Oh, just, subtle, and mighty opium! [T]hat to the hearts of poor and rich alike, for the wounds that will never heal, and for “the pangs that tempt the spirit to rebel,” bringest an assuaging balm; eloquent opium! that with thy potent rhetoric stealest away the purposes of wrath; and to the guilty man for one night givest back the hopes of his youth, and hands washed pure from blood; and to the proud man a brief oblivion for Wrongs [unaddressed] and insults unavenged ….. Thou only givest these gifts to man; and thou hast the keys of Paradise, oh, just, subtle, and mighty opium!

Thomas de Quincey[1]

 [This is Fred. Phil’s out with exhaustion, heat and otherwise, and asked me to take over today’s lesson. This isn’t an easy thing to do, because he has a list of heavy-duty subjects to cover some day, but most are not in my area of interest, and I don’t know enough to lecture about the rest. It would take too long to research “Philosophical Aspects of Modern Rap,” or “A Linguistic Analysis of Feminist Theory,” or “Will Ancient Spells Work on Mars?” [Although that last one really looks interesting.[2]]

But we’re not blazing new paths today; there’s a deadline; so let’s look for an old subject, one we know something about. How about opioids and our collective addiction to them? Heroin, an opioid, has been around and afflicting people in this country for some time.[3] Opium, the original opioid, has caused problems in the East for centuries and has addicted folks in the West for generations. Most of us kind of know about these things, but ignore them. The current furor about opioids only erupted because there are synthetics now loose in the drug economy. They’re very potent, and deadly, and their users die at a high rate.

So why not frame our current situation with some history? Did you know that opium was a big problem in England in the 18th and 19th Centuries? And what’s the evidence for that? Well, for one thing there’s a very famous book, first published in London Magazine in 1821, that chronicles the opium addiction of an upper class Englishman. My friends in sociology say it’s a classic. The book tells us quite a bit about how the author got addicted, who supplied the stuff, and how many users there were.

It says London had a well-established opium trade in the early 19th Century. The author reported: “Three respectable London druggists, in widely remote quarters of London … assured me that the number of amateur opium-eaters … was at [that] time immense; and that the difficulty of distinguishing those persons to whom habit had rendered opium necessary from such as were purchasing it with a view to suicide, occasioned them [the druggists] daily trouble and disputes.”[4] So why would druggists back then worry about would-be suicides? I don’t know. Perhaps it was a legal requirement. But apparently the prospect of suicide didn’t inhibit sales all that much. The population of users “was immense.”

Also, opium addiction was not just an upper class London phenomenon. Blue-collar types in other parts of England were getting into it, “so much so, that on a Saturday afternoon the counters of the druggists were strewed with pills of one, two, or three grains, in preparation for the known demand of the evening.”[5] The author said this happened because, for a time, opium was less expensive than alcohol, so the working class went with the new thing. But, he said, if the pricing reversed, the new addicts would not follow. “[T]hose eat now who never ate before; [a]nd those who always ate, now [will] eat the more.”[6] That is, opium addicts, once made, would not go back to the old vices simply because the market ordered it.]

The book is Confessions of An English Opium-Eater: Being an Extract from the Life of a Scholar, written by Thomas de Quincey.[7] He lived from 1785 to 1859, and was severely addicted from about 1813 until 1819. If you want to know more, there are some web-based biographies available[8]; but in my view they pretty much track the book; so that’s where we’ll concentrate. As to why De Quincey was a user, look at the quote that opens this piece. Opium held the keys to Paradise.[9]

De Quincey’s Life and Addiction

Or at least it did when he used opium sparingly, and at great intervals, for recreation. But I’m getting ahead of the story. Let’s look at the milestones on his road to and from addiction:

  1. Thomas de Quincey was born on August 5, 1785. His father was a merchant, just starting out, and had good prospects until he died, 7 years later. By my count, that would have been in 1792.
  2. Young Thomas had 4 guardians after that, and was shipped off to various schools for his education, apparently including Eton and an unnamed school at Oxford. “I was sent to various schools, great and small; and was very early distinguished for my classical attainments, especially for my knowledge of Greek. At thirteen I wrote Greek with ease; and at fifteen my command of that language was so great that I not only composed Greek verses in lyric metres [today, “meters”], but could converse in Greek fluently and without embarrassment …”[10]
  3. He tried opium for the first time at age 18, which would have been in 1803. He liked it, and over the next 10 years continued to use it “for the sake of the exquisite pleasure it gave me ….”[11]; but, he said, he spaced out the doses to preserve their effect, and that protected him “from all [the] material bad consequences”[12] of addiction. Or perhaps he just didn’t have the money to buy in quantity. Who knows?
  4. The situation changed in 1813, when he was 28. He had an eruption of a gastro-intestinal problem that first had hit him when he was a teenager. Apparently it was both painful and chronic; so much so that he began to treat himself with daily doses of his favorite drug. “It was not for the purpose of creating pleasure, but of mitigating pain in the severest degree, that I first began to use opium as an article of daily diet.”[13]
  5. He continued until he was thoroughly addicted, and didn’t kick the habit until 1819, six years later. How did he escape? By incrementally reducing his intake until he achieved a zero dose rate; and that wasn’t easy! He tried to do it in the early days, but failed. And he was a mess even after he succeeded. “Think of me as one, even when four months had passed, still agitated, writhing, throbbing, palpitating, shattered, and much perhaps in the situation of him who has been racked …. Meantime, I derived no benefit from any medicine, except one prescribed to me by an Edinburgh surgeon of great eminence, viz., ammoniated tincture of valerian.”[14]
  6. Valerian is an herb you can buy today at the vitamin store, but I’m not saying it will help you conquer opioids. So far as I can tell, there still aren’t any easy cures. Right now a cynic might say our technology isn’t much more effective than what was available to De Quincey 200 years ago. Reports are that there may be a vaccine in our future, but they’re speculative and a subject for a different blog.


His milestones sound pretty contemporary, don’t they? De Quincy, an occasional user of opium, the opioid of his day, liked it so long as he didn’t use a lot. Then one day he used it as a pain killer, began to take daily doses, and went straight down the toilet. And today what are our most popular pain medications? Opioids, for the most part. And where do we get them? Why, from druggists, doctors or street vendors, depending on our budgets. Oh brave new world, you look pretty old to me! I wonder, did 19th Century Londoners have street druggists like ours? If so, did they call them “pushers”? Or was everybody just a druggist?

I’m guessing it’s as hard to kick an opioid addiction today as it was for Thomas de Quincey. He said it was like being born:

[Some conjecture] that it may be as painful to be born as to die.  I think it probable; and during the whole period of diminishing the opium I had the torments of a man passing out of one mode of existence into another.  The issue was not death, but a sort of physical regeneration …. [15]

And once regenerated it was possible for him to be happy again. “[A]nd I may add that ever since, at intervals, I have had a restoration of more than youthful spirits, though under the pressure of difficulties which in a less happy state of mind I should have called misfortunes.”

Opium and its modern relatives can be very attractive until they take control of our lives. Thomas de Quincey discovered that, got out, and was better for it. Myself, I think it’s better not to get in.

See you next week!


[1] This quote is from Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Being an Extract from the Life of a Scholar. Believe it or not, this book is currently in print from the Oxford University Press.  It was first published in 1821 in London Magazine, then was picked up in 1886 by George Routledge and Son. You can find the hard copy on Amazon. However, in keeping with blog policy, we have found an alternate, free source for the text, this time in an eBook from Project Gutenberg.  Go to http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2040/2040-h/2040-h.htm “This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net .” Henceforth the eBook will be cited as “Opium Eaters at __.” Page numbers, if given, will be approximations. The eBook version doesn’t appear to have such things. See Opium Eaters at Part II, The Pleasures of Opium, p. 28-29 for our quote. Even our quote is just a small part of what he actually wrote.

[2] I also like his partial draft of “Faces and Other Things on the Planets,” in which he argues that with modern digital technology any collection of pixels can be morphed into anything else, so why believe NASA’s pictures of celestial objects or any pictures at all?

[3] Check out the Wikipedia posting at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroin for more information on this subject.

[4] See Opium Eaters at To the Reader, p. 3.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. “… I do not readily believe that any man having once tasted the divine luxuries of opium will afterwards descend to the gross and mortal enjoyments of alcohol ….”

[7]  See note 1.

[8] See, e.g., the home page for the most recent printed edition of De Quincey’s book, at http://robertjhmorrison.com/thomas-de-quincey/ ; and the Wikipedia entry for him at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_De_Quincey .

[9] The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations has a ridiculously shortened version of the original. See Knowles [editor], Oxford  Dictionary of Quotations (6th Edition, 2004) [hereafter, ODQ at __]  at Thomas de Quincy, p. 264, n. 20. “Thou hast the keys of Paradise oh just, subtle and mighty opium.” That reads like someone’s note on a page, next to the real thing, rather than a genuine effort to reflect the original.

[10] See Opium Eaters at Preliminary Confessions, p. 5.

[11] See Opium Eaters at Preliminary Confessions, p. 4.

[12] Id.

[13] See Opium Eater at Preliminary Confessions, p. 4-5

[14] See Opium Eaters at Part II, June 1819, p. 46

[15] See Opium Eaters at Part II, June 1819, p. 46

I am Goya

Of the bare field, by the enemy’s beak gouged

Till the craters of my eyes gape,

I am grief,

I am the tongue

Of war, the embers of cities

On the snows of the year 1941

I am hunger

Andrei Vaznesensky[1]

 [Phil, I was in the DC area last week, and stopped by to see our friend Rosemary Covey.[2] She has a brilliant, and as usual disturbing, new line of work; it’s topical, a “sign of the times,” you might say; and one piece in particular left me gob smacked. So much so, I might add, that I remembered an idea we had a while ago, but later discarded: i.e., to nominate annually some work of art that best exemplifies some of the worst characteristics of the human race.  

I know you think that’s too negative; that we should focus instead on the positive things in life; but I disagree. If you want flowers and ponies, or visions of the afterlife, go to the church of your choice.  Artists who spotlight the evil out there do us a valuable service. I’m thinking of a series of prints called Los desastres de la guerra[3] that Francisco Goya[4] produced in the early 19th Century. I understand they’re well thought of, even today. Certainly the Russian poet Andrei Vaznesensky knew about them. So one shouldn’t kill [or ignore] messengers simply because they bring unpleasant news.

I know we’re supposed to look for consensus before branching out, and art criticism definitely is new to our blog; so please run my idea by the others. If you [and they] agree the project is worth doing, then please do it. With a little research I’m sure the team will find a way to say something sensible. For my part, it’s hot and I’m heading to the beach. Ta, ta! See you in August!

Oh, and I’m emailing you the image that caught my attention. Rosemary says we can use it in the blog. I’m interpreting that as, “for one blog post only.” G. Sallust[5]]

Well, our illustrious founder has struck again. He’s come up with a project, delegated the work, and left town. Normally I don’t agree when he does things like that but he asked nicely this time and the picture he nominated is, well, extraordinary. Perhaps “arresting” is the better term. Anyway, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Just looking at it warps most of my ideas about what art should do; it’s brutal, graphic [of course it’s graphic; it’s a picture], and detailed, but not overly so. Much more detail and it would be pornographic, at least to someone of a certain mindset. This picture says its piece about the human condition, but stays on the right side of mental illness. Thank God for that. Now if our media would just do the same.

What picture am I talking about? We have a very good image of it, provided by the artist, that we’re posting separately, but at the same time as this commentary. The title of that post is The 2017 EZ2 Picture of the Year. As of now the picture itself doesn’t seem to have a name.

Let’s start with an admission. Unlike G. Sallust, I like “pretty” pictures. I’m in good company there; for centuries intelligent people treated art as something that lasts forever, at least in theory. “All passes,” said Henry Dobson. “Art alone [e]nduring stays to us, [t]he best outlasts the Throne …”[6] Or, more simply put: “Art is long and life is short.”[7] Of course that doesn’t apply to art materials. Ask any conservator what she [or he] has to do to keep things looking fresh in the museum.

Pretty pictures can be a refuge for the weary. Gustav Flaubert, a French author most of us read in college, thought art was something “to conjure away the burden and bitterness” of life.[8] Oscar Wilde, the English writer, agreed. He said: “It is through Art … and through Art only, that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence.”[9] That man could certainly turn a phrase, couldn’t he? And finally Saul Bellow, a modern novelist I like, put it best. “Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer … in the midst of destruction.”[10]

I like it: To meditate or pray by looking at art. For sure you would need quality pictures for that. But that’s not the only view out there. Marshall McLuhan, for example, said that advertising was the greatest art form of the last century.[11] Fancy you or I meditating over some advert in Rolling Stone! If your significant other caught you staring at something like that, she [or he] might think you were up to nothing good! Then there’s our President, Donald Trump, who back in the 1980s said that deals and deal-making are his art form.[12] I’m not mentioning this simply to be facetious. My point is that there’s a whole range of opinions about art and how or why we make it.

We first met Rosemary Covey back in the early 1980s, when she had a very small studio in the old Torpedo Factory Art Center. By “old” I mean the building that existed before the renovation; the one that was far larger and, I think, full of asbestos. Anyway in those days she specialized in wood engraving, a wood cut technique that involved gouging fine lines in super-hard wood blocks. Those she would ink and print from by hand; and “by hand” I mean by laying paper on the inked block, then rubbing the paper with a wood spoon until the ink transferred. The whole process was laborious and accident-prone.

Eventually she went to a professional to print the larger things, but that was laborious as well, because she’s a perfectionist. So she moved on, bought a hand press, and did most of the print work herself.  Since then she’s worked with a variety of techniques, and today specializes in a kind of collage that utilizes her own images, rather than found objects, and painstakingly assembles, modifies and adapts them into a wholly different thing. The final products can be quite beautiful, or brutal, depending on her intent. But always they involve an enormous amount of effort and each, in my view, is its own thing. These originals are not reproductions although from time to time she has reproductions made from them.

So what did Rosemary Covey make with the Picture of the Year? Not a pretty one, that’s for sure. But there’s a view out there that art is anything you do to create order out of the chaos that surrounds. “Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern.”[13] I think that’s close to the truth of her enterprise and this work.  She’s showing us an underlying reality of today’s world, and this time it’s bad.[14] Nobody should kill the helpless. That seems obvious, I guess, but judging from the headlines it’s not so to a lot of people. Hopefully they’re not all psychopaths and some can be made to listen.

But is this really Art?[15] Yes. “Fine art is that in which the hand, the head and the heart of man [or woman] go together.”[16] She’s done that with this work. And by the way, she ought to think about naming it. Francisco Goya has already taken No se paede mirar[17], but something more contemporary along that line might do.

There, that’s enough from me. Award confirmed.


[1] See ODQ at Andrei Vaznesensky, p.817, n. 1. He was a Russian poet, quite popular here in the 1960s. For more information check out the Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrei_Voznesensky . I don’t believe he was an art critic, but he did seem to know the artist Goya’s work pretty well. Goya’s famous for a lot of things, one of them being a series of prints on war. See note 3.

[2] She has a web site at http://www.rosemaryfeitcovey.com/ . There’s also an out-of-date write up on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary_Feit_Covey . Go to the website.

[3]The Disasters of War”.

[4] That’s Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, who is not to be confused with the food company. There’s a pretty good write-up about him in Wikipedia, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francisco_Goya .

[5] G. Sallust is our distinguished founder.

[6] See ODQ at Henry Austin Dobson, p.278, n 15. The full quote is: “All passes. Art alone, Enduring stays to us, The Best outlasts the Throne, The Coins, Tiberius.” Actually I don’t really think of Roman coins as works of art but, on the other hand, I don’t collect them. Dobson lived in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. You can read the essentials about him at Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Austin_Dobson .

[7] See ODQ at Proverbs, p. 614, n. 32.

[8] See ODQ at Gustav Flaubert, p. 325, n. 16. The full quote is: “Human life is a sad show, undoubtedly; ugly, heavy and complex. Art has no other end, for people of feeling, than to conjure away the burden and bitterness.” It’s a translation, of course. Everybody knows about Flaubert but if you don’t, check out the Encyclopedia Britannica at https://www.britannica.com/biography/Gustave-Flaubert .

[9] See ODQ at Oscar Wilde, p. 835, n. 28, and p. 836.

[10] See ODQ at Saul Bellow, p. 66, n. 2. Most of Saul Bellow’s major works remain in print courtesy of the Library of America.

[11] See ODQ at Marshall McLuhan, p. 503, n. 17. The actual quote is: “Advertising is the greatest art form of the twentieth century.” Everybody in my generation knows about him, but probably no one else. If you’re interested check out his official site at https://www.marshallmcluhan.com/films/ .

[12] That’s from the 1988 book, Art of the Deal. You can also find the relevant quote in the ODQ at Donald Trump, p. 801, n. 16. “Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully or write wonderful poetry, I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.”

[13] That’s from Alfred North Whitehead, a philosopher of the early 20th Century. See ODQ at Alfred North Whitehead, p. 892, n. 14. If you want to know more about Whitehead the philosopher, start with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/whitehead/

[14] “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather it makes visible.” See ODQ at Paul Klee, p. 407, n. 16.He was an artist.

[15] “The Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: It’s clever, but is it Art?” See ODQ at Rudyard Kipling, p. 453, n.19.

[16] See ODQ at John Ruskin, p. 660, n.3.

[17] That’s “one cannot look at this.” See ODQ at Francisco jose’ de Goya y Lucientes, p. 357, n. 15.

Pict 2

© Rosemary Feit Covey. Image used by permission of the artist.

For more information contact the artist at http://www.rosemaryfeitcovey.com/

… Ere the bat hath flown
His cloister’d flight, ere, to black Hecate’s summons
The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums
Hath rung night’s yawning peal, there shall be done
A deed of dreadful note

William Shakespeare[1]

 [This is Phil again, and I’m tired of writing about witch hunts. Really, the subject is inexhaustible. Deal with one, and five more rise up: different facts of course, or should I say “alleged” facts? But the pattern is always the same. Attack a politician’s reputation, imply [but don’t prove] that bad things have happened, and trot out some secret witnesses to relate the one to the other. But of course the witnesses aren’t really “trotted out.” They’re quoted and characterized as heroic leakers, but not identified. That’s to protect them from hostile questioning by, say, the folks they’ve been maligning.

So we the public never get anything solid to look at; only gossip and rumors; and, of course, because today there’s a 24 hour news cycle, we hear the g & r over and over … and over. Of course, the victim of the hunt can always deny guilt but so what? After all that rumor mongering the victim will have such a bad reputation that many will think he [she] must be guilty of something![2] The legally inclined might decide that no real case has been made against the victim but the undecided, no doubt, will check the “don’t know” box in any survey. But really, with lousy evidence no one polled will have a sound basis to form any opinion other than “don’t know.”

Of course, I’m talking about political witch hunts, not the supernatural kind. Political witch hunts deal with philosophy, doctrine, economics, social theory and power. A supernatural witch hunt is grounded in religion, faith, fear and the need to counter occult threats. The two are different in principle, if not in practice. This time let’s venture into the supernatural, to check our roots, as it were. Let’s look at bats – filthy creatures – what they do and whether they should be tolerated in our modern age. There are many questions.]

Witches operate at night, and bats come out at night, so are they in collusion and if so, how? You may think that’s an idle question, but I’m not so sure. Bats aren’t human, but back in the Middle Ages people weren’t afraid to try animals for violating human law. We wrote a blog about that not too long ago.[3] So perhaps bats were equally culpable with humans in witchcraft and should have been tried along with them. Or perhaps they were the real culprits, and the witches should have been excused.

Let’s put aside the question of how to catch the bats to bring them to human justice and apply instead the ancient three part test to see if they’re guilty of something. If they are, then we can formulate the details of an anti-bat campaign.


There’s no denying that bats hang in evil places and with evil things. First, of course, they come out at night and sleep in dark spaces during the day, usually with each other. And look at what Shakespeare said about them! The bat flies his cloistered flight around the same time the beetle, at Hecate’s order, sounds “night’s yawning peal.” Hecate, as we all know, is an ancient goddess of the night, and now of witches.[4] The beetle makes a sound, not like a bell, but a buzzing, so when night “yawns” it makes us drowsy. Other poets confirm this. “Now air is hushed, save where the weak-eyed bat, [w]ith short shrill squeak flits by on leathern wing, [o]r where the beetle winds [h]is small but sullen horn …”[5] And obviously the night is dangerous to humans; it makes us drowsy, so we’re not alert to its threats. So when we hear a bat, “the dry whisper of [its] unseen wings,[6]” we know definitely it’s not the sound of an angel.

And if you need more proof, just think of how relieved we are when night and its bat companions leave us for a time. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote about that. “Come into the garden, Maud,” he wrote, “[f]or the black bat, night, has flown … [a]nd the woodbine spices are wafted abroad, [a]nd the musk of the rose is blown.”[7] It was dawn, and the bats were gone, and he was awake and ready to get on with life.

Indications of the Deed

Well, what about sorcerous deeds? Do we have any indications of bat involvement in such things? The literature is full of relatively minor examples of bat complicity. Who can forget, for example: “Eye of newt and toe of frog, [w]ool of bat and tongue of dog … For a charm of powerful trouble, [l]ike a hell-broth boil and bubble”?[8] That’s some powerful spell-casting straight from Macbeth, and bats contributed to the potion. Then there’s Shakespeare’s other observation, that bats keep company with sprites and other magical beings. “On the bat’s back I do fly, [a]fter summer merrily; Merrily, merrily shall I live now, [u]nder the blossom that hangs on the bough.” That’s from The Tempest.[9]

But those are old examples, and I’m more interested in the here and now, and how bats may affect us today. And really, I didn’t worry much about that until I did some research. Did you know that it’s possible to believe bats will be there at the start of the next major war? Consider this:

Ponderous and uncertain is that relation between pressure and resistance which constitutes the balance of power. The arch of peace is morticed by no iron tendons …. One night a handful of dust will patter from the vaulting: the bats will squeak and wheel in sudden panic: nor can the fragile fingers of man then stay the rush and crumble of destruction.[10]

That’s from a 20th Century diplomat.[11] Frankly I’m speechless. If bats are correlated with the next Big War, will they be the cause of it, or an effect, or both? And if we don’t know, shouldn’t we just exterminate them to be safe? What would today’s witch hunting media recommend? Are there leaker-witnesses out there to support drastic action?


Well, we have plenty of witnesses in literature, Shakespeare, Tennyson, William Collins and the like, but they’re not likely to appear in person at a trial; and I haven’t found much current, say on YouTube, that’s really negative on bats. Instead there seem to be videos that portray bats as useful, cute, or at least valuable partners in maintaining the balance of nature. For one of the cute ones, take a look at Baby Bat Burritos, cite given below.[12] And so far I’ve found nothing that relates bats in a causal way to war. But that’s now; you never know what or who will turn up later. Perhaps Congress should sponsor an official inquiry into the question. People need to know if they are safe.


Bats are occult for sure and their reputation isn’t good; but they haven’t caused any harm recently; and the available You Tube witnesses mostly testify in favor of bats. So absent a new and spectacular bat expose’ there’s not a strong basis for mounting a bat witch hunt.

It’s a tough call, but I would defer any drastic action for now. You should do the same. After all, this is the 21st Century. We can always generate a mob via social media whenever we need one. There’s no need to act until circumstances favor us.

And by all means, don’t brood about occult things after the sun sets. As Francis Bacon once said, “Suspicions amongst thoughts are like bats amongst birds, they ever fly by twilight.”[13] Have a good dinner and forget about bats, and war, and turn off the TV. That alone may be a liberating experience. Bacon didn’t know about TV but, if he had, I’m sure he would have said the same.


[1] This is from Macbeth, Act 3, scene 2, lines 44-49. You can find it online at http://www.shmoop.com/macbeth/the-supernatural-quotes-3.html . Or, if you have a copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, see Knowles (editor), Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (6th Edition, 2004) [hereafter, ODQ at __] go to it at Shakespeare, p.705, n. 22.

[2] Or should I have said: “he, she [or they] are” guilty of something? With all the gender confusion these days, it’s getting harder to write a sentence. How does one keep the gender option open for one person but at the same time connect him or her [or whatever] to a verb of some sort? When do he or she [or whatever] become a “they,” or should gender confused people be called “it” just to get on with the narrative?  These are questions. I don’t know the answers. If you do, please write!

[3] See the Elemental Zoo Two blog of 02/032013, Animal Rights in History, available at https://opsrus.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/animal-rights-in-history/

[4] If you want to know more see the Wikipedia piece on her, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hecate .

[5] That’s from William Collins, an 18th Century poet. See ODQ at William Collins, p. 235, n. 11.

[6] See ODQ at R. S. Thomas, p. 790, n. 23:  “Or the dry whisper of unseen wings, Bats not angels, in the high roof.” For more information on him, take a look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._S._Thomas .

[7] See ODQ at Alfred, Lord Tennyson, at p. 781, n. 23. The full quote is: “Come into the garden, Maud, [f]or the black bat, night, has flown. Come into the garden, Maud, I am here at the gate, alone. And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad, [a]nd the musk of the rose is blown.”

[8] It’s from Macbeth, Act 4, scene 1, line 14. See ODQ at Shakespeare, p. 706, n. 12

[9] The quote is from The Tempest, Act 5, scene 1, line 88. If you don’t have Shakespeare handy you can find the quote in ODQ at Shakespeare, p. 719, n. 6.

[10] That’s a quote by Harold Nicolson, a 20th Century diplomat. See ODQ at Harold Nicholson, p. 563, n. 10 For more information on him, take a look at the Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Nicolson .

[11] See n. 10.

[12] See Baby Bat Burritos, a video incorporated in Huffington Post, Dicker, Baby Bats Swaddled Like Little Burritos Are Way Cuter Than You Might Expect (Dec. 01, 2014), available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/01/baby-bats-swaddled_n_6247954.html

[13] See ODQ at Francis Bacon, p. 429, n. 5.


Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his [defense]. 

Article 11, Universal Declaration of Human Rights[1]

The principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law….”

Coffin v. United States[2]

[Phil, I read your last blog on witch hunts and enjoyed it quite a bit. It was colorful and incisive as usual. I think what you said was that in the old days a witch hunt could be started by any person who denounced a neighbor by filing charges with a local court, with supporting evidence. If the evidence made the case, then the accused [witch] was in trouble. If the evidence wasn’t good enough, then the accuser might be in trouble unless he had acted simply to protect the Faith or for the common good. In that case he wouldn’t be penalized “even if he fail[ed] in his proof.”[3] Or, if there were rumors of witchcraft all over the place, but no one was willing to denounce individuals, a local tribunal might simply open an inquiry [an “inquisition”] on its own motion and start dragging people in to question them.

So that brings me to the next question. Presumably even 500 years ago people accused of a crime were thought innocent until proved guilty. So how did the witch hunters prove someone was a witch? How could they do that when, as we know today, it’s simply not possible to affect weather, crops or livestock with a curse, or make people sick with a dirty look, or have sex with a demon? [4]]

That last is another very good question from our leader, G. Sallust. Perhaps one day I’ll ask the questions and he’ll answer them. But not today; the answer to his question – how to prove witchcraft – lies deep in the Malleus Maleficarum[5], a book I’ve read and he hasn’t. Not that I’m glad to have read it. It gives me nightmares, sometimes. But apparently people study it in our Journalism schools and treat it as a good example, if not a paradigm of how to report on politics. So, too bad for us, the Hammer may be as relevant to current events as today’s newspaper. Do any of you read newspapers?

The ancient witch hunters needed three things to try a witch: (i) the accused’s reputation; it had to be bad; (ii) ‘indications’ of sorcerous deeds; and (iii) adverse witness statements.[6] That sounds clear enough, I suppose, but the devil was in the details, especially where sorcery was involved. Also witch hunters wouldn’t have brought someone to trial unless they thought she [or he] was guilty. Anyway, that’s what I’m told.

Reputation as Evidence

If the accused had a bad reputation, the witch hunters assumed it was because she [or he] had committed sorcery at some place and time. “[S]orceresses are immediately branded with a bad reputation because of crimes in some village or city.”[7] A bad reputation was, in fact, evidence of sorcery. Where there’s smoke there’s fire! Or was it, “probably a liar?” I forget.

Indications of the Deed

This was the easy part. The investigators looked for sick children, diseased farm animals, barren fields, and so forth.[8] Such events were plentiful [it was the 15th Century] and easy to verify. The trick was to connect them to the accused. For this investigators needed either a confession or statements from witnesses.


Three witnesses were required.[9] However, they didn’t have to be witnesses to the same event. One could have said, ‘she looked at my child, and he fell sick’’ another that ‘she looked at my farm animals, and they died, and the third that ‘she waved at my fields, and they became barren.’[10] It was enough that they all agreed about the ‘essence of the deed’ – i.e., that there was sorcery.

Of course that was their opinion, unsupported by today’s science. Illness and crop failures are common when people have poor sanitation, over cultivate their land, starve periodically, and basically don’t understand how disease works. But witnesses didn’t know such things in the 15th Century, and it didn’t matter. The only important thing, apparently, was that they believed sorcery was at work and said so. How did they know that? Don’t worry; they just knew it when they saw it.

Guilty or Innocent?

So there you have it. If the witch hunters did their job properly, there was no real need for a trial. All that had to be proved would have been proved.” A trial would only validate the accused’s guilt, preferably with a confession.[11] I’m not a lawyer, but frankly I don’t see a “presumption of innocence” working anywhere in this business.

Guilt was established by the investigation. If the witch confessed as well, she would be turned over to the civil authorities and burned. If she didn’t confess, it would be just for the civil authorities to imprison her until she was ‘worn down by the misery of prison’[12] and confessed. Then she could be executed. In either case, the whole thing would be ‘summary, straightforward, and informal,’ which the hunters thought was a good thing.[13]

And, by the way, it didn’t really matter if she denied all guilt. The witch hunters thought witches successfully resisted confessing only because the devil helped them. That’s why, once a witch was arrested, the authorities were told to: search her house for ‘devices of sorcery’; lock up her ‘maids and companions,’ because undoubtedly they knew secrets; and keep her out of the house, because otherwise she might pick up magical devices that would help her keep silent.[14] Nobody wanted her to find her magical confession-repeller, because that might complicate the investigation!

Witch Hunts Today

So let’s summarize for a bit. In the 15th Century if a woman didn’t get along with the neighbors, normal illnesses, etc. attacked some of the local children, farm animals or fields, and three people blamed the woman, that was enough to prove witchcraft. You know, I used to think that it would be wonderful to live in a small town, but I’m beginning to understand the drawbacks, especially if the locals are superstitious. But that’s not our current issue, is it? What G. Sallust asked was: “Do our peerless media behave exactly the same way when they report on politics?” I’m thinking the answer is “yes,” at least where President Trump is concerned.


Have the media relentlessly focused on his private life, and allegations about it? Yes. Do they talk and talk and talk about what they think of him, his business practices and how he may or may not treat others? Yes. Do they routinely portray him as unstable and not to be trusted? Yes. Do they routinely ignore his popularity in troublesome places like the Middle East, and his ability to turn out its leadership when he goes there? Oh, yes! So quite obviously his reputation is a prime target.

Does Mr. Trump have a lot of accusers? Oh yes, and many of them – seemingly the most authoritative – are anonymous. They pretty much act like 15th Century witnesses who are afraid of the person they denounce, and ask the inquisitor for protection; only in this case it’s the media that shields the witness, not some judge. So there are witnesses against Trump out there, timid ones, but quite likely more than three.

But the ancient witch hunters demanded some independent, physical evidence of witchcraft before they would prosecute. You know, the ‘indications’ of the deed – sick children, barren fields, bad weather, that kind of thing. Most of these events are now known to have natural explanations. So do we have a disaster right now; one bordering on the supernatural[15]; that these many secret witnesses might connect to Trump?

So far there doesn’t seem to be anything like that. The stock market is up; employment is rising; there aren’t any new wars or plagues; and ISIS, although still active and deadly, is in retreat. And that, I would say, is the fatal flaw.  The media are hunting witches when times are good, or at least improving.


So, not to put too fine a point on it, if we brought in auditors from the 15th Century to look at the campaign against Trump, most likely they wouldn’t like it. There’s an essential element missing in the proof: i.e., no current disaster of near supernatural proportions to fire up the populace. Also, there’s a fussy legality that might disturb the process. Today an accused person is presumed innocent until proved guilty.

And, as we discussed last time, there are other disturbing factors in play. These days lawyers are available to an accused, for example, and the courts aren’t permitted to torture him [or her]. Given all that no doubt the inquisitors of the 15th Century would withhold their seal of approval. What else could responsible and moral hunters do?

So for now to the media: Good try, and better luck next time!

[1] The text of Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is available as a pdf download directly from the United Nations, at http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html Want to know more about the Universal Declaration? Check out the Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Declaration_of_Human_Rights

[2] See Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432, 453 (1895), available from Justia at https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/156/432/case.html. For you non-lawyers, the Justia version of a Supreme Court case is not “official,” and can’t be cited as such in a legal brief, etc. But it works just fine for a blog. Also the Court is talking about a presumption of innocence, not an absolute rule. “This presumption is in the nature of evidence in his favor [i.e. in favor of the accused], and a knowledge of it should be communicated to the jury. Accordingly, it is the duty of the judge in all jurisdictions, when requested, and in some when not requested, to explain it to the jury in his charge. The usual formula in which this doctrine is expressed is that every man is presumed to be innocent until his guilt is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The accused is entitled, if he so requests it … to have this rule of law expounded to the jury in this or in some equivalent form of expression.” See id.at p. 459, citing an article in Criminal Law Magazine from January, 1888.

[3] See Christopher S. Mackay (translator], The Hammer of Witches, A Complete Translation of the Malleus Maleficarum (Cambridge 2006, 2009) (hereafter cited as Hammer at p. __). See Hammer at p. 504. As noted last time, the book was written by two [apparently crazed] Dominican friars, Jacobus Sprenger and Henricus Institoris. See Hammer at Introduction, p.2 – 3.

[4] G. Sallust, by phone, June 22, 2017. Again, this was what was on my voicemail, sanitized a bit for language. You’ll have to take my word for it. I still don’t save voicemails.

[5] See n. 3.

[6] See Hammer, Part III at p. 202A, 202B (p. 521 of the text.)

[7] Id.

[8] See Hammer, Part III at p. 202A, 202B (p. 521 of the text.)

[9] See Hammer, Part III at p. 197A (p. 508 of the text.) The authors thought that two ought to be enough, but chose the larger number in the name of ‘legal fairness.’

[10] See generally See Hammer, Part III at p. 202B, 202C (p. 521, 522 of the text.)

[11] Once in jail, an accused might never get out. Some commentators argued that so long as the accused had an impaired reputation, there were indications of witchcraft, and three witnesses against her, she was ‘manifestly caught’ and should go to prison.  (See Hammer, Part III at p. 203A (p. 524 of the text)) The Malleus took a more liberal position. It let the judge decide to imprison or not to imprison based on the strength of the case and ‘on the basis of local procedure and upholding custom.’ But, and this is important, if released the accused witch had to produce sureties to guarantee that she would appear again in court if summoned.” (See Hammer, Part III at p. 203B (p. 524 of the text))

[12] See Hammer, Part III at p. 202C, 202D (p. 522. 523 of the text.)

[13] See Hammer, Part III at p. 202D, (p. 523 of the text.)

[14] See Hammer, Part III at p. 203C (p. 525 of the text.)

[15] Perhaps an economic disaster? Recessions always seem kind of supernatural to me.


I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director. Witch Hunt!

Trump Tweet, circa June 16, 2017[1]

The President claims he’s the victim of a witch hunt. We know something about those things, don’t we? At least that’s what you’ve said, from time to time. So dig back in your files, and find out what people actually did when they hunted witches. You don’t need to cover the whole process. I know it’s arduous and violent. Just tell me what’s needed to start one. And stay away from the dictionary! I don’t want to hear what some modern lexicographer thinks. I want to know what the old guys really did. We have a book about that, don’t we?

G. Sallust, by phone, June 16, 2017[2]

This is Phil, erstwhile blog philosopher and today’s lecturer. G. Sallust called me the other day, and said what I quote at the top of this piece. And he’s right. We do have a book. It’s from the 15th Century and is called the Malleus Maleficarum, or, in English, The Hammer of Witches.[3] [Actually it’s a modern and complete translation of the old Latin.] We spent a lot of time in 2011 reading and writing about it to see how the jurisprudence worked, and how ancient wisdom might be adapted to today. Not surprisingly, we found parallels between the ‘enhanced interrogation” used on suspected terrorists after 9/11 and the tactics of the witch hunters.

This was important, at least in my view, because the old witch hunters were really good at getting confessions. By one account many thousands of witches were burned in Europe, and around four thousand were hanged in England.[4] Why? Because they confessed to flying; striking livestock and fields barren with a curse; having sex with the devil; causing a man’s penis to disappear with magic; or other improbable things. The hunt didn’t seem to yield truth; only fabricated stories. So why did the accused ‘fess up’ to things that were, basically, impossible?

Why, indeed? I would say it was the torture that did it, coupled with the brainwashing, but that’s not our topic for today. G Sallust has asked a more preliminary question. What really was necessary to get that juggernaut of madness rolling? What legal process was involved? The answer: Not much.

You see, according to the old hunters there were three ways to start a witch hunt. One person could denounce another by filing a paper with some court specifying what the other had done, and offering to testify as to the specifics; or one could simply denounce another without offering to testify, apparently on the ground that everybody knew so-and-so was a witch; or the authorities could open a general investigation [an ‘inquisition’] of witchcraft in an area, because there were rumors of it all over the place. In that last situation it would be up to the authorities to bring the accusations.[5]

The witch-hunters really didn’t like option 1, by the way. The problem with laying charges is that the charging party has to justify them. There could be penalties if the facts didn’t hold up, and who knew what might happen once the lawyers got involved?[6] Instead they vastly preferred an approach where the accuser didn’t have to prove anything, or an independent party took on the burden of making the case. If a person denounced someone else to protect the Faith or the common good, the witch hunters thought he should not “become subject to penalty even if he fails in his proof.”[7] And, of course, if someone is tried by inquisition, then no individual is responsible for that. The judge [or whoever] instituted those proceedings “not at the insistence of some party, but by virtue of his office.”

Speaking of lawyers, in the 15th Century defendants in witchcraft trials didn’t get to choose their own advocates. The judge did that. And in doing it he was instructed to avoid “litigious, evil spirited persons” who might be “fussy about legal niceties.”[8] So the defendant got a limp lawyer to protect him [or her] from the torture chamber.

Does any of this sound familiar? Well, let’s see:

  • So far no one has sued Donald Trump for being “too close to” the Russians, or for firing the FBI Director, or for anything like that. At least I don’t know of any such litigation, civil or criminal. So, so far nobody has proved anything in court.
  • The 15th Century Witch Hunters would have approved. They felt that people who denounced others for the “public good” should be able to do so without repercussions. The witnesses especially needed to be protected from the accused. They were scary people, the accused – probably witches – and were dangerous to cross. So obviously if a witness didn’t want to be known, he [or she] wouldn’t be.
  • And how do today’s hunters protect accusers? Well, one way is by allowing them to anonymously leak information, or allegations really, to the media, with a pledge that their identity won’t be revealed. You may have noticed that there’s a lot of that going on, especially in the Washington Post and the New York Times.
  • And is there an inquisition out there? Well, if by that you mean an official inquiry prompted by rumor, innuendo and anonymous sources, there might be several. We have, of course, numerous Congressional committees looking into this or that, plus now a special counsel building a fiefdom over in the Department of Justice.

So in my opinion – and it’s only an opinion – President Trump is correct in part. What we have here is the start of a traditional witch hunt, an auspicious beginning that even the hunters of the 15th Century would have appreciated. We have rumor and innuendo, anonymous sources insulated by their anonymity, vague allegations that come and go, and now official inquiries [including one by a special counsel] that can go on until somebody or something breaks. For a witch hunter those are good things.

But it’s not perfect. This is America and a big part of the political class has taken on some wealthy people, so everybody has lawyers. The 15th Century witch hunters really didn’t like lawyers. Lawyers could be evil spirited and overly fussy about legal niceties. And that’s the way they are today for sure. Also law enforcement here is limited in the way it treats prisoners. Currently no torture is allowed.

So I guess we don’t have a full-blown witch hunt, yet; defendants are better protected than in the 15th Century, and nobody has confessed to improbable things; but it’s a good start, and the future is bright … for the media.

[1] This is currently reported by Twitter at https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/875701471999864833 .

[2] That’s what was on my voicemail, sanitized a bit for language. You’ll have to take my word for it. I don’t save voicemails.

[3] See Christopher S. Mackay (translator], The Hammer of Witches, A Complete Translation of the Malleus Maleficarum (Cambridge 2006, 2009) (hereafter cited as Hammer at p. __). The book was written by two [apparently crazed] Dominican friars, Jacobus Sprenger and Henricus Institoris. See Hammer at Introduction, p.2 – 3.

[4] See Sargant, Battle for the Mind (Doubleday, 1957) at p. 198 – 199.

[5] See Hammer at p. 502 – 503: “The three methods … consist of denunciation and inquisition. The first is when someone accuses someone else before a judge with a charge of heresy or abetting it, offers to prove this and writes himself down for the penalty of retribution if he does not prove it. The second method is when someone denounces someone else without offering to prove it or being  willing to participate, and instead states that he is making a denunciation through his zeal for the Faith or on account of [penalties imposed by religious or secular authorities] . The Third is the method by inquisition, that is, when there is no accuser or denouncer, but the general rumor in a certain city or place about there being sorceresses.  In that case, the judge has to institute proceedings not at the insistence of some party but by virtue of his office. “

[6] See Hammer at p. 503: “It should be noted that the judge really should not allow the first method of proceeding, because this method is not customary in a case involving the Faith … because it is quite dangerous for the accuser on account of the penalty of retribution that is imposed when he fails to make good the proof, and because it is quite subject to legal disputation.”

[7] Id. at p. 504.

[8] See Hammer at p. 530 – 531: “As for the first point, it is noted that an advocate is not assigned according to the pleasure of the denounced person, for instance because he was inclined to have one particular person. What judges should make every provision against is granting a litigious, evil-spirited person, who could easily be corrupted by money as such people often are found to be. Rather he should grant to the accused an upright person who is not suspected of being fussy about legal niceties.”


Parapsychology: The name given to the scientific study of paranormal phenomena …. Parapsychology largely replaced the earlier term “psychical research,” the change indicating a significant shift in emphasis and methodology.

Psi: Greek letter used in parapsychology to indicate psychic or paranormal phenomena such as extrasensory perception (ESP) or psychokinesis (PK).

Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology [1]

[This is Fred, and today we’re going to explore subjects that the public generally don’t know about, or forget, or don’t want to remember. You know, like leprosy in the U.S.[2] or the sterilization of undesirables in our glorious country[3], or the disturbing appearance of radiation in our milk supply back in the 1950’s[4]. [Why did we call it the ‘milk supply’? What we really meant was that there was a radioactive element in our cows, which they excreted with their milk so we could drink it down.]  But we all need a little humor now and then, so let’s look for something more cheerful.  Let’s review parapsychology, i.e., mental telepathy, precognition and remote viewing, and how our government experimented with them. It turns out we [the U.S.] did quite a bit of that back in the day. Perhaps we still do? And while we’re at it, let’s revisit Unidentified Flying Objects as well.

There’s a new book, Phenomena[5], that tells us a lot about government’s research in parapsychology up to about 1990. That’s later than I would have expected; frankly I thought the taxpayer had stopped paying for mind benders, etc. around 1970, when the Air Force also gave up chasing flying saucers. I realize the two are different. Flying saucers [i.e., UFOs} are unidentified objects people have reported in the sky. Generally the folks who make the reports are reliable, ordinary citizens but bewildered. They’ve seen something but they can’t say what it is.  The people who say they can read minds, foretell the future, or see things far away are different. You’re more likely to find them in show business, as mentalists [aka mind readers], stage magicians, stage hypnotists and the like. My point is not that you have to ignore such people. It’s just that you have to be very, very careful when you test them and their abilities. After all, another word for a magician is an illusionist.

Of course government research in the paranormal once was classified, but nothing is secret forever, especially today. In fact, if you go to the CIA Library [the electronic one], and ask for a list of things that have been declassified, you’ll probably find a bunch of stuff on all kinds of subjects, including flying saucers, remote action and, of course, remote viewing. I’ve pulled a couple of their documents to illustrate a point or two.]

Flying Saucers

G. Sallust wrote an interesting blog on this not too long ago.[6] His thesis was that the Air Force had burned up a lot of time chasing reported UFO sightings after-the-fact. You remember, probably, that the Air Force discontinued its program, called Project Blue Book, in 1970. Modern technology should allow us to dispense with all that chasing around. Today a better approach would be to go to the places where sightings are reported, mine those areas with sensors, send the reconnaissance drones to loiter there, train the satellite cameras on them as well, and wait to see what shows up. Photograph [excuse me, image] an actual visitor from outer space and the program justifies itself! Now that sounds like a plan!

But something I didn’t know was that the CIA also had a role in tracking and identifying UFOs and it didn’t end until around 1990. The CIA’s activity was outlined in an article written by Gerald Haines, head of the National Reconnaissance Office.[7] So far it’s the best official explanation I’ve found of why and how the UFO controversy became, well, so controversial. Haines said that “over half of all UFO reports from the late 1950s through the 1960s were accounted for by manned reconnaissance flights … over the United States.” [8] Our Government didn’t want to discuss them at the time because the associated programs[9] were highly classified. If you take those flights into account the percentage “of what the Air Force considered to be unexplained UFO sightings fell to 5.9 percent in 1955 and to 4 percent in 1956.”[10]

Of course, the fact that 4% of sightings remained unexplained did not automatically make some of them the work of space aliens. Unexplained events prove nothing except the limits of our knowledge.  Only on TV can a lack of evidence be evidence of, say, a far-reaching conspiracy or cosmic forces arrayed against us. So if we want conspiracy in our lives, why not just blame the Devil for everything we don’t understand? People did that in the Middle Ages, and it worked, sort of, except for the occasional plague, witch hunt, pogrom or whatever. I guess today we’re supposed to know better. Or don’t our schools teach that anymore?

Oops! I got carried away there. That last paragraph was my opinion, not Mr. Haines’. But he did conclude his analysis with some pop psychology.Like the JFK assassination conspiracy theories,” he said, “the UFO issue probably will not go away soon, no matter what the Agency does or says. The belief that we are not alone in the universe is too emotionally appealing and the distrust of our government is too pervasive to make the issue amenable to traditional scientific studies [or] rational explanation and evidence.”[11]

So that’s the Government position as I understand it. If you’re not satisfied, perhaps you might consider G. Sallust’s suggestion that we investigate modern sightings [not the old ones of the 1950s and 1960s] with modern technology. Let’s lay our traps and see what shows up! And if we find drug dealers infiltrating the country, rather than space aliens, that would be good to know.


So now we get to the area covered by Phenomena, i.e. the use of psi[12] powers to view far-away places or things, or to affect things [or people] at a distance. Need I point out that this was supposed to be done using mental powers rather than physical means? No radio or TV transmissions or missile strikes were permitted! Generally the experiments we know about were conducted jointly with the Stanford Research Institute. SRI would design the experiments – the protocols, as it were – and provide the facilities, and the government would supply the people.

In the case of remote viewing,[13] for example, two researchers would randomly choose a sealed envelope from a group kept in a safe at SRI, leave the SRI office, open the envelope and go to the landmark identified.  Once there, and at a specified time, they would stare at the landmark [“survey the site,” the book says] and attempt to transmit their impressions back to SRI. Transmit to whom? Why, to a “sensitive” employed by the Government and sitting in a Faraday cage at SRI. A Faraday cage, by the way, is “an enclosure used to block electromagnetic fields.”[14] Presumably the Faraday cage was there to prevent anybody from slipping a radio signal to the sensitive who was supposed to be reading minds.[15]

Many thought this and other work at CIA was interesting, and useful, but apparently CIA management didn’t fully agree. There’s an article from 1977 by Kenneth Kress, a CIA physicist[16] that pretty much encapsulates this view:

There is no fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of paranormal functioning, and the reproducibility remains poor. The research and experiments have successfully demonstrated abilities but have not explained them nor made them reproducible. Past and current support of parapsychology comes from applications-oriented intelligence and military agencies. The people managing such agencies demand quick and relevant results. The intelligence and military agencies, therefore, press for results before there is sufficient experimental reproducibility or understanding of the physical mechanisms[17]

Did you get all of that? Nobody really understands paranormal phenomena. Favorable results, when they appear, can’t be reproduced. “The research and experiments have successfully demonstrated abilities but have not explained them nor made them reproducible.” If results can’t be repeated, then why should other scientists believe them? Also CIA managers, the ones responsible for budgets, want to see results. Otherwise why should they continue to fund projects?

It sounds as though Dr. Kress might have been lobbying for some sort of “blue sky” funding, the kind of pure research that ARPA [now DARPA] finances. I wonder if today anyone over there sponsors parapsychology research? [18]

Nevertheless the work continued. In 1987, for example, SRI and JFK University experimented to see if a human could mentally affect a piezoelectric transducer “to produce an event above a preset feedback threshold.” This wasn’t a test of remote viewing. It was instead an attempt to directly affect the physical world with the mind alone.[19] While preliminary tests were encouraging, i.e., “sufficiently interesting to warrant further investigation,” the final tests produced “no evidence” of the desired effect. [20]


Of course, I haven’t looked at all of the government experiments out there, publically available or still classified, but so far I wouldn’t jump to any positive conclusions. Parapsychology is an area of research that by all appearances has led nowhere.

If any of you want to pursue either of these topics, UFOs or Psi Powers, by all means do so.

  • If you fancy the UFO/ space alien hypothesis, I believe the best new idea out there came from our own G. Sallust. Ask your Congressperson to support a program to provide continuous surveillance of areas that report high incidents of UFO sightings. Do the surveillance in real time, not only after something has happened. If we’re prepared, we can catch UFOs “in the act,” not after the fact.
  • If you want to follow up on parapsychology, then most likely someone – independent of the establishment – will have to do a survey of the science that’s been done so far. A lot of it is out in the public domain, courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act. I would start with the STARGATE files maintained by the CIA, mostly because I know about them.[21] You’ll have to find the rest.

Good luck on all of that!


[1] See Melton, Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology (Gale Group, 2001) at Parapsychology, p. 1181, & Psi, p.1246.

[2]  See Health Resources and Services Administration, National Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) Program Caring and Curing Since 1894, available at https://www.hrsa.gov/hansensdisease/ .

[3] If you want to research this subject, start with the Wikipedia article on Eugenics in the U.S., at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics_in_the_United_States . That should lead you to lots of additional sources.

[4] I remember well the consternation about Strontium 90 in the 1950s but got lazy when I looked for a reference. The most useful one I could find, for free, is the one in Wikipedia, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strontium-90 , but it really doesn’t capture the mood of that time.

[5] See Jacobsen, Phenomena (Little Brown, 2017). Henceforth the book will be cited as Phenomena at __.

[6] See the blog of 2017/05/04, UFOs in New York, available at https://opsrus.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/ufos-in-new-york/

[7] See, e.g., Haines, A Die-Hard Issue: CIA’s Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947-90, available at https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol40no5/html/v40i5a09p.htm  Page references will be identified as Haines at __.

[8] See Haines at 73.

[9] That is, the U-2 and SR-71 projects.

[10] See Haines at 73

[11] See Haines at 79.

[12] See n. 1.

[13] See Phenomena at Chapter Ten, Remote Viewing.

[14] See the Wikipedia entry on Faraday cages at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage .

[15] A reasonable precaution if you consider the early history of the field. In the 1950s, for example, a machinist who heard voices was found to be sane once the doctors involved discovered that the fillings in his teeth were covered with carborundum, which acted like a crystal receiver in the old crystal radio. Actually he was picking up WOR radio in New York City, not voices from the other side. See Phenomena at p. 35 – 36.

[16] See Phenomena at p. 167 -171.

[17] See Kress, Parapsychology in Intelligence: A Personal Review and Conclusions, appearing in Studies in Intelligence (Winter, 1977). This is a CIA internal publication, classified, but according to the CIA, the classification was lifted in 1996. You can verify that if you go online to the CIA Library, and search the Index of Declassified Articles, By Title. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find the article itself at the CIA [that’s probably my mistake], but there’s a copy of what seems to be the right thing on WordPress, at https://smileyspsispies.wordpress.com/parapsychology-in-intelligence-a-personal-review-conclusions-dr-k-a-kress/.  And finally, if you want to see the blizzard of paperwork released by CIA in recent years under FOIA, go to the CIA Reading Room and search the “STARGATE” Collection. Yes, I said “STARGATE!”

[18] The DARPA website is at www.darpa.mil . Take a look for yourself. They’re quite open about many [most?] of their projects

[19] Whatever that means!

[20] See, e.g., Hubbard, et al., A Remote Action Experiment with a Piezoelectric Transducer (December 1987) (Approved for Release 2002/11/18, CIA-RDP96-00787R000300300001-7) and available from the aforementioned STARGATE file, at pp. 5, 16. “In conclusion, we found no evidence of an RA effect on a PZT.”

[21] See n. 17.