THE SPECTRAL MYSTERY OF MINSTER LOVELL HALL BY ALLI TEMPLETON

A few weeks ago, after what seemed like eternity, I finally got to visit a medieval ruin again. Not a castle, but a rare example of a courtyard manor house built in the fifteenth century by one of of the wealthiest men in England. And for a sleepy ruin in a quiet Oxfordshire backwater it has a lot to offer. For a start, it’s tucked away in an idyllic location beside the River Windrush amid beautiful, rolling countryside. It also has connections with the Scottish medieval history module I’ve just completed, and it has links with two of my favourite medieval kings, one of which came to stay at the manor. Perhaps even more intriguingly, some say that its most notable owner never left, that he still lingers around the ruins of his former home.

The approach to the 15th Century hall with the porch on the left

The village of Minster Lovell was originally simply called Minster, denoting a settlement of secular clergy serving a church. The church was, and still is, dedicated to the young martyr prince Kenelm, the son of Kenwulf, King of Mercia, who is believed to have been murdered in 819AD, and the minster would have been an important centre for what was once a large ecclesiastical district. Then, around 1124 Henry I granted considerable lands, including Minster, to one of his barons, William, whose nickname was Lupellus, meaning ‘Little Wolf’, probably reflecting his military prowess. Over time the name morphed into Lupel, then Luvel, eventually settling on Lovel, and the bucolic setting of Minster Lovell became the centre of the family estate from the thirteenth century until the Lovell line ended in the 1480s.

The hall sits in a tranquil setting beside the River Windrush

The west wing and the northwest tower with the medieval St Kenelm’s Church behind

The manor was inherited by successive generations of Lovells, mostly – and confusingly – called John, with the odd William thrown in for good measure. One of the many Johns served King Edward I during the first Welsh war of 1277 (covered last year on my Castle Quest), and in 1296 when Edward turned his formidable gaze north, John was the marshal of the king’s army in Scotland, earning him the title Lord Lovell. He served Edward in Scotland in 1303 and 1304, and it was to him that the keys of Stirling Castle were surrendered following a three-month siege by the English king. The same good fortune, however, evaded his son, another John, who was killed at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. But to meet the man who rebuilt the family seat into the grand courtyard home that we see today we must fast forward to the next century, to another Lord Lovell.

SEE THE REST OF THE POST: The Spectral Mystery of Minster Lovell Hall

INTRODUCING THE POTATO – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When we celebrate the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus on Columbus Day, we should also be celebrating Columbus’s discovery of the potato. More accurately, Columbus’s introduction of the potato from the New World to the Old World. This introduction of New World foods to Europe and the east is known as the “Columbian Exchange”.

Christopher Columbus

The potato, and other native American plants “…transformed cultures, reshuffled politics and spawned new economic systems that then, in a globalizing feedback loop, took root back in the New World as well.” This quote is from an article in the Washington Post on October 8, 2018, titled “Christopher Columbus and the Potato that Changed the World.” The article is by Steve Hendrix.

An example of the potato’s earth-shattering impact is that it helped eliminate famines and fueled a population boom in parts of northern Europe. This made urbanization possible which, in turn, fueled the Industrial Revolution. This population explosion also helped several European nations assert dominion over the world from 1750 to 1950. Thus the potato is also responsible for the rise of Western Europe and its colonies, including America.

But let’s get back to the initial introduction of the potato to skeptical Europeans. The potato spread slowly. At first, it was viewed with suspicion and plagued by misinformation. Initially, some people claimed that the potato was an aphrodisiac. Others believed that it could cause leprosy. When Sir Walter Raleigh brought potatoes into the Elizabethan court, the courtiers tried to smoke the leaves!

Sir Walter Raleigh

It took a while for people to realize what a nutritional bonanza the potato is. It’s filled with complex carbohydrates, amino acids, and vitamins. It is a nutritionally complete diet when paired with milk. It also took time for people to take advantage of the superior productivity and sturdiness of the potato over other agricultural products, like grains.

In the 1600’s, Europeans finally figured out how to successfully cultivate potatoes. The effect was dramatic – the population of places like Ireland, Scandinavia, and other northern regions, increased up to 30%. In a 1744 famine in Prussia, King Frederick the Great ordered his farmers to grow potatoes and ordered the peasants to eat them!

Famines were prevalent in Europe. France had 40 nationwide famines between 1500 and 1800 as well as hundreds and hundreds of local famines. England suffered 17 national and regional famines just between 1523 and 1623. The world could not reliably feed itself.

Enter the potato. Because potatoes are so productive, once everyone started planting them, they became a diet staple. In terms of calories, they effectively doubled Europe’s food supply. For the first time in Western European history, the food problem was solved. By the end of the 18th century, famines almost disappeared in potato country. Before the potato, European living and eating standards were equivalent to today’s Cameroon or Bangladesh.

Another benefit of the potato is that it is easily portable and stays edible for a relatively long time. So potatoes could easily be transported to the cities, fostering their growth. This created an urban factory workforce. Hence, the Industrial Revolution.

In the mid-1700’s, a French man named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier took it upon himself to launch a PR campaign on behalf of the potato. He created publicity stunts to draw attention to his miracle product. For example, he presented an all potato dinner to high society guests. One of them, it is claimed, was Thomas Jefferson. Parmentier also convinced the King and Queen to be seen wearing potato blossoms. His biggest stunt was to plant 40 acres of potatoes at the edge of Paris, knowing that the starving population would steal and eat them.

Antoine-Augustin Parmentier

The potato took such firm root in Europe that by the end of the 18th century, roughly 40% of the Irish people ate no solid food other than potatoes. That was also true of 10-30% of other countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Prussia, and Poland.

In the mid-1800’s, catastrophe struck. Blights started wiping out the potato crops. In 1845, in Ireland alone, one half to three-quarters of a million acres of potatoes were wiped out. The following years, up until 1852, were even worse. The Great Potato Famine was one of the worst in history in terms of percentage of population lost. Over a million Irish died. A similar famine in the U.S. today would kill 40 million people!

Potato blight

Within a decade, over two million people fled Ireland, over three-quarters of whom came to the United States. That changed the history and demographics of the U.S. And it began the phenomenon of the Melting Pot.

A major commemoration of the potato exists in Germany. A statue of Sir Francis Drake was erected in 1853, although Drake did not, in fact, introduce the potato into Europe. The statue depicts Drake with his right hand on his sword and his left hand holding a potato plant. On the base is the following inscription:


Sir Francis Drake

Dissemination of the potato in Europe
In the year of our Lord 1586.
Millions of people
Who cultivate the earth
Bless his immortal memory.


Drake statue in Germany

So, as Steve Hendrix said in the Washington Post, “…a small round object sent around the planet … changed the course of human history.”

ENDINGS – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry had a get-together with a bunch of retired media guys. They meet every few weeks, but for obvious reasons, it hasn’t happened recently. So a while ago, someone came up with the idea of doing a Zoom meeting. Despite that all these men worked on television for many years, most (but not all) had issues making Zoom work.

It’s amazing how quickly we forget things we used to know … and how suddenly we realize we never learned it because it wasn’t what we were doing professionally. For me, computers were my business, so despite what I’ve forgotten, I remember them quickly when reminded.


From The New York Times:

“When will the Covid-19 pandemic end? And how?

According to historians, pandemics typically have two types of endings: the medical, which occurs when the incidence and death rates plummet, and the social, when the epidemic of fear about the disease wanes.

“When people ask, ‘When will this end?,’ they are asking about the social ending,” said Dr. Jeremy Greene, a historian of medicine at Johns Hopkins.

In other words, an end can occur not because a disease has been vanquished but because people grow tired of panic mode and learn to live with a disease. Allan Brandt, a Harvard historian, said something similar was happening with Covid-19: “As we have seen in the debate about opening the economy, many questions about the so-called end are determined not by medical and public health data but by sociopolitical processes.

Endings “are very, very messy,” said Dora Vargha, a historian at the University of Exeter. “Looking back, we have a weak narrative. For whom does the epidemic end, and who gets to say?”

A Sicilian fresco from 1445. In the previous century, the Black Death killed at least a third of Europe’s population. Credit: Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Once everyone started talking, the subject came up. The one about which so many of we retired people have been thinking, but afraid to even ask because it might be a jinx.  What happens to us? We are the most vulnerable and a lot of people in this country think we lived long enough and would be perfectly happy to let us all die off.


What will the world be “when this is over.” That brought up the real question: “Will this ever be over? Can they make a vaccine soon enough (or at all) so that we can think about traveling? Would any of us willingly get back on an airplane? How about a simple local vacation? What is safe? Where is the danger


There was a universal “no” on flying. I used to get sick every time I flew long before the epidemic. All that recycled air. One person sneezes and by the time I got off the flight, I was already sick.

This is pretty disheartening. I always thought as a nation, as a people, we were a lot smarter than we seem. But, maybe all this dumbness is not true stupidity but denial. Many people REALLY REALLY REALLY don’t want to know what’s going on. When they are told the truth, they angrily reject it. The truth is unacceptable. The truth hurts. The truth is ugly.

They are desperately afraid of the new reality in which they are living and for many people, in which they were already living, even before Coronavirus arrived to make it overwhelmingly worse.

Sometimes, when everything is gone, when there’s no money, no work, and virtually no hope, denial is your best weapon. It might be your only weapon.

WORLD OF STRANGE – Marilyn Armstrong

On some level or other, I’ve been waiting for my world to come crashing down since I was a kid. Call it one of the many fragmented outcomes of a dysfunctional childhood. And reading too many complicated books when I was too young to ignore them.

I should have waited until college where you are forced to read them and can forget the subject as soon as you pass the finals. I read them because I was interested in everything, so I read any book I could find. I don’t think I’d defined “reading for fun” as a concept. I just read. I had an empty brain and I needed to fill it up.

A lot of my early reading, once I got past horses and dogs, was historical fiction. With each piece of fiction I read, I found myself in the stacks of New York’s main library, somewhere down in the basement in the stacks. Because I wanted to know what was real and what was fiction. I ultimately had to unlearn almost everything when I got into more serious versions of history, but the fiction got me to the real deal.

I started with British history. I think it was King Arthur who got me into the monarchs of England beginning with William of Normandy. From there I moved into France and then fell into Rome where I stayed for a really long time. But they were around for a long time and many of their governmental structures are currently part of our modern government.

Over the years, I got a pretty good grip on history and how anything happening now has happened before and will happen again and again and again. Humans don’t seem to have much of a memory for the past. Even when it’s something through which they lived. We have approximately 50 years of historical memory, though recently it seems to be getting shorter. We call it stupid, but is it stupid or blind ignorance? And if it is blind ignorance, is it because our educational systems have been stripped to the bone?

Do they teach history? If they do, are they using books that have any basis in reality? Most of the books I got as “history” in public school were from the early 1940s and I think they are still using the same books. A kid who wants to learn history had better have a good library available because whatever he learns in school is probably wrong.

One day last year, Garry and I were standing behind someone at Target. She had an entire cart full of kid stuff. Young kids. It turned out she was a first-grade teacher and she was spending hundreds of dollars for supplies for her “kids.” She was buying pens and pencils, paper and scissors because the school didn’t have a budget. Notebooks. Little furry toys to use as prizes. Paint and paper. Glue. They’ve eliminated all of the things that made education fun for us. Art, music, excursions, drama. In most public schools you’re lucky if you get a textbook published post-WWII. I wonder if kindergartners get crayons or have to bring their own?

There are many reasons for the economic collapse. Coronavirus is the nail in a coffin we’ve been building as long as this country has existed and before that since the Romans ruled the world or at least an awful lot of it.

We can blame the Bubonic Plague for creating central governments on the European continent. Because so many people died and serfs were gone, the fields went untended. There was no food. What was left was often infected with ergot which is not unlike LSD in how it affects the human brain. So the wealthier people (we assume nobility but that’s not necessarily true) who had silos managed to gather the grain and took responsibility for distributing it. Until then, the government was essentially confined to the lord and his serfs, but after the 14th century, there were kings and subjects. I think there are too many kings and far too many subjects.

We never developed a vaccine for the Bubonic Plague. It’s still with us. Sometimes it responds to antibiotics, but not always. We keep it from taking over by controlling it the moment it appears. There was an outbreak in San Francisco in 1900 in Chinatown.


The San Francisco plague of 1900–1904 was an epidemic of bubonic plague centered on San Francisco’s Chinatown. The epidemic was recognized by medical authorities in March 1900, but its existence was denied for more than two years by California’s Governor Henry Gage.

Cause: Bubonic plague
Date: 1900 – 1904
Deaths: 119 deaths

San Francisco plague of 1900–1904 – Wikipedia


Although Bubonic Plague — when we think about plagues which we do more often these days than we used to — is always the one that first pops into our mind, the “Spanish” Plague which lasted from 1918 through 1919 killed far more people. It wasn’t Spanish. It actually started with some sick cows near a military base in Kansas, but if I called it the “Kansas Plague,” no one would know what I’m talking about.

So the first wave came through, helped along by the horrible conditions of the war. And just like now, they closed everything. But as soon as the contagion seemed to be letting up slightly started to drop, so the manufacturers  said: “it’s going away, open everything up.” The second wave hit and killed twice as many people as the first wave. But let’s not let history get in our way. Or science. Or even commonsense. See “1918 Pandemic Influenza” on the CDC website. It even has a timeline and pictures.

Culturally, we’ve maximized workplaces while simultaneously eliminating small and medium-size companies where owners and workers could have a relationship. Live in the same town. Send their kids to the same schools. When companies and farms were scattered throughout the country, a single company’s collapse would not leave thousands of people without work and their families in imminent danger of losing everything.

But wait! When the robots take over — and they will — nobody’s job will be safe. During the Democratic primary debates, I kept wondering why no one was paying attention to Andrew Yang. He was smart. He was telling the truth. He was already way ahead of our current monstrosity-in-office.

I know I didn’t start the fire that’s now burning our world, but I didn’t even understand there WAS a fire until I was in my thirties.

No generation made this mess alone. Civilization — European civilization — has been pushing in this direction since governments were invented. Bigger, richer, greedier, more powerful has always been the gold crown. It didn’t start in the U.S. It happened long ago in a land far away. Lay this one on Rome or maybe Macedonia.

2020 WON’T BE ANYONE’S FAVORITE YEAR – Marilyn Armstrong

I had a favorite year and it was 51 years ago. Hard to believe because it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago.

Apollo 11

Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July 1969. I was a new mommy. Home with the baby, I had time to see it. We watched it on CBS. Walter Cronkite wanted to be up there. On the moon. He could barely control his excitement, almost in tears, his voice breaking with emotion. The great Arthur C. Clarke was his guest.

woodstock-1

Woodstock was a month. Friends had tickets and were planning to go. I was busy with the baby and wished them well.

I was young, healthy. I just knew we would change the world. Make the world better. I was still of the opinion the world could be changed. We saw the future brightly and full of hope.

How could we — in a mere three years of The Trump Dump — manage to watch a lifetime of our generation’s effort vanish? I remember crying when Obama was elected and now we have this bombastic idiot tearing down everything we thought we’d accomplished. And I’m crying again at all the good, torn to shreds by one evil guy.

From 2016 until today, we’ve discovered the fragility of our democracy. In the face of a viral plague, watching this madman destroy our clean water and air and ignore the cries of the Earth. Tears apart our relationships with our allies and the rest of the world.

Take me back to a better time and place where I am young enough to hope for great things to come in my lifetime. Will life be better again in another 51 years? Will it be better next year?

A MAJOR SEA CHANGE: WHY COVID 19 IS A TURNING POINT IN HISTORY – SEAN MUNGER

A major sea change: why COVID-19 is a turning point in history.

So, it is the end of March 2020, and many of us are sequestered in our homes, trying not to get the virus that’s now sweeping the globe and has already overwhelmed the health care systems of numerous countries. People are talking about little else. Clearly, this event is big–but how big, and what are the implications for our history as a whole?

This past weekend I made a video on this subject and so far people are finding it useful and insightful. Here it is.


I wanted to post this because this subject has been on my mind. Forget for a moment, the actual danger of this pandemic. I know we are not “going back” to where we were. It won’t happen. It never has. Following every plague and epidemic, society has made a significant shift. Other events shifted it too … but a worldwide disease always shifts society and the way the world sees itself.

The Black Plague ended serfdom in Europe and ultimately changed the culture of the continent.

The biggest plague of them all, the one that killed more people than ANY other plague in history including all the sweeps the Black Death made through the world, as well as all the deaths from AIDS and the deaths in World War One was the Spanish (not really Spanish) Flu of 1918. As an aside, that disease was born among the cattle in Kansas and grew to its full potential in the trenches of WWI. It wiped out 50  million people.

From it was born modern medicine, modern scientific research. Computer and advanced technology. It was the beginning of our now. Coronavirus is not as lethal as Spanish Flu, but nonetheless, it is sweeping the world at the same speed that characterized the 1918 flu. The pandemic will change the entire world. 

Sean deals with events that I don’t feel competent to deal with. In the end, life is going to change. Not so much for the boomer generation, but for everyone younger than us. One way or the other, we are not going back to where we were, whatever that meant. It will be different. Better, I hope.


And this is also my answer to Fandango’s Provocative Question.

We are not going back to what we were doing before. It is not only improbable — it is quite literally impossible. Many if not most of the jobs people had “before” will be gone. The places for which they worked will not reopen or will substantially downsize. Many small and medium-sized businesses will close and never reopen.

There will be a glut of ownerless homes on the real estate market unless the banking industry lets reality intrude on their business practices.

There will also be a lot fewer grandparents.

No amount of money injected into the economy will force “recovery.” We seniors probably won’t live to see the resulting social, economic, and cultural shifts because we don’t have 25 or 30 years remaining. But it will happen because it has always happened. The days before Coronavirus will be “the old days.” The days before March 2020 will be our “new” past.

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS BY ERIC LARSON – Marilyn Armstrong

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Eric Larson

It’s not a new book, but it is nonetheless a relevant book. I have rarely been more conflicted about a book than I was about this one. It was gripping, sometimes mesmerizing. Simultaneously appalling and annoying.

William Dodd was made ambassador to Hitler’s Germany because no one else wanted the job and because they didn’t want to put a “real” ambassador in what they considered a lose-lose position.

From the outset, it was the intention of Dodd’s bosses that he should fail. The U.S. government never had any intention of supporting him, of stopping the rise of the Nazi party or to curtail the personal power of Adolph Hitler.


You need to understand this in order for the rest of the story to make sense if indeed it could be said to make sense. It didn’t make sense to me, but maybe it will make sense to you. Given the way our current government is behaving, maybe it makes more sense only because I am finally aware that it doesn’t have to make sense. 

The indifference and callously entrenched antisemitism of US State Department officials and their resulting tolerance for the atrocities of the Nazi government is hard to stomach. This is not an image of our government that would make anyone proud to be an American. And amazingly, we are doing it again. This time, the people who are doing it lack the polish and education of their forbears, but the hideous results are similar.

The failure of all western nations to do anything to stop Hitler while they could have done so easily is difficult to fathom. Their choice of Dodd, who was considered an amateur and not “one of the club” was an incredibly cynical move by the U.S.

Most of the people in the book are dreadful people in one way or another. Dodd, the ambassador, ultimately grows to become, in his own way, heroic. He saw what was happening and tried — within the very limited power of his position — to do what he could. That no one listened to him is part of the tragedy. Dodd’s daughter, on the other hand, is a feather-headed self-absorbed brat. She reminds me of a case of hives. The more you scratch, the more you itch.

Everyone acts in bad faith to one degree or another. Even more hard to bear are those who failed to act, failed to respond to Dodd’s repeated pleas for help. Usually, it wasn’t because they didn’t believe him (although some didn’t), but because the majority of them were hardened anti-Semites who thought Hitler could rid Europe of the menace of Communism while wiping out the Jews. They thought wiping out the Jews was a terrific idea.

Hitler didn’t get rid of Communism, but he did a pretty thorough job of wiping out European Jewry. Historically, I guess that would make the glass half full.

How revolting is it for me to learn this? I always rejected my mother’s suspicions on this score as paranoia. I refused to believe my government could allow — encourage — the genocide of an entire people. Sometimes, discovering mom was right is not heartwarming. This is one of those times.

William Dodd – U.S. Ambassador to Germany – International News Service (Chicago, IL). Creator and publisher – International News photo – June 10, 1933

To put the cherry on this dessert, the State Department’s little plot to allow Hitler enough latitude to “take care of the Jews” also led us into the bloodiest war in human history, a conflict in which more than 30 million people — military and civilians — died. The banality of evil has never been more terrifying. Read it and weep for the past and weep for the present.

Evil intentions never produce good results. This book offers the ultimate cautionary tale. It is as relevant now as ever.

GREAT TEACHERS: A VERY LONG DEFERRED THANK YOU – Marilyn Armstrong

In the course of my school days, I had a handful of great teachers to whom I will be eternally grateful. They taught me to learn, to love reading, to make up stories and write them down. To write non-fiction that was complete, accurate and unbiased. To find humor in physics. To love history, religion, archaeology, philosophy and the mysteries of our world.

They encouraged curiosity, imagination and creative thinking.

This is P.S, 35. It’s still there, but I’m not.

Mrs. Schiff, a 4th-grade teacher at P.S. 35. She suggested I write “diaries” of historical people and put myself into their worlds. Thank you. You encouraged me to write and find other worlds.

Dr. Silver, who taught English Literature and Linguistics at Jamaica High school. He forced me to parse sentences and respect punctuation and grammar while making me laugh. His doctorate in Linguistics helped him make our language intriguing, like a giant mystery to unravel. I’m still unraveling it.

Dr. Feiffer — my high school physics teacher — taught me, the least mathematically inclined student ever, could be fascinated by science. I never got together with numbers, but I learned to love science and I still do. The logic of it, the truth of it, the importance of it have stayed with me an entire lifetime.

Professor. Wekerle, head of Hofstra University’s Philosophy department. He believed in me. He taught phenomenology, History of Religion, Philosophy of Religion, but more importantly, saw through my bullshit. The first — and ONLY professor to give me a grade of D-/A+ … D- for content, A+ for style. He didn’t let me get away with anything. He made me fill in all those leaps of logic even though I whined vociferously that “everyone knows that stuff.”

Hofstra in 2014

Wekerle said “No, they don’t. You know it. Now tell them about it.” And I did and from that, I extracted a 40-year career.

I got what so much from these overworked and underpaid teachers who were dedicated to teaching dunderheads and wise-asses like me to think, write, research and love learning. Bless them all. The gifts they gave me were precious beyond words!

THE WORLD WAR ONE CHRISTMAS TRUCE – 1914 – Marilyn Armstrong

The Christmas truce (German: Waffenstillstand; French: Trêve de Noël) was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front during the Christmas season of 1914. During the days leading to Christmas day, German and British soldiers left their trenches to exchange greetings. To talk man-to-man, exchange personal information, share food and drink.

From The Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915: "British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches"

From The Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches”

World War I had been raging for only four months. Soldiers on both sides were trapped in trenches and extremely wary of sniper fire. On battlefields mired in mud, frozen with snow and ice, soldiers emerged from their holes in a rare, spontaneous outbreak of peace.

Both sides — most notably in the southern portion of the Ypres Salient — combatants briefly laid down their weapons and met in No Man’s Land.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, they mingled. Exchanged food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps. Several meetings ended in carol-singing.

The high command on both sides issued warnings to all soldiers that such fraternization would make participating soldiers subject to charges of treason. Not surprisingly, there were far fewer spontaneous truces the following year and virtually none by 1916.

A sad commentary on human “civilization” when peace, however temporary, is called treason.

WHISPERS IN YOUR EAR – Marilyn Armstrong

The day before the earthquake hit San Francisco in 1989, I decided I needed to go home a day early. I wasn’t feeling well (I actually had the flu, but didn’t yet know it) and most of my work was done for the moment.

It was like a little whisper in my ear telling me it was time to leave.

Had I not left, I’d have been one of the many crushed cars on the road between San Francisco and Oakland.

My boss in 2001 was supposed to fly to Los Angeles on September 11th. For some reason, a little whisper in his ear said “Cancel the trip. Go another day.”

The plane on which he had been booked crashed into one of the towers in New York.

There are all those little whispers out of nowhere. They tell us what to do. They tell us what to avoid. Listen to the whispers.

THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE – Marilyn Armstrong

Jonestown_entrance_welcome

Koolaid anyone?

I run this every year because people forget. We should not forget where blindly following a leader can take you. This happened. I remember it. Everyone who was alive and able to read or watch TV remembers.


On this day, the 41st anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre grew a saying everyone uses. “Drink the Kool-Aid” or “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” I feel sort of like those people these days, though no one is trying to poison me. Yet. I wonder how many people who say it so casually, referring to products, buying into a corporate culture, or political philosophy, or realize to what they are referring?

I’ve written this before, but this is a major revision and it bears repeating. It’s true. It happened. We need to make sure it never happens again.

Drink (or don’t drink) the Kool-aid

The popular expression “drink the Kool-Aid” has become a common verbal shorthand in American business and politics. Roughly translated, it means “to blindly follow or accept a set of beliefs.” At work, it means you endorse what your bosses tell you. In politics, it means you fully buy into the platform.

It carries a negative connotation, but not as negative as it ought.

Kool-Aid was the drink for children on summer afternoons in the 1950s. The saying is now just bland rhetoric, stripped of its context and thus the horror it ought to evoke.

The Peoples Temple

Jim Jones, cult leader, and mass murderer was a complex madman. A communist, occasional Methodist minister, he founded his own pseudo-church in the late 1950s. He called it the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church,” known in short as the “Peoples Temple.”

The lack of a possessive apostrophe was intentional. The name supposedly refers to “the people of the world.” Jones called it a church, but it was a twisted version of a Marxist commune. At first, it combined with miscellaneous Christian references Jones used in his diatribes, er, sermons.

jim_jones

It was not a church. The Peoples Temple was a straight-up cult requiring total personal commitment, financial support, and absolute obedience. The characteristics which define a cult.

Jones was the leader. A homicidal maniac, but he had positive qualities. Jones and his wife, Marceline, favored racial integration. They adopted kids from varying racial backgrounds and were the first white family in Indiana to adopt an African-American boy. They also adopted 3 Korean children, a Native American child, and a handful of white kids. They had one child of their own.

Jones called his adopted kids the “Rainbow Family.” He made a name for himself desegregating institutions in Indiana. Before you get all dewy-eyed, note that this climaxed in murdering these children.

The Peoples Temple expanded through the 1960s. Jones gradually abandoned Marxism. His preaching increasingly focused on the impending nuclear apocalypse. He specified a date — July 15, 1967 — and suggested after the apocalypse, a socialist paradise would exist on Earth. Where would the new Eden be?

Jones decided on Redwood Valley, California. Before the expected Big Bang, he moved the Temple and its peoples there.

When the end-of-the-world deadline came and went, Jones abandoned his pretense of Christianity and he revealed himself as a madman using religion to lend legitimacy to his views. He announced, “Those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion must be brought to enlightenment — socialism.” Prophetic words in view of the fact that Jones was a drug addict.

As media attention increased, Jones worried the Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt religious status was in danger. He was paranoid about the U.S. intelligence community — with good reason.

Jonestown aerial view

In 1977, Jones moved the Temple and its people again. This was a major relocation. He took them out of the United States and resettled everyone in Guyana, a poor South American nation. He modestly named it “Jonestown.”

It was a bleak, inhospitable place. On 4000 acres of poor soil with limited access to fresh water, it was too small for the number of people it had to support. Jones optimistically figured “his” people could farm the new utopia. He had put together several million dollars before getting to Jonestown but didn’t share it with his followers. He barely used any of the money at all and lived in a small, bare-bones shack.

All Hell Breaks Loose

U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November of 1978. Rumors of peculiar goings-on were leaking out of Jonestown. Ryan decided to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses in Jonestown.

Jonestown headline Milwaukee

Ryan didn’t go alone. He took a contingent of media representatives including NBC News correspondent Don Harris and other reporters, plus relatives of Jonestown residents. During his visit, Congressman Ryan talked to more than a dozen Temple members, all of whom said they wanted to leave. Several of them passed a note saying: “Please help us get out of Jonestown” to news anchor Harris.

If the number of defectors seems low (there were more than 900 people in Jonestown), but the congressional party was unable to talk to most of the “fellowship.” It’s impossible to know how many might have wanted to leave.

Ryan began processing paperwork to repatriate Temple members to go back to the States. In the middle of this, Ryan was attacked by Don Sly, a knife-wielding Temple member. This would-be assassin was stopped before injuring Ryan. Eventually, the entire Ryan party plus the group of Jonestown defectors drove to a nearby airstrip and boarded planes, intending to leave.

Jim Jones had other plans. He sent armed Temple members — his “Red Brigade,” after the Congressional party  These creepy “soldiers of the Temple” opened fire, killing Ryan, a Temple defector, 3 members of the media, and wounding 11 others. The survivors fled into the jungle.

jonestown massacre anniversary

When the murderers returned to Jonestown and reported their actions, Jones promptly started what he called a “White Night” meeting. He “invited” all Temple members. This wasn’t the first White Night. Jones had hosted previous White Night meetings in which he suggested U.S. intelligence agencies would soon attack Jonestown. He had even staged fake attacks to add realism, though it’s hard to believe anyone was fooled by the play-acting.

Faced with this hypothetical invasion scenario, Jones told Temple members they could stay and fight imaginary invaders, or they could take off for the USSR. Another tempting alternative would be to run off into the Guyana jungles. Finally, they could commit mass suicide as an act of political protest.

On previous occasions, Temple members had opted for suicide. Not satisfied, Jones had tested their commitment and gave them cups of liquid they were told contained poison. They were asked to drink it. Which they did. After a while, Jones told them the liquid wasn’t poison — but one day it would be.

Jonestown Koolaid

Indeed Jim Jones had been stockpiling cyanide and other drugs for years. On this final White Night, Jones was no longer testing his followers. It was time to kill them all.

Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid

After the airstrip murders outside Jonestown, Jim Jones ordered Temple members to create a fruity mix containing a cocktail of chemicals that included cyanide, diazepam (Valium), promethazine (Phenergan — a sedative), chloral hydrate (a sedative/hypnotic sometimes called “knockout drops”), and Flavor Aid — a grape-flavored powdered drink mix similar to Kool-Aid.

jonestown_massacre

Jones urged his followers to commit suicide to make a political point. What that point was supposed to be is a matter of considerable conjecture.  After some discussion, Temple member Christine Miller suggested flying Temple members to the USSR.

Jones was never interested in escape. There was only one answer he would accept. Death. Lots of it. He repeatedly pointed out Congressman Ryan was dead (and whose fault was that?) which would surely bring down the weight of American retribution. An audiotape of this meeting exists. It is as creepy as you’d expect.

30-years-jonestown

Then it was time for the detailed instructions which the followers followed. I will never understand why. Probably it means I’m not insane.

Jones insisted mothers squirt poison into the mouths of their children using syringes. As their children died, the mothers were dosed too, though they were allowed to drink from cups. Temple members wandered outside — where eventually more than 900 lay dead, including more than 300 children. Only a handful survived — primarily residents who happened to be away on errands when the mass suicide/massacre took place.

Jones, his wife, and various other members of the Temple left wills stating that their assets should go to the Communist Party of the USSR.

Jones did not drink poison. He died from a bullet to the head. It’s not clear if it was self-inflicted. Jones likely died last or nearly so. He may have preferred a gun to cyanide, having seen the horrendous effects of death by cyanide.

Why Kool-Aid?

In the wake of the tragedy at Jonestown, the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” became a popular term for blind (or not-so-blind) obedience. Temple members had apparently accepted their cups of poison without argument or objection. Various accounts say the beverage used at Jonestown was mostly Flavor Aid, sometimes “Flav-R-Aid”). It doesn’t matter, does it?

Kool-Aid was better-known than Flavor Aid. It was introduced in 1927 in powdered form, so when Americans thought of a powdered fruity drink mix (other than “Tang”), “Kool-Aid” sprang to mind.

Jonestown-Tomb-Flower

Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were at Jonestown, but the phrase “(don’t) drink the Kool-Aid” is popular lingo. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Does it help sell Kool-Aid?

I never touch the stuff.

MORE THAN EVER, THIS MATTERS

I’ve written about Jonestown before, but it bears repeating. I write it on the same day each year. Fewer and fewer people even know about it, but everyone should know.

It’s a cautionary tale for our times, reminding us where fanaticism and hatred can lead. Over the course of history, fanatics and those who blindly follow them have caused millions of deaths. Untold misery. Incalculable harm.

When you follow your “leader” into the darkness, there is no “good” side, and nothing positive will ever come of it.


This is where blind obedience leads. This is the result. This was the biggest horror story, but it has not been the only one. When you follow blindly, beware of cliffs.

VISIT TO THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM, PART 3 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

This is the third installment of photos from my trip to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. We only covered the furniture and decorative arts section of the American Wing. Here are more photos, this time of miscellaneous things that caught my eye.

Ceramics from the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th Century

I loved this early 20th century piece

Very contemporary looking vase

An assortment of old clocks

Early American doll and doll accessories. I love the coach!

More doll furniture and an adorable toy horse for the dolls!

Painted wood chest from colonial times

Another example of a painted wood chest

Plates painted in the American style

Plates painted in a more typical Oriental Style

Ceiling from the recreated Frank Lloyd Wright room

Door and wall lamp designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in the Frank Lloyd Wright room

Ornate street lamp just outside the American Wing of the Met

Silver vase with gemstones

Odd work desk with bag hanging underneath to store work materials, like for sewing.

Unique piece pairing wood and stained glass

Recreated room with wallpaper on all the walls with different views of a single scene

Another wall of wallpaper with no repeat patterns, just a continual scene going around the room

Wall over the fireplace continuing the rustic scene

 

AMERICA FIRST IS RACISM FROM OUR PAST – Marilyn Armstrong

This post is primarily composed of quotes from HuffPost and other sources. “America First” has a rather long and ugly history … and it started long before Donald Trump.

If anyone thinks what Trump is doing is new, it isn’t. This is Fascism on the rise. It’s easy to suddenly discover that “free” now means “people who agree with The Leader.” We are far too close to that now. I’d hate to see what a second term would accomplish.

Democracy is a slippery slope. Ours is covered in ice.

Dr. Seuss Cartoon from 1941 on antisemitism. The old story, just updated with a red hat.


Trump Was Not First To Use The “America First” Slogan. It has a long history.

In his Inaugural Address, President Donald Trump repeated a theme from his Presidential Campaign, telling the world: “From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.” Many Trump critics point to the fact that this was a watchword for those who opposed U.S. intervention in WWll before the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor. Actually, the phrase has a longer history.

President Woodrow Wilson, a hardened internationalist, ironically coined the term today associated with Nationalism. In 1916, Wilson was running for re-election by promising to remain neutral in WWl. His campaign slogan was: “He kept us out of War,  America First.” Once Wilson was safely re-elected, he ordered troops into what was, at the time, called “The Great War.” My mother who had the “luck” to live through both world wars always called it “The Great War.”

Once the U.S. was enveloped in the war, newspaper Publisher William Randolph Hearst, a vociferous critic of Wilson, used the slogan against the President.

Hearst was sympathetic to Germany and warned the U.S. not to aid the allies in the fight against Germany. Hearst exclaimed: “Keep every dollar and every man and every weapon and all our supplies and stores at home, for the defense of our own land, our own people, our own freedom, until that defense has been made absolutely secure. After that, we can think of other nations’ troubles. But until then, America first!”

This slogan soon became an imprimatur for non-interventionists in both major political parties. Once WWl ended, the Americans became wary of foreign intervention. Wilson failed in his efforts to garner the requisite two-thirds majority needed in the U.S. Senator to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, which included allowing the U.S. to join a collective security alliance called “The League of Nations.”

Some Senators would have supported the agreement if the President agreed to certain reservations. However, the bi-partisan group that steadfastly opposed the treaty came to be known as “the irreconcilables.”

Complete post: TRUMP WAS NOT THE FIRST TO USE AMERICA FIRST” – Huffpost 

QUOTES ABOUT FREEDOM – Marilyn Armstrong

I really hate that we fought this war for civil rights before and it has come back. But more than that, I hate how easy it was for one detestable human being to make it happen. It took less than three years. I never imagined our freedom could be chipped away so fast … and I hate it!


“If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ― George Washington

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the American public.” ― Theodore  Roosevelt

“Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.” ― Neil Gaiman

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ― George Orwell

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