Category Archives: Myths

Star Wars – The Force awakens – Movie review

Non-standard spoiler alert here

Normally I place a standard spoiler alert here because I usually go into a lot of detail about the movies that I review.  This time things are a bit different.  I feel that even 6 months after the movie comes out that if I divulge any secrets that I will get a ton of hate mail.  So with that in mind I am going to review the movie in a fairly roundabout way and discuss the whole of the Star Wars universe and how the new movie fits in.  Even so some details may leak out.

This post will go into details about the movie “The Force awakens“. If you don’t want to know what happens in this movie you better stop reading now.


Back in 1977 I was 6 years old.  My sister’s boyfriend at the time took her and of course her little brother to the movies in the Galleria to see this sci-fi movie called Star Wars.  She had already seen it and advised me not to be scared of the space battles and alien monsters.

I sat goggled eyed for the next hour and a half.  My perspective had been broadened way beyond the horizon.  Any thoughts about growing up to be a cowboy or a fireman or whatever were replaced with being a space faring Jedi knight.

In many ways this was the first “adult” movie that I ever watched.  No simple cartoons, or parables.  This was something complex for a kid to handle.  Please understand, it wasn’t so much the special effects, though they were jaw dropping for the time, it was more a matter of having such a fleshed out and complete story line framing and structuring the entire movie and setting the stage for future movies.

Lucas had been working on and off since the early seventies and possibly since his college days to come up with the basic story.  He borrowed heavily from myth, from the action movies of the 1930’s, and from a wide range of science fiction sources.  What he put together was a complete story package that had a clearly defined arc from beginning to end and it was a story that was very relatable to a wide audience but also contained nuggets of religion and philosophy for the hard-core sci-fi fans to consider.

When the next installments of the story were released, Lucas kept building the basic story line and kept it moving to the climax in the third installment (or what was the third installment back in the 80’s). When Return of the Jedi ended and it seemed that Lucas was finished with the entire story, many fans were left clamoring for more and with a whole lot of unanswered questions.

During the 90’s, Lucas set to work on the prequel series and decided to focus on the roots of the story with the rise of the Empire and in particular, Darth Vader.  The prequels answered many of the fan questions but were generally badly received.

Why?  Some criticisms focus on the story line which was perceived to be badly scripted, clumsy, and un-even.  Others said that Lucas had fallen in love with special effects and neglected the story and others said that he not so much made a movie but made a video game instead.

The story itself wasn’t bad and as I said it answered many of the origin questions in the Star Wars universe but personally I did feel that it lacked the completed feel of the original series and clumsily steered its way to connect up to what was now referred to as Episode 4 from 1977.

After the rebukes that he received, Lucas vowed that he would never again direct another Star Wars movie.  So it was a great shock and somewhat disheartening when the news broke that Lucas had sold the rights to the movie series to Disney for 4 Billion dollars.

At first most fans were horrified that the studio would ruin and “Disney-fy” the series for the sake of making money.  The studio immediately moved to install JJ Abrams as the director and we fans waited with bated breath to see what would happen.

This is where I would give away plot details but I won’t.  Instead I will mention that some movie plot points have been speculated on since back in the 80’s.  Points like, what happened to the Empire after the Battle of Endor in the sixth movie?  Did Han and Leia live happily ever after?  Did the Sith ever return?

The new movie builds a bridge from Return of the Jedi and the future.  The story tellers are not hampered as they were in the prequel series to connect one series to another and having to “artificially” steer the story.  Old cast members are there to reprise their roles but also clear the way for the new cast that will take over.

Storytelling once again takes center stage over special effects.  Overall it is a satisfactory effort.  Not original of course as it was back in 1977.  But overall it is a good starting point for this series to begin with.


Birthday lessons

We celebrated America’s 239th birthday yesterday.  To most people it’s a chance to get off work and relax. Most of the population doesn’t sit back to consider the declaration of independence or the revolutionary war or the impact and meaning of these to their lives.

The few people who are paid to do this, social commenters, political writers, and those that make a living speculating about such things will usually crank out the same series of articles every year.  Either the founding fathers were God-fearing capitalist patriots trying to forge a new form of government in a howling wilderness or they were atheist, proto-marxists throwing off the shackles of oppression and  creating universal suffrage for all.  Most of the written pieces fall somewhere along this continuum with some detours delving into the issues of women’s suffrage or slavery. Depending on what websites you visit you will see one opinion voiced more than the other.

Of course not one of these views is wholly correct.  The founding fathers were a mixed lot of idealists and scoundrels, laissez faire capitalists and anarchists, land owning gentry and yeoman farmers, church elders and worldly men.  Each group had its own agenda and reasons as to why they wanted to break away from London’s control and the only thing they had in common was a realization that they would need each other’s support to achieve independence.

One thing that they all recognized however was the need to do something new and radical.  To post a logical declaration of grievances against their existing government and provide a sort of logical proof for the need to break away and to form a new government of their own.

I think that has been a vital part of the American character since before the start.  The urge and ability to try something new and not shy away from it just because it wasn’t something that had been done before.  Of course innovation and new thinking can occur anywhere in the world and at any time in history but I think it’s rare that it has ever been so widely accepted as it was in the early American era by such a large population.

I think it was a side effect of the excitement of being part of a new nation in a new land that allowed people the freedom and flexibility to think about new forms of government, the willingness to gamble on new ventures, the acceptance of new technologies, that sense that over time the nation would “improve” itself and that technology would leverage us all into a new golden age.

I find that somewhere along the way we lost that vital spirit.  Perhaps as early as the late 19th century but certainly after World War II.  We went from being a nation excited and curious about the possibilities and challenges of the future to being a nation in love with a past that for the most part didn’t exist in one way or another.  From being excited at the prospect of change and new thinking to being terrified of the idea and demanding that we stay in a social and mental limbo.  From pulling together in common cause to blaming each other for past and current woes.

Rather than trying to solve situations to find the maximum benefit for all of us we have balkanized our populations into competing and often hostile camps that could maybe pull together and benefit each other but for the most part practice mutual antagonism as a sport.

If we continue on our current route I am certain that we will not see another 239 years.  I don’t see us going past another 100 years.  Either our own inertial forces will rip us apart or competing nation states will begin using our confusion against us and will feast on our self-made misery.

We should respect the past and learn from our mistakes and follies if at the very least to honor the sacrifices of those that came before us.  But we should also remember that they made those sacrifices not for us to stay in the past but to progress forward and up into a better tomorrow.


The mythos of science

We were having a discussion on Facebook the other day.  The discussion centered on a news article about how complicated the new view that western medicine now had concerning cholesterol.

The new view is that the science is not just a little but very inconclusive about cholesterol’s role in heart disease.  I’ve discussed previously how science has changed its position on sodium in a previous post.  Now here is another science “fact” that is seemingly disappearing right before our eyes.

The science doesn’t annoy me all that much.  Science is a search for knowledge using experimentation and hypotheses.  Science can and often does change all the time as new facts are uncovered and old theories have to be brushed up or even overturned with new evidence.

What annoys me however is what non-scientists do with science.

We’ve taken to making public policy using science as a reason for making drastic changes in lifestyles, in the way our economy works, in the way that we perceive the world.  Changes that are not always so benign.  We make these changes based on ideas that we only half understand or that we totally don’t understand and we do so with the assurance that what we’re doing is correct.

I find that troubling to say the least.  Not just for the fact that sometimes these ideas are wrong but also that we tend to imbue these ideas with an almost godlike certitude.  Science says that this idea is correct, therefore we will pass this law based on that and any who doubt this law, doubt science and are therefore wrong.

Of course if later on the science turns out to be wrong there is no recantation, no mea culpa.  In fact sometimes government will tenaciously hang on to outdated ideas even though now the science says it’s wrong.

I wish we could let science take its time and do the science properly rather than prodding it for results and jumping on the least little rumor and declaring it fact.

So far the consequences haven’t been too bad but I fear someday we will make public policy on a wrong assumption and we will pay dearly for it.

The Summer solstice

[Author’s note:  This is a reprint from June 2007]    

We just passed the Summer Solstice.  The longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.  In today’s hectic world it has little meaning to the average person living in this interconnected, instant communications, driven life

But once upon a time it was a deadly serious business.  No one knows exactly when or where humans began tracking sunrises and sunsets.  The neolithic peoples that built Stonehenge knew of it and probably built it to track the rise and setting of the sun, so surely its older than that 5000 year old structure

Knowing when the days became shorter or longer was key to a society that had just come out of hunting and gathering.  Crops would not grow in the cold dimly lit days of Winter so knowing that the days were getting longer would be essential to knowing just when to plant crops.  To mark the importance of this priests and shamans would encourage festivals to be held on these key days

Of course nowadays with calendars, satellites, and precision timing devices it’s just taken for granted but even so we cant shake these ancient pagan roots.

The Summer festival isn’t as important to us but look at the Winter festivals.  Halloween, originally the Celtic New year marking the beginning of the dark season.  Appropriated by the Christian Church into All Saints day, or All Hallows Eve.

Thanksgiving, a thoroughly american holiday, or is it?  The day of giving thanks for the fall harvest, yet another agricultural legacy that hasn’t left us.

Christmas.  Most probably Christ’s birth date wasn’t in December, probably it was closer to March or April, however the German and Celtic tribes celebrated the Winter Solstice on the 22nd and the Church appropriated this as well

Even in Texas traces of these Winter rites are seen.  We used to have a large bonfire at my university for the texas football game every year.  Large logs were cut and stacked and on the night before the game the huge pyre was lit, thousands would stand in the cold and rain and sing and chant.  Standing in this throng of people lit by the glow of a gigantic fire I couldn’t help but make the comparison to ancient crowds circling bonfires thousands of years ago chanting in the dark.

Even Easter.  Named after the Anglo Saxon goddess of Spring Ostern.  Possibly Ostern herself was a corruption of ancient near east goddesses like Ishtar or Astarte, both goddesses of fertility and new life.

Ostern’s festival was the vernal equinox or the start of spring when crops could be planted.  The Anglo Saxons would perform a ritual on that date.  They would take out a cage made out of wheat stalks they had harvested the year before containing the corn spirit.  They would set this on fire and release the spirit to bring the world back to life after the long Winter.  A recognition of the cyclical nature of life.

We have co=opted many of the traditions of these ancestors.  The rabbit and the eggs.  The rabbit was the totemic animal of the goddess Oster.  A small bird laid its eggs in wheat fields, when hunters saw rabbits in the fields and chased them, they often found these eggs and assumed the rabbit had laid them, thus the tradition of hiding eggs was born.  The church explained the egg as a symbol of new life.  The corn spirit was left out but the idea of the rebirth of the world after a long cold winter was maintained.

The summer solstice itself may have lost much of its importance in this modern world but though we have covered ourselves with a hard veneer of technology and draped ourselves with our modern point of view we are not all that much removed from those ancestors that once lit bonfires and chanted in the middle of the night.

The point of it all

Whenever you do any activity for an extended period of time you will eventually get to the point that you start asking yourself some  deep questions regarding that activity.

Just doing the activity used to be enough for me.  I do miss those days when just doing was enough.  I find myself getting wistful for the simplicity of those times.  But as you age and progress you get more time to sit and consider your situation then I guess such questions are inevitable.

So, there I am sitting writing and I hit a bit of a stumbling point in my writing.  The sentences all look wrong, the paragraph structure doesn’t make much sense and I’m wondering where this is all going.  Not so much where this particular story is going.  That I have a handle on but where am I really going with this whole writing thing.

Is anything that I write really all that worthwhile reading?

I’ve been dallying and switching back and forth between science fiction and literary fiction for the past couple of years and I’ve been thinking of combining both into the sub-genre of literary science fiction, a really rarefied form of literature that would be quite difficult to produce.

In my local writing groups I’ve seen a couple of younger writers plunging on and taking their stories to their editors and looking for publishers and generally getting on with producing their work. They’re totally committed and fearless in moving forward.

Meanwhile I’m sitting on 2 stories that I could at the very least send to an editor and get some honest feedback before moving on to the next stage.  But again I have to ask myself what is the point of this whole exercise?  Am I doing this just to exercise my imagination and my typing fingers or do I want to get something published?

I don’t think I want to keep all of this private and to myself.  I do want to share what I am writing with a wider audience.  Being in contact with actual writers, with editors, and other writing enthusiasts has broadened my horizons considerably in the last few years.  Particularly in the last year that I’ve spent with members of the Houston Science Fiction writing group.

I don’t think that I will ever make a fortune writing or that I will even make a good living but I do think that I want  to release some of these ideas out to a wider audience.

I am currently thinking that my focus should go back to what I know best and that my first story should be a familiar theme that I know well and that I am more confident in.  A nice “easy” science fiction story that I can work with my editor on and get ready for publication.

I wish I could do something more literary as my first effort but if I’m going to take the plunge into publishing I think that I need to do something where I can build up my confidence and my experience first before tackling something more substantial.

Conspiracies VII The New world order and conclusions

Difficult to remember but think I came back to my dorm room after classes one November night.  My roommate, Mike, had the TV on and tuned to the local network affiliate.  The Berlin wall was coming down.  Something utterly impossible.  Something that could not be and would never happen in my lifetime had happened and I was totally stunned.  I had no reaction.



I think it was the same way for many people.  As odd as it sounds a whole way of life, a mindset, an attitude was suddenly all erased and the wheels of history had gone down a different road.  That looming specter of nuclear war that I had pretty much accepted as an inevitability had just vanished in the pop of champagne bottles and fireworks being shot off on top of a wall.  What was left?

I think that we all had to come to terms with the “new reality”.  Some looked at it in a hopeful light and decided that we could now move forward without all the baggage of the last fifty years weighing us down.

Others not so much.

Maybe with that sort of mindset in place they almost welcomed George Bush when about a year later he popularized the phrase “The New World Order” in a speech concerning the course of history now that the Soviet empire had effectively collapsed.


New World Order wasn’t a new phrase.  Conspiracy theorists knew it from the beginning of the 20th century when globalists such as HG Wells, Cecil Rhodes, Elihu Root and Woodrow Wilson advocated for the dissolution of national boundaries and the establishment of a planetary governing body.  Globalism became the new nefarious conspiracy to replace international communism.

Previously little known groups such as the Council of Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg group, the Trilateral commission, Bohemian grove, and skull and crossbones suddenly became more and more scrutinized.  The innate secretive nature of these groups just fueled speculation to ridiculous levels.  Now here we are 25 or so years later and we’ve little to no more information on any of these groups or plots.

Then the 90’s brought a series of disturbing incidents and vaguely defined threats to liberty.  Desert Storm, Waco, Ruby Ridge, “clipper chips”.  Certainly pop culture fed the hysteria with shows like The X-files.  Then along came the mismanaged 2000 election with hints of fraud and shortly after that 9/11.

The general level of distrust, the misgivings, the overall respect for governments, and for international bodies such as the UN has plummeted.  The American people are more leery of government and its intentions.  Anything and everything can now be a plot against the general population.  Even the most innocuous of programs such as health care seem to have an ominous edge to them.

Those in power don’t help things.  They seem rather oblivious to the complaints and blindly plunge on.

The general feeling is now that anyone with power or money or both will do what they have to do to maintain or augment that power and money at the expense of others and not just financially but in terms of liberties and individual rights.

What could happen if this type of sentiment is not addressed?  Well in the extreme cases when people get shoved too far it could lead to a violent counter-reaction.  Just look at what happened in countries in the near east when their governments failed to react in a proper and timely manner to the complaints of the great many.  Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria are great examples.

At the very least it means that more and more of the population will become disillusioned by the political process and take less of an active role in their governments and leave decisions to a smaller number of people.  A sort of twisted self-fulfilling prophecy.

What’s the answer?  More rather than less involvement with the government, real and not just promised transparency in government, a more thoughtful approach to governing that is more reactive to the fears of those that aren’t on the leading edge of change.

I don’t think that conspiracy theories will ever go away entirely but I do think that if we make things more transparent and we have a more reactive government that we may minimize the effect on the general population that they have enjoyed in the last quarter century.

Conspiracies VI

This is the one that everyone talks about.

Possibly the closest thing that we have in American history to compare to the legend of King Arthur or Barbarossa or perhaps even to the expulsion from the garden of Eden.  The story of a golden age in American history brought to a violent end by the murder of a man of legend.  A pivotal point in American and even world history.  People are left wondering what might have been.

A whole industry has cropped up around the assassination of President Kennedy in the last fifty years.  Books, movies, TV specials, that all claim to know the absolute truth and put forward theories as diverse as they are colorful.

The undisputed facts of the case are:

1. Kennedy was shot twice in Dallas.

2., and that he died.

Beyond that, all else is seemingly up for grabs.


It seems everyone had a reason to kill Kennedy.  From Fidel Castro, to Cuban right-wing rebels, to the mob, to the CIA, to vice president Johnson, to a group of army generals and wealthy businessmen, to a witch’s curse put on the Kennedy family back in Ireland, and finally to a disgruntled young man who was a failure.

Various sets of “proof” have been put forward by authors, enthusiasts, movie directors all of which seem to solve the case.  However all rely on sketchy evidence, wrong assumptions, and sometimes outright lies.

Gerald Posner tackled some of the more popular theories in his book in his tome “Case Closed” in 1995 as a direct answer to the 1991 Oliver Stone movie “JFK

JFK” itself concerns the theory set forth by a New Orleans district attorney, Jim Garrison, that a cabal set out to murder the president and that Lee Harvey Oswald was put up as a patsy for the murder.

Garrison himself was known to launch cases against public officials and against corruption in New Orleans always trying to land on the front page of the local papers for the sake of his political career.  He ended up prosecuting a local businessman as part of a plot to murder the President.  Garrison was only able to produce unreliable witnesses and speculation.  The case was decided against Garrison in less than fifteen minutes

In the end the case did have a lasting effect as it brought phrases into pop culture such as “magic bullet” and “lone gunman”.  The case would also begin the trend of the general public of doubting and mistrusting the government’s explanations for anything.


The possible motivations to assassinate the president vary widely and in some cases seem contradictory.

Kennedy had partially left Cuba to Castro.  Operations set in motion in the Eisenhower era such as the invasion of Cuba had been abandoned and hundreds of men were left stranded on a tropical beach to face capture and torture. A large expat Cuban community in South Florida became displeased with the president.  Something that they definitely expressed in the ballot boxes for the next fifty years.  But did they do more?

Castro was no big fan either.  Kennedy had initiated “Operation Mongoose” to subvert Castro’s regime.  Using CIA backed sabotage teams they blew up bridges, burned sugar cane crops and mined harbors.  What made it personal was that Kennedy had his brother Bobby Kennedy run the operation for him.  The Cuban intelligence agency (the Dirección General de Inteligencia) is a world-class agency and certainly had the resources to pull off an assassination.

Vice president Johnson himself was not a happy man.  A career politician, he had become Kennedy’s running mate out of necessity.  A skilled politician, he could get congressional support for any of Kennedy’s policies when necessary but he was looked down upon by most of the Kennedy family and seen as little more than an ill-mannered oaf.  It seems that the only one that personally liked Johnson was president Kennedy himself.

The Kennedy clans’ plans were to have John Kennedy get his two terms and then have Bobby continue the dynasty leaving Johnson out in the cold.  It would be understandable that the vice president might feel ill-used. But was he capable of organizing such a thing?

The mob wasn’t too happy either.  The Kennedy administration had vigorously gone after the mob in the early 60’s and had begun to damage their operations.  Another theory speculates that the Kennedy campaign had reneged on campaign promises made to the mob to help him win the white house in 1960.  Some have speculated that Kennedy had some particular links to the mob in Chicago and that their support in the 1960 election had put Illinois in Kennedy’s camp for the presidential election.

Other mob motives might tie back into the Cuban angle as the mob was very interested in restoring links to a lucrative per-revolution gambling arrangement in Cuba.  Kennedy’s seemingly lax policy on Cuba might have seemed detrimental to their interests.

Lastly it is speculated that a simmering feud between the president’s father Joseph Kennedy and the mob existed from decades past and that this was payback.

The one group most credited is a mix of the CIA, the pentagon, and big business.  It is widely speculated that Kennedy intended to withdraw from Vietnam and to restart nuclear arms talks with the soviets.  The threat of seeming to be weak against communism and the curtailing of “blank check” military spending would be a threat to these parties.

The most far-fetched theory is that a curse was placed on the Kennedy clan due to an ancestor of Kennedy offending a witch in Ireland.  This would take the form of various members of the clan dying violently or ruining their careers.

Lastly we are left with a young man.  A man who had been a failure in most things he had done, a man who was almost totally disregarded by life but who craved attention.  A man who could do only do one thing well.  He could shoot a rifle.

Conspiracies V

In the US big business has always been a magnet for conspiracy theories.  In Europe it’s usually the nobility or the landed gentry that gets blamed for the oppression of the common man but as we had no system of nobility the next best thing we had were faceless and distant corporations always either seeking to rob the poor or steal their land.  I could say that for the most part that business doesn’t deserve this reputation but then again there have been some glaring examples of misbehavior on their part.  I will look at 3 such verifiable conspiracies.


In the 19th century the Old West was opening up and there was seemingly an unending amount of territory available to anyone who cared to settle and work the land.  Of course this was not true and soon people began to fight over the most desirable pieces of territory.  One such fight took place in Wyoming.

The open grazing laws in the state meant that various cattle herds would mix together at times and some people used this as an excuse to take unbranded cattle as their own.  A powerful and influential group of cattle breeders took on a smaller less organized group of breeders in what would be known as the Johnson County war.  The Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) took on a loosely affiliated group of smaller ranchers and hired groups of thugs to kill and intimidate what they called rustlers.

At the height of the tensions a party of 50 men (mostly hired guns from Texas) from the WSGA “invaded” Johnson County with a secret list of alleged rustlers with the intent of murdering these men.  The party took care to cut the telegraph lines and to sneak into the county to not alarm the locals.

Although successful at first, they were eventually met by a larger party of County citizens numbering around 200 that cornered and then besieged them at the TA ranch.  One expedition member escaped the ranch and telegraphed the Governor who in turn contacted the local US Cavalry commander to apprehend and arrest the WSGA expedition. In reality they were rescuing them.

A long trial ensued and was held in Johnson County.  Most of the hired guns left Wyoming.  The few expedition members that did face prosecution had the benefit of expert legal counsel, paid for by the WSGA, that endlessly stalled the trial until the County could no longer support the cost of continued prosecution and all charges were dropped.


Now we enter the 20th century and things get extremely vague.  In 1929 there was a worldwide economic collapse known as the great depression.  Millions were out of work and starving.  Three political-economic theories competed for dominance; capitalism, fascism, and communism.

In the US president Roosevelt had been elected on a platform to rescue the nation from the depression.  He chose a left leaning policy of supplying relief to the poor.

In higher circles this was looked upon as a direct threat to the upper class and the capitalist system.  Men such as Henry Ford, Irene Du Pont, and others thought that the great depression was proof that the democratic process was a failure and that a small group of men or a single leader should lead the nation.  They looked at examples from Germany and Italy as models for them.

Gerald Macguire, a wall street investor, approached a former US Marine General called Smedley Butler with a proposition.

Butler had been a World War I hero and had been awarded the Medal of Honor twice.  He was also the unofficial leader of the “bonus army”.  The bonus army had been a group of veterans that had marched on Washington DC seeking a monetary bonus that the government had promised them for their service.  Instead the government turned the regular Army loose on them and several people were injured or killed.  This action made Butler very bitter and vocal about his opposition to the government.

Macguire intimated that he represented some powerful business leaders.  His idea was to have Butler march on Washington with the bonus army.  The veterans would receive arms from the group of business men and take over the capital.  They would then install Roosevelt as a figurehead president and run things behind the scenes.

Butler however was not interested.  Rather than lead the bonus army, Butler took the plot to the US congress in late 1934 and began telling the story in public.  Finally a congressional committee was convened to review the matter behind closed doors.

Portions of the committee hearings were leaked.  The story was carried in the New York Times and was ridiculed.  Congress took less than 4 days to research it and concluded that although some discussions took place that nothing could be proven or warranted more investigation.  Large parts of General Butler’s testimony were “lost” and to this day cannot be found.

It is interesting to note that most major newspapers at the time were privately owned and the owners were friends with some of those associated in the plot. Also of interest is that Gerald Macguire died in 1935 of “natural causes” at the age of 37.

Butler became an ardent critic of capitalism and the “banana wars”.


In 1918  statistician for an insurance company noted the number of deaths among workers that dealt with asbestos and reported this to the government.  In the 1930s the primary manufacturer of Asbestos in the US had this and other reports rewritten to minimize the effects that asbestos had on health.

Internal memos written in the 1940s within the company showed that upper management had direct knowledge of the health risks associated with asbestos but chose to suppress all stories and studies relating to this.

In the 1950s the company used its influence to rewrite safety warnings issued by government agencies about its product.

Finally in the late 1980s studies run by the medical industry show a link between asbestos and lung cancers.  In 1999 a Florida jury finally finds that the company willfully tried to suppress evidence concerning asbestos safety.


As I said before, the majority of businesses in the US operate in a manner that is both ethical and fair and for the most part they are a benefit to society but when they decide to skirt the law or even break it, they can cause fearful damage to the average individual.

Conspiracies IV

Are these conspiracies just dry forgotten facts or do they resonate in our age and carry consequences that we are still having to deal with?  We now come to one of the more shameful episodes in American foreign policy history.

In the late 19th century the sale of fresh fruit in the eastern US became quite profitable.  Ships were loaded in central America and offloaded in New Orleans and New York distributing tons of fresh fruit to American consumers starved for flavor and variety.  To meet the demand for fresh produce the United Fruit Company (UFC) was organized and soon bought large plantations in several central American countries. UFC built several large railroads and set up schools for the employees but also received a large measure of control in these countries.  Bribing public officials was a recognized company policy as was the use of armed guards to discourage unions.

In 1910 the new Honduran president Miguel Davila refused to give Samuel Zemurray (Sam, the banana man), a competitor of UFC, several key tax concessions.  In December of that year a ship laden with men from the New Orleans docks traveled to Honduras with weapons.  They kidnapped the president and installed a new president that would give Zemurray everything he wanted.  UFC later decided to buy out Zemurray and take over the Honduras operations.

Although a conclusive link can’t be proven, around this time began what would be referred to as the “Banana wars”.  The US government routinely sent Marine units into central America and the Caribbean to “protect American interests”  The banana wars would last for 30 years and would imprint bitter memories into a generation of central american children.

In 1929 a worker’s strike in Colombia turns bloody as the government sends troops to stop the strike against UFC.  Soldiers fire into the crowd and kill several workers.  The final death toll is never known.

The corruption did not end in central America.  Attempts to tax UFC’s fruit imports are defeated by political lobbies in the US and UFC continued to be able to import fruit, tax-free into the US.  This move allowed UFC to pay massive dividends to its shareholders.

In 1944 the most recognizable mascot for bananas is born as Chiquita banana is created to promote banana sales.  Consultants for UFC approach several cereal companies and urge them to link bananas to breakfast cereals in the advertising.

In 1954 came the most serious action.  John Foster Dulles, the US secretary of state, was a stockholder in UFC.  A new left leaning president in Guatemala wanted to take UFC’s lands and redistribute them to the poor peasants.  John Foster along with Allen Dulles, the director of the CIA, convinced President Eisenhower that this was the start of a communist plot to takeover central America and needed to be dealt with immediately.

With covert aid from the CIA, a Guatemalan officer was encouraged to topple the government.  This was known as operation PBSUCCESS.  CIA operatives destabilized the economy, provided arms to a private rebel army, and provided propaganda that finally forced the government to surrender to the rebels. This led to nearly 40 years of civil war in Guatemala and would lead the CIA to try similar actions in Chile, Cuba, and Iran.

UFC finally fell prey to corporate raiders in 1968.  The company was slowly but surely broken up, and the name disappears in 1970.

But the US was not done with central and Latin America.  If anything the US government’s involvement in the region has deepened in the last half century.  We have installed and toppled dictators in several countries.  Sometimes we have toppled the same man that we installed.  The ongoing “war on drugs” has not only failed but spread the drug trade problem to several countries in the region and now the illicit drug trade not only funds criminal syndicates but also funds regional and international terrorist groups.

What was once a peaceful and relatively stable region of the world that was friendly to US interests has deteriorated into economic stagnation and possible hostility.  What were we thinking?

Conspiracies III

As we get closer to the 20th century conspiracies become harder to research or prove.  Generally the families, companies, or individuals involved take greater steps to cover their activities.  In some cases the cover ups are so complete that some conspiracies will never be able to be proven.  We start with some local history.

Texas 1836

On an unseasonably warm day in April a small band of rebels defeated the larger federal army of Mexico and by literally threatening Santa Ana at gunpoint secured a treaty making Texas into a republic.  The key man in all of this was General Sam Houston.  The former governor of Tennessee came to Texas to practice law. Some say he came at the behest of President Jackson to foment rebellion in what was then the Mexican state of Coahulia y Tejas.

The American government certainly was interested in the territory.  As early as the 1810’s they had looked the other way while private armies of American citizens had tried to takeover the state.

Houston enters the picture in about 1833.  He had spent some time in Washington DC advocating for the Cherokee tribes and he left the city after being found guilty of attacking a congressman on the street.  Some say that President Jackson used his influence to get Houston out of his predicament and encouraged him to go to Texas to stir up trouble.

While in Texas, Houston receives considerable military aid from “private” citizens in the US including not only weapons but “volunteers” from various American states.  Shades of Crimea 2014.

The US government did nothing to prevent these actions.

It is somewhat telling that upon the successful end of the revolutionary war that Houston sought the annexation of Texas into the US.  It was rejected but Houston continued working on the issue until annexation was accepted ten years later.

Washington DC 1865.

The facts that cannot be disputed are that President Lincoln attended Ford’s theater and that an assassin shot him at point-blank range from behind.  Beyond that, the motives, the plot, and even those involved are hard to prove.

John Wilkes Booth is considered almost universally to be that assassin.  Booth was possibly the greatest actor of the age.  Sometimes referred to as the “handsomest man in America”

The civil war deeply affected him.  Despite his pro-confederate leanings his family urged him not to join the confederate army, however he took every opportunity to voice his support for the South.  Soon he gathered about him a close circle of like-minded friends and offered their services to the southern cause.

This den of spies and saboteurs was not highly regarded by the confederate secret service.  Reports showed that they considered Booth and his friends to be unreliable at best.

Booth himself was somewhat erratic.  At times angrily decrying the northern government and at other times urging caution.

His first plot was not to assassinate Lincoln but to kidnap him and exchange him for 10,000 confederate prisoners.  This failed due to Lincoln changing his plans at the last-minute.

Embittered by the surrender of the South he plotted vengeance on the president.  The plan was not just to kill Lincoln but the secretaries of state, war, and the vice president leaving the government in total chaos.  He assigned his friends to carry out their parts in the plot but saved the main target for himself.

The plot began to fall apart almost immediately with everyone else missing their targets.  So it fell to Booth to carry out his part.  He shot Lincoln in the back of the head and jumped from the balcony crying “Sic Semper Tyrannis“, thus always to tyrants, the state motto of Virginia.  In the dramatic escape he broke his leg and stumbled away into the night.

Escaping on horseback he was tracked down to farmer Garret’s barn and killed as the barn was set on fire.

But many questions and theories were left behind.

Most shocking is the theory that secretary of war Edwin Stanton knew of the plot beforehand and did nothing.  It was widely known that Lincoln and Stanton did not like each other and some have speculated that Lincoln was preparing to fire Stanton.  Curiously on the night of the assassination plot Stanton changed his plans and totally avoided his would be assassin.  Did Stanton know of the plot?

Then there is the fate of Booth himself.  Booth escaped Washington with a man called James Boyd and that the autopsy of Booth afterwards showed that the dead man did not have a broken leg like Booth was reported to have.  Some speculate that the remains found in the barn were those of Boyd not Booth.

A story put out by a Tennessee lawyer called Finis Bates claims that Booth eventually escaped to Japan and returned to the US years later to finally die in Oklahoma in 1903.

Attempts to compare the DNA of the man buried in Oklahoma with living Booth relatives have been blocked by the courts