Tripping on Utopia

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The Book of the Week is “Tripping on Utopia, Margaret Mead, the Cold War, and the Troubled Birth of Psychedelic Science” by Benjamin Breen, published in 2024. This book documented the circumstances that led several “scientists” in America to experiment with psychedelic drugs from the 1940’s through the 1970’s.

In 1920’s Munich in Germany, psychotherapists tested mescaline on schizophrenic patients. Ditto in 1930’s London, England. In 1933, funded by government or university grants, the thirty-one year old Margaret Mead, along with her male or female lover of the moment (She had a series of them through her life), practiced “salvage anthropology.” She tried to salvage information about exotic cultures that were dying due to colonialism and war.

In the 1930’s, Mead did fieldwork with the Native-American Omaha tribe in the Great Plains. They, and her research subjects in Bali used peyote, a psychedelic drug, for ritual purposes. She theorized about sexual identity and wrote best-selling books.

Mead and her scientific colleagues discussed how Hitler used hypnotism to control the subconscious thoughts of his fellow Germans. He didn’t need psychedelics! Starting in 1939, she and her then-husband studied human nature to help propagandize for the war effort. In 1941, “The members of the Committee for National Morale saw themselves as a shield protecting freedom, democracy and diversity from the weaponized manipulative forms of applied science emanating from Nazi Germany.”

The American federal agency, Office of Strategic Services (OSS) began to study truth serum and hypnosis for the purpose of getting prisoners-of-war to talk, improving the health of traumatized soldiers, and analyzing enemy psychology.

In 1944, since Mead and her husband, Gregory Bateson, had insiders’ knowledge and experience of tribes’ cultures in Asia, they were allowed to play adolescent-boy spy games, thinking they could make the Japanese surrender. In late 1944, Bateson volunteered to go to Burma on perilous missions. In reality, as evinced by kamikazes, and their guerrilla warfare all over the South Pacific theater, the Japanese would never, ever surrender. They would actually fight to the last man. Mead, Bateson, and other spies were fooling themselves. Their big egos led them to risk their lives for nothing.

After the war, the CIA began a series of research projects called MKULTRA. Most of those conducting the LSD, mescaline and psilocybin Cold-War Era studies didn’t know the CIA was providing funding. The Macy Foundation and the Department of Defense were the CIA’s fronts. The operation was a desecration and perversion of legitimate scientific research, as it scrapped the scientific method. In one experiment, a spy posing as a “scientist” slipped LSD into the alcoholic drinks of his unknowing friends and acquaintances at social gatherings.

Further, many of the research described in the book sounded unscientific— lacking rigor (amateur, James-Bond wannabes were conducting them), lacking a statistically significant amount of data, and lacking a regard for chemical interactions of the psychedelics with alcohol!

In the 1950’s– about two decades prior to the outlawing of psychedelics– the “scientific” community (comprised of psychiatrists, pop psychologists and spies, not to mention profiteers) around Stanford University especially, had the arrogant notion that perhaps LSD could accelerate the rate by which global culture could not only become one big, peaceful, happy family with no starvation– but also become more tolerant of otherness, different lifestyles, sexual orientations and gender identity.

It appears that in trying to solve the world’s problems, politicians nowadays are a little less naive than they were in the mid-twentieth century. However, reducing social ills requires multi-pronged approaches– legislation and social programs. Ironically, instead of eliminating social ills, introducing psychedelics to society caused social ills to multiply exponentially.

Anyway, read the book to learn about the evolution of research on psychedelics, including various shameful episodes in which people, dolphins and Siamese fighting fish were harmed or died; one of which involved a prestigious institution (whose main character was, by 1960, described thusly: “Approaching forty, he had alienated most of his colleagues back in Berkeley, was nearly bankrupt, and had no income despite his extravagant multimonth family vacation [in Spain and Florence, Italy].”).

The Bluest State

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The Book of the Week is “The Bluest State, How Democrats Created the Massachusetts Blueprint for American Political Disaster” by Jon Keller, published in 2007. This short volume contained a mishmash of anecdotes on politicians and issues in Massachusetts from the 1980’s to the single-digit 2000’s.

According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, and a Bibliography), Democrat politicians in Massachusetts (such as Ted Kennedy and John Kerry) displayed “Aloofness. Arrogance. Entitlement. Condescension. Hypocrisy.” They and their supporters consisted largely of aging, elitist Baby Boomers, such as the Clintons, Al Gore, and John Edwards. The author cited some data that showed this (without listing his sources).

In 2004, the Democrats chose Barack Obama to deliver the keynote speech at their convention in Boston. The author commented on how African American politicians had changed the tone of their rhetoric: “American liberalism’s black face this time around would not be a fire-breathing preacher with a sermon full of angry demands [like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson]. Instead, as the crowd roared in approval, a dignified light-skinned black man spoke compellingly about his love for America in Hallmark terms.”

And yet, as Barbara Walters wrote in her book, “We [the media] really seem to care only if they [celebrities and politicians] are outrageous and call our president a devil or declare that the Holocaust never existed. Stand up and scream and we will interview you, or be reasonable and unheard.” Political races are won or lost with the right messaging at the right time. It is a delicate operation.

The author wrote of another politician– Deval Patrick– who was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2006. Patrick’s charisma helped him just before the election– he and his rival were neck and neck in the polls, but a good bit of last-minute messaging gave him the win. After he took office, however, he immediately began to ignore his constituents and reap political spoils in various ways, breaking his campaign promises. Is it relevant that he is African American?

Identity politics is alive and well for various reasons. One reason is that it is a way of maintaining two rivalrous parties– which has helped maintain a democracy more or less, for the United States for more than two centuries. Indefinite one-party dominance would be a dictatorship. There would be total cooperation, but the leader would rule his empire by fear.

There are always leaders who have embarrassing stories to tell about numerous political contacts and those contacts know it, so by threatening to tell those stories, the leaders can cash in on favors from those contacts in the future whenever necessary. Unbeknownst to voters, all the time, infinite acts of political puppetry are going on behind the scenes.

Anyway, read the book to learn of how the author gave a few examples of the hypocrisy of the Democrats, especially in Massachusetts, on the usual major political issues that get voters riled up: scandals, affordable housing, the environment, education, taxation, gay rights, abortion, crime, etc., etc., etc.

A World of Ideas

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The Book of the Week is “A World of Ideas, Conversations With Thoughtful Men and Women About American Life Today and the Ideas Shaping Our Future” by Bill Moyers, edited by Betty Sue Flowers, published in 1989. This compilation of interviews was done at the end of the Reagan Era–prior to the historical revisionism and 20 / 20 hindsight of the Clinton Era and thereafter.

David Gergen was one of the few political workers who has explicitly stated that the job elected officers should be doing is governing. This means serving one’s constituents in public service– rather than wooing voters with fantastic promises that will likely be broken– effecting wily public relations that includes propagandizing and standing on ceremony, also called populism.

Forrest McDonald, one of Bill Moyers’ interviewees, commented that America’s one president fills the roles of both government officer and populist, while England has two separate people doing those jobs, respectively: the prime minister, and the king or queen. A recent American president whose populism instilled fond memories in the minds of Americans that made them forget his wrongheaded governing, was Ronald Reagan. Around the time of the interview, the Iran-Contra hearings were all the rage, yet Reagan’s charisma was on display, as much as his amnesia.

McDonald correctly prophesied that more Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals would break in future decades, due to the conflicts the president faced in executing laws while worrying about protecting his reputation. Hardly any political issues have changed at least since the late 1980’s when McDonald rightly declared, “We’re living beyond our means. Congress is for sale to the highest bidder from one election to the next, the Pentagon belongs to the fixers, the President’s out to lunch, and the media are drowning us in violence, nonsense, and trivia.”

In his interview, Noam Chomsky pointed out that the United States government is comprised of two parties (Republican and Democrat) whose main policies are based on business and economics; in other words, donor-determined. All other major, developed countries of the world have a Labor Party– comprised of politicians who lobby on behalf of the poor or working class. It appeared that Chomsky was making a value judgment that the United States was wrong for allowing money to elect its public servants.

There are pros and cons to this, which are too numerous and controversial to discuss here. Suffice to say, the American government’s leadership-and-management culture is a completely different animal from that on other continents. It allows its people the freedom to practice capitalism on a much more extensive scale. Its foreign policy, shaped by globalization of course, has played a major role.

Speaking of foreign policy, Sissela Bok wished that the United States would behave in a more humanitarian manner in international conflicts. She wanted to see more Americans value all humans equally– “… so that it becomes just as awful for us to take an innocent life in some other country as it is in our own.”

Read the book to learn the opinions of mostly university professors, on American political, economics, cultural, and social issues from the 1980’s; that show the areas in which the country has regressed or progressed.

ENDNOTE: Since the book’s writing, arguably, the U.S. is slowly but slowly, progressing in terms of maintaining a democracy, more or less. One bit of evidence of this, is that the country suffered roughly ten years in a row during which a wartime president behaved like a dictator– under LBJ and then Nixon. The next occasion of that, which was seven years in a row, occurred under George W. Bush. It took four years in a row and one day (Jan. 6) for the U.S. to get tired of the next president who behaved like a dictator (Trump), and there wasn’t a war on.

Crisis-generation has always been a cliched way for leaders to keep their power, but hyper-awareness and politicization of crises has been generated in recent decades, due to the speed and reach of modern, global communications. In this way, the traumas of recent natural disasters, financial crashes, wars and celebrity anguish stay fresh in the minds of every culturally-labeled American generation, from Depression-Era babies to Generation Z.

The institutional memory of the older generation especially, allows them to detect and minimize the impact of crises sooner than otherwise. For instance, the Baby Boomers personally experienced— how LBJ and Nixon stubbornly refused to withdraw American troops from Vietnam– a war that involved unspeakable horrors in the region, causing adverse decades-long consequences there and in this country. The Boomers saw that Trump’s megalomania, secrecy and vengeance are akin to those exhibited by LBJ and Nixon. However, Trump refuses to ever give in; whereas, Nixon was shamed into resigning.

Leaders who have harnessed ways to brainwash the masses into believing they are saviors, are the ones who keep their power, at least until their enemies out their crimes in court.

There are many more indicators that our nation won’t devolve into anarchy anytime soon, that are beyond the scope of this post.

The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty

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The Book of the Week is “The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, How We Lie to Everyone– Especially Ourselves” by Dan Ariely, published in 2012.

The author presented one way human beings think about ethical behavior in a given situation: the Simple Model of Rational Crime (SMORC). It says someone would do a cost / benefit analysis in order to decide, for instance, whether to park illegally because they’re late for a meeting. Of course, a major factor in their decision-making includes how likely they are to get caught, and if they are caught, how willing they would be to bear the consequences.

The author wrote that SMORC doesn’t take emotion and trust into account, so most people wouldn’t engage in that kind of moral reasoning. With only reciprocity as the sole consideration, an individual using SMORC would require contracts for almost every ethical dilemma. He would spend most of his life in legal battles and litigation; like, Howard Hughes, Ted Turner, and Donald Trump.

Although the author failed to distinguish between guilt and shame, he cited numerous behavioral-economics studies he and other professors conducted (on mostly American subjects) to learn the causes of dishonest behavior, and ways it can be curbed.

The author realized that in a matter of weeks, even he was getting brainwashed by the propaganda of his bosses, because he was receiving generous compensation for serving as an expert witness.

Two ways to reduce cheating included:

  • Having people read or sign an honor-code document (such as the Ten Commandments, or an agreement not to cheat on an exam, or a set of rules, which, if broken, would give them an unfair advantage) before completing a particular task, taking a test, or competing.
  • Having people put their signature at the top of a document, and then fill in the info (such as on an application or tax return), rather than fill in the info and then sign at the bottom.

Read the book to learn of additional ways society can spread more ethical behavior (yes, it can be contagious!) so as to stave off the collapse of modern civilization just a little longer.

Davos Man

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The Book of the Week is “Davos Man, How the Billionaires Devoured the World” by Peter S. Goodman, published in 2022. As the now-cliche joke goes, “You can tell Monopoly is an ancient game because there’s a luxury tax and rich people can go to jail.”

Yearly, about three thousand, super-rich people gather in Switzerland at a five-day conference called “Davos.” The least wealthy people there consist of journalists, academics, diplomats, entrepreneurs, activists and senior government officials. The billionaire-attendees (whom the author called “Davos Man”) pay lip service to the world’s social, economic and environmental problems, and behind closed doors, discuss how to profiteer in connection therewith.

In the last half century, Davos Man has enriched himself through making campaign contributions to politicians who have legislated:

  • monopolistic practices
  • tax cuts
  • excessive deregulation and
  • gutting of social programs.

The above favor powerful, rich people in Silicon Valley, New York City and Washington, D.C. Their propaganda campaigns brainwash the masses into blaming:

  • China
  • immigrants whom they believe are taking their jobs away, and
  • automation

for the working classes’ job losses.

The author argued that the common people in most industrialized nations of the world should blame DAVOS MAN and politicians, who are sometimes one and the same!

Davos Man– the modern-day Robber Barons– salve their consciences through philanthropic activities that are comprised of a tiny, tiny percentage of their businesses’ profits. Plus, the author contended that it is a Cosmic Lie that tax cuts pay for themselves by spurring spending.

During the COVID pandemic, the American Davos Man enriched himself through incestuous corporate / political relationships: “The United States had employed a Rube Goldberg contraption, with [Steven] Mnuchin’s slush fund [in the U.S. Treasury] funneled through Jamie Dimon’s bank [JPMorgan Chase], and Larry Fink’s firm [BlackRock] buying bonds on behalf of the Fed, allowing Steve Schwartzman’s private equity empire [Blackstone Group] to borrow for free.”

The English government convinced many of its people that through Brexit, their nation could decide its own financial fate. But Davos Man actually ended up collecting a boatload of their hard-earned taxes. Meanwhile, Argentina was defaulting on its loans for the tenth time in the last half-century. The aforementioned Davos Man, Larry Fink, blamed Argentina for the resulting disastrous losses of his clients at BlackRock. BUT– his firm was the sucker that lent it the money!

Anyway, read the book to learn of: Davos Man’s activities in various countries of the world– that resulted in skyrocketing wealth for him, and plummeting economic security for everyone else; why the author is still optimistic that the world can reverse the current, cold-hearted global financial climate in which inequality between rich and poor is ever-widening (hint: creative ideas on community cooperatives are in the air, but also– read Amy Klobuchar’s tome on antitrust issues); and the economic history explaining how Davos Man has become so rich and powerful.

the (sic) Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl

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The Book of the Week is “the [sic] Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl, How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis” by Arthur Allen, published in 2014. This disorganized story presented horribly confusing time frames, alternating between scenes of the main characters, with a large amount of historical context thrown in– which made the book’s title misleading, besides. But it provided information on a lesser-known aspect of WWII: the evolution of the typhus vaccine that saved countless lives.

Anyway, in 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire drafted the two doctors described in the story, as medics for the Kaiser’s army. Dr. Rudolf Weigl was born in 1883 in what is currently Czech Republic. Dr. Ludwik Fleck was born in 1896, and was Czech, Austrian and Polish. They both lived in the city of Lviv (aka Lwow or Lemberg) for a significant period in their lives. Weigl studied typhus there at the Polish National Health Institute of Hygiene (PZH).

Fleck opined that the contradictory medical journals of the 1930’s weren’t particularly useful, so doctors needed to use their personal smarts when diagnosing patients. Patients could be carriers of an illness, but not have symptoms themselves. For decades, Weigl was experimenting nonstop by breeding body lice (rather than head lice) as the spreaders of typhus– that fed on human blood. The guts of those lice were then injected with typhus-contaminated blood solution. He developed a vaccine that worked better than the competition’s.

Later on, during WWII, the German military ordered Weigl to refine the vaccine (because different strains of typhus appeared) to protect its soldiers. Fleck’s immediate boss was a spy for the SS (Security Service) who ordered him to do medical research that minimized the possibility that Aryans would contract a disease such as typhus, in the name of creating a master race. His ultimate boss was Heinrich Himmler.

Beginning in autumn 1939, new Soviet bosses imposed their will on Fleck and Weigl. Fleck previously had a private medical lab, but he was named head of the microbiology department of the new Ukrainian Medical Institute, led Lviv’s Sanitation and Bacteriological Laboratory, and conducted research at the new Mother and Child Hospital.

Weigl received and took the savvy advice that he should avoid joining the Communist Party, because inevitably, eventually, Stalin would turn against him and he would be thrown in the gulag, or worse. He also heeded the warning that he should engage in corruption only insofar as it helped him survive. Excessive corruption would get him in trouble. Different armies took over certain territories in Eastern Europe during the war years.

Beginning in summer 1941, fearing for his and his family’s life, Weigl cooperated with the Nazis rather than the SS and local German leaders in Lviv. His reasoning for insisting on keeping his private lab was that, if the Nazis killed him, he’d be viewed as a martyr. He let a German VIP help him supervise the research, though. He saved hundreds to thousands of lives of Jews of Polish origin. Their false identity papers allowed them to be hired as medical guinea pigs by having body lice feed on their blood.

Starting in the early 1940’s, the Nazis needed medical doctors who happened to be Jewish, so they spared them, but they compelled them to commit atrocities doing research. During wartime typhus epidemics, deaths of Polish and Soviet Jews were significantly higher than those of people of other ethnicities due to anti-Semitism. For, the Nazis ordered medical doctors to refrain from treating Jews in their quarantined ghettos. The SS needed the Jews’ slave labor in factories to further the war effort, so the Jews weren’t confined to the ghettos. They therefore spread typhus, anyway.

Through the years, the constantly-improved vaccines developed by Weigl were used (and spread far and wide in black markets) in Ethiopia, Manchuria, North Africa, and Eastern Europe. Britain, however, decided to take steps to kill the lice rather than muck about with a typhus vaccine.

Read the book to learn how American soldiers fared during times of typhus epidemics; plus much more about vaccines other than Weigl’s, about the Soviets on the Eastern Front, the history of Buchenwald, the adventures of Fleck and his family at Auschwitz, the fates of the people associated with different vaccines, and other ways various peoples combated typhus.

Cuba on the Verge

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The Book of the Week is “Cuba on the Verge, 12 Writers on Continuity and Change in Havana and Across the Country” edited by Leila Guerriero, published in 2017.

After Cuban leader Fidel Castro died in November 2016, there was a slight relaxation of economic restraints on the common people. Under the one-party rule of Castro’s brother Raul, Cubans could engage in entrepreneurial pursuits– serving tourists through renting out their homes or turning their cars into taxis, supervised by the government. Americans have begun doing the same in the last two decades, but through centralized corporate entities such as Airbnb and Uber.

Ironically, under Fidel’s leadership, Cuba developed a reputation for literacy and affordable, quality healthcare; during which time, America developed a reputation for deleterious (greedy!) practices in education and healthcare.

At the book’s writing, Cuba required working mothers to take paid maternity leave halfway through their eighth month; the paid leave continued for four and a half months after the births. An additional year was optional, for which mothers received sixty percent of their wages. Further, abortions were not only legal, but used as a form of contraception, with neither shame nor emotional hysteria generated by political activists, attached. On the other hand, the Cuban government spies on its people 24/7.

Cuban children are taught sex education beginning in the fifth grade. So kids are sexually precocious, as they learn from their older siblings. They are casual about relationships, so there are no hard feelings when families become fragmented, but there are many latchkey children, and males dominate.

After the Soviet Union broke up, Moscow’s government no longer funded Cuba’s economy. Beginning in the 1990’s, this “Special Period” saw severe shortages of basic consumer goods such as health and beauty aids and clothing, not to mention food. Unsurprisingly, domestic violence spiked.

People sold their jewelry at government trading posts in order to survive. They received mostly Panamanian goods in return. They adopted casual dress all the time– flip-flops, shorts, T-shirts– even where formal clothing had been worn previously, such as the theater. Counterfeit big-name goods flooded the market, sourced mostly from Miami, Panama, Madrid and China.

Yet another cultural change included males’ taking on of domestic chores and child-rearing, as more women could earn money through prostituting themselves. Socially-skilled men collected and sold coconuts from private properties, or sought out sexual relationships with visiting of out-of-town women who paid their everyday expenses.

Read the book to learn of the numerous other ways Cuba changed in the 1990’s, and ways it hasn’t– such as in its practices of numerology and witchcraft and in its love of baseball.