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Charles Frazier was told a story by his father about an ancestor named Inman who was wounded in the Confederate Army. Inman deserted, and walked across North Carolina, to his small hometown at the foot of Cold Mountain.

Frazier thought it would be a good basis for a novel, but he couldn’t find much more information about the real Inman. So, he wrote from his imagination, and from letters and diaries from the Civil War.

But he wasn’t sure he wanted to write a “war novel.”

“I didn’t want to write a novel of the battles and the generals and those famous personalities. There have been a lot of books written about that — good ones and bad ones — and I didn’t want to add to the bulk of that literature.’

I like how Frazier divides those novels into two categories.

“I realized that there are two kinds of books about a war: there’s an Iliad, about fighting the war, and about the battles and generals, and there’s an Odyssey, about a warrior who has decided that home and peace are the things he wants. Once I decided that I was writing an Odyssey kind of book instead of an Iliad kind of book, I could move forward with it with some sense of happiness.”

Inman is a Civil War Odysseus on a journey back to, Ada, the woman he loves,

He published Cold Mountain in 1997. It was on The New York Times best-seller list for months, and was also made into a film with the same title.

 

Source: garrisonkeillor.com

remote viewing of a forest

I first heard about remote viewing in the 2009 film The Men Who Stare at Goats which was more of a parody of real experiments done by the military into the paranormal. The film (starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey) is based on Jon Ronson’s 2004 book of the same title. The film got me interested enough to read the book which is about attempts by the U.S. military to employ psychic powers as a weapon.

In the book The Men Who Stare at Goats, Ronson gets into the U.S. Army’s exploration of how “New Age” paranormal concepts such as ESP were given serious consideration as having potential military applications of the paranormal.

The book’s title refers to attempts that were made to kill goats by staring at them and stopping their hearts. A three-part British TV series in 2004, Crazy Rulers of the World, was based on the book.

I got thinking about all this again when I heard the recent podcast “Spooks and Psychics: Inside the Military’s Top-Secret ESP Unit” on a podcast I really enjoy, To The Best Of Our Knowledge.

The podcast talks about one successful example of remote viewing (RV) which is the practice of seeking impressions about a distant or unseen target, purportedly using extrasensory perception (ESP) or “sensing” with the mind. In the example, a remote viewer was asked to “look” into a building in Russia by concentrating on a photo of it in a closed envelope. One soldier described a building on a shoreline, which smelled of gas and industrial products that had inside of it a large coffin-like object with fins, like a shark.

A few months later the CIA received satellite imagery showing that the Soviets had constructed a new ballistic missile submarine. It was later known by its NATO designation,  Typhoon class, but at the time of the remote viewing it was known in the USSR as the Akula. Russian for “shark.” This is purported to be one of several true examples of the military’s paranormal activity research.

My own investigations led me to another quite serious investigation in the book Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government’s Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis by Annie Jacobsen. She examines the now declassified papers that came from government attempts to locate hostages, fugitives, secret bases, and downed fighter jets, and gather other nations’ secrets using the paranormal. It went as far as to try to predict future threats to national security. She says that the intelligence agencies and military services involved include CIA, DIA, NSA, DEA, the Navy, Air Force, and Army-and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

As the podcast noted, remote viewing experiments have been criticized for lack of repeatability, which scientists demand, but it may be that a successful remote viewing is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for a subject and just not repeatable. There is no scientific evidence that remote viewing exists, and so it generally falls under “pseudoscience,” although it is physicists Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff, parapsychology researchers at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), who are generally credited with coining the term “remote viewing.” They wanted to distinguish it from the closely related concept of clairvoyance.

Ronson’s book first looks at the small group of U.S. Army officers in the late 1970s and early 1980s who wanted to use paranormal phenomena, some New Age philosophy, and elements of the human potential movement for intelligence-gathering.

Some of these efforts included First Earth Battalion Operations Manual from 1979 which you can now buy from Amazon! and a “psychic spy unit” established by Army Intelligence at Fort Meade, Maryland, in the late 1970s that was the focus of the film. This was the Stargate Project, established in 1978 by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and SRI International (a California contractor) to investigate the potential for psychic phenomena in military and domestic intelligence applications.

The Stargate Project was terminated and declassified in 1995 after a CIA report concluded that it was never useful in any intelligence operation. But conspiracy theorists seem to believe that its successes have been hidden from the public and are still being used covertly.

The “men who stare at goats” were Special Forces soldiers who supposedly experimented with psychic powers against goats at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at the now-decommissioned “Goat Lab” medical training facility. Legend (and probably only a legend) is that one soldier was able to kill a goat simply by staring at it.

The middle section of Ronson’s book jumps to more modern psychological techniques like the military programs from the post-9/11 War on Terror at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the psyops in Iraq. The connections seem tenuous, but maybe I am naive.

I was much more interested in the parts of the book dealing with the 1950s Army psychic program, and later the CIA’s MK-ULTRA “mind control” research program of experiments on human subjects that intended to identify and develop drugs and procedures to be used in interrogations. Early CIA efforts focused on LSD-25 to see if they could weaken an individual and force confessions through mind control. Could it be used to make Soviet spies defect against their will, or could the Soviets do the same to the CIA’s own operatives?

The MK-ULTRA project is now well known and it appears in many films, TV shows, books and even songs.

Ronson suggests that the “psychic warriors” are again active in the U.S. military again. Put your tinfoil hats back on.

Marginalia (or apostils) are marks made in the margins of a book or other document. They may be scribbles, comments, glosses (annotations), critiques, doodles, or illuminations.

Fermat’s last theorem is the most famous mathematical marginal note.

The first recorded use of the word marginalia is in 1819 in Blackwood’s Magazine.

Voltaire composed in book margins while in prison.

Sir Walter Raleigh wrote a personal statement in margins just before his execution.

Beginning in the 1990s, attempts have been made to design and market e-book devices permitting a limited form of marginalia.

Billy Collins has poem titled “Marginalia” that begins:

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
‘Nonsense.’ ‘Please! ‘ ‘HA! ! ‘ –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote ‘Don’t be a ninny’
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Edgar Allan Poe titled some of his reflections and fragmentary material “Marginalia.”

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls ‘Metaphor’ next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of ‘Irony’
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
‘Absolutely,’ they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
‘Yes.’ ‘Bull’s-eye.’ ‘My man! ‘
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

I made plenty of notes in my college books. I tried not to mark up those expensive textbooks so that their value didn’t drop (though some of my friends liked the “annotated” books they bought used). But I heavily wrote in the margins of the novels and poetry collections I used in my English classes, and I still have most of them today.

Five volumes of Samuel T. Coleridge’s marginalia have been published.

Some famous marginalia were serious works, or drafts thereof, and were written in margins due to scarcity and expense of paper. Emily Dickinson wrote poems on scraps of paper, used envelopes and such.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written ‘Man vs. Nature’
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

Reading and analyzing marginalia can be a scholarly pursuit, especially the marginalia of famous authors. Herman Melville is one of my soulmates and there is a website, Melville’s Marginalia Online, devoted to the marginalia in books owned and borrowed by him from 1819-1891.

The old books are scanned and then filtered and sharpened in Adobe Photoshop in a digital literary archaeology. Scholars study his notes in copies of books about whales. That seems obvious. less obvious are notes on themes that emerge not only in Moby-Dick, but in his other books, stories and poems.

Melville writes in White Jacket:
The horn seemed the mark of a curse for some mysterious sin, conceived and committed before the spirit had entered the flesh. Yet that sin seemed something imposed, and not voluntarily sought; some sin growing out of the heartless necessities of the predestination of things; some sin under which the sinner sank in sinless woe.

Studying his marginalia, especially in a copy of Dante’s Inferno, we see him being interested in the way impulsive, unplanned, unpremeditated acts could be seen as sins. He marks up passages about damnation and free will.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Some marginalia is our way of saying that we didn’t just read the words, but we thought about them. We paused, considered a line, and made a note of our own.

Marginalia is an older practice than even printed books. The “scholia” on classical manuscripts are the earliest known form of marginalia. We have evidence of margin notes and even illustrations in beautiful old illuminated manuscripts.

manuscript

A page from a 14th-century illuminated Armenian manuscript with painted marginalia – the first page of the Gospel of Mark

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

Some say that reading some authors along with the marginalia of another author is the best way to read.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

My favorite marginalia is not very scholarly. Egocentrically, I now quite enjoy reading my own marginalia in books I read in my student days.

I even wrote margin notes in my own journals. I made notes in the journals from my pre-teen and teen years many years later noting the “lies” I had written there. I think that I imagined it I wrote it down, it would be true.

And I love it when I look in someone else’s book and find their notes. This is especially true when I buy used books, which I often do. Some notes are like those Collins mocks – lightweight, silly, literary graffiti. But some are thoughtful, and I like reading them and trying to figure something about the previous owner.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
‘Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.’

All this is an elaborate introduction to what inspired this post. I bought a used copy of the I Ching and found inside of it a series of Post-It notes. I consider them a modern day marginalia. Margin notes from someone who doesn’t feel comfortable writing in the margins of a book.

Post-It notes marginalia from a copy of the I Ching

I read them and thought about who she (yes, I imagined it is a woman) was when she was writing the notes.

She asks this  Book of Changes, this ancient Chinese divination text, “What is my true calling?” A very big question.

Something bad had happened to her. “I what ways can I go about healing myself in ways I have not covered. What is my missing link and how can I find it?”

She tosses the coins, heads and tails, and looks for the answers. I feel sorry for her. I want the book to give her answers, or at least make her believe there are answers.

“How can I reclaim my sparkle and presence,” she asked. I didn’t look up the answers she was given.

She sold the book. Either she got her answers, or gave up on finding them in a book. She left her marginalia, these bits of her life and searching, for me to find.

I did my own searching. I didn’t find the answers, or rather, I didn’t find the answers I wanted to find. I also sold the book. I removed her notes. I think each of us should start our search with a clean page.

As I work my way through the week, reading online and offline, listening, and looking around me, I collect things that I might want to write about here. Sometimes those notes lead to deeper searching, sometimes research, and sometimes they lead no further. Friday night is my start to the weekend and I usually post my shortest posts then.

Here are three things that are what they are and not anything more. A light buffet of ideas. Sample. Maybe you’ll like something enough to go further yourself.


For example, I heard someone on the radio (actually, it was a podcast, but I still think of them as radio) ask if the interviewer knew what industry was worth $28 billion. That is more than the NFL, the NBA and MLB together. Answer: the book publishing industry. And I thought books were becoming a thing of the past. The statistic makes me feel better about books, bookstores and libraries – good places full of good things.


monocle

In 1938, television was an idea being developed. No sets in homes. No programs. People didn’t know quite what could be done with it. When Edison was playing around with film, he wrongly was thinking of nickelodeon style viewing machines where you plunked in a coin and watch your little show. he was wrong, and rather quickly movies were projected for groups of people on a larger screen.

The same thinking was around with television. I came across this odd little device from a British company called the “Television Monocle.” It had a tiny screen, measuring just 1.5 inches by 1 inch, for a personal viewing experience. It looks a bit like the viewfinder on a video camera.

As with film, the path would lead to broadcasting to big audiences. Then again, since so many of us are watching TV and films on small screens again, maybe we are actually go backwards.


Theobroma cacao

Theobroma cacao. Theobroma, the genus name, is from the Greek and translates to “food of the gods”

Halloween is coming next week, so lots of chocolate will be bought and consumed. It is a historical and ancient food, though much of what we call chocolate today is far from what it once looked and tasted like.

It comes from the cultivated cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). Cacao domestication and chocolate have long been seen as emerging from Central America and Mexico where it was found mentioned in texts and there is archaeological evidence of it being consumed. It was in the form of a drink that was more gruel than modern hot cocoa.

It was once considered a food of the gods. It only showed up in the American Southwest about 1,000 years ago, but it was believed that cacao domestication and chocolate production originated in Mesoamerica less than 4,000 years ago.

But some newer research by a multidisciplinary team makes a case for chocolate use going back almost 5,500 years. They find evidence not in Mexico or Central America, but in the upper Amazon of South America.


Triton

Triton, Neptune’s largest moon – Credit: NASA/JPL

It is late October. It is autumn here on the top half of the planet, but there are days that feel like summer and nights and mornings that feel like winter. I like the change of seasons. I’m not sure how I would feel about living in a place that is all one or two seasons. On a wintry day when I’m dealing with ice and snow, that kind of place sounds very appealing, but I suspect it would be boring.

We don’t think of seasons in outer space. So, it surprised me to read about the seasons of Triton.

Triton is Neptune’s largest moon. It has been gathering frost on its surface.  We have been observing the accumulation of the frost for 20 years and that frost continues to travel northward from the southern polar cap of Triton.

The frost comes from the sun heating and sublimating volatile material before it travels northward.

But something else that I read made me think that Ray Bradbury could have written a story about this. Triton’s frost varies over the world’s full season. The season lasts 84 years.

In Bradbury’ story “All Summer in a Day,” a class of students on Venus wait for one special day. Bradbury’s Venus is a world of constant rainstorms. The Sun is visible for only one hour every seven years. When I taught that story, I knew that my students couldn’t really imagine what it would be like to have only one day of summer every seven years. I can’t really imagine it myself.

What would it be like to have a Triton season of 84 years that might last your entire lifetime?  I can’t go any further with that thought either.


I first traveled to Mars when I was 13 years old. I did it on board Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.

The book lies somewhere in between a short story collection and an episodic novel, containing stories Bradbury originally published in the late 1940s in science fiction magazines. The stories were loosely woven together with a series of short, interstitial vignettes for publication in 1950.

The stories of the book are arranged in chronological order, starting in January 1999, with the blasting off of the first rocket to Mars.

In “The Watchers,” the mars colonists witness a nuclear war happening on Earth, and out of concern they decide to immediately return out of concern for their friends and families.

“The Silent Towns” takes place when almost everybody has left Mars, except Walter Gripp. He was a miner who lives in the mountains and didn’t hear of the departure. At first he likes being alone in the silent towns. He has money, food, clothes, even movies, but he quickly misses human companionship.

One night he hears a telephone ringing in someone’s home, and realizes that at least one other person is alive on Mars. He starts calling numbers in the Mars phone book (Bradbury did not see the end of phone books in his future). He does find the other caller, a woman, but it doesn’t work out as he had imagined.

In “The Long Years,” we have moved to 2026 and there are others still on mars. We meet Hathaway, a retired physician/archaeologist, who lives there with his wife and children. Their home is in the hills above a settlement abandoned when people returned to Earth at the beginning of the war there. When a rocket lands on Mars, it turns out to have Captain Wilder. He is puzzled by how old Hathaway is while his family seems so much younger.

The crew realizes that his “family” are actually androids created by Hathaway after the originals died years ago. After Hathaway has a fatal heart attack, it is decided to “kill” the robots before they leave. But the crew member with that task isn’t able to kill the very lifelike robot family. The ship departs and the android family continues on with its “meaningless” routines.

One of the odd stories in the book reminds me of the stories you would find in The Twilight Zone TV series. “Way in the Middle of the Air” first appeared in 1950 and takes place in a Southern town where all the Black people are planning to emigrate to Mars. You would think that in this racially-charged town (and story) the white people would be glad to see them go. But the whites, who had spent a good deal of their free time harassing the Blacks, end up wondering when the rockets leave what they will do now. The story with its rather questionable plot was removed from some of the later editions of the book.

Another 2026 story is “There Will Come Soft Rains” about a home in California, after the nuclear war has wiped out the population. The family that lived there is dead, but the automated smart home still functions. The house is the “protagonist” of the story.

The title of the story comes from a 1920 poem of the same name, “There Will Come Soft Rains (War Time)” by Sara Teasdale

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

In the poem, nature survives after humanity is wiped out by war. Bradbury’s story takes a different view: that a nuclear war would destroy mankind and nature.

The final story, also set in the future of 2026, is “The Million-Year Picnic.” In this story, an Earth family has saved a rocket that would have used in the nuclear war and leaves Earth for Mars. The family picks a city to live in and call home, destroying the rocket so that they cannot return to Earth.

He tells his sons he will introduce them to the Martians. The Martians are seen in their own reflections. They are the Martians.

 

Michael Pollan has had several bestselling books including In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and The Botany of Desire. His seven books have been quite influential in the ways we view food from global and personal perspectives.

On his podcast, Tim Ferris talked with Pollan about his new book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. From the title alone, it would seem to be a departure from his other work.

I am just getting started with the book. The general topic is one I have read about in the past, but my firsthand knowledge is very limited.

“Psychedelics” is a term that still has 1960s baggage attached to it, though their use goes back centuries. Psilocybin, mescaline, and others have been in and out of the news. They have been legal and used for medical purposes, and also illegal, controlled and banned depending on the time period.

Pollan set out to research how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are being used to provide relief to people suffering from difficult-to-treat conditions such as depression, addiction and anxiety. But apparently the book got more personal than he expected.

He decided to explore himself altered states of consciousness as he was researching the brain science and psychedelic therapies being used today for depression, anxiety, alcohol/nicotine dependence, OCD, PTSD, and others.

From what I have heard and read about the book, he does address the risks of psychedelics too.

Studies into the “entropic brain” are getting serious attention in universities again, though on a limited basis.

Tim Ferris is very much aligned with Pollan’s newest project and is putting a million dollars into the scientific study of psychedelic compounds. This is by far the largest commitment to research and nonprofits I’ve ever made, and if you’d like to join me in supporting this research, please check out.

Pollan’s book has been described as a blend of science, memoir, travel writing, history, medicine and participatory journalism. Though the book is certainly a deep dive into psychedelic drugs, he also explores human consciousness and how we might use the drugs “to be fully present and find meaning in our lives.”

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