their lot in life, gave them no sense of purpose beyond their hated jobs, and he created them with the serious empathic flaw we’ve discussed. (I suspect this was a bug, and the artificial memories were an attempt to patch it. More on this later.) He is very much like a Demiurge. Furthermore, his office looks like a temple and his factory (Which makes people) is deliberately designed to look like a zigurat. His office is above the perpetual rain, suffused in golden light, and the only place we see the sun in the whole movie.

Some have called it a pyramid missing the top stone, which is the symbol on the back of the dollar bill. If so, then it’s missing the eye of providence. “The architect,” as the Masons occasionally call God. If this is so, then Terell is the architect atop the pyramid, observing everything, and that eye at the beginning was probably his. Remember: Terell wears ridiculously huge glasses, and the eye in the beginning does appear sort of goofed up. Cataracts. So: an all-seeing god with goofed up vision. There’s also a vague feeling that Terell may be homosexual. This would have been a deliberate choice in 1982 to make audiences uncomfortable, and it probably would have been seen as yet another deformity – of a spiritual kind – by the audience. Terell almost seems to be trying to invite Roy into his bed, and is all too willing to accept a kiss from him. Make of this what you will.

Roy is one of the first Nexus 6 models. He’s running out of time very quickly, and starting to malfunction. Of the replicants, he’s the only one who displays anything aproaching emotion. Pris fakes it well, Roy seems broken up when he tells her Zhora and Pris are dead, which Pris doesn’t care about at all. Is Roy broken up? Is he upset that his friends are dead, or is he upset because their chances of success are now lower? Chess is a reurring theme in the film. He started the game with only six pieces, and now he’s down to two. That’d make anyone cringe.

Now here’s where it gets interesting: Roy eventually meets his god, and asks for more life (In the theatrical cut, he says “I want more life, fucker.” In the final cut (2007) he says much more reverentially, “I want more life, father.” Terell explains to him patiently that “We built you as good as we were able,” and there’s just nothing they can do about it. He then tells Roy to just enjoy his crazy-short life.

“The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very brightly Roy.”

“I’ve done questionable things.”

“Yes, but you’ve also done remarkable things.”

“Nothing the god of biomechanics would keep me out of heaven for?”

Terell smiles, Roy kisses him, then gouges his eyes out and kills him.

We next see Roy in a glass elevator, looking up with an expression that is half psychotic and half beatified, bathed in flickering light, as he looks up at the stars as though he’s never seen them before, as though they’re magical and transformative.

Back at JF’s he finds Pris dead, and snaps. His feelings – honest to God feelings – are primal. He doesn’t know how to frame them. He howls like a wolf, he strips down almost naked, he hunts and taunts Deckard with rage. He could easily kill him, but he tortures him, taunts him, breaks his hand, and then gives him his gun back. He insults him, and yells random frightening things (“Four, five, six, seven, go to hell or go to heaven!”) In the process, Roy’s body is malfuctioning more and more and he stabs a nail through his hand evidently to keep it functioning.

Deckard eventually makes it to the roof, Roy finds him, and so he makes a desparate jump to the roof of the next building over. He doesn’t quite make it, and is hanging over the edge. Suddenly we see Roy looking calm with a dove in his hand. Where the hell did the dove come from? Why is he holding it? It wasn’t there a minute ago, and now it is. It’s like it just appeared.

Roy jumps over to the other building, watches Deckard moments from death, watches Deckard moments from death, watches Deckard moments from death and then….suddenly he gets it. He’s able to connect the way he feels, and the way Deckard does. He’s suddenly got empathy! He rescues Deckard because he feels for him! He has transcended his basic programming, and become more than the sum of his parts. For this he’s earned a soul (the dove). He sits down and dies, and his soul/the dove flies up beyond the clouds.

While Deckard is the protagonist, the real hero of the film is Roy, a little wooden boy who confronts his god, is denied salvation, kills his god, and then finds his own way to become a real live human.

That’s the important stuff. Now to tie up the loose ends.

Deckard is a replicant. He shows up against a wall looking very slightly disoriented for a moment, then goes and gets sushi and is interrupted by Gaff, who takes him in to the office and he’s press-ganged in to taking the job. We’re told he’s got a long history tracking Replicants, but there’s no reason to believe this is true. We’re told “This is the worst it’s ever been, we need you,” but realistically how often could a milder version of this situation arisen? Deckard even says “Why would Replicants come back to earth?” Bryant admits he doesn’t know. Ergo Deckard’s burned out past memories must be fakes.

My own thinking is that he was activated that moment on the bench in the rain. Once Terell Corp realized they had a problem, they contacted the police, and gave them a special model with fake memories (Just like Rachel) to take care of it. He only interacts with Gaff and Bryant, and Bryant is strangely theatrical around him. There’s no reason to believe he ever met Deckard before that afternoon. Deckard’s memories are fake, and Bryant and Gaff are simply saying what the owner’s manual told them to say. His whole “Got burned out and quit, then dragged back in after an unspecified length of time” would be a perfect way to distinguish between his present actions and his fake past, without causing him to come in to conflict with his memories and suffering cognitive dissonance.

The problem, we’re told, is that without memories, the Replicants develop “Their own emotional responses,” and have no empathy. Implanting memories was an attempt to essentially program the replicants with a lifetime of experience so that their emotions will behave in normal human ways. They may lack empathy, but they will at least understand what society dictates for them. This probably explains why Rachel and Deckard are so flat in affect most of the time, and yet are clearly not as loony as the others. They may be tin men without hearts, but they at least know how to act as if they have them. Note the awkward way Deckard apologizes to Rachel after he’s proved to her that she’s a replicant: He tries very awkwardly to play it off like he was making a bad joke. There’s no emphasis in this, he’s just going through the motions. You hurt someone’s feelings, you apologize, not because you feel it, but because that’s what you’re expected to do. (Interestingly, The Maltese Falcon ultimately revolves around this ‘code’ of what you do or don’t do, regardless of your own feelings)

Rachel knows she’s a replicant. Deckard is suspecting it. They run. It’s unclear if they’re in love, or if, like Roy’s gang, they’re simply bonding out of convenience. Given their superior programming, they’re probably behaving as if they’re in love because that’s what is expected of them. Will it turn in to something more? It may. Deckard just saw Roy turn in to a Real Live Boy, and then drop dead. He knows it’s possible. He knows damn well that neither he nor Rachel will live very long (No more than four years, max, probably less for Rachel) but if they do things right, they may become truly alive before the end comes. So there’s hope. Their antihero messiah accidentally stumbled in to a way, so there’s hope.

Finally we come to Gaff, who seems like an asshole through the film. He’s clearly Deckard’s handler, and he’s an unsympathetic character. Like so much in the movie, though, things are not what they seem. In fact, JF and Gaff are the only people in the film who show any compassion to a Replicant. JF is clearly emotionally stunted, so his interest in them may be simple novelty, but Gaff is different. Gaff actually declares Deckard a man: “You’ve done a man’s job, sir.” Then he gives him a warning: “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again who does.” Then he tosses Deckard his gun back, and lets him go. Back at his apartment, Gaff has left proof that Deckard is a replicant, but this whole thing is essentially a warning to Deckard: Run.

Gaff is merciful. Sympathetic, even. If a Replicant can become human by displaying empathy to a human, than a human can only be expected to show empathy to a Replicant, right? No one does, excepting Gaff, which raises the parthian shot question: “Forget Replicants: how many humans actualy have souls?”

The End.

Buddhism is *NOT* an Atheist Religion

It has become popular in the last half decade or so to say that Buddhism is an Atheist religion. That is to say: A religion with metaphysics and souls and stuff, but no gods. This is often used by people on the left to claim that [insert unpopular political belief] is basically a religion, and it’s used a lot by conservative Christians to argue that Atheism itself is a religion.

Here’s the thing: It’s not even remotely true.

Anyone who’s ever been in a good Thai or Chinese restaurant should know this: there’s always a little shrine to this or that deity, generally with a little rice ball there as an offering. Buddhism is piled high with gods and goddesses. Sun gods, rain gods, gods of the forest, gods of the sea, gods the the sky, literally hundreds and hundreds of gods. It’s as polytheistic as polytheistic can be.

The noteworthy part of this is that the gods are generally irrelevant to personal salvation [Or Nirvana, their closest analog]. You work your way up or down the ladder through successive lives. There are also hells in Buddhism. Hells aplenty! Hells for all kinds of different sins, sexual immorality, greed, whatever. These can be a mere time out from the cycle of death and rebirth, or they can knock you out of it entirely, and you spend all of eternity as the sex slave of a demon (Yeah, they got demons, too) because you just haaaaaaaaaaad to rob that house, didn’t you?

This get played down in the typical watered down whiteboy Kalifornia Uber Alles version of Buddhism as presented in the states, where it’s presented as a more-or-less obligation-free faith for the trendy, beautiful people. Which isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of devoted, sincere, practicing Buddhists in the US, many of whom are white, or black, or whatever. It’s just that the “Easter Sunday Buddhists” seem to outnumber them 100 to 1, if the media is to be believed.

And though the gods are more-or-less irrelevant to salvation, that doesn’t mean they play no role in people’s lives. People venerate various gods, have festivals and ceremonies, go to temples, go to shrines. Monks. Think about it: you’ve seen Asian travel shows and Japanese cartoons, right? There’s freakin’ temples and monks EVERYWHERE. Why would this be the case if there were no gods in their religion?

In day to day business, the gods fulfill the exact same function they do in any other polytheistic system: people pray to ’em for rain, or to knock off the rain, for good fortune, or for wisdom, or good health, or victory in war, or so that Aunt Yuki makes it through the surgery ok, or whatever. It can’t even be said that the gods are entirely irrelevant, since people often pray for divine guidance on such matters. I mean, yeah, attaining Nirvana is basically a personal thing, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to have a god or two helping you out, right? So let’s build a shrine or two, which should earn me a step or two up the ladder.

So: bottom line: Buddhism is *NOT* an atheist religion, and it’s silly for people to say otherwise.

September 11th, 2001

This was published the evening of 9/11, and represents my first assessment of the situation.

By the time this gets out, probably a lot of questions will already be answered, but here’s my take on the day’s events, as they appear now. Most of this seems self-evident to me, and some of it has been covered in the media, but I’ll put it out there for what little it’s worth:

1) This attack was Symbolic, not Strategic, by which I mean that the targets had an emotional and ideological purpose, and not much actual Military usage. Yes, the pentagon was attacked and damn near destroyed, but remember that we assumed the Pentagon would get destroyed in the first ten minutes of any nuclear war for most of the last forty years, ergo there are secondary and regional command posts that can take over most of it’s functions on very short order. So some office workers were killed, and some files destroyed, but it really didn’t cripple the top brass of the US Military. The World Trade Centers are capitals of industry, certainly, and the attack was horrifying, but it probably wasn’t as devastating as an attack on, say, the Sears Tower or Wall Street itself would have been. This becomes apparent when we look at the targets they let slip by: they didn’t attack the white house just a couple miles away, they DIDN’T attack the Sears Tower, or Wall Street.

Why the targets they did attack? Dunno for sure. A lot of questions could be answered if we knew where the Pennsylvania plane was headed. Most speculation at the moment is that it was headed for Philadelphia, a city replete with patriotic symbolism, but I don’t think so.  These attacks were devastating and horrific, but not nearly so bad as they could have been. My point is that whoever is behind these passed up more damaging targets in order to strike ones with symbolic impact.

2) In keeping with my theory that these targets were first chosen for their symbolic importance, and then secondly for their actual impact, all the airliners were United and American. No Southwestern or Delta or Aeroflot or any foreign planes at all. This has been widely reported on the news, but it seems no one noticed it until a couple hours ago. I didn’t, until it was pointed out to me.

3) Sunday, September 11th, 1978: President Carter breaks into the final 40 minutes of the premier of Battlestar Galactica to announce the Camp David Accords have been signed. I remember this because I was watching BG at the time. 23 years ago today, to the day. [Note from 2015: Nope. I misremembered the date]

4) It’s my belief that the 4th plane – the one that crashed in Pennsylvania – was headed for Camp David. It crashed near the Maryland border, relatively near there.  So why did it crash? Don’t know for sure, but the consensus of people I’ve spoken to seems to be that it was probably trying to fly low enough to avoid or confuse local radar, which means it would be flying below 500 feet. Airliners really aren’t built to do that, and are hard to maneuver at such altitudes. That part of Pennsylvania is the foothills, and it can be real difficult flying over unfamiliar terrain in a plane like that at low altitude. It might simply have run into an obstruction that they didn’t see coming. This seems to be the common consensus at the moment, however there are indications that there was an explosion of some sort moments before impact. It may have been a bomb they themselves were carrying, or, well, hell, anything. A wing may have clipped a tree, for all we know right now. [Note from 2015: Nope. No bomb. Heroic hostage uprising.]

5) When looked at from that point of view, it makes sense as a 3rd target: 1) the World Trade Center – international symbol of the American Economy, 2) The Pentagon – international symbol of the American Military and [Hypothetically] 3) Camp David – international symbol of American Diplomacy.  Specifically, American Diplomacy As It Relates To Israel and Palestine.

6) So who the hell did this? a) Initially, it was said that one of the Palestinian Liberation Factions took credit for this attack. It IS true that someone called in saying they were from the Democratic Liberation Whatever, however this has sense turned out to be a fraud. That organization has come forward to condemn this attack, and has officially denied any responsibility.  b) The Taliban, the ruling body of Afghanistan, which harbors this Bin Laden guy (Sp?) has also condemned the attack, and has also said that they don’t believe Bin Laden had anything to do with it, and that it was beyond his means and abilities. I don’t’ know whether or not to believe them. Interestingly, I’ve been listening to the BBC and Pacifica Radio coverage, and they both suggest that the relationship between Bin Laden and the Taliban is less than cordial, so it’s possible that the Taliban wants to distance themselves from him, or they may simply not know.  [Note from 2015:  Not so much as it turned out] c) Further muddying the waters, as I write this, there are missile attacks going on in Kabul, apparently directed against the Taliban. The US says we aren’t doing it, so who the hell is? [Note from 2015: I don’t recall. It was a trivial incident]

7) On a local note, Bush was in Sarasota (My hometown) this morning. When the crisis hit, he was, of course, bundled on to Air Force One, and sent aloft as soon as possible. The largest local military base is MacDill AFB, which is the headquarters of the United States Air Force Central Command – the command that’s responsible for strategic affairs in the ‘Central’ region, i.e.: the Middle East. MacDill blocked out local phone lines for about 90 minutes until AF1 was safely in the air, and also scrambled a squadron of fighters to provide air cover for AF1 as it flew – rather inexplicably – to Louisiana. Since then, Phone Service returned, but the whole Tampa Bay Area has pretty well shut down. From talking to many of you on the phone, it seems the same thing has happened pretty much everywhere else.

8) I still can’t get through to any of my friends in Brooklyn. [Note from 2015: Well, my ONE friend in Brooklyn. Paul. He was fine. Fun fact: I still can’t get in touch with Paul in Brooklyn. He kinda’ disappeared.]

9) I, like everyone else, was pretty creeped out when Bush flew to Omaha, home of the Doomsday Plane – I believe it’s designated ‘looking glass’, but my info on that is pretty old, and probably out of date. From people I’ve talked to since then, it looks like Omaha was simply the safest convenient location, and not indicative of any later, greater assault. It’s been speculated they were heading to Cheyenne, WY, but to get there, they’d have had to go through Colorado, which is less secured.

10) Everyone should be aware that we are now in a state of national emergency – declared or not – and therefore, every Intelligence Security Measure imaginable is in effect. This means that Carnivore is operational: a nation-wide E-mail tapping program, which can read pretty much everything including this E-mail. (Hi, guys!) There are similar programs that can – and are – monitoring every phone conversation in the country. My point in mentioning this is that you should all be very circumspect regarding your questionably ethical deeds, that is if any of you have questionably ethical deeds that you’re doing. Now is a real good time to be circumspect in your conversation. Just an FYI.

11) Finally, the general consensus is that whomever did this, they’ve pretty much shot their wad, and this is all they were capable of, so we can probably relax somewhat. It’s somewhat heartening to think that they didn’t quit accomplish everything they were gunning for.

That’s my observations from this end. The utter enormity of all this is just hitting me. Apparently they’re estimating at least 20,000 dead in New York.  My God. I have no idea what…what I should even begin doing at a point like this. I guess I’ll give blood tomorrow.

Mahatma Randy

Who Discovered America?

Originally published on September 10th, 2011. I was feeling quite self-righteous and rebellious at the time, and I was never nearly so good with history as I thought I was. Most of these alleged “Discoveries” have been properly refuted.

Like every schoolchild, I was taught that “in Fourteen-hundred and ninety-three, Columbus Sailed the Deep Blue Sea”. I realize that most people learned it as “in Fourteen Hundred and Ninety-Two, Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue”, but I went to a lot of religious schools as a kid, and, frankly, my education was rather substandard.

My substandard education worked out to my advantage, however, since it helped me to develop cynicism at an early age. What else had I been taught that was wrong? Well, most things, as it turned out, but I was always particularly interested by the whole ‘who discovered America’ thing, since so much of the early information I’d been taught seemed either openly wrong, or else propagandistic and dubious. Note from 2015: God, I was such a contrarian prig in those days]

As such, I’ve always kept a kind of running tab of ‘Discoverers’ who claim to have gotten ‘there’ first. Some of these, like Columbus and Leif Ericson, are well known. Others, like Sir Henry Sinclair, or Sheik Zayne-eddine Ali ben Fadhel Al-Mazandarani, are quite obscure. Curiously, the most logical discoverers of America, the Indians, are generally ignored, which, I suppose, is fair, since they had a tenuous claim to the place, having only been here fifteen thousand years before anyone else.

There’s a strange hint of racism surrounding the Discovery of America. Sure, everyone knows of Columbus and Ericson, a couple white boys, but try finding conclusive information about the Arabs who may well have been here, or the Chinese, or Africans, and you’ll have a hard row to hoe. And, of course, everyone ignores the Indians. [Note from 2015: you just said this, dumbass] Why this should be, I don’t know. Perhaps, like the nation of Canada, we’re willing to admit our cherished myth that Columbus discovered America is false, but it seems a lot of us are not willing to admit that the discoverer may not even have been Caucasian. [Note from 2015: ah, bullshit] I’m not dogmatic about this, though. Records from the ‘Age of Discovery’ are sketchy for European history. Records in other parts of the world may be similarly sparse. The Chinese, for instance, seem to have no record of their own discovery of America.  [Note from 2015: this is because they didn’t discover it. Nova did a whole episode on this. The myth was started by a crazy conspiracy-theory Englishman in the 1990s. He got a couple bestsellers out of it, but it was utter bullshit.]

Who knows.  [Note from 2015: Actually, a hell of a lot of people know, 34–year-old-stupid me!]

In any event, I find the subject interesting, and for your edification, I’ve compiled this list from my ‘Running Tab’ of discoverers. It’s by no means authoritative of exhaustive, but it is interesting and I hope it will provoke discussion.  [Note from 2015: It did not.]

30,000 to 15,000 BC – During the height of the last Ice Age, the ocean levels were much lower, and as such the relatively shallow Bering Straights that separate Alaska from Siberia were above water. This “Land Bridge” is sometimes called “Beringia.” Nomadic Stone Age Asian herders, probably following Caribou or Reindeer or something similar, crossed over the Land Bridge to North America. The Indians, descendants of these Asian Herders were fruitful and multiplied, quickly spreading all throughout North and South America. All Indians are descended ultimately from these initial Asians. It may seem self-evident, but I’m constantly annoyed that people discussing the ‘Discovery of America’ always manage to ignore the Indians that had already been here for tens of thousands of years. [Note from 2015: Oh for God’s sake, 34-year-old-me, we get it, we get it. Shut up about it already] In any event, the migration from Asia to North America was a very long one, which may have taken place in small waves over five thousand years or more, until the Ice Age began to thaw out, thus raising Sea Levels, flooding the Bering Straight, and effectively cutting off North America from Eurasia.

5,000 BC – The Aleut Eskimos live in the Aleutians, an archipelago that stretches from Alaska well out into the Pacific. Aleuts are excellent fishermen, who can go out into the freezing arctic waters for days or weeks at a time, and survive. Their Kayaks are an ingenious design that has been in use for more than a thousand years, and they operate them half like a canoe, and half like a surfboard. Even in our own modern times, Aleuts are know to Kayak all the way across the north pacific to Siberia, and back again. The Aleut are Indian/Eskimo, so I’m not quite sure wether or not to consider this a case of the Siberians discovering America, or American Indians rediscovering Asia. In any event, there was some minor, but continual, contact between the two groups for thousands of years.

2500s BC – In the 3000 years of Egyptian history, there were essentially three dynasties, the so-called First, Second, and Third kingdoms. The First Kingdom was the one that built the Pyramids, and then shortly thereafter, collapsed. Neither the Second nor Third kingdoms ever built pyramids, nor did the various foreigners that ruled Egypt after the collapse of the Third and Final kingdom. (In the Greco-Roman Imperial Period, Egypt was ruled by the Ptolamy family, who were Greek. Cleopatra, the most famous Ptolamy, had not one drop of Egyptian blood in her. [Note from 2015: This is relevant how?] Just to put things in perspective, it is interesting to note that Cleopatra lived closer to Neil Armstrong walking on the moon than she did to the building of the Pyramids.) So why didn’t the subsequent Egyptians build pyramids? Well, either because the secret of their construction had been lost in the collapse of the First Kingdom, or, more likely, because Pyramids are huge, expensive, structures that take hundreds of thousands of men decades to build. The First Kingdom was able to float pork barrel projects like that, but the Subsequent Kingdoms were more modest. The point of all this is that Pyramids start showing up in Mexico at roughly the same time they stop showing up in Egypt. [Note from 2015: Bullshit! I was reading a lot of Thor Heyerdahl in those days] This, and some fairly tendentious other connections, have caused many to conclude that there was some kind of contact between Mesoamerica and Egypt in the 3rd Millenium BC. Thor Heyerdahl, and his Phonecio/Egyptian styled boat, the ‘Ra’, and it’s more successful heir, the ‘Ra II’, proved that it was at least possible for Egyptians to reach central America with the technology they had at that period. So we know it was possible, but we still don’t know for sure that it happened. There have been many subsequent claims of ‘proof’ of the Mexico/Egyptian connection, up to and including a claim that Cocaine was used in Egyptian embalming. To date, I have not been able to verify any of these claims, and have to assume they’re simply wishful thinking. It is, however, not too terribly implausible to guess at what might have happened: The First Kingdom discovers Mexico, and try to colonize it, or set up trade with it, or whatever. In any event, they would have established a presence there. Meanwhile, back in Africa, Egypt over-extends itself, and the First Kingdom collapses. This strands an unknown number of Egyptians in central America, with no way to get home, and not much to do, other than ‘civilize’ the local Indians into a new society like the one that had just collapsed across the ocean. Eventually, as the initial Egyptians died out, this Egyptian Colony would pick up more and more Indian traits,  ultimately hybridizing into a uniquely mesoamerican form, which we would later call the Aztec, or the Toltec, or the Maya.  And why didn’t the Egyptians ever come back to Mexico? Well, when the First Kingdom fell, it fell hard. The Chaotic Hyksos period that followed it lasted several hundred years. When unity was finally restored in the Second Kingdom, it was a long time later, and a very different world. The Second Kingdom was much more modest than the first, and probably had no memory of the fact that there was a long-lost colony across the Atlantic, and no way of reaching it, even if they did.  All just speculation, mind you. Not a word of proof to any of this.  [Note from 2015: so what I did here was basically crib Heyerdahl’s theory and kinda’ pass it off as my own. all these mesoamerican cultures I mentioned are solidly in the years AFTER Christ, not 3000 BC] 

1300s BC – This one’s a bit of a stretch. At this period in history Olmec civilization shows up in the Americas. The most striking feature of the Olmec is that they left huge, carved statues of heads strewn about the place. It has been mentioned – with dubious proof – that the Olmec civilization showed up practically overnight, which, to many, suggests that its founders must have come to the Americas from elsewhere. It is argued that the Olmec Indian Head Statues generally display Negroid features, which means the founders of the Olmec society must have come from Africa. The problem with this theory, like so many other theories of who ‘Discovered’ America ‘First,’ is that there’s no proof. With Columbus or the Vikings, there are artifacts to verify their stories. With Saint Brendan the Navigator or the Muslims, the stories are recent enough to be technically plausible, even though there’s no proof, and probably never will be. With the Olmec theory, however, there’s just nothing to give us a clue one way or another. I don’t want to sound like I’m immediately discounting this possibility – I’m not – but there are serious contentions that any proponent of an African/Olmec link will have to explain:-No African legends of Seafarers colonizing a land across the ocean.-No big Olmec heads strewn across Africa.-No real history of African seafaring, other than the Egyptians, who stopped doing it in the 3500s BC, and the Phoenecians, who weren’t really from Africa to begin with.-A lack of any African artifacts or traditions in central American Indians. None of this should be taken to mean that Africans couldn’t have crossed the sea. Certainly there are many large and impressive African civilizations of great antiquity, like the Great Zimbabwe, so there’s a lot of technical knowledge there. The problem is that other than a few carved heads with thick lips, broad noses, and prominent foreheads, there’s just not a shard of proof. It is argued that people only carve things that represent themselves, but this is just ludicrous – Greek people didn’t look like Satyrs or Centaurs, but they carved ’em. Why? Because they thought they looked pretty, and they got damn tired of carving naked guys looking at Discuses, and wanted to do something different for a change. Art is art, and is limited only by the imagination and resources. So as for the plausibility of this one, I just dunno.  [Note from 2015: yeah, the Olmecs didn’t discover America. This is utter bullshit]

600 BC – A Phoenician Galley was blown off course in a very bad storm that pushed them out to sea and carried them along for a week or so, before they were able to break free. When they were freed of the storm, the Phoenicians did not recognize any of the stars in the night sky, apparently they had gone south of the equator. Realizing their ship was badly damaged by its ordeal, they beached themselves on the nearest coastline they were able to find, to get supplies and make repairs. The land they discovered was remarkably verdant and beautiful, and there were lots of outcroppings of veins of Iron in the rocks and cliffs along the beaches. Because of the iron, they named the place “Huy Brazl” which, in the Phoenician language, means “Iron Stones” or “Rusty Rocks” or something like that. Several months later, the Phoenicians set sail again, and eventually made their way home, whereupon they regailed all their family and friends with tales of a wondrous land beyond the sea. These stories of ‘Huy Brazl’ spread throughout the Mediterranean, and became well known in the Greek Empire, as well as the later Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic empires, and became synonymous with a paradise on earth, generally called by a variation on its Phoenician name, like in Portugal, where it was named “Hy Brazil”. Millenia later, Portuguese sailors discovered South America, which seemed to them to be a very nice place. One optimistic Portuguese captain decided to name the new land after the ancient legend, and thus christened the place “Brazil.”  The irony of all this is that the modern-day nation of Brazil probably really is Huy Brazl, the place that the Phoenicians discovered by accident 2600 years ago.  [Note from 2015: Good God, what was I smokingthe day before the terrorists came? Ok, the Phoneticians were great sailors, and it’s pretty likely that they did circumnavigate Africa, but they sure as hell didn’t make it to the New World. The story I quote is like fifth-hand out of a kind of paranoid book I read while I was in Atlanta, and I have found no other citations for it. Added to which “Huy Brazl” (Also known as “O’Brasil” was an Irish myth.]

100-ish AD – There is ostensibly a legend about a Roman Galley somehow making its way to North America. I’ve heard several people talk about it, but when questioned, it’s clear they had no solid knowledge about the story, or any proof for it, and were simply repeating things they’d heard from others ‘as though it were an accepted fact.’ I can find no mention of anything to substantiate this in any historical papers, books, or legends, and I doubt very much that such an expedition took place, or that such a legend existed in the Roman Empire. It sounds more like Hollywood than Rome.  [Note from 2015: Didn’t happen. There have been a number of coin finds – people finding Roman coins from the 1st century – but all of these have been proved to be plants by fraudsters who had nothing better to do with their time]

400s/500s – Orry, an Irishman about whom nothing is known, claimed to have traveled across the western ocean to a land beyond. These stories – which may be entirely mythical – apparently inspired Saint Brendan the Navigator to head west, looking for land.

500s – An Irish Abbot, ‘Brendan’ apparently became obsessed with legends of someone named ‘Orry’ who claimed to have been to a land beyond the western sea. Brendan built a large boat, crewed with his Monks, and they sailed west, apparently going via the Orkneys, to Iceland, to Greenland, to the extreme north coast of Canada, before heading south into “The Land of the Ever Young.” Brendan made it back home again years later, earring the name “Brendan the Navigator”, and was eventually Sanctified. There is some evidence that Irish monks (a weird breed about which we know comparatively little) continued to make trips to the Land Of the Ever Young for as much as several centuries, for ceremonies and such. The Viking accounts from 500 years after Brendan include a run in with a mysterious group that is clearly not Indian, and sounds a bit like Monks, and there are curious ‘Ogomic’ writings in the Appalachians, which (if Authentic [Note from 2015: It’s not. This is still debated, but Ogomic script was never widely used in Ireland, and the marks – if they’re real – are probably from the colonial period or later]) may date from the 600s AD.  Though it is unlikely that this story will ever be proved, it is at least plausible and although it tacitly presupposes continued contact with Indians, it does at least include an explanation as to why there was no lasting influence on the Indians: These were Monks, they weren’t interested in amassing a fortune, a kingdom, or even in breeding. One possible point of evidence – to be taken with a grain of salt – would be the Irish Tonsure, the unique haircut that Irish Monks wore up until the Catholic Church did away with it about two centuries ago: It’s essentially a Mohawk. One might assume they got it from the Mohawk Indians, or, conversely, that the Mohawk got it from the Irish.  [Note from 2015: This one is theoretically possible, but pretty unlikely. It falls into a long tradition of celtic “Land beyond the sea” fables.]

889 AD – Khashkhash Ibn Seed Ibn Aswad, a Moor from Cordoba, Spain, sailed from Palos (Now Delba), went well past the Canary islands, and reached an unknown new land that he named “Ard Majhoola” (Unknown Land), and is reputed to have returned with a bunch of neat artifacts. This story can not be verified, however in Al-Masudi’s world map from the early 900s, there is an ‘Unknown Territory’ demarked which is roughly where North America should be.  [Note from 2015: Didn’t happen. The map has been adequately debunked, too.]

926-961 – Sometime during the reign of Abdul-Rahman III, an Umayed Caliph, African Muslims left the Spanish Port of Palos (then called Delba) and sailed due west for a very long time. Some months later, they returned with booty taken from a “Strange and curious land.” This voyage was common knowledge in the Islamic Empire afterwards, and, thus, was spoken of commonly in Spain as well, since most of the country was part of the Islamic Empire at this period. It can not be proven that the “Strange and curious land” was North America, though, clearly, most Muslims do. Unlike most stories of pre-Columbian contact, this one has actually left several germs of evidence to suggest it is true. Firstly, there is some evidence of Islamic contact amongst the Cherokee indians [Note from 2015: There most certainly is not. Also, the Cherokee lived around the great lakes at the time this contact would have taken place, not in the South] – Turbans, Caftan-like clothing, a vaguely judeo-islamic view of God and creation (which is largely at odds with other Native American Religions [Note from 2015: Uhm…what? I don’t even remember what that was supposed to be, but as most Cherokee religious rituals were forgotten once they mostly became Baptist, I’m assuming the ‘unusual myth’ is probably just backdated, or the Cherokee telling a garbled version of the Biblical version heard from Colonials), and some Islamic-seeming names (for instance, a 1787 treaty between the Cherokee Nation and the United States includes the names “Abdel Khak” and “Muhammad Ibn Abdullah” as Cherokee signatories [Note from 2015: Oh, prove it 34-year-old me! You’re full of crap!), and a smattering of Arabic words. Secondly, there is a smattering of linguistic evidence that the Muslims had contact with other southeastern indian tribes, most of which remains only as place names. For instance, “Tallahassee” (The Capital of Florida) can be translated “God [Allah] will bring you future deliverance.” [Note from 2015: Yes, it can be, but only by drunken ignorant fools. It’s not a Cherokee word, nor an Arabic one, and it simply means “Old Town.” Dipshit.]  Thirdly, Columbus, and the Spanish Royalty were clearly aware of these stories. Columbus actively researched stories of “Western Lands” prior to his journey, traveling to Norway and Ireland to learn the stories of Ericson and Brendan. Though no other European country was interested in “Sailing west to get east”, the Spanish Royal Court immediately sponsored Columbus’ voyage almost as soon as they had extricated themselves from the Islamic Empire, presumably because they already knew from the legends that had been floating around for 400 years, that there was some plausibility to it. Columbus even took along several “Ex-Muslims” in his crew [Note from 2015: Not sure about this, but doubtful].  Fourthly, early english explorers in the Southeast all reported meeting “Swarthy” people who looked “Moorish” (North African), and clearly not Indian, but who lived as the Indians did. These people were called “Melungeons”, and were thought to have been Portugese, but Genetic Analysis of modern Melungeons shows them to have been overwhelmingly Turkish!  [Note from 2015: This is true, and it’s damn weird. No one has been able to explain the Turkish/Melungenon thing]

999 – Ibn Farrukh, another Moor, this time from Granada, Spain, sailed from Kadesh, past the Canaries, and discovered two large islands, Capraria and Pluitana, which may have been Cuba and Hispanola. Ibn Farrukh appears to have been following up on the legends surrounding the voyage of Khashkhash Ibn Seed Ibn Aswad from a century before. Again, this story can not be verified.  [Note from 2015: Didn’t happen. Thing is, Arabs were pretty good sailors, but they were afraid of the open ocean for good reason, and simply didn’t explore far from the coast.]

990s – A Viking named Horst Brumfeldson was blown off course sailing to Greenland, and ended up several hundred miles to its west. He reported seeing islands and birds, but didn’t feel like sticking around to explore. These were likely the sea coast islands of North Eastern Canada, which makes our friend Horst the first European to see North America (though not the Continent itself) that we can reasonably verify. He made his way back to Greenland, and told of his exploits, but no one seemed too interested at the time. However, Eric the Red was interested in these reports.

1000 – Give or take a year, Eric the Red had become interested in the reports of islands to the West of Greenland, as reported by Horst Brumfeldson anywhere from ten to sixteen years earlier. Eric decided to head an expedition to these new islands, but fell off his horse and broke his leg enrout to his boat. At the last minute, he turned over command of the expedition to his son, Leif Ericson. Leif sailed west on his single longboat, with a mixed crew of Pagans and Christians. They eventually sighted a frozen, glaciated land they called ‘Telluland’ (“Frozen Land”), and did not go ashore. Sailing south from there, they found a densely wooded area that they called ‘Markland’ (“Land of Trees’). They went ashore briefly for provisions, and met the local Indians, whom they named “Skraeligs” (“Wretches”). Quickly running afoul of the Indians, they headed farther south to a place they named “Vinland” (‘Land of Vines’, or possibly ‘Land of Berries’). There have been many attempts to identify the location of Vineland, none of them entirely satisfactory, since they conflict with the Viking’s own reports. It is commonly accepted that the remains of a Viking settlement in Nova Scotia, discovered in the 1970s, was the ‘Vinland Colony,’ however this is easily disproved. The Nova Scotia Viking site is definitely the remains of a failed Viking colony, however it is a different (Later) colony than Vinland. There were several waves of Viking colonization, all of them curiously abortive. The Vikings report that their winter spent in Vinland was remarkably mild, and although there was snow, there was little or no ice on the rivers or lakes, and they didn’t even need to wear winter clothes. This clearly does not match with Nova Scotia. More likely sights suggest southern New Jersey (Oh, the ignominy of it!) or Coastal Virginia. [Note from 2015: Nope. It’s definitely Nova Scotia.] In spring, the Vikings headed back to Greenland, where, again curiously, no one seemed too interested in Vinland. The next expedition that we have any knowledge of was about six or seven years later, led by Leif’s brother. They found the wreckage of a ship in a river near Vinland, that was obviously left over from a failed expedition about which they knew nothing, that took place at some point between Leif’s first voyage, and their own, so at least one group had made a go of the New World and failed in the doing. Leif’s brother named the place ‘Kyarlness” (‘Broken Keel’). In all the Ericson family made four major expeditions to Vinland, some of them lasting several years, until the ‘Skraeligs’ overran them and forced them to abandon the colony.Papers in Greenland show regular expeditions to ‘Markland’ to get wood and building materials, as late as the 1300s. Of all the various stories of pre-Columbian discovery, this is the one with the most credence, the most evidence, and was the most likely to have happened. In fact, Leif Ericson day is recognized as a holiday by the Canadian Government. Though the Vikings clearly got here around 1000 AD, they don’t appear to have penetrated very deeply into the continent, though they may have explored the Great Lakes to some extent. Even so, some of the alleged Viking artifacts, such as the so-called “Heavener Runestone” that was ‘Discovered’ in Kansas in the 19th century, are certainly fakes.

1000s – About the same time Leif Ericson was ‘discovering’ the east coast of America, the Chinese were apparently discovering its west coast. [Note from 2015: No they were not] In 1989, the remains of a Chinese Junk were discovered in the sand, just offshore from the California Coast. Its design, and the general deterioration of the wreck suggests that it sank sometime between 1000 and 1100 AD. [Note from 2015: These were just anchor stones, no wreck was found, and the Chinese sailed extensively between home and California in the 19th century. No mystery here, someone just dumped their anchors] 0The Chinese have no record of the discovery of America, [Note from 2015: because they didn’t discover it] nor of the loss of this particular ship. Most likely what happened is that it was caught in a storm, and blown off course, much like the Phonecians who discovered Huy Brazl. The ship eventually blundered into California, where they attempted to find shallow water to beach the ship, or make repairs. Subsequently, the ship sank, possibly after catching fire. The surviving crew, if any, probably married into the local Indians, or else were killed by them. In any event, it’s obvious that no one ever made it home to China to tell about this discovery.  [Note from 2015: It IS possible that the Chinese or Japanese did occasionally have fishing boats that got lost at sea and were carried by currents to the Pacific Northwest. I’ve heard tales of early explorers who had Japanese people held captive, though I really don’t believe them. ]

1100s – There is a legend of a Welsh king who left Wales in the 12th century, trying to find a new land for his family to live in, free of the fear of the generations-long civil war that was raging in Wales at the time. A couple years later, he came home, and some time after that, allegedly, several dozen ships and perhaps a thousand people headed out to see for place or places unknown. Eight Hundred years later, In the 19th century, a member of the Army Corps of engineers was discussing some a-typical Indian ruins with some Indians in Alabama and Mississippi, and was apparently told the ruins were built by ‘Waylsh Men” who came on boats. Eventually they ran afoul of the local Indians, and were driven out of their settlement, moving upriver a hundred miles or so, where they build a new settlement. A generation later, the process was repeated, and they again moved upriver about a hundred miles. They allegedly interbred with the locals whenever possible, and were apparently more Indian-looking than Welch/Celtic-looking after a century or so. If this dubious theory is true, then the ‘Welsh Indians’ survived until about 1850 in what is now Oklahoma, where they were wiped out by a bout of smallpox. This theory is more likely the product of wishful thinking on the part of the Engineer, though there are some odd stone structures in Mississippi. Also, the Melungeons mentioned above were called “Black Welsh” and “Black Scots” in some southern states in the middle of the 19th century.  [Note from 2015: The legend was never heard of until it was retroactively invented in the 16th century in the midst of a massive “Me too” craze that was sweeping Europe. (“No, it wasn’t the Spanish, it was Lithuania who discovered America!” etc]

1291 – Sheik Zayn-eddine Ale ben Fadhel Al-Mazandarani is reported to have set out from Morocco, and led an expedition to Green Island, which is purported to have been in the Caribbean sea. [ [Note from 2015: Nope]

1309 – After the successes of the 1st Crusade, the Pope ordained the “Knights Templar”, ostensibly to protect pilgrims on their way to the holy land, but in reality to rob Jerusalem blind of any religious antiquities they could find. (Templar artifacts have been found buried in the ruins surrounding the Temple, among other interesting places.) under unexplained circumstances, the Templars quickly became the richest sect of Christendom, and evolved heretical beliefs, prompting many to suspect that they may have lucked into a trove of manuscripts like the Nag Hamadi library in Egypt or the Dead Sea Scrolls in Israel. The order eventually moved to France, where they began their own large merchant marine travel fleet (Their banner was the now-famous ‘Skull & Crossbones’) and became serious rivals to the authority of the Pope. On May 13th, 1309, a papal bull was issued excommunicating all Knights Templar, and the vast majority of them were slaughtered within a month. Their large Merchant Marine fleet, however, headed west with as many Templars as they could carry, and was never seen again. Some suppose that these Templar sailors headed to “La Merica”, a mythical land that they were said to believe in (Generally without much explanation as to why exactly they were said to believe in it.) across the western ocean. More likely, however they just headed to Scotland, which was under papal interdict at the time, and would have been just absolutely perfect for a few thousand heretics on the lam from Rome. Interestingly, Templars disappear from history roughly the same time the Free Masons show up in Scotland, and links between the two groups have long been suspected. There is a church in Scotland, Roselyn, which was one of the first Masonic structures built. Inside, it has depictions of all kinds of Flora and Fauna, all dating from the mid-1300s. Several of these plants have been positively identified as New World Flora, which should have been completely unknown to Scotsmen more than a century before Columbus.  [Note from 2015: “Freemasons run the country!” This paranoid crap came from a very badly written book about Gnosticism I was reading at the time, which, well, basically, I put forth their whole theory above. Tommyrot.]

1311 – Sultan Abu Kakari I led two expeditions to the west Atlantic, claiming to find land. He did not return from the second voyage. (Perhaps he ran into a Templar ship? Nah…)  [Note from 2015: God I was stupid]

1389 – Sir Henry Sinclair, a Scotsman, led a large and lenghty expedition across the atlantic, acompanied by his cousin, Sir James Gunn, Captain Antonio Zeno, and 200 knights, monks, and twelve ships. They apparently landed in Nova Scotia, and spent several months there. They then sailed down the coast as far as Massachusetts, where Sir Gunn took sick and died, and was buried. The expedition then went back to Scotland, where curiously little attention was paid to their reports of their exploits.Some advocates of the Sinclair-Discovering-America theory will tell you that a 14th century suit of armor was discovered in Massachusetts, riddled with arrow-holes, obviously the one that Sir Gunn was buried in. In fact, this isn’t true. There is a large stone carving of a knight in Massachusetts wearing a rather generic suit of armor. No one knows who made this carving on the Cliffside, or when, but it does appear to have been there since the earliest days of English Colonization. There’s no proof that it pre-dates Columbus, however.There is a link between America and Scotland that we’ve already seen: Roselyn Chapel, which depicts New World Flora. So was Sinclair following up on information he’d already heard of from Freemasons? Certainly Someone seems to have gotten here, then made it back to Scotland to tell about it.  [Note from 2015: Popular with Mormon Conspiracy Theorists, but untrue. The Knight and other artifacts and structures have been solidly dated as colonial-era things. This came from the same paranoid book as the previous entry. The Roselyn Chapel art is thought to be simply stylized representations of old world flora and fauna]

Early 1400s – This one is pretty tenuous, as well. The English had traditionally fished off the coast of Spain. Relations between the Spanish and the English turned sour, however, and the Spanish barred English ships from their waters. One would expect the annual haul of fish brought to England would diminish after this, but it didn’t. In fact, the size of the catch increased every year for the next decade. When things were patched up with Spain, they offered to let the English fish in their waters again. England responded with a ‘thank you very much, but no’ attitude, and never went back to fishing off Spain, and still their catches went up.Obviously, the English found a new fishery. Where was it? Unknown. It was a closely guarded secret. All we know is that it was due west of England. Newfoundland is due west of England, and has some of the best fisheries in the world. A few years later, when Columbus ‘Discovered’ America, England was the only maritime power that didn’t freak out at the news. They seemed completely underwhelmed by it. This may well be due to the short-sightedness of the English government at the time, or it may have been due to them already having known about it for a generation or two. Or not. Again, this is a tenuous one. It should be noted, however, that England has a disproportionately high number of hypothetical early ties with America: Alleged discoveries by the Irish, Welsh, and Scottish, and possibly even the Templar/Freemasons. In the case of the Scottish and Templar/Freemasons, there even appears to be some hard evidence in the form of Roselyn Chapel, which was built a century prior to Columbus, but appears to depict New World Flora. If any of these claims can hold water – and two of them appear to – then it would be very surprising if the Royal Court didn’t have some prior awareness of the place across the sea.  [Note from 2015: None of those claims were true, and this didn’t happen.]

1492 – Christopher Columbus, leading a small flotilla of three dinky ships, blundered into the New World entirely by accident, attempting to sail to China. Columbus, who led four expeditions to the new world, never figured out where he was, or at least never admitted it to anyone if he did. He never even reached the actual North American Continent itself, but wandered about from island to island, assuming he was somewhere in the vicinity of India. (Hence we call Native Americans ‘Indians’ to this day.) It is interesting to note that Columbus (an Italian) was from the same country as Captain Antonio Zeno [Note from 2015: who didn’t exist], and had certainly heard his stories of ‘A land to the west.’ He is also known to have spent extensive time in Ireland (Where Saint Brendan the Navigator was from) and Norway (Where the Viking Ericson family ultimately re-settled) shortly prior to the first time Columbus mentioned his whole ‘Sail around the world’ idea. It’s also interesting to note that Columbus’ voyage of ‘Discovery’ left from Palos (Delba), the same place Khashkhash Ibn Seed Ibn Aswad and Ibn Farrukh [Note from 2015: who also didn’t exist] set out from when they allegedly discovered America a half-millennium before.

And the rest you know…

It seems likely to me that America was ‘discovered’ and ‘lost’ several times in the last 5000 years or so. This, perhaps, shouldn’t be surprising, but one does wonder why no one seemed excited or amazed by the discovery until Columbus.

In the case of the Egyptians, it seems likely they simply forgot about the place. The Phoenicians may never have been able to find it again. The Vikings did make a go of the place, but never really committed to colonization. They do not seem amazed by the discovery, but then they were a seafaring people who didn’t have a lot of preconceived ideas. Why should the discovery of a continent be any more amazing than the discovery of an island?

In the end, no one knows, and no one will probably ever know. It’s fun to wonder about, though. And, trust me, if you bring up Sinclair or Ibn Farrukh at a cocktail party, everyone will naturally assume you’re a genius.  [Note from 2015: actually, if you tell anyone other than stoned college freshmen this stuff, they’ll probably think you’re an idiot]