Superheroes and conspiracy theories

I need to stop wasting my time on bizarre, conspiracy-theory web sites. But, somehow, whenever I start looking into a Stanley Kubrick film, I keep on reading until I have gone down the rabbit hole of the-moon-landing-was-faked, or MK-ULTRA and Monarch, or something equally strange. For the record, Stanley Kubrick did not use the tricks he learned from making 2001 Space Odyssey to help NASA fake the moon landing. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin really did walk on the moon forty-eight years ago. Any contrary evidence is merely proof that some people fail to understand science and technology.

On the other hand, during the Cold War the United States government really did experiment with mind-control in a program that was called (among other things) MK-ULTRA. In competition with the Soviet Union and its allies, the US military and the CIA wanted to explore every possible edge that could lead to victory. The CIA really did destroy most of its MK-ULTRA files in 1973. They did so to hide evidence that they had engaged in behavior that was immoral and criminal. At the same time, they wanted to hide evidence that the experiments had failed, that mind-control is not an effective way to battle the nation’s enemies.

Most of the CIA’s mind-control experiments were chemical in nature. They had two goals: to find a chemical that could be used to affect a person’s thinking and behavior, and to find a way of delivering that chemical surreptitiously. Although a number of chemicals can change a person’s thinking—the CIA had especially high hopes for LSD—delivery proved to be a greater problem. They could get Americans to experiment with drugs voluntarily. They could find ways to dose the food or beverage of a close associate, such as a family member or coworker. Getting the poison to the enemy was much harder. Notoriously, the CIA tried several times to disrupt Fidel Castro’s career chemically, but all of those efforts failed.

Secret societies exist (most of them openly), but they do not purchase or kidnap children to torture them into compliant slavery. Manchurian candidates, programed to assassinate upon a trigger command, exist only in fiction. Not every young woman who wears a tiger-print or leopard-print garment is a programmed sex slave; many people merely find those fabric patterns attractive. Not every use of a rainbow or a bluebird in visual art or cinema is a reference to mind-control; both symbols have a variety of meanings which have nothing to do with evil manipulation of the mind.

Perhaps some adult somewhere has used Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz or some Disney cartoon to mess with a child’s mind. All of these stories are entertaining, while at the same time they operate on several layers of meaning, conveying interesting messages about perception and reality. None of these stories was created with evil intent, and no secret society has used them to entrap thousands of children in a network of evil.

According to conspiracy theories, Monarch treatment tortures children to achieve in them a condition called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. DID is a real disorder. Often it results from childhood abuse, causing the child to create several personalities to escape the reality of abuse. Tragically, many children have been horribly abused, not to train them for secret missions, but only at the whim of a monstrous adult. Formerly, child abuse was a taboo topic in polite society, but concern for the victims of abuse has made people more willing to talk about abuse.

In recent years American society has become aware of a culture of abuse within the entertainment industry. Various figures—some famous actors and directors, others more behind-the-scenes figures—have used their access to young and ambitious boys and girls to satisfy their own evil cravings. They are not Monarch trainers; they are simply bad people. Undoubtedly their predatory ways have damaged their victims. Some of these children are abused sexually or physically; all of them must cope with an abnormal life, a life high in stress and anxiety, a life with lofty goals but also a high probability of failure. When Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus behave badly, they are not proving to be victims of Monarch programming. They are merely coping (poorly) with the transition from child star to adult, a change that is hard enough for the rest of us who were not child stars.

In their hunt for evidence of Monarch programing based on MK-ULTRA experiments, some conspiracy theorists have noted the prevalence of superhero stories in which a person carries two identities. One is an ordinary person living an ordinary life; the other has special powers and abilities, generally used to help others. Supposedly, this double life portrays DID, the splintering of a personality to create a willing but hidden servant to the powers that secretly rule the world. Diana Prince is Wonder Woman; Clark Kent is Superman. Yet, in this theory, these stories are parallel to the several identities created by Monarch programing.

Poppycock! All of us wished, when we were children, to be special, to have powers beyond the ordinary, and to know that the world somehow depended upon us. Superhero stories build upon this common dream, pulling us into a story in which the heroes have extraordinary powers (but in which they must also defeat extraordinary villains). Perhaps the source of this dream is the messianic theme—the promise that a Savior would come on schedule to defeat evil and to rescue its victims. Not only is this promise delivered overtly in the Hebrew Bible and confirmed in the New Testament; it also has subtle roots in creation, which depicts the history of salvation in many ways, such as the conversion of caterpillar to butterfly.

Identifying secret societies that enslave thousands of children to do their will only places the problem of evil on a different level. It allows an us-v.-them mentality which diminishes the consequences of our sins by comparing those sins to greater, more pervasive evil. It replaces Satan with human plotters who still seem to have supernatural powers. Worse, it reduces the saving power of the cross of Jesus Christ by shifting attention from spiritual reality to political, social, and economic forces.

We enjoy superhero fiction. Some of us even enjoy conspiracy theories. A healthy dose of reality is necessary, though—awareness that the real enemy has been fought and has been defeated. Christ is risen! We need fear no power. J.

Sugar: the spice that changed history–part three

Long ago, sugar became the most popular Asian spice in Europe. During the 1400s, Portuguese investors built large sugar plantations on islands near Africa. Work on these plantations was done by slaves from Africa. When the lands of the western hemisphere were discovered by Europeans, sugar farming was the first industry to be transported to the New World. Millions of Africans were brought to work on sugar plantations (as well as tobacco farms, cotton farms, and so forth) between 1500 and 1800.

Slavery has existed since ancient times. Slavery was considered natural in all parts of the world. Conditions of slavery were regulated by governments; in most places, slaves maintained certain rights under the law. Slavery is mentioned in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. It is not specifically condemned in the Bible, although the Law of Moses forbids one Israelite from owning another Israelite as a slave.

Plantation slavery was harsher and crueler than most previous forms of slavery. Early death was expected of slaves, and plantation owners figured on an average of five years of work from a slave before he had to be replaced. Treatment of slaves was different on different plantations, but brutal beatings, separation of families, and other abusive treatments were common. Some slave owners did not want their slaves to learn about Christianity, because the owners knew that Christian slaves would merit better treatment as human beings. Most slave owners did not want their slaves to know how to read and write, because illiteracy made them easier to control.

Opposition to slavery existed before the nineteenth century, but at first it had little success. By no coincidence, abolition first took hold in Great Britain, the country where the Industrial Revolution began. Slavery was not opposed successfully until machines were designed that could replace the work of slaves. Only then did European and American societies begin to recognize the human rights of workers. Slave trading from Africa was banned at first, and eventually slavery was entirely abolished. In the United States, a four year Civil War was needed to bring slavery to an end. Other countries, such as Brazil and Cuba, continued to allow slavery for years after the United States ended the practice. In some places, slavery continued to be practiced legally until the 1960s.

Industrialization made abolition possible. Industrialization also found new ways to process sugar. What had once been a spice now became an essential ingredient in many factory-produced foods and beverages. Sodas, breakfast cereals, candy bars, salad dressings, barbecue sauces—all of these contain high amounts of sugar, and during the twentieth century, they became increasingly large parts of people’s diets. Sugar is highly addictive, and the more sugar people consume, the more they want. Businesses succeed by giving people what they want, and over the past several generations, people have wanted a lot of sugar.

The politics of sugar turned a corner on January 1, 1959, when Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba. During the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union assumed that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and, therefore, “the enemy of my friend is my enemy.” Castro overthrew a government that was allied with the United States, so the Eisenhower administration assumed that he was a communist. Getting no help from the United States to set up a new government, Castro decided to agree that he was a communist, and he turned to the Soviet Union for help. The United States placed an embargo on Cuban exports, including cigars, rum, and sugar. These products became popular in the Soviet Union and its allies, while the United States and its allies needed to find a new supply of sugar.

While some sugar was available from other Caribbean islands, not enough cane sugar was being grown to meet the desires of the Western world. Therefore, American factories began to produce sugar from beets and from corn. Much of the sweet stuff Americans eat today is sweetened by high fructose corn syrup. We pour it on our pancakes and waffles, we spread it on our sandwiches and burgers, and we pour it on our salads. Our desserts and snacks are filled with sugar, much of it made from corn.

The medical reaction to sugar in the modern diet will be covered in part four. J.

The case for Oswald’s defense

No one saw Lee Harvey Oswald aim a gun at President Kennedy and pull the trigger. A man strongly resembling Oswald was seen with a gun shortly before the shooting, standing at the window from which shots were fired; the first description of a suspect, broadcast on the Dallas police radio, was based on that sighting. The man who gave that description to the police was unable to identify Oswald in a police lineup that weekend.

Other people resembling Oswald were in Dallas that year. Several people reported seeing Oswald or interacting with him at times when he was known to be elsewhere. Even Bill Lovelady, another Book Depository employee, was sometimes mistaken for Oswald. (He was photographed in front of the Book Depository near the time of the shooting.)

The first person to see Oswald after the murder was a police officer who entered the Book Depository immediately after the shooting. He encountered Oswald in the lunchroom on the second floor of the building. After his arrest, Oswald told the Dallas police that he had been in that lunchroom at the time of the shooting. Other employees of the Book Depository said that they had seen Oswald in the lunchroom minutes before the shooting.

The gun used to kill the President was found on the sixth floor of the Book Depository near the top of the stairs. It was linked to Oswald through a purchase order signed by Alek Hidell and was delivered to a post office box rented by Oswald; it was also linked to him through photographs showing Oswald with the rifle. Oswald’s rifle was an Italian-made Mannlicher-Carcano, although a police officer first identified the gun as a German-made Mauser. No ammunition for any rifle was found among Oswald’s possessions. A paraffin test conducted by the Dallas police to determine whether or not Oswald had fired a gun on November 22 was inconclusive.

The Dallas police accomplished as poor a job handling evidence from the murder as they did protecting Oswald. Bullets, guns, and other important items of evidence were mishandled, misidentified, and moved from place to place without a clear chain of possession. The rifle itself was inspected by the Dallas police, handed over to the FBI who found no prints on the weapon, and returned to the Dallas police, who then announced that they had lifted a palm print from the gun which matched Oswald’s hand. Had Oswald lived to stand trial, his defense lawyers might well have succeeded in barring much of the significant evidence from the trial. Some investigators have suggested that the Dallas police acted almost as if they knew in advance that there would be no trial.

Perhaps the federal authorities could have been expected to perform a more professional job. Yet the Commission established by President Johnson relied upon the FBI to provide them with information for their investigation. The FBI, starting at the top with Director J. Edgar Hoover, firmly believed that Oswald was guilty and that he acted alone. As a result, FBI agents gathered information that supported the guilt of Oswald while ignoring or marginalizing information that might have proved his innocence. Given the bias of the FBI, it is not surprising that the Commission, relying on the FBI for information, concluded decisively that Oswald killed the President and that he did so acting alone.

Between the time of his arrest on the 22nd and the time of his death on the 24th, Oswald consistently denied shooting President Kennedy. If his goal was to achieve notoriety by killing the President, it is odd that he refused to claim responsibility for the murder. Oswald never had a greater opportunity to state his political beliefs than during his arrest that weekend, but all he managed to say about himself was, “I’m just a patsy,” meaning an innocent person framed for a crime.

Oswald had contempt for the governments of the United States and of the Soviet Union, but he never expressed any hatred toward President Kennedy. In fact, he was said to admire Kennedy. Oswald made it clear that he knew that the death of the President would not change the course of the American government, since Vice President Lyndon Johnson was in line to replace the President.

Oswald’s life before the weekend of the assassination is filled with contradictions. He joined the United States Marine Corps but declared himself to be a Communist and studied the Russian language. Receiving a hardship release from the Marine Corps because of a minor injury to his mother, Oswald quickly traveled to Europe and entered the Soviet Union where he renounced his American citizenship. Oswald was given a job and an apartment in Minsk, where he married a Russian woman before completing paperwork to return to the United States. In Texas, Lee and Marina associated with a community of Russians who were hostile to the Soviet government. In Louisiana, Lee claimed to represent Fair Play for Cuba, an association which supported Fidel Castro’s communist government in Cuba. Oswald also made contact with anti-Castro Cubans in Louisiana. Weeks before the assassination, Oswald traveled to Mexico City where he attempted to obtain documents from the Cuban and Soviet embassies so he could travel to Cuba.

Oswald’s relationship with U.S. government agencies is unknown. Many CIA and FBI files about Oswald are either missing or still restricted. While he was with the Marine Corps, Oswald was involved with highly sensitive missions, including operating radar in the Asian Pacific theater. His ability to travel to the Soviet Union and then return to the United States has fascinated researchers ever since Oswald’s death. Oswald most likely was not a highly-trained spy, but his time spent in the Soviet Union may still have served the purposes of the American government.

When American intelligence agencies spend a great deal of time and money training five or six Americans to act as spies in the Soviet Union, these agencies do not want to make detection of these spies easy for the Soviet government by sending only those spies across the border. Sending five or six other Americans into the Soviet Union at the same time would force the Soviet government to divide its resources among all ten to twelve Americans. With his interest in communism and his efforts to learn Russian, Oswald was an ideal candidate for the role of spy decoy. Allowing him to leave the Marine Corps early and perhaps funding his travel to Europe, the American government was able to distract the Soviet government with a decoy at little cost to the United States.

Since the United States used Oswald as a decoy to distract the Soviets from real American spies, the Soviet government most likely did the same thing. This procedure may explain why Oswald was allowed to marry Marina, a Russian girl, and to bring her back to America with him. FBI agent James Hosty, who was responsible for keeping track of the Oswalds in Dallas, has written that he was far more concerned with Marina than with Lee as a threat to the safety of the United States.

If both governments treated the Oswalds as pawns during the confrontations of the Cold War, another question should be asked: might Lee Harvey Oswald have been used in November 1963 by some conspiracy that intended to assassinate the President? Could Oswald have been the “patsy” he claimed to be, set up to take the blame for the murder so the real conspirators could go free? I will attempt to answer these questions in tomorrow’s post.