If it is not advantageous, do not move. If objectives cannot be attained, do not employ the army. The ruler cannot mobilize the army out of personal anger … When it is advantageous, move. When not advantageous, stop. Anger can revert to happiness, annoyance can revert to joy, but a vanquished state cannot be revived, the dead cannot be brought back to life.


 [Dear Fred. I’m up at the mountain cabin this weekend, doing an inventory of freeze-dried food packets and potassium iodide tablets, so I haven’t had time to concentrate on the latest news about North Korea, China and the Russians. I know the rhetoric has heated up, and our media are beginning to scare the snowflakes, but I’m not impressed. You and I have seen this before; we’re older than a lot of folks, and remember the Bay of Pigs, and the October, 1962 nuclear showdown between us and the Russians [aka the old Soviet Union]. They installed intermediate range nuclear missiles in Cuba and aimed them at us.[2] We took exception but it was a knotty problem because we had done essentially the same thing when we installed similar weapons in Italy and Turkey. Our missiles were right at the Soviets’ doorstep and, of course, were aimed at them.

I was in college at the time, and in the ROTC, so I had a basic understanding of the forces in play. World War II had ended not 20 years earlier, so I knew for sure that global wars were possible. I also knew, because this was a big topic when I grew up, that the next big one could be fought with far deadlier weapons. That is, with bombs and missiles of the nuclear persuasion. Our Government thought so too. See Boom, Watch the Fallout!, a blog we did last May on bomb shelters and war planning.[3] Frankly I was appalled at the prospect of a first ever, widespread nuclear war. It was like science fiction gone bad.

Why didn’t we have a nuclear slugfest in 1962? Well, perhaps somebody on our side, and the Russian one as well, had read Sun-tzu. A war at that time and place simply made no sense:

  • We and the Soviet Union were evenly matched, more or less, in that each of us could severely, if not permanently damage the other in any nuclear war;
  • Elements in our respective Governments realized this basic truth; and
  • There was nothing at stake to warrant extreme measures and possible mutual destruction.

Both sides had long range bombers that could reach the other’s homeland, so strategically it wasn’t really necessary for either of us to have intermediate range missiles on the other’s doorstep. Such missiles were useful, perhaps, but not absolutely essential.  Also, each side continued to develop and deploy long range ballistic missiles and warheads for them; these were easier to secure, because they could be stationed far from an enemy, yet could strike an opponent’s homeland within minutes of launch.[4]

With such weapons coming into inventory, why would any strategist recommend going to war to protect shorter range capabilities? Even the winner of such a war, if there were one, wouldn’t gain much, and would lose a lot. So war was not advantageous to either side, and that made negotiations possible. Eventually the Soviet Union moved its intermediate range missiles out of Cuba and we removed some that we had put in Italy and Turkey. The details of our negotiations didn’t come out for years, but that was the deal and that was what happened.[5]

Anyway, please take a look at our current situation with North Korea and tell me your thoughts. Is it at all like the Cuban Missile Crisis and, if so, what are the prospects for a peaceful resolution? Good, I hope, but tell the truth. And go ahead and publish your thoughts when you’re ready. You don’t need my input for this kind of thing and, anyway, I won’t be back in town for a while. G. Sallust.]

Then and Now

OK, Mr. G. Sallust, I understand. This is Fred, by the way. Normally G. Sallust would write this piece, but he’s doing inventory so I’m to fill in. The question he’s posed is, is the current unpleasantness with North Korea similar to the situation we had with Cuba and the Soviet Union 50+ years ago?

Similarities and Differences

  1. Originally I thought there’s no similarity between the two situations. Back then it was us against the old Soviet Union, two giants each of whom had weapons that might destroy the world. This time it’s us against North Korea, a very, very minor power with, at the moment, a modest nuclear capability. So what we have today, I thought, is definitely not the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  2. But actually the similarities are greater than the differences. We tried to “covertly” invade Cuba in 1961, did a very bad job of it with “volunteers” at the Bay of Pigs, and failed.[6] Naturally Cuba worried that we might make a second attempt, so Fidel Castro [yes, the Castro who just died] invited the Soviets into Cuba to station troops and missiles there. We found out and demanded that the Soviets remove them. The result was a major confrontation.
  3. From 1950 to 1953 we and the U.N. fought a “police action” in Korea to prevent the North from invading the South. The battle was fought to a stalemate, a line was drawn between the two Koreas, a “demilitarized zone” was established, and the areas around it were heavily fortified. Since then we’ve maintained a substantial force of ground troops, etc. in the South to help with its defense.[7]
  4. By all accounts, no foreign power has stationed nuclear weapons in North Korea. Instead the Government there has developed its own over a period of many years. No doubt it had substantial foreign assistance in this effort. But the net effect is that North Korea, not some foreign power, controls the North’s nuclear forces. At least that’s the way it seems. It’s North Korea that has been making direct threats to attack the U.S. The threats are credible, in that apparently North Korea has some capability to do so. On the other hand, North Korea is not a military equal of the U.S.
  5. But it also has potential allies: Russia and China. To date Russia has shown little interest in intervening on behalf of North Korea in its dispute with us. Russia says that it is “deeply worried” about the “bellicose rhetoric” between us and the North, [8] but hasn’t offered military or other assistance to any party. At least not officially, that we know of. To date Chinese state media say that “it would remain neutral if North Korea attacks the United States, but warned it would defend its Asian neighbor if the U.S. strikes first and tries to overthrow [the North Korean] regime …”[9] I think that means the Chinese intend to intervene if we do more than shoot down North Korean missiles.
  6. But, of course, these are only words, and they can change overnight, with circumstances.

Nuclear Weapons

Currently North Korea is threatening to fire missiles at Guam, the site of several U.S. military installations. What if Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, does that, hits something and blows it up? What if he uses a nuclear weapon? Then I suppose we will retaliate in force, and it would be up to Russia and China to decide whether they will get involved. What might they win by intervening and what might they lose?

  1. Some people already think we’re headed to some kind of war with Russia.[10] Others don’t believe it’s inevitable, but think it’s risky to blunder from a cold to a hot one because of small or nonexistent provocations[11]. I agree with both views, by the way.
  2. And war always brings up the question of nuclear weapons. Today we and NATO maintain the right to strike first with those things, if we’re properly threatened[12]; and the Russians will use them if Russia or its allies are attacked with weapons of mass destruction, or Russia is losing badly in a conventional war.[13]
  3. And the first one of us who decides that the other side intends to go nuclear will, of course, do it first, to minimize its losses and maximize the enemy’s. And if you want to know more about what happens after that, go read Herman Kahn’s book, On Thermonuclear War. [14]


I have no conclusions. North Korea’s threats are ridiculous, may lead to catastrophe, and it should be muzzled. Apparently China, the only country with influence, doesn’t want to do that. Why not? I wonder. What game are the Chinese playing?

This all very depressing! If there really is a large war faction in Washington, DC, they must be rejoicing! What does that crazy guy say on YouTube? Oh yes, it’s all Satanic!

Sun-tzu, anyone?

[1] That’s from Sun-tzu, The Art of War (Sawyer translation) (Barnes & Noble, 1994), at Incendiary Attacks, p. 227 – 228. Sun-tzu is a famous Chinese military strategist of the 5th Century B.C. For more about him, see the Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Tzu . Henceforth we’ll cite this edition of the book as Sun-tzu at ___.

[2] For an explanation take a look at the Wikipedia entry on the Cuban Missile Crisis at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Saturday_(Cuban_Missile_Crisis) .

[3] See our blog of May 11, 2017, Boom, Watch the Fallout, available at https://opsrus.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/boom-watch-the-fallout/

[4] For information on ICBMs, see Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intercontinental_ballistic_missile .

[5] For more information, see the Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuban_Missile_Crisis . It’s quite thorough.

[6] Id.

[7] For more information, see the Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Korea . For the most up-to-date information, check out the CIA World Fact Book at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/ .

[8] See MSN, Russia says that bellicose rhetoric on North Korea is over the top, at http://www.msn.com/en-us/video/peopleandplaces/russia-says-bellicose-rhetoric-on-north-korea-is-over-the-top/vp-AApTlYB

[9] See Fox News, Lukas Mikelionis, China pledges neutrality – unless US strikes North Korea first (August 11, 2017), available at http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/08/11/china-pledges-neutrality-unless-us-strikes-north-korea-first.html

[10] See, e.g., Institute for Political Economy, Roberts, Will the November US Presidential Election Bring the End of the World?  ( May 24, 2016) sometimes available at http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2016/05/24/will-the-november-us-presidential-election-bring-the-end-of-the-world-paul-craig-robert s/

[11] See, e.g., Rand Corporation, Libicki, Crisis and Escalation in Cyberspace (2012), especially pp. 97-99, available at http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG1215.html

[12] Actually, it’s worse than that. NATO maintains the right. See the Wikipedia entry on “no first use” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_first_use

[13] Id. Russia will use nukes if others use them [or weapons of mass destruction] against it or its allies; or use even conventional weapons “when the very existence of the state is threatened.” I don’t know the Chinese position on this, but I think it’s probably similar to the Russian.

[14] See Kahn, On Thermonuclear War (Princeton, 1960, Transaction reprint, 2010), at p. 136. We’ve written a lot about that book. See, e.g., our blog of 12/28/2015, Bomb Them into the Stone Age, available at https://opsrus.wordpress.com/2015/12/28/bomb-them-into-the-stone-age/ .


In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates. This subsequently led to widespread diversion and misuse of these medications before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive.

National Institute on Drug Abuse[1]

 [This is Fred and I’m here with more bad news about heroin and the other opioids now destroying us, plus some cheerful speculation. Note the paragraph quoted above. Apparently in the 1990s we didn’t understand that opium and its relatives are highly addictive, even though it was obvious 200 years earlier. See our recent blog[2] on Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater.[3] So I guess our great planners didn’t expect patients to start abusing opioids once those drugs became plentiful by prescription. And once more people became addicted certainly no one expected the criminal class to fill the increased demand with their own, informal products. Who would ever dream such a thing?

Also, we still don’t know if opioids actually treat pain when they are used in the long term. According to one recent study: “Evidence is insufficient to determine the effectiveness of long-term opioid therapy for improving chronic pain and function. Evidence supports a dose dependent risk for serious harms.”[4] Translation?  The long term benefits are unclear, but the dangers are obvious.

Not to worry, the National Institutes of Health [NIH], and their parent, the Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] have swung into action. Today society has a problem with opioid addiction and they will solve it by:

  1. Improving access to treatment and recovery services;
  2. Promoting use of overdose-reversing drugs;
  3. Strengthening our understanding of the epidemic through better public health surveillance;
  4. Providing support for cutting-edge research on pain and addiction; [and]
  5. Advancing better practices for pain management.[5]

So what could go wrong? Well, think about it. If we’re going to improve access to “treatment and recovery” services [Point 1], what does that mean? Do we have some magic cure that will wipe away addiction? I don’t think so. It’s very difficult to ween an addict from his [or her] opioid of choice. It was that way for Thomas de Quincey, and the situation hasn’t changed.  And if the weening process takes a long time, that sounds expensive. Taxpayers beware!

OK, but surely it would be a good thing to promote “overdose-reversing drugs.” [Point 2] Yes it would, because those drugs prevent death by overdose and it’s always good to do that. But overdose drugs don’t cure addiction, so we still have the problem of treating the survivors.

All right, then what about Point 3? NIH wants to know more about the size of the problem, how many addicts there are, and so forth. Again, who can quarrel with that? “Knowledge is power,” we’re told;[6] and why rent a rowboat for addicts if we really need a passenger liner? So yes, by all means study the problem, but not at the expense of making progress elsewhere. And by the way, the early returns are in. See Crappy News, the next section.

How about “cutting edge research” [Point 4]; is that a good idea? Practically always, say I. If our scientists research pain, perhaps they’ll develop new ways to treat sufferers without dosing them with addictive substances. That’s got to be a “better practice” [Point 5] than what we’ve been doing.

Then what about “cutting edge research” on addiction itself? Should we work on that as well? Yes, and we’ll discuss that later, under Vaccines.]

The Crappy News, or Why One Should Avoid the Drudge Report Early in the Morning

So the other day I was minding my own business, checking the Drudge Report, when I happened on a piece from Reuters that said: “More than third of [all] U.S. adults [were] prescribed opioids in 2015.[7] [Drudge is my substitute for a morning tabloid; feel free to pick a different service if you want; but definitely we all need something to read at breakfast.]

Ugh? Looking further I found the original data, or at least an abstract of it.[8] Officially the study is called the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health [NSDUH]. So let’s sketch the findings. What else can you do with an Abstract?

  • In 2015 72,600 eligible civilian, noninstitutionalized adults were selected to participate in the study, and 51,200 completed the survey interview.
  • Based on these inputs, NSDUH estimated that, in 2015, 91.8 million (37.8%) of U.S. civilian, noninstitutionalized adults used prescription opioids.
  • 11.5 million people (4.7% of all adults) misused opioids; and 1.9 million (0.8%) had an opioid use disorder.
  • Among adults with a prescription, 12.5% reported they misused it; and of these, 16.7% reported a “prescription opioid use disorder.”
  • Most commonly people who misused opioids did so to relieve physical pain (63.4%). Does that sound familiar? Check out Thomas de Quincy’s story, referenced above.
  • Misuse and use disorders were most common with adults who were uninsured, unemployed, had low income, or had behavioral health problems.
  • Among adults who misused opioids, 59.9% reported using them without a prescription, and 40.8% obtained prescription opioids – for their most recent episode – for free from friends or relatives.[9]

So there you have it. Lots of doctors prescribe opioids; more than one-thired of U.S. adults had prescriptions in 2015; and some of those also used opioids without a prescription. Thank you, NSDUH, for that insight.

And some patients get violent if their doctors refuse to write prescriptions.[10] The states are upset; they argue over-prescription and the resulting addictions are impacting state resources;[11] and they’re beginning to sue the drug companies [and others] they think are responsible. Congress is alert, and will hold hearings on the matter.[12] Mexico is producing more and more opium to satisfy the demand growing in the U.S.[13] [Frankly, I didn’t know Mexico produced any opium; I thought most of the world’s supply came from our dependency, Afghanistan.] And, of course, our medical establishment is studying the problem that, one could argue[14], it created.


None of this is good, but is there sunlight behind the clouds? A month or so ago a friend[15] sent us an article about medicines that fight opioids and other addictive substances.[16] Apparently this has been researched since the 1970s, although without much recent success. Right now therapists have only three medications – methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone – to use to help the opioid addicted “get clean” and stay drug free. They work, but “not perfectly.”[17]

Current research is directed toward finding vaccines to directly counter opioid addiction. Most foreign substances are blocked from entering the brain by something called the blood-brain barrier. Opioids are an exception to that. They are very tiny molecules; can penetrate the barrier and enter the brain; and then do their damage unopposed. Opioids may lose their advantage – of small size – if they are attacked by antibodies “that bind to the drug molecules, creating complexes that are too large to cross into the brain.”[18] If the brain isn’t accessed, “there’s no high.”[19] And, one might add, there’s no corresponding brain damage to reinforce later addictive behaviors.

So the research is directed at triggering the human immune system to directly attack opioids. To (i) convert opioids to larger things that will not pass into the brain, or (ii) flush them out of the body before they reach the brain, or (iii) to do both. The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, MD, have promising lines of study, and may have vaccines ready to begin human trials in the not too distant future. There are other candidates out there as well.


The situation with opioids is grim and looks worse every day, but perhaps there really is sunlight behind the clouds. The important thing for Congress to remember is that, when they’re throwing oodles of money at law enforcement to chase bad guys with drugs, they shouldn’t forget the scientists who, with funding and a bit of luck, may solve this problem for everybody.

Until the next one comes along, of course. Humans are weak, and our criminals are very ingenious. Didn’t you know?


[1] This is from the website of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an organization within NIH. You can find it at https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-crisis . It was last updated in June of this year.

[2] That’s the blog of 07/16/2017, Opium Portrayed, at  https://opsrus.wordpress.com/2017/07/16/opium-portrayed/

[3] That’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Being an Extract from the Life of a Scholar. It’s currently in print from the Oxford University Press.  It was first published in 1821 in London Magazine, and 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 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 .

[4] See Annals of Internal Medicine, The Effectiveness and Risks of Long-Term Opioid Therapy for Chronic Pain: A Systematic Review for a National Institutes of Health Pathways to Prevention Workshop (February 17, 2015) at Abstract, available at http://annals.org/aim/article/2089370/effectiveness-risks-long-term-opioid-therapy-chronic-pain-systematic-review .

[5] See n. 1.

[6] See Knowles, Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (6th Ed., 2004) at Proverbs, p. 624, n. 45.

[7] It’s at Reuters Health News, Seaman, More than a third of U.S. adults prescribed opioids in 2015 (July 31, 2017), available at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-opioids-prescriptions-idUSKBN1AG2K6 .

[8] The Abstract appears as Prescription Opioid Use, Misuse, and Use Disorders in U.S. Adults: 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (August 1, 2017). You have to pay for a copy if you want to read the underlying article. I don’t know why that’s the case, since the study apparently was funded by our government. Anyway, the abstract is available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4782928/pdf/nihms753305.pdf .

[9] These findings are paraphrased or directly quoted from the Abstract.

[10] See, e.g., Fox 5, Hundreds mourn doctor slain after denying opioids to patient (August 2, 2017)), available at http://www.fox5ny.com/news/271464646-story .

[11] See Reuters, Raymond, State attorneys general probe opioid drug companies (June 15, 2017) available at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-opioids-idUSKBN1962JJ

[12] See Clair McCaskill speaking to the DNC on July 28, 2016, available at https://www.bing.com/search?q=hthtps%3A%2F%2Fwww.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fu-senator-launches-probe-five-top-opioid-drugmakers-165514279 finance.html&form=EDGEAR&qs=PF&cvid=59500fa1e8204d0a8a8906e8292f9679&cc=US&setlang=en-US&elv=AXXfrEiqqD9r3GuelwApuloTP6wVwkOjONBqpuAMtOReD2p9Vv8km70BwEANJJDGrbYQZQruLL%21jduPgTqpAT%212GMOjDF0L2w7LKJr4QVFIa

[13] See RT, US offers to help fund Mexico’s heroin eradication efforts – report (22 April 2017) available at https://www.rt.com/usa/385656-mexico-fund-heroin-reuters/

[14] In fact, there doesn’t really seem to be an argument about this. See n. 1 and the quote that accompanies it.

[15] That’s Dave Feagles. Many thanks, Dave!

[16] See Science News, Gaidos, Vaccines could counter addictive opioids, Vol. 190, No. 1, p. 22 et seq. (July 9, 2016), While we have this article in our library, we don’t have a web  address for it, so we’re citing to the hard copy magazine.

[17] Id. We’re citing to the print version of the article, but don’t have the printed pages before us. We estimate that this information appears around p. 23.

[18] Id. at around p. 24.

[19] Id.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The Declaration of Independence[1]

 [Hi! This is Larry, and I’m taking over because I have a beef about how people, even intelligent ones, talk about the Constitution[2] of these United States. It’s supposed to be the supreme law of this land[3], but, to hear them tell it, it’s actually a collection of opinions, many of which contradict what’s actually written in the document with that name. The true pinheads reduce the Constitution to a few words, like those quoted above, taken from the Declaration of Independence which, of course, isn’t the Constitution, and then proceed to lecture us about what’s good or bad. And they do it all without getting into any details, fussy legalities or decided cases relevant to whatever issue they’re ranting about.

 I’ll get into the argument soon enough, but first, on a related topic, let’s talk about my trip to the dermatologist. I went because I had a problem, i.e., a recurrence of unsightly but not malignant growths on my face and upper body. The standard treatment for that is to freeze the little monsters, which the doctor did, to my great discomfort. The side effect is, once the treatment’s over, the affected areas tend to swell, discolor, etc., for a while, until they clear up and heal. So looking for some sympathy I said to the doctor: “I’m sure all this is worth the trouble; it’s been so in the past; but when it’s all over, will I be beautiful again?”

“No,” he said: “That would require a head transplant, which we don’t do here.  And if we did one, we’d have to follow it in a year or so with a body transplant to finish the job.” My medical plan won’t cover that kind of thing, so I gave up. Perhaps when the Republicans are done reforming the Affordable Care Act I’ll be able to buy insurance to cover transplants like that, but the deductible, no doubt, will be at least a million dollars. I probably won’t have that kind of spare change then, either.

But the doctor and I might have stumbled onto the solution to something I’ve noticed more and more with the mainstream media. Today’s pundits, commentators, etc. seem a bit old and set in their ways. Perhaps they’re not really up to coping with history in motion. Now big guns in the media have contracts, good ones for sure, so they can’t just be thrown out on the street. [That’s something only you and I have to worry about.] But no doubt they have medical plans – also very good – so why not send some elderly news hounds in for head transplants? If the employer springs for a body transplant the next year, it could have a whole new pundit in relatively short order. That might be more cost effective than firing expensive talent and paying them tens of millions of dollars in breach-of-contract damages simply to make them go away. And it should improve the TV experience for those of us who still watch it.

But enough of that! Let’s get back to the U.S. Constitution, and how it’s really its own thing, rather than a collection of odd quotes from other documents. There are a few basics that everybody should remember.]

 The Declaration of Independence is Not Our Constitution

  1. And our Constitution is not the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration was ratified on July 4, 1776[4] and basically stated the case for 13 English Colonies in North America to secede from England and the control of King George III.
  2. This was followed in 1777 by Articles of Confederation, which established a weak central government to manage the Colonies’ affairs, including the war with England.[5] The Articles were adopted by the Continental Congress on November 15, 1777 and effectively served as the first constitution of the United States. They were in force from March 1, 1781 until 1789, when the present Constitution took over.
  3. The currently operative Constitution was drafted and reported out of its Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787, and adopted by 11 states by 1788. It went into force on March 4, 1789, and was accepted by all 13 of the former colonies by 1790.[6]The Constitution has been amended 27 times.[7]

The Declaration is Inspired but Confusing

  1. The Declaration starts on a grand note, stating that “all men are created equal.” But what does that mean? Does it mean that all men [and women] are identical? Probably not, although babies do tend to look pretty much alike. Does it mean that all babies, when they grow up, will have the same abilities, skills, intelligence or just plain luck in their lives? Probably not. There doesn’t seem to be much scientific evidence that that’s the case, something no doubt even the signers of the Declaration knew.
  2. So does it mean that all men [and women] are equal because the Creator has given us the same “unalienable rights”? Perhaps. So what are those rights? Well, they’re not all listed, but three are: the rights to “Life,” to “Liberty” and to pursue “Happiness.”
  3. If everybody has a right to Life, then how can one justify the death penalty for anything? Or, for that matter, pre-emptive war, abortion, or any sport activity that might be dangerous? And what happens when one’s right to Life infringes on someone else’s rights, say the right to Liberty?
  4. Liberty is a very big thing in some circles. Higher taxes for high earners are resisted in some quarters because, guess why? Because they take money from one group to provide services to another. “Taking my money, or property, is the same as taking my Liberty!” That’s what some people say. So how should we choose between the unalienable rights the Creator has given to all of us? Does one person’s right to Life outweigh another’s right to Liberty, and if so, when? Should the wealthier among us pay for medical care for the poor, so that poor people might enjoy their right to Life a bit longer?
  5. Well, what about everybody’s right to “pursue” Happiness? That one’s easier to understand, I think. We all have a right to “pursue” it, but no one is guaranteed to succeed. On the other hand, suppose the poor complain that their paths to Happiness are obstructed by barriers created by the rich. Why is college so expensive these days? Not because it’s so much better than, say, 50 years ago. Rather, it’s expensive mostly to keep out the riffraff. So is there something that needs to be done about that? How about scholarships for special classes of people? How do they ensure that everybody has a fair shot at Happiness?
  6. Here’s where people who like the Declaration of Independence as a constitution might have a problem. While the Declaration prizes Liberty, it likes Life and Happiness as well. And it says that Governments exist “to secure [all] these rights…” for the people. So perhaps Government is there to arbitrate disputes, as between the rich and the poor, etc. Pure Libertarians probably won’t like that idea.

The Declaration Never Was Incorporated into Our Constitution

  1. I looked, and I can’t find any cross reference between the Declaration of Independence of 1776 and the Constitution of 1789. The 1789 document doesn’t expressly incorporate the earlier one by reference nor, I would argue, does it do that by implication. Indeed, it’s perfectly clear that those who set up our Government really hadn’t fully bought into the notion that “all men are created equal.”
  2. For example, under the Articles of Confederation, drafted immediately after the Declaration, not all inhabitants of the member states had the same rights. To enjoy the privileges and immunities of a free citizen one had to be, well, free; that is, not a slave. Also one had to be not a “pauper, vagabond or fugitive from justice.”[8] If you were in any one of those disfavored categories, you definitely were shortchanged as to Liberty.
  3. And the problem of slavery continued under the Constitution of 1789, until – 70+ years later – it was resolved by a bloody and violent civil war and a Constitutional Amendment. The 13th Amendment says: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” [9] That, not the Declaration of Independence, put an end to lawful slavery in this country.


The next time someone lectures you about our Constitution and “unalienable” rights, escape as soon as possible. And if he [or she] chases you down again, don’t buy any bridges or gold bricks to make him/her go away. Vitamins might be OK to buy; you might just get what you pay for.

But the gold bricks are almost certainly phony. And if someone claims to own a bridge that’s for sale, I’ll bet they can’t produce a clear title to prove it, These are scams, in my opinion.

Just remember, you don’t have to buy things just because the sales persons are loud!



[1] You can get transcripts of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights direct from the National Archives, at https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution . These are transcripts made by or for the custodian of those documents, so presumably they are accurate. And the price is right. They’re free.

[2] That’s the U.S. Constitution. See n. 1 for a transcript.

[3] See U.S. Constitution, Article VI: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

[4] The text was completed on July 2 and ratified on July 4, 1776. Wikipedia has a pretty good discussion of the politics and procedures in play at that time. See the Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Declaration_of_Independence .

[5] See Articles of Confederation (November 15, 1777, effective March 1, 1781), available at https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=3 .  The Articles were adopted by the Continental Congress on November 15, 1777, after considerable debate. This document served as the United States’ first constitution, and was in force from March 1, 1781, until 1789 when the present day Constitution went into effect.  Dates are provided courtesy of the National Archives web site.

[6] Wikipedia has a somewhat muddled explanation of the process at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Constitution#1788_Ratification .

[7] The first 10 amendments are the so-called “Bill of Rights.” The remaining 17 are just that. They don’t have a collective name. You can find transcripts of all of them by rummaging around in the National Archives web site. See n. 1.

[8] See Articles of Confederation at Article IV: “The better to secure and  perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different states in this union, the free inhabitants of each of these states, paupers, vagabonds and fugitives  from Justice excepted, shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several states;  and the people of each state shall have free ingress and regress to and from any other state, and shall  enjoy therein all the privileges of trade and commerce, subject to the same duties, impositions and  restrictions as the inhabitants thereof respectively, provided that such restrictions shall not extend so far as  to prevent the removal of property imported into any state, to any other State of which the Owner is an  inhabitant; provided also that no imposition, duties or restriction shall be laid by any state, on the property  of the united states, or either of them.”

[9] See U.S. Constitution at Amendment 13 (passed by Congress on January 31, 1865; ratified on December 6, 1865). See n. 1.

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.