Modernity as Death Cult

Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation. […]

“Many scientists believe the world has begun a sixth mass extinction, the first to be caused by a species – Homo sapiens. Other recent analyses have revealed that humankind has destroyed 83% of all mammals and half of plants since the dawn of civilisation and that, even if the destruction were to end now, it would take 5-7 million years for the natural world to recover. […]

“Between 1970 and 2014, the latest data available, populations fell by an average of 60%. Four years ago, the decline was 52%. The “shocking truth”, said Barrett, is that the wildlife crash is continuing unabated.”

Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, report finds
by Damian Carrington

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Also see:

The Climate Change Paper So Depressing It’s Sending People to Therapy
by Zing Tsjeng

It’s about:

Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy
by Jem Bendell

Plutocratic Mirage of Self-Made Billionaires

I am very, very lucky. I’m lucky in so many ways. I won a lot of lotteries in life. I’m not just talking about Amazon, a certain financial lottery, for sure. I have won so many lotteries.

The man born Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen is commonly known as Jeff Bezos.

He got his middle name from his maternal grandfather, Lawrence Preston Gise. The family called him ‘Pop’ while others called him ‘Preston’.  Bezos spent influential years with his grandfather. It was this patriarch who got his grandson interested in all sorts of technology, including mechanical equipment but most of all computers. And this is who Bezos credits for his success, claiming to have learned his critical business skills while visiting his retired grandfather’s ranch every summer from age four to sixteen.

Keep the following in mind when hearing claims of Jeff Bezos being self-made. Who was Lawrence Preston Gise? Jeff’s grandfather was a major government official, apparently with significant wealth, influence, and connections. He was well respected.

“Some of the top brass in the Pentagon were charged with single-handedly picking top talent for ARPA, renamed DARPA in 1972 — the “D” for “Defense” (Christian Davenport, The Space Barons), “the research and development arm of the Department of Defense that is credited with designing a communications network that could still function even if a nuclear attack demolished conventional lines of communication, ARPAnet, was the foundation of what would eventually become the Internet” (Expose the Deep State, Jeff Bezos). “Wilfred McNeil, the Pentagon’s comptroller, helped recruit top talent to help run the agency. One of his top choices was Lawrence Preston Gise, a stolid and principled former navy lieutenant commander” (Davenport).

Besides Gise being a founding member of DARPA, later on “in 1964, Congress appointed him manager of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Albuquerque operations office, where he supervised 26,000 employees in the AEC’s western region, including the Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore laboratories” (Chip Bayers, The Inner Bezos). But he had previously worked for the AEC and even earlier in the military: “Born in Texas, Gise had served during World War II, and service records show he was assigned to the USS Neunzer, a destroyer, and then to various administrative jobs. He also served as an assistant director at the Atomic Energy Commission, starting in 1949, and was promoted to assistant director in 1955” (Davenport).

Gise was a creature of government, specifically of the military-industrial complex. He also oversaw government work done with private contractors. In various capacities, he was involved in numerous projects, some of them covert. For example, he was a key member in secret meetings about the development of the hydrogen bomb. This guy had immense knowledge and experience about both technology and the workings of government. He was far beyond the standard bureaucrat, as his technical skill was not only theoretical but applied, with his career having been focused on space technology and missile defense systems. When he helped raise his grandson, Jeff Bezos received the full attention in being tutored and moulded for a life of privilege and ambition. Considering that, it’s not that Bezos as a corporate tycoon sold his soul to gain position and power in government, for he didn’t need to. He inherited the social connections, the access to private and public funding, and the open doors into government. “The question is what else came with that inheritance, whether it was all, so to speak, just on the receiving end” (National Notice, Interesting to Think That it All Began With BOOKS?).

Like his grandfather, Bezos always was a creature of government. His corporatist worldview, presumably, always leaned toward corporatocracy. And Bezos is likely being honest in his moral claim of corporate patriotism, self-serving as it is, since he undoubtedly doesn’t see a difference between his own interests and those of government. As a member of the ruling elite, he takes it for granted that government is there to serve and represent those born into privilege. The Gise-Bezos family is a variant of the Bush family, in both cases wealth and power passed from one generation to the next and in both cases there was a grandfather as the original patriarch who ensured the family’s legacy.

Gise’s influence wouldn’t have been minor. Young Bezos would have heard his grandfather talk about government programs and government research and development. This would have given him an inside view along with some insider knowledge: “Pop doted, telling stories about missile defense systems and teaching him to lay pipe and castrate bulls” (Mark Liebovich, Child Prodigy, Online Pioneer). It’s unsurprising that Bezos developed a company like Amazon that has a shipping and information system of the kind one would expect from DARPA, as Bezos might have been modeling it on what he learned from listening to his grandfather. It’s even possible that with Gise’s connections, Bezos was able to hire former government workers and advisers who had experience in developing such systems. Either way, Bezos didn’t invent Amazon out of thin air. Amazon is a late product of the Cold War mindset, a distributed system built on the internet which itself was built on DARPA’s ARPANET.

“The Pentagon has been part of the Silicon Valley story all along. Defence contracts during and after World War II turned Silicon Valley from a somnolent landscape of fruit orchards into a hub of electronics production and innovations ranging from mainframes to microprocessors to the internet. The American tech economy rests on the foundations of the military-industrial complex. […]

“The military origins of modern tech gradually faded from view, but the business of war didn’t go away. The Pentagon remained the only place with the resources and the patience to fund blue-sky research that the market wasn’t quite ready for yet. Mr. Bezos knows this history well. His beloved grandfather Lawrence Preston Gise was one of the first employees of the Pentagon’s advanced research agency, Darpa. In the 1980s and 1990s, money from Darpa helped spur breakthroughs in high-speed networking, voice recognition and internet search. Today, it is funding research in artificial intelligence and machine learning, subterranean exploration and deep-space satellites, high-performance molecules and better GPS. Whether their employees realize it or not, today’s tech giants all contain some defense-industry DNA. The result is the conflicted identity we now see in Silicon Valley.”
(Margaret O’Mara, Silicon Valley Can’t Escape the Business of War)

At the National Notice blog, it is stated that, “Amazon is an internet company engaged in surveillance as a key part of its profit model and it works with the federal government and the federal government’s military and CIA.” This is in reference to Yasha Levine’s Surveillance Valley. In the blog post, part of the Amazon blurb is shared: “Levine examines the private surveillance business that powers tech-industry giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, revealing how these companies spy on their users for profit, all while doing double duty as military and intelligence contractors. Levine shows that the military and Silicon Valley are effectively inseparable: a military-digital complex that permeates everything connected to the internet, even coopting and weaponizing the antigovernment privacy movement that sprang up in the wake of Edward Snowden.”

As a side note, not only Bezos’ grandfather but also his stepfather, who he considers his real father, was a product of the Cold War. Again from the National Notice blog, an intriguing background is detailed:

“Although Mike Bezos worked as a petroleum engineer for Exxon, what’s more interesting about him is his status as a sort of quasi-orphan by virtue of how he arrived in this country alone in 1962 at the age of 15, something that would very likely contribute to a somewhat unusual mind set.  He arrived from Cuba as part of what has been reported to be a CIA-run program: “Operation Pedro Pan” or “Operation Peter Pan.”  A description of the secretly operated CIA program in Counterpunch says the goal of the program was to “separate elite children from parents (a Cuban brain drain) [ultimately 14,000 Cuban children] and generate political instability,”and according to one of the CIA recruits “to wage psychological war — to destabilize the government.”  Evidence reportedly shows that this was done via the CIA working deceptively with a priest and the regional Catholic hierarchy to forge documents and spread lies to convince wealthy Cuban families that Castro’s government was going to take their children away.

“A 2011 NPR retrospective on the program that the Counterpunch article cites only to criticize says that “the Pedro Pan kids have done well” and that they are “firmly opposed to any normalization of relations with the Castro regime, the regime that was responsible for breaking up their families and forcing them from their homeland.”

Mike Bezos was the father who raised Jeff Bezos, having given him his surname. Even though he wasn’t as well positioned as patriarch Gise, Mike Bezos did work in another in another sector closely tied to the military-industrial complex, that of oil. They obviously were doing well as a family. Bezos’ elite education began early. “His parents enrolled him in a pilot program for gifted students at Houston’s River Oaks Elementary School, 20 miles from their home. […] In 1978, Exxon transferred Miguel to Miami, where the family lived in a four-bedroom house with a pool in the affluent Palmetto district of Dade County. Jeff enrolled at Palmetto High, an incubator of high achievers. He gravitated to a group of about 10 kids from his honors classes.” (Mark Liebovich, Child Prodigy, Online Pioneer). In high school, he had the opportunity to work with the first generation of personal computers. Also at the time, he participated in the Student Science Training Program at the University of Florida and a space initiative at NASA’s Huntsville, Alabama, center. Not many high schoolers back in the 1970s had such good fortune. Bezos admitted this in an interview with Henry Blodget: “I am very, very lucky. I’m lucky in so many ways. I won a lot of lotteries in life. I’m not just talking about Amazon, a certain financial lottery, for sure. I have won so many lotteries. In life, we get a lot of rolls of the dice. One of the big rolls of the dice is who are your early role models.” One suspects Gise was more than a mere roe model. He likely played an active and maybe interventionist role in ensuring his grandson got the best opportunities and resources, quite likely sometimes pulling strings behind the scenes, by making introductions to important people, etc.

Those connections and that influence would have followed Bezos into adulthood, such as entering Princeton, “the only school he wanted to attend” (Mark Liebovich, Child Prodigy, Online Pioneer). While there, he “had first used the Internet in 1985, in a Princeton astrophysics class.” He “was a member of Phi Beta Kappa,” “was also elected to Tau Beta Pi and was the president of the Princeton chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space” (Wikipedia), picking up further social connections along the way. Graduating from Princeton then gave him numerous job opportunities with high level tech and financial businesses, his grandfather’s reputation surely having opened up some doors as well: “he was offered jobs at Intel, Bell Labs, and Andersen Consulting, among others.”

Come on, self-made man, really? “Jeff Bezos, now the richest man in modern history, began with a $US100,000 “investment” in 1995 from his parents after leaving “a cushy gig on Wall Street”, where he served as vice-president of D. E. Shaw & Co, to pursue Amazon,” as Roqayah Chamseddine points out. The Washington Post claims the amount his parents gave him was much higher: “The company was launched in 1994 with a $300,000 investment from his parents and loans from his own bank account,” along with raising “$1 million from 20 local investors” (Mark Liebovich, Child Prodigy, Online Pioneer). The background to Bezos success is explained well by that Liebovich article from the Washington Post written long before he bought the paper:

“Among the leaders of the New Economy, Bezos offers perhaps the starkest contrast with the up-from-nothing titans of the Industrial Age. Where many of his corporate forebears had firsthand experience with poverty, Bezos is the child of affluent, suburban comfort and a close-knit family. From within this world view, his competitive drive stems more from his joy in the test than from an appreciation of want or failure.

“Since super-achievers often cluster, Amazon, like many high-tech firms, tends to recruit managers from a New Economy version of the old boys’ network. Many of them graduated from the same schools and worked together at the same companies. Recent hire Jonathan Leblang graduated from Palmetto High with Bezos. Risher attended Princeton with Bezos and was a member of the same eating club, where he recalls Bezos was a ferocious player of beer pong. Risher, like several Amazon managers, came from Microsoft Corp., a company Bezos studies closely and admires for its rigorous hiring practices.”

It sure is a lot easier to bootstrap yourself into the success of billionaire status when you’re born on third base with a silver spoon securely shoved up your ass. That isn’t to say he didn’t work hard. It’s clear that he learned work ethic from his grandfather. But he also inherited immense privilege with opportunities and resources freely and abundantly given at every point in his life. When he almost bankrupted Amazon in its early years, while making no profit, he still was able to secure billions of dollars in bank loans to pull his business from the brink. It partly reminds one of Donald Trump’s business strategy of losing lots of money while always having access to more money. And like Trump, Bezos demonstrates how money leads to more money (as a side note, the explanation for their mutual disgust is that they are two of the most powerful plutocrats vying for American power). It would be nice to be born into such financial security and comforting luxury. No doubt that breeds a confidence of expectation and entitlement.

Bezos became the richest man in the world by running an oligopolistic transnational corporation that dominates and drives others out of business by needing to make no profit, by controlling the largest online market platform that most small-to-medium-sized competitors are forced to use, by years of evading payment of taxes, by being directly tied into the biggest spending parts of big government, and by having many of his employees on welfare: “If a money-losing government-backed organization is providing a service at a price below private competitors, this is the very definition of a subsidy” (James Freeman, Trump, Bezos and the Amazon Subsidy). Amazon isn’t being operated like a normal business and, one might speculate, it isn’t being operated as a business at all. Even after recently losing upwards of $14 billion dollars, a CNBC article stated that, “Still, the company expects to see growth for its high-margin cloud and advertising businesses.” That is to say that will continue making plenty of money selling their customer’s data and in doing business with the CIA, NSA, and DOD. It’s one of the wealthiest and most powerful organizations in the world serving powerful interests, not all of them necessarily out in the open.

As some have indicated, Amazon is more akin to the business model of social media giants such as Facebook. Amazon has never made much money through selling products to customers and instead through selling the information gathered on customers, initially sold to advertisers and other interested parties but one suspects that other buyers are now seeking access, assuming those others didn’t always have access. It would be easy for a single person, maybe Bezos himself, to put a back door into Amazon’s computer system. The government, as we know from leaks, already has back doors into diverse technology and has made use of that ability. As Amazon and government become further entangled, the results are so predictable as to be inevitable.

This is what was so worrisome about Bezos buying the Washington Post. And those worries were confirmed when that newspaper began using unnamed government sources, often to defend government views and promote government agendas, in particular that of the CIA. There is a long history behind such dealings, though:

“Amazon‘s decision is troubling. But would it suggest a real shift? Former Post publisher Katharine Graham gave a speech in 1988 at the CIA headquarters, where she reportedly said this: “We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things that the general public does not need to know and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.” ” (Peter Hart, Amazon, WikiLeaks, the Washington Post and the CIA)

The days are long gone when the Washington Post challenged corrupt power in publishing the Pentagon Papers, although there was more going on in that historical event and the mainstream media relationship to it (see National Post’s Good Reason The New Pentagon Papers Movie Was About “The Post,” NOT The New York Times). For many decades, it has been a propaganda rag (e.g., running almost a piece per hour attacking Bernie Sanders in the day before his debate with Hillary Clinton and so helped to manipulatively shape public opinion, this having happened prior to Bezos’ buying WaPo). Then again, there is a long history behind the link between media and government, most especially the Washington Post.

“Amazon should be a walking poster-child advertisement for antitrust litigation and legislation.  Instead, Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, the newspaper for the national capital where such issues should be discussed and where the careers and day to day lives of the all the legislators and government officials responsible for the enforcement such antitrust measures are reported on.

“The Washington Post has always had a special role in influencing the nation.  We are pretty sure it was Peter Dale Scott, credited with coining the term the “deep state,” who in one of his interviews said that the Washington Post along with the New York Times and the LA Times was a preferred outlet by the CIA when it wanted to get its stories out to the public (often without telltale fingerprints).  Whether that’s exactly the case, the Washington Post has certainly played an important role historically for the CIA in this regard.”
(National Notice)

Going further back, into the 19th century, you can find examples of the Washington Post beating the war drum of imperialism. Here is from a Washington Post editorial prior to the Spanish-American War: “A new consciousness seems to have come upon us — the consciousness of strength — and with it a new appetite, the yearning to show our strength. . . . Ambition, interest, land hunger, pride, the mere joy of fighting, whatever it may be, we are animated by a new sensation. We are face to face with a strange destiny. The taste of Empire is in the mouth of the people even as the taste of blood in the jungle. It means an imperial policy, the Republic, renascent, taking her place with the armed nations.” In response, Howard Zinn wrote that, “Was that taste in the mouth of the people through some instinctive lust for aggression or some urgent self-interest? Or was it a taste (if indeed it existed) created, encouraged, advertised, and exaggerated by the millionaire press, the military, the government, the eager-to-please scholars of the time?” (Chapter 12, A People’s History of the United States)

It sure sounds like the beating of the war drum. Not a dispassionate reporting on a bloodthirsty public but an advocacy for American imperialism. Maybe the Washington Post and other big media companies have always played a propagandistic role for the powers that be. But the creation of the CIA no doubt upped the game. The WaPo has never been a newspaper overly concerned with vaunted ideals of democracy. As with many legacy media, it has sold a particular vision of American global power, what today we think of as the marriage of neoliberlaism and neoconservatism. It’s clearly been that way far beyond recent corruption of power, as it appears to baked into the American system. But that isn’t to downplay how Bezos has brought this corruption to a whole new level. He kicked Wikileaks off of Amazon servers apparently at the behest of the CIA or else to suck up to his prospective business partners in government. If the United States wasn’t yet quite fully a corporatocracy, it certainly is now. Amazon has essentially become an arm of the government with the WaPo as a committed propaganda operation.

By the way, the Washington Post doesn’t inform its readers of its connection to the CIA. No one bothered (or maybe was allowed) to mention this CIA background in the Wikipedia articles for Washington Post and Amazon nor does one find any reference to DARPA on Bezos’ Wikipedia page.. It’s not only the CIA, by the way. Bezos is doing business with numerous sectors of the government, from the NSA to the Department of Defense. These often no-bid contracts over the coming decade or so could easily add up in the hundreds of billions of dollars. The crony deal requiring the government to use Amazon as its primary source of online purchases alone will be, according to Vanity Fair, “some $53 billion every year.” That isn’t all profit, of course, as there are operating costs as well. Still, those are large sums of taxpayer money exchanging hands.

Bezos declared that he wouldn’t be ‘intimidated’ by critics. I take that as his saying he won’t be intimidated by free market values, democratic demands, public outrage, moral norms, and basic human decency. He has shown his opposition to even the most basic of democratic institutions such as public schools. Bezos is a neoliberal cast from the mould of the monopolistic Robber Barons and, as with the Golden Age, his big biz corporatism is tightly interwoven with big government corporatocracy, specifically the neocon military-industrial-complex. Here is how I put it in a previous post:

Nick Hanauer, a wealthy businessman and early investor in Amazon, has warned about the pitchforks coming for the plutocrats. He makes this warning because, as with Adam Smith, he knows inequality is bad for any hope of a free society and free economy. And Hanauer is talking not only to Trump-like Republicans but also to major Democratic political operators such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. “They’re super exploitive—just unacceptable,” Hanauer says. “What I can guarantee you is that Jeff Bezos is not going to change those things in the absence of somebody putting essentially a gun to his head and forcing him to do it.”

It’s ironic that President Dwight Eisenhower who warned of the military-industrial complex was the same man who helped build it. DARPA came out of Eisenhower’s administration and, as military men, Eisenhower and Gise probably knew each other. For all of Eisenhower’s warnings, the military-industrial complex is now far worse. Earlier last century, there was no equivalent to transnational tech giants, although tech giants working with authoritarian governments (Amazon with Saudi Arabia, Google with China, etc) is perfectly in line with old school fascism (from the banana republics to the Bush family making their wealth from Nazis). It’s a new and improved more of the same. Bezos likes to feel superior in his despising mediocrity, considering himself a genius and flattering himself in surrounding himself with a supposed meritocratic intelligentsia. But what occurs to me is how mediocre is his vision of society and humanity. Heartless hyper-competitive tycoons like him have been dime a dozen for centuries and it always leads to the same sad results.

Ask yourself this. If Jeff Bezos was a government agent or spymaster used to recruit agents (as has been the case with professors in the kind of Ivy League schools that Bezos attended)… If the Amazon corporation was a front group for a United States intelligence agency… And, to take this further, if the CIA or NSA had become an independent and autonomous rogue transnational governing body with the United States merely acting as a headquarters or primary client state… If any of this or some similar nefarious conspiracies were true, how would you know? Simply put, you wouldn’t know. Everything would appear exactly the same. That is how all successful conspiracies operate and most conspiracies are never discovered, especially not in the short term. It wouldn’t require many people to even know of the conspiracy, maybe only being necessary to have a single key figure such as Bezos himself. Certainly, considering his company’s deal with the CIA, there is much about that deal that even his top management doesn’t know. The significance of this isn’t lost on the National Notice, in that it isn’t only the influence the government has in picking winners and losers in the market but how in turn the biggest winners influence government, a bit of a chicken or egg scenario — more from the earlier quoted post:

“The other end of the spectrum of how the government is a presence injecting itself into the picking of winners and losers in the market place is the big company end. And obviously, Amazon is now a really big company. (For instance, circa 2014 Amazon was reportedly providing the CIA with cloud computing services pursuant to a $600 million contract.)

“When the companies that the United States relies on to do its intelligence work are really huge, when those companies have most of the available experts with security clearances working for them (at higher salaries than individuals working for the government), when those companies have most of the collected data and most of the systems that are up and running that the government has grown dependent on them for, plus when those companies have huge government derived income streams that they can recycle into lobbying for the big shares of secret government budgets that they are allowed to know and can talk about, but that the public isn’t allowed to find out about, there is a question of who is running the show. This question about contracting out is one that Tim Shorrock delves into and contemplates at length in his book mulling it over from many different perspectives. Finally, while government officials may or may not lose the upper hand, government officials can nevertheless direct huge influence about who amongst these big companies will be the winners or losers in the market.

“The implications of huge private corporations having so much power in the Intelligence Community are more pronounced given that, when individuals work for such private corporations, unlike the individuals who work directly for government, loyalties run in the direction of making profit. By corporate law definition, that means profit first, not patriotism. Furthermore, loyalties can be bought or sold. And private corporations pursuing private profit are becoming increasingly multi-national in character and thus untethered from the patriotisms of any particular nations, including ours, that may hire them. Hiring out to other private firms or interests (not nations) as they are allowed to do, they may be acting with no national patriotism at all.”

This is the very reason that the American founders, out of terror of imperial and corporate power, ensured not only division of power within government but division of power to separate government and business. They took seriously how conspiracies easily happen when cronyism and corruption is allowed free reign of oligarchic rule. This is also why many of the founders feared standing armies, as they no doubt would have feared even more the modern intelligence agency that, in acting in secret, is entirely lacking in transparency and accountability. They never intended that either the government or corporations would ever gain so much power. And about corporations in particular, they went to immense efforts to curtail their role in society, never having conflated a corporation with a private business, much less with legal personhood — a government corporate charter required an organization to serve the public good toward a narrow and short term purpose (building a bridge, establishing a hospital, etc) that lasted no longer than a single generation and that disallowed any involvement in politics.

A mega-corporation such as Amazon betrays everything the American Revolution was fought for, everything this country was founded upon. Well, not quite everything. Slavery or indentured servitude would fit well into neo-feudal neoliberalism. In fact, these transnationals are often dependent on quasi-slavery work conditions in places like China where employees are locked in guarded factories so that they can’t escape or kill themselves. This brave new world is what Jeff Bezos, more than anyone else, is bringing into reality. It’s the new American Dream. If you want to get a sense of what an authoritarian America would look like, all you have to do is watch the Amazon-produced show, The Man in the High Castle, that portrays an alternative history where the Nazis won. Considering the Nazi-funded Bush family helped so many Nazi war criminals into the country where for decades they worked for the government, who is to say that the Nazis in a broader sense didn’t win. The tech giant tycoons are just a new generation, a friendlier face of an old brutal force.

The rise of fascism once tore apart the world and it will do the same again.

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Vicious Cycle: The Pentagon Creates Tech Giants and Then Buys their Services
by T. J. Coles (originally posted on CounterPunch)

A recent report by Open the Government, a bipartisan advocate of transparency, reveals the extent of Amazon’s contracts with the Pentagon. Founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, the company is now valued at $1 trillion, giving Bezos a personal fortune of $131 billion. Open the Government’s report notes that much of the US government “now runs on Amazon,” so much so that the tech giant is opening a branch near Washington, DC. Services provided by Amazon include cloud contracts, machine learning and biometric data systems. But more than this, Amazon is set to enjoy a lucrative Pentagon IT contract under the $10bn, Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program, or JEDI. The Pentagon says that it hopes Amazon technology will “support lethality and enhanced operational efficiency.”

The report reveals what it can, but much is protected from public scrutiny under the twin veils of national security and corporate secrecy. For instance, all prospective host cities for Amazon’s second headquarters were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.

But it doesn’t end there. According to the report, Amazon supplied surveillance and facial Rekognition software to the police and FBI, and it has pitched the reportedly inaccurate and race/gender-biased technology to the Department of Homeland Security for its counter-immigration operations. Ten percent of the subsidiary Amazon Web Services’ profits come from government contracts. Departments include the State Department, NASA, Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2013, Amazon won a $600m Commercial Cloud Services (C2S) contract with the CIA. C2S will enable deep learning and data fingerprinting. Amazon’s second headquarters will be built in Virginia, the CIA’s home-state. Despite repeated requests, the company refuses to disclose how its personal devices, like Amazon Echo, connect with the CIA.

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Jeff Bezos
by Expose the Deep State

Bezos’s maternal grandfather, Lawrence Preston Gise was one of the founding members the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research and development arm of the Department of Defense that is credited with designing a communications network that could still function even if a nuclear attack demolished conventional lines of communication, ARPAnet, was the foundation of what would eventually become the Internet. Gise later became regional director of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in Albuquerque. As a child Jeff Bezos spent summers working at his grandfather’s ranch in Texas, which is where possible CIA Kid accusations come from.

The Inner Bezos
by Chip Bayers

Lawrence Preston “Pop” Gise had held jobs that a young boy couldn’t help but find cool. Gise worked on space technology and missile defense systems at Darpa in the late 1950s; in 1964, Congress appointed him manager of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Albuquerque operations office, where he supervised 26,000 employees in the AEC’s western region, including the Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore laboratories. He retired to his southwest Texas spread in 1968, and he doted on Jeff from the time his grandson was an infant. “Mr. Gise was a towering figure in Jeff’s life,” says Weinstein.

Jeff Bezos
by Everipedia

Bezos’s maternal grandfather was Lawrence Preston Gise, a regional director of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in Albuquerque. Before joining the AEC, Gise had worked for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research and development arm of the Department of Defense that was created in 1958 as the first response by the US government to the Russian launching of Sputnik I, the first artificial Earth satellite in 1957. Intended to be the counterbalance to military thinking in research and development, DARPA was formed, according to its official mission statement, to assure that the US maintains a lead in applying technology for military capabilities and to prevent other technological surprises from her adversaries. In 1970, DARPA’s engineers created a model for a communications network for the military that could still function even if a nuclear attack demolished conventional lines of communication: ARPAnet, was the foundation of what would eventually become the Internet. Gise retired early to the ranch, where Bezos spent many summers as a youth, working with him.

The Space Barons
by Christian Davenport

Eisenhower’s answer to the reporter’s pointed question was, in essence, that the country was working on it. The real response to the Soviets would come a few months later, when during his 1958 State of the Union address, he talked about the creation of a new agency within the Defense Department that would have “single control in some of our most advanced development projects.” This agency would be in charge of “anti-missile and satellite technology” at a time when “some of the important new weapons which technology has produced do not fit into any existing service pattern.”

The Soviets’ launch of Sputnik opened a new frontier — space — one that “creates new difficulties, reminiscent of those attending the advent of the airplane a half century ago,” he said.

The new organization would be called the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Born from what the secretive agency now calls the “traumatic experience of technological surprise,” ARPA would be a sort of elite special force within the Pentagon made of its best and brightest scientists and engineers. But because it would transcend the traditional services — the army, navy, air force — many in the defense establishment looked askance at it.

Eisenhower didn’t care. To keep up with the Soviets, the nation needed to move past “harmful service rivalries,” he said.

Some of the top brass in the Pentagon were charged with single-handedly picking top talent for ARPA, renamed DARPA in 1972 — the “D” for “Defense.” Successful candidates would have to not only be smart and efficient, but they’d also have to be morally strong and confident, able to stand up to generals and admirals that might resent their very presence and consider them outsiders.

They were encouraged to push boundaries, and create new, futuristic technologies that aimed at keeping the nation several steps ahead.

“In the 1960s you could do really any damn thing you wanted, as long as it wasn’t against the law or immoral,” Charles Herzfeld, who directed ARPA from 1965 to 1967, told the Los Angeles Times.

Wilfred McNeil, the Pentagon’s comptroller, helped recruit top talent to help run the agency. One of his top choices was Lawrence Preston Gise, a stolid and principled former navy lieutenant commander. Born in Texas, Gise had served during World War II, and service records show he was assigned to the USS Neunzer, a destroyer, and then to various administrative jobs. He also served as an assistant director at the Atomic Energy Commission, starting in 1949, and was promoted to assistant director in 1955.

By the height of the Cold War, Gise found himself in the middle of an agency that was developing the hydrogen bomb. As a young employee, he had participated in a secret meeting in 1950 to discuss the development of the bomb with some of the agency’s top officials, including then-chairman Gordon Dean.

Gise was intrigued by the possibilities of ARPA, and what it represented at the dawn of the Space Age. But he was also aware that political pressure was mounting against its formation. With a family to support, he hedged his bets, making sure he would have a landing spot, just in case this experimental agency didn’t work out.

“So the agency was controversial even before it was formed,” Gise said in a 1975 history of ARPA. “My deal with McNeil was I would come over and handle the admistrative side of the business with the assurance that if the agency went up in blue smoke that he would absorb me in his immediate office, and he had a job set up for that purpose. But it was that tenuous back in those days.”

Gise was well respected by the agency’s director, Roy Johnson, who had left a high-paying job as an executive at General Electric for the post at ARPA. His goal was to ensure the country caught up and passed the Soviets, focusing much of his energy on space.

“Johnson believed that he had personally been given unlimited authority by the Secretary to produce results,” according to the ARPA history. “He really thought that he was supposed to be the czar of the space program…. Johnson perceived that ARPA’s job was to put up satellites. The space program became his principal interest.”

After three years at ARPA, Gise was lured back to the Atomic Energy Commission, which offered him a job in top management. But he continued to work alongside the agency, collaborating on an endeavor known as the Vela Project, which was designed to detect nuclear explosions from space through a high-altitude satellite system. In a message to his colleagues, Gise reported that “ARPA is implementing on a very urgent basis a program to establish its capability for detection of Argus effects” — an apparent reference to Operation Argus, three high-altitude nuclear test explosions over the South Atlantic Ocean in 1958.

Gise would continue to serve at the Atomic Energy Commission until 1968, when he wanted to close a factory that politicians wanted to keep open. The politicians prevailed, and Gise retired to his ranch in South Texas.

He was young, just fifty-three years old. But he was looking forward to life on the ranch. Plus, he had a young grandson to tend to, a remarkable little boy with big ears and a wide smile, who shred his middle name:

Jeffrey Preston Bezos

Big Tech firms march to the beat of Pentagon, CIA despite dissension
by Tim Johnson

Silicon Valley’s corrupt nexus: War, censorship and inequality
by Andre Damon

Part One: Amazon cashes in on war crimes and mass surveillance
by Evan Blake

Part Two: Amazon, war propaganda, and the suppression of free speech
by Evan Blake

Amazon providing facial recognition technology to police agencies for mass surveillance
by Will Morrow

Amazon Pushes ICE to Buy Its Face Recognition Surveillance Tech
by Jake Laperruque & Andrea Peterson

Jeff Bezos is Using The Washington Post to Protect the CIA
by Josh Gay

The Dark Side of Amazon
by Eric Peters

Jeff Bezos, Amazon, Washington Post and the CIA
by Joseph Farah

Amazon’s frightening CIA partnership: Capitalism, corporations and our massive new surveillance state
by Charles Davis

How The Washington Post’s New Owner Aided the CIA, Blocked WikiLeaks & Decimated the Book Industry
by Democracy Now

How Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post Became the US Military-Industrial Complex’s Chief Propagandist
by Eric Zuesse

The Washington Post, Amazon, and the Intelligence Community
by Cliff Kincaid

Jeff Bezos Is Doing Huge Business with the CIA, While Keeping His Washington Post Readers in the Dark
by Norman Solomon

Amazon’s Marriage to the CIA
by Norman Solomon

Why Amazon’s Collaboration With the CIA Is So Ominous — and Vulnerable
by Norman Solomon

Is Orwell’s Big Brother Here? Bezos & Amazon Team up With Defense, CIA & ICE
by Yves Smith

“Everybody immediately knew that it was for Amazon”: Has Bezos Become More Powerful In D.C. Than Trump?
by May Jeong

Government Ethics Watchdogs Fear Amazon’s Web of Influence May have Tainted Pentagon’s $10 Billion JEDI Cloud Deal
by Andrew Kerr

Monopoly vs. the Magic Cape
by Will Meyer

America Should Send Amazon Packing
by Mo Lotman

Death By Incuriosity

Whether or not curiosity killed the cat, it is the lack of curiosity that killed the human. And sadly, lack of curiosity is common among humans, if not cats.

There are two people I’ve known my entire life. They are highly intelligent and well educated professionals, both having spent their careers as authority figures and both enjoying positions of respect where others look up to them. One worked in healthcare and the other in higher education. They are people one would expect to be curious and I would add that both have above average intellectual capacity. They are accomplished men who know how to get things done.

I pick these examples because each has had health issues. It’s actually the one in healthcare who has shown the least curiosity about his own health. I suspect this is for the very reason he has been an authority figure in healthcare and so has acted in the role of defending establishment views. And nothing kills curiosity quicker than conventional thought.

This guy didn’t only lack curiosity in his own field of expertise, though. In general, he wasn’t one who sought out learning for its own sake. He had no habit of intellectual inquiry. So, he had no habit of intellectual curiosity to fall back on when he had a health scare. The bad news he received was a diagnosis of a major autoimmune disorder. I would assume that he took this as a death sentence and most doctors treat it that way, as no medication has shown any significant improvement. But recent research has shown dietary, nutritional, and lifestyle changes that have reversed the symptoms even in people with somewhat advanced stages of this disease.

Once diagnosed, he was already beginning to show symptoms. He had a brief window to respond during which he maintained his faculties enough that he might have been able to take action to seek remedy or to slow down the decline. But this window turned out to be brief and the choice he made was to do nothing with some combination of denial and fatalism. Inevitably, this attitude became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It was not the diagnosis but his lack of curiosity that was the death sentence. His mind is quickly disintegrating and he won’t likely live long.

The second guy has a less serious diagnosis. He a fairly common disease and he has known about it for a couple of decades. It is one of those conditions more easily managed if one takes a proactive attitude. But that would require curiosity to learn about the condition and to learn about what others have successfully done in seeking healing. The body will eliminate damage and regrow cells when the underlying problems are resolved or lessened while ensuring optimal nutrition and such, not that one is likely to learn about any of this from a standard doctor.

Like the healthcare figure, this educational figure’s first response was not curiosity. In fact, he spent the past couple of decades not even bothering to ask his doctor what exactly was his condition. He didn’t know how bad it was, didn’t know whether it was worsening or remaining stable. He apparently didn’t want to know. He has a bit more curiosity than most people, although it tends to be on narrow issues, none of them being health-related. The condition he has that risks the length and quality of his life, however, elicited no curiosity.

I had more opportunity to speak to him than to the other guy. In the past few months, we’ve had an ongoing discussion about health. I recently was able to get him to read about diet and health. But the real motivation was that his doctor told him to lose weight. Also, he was beginning to see serious symptoms of aging, from constant fatigue to memory loss. It was only after decades of major damage to his body that he finally mustered up some basic curiosity and still he is resistant. It’s easier to thoughtlessly continue what one has always done.

I sympathize and I don’t. Not much in our society encourages curiosity. I get that. It not only takes effort to learn but it also takes risk. Learning can require challenging what you and many others have assumed to be true. In this case, it might even mean challenging your doctor and taking responsibility for your own healthcare decisions. Maybe because these two are authority figures, it is their learned response to defer to authority and any dominant views that stand in for authority. That is the same for others as well. We are all trained from a young age to defer to authority (even if you were raised by wolves, you received such training, as it is a common feature of all social animals).

So, yes, I understand it is difficult and uncomfortable. Some people would rather physically die than allow their sense of identity die. And for many, their identities are tied into a rigid way of being and belonging. Curiosity might lead one to question not only the ideological beliefs and biases of others but, more importantly, one’s own. It could mean changing one’s identity and that is the greatest threat of all, something that effects me as much as anyone (but in my case, I’m psychologically attached to curiosity and so my identity might be a bit more fluid than most; the looseness of ego boundaries does come at a cost, as is attested by the psychiatric literature).

Yet, in the end, it is hard for me to grasp this passive attitude. I’ve always been questioning and so I can’t easily imagine being without this tendency (I have many weaknesses, limitations, and failures; but a lack of curiosity is not one of them). I do know what it is like to be ignorant and to feel lost in having no where to turn for guidance. In the past, knowledge was much harder to come by. When I was diagnosed with depression decades ago, after my own life threatening situation (i.e., suicide attempt), I was offered no resources to understand my condition. The reason for that is, at the time, doctors were as ignorant as anyone else when it came to depression and so much else. High quality information used to be a scarce and unreliable resource.

It has turned out that much of past medical knowledge has proven wrong, only partly correct, or misinterpreted. Because of the power of the internet and social media, this has forced open professional and public debate. We suddenly find ourselves in an overabundance of knowledge. The lack of curiosity is the main thing now holding us back, as individuals and as a society. Still, that downplays the powerful psychological and social forces that keep people ignorant and incurious. For the older generations in particular, they didn’t grow up with easy access to knowledge and so now reaching old age they don’t have a lifetime of mental habit in place.

That is part of the difference. I’m young enough that the emerging forms of knowledge and media had a major impact on my developing brain and my developing identity. On the other hand, there is obviously more going on than mere generational differences. I look to my own generation and don’t see much more curiosity. I know people in my generation who have major health issues and their children have major health issues. Do most of these people respond with curiosity? No. Instead, I observe mostly apathy and indifference. There is something about our society that breeds helplessness, and no doubt there are plenty of reasons to be found for giving up in frustration.

That is something I do empathize with. There is nothing like decades of depression to form an intimacy with feelings of being powerless and hopeless. Nonetheless, I spent the decades of my depression constantly looking for answers, driven to question and doubt everything. I should emphasize the point that answers didn’t come easily, as it took me decades of research and self-experimentation to find what worked for me in dealing with my depression; curiosity of this variety is far from idle for it can be an immense commitment and investment.

My longing to understand never abandoned me, as somehow it was a habit I learned at a young age. That leaves me uncertain about why I learned that habit of open-minded seeking while most others don’t. It’s not as if I can take credit for my state of curiosity, as it is simply the way I’ve always been (maybe in the way an athlete, for random reasons of genetics and epigenecs, might be born with greater lung capacity and endurance). Even in my earliest memories, I was curious about the world. It is a defining feature of my identity, not an achievement I came to later in life.

Because it is so integral to my identity, I’m challenged to imagine those who go through life without feeling much inclination to question and doubt (as happier people may be challenged to imagine my sometimes paralyzing funks of depression). It is even further beyond my comprehension that, for many, not even the threat of death can inspire the most basic curiosity to counter that threat. How can death be more desirable than knowledge? That question implies that it is knowledge that is the greater threat. Put this on the level of national and global society and it becomes an existential threat. In facing mass extinction, ecosystem collapse, superstorms, and refugee crises, most humans are no more motivated to understand what we face, much less motivated to do anything about it.

We don’t have habits of curiosity. It isn’t our first response, not for most of us. And so we have no culture of curiosity, no resources of curiosity to turn to when times are dire. More than a lack of curiosity alone, it is a lack of imagination which is a constraint of identity. We can’t learn anything new without becoming something different. Curiosity is one of the most radical of acts. It is also the simplest of acts, requiring only a moment of wonder or probing uncertainty. But radical or simple, repeated often enough, it becomes a habit that might one day save your life.

Curiosity as an impulse is only one small part. The first step is admitting your ignorance. And following that, what is required is the willingness to remain in ignorance for a while, not grasping too quickly to the next thing that comes along, no matter who offers it with certainty or authority. You might remain in ignorance for longer than you’d prefer. And curiosity alone won’t necessarily save you. But incuriosity for certain will doom you.

* * *

For anyone who thinks I’m being mean-spirited and overly critical, I’d note that I’m an equal opportunity critic. I’ve written posts — some of my most popular posts, in fact — that have dissected the problems of the curious mind, specifically as liberal-mindedness such as seen with the trait openness. The downside to this mindset are many, as it true when considering any mindset taken in its fullest and most extreme form. For example, those who measure high on the openness trait have greater risk of addiction, a far from minor detriment. Curiosity and related attributes don’t always lead to beneficial results and happy ends. But from my perspective, it is better than the alternative, especially in these challenging times.

My argument, of course, is context-dependent. If you are living in an authoritarian state or locked away in prison, curiosity might not do you much good and instead might shorten your lifespan. So, assess your personal situation and act accordingly. If it doesn’t apply, please feel free to ignore my advocating for curiosity. My assumption that my audience shares with me a basic level of life conditions isn’t always a justified assumption. I apologize to anyone who finds themselves stuck in a situation where curiosity is dangerous or simply not beneficial. You have my sympathy and I hope things get better for you in that one day you might have the luxury to contemplate the pros and cons of curiosity.

I realize that life is not fair and that we don’t get to choose the world we are born into. If life was fair, a piece like this would be unnecessary and meaningless. In a society where we didn’t constantly have to worry about harmful advice, including from doctors, in a society where health was the norm, curiosity might not matter much in terms of life expectancy. The average hunter-gatherer no doubt lacks curiosity about their health, but they also lack the consequences of modern society’s unhealthy environment, lifestyle, and diet. As such, in some societies, how to have a healthy life is common knowledge that individuals pick up in childhood.

It would be wonderful to live in such a society. But speaking for myself, that isn’t the case and hence it is why I argue for the necessity of curiosity as a survival tool. Curiosity is only a major benefit where dangerous ignorance rules the social order and, until things change in this society, that major benefit will continue. This isn’t only about allegations of psychological weakness and moral failure. This is about the fate of our civilization, as we face existential crises. The body count of incuriosity might eventually be counted in the numbers of billions. We are long past the point of making excuses, specifically those of us living in relative privilege here in the West.

* * *

To make this concrete, let me give an example beyond anecdotal evidence. It is an example related to healthcare and deference to medical authority.

The United States is experiencing an opioid crisis. There are many reasons for this. Worsening inequality, economic hardship, and social stress are known contributors. We live in a shitty society that is highly abnormal, which is to say we didn’t evolve to act in healthy ways under unhealthy conditions. But there is also the fact that opiods have been overprescribed because of the huge profits to be had and also because painkillers fit conventional medicine’s prioritizing of symptom treatment.

Ignoring why doctors prescribe them, why do people take them? Everyone knows they are highly addictive and, in a significant number of cases, can destroy lives. Why take that risk unless absolutely necessary? It goes beyond addiction, as there are numerous other potential side effects. Yet, in discussing alternatives, Dr. Joseph Mercola points to an NPR piece (Jessica Boddy, POLL: More People Are Taking Opioids, Even As Their Concerns Rise):

“Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that as many as 1 in 4 people who use opioid painkillers get addicted to them. But despite the drugs’ reputation for addiction, less than a third of people (29 percent) said they questioned or refused their doctor’s prescription for opioids. That hasn’t changed much since 2014 (28 percent) or 2011 (31 percent).

“Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and commissioner of health for the City of Baltimore, says that’s the problem. She says patients should more readily voice their concerns about getting a prescription for narcotics to make sure if it really is the best option. […]

” “Ask why,” Wen says. “Often, other alternatives like not anything at all, taking an ibuprofen or Tylenol, physical therapy, or something else can be effective. Asking ‘why’ is something every patient and provider should do.” ”

* * *

“Knowing is half the battle. G.I. Joe!” That was great wisdom I learned as a child.

The End of History is a Beginning

Francis Fukuyama’s ideological change, from neocon to neoliberal, signaled among the intellectual class a similar but dissimilar change that was happening in the broader population. The two are parallel tracks down which history like a train came barreling and rumbling, the end not in sight.

The difference between them is that the larger shift was ignored, until Donald Trump revealed the charade to be a charade, as it always was. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, this populist moment. A new mood has been in the air that resonates with an old mood that some thought was lost in the past, the supposed end of history. It has been developing for a long while now. And when reform is denied, much worse comes along.

On that unhappy note, there is a reason why Trump used old school rhetoric of progressivism and fascism (with the underlying corporatism to both ideologies). Just as there is a reason Steve Bannon, while calling himself a Leninist, gave voice to his hope that the present would be as exciting as the 1930s. Back in the early aughts, Fukuyma gave a warning about the dark turn of events, imperialistic ambition turned to hubris. No doubt he hoped to prevent the worse. But not many in the ruling class cared to listen. So here we are.

Whatever you think of him and his views, you have to give Fukuyama credit for the simple capacity of changing his mind and, to some extent, admitting he was wrong. He is a technocratic elitist with anti-populist animosity and paternalistic aspirations. But at the very least his motivations are sincere. One journalist, Andrew O’Hehir, described him this way:

“He even renounced the neoconservative movement after the Iraq war turned into an unmitigated disaster — although he had initially been among its biggest intellectual cheerleaders — and morphed into something like a middle-road Obama-Clinton Democrat. Today we might call him a neoliberal, meaning that not as leftist hate speech but an accurate descriptor.”

Not exactly a compliment. Many neocons and former neocons, when faced with the changes of the Republican Party, found the Clinton Democrats more attractive. For most of them, this conversion only happened with Trump’s campaign. Fukuyama stands out for being one of the early trendsetters on the right in turning against Cold War neoconservatism before it was popular to do so (athough did Fukuyama really change or did he simply look to a softer form of neoconservatism).

For good or ill, the Clinton Democrats, in the mainstream mind, now stand for the sane center, the moderate middle. To those like Fukuyama fearing a populist uprising, Trump marks the far right and Sanders the far left. That leaves the battleground between them that of a milquetoast DNC establishment, holding onto power by its loosening fingertips. Fukuyama doesn’t necessarily offer us much in the way of grand insight or of practical use (here is a harsher critique). It’s still interesting to hear someone like him make such an about face, though — if only in political rhetoric and not in fundamental principles. And for whatever its worth, he so far has been right about Trump’s weakness as a strongman.

It’s also appreciated that those like Francis Fukuyama and Charles Murray bring attention to the dangers of inequality and the failures of capitalism, no matter that I oppose the ideological bent of their respective conclusions. So, even as they disagree with populism as a response, like Teddy Roosevelt, they do take seriously the gut-level assessment of what is being responded to. It’s all the more interesting that these are views coming from respectable figures who once represented the political right, much more stimulating rhetoric than anything coming out of the professional liberal class.

* * *

Donald Trump and the return of class: an interview with Francis Fukuyama

“What is happening in the politics of the US particularly, but also in other countries, is that identity in a form of nationality or ethnicity or race has become a proxy for class.”

Francis Fukuyama interview: “Socialism ought to come back”

Fukuyama, who studied political philosophy under Allan Bloom, the author of The Closing of the American Mind, at Cornell University, initially identified with the neoconservative movement: he was mentored by Paul Wolfowitz while a government official during the Reagan-Bush years. But by late 2003, Fukuyama had recanted his support for the Iraq war, which he now regards as a defining error alongside financial deregulation and the euro’s inept creation. “These are all elite-driven policies that turned out to be pretty disastrous, there’s some reason for ordinary people to be upset.”

The End of History was a rebuke to Marxists who regarded communism as humanity’s final ideological stage. How, I asked Fukuyama, did he view the resurgence of the socialist left in the UK and the US? “It all depends on what you mean by socialism. Ownership of the means of production – except in areas where it’s clearly called for, like public utilities – I don’t think that’s going to work.

“If you mean redistributive programmes that try to redress this big imbalance in both incomes and wealth that has emerged then, yes, I think not only can it come back, it ought to come back. This extended period, which started with Reagan and Thatcher, in which a certain set of ideas about the benefits of unregulated markets took hold, in many ways it’s had a disastrous effect.

“In social equality, it’s led to a weakening of labour unions, of the bargaining power of ordinary workers, the rise of an oligarchic class almost everywhere that then exerts undue political power. In terms of the role of finance, if there’s anything we learned from the financial crisis it’s that you’ve got to regulate the sector like hell because they’ll make everyone else pay. That whole ideology became very deeply embedded within the Eurozone, the austerity that Germany imposed on southern Europe has been disastrous.”

Fukuyama added, to my surprise: “At this juncture, it seems to me that certain things Karl Marx said are turning out to be true. He talked about the crisis of overproduction… that workers would be impoverished and there would be insufficient demand.”

Was Francis Fukuyama the first man to see Trump coming? – Paul Sagar | Aeon Essays

Ancient Atherosclerosis?

In reading about health, mostly about diet and nutrition, I regularly come across studies that are either poorly designed or poorly interpreted. The conclusions don’t always follow from the data or there are so many confounders that other conclusions can’t be discounted. Then the data gets used by dietary ideologues.

There is a major reason I appreciate the dietary debate among proponents of traditional, ancestral, paleo, low-carb, ketogenic, and some other related views (anti-inflammatory diets, autoimmune diets, etc such as the Wahls Protocol for multiple sclerosis and Bredesen Protocol for Alzheimer’s). This area of alternative debate leans heavily on questioning conventional certainties by digging deep into the available evidence. These diets seem to attract people capable of changing their minds or maybe it is simply that many people who eventually come to these unconventional views do so after having already tried numerous other diets.

For example, Dr. Terry Wahls is a clinical professor of Internal Medicine, Epidemiology, and Neurology  at the University of Iowa while also being Associate Chief of Staff at a Veterans Affairs hospital. She was as conventional as doctors come until she developed multiple sclerosis, began researching and experimenting, and eventually became a practitioner of functional medicine. Also, she went from being a hardcore vegetarian following mainstream dietary advice (avoided saturated fats, ate whole grains and legumes, etc) to embracing an essentially nutrient-dense paleo diet; her neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic referred her to Dr. Loren Cordain’s paleo research at Colorado State University. Since that time, she has done medical research and, recently having procured funding, she is in the process of doing a study in order to further test her diet.

Her experimental attitude, both personally and scientifically, is common among those interested in these kinds of diets and functional medicine. This experimental attitude is necessary when one steps outside of conventional wisdom, something Dr. Wahls felt she had to do to save her own life — a motivating factor of health crisis that leads many people to try a paleo, keto, etc diet after trying all else (these involve protocols to deal with serious illnesses, such as ketosis being medically used for treatment of epileptic seizures). Contradicting professional opinion of respected authorities (e.g., the American Heart Association), a diet like this tends to be an option of last resort for most people, something they come to after much failure and worsening of health. That breeds a certain mentality.

On the other hand, it should be unsurprising that people raised on mainstream views and who hold onto those views long into adulthood (and long into their careers) tend not to be people willing to entertain alternative views, no matter what the evidence indicates. This includes those working in the medical field. Some ask, why are doctors so stupid? As Dr. Michael Eades explains, it’s not that they’re stupid but that many of them are ignorant; to put it more nicely, they’re ill-informed. They simply don’t know because, like so many others, they are repeating what they’ve been told by other authority figures. And the fact of the matter is most doctors never learned much about certain topics in the first place: “A study in the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health assessed the basic nutrition and health knowledge of medical school graduates entering a pediatric residency program and found that, on average, they answered only 52 percent of the eighteen questions correctly. In short, most mainstream doctors would fail nutrition” (Dr. Will Cole, Ketotarian).

The reason people stick to the known, even when it is wrong, is because it is familiar and so it feels safe (and because of liability, healthcare workers and health insurance companies prefer what is perceived as safe). Doctors, as with everyone else, are dependent on heuristics to deal with a complex world. And doctors, more than most people, are too busy to explore the large amounts of data out there, much less analyze it carefully for themselves.

This maybe relates to why most doctors tend to not make the best researchers, not to dismiss those attempting to do quality research. For that reason, you might think scientific researchers who aren’t doctors would be different than doctors. But that obviously isn’t always the case because, if so, Ancel Keys low quality research wouldn’t have dominated professional dietary advice for more than a half century. Keys wasn’t a medical professional or even trained in nutrition, rather he was educated in a wide variety of other fields (economics, political science, zoology, oceanography, biology, and physiology) with his earliest research done on the physiology of fish.

I came across yet another example of this, although less extreme than that of Keys, but also different in that at least some of the authors of the paper are medical doctors. The study in question involved the participation of 19 people. The paper is “Atherosclerosis across 4000 years of human history: the Horus study of four ancient populations,” peer-reviewed and published (2013) in the highly respectable Lancet Journal (Keys’ work, one might note, was also highly respectable). This study on atherosclerosis was well reported in the mainstream news outlets and received much attention from those critical of paleo diets, offered as a final nail in the coffin, claimed as being absolute proof that ancient people were as unhealthy as we are.

The 19 authors conclude that, “atherosclerosis was common in four preindustrial populations, including a preagricultural hunter-gatherer population, and across a wide span of human history. It remains prevalent in contemporary human beings. The presence of atherosclerosis in premodern human beings suggests that the disease is an inherent component of human ageing and not characteristic of any specific diet or lifestyle.” There you have it. Heart disease is simply in our genetics — so take your statin meds like your doctor tells you to do, just shut up and quit asking questions, quit looking at all the contrary evidence.

But even ignoring all else, does the evidence from this paper support their conclusion? No. It doesn’t require much research or thought to ascertain the weak case presented. In the paper itself, on multiple occasions including in the second table, they admit that three out of four of the populations were farmers who ate largely an agricultural diet and, of course, lived an agricultural lifestyle. At most, these examples can speak to the conditions of the neolithic but not the paleolithic. Of these three, only one was transitioning from an earlier foraging lifestyle, but as with the other two was eating a higher carb diet from foods they farmed. Also, the most well known example of the bunch, the Egyptians, particularly point to the problems of an agricultural diet — as described by Michael Eades in Obesity in ancient Egypt:

“[S]everal thousand years ago when the future mummies roamed the earth their diet was a nutritionist’s nirvana. At least a nirvana for all the so-called nutritional experts of today who are recommending a diet filled with whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and little meat, especially red meat. Follow such a diet, we’re told, and we will enjoy abundant health.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way for the Egyptians. They followed such a diet simply because that’s all there was. There was no sugar – it wouldn’t be produced for another thousand or more years. The only sweet was honey, which was consumed in limited amounts. The primary staple was a coarse bread made of stone-ground, whole wheat. Animals were used as beasts of burden and were valued much more for the work they could do than for the meat they could provide. The banks of the Nile provided fertile soil for growing all kinds of fruits and vegetables, all of which were a part the low-fat, high-carbohydrate Egyptian diet. And there were no artificial sweeteners, artificial coloring, artificial flavors, preservatives, or any of the other substances that are part of all the manufactured foods we eat today.

“Were the nutritionists of today right about their ideas of the ideal diet, the ancient Egyptians should have had abundant health. But they didn’t. In fact, they suffered pretty miserable health. Many had heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity – all the same disorders that we experience today in the ‘civilized’ Western world. Diseases that Paleolithic man, our really ancient ancestors, appeared to escape.”

With unintentional humor, the authors of the paper note that, “None of the cultures were known to be vegetarian.” No shit. Maybe that is because until late in the history of agriculture there were no vegetarians and for good reason. As Weston Price noted, there is a wide variety of possible healthy diets as seen in traditional communities. Yet for all his searching for a healthy traditional community that was strictly vegan or even vegetarian, he could never find any; the closest examples were those that relied largely on such things as insects and grubs because of a lack of access to larger sources of protein and fat. On the other hand, the most famous vegetarian population, Hindu Indians, have one of the shortest lifespans (to be fair, though, that could be for other reasons such as poverty-related health issues).

Interestingly, there apparently has never been a study done comparing a herbivore diet and a carnivore diet, although one study touched on it while not quite eliminating all plants from the latter. As for fat, there is no evidence that it is problematic (vegetable oils are another issue), if anything the opposite: “In a study published in the Lancet, they found that people eating high quantities of carbohydrates, which are found in breads and rice, had a nearly 30% higher risk of dying during the study than people eating a low-carb diet. And people eating high-fat diets had a 23% lower chance of dying during the study’s seven years of follow-up compared to people who ate less fat” (Alice Park, The Low-Fat vs. Low-Carb Diet Debate Has a New Answer); and “The Mayo Clinic published a study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2012 demonstrating that in individuals favoring a high-carb diet, risk for mild cognitive impairment was increased by 89%, contrasted to those who ate a high-fat diet, whose risk was decreased by 44%” (WebMD interview of Dr. David Perlmutter). Yet the respectable authorities tell us that fat is bad for our health, making it paradoxical that many fat-gluttonous societies have better health. There are so many paradoxes, according to conventional thought, that one begins to wonder if conventional thought is the real paradox.

Now let me discuss the one group, the Unangan, that at first glance stands out from the rest. The authors say that the, “five Unangan people living in the Aleutian Islands of modern day Alaska (ca 1756–1930 CE, one excavation site).” Those mummies are far different than those from the other populations that came much earlier in history. Four of the Unangan died around 1900 and one around 1850. Why does that matter? Well, for the reason that their entire world was being turned on its head at that time. The authors claim that, “The Unangan’s diet was predominately marine, including seals, sea lions, sea otters, whale, fish, sea urchins, and other shellfish and birds and their eggs. They were hunter-gatherers living in barabaras, subterranean houses to protect against the cold and fierce winds.” They base this claim on the assumption that these particular mummified Unangan had been eating the same diet as their ancestors for thousands of years, but the evidence points in the opposite direction.

Questioning this assumption, Jeffery Gerber explains that, “During life (before 1756–1930 CE) not more than a few short hundred years ago, the 5 Unangan/Aleut mummies were hardly part of an isolated group. The Fur Seal industry exploded in the 18th century bringing outside influence, often violent, from countries including Russia and Europe. These mummies during life, were probably exposed to foods (including sugar) different from their traditional diet and thus might not be representative of their hunter-gatherer origins” (Mummies, Clogged Arteries and Ancient Junk Food). One might add that, whatever Western foods that may have been introduced, we do know of another factor — the Government of Nunavat official website states that, “European whalers regularly travelled to the Arctic in the late 17th and 18th century. When they visited, they introduced tobacco to Inuit.” Why is that significant? Tobacco is a known risk factor for atherosclerosis. Gideon Mailer and Nicola Hale, in their book Decolonizing the Diet, elaborate on the colonial history of the region (pp. 162-171):

“On the eve of Western contact, the indigenous population of present-day Alaska numbered around 80,000. They included the Alutiiq and Unangan communities, more commonly defined as Aleuts, Inupiat and Yupiit, Athabaskans, and the Tinglit and Haida groups. Most groups suffered a stark demographic decline from the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, during the period of extended European — particularly Russian — contact. Oral traditions among indigenous groups in Alaska described whites as having taken hunting grounds from other related communities, warning of a similar fate to their own. The Unangan community, numbering more than 12,000 at contact, declined by around 80 percent by 1860. By as early as the 1820s, as Jacobs has described, “The rhythm of life had changed completely in the Unangan villages now based on the exigencies of the fur trade rather than the subsistence cycle, meaning that often villages were unable to produce enough food to keep them through the winter.” Here, as elsewhere, societal disruption was most profound in the nutritional sphere, helping account for the failure to recover population numbers following disease epidemics.

“In many parts of Alaska, Native American nutritional strategies and ecological niches were suddenly disrupted by the arrival of Spanish and Russian settlers. “Because,” as Saunt has pointed out “it was extraordinarily difficult to extract food from the challenging environment,” in Alaska and other Pacific coastal communities, “any disturbance was likely to place enormous stress on local residents.” One of indigenous Alaska’s most important ecological niches centered on salmon access points. They became steadily more important between the Paleo-Eskimo era around 4,200 years ago and the precontact period, but were increasingly threatened by Russian and American disruptions from the 1780s through the nineteenth century. Dependent on nutrients and omega fatty acids such as DHA from marine resources such as salmon, Aleut and Alutiiq communities also required other animal products, such as intestines, to prepare tools and waterproof clothing to take advantage of fishing seasons. Through the later part of the eighteenth century, however, Russian fur traders and settlers began to force them away from the coast with ruthless efficiency, even destroying their hunting tools and waterproof apparatus. The Russians were clear in their objectives here, with one of their men observing that the Native American fishing boats were “as indispensable as the plow and the horse for the farmer.”

“Here we are provided with another tragic case study, which allows us to consider the likely association between disrupted access to omega-e fatty acids such as DHA and compromised immunity. We have already noted the link between DHA, reduced inflammation and enhanced immunity in the millennia following the evolution of the small human gut and the comparatively larger human brain. Wild animals, but particularly wild fish, have been shown to contain far higher proportions of omega-3 fatty acids than the food sources that apparently became more abundant in Native American diets after European contact, including in Alaska. Fat-soluble vitamins and DHA are abundantly found in fish eggs and fish fats, which were prized by Native Americans in the Northwest and Great Lakes regions, in the marine life used by California communities, and perhaps more than anywhere else, in the salmon products consumed by indigenous Alaskan communities. […]

“In Alaska, where DHA and vitamin D-rich salmon consumption was central to precontact subsistence strategies, alongside the consumption of nutrient-dense animal products and the regulation of metabolic hormones through periods of fasting or even through the efficient use of fatty acids or ketones for energy, disruptions to those strategies compromised immunity among those who suffered greater incursions from Russian and other European settlers through the first half of the nineteenth century.

“A collapse in sustainable subsistence practices among the Aleuts of Alaska exacerbated population decline during the period of Russian contact. The Russian colonial regime from the 1740s to 1840s destroyed Aleut communities through open warfare and by attacking and curtailing their nutritional resources, such as sea otters, which Russians plundered to supply the Chinese market for animal skins. Aleuts were often forced into labor, and threatened by the regular occurrence of Aleut women being taken as hostages. Curtailed by armed force, Aleuts were often relocated to the Pribilof Islands or to California to collect seals and sea otters. The same process occurred as Aleuts were co-opted into Russian expansion through the Aleutian Islands, Kodiak Island and into the southern coast of Alaska. Suffering murder and other atrocities, Aleuts provided only one use to Russian settlers: their perceived expertise in hunting local marine animals. They were removed from their communities, disrupting demography further and preventing those who remained from accessing vital nutritional resources due to the discontinuation of hunting frameworks. Colonial disruption, warfare, captivity and disease were accompanied by the degradation of nutritional resources. Aleut population numbers declined from 18,000 to 2,000 during the period of Russian occupation in the first half of the nineteenth century. A lag between the first period of contact and the intensification of colonial disruption demonstrates the role of contingent interventions in framing the deleterious effects of epidemics, including the 1837-38 smallpox epidemic in the region. Compounding these problems, communities used to a relatively high-fat and low-fructose diet were introduced to alcohol by the Russians, to the immediate detriment of their health and well-being.”

The traditional hunter-gatherer diet, as Mailer and Hale describe it, was high in the nutrients that protect against inflammation. The loss of these nutrients and the simultaneous decimation to the population was a one-two punch. Without the nutrients, their immune systems were compromised. And with their immune systems compromised, they were prone to all kinds of health conditions, probably including heart disease which of course is related to inflammation. Weston A. Price, in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, observed that morbidity and mortality of health conditions such as heart disease rise and fall with the seasons, following precisely the growth and dying away of vegetation throughout the year (which varies by region as do the morbidity and mortality rates; the regions of comparison were in the United States and Canada). He was able to track this down to the change of fat soluble vitamins, specifically vitamin D, in dairy. When fresh vegetation was available, cows ate it and so produced more of these nutrients and presumably more omega-3s at the same time.

Prior to colonization, the Unang would have had access to even higher levels of these protective nutrients year round. The most nutritious dairy taken from the springtime wouldn’t come close in comparison to the nutrient profile of wild game. I don’t know why anyone would be shocked that, like agricultural populations, hunter-gatherers also experience worsening health after loss of wild resources. Yet the authors of the mummy studies act like they made a radical discovery that throws to the wind every doubt anyone ever had about simplistic mainstream thought. It turns out, they seem to be declaring, that we are all victims of genetic determinism after all and so toss out your romantic fairy tales about healthy primitives from the ancient world. The problem is all the evidence that undermines their conclusion, including the evidence that they present in their own paper, that is when it is interpreted in full context.

As if responding to the researchers, Mailer and Hale write (p. 186): “Conditions such as diabetes are thus often associated with heart disease and other syndromes, given their inflammatory component. They now make up a huge proportion of treatment and spending in health services on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet policy makers and researchers in those same health services often respond to these conditions reactively rather than proactively — as if they were solely genetically determined, rather than arising due to external nutritional factors. A similarly problematic pattern of analysis, as we have noted, has led scholars to ignore the central role of nutritional change in Native American population loss after European contact, focusing instead on purportedly immutable genetic differences.”

There is another angle related to the above but somewhat at a tangent. I’ll bring it up because the research paper mentions it in passing as a factor to be considered: “All four populations lived at a time when infections would have been a common aspect of daily life and the major cause of death. Antibiotics had yet to be developed and the environment was non-hygienic. In 20th century hunter-foragers-horticulturalists, about 75% of mortality was attributed to infections, and only 10% from senescence. The high level of chronic infection and inflammation in premodern conditions might have promoted the inflammatory aspects of atherosclerosis.”

This is familiar territory for me, as I’ve been reading much about inflammation and infections. The authors are presenting the old view of the immune system, as opposed to that of functional medicine that looks at the entire human. An example of the latter is the hygiene hypothesis that argues it is the exposure to microbes that strengthens the immune system and there has been much evidence in support of it (such as children raised with animals or on farms being healthier as adults). The researchers above are making an opposing argument that is contradicted by populations remaining healthy when lacking modern medicine as long as they maintain traditional diet and lifestyle in a healthy ecosystem, including living soil that hasn’t been depleted from intensive farming.

This isn’t only about agriculturalists versus hunter-gatherers. The distinction between populations goes deeper into culture and environment. Weston A. Price discovered this simple truth in finding healthy populations among both agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers, but it was specific populations under specific conditions. Also, at the time when he traveled in the early 20th century, there were still traditional communities living in isolation in Europe. One example is Loetschenatal Valley in Switzerland, while visiting the country in two separate trips in the consecutive years of 1931 and 1932 — as he writes of it:

“We were told that the physical conditions that would not permit people to obtain modern foods would prevent us from reaching them without hardship. However, owing to the completion of the Loetschberg Tunnel, eleven miles long, and the building of a railroad that crosses the Loetschental Valley, at a little less than a mile above sea level, a group of about 2,000 people had been made easily accessible for study, shortly prior to 1931. Practically all the human requirements of the people in that valley, except a few items like sea salt, have been produced in the valley for centuries.”

He points out that, “Notwithstanding the fact that tuberculosis is the most serious disease of Switzerland, according to a statement given me by a government official, a recent report of inspection of this valley did not reveal a single case.” In Switzerland and other countries, he found an “association of dental caries and tuberculosis.” The commonality was early life development, as underdeveloped and maldeveloped bone structure led to diverse issues: crowded teeth, smaller skull size, misaligned features, and what was called tubercular chest. And that was an outward sign of deeper and more systemic developmental issues, including malnutrition, inflammation, and the immune system:

“Associated with a fine physical condition the isolated primitive groups have a high level of immunity to many of our modern degenerative processes, including tuberculosis, arthritis, heart disease, and affections  of the internal organs. When, however, these individuals have lost this high level of physical excellence a definite lowering in their resistance to the modern degenerative processes has taken place. To illustrate, the narrowing of the facial and dental arch forms of the children of the modernized parents, after they had adopted the white man’s food, was accompanied by an increase in susceptibility to pulmonary tuberculosis.”

Any population that lost its traditional way of life became prone to disease. But this could often as easily be reversed by having the diseased individual return to healthy conditions. In discussing Dr. Josef Romig, Price said that, “Growing out of his experience, in which he had seen large numbers of the modernized Eskimos and Indians attacked with tuberculosis, which tended to be progressive and ultimately fatal as long as the patients stayed under modernized living conditions, he now sends them back when possible to primitive conditions and to a primitive diet, under which the death rate is very much lower than under modernized  conditions. Indeed, he reported that a great majority of the afflicted recover under the primitive type of living and nutrition.”

The point made by Mailer and Hale was earlier made by Price. As seen with pre-contact Native Alaskans, the isolated traditional residents of Loetschenatal Valley had nutritious diets. Price explained that he “arranged to have samples of food, particularly dairy products, sent to me about twice a month, summer and winter. These products have been tested for their mineral and vitamin contents, particularly the fat-soluble activators. The samples were found to be high in vitamins and much higher than the average samples of commercial dairy products in America and Europe, and in the lower areas of Switzerland.” Whether fat and organ meats from marine animals or dairy from pastured alpine cows, the key is high levels of fat soluble vitamins and, of course, omega-3 fatty acids procured from a pristine environment (healthy soil and clean water with no toxins, farm chemicals, hormones, etc). It also helped that both populations ate much that was raw which maintains the high nutrient content that is partly destroyed through heat.

Some might find it hard to believe that what you eat can determine whether or not you get a serious disease like tuberculosis. Conventional medicine tells us that the only thing that protects us is either avoiding contact or vaccination. But this view is being seriously challenged, as Mailer and Hale make clear (p. 164): “Several studies have focused on the link between Vitamin D and the health outcomes of individuals infected with tuberculosis, taking care to discount other causal factors and to avoid determining causation merely through association. Given the historical occurrence of the disease among indigenous people after contact, including in Alaska, those studies that have isolated the contingency of immunity on active Vitamin D are particularly pertinent to note. In biochemical experiments, the presence of the active form of vitamin D has been shown to have a crucial role in the destruction of Mycobacterium tuberculosis by macrophages. A recent review has found that tuberculosis patients tend to retain a lower-than-average vitamin D status, and that supplementation of the nutrient improved outcomes in most cases.” As an additional thought, the popular tuberculosis sanitoriums, some in the Swiss Alps, were attractive because “it was believed that the climate and above-average hours of sunshine had something to do with it” (Jo Fahy, A breath of fresh air for an alpine village). What does sunlight help the body to produce? Vitamin D.

As an additional perspective, James C. Scotts’ Against the Grain, writes that, “Virtually every infectious disease caused by micro-organisms and specifically adapted to Homo sapiens has arisen in the last ten thousand years, many of them in the last five thousand years as an effect of ‘civilisation’: cholera, smallpox, measles, influenza, chickenpox, and perhaps malaria” It is not only that agriculture introduces new diseases but also makes people susceptible to them. That might be true, as Scott suggests, even of a disease like malaria. The Piraha are more likely to die of malaria than anything else, but that might not have been true in the past. Let me offer a speculation by connecting to the mummy study.

The Ancestral Puebloans, one of the groups in the mummy study, were at the time farming maize (corn) and squash while foraging pine nuts, seeds, amaranth (grain), and grasses. How does this compare to the more recent Piraha? A 1948 Smithsonian publication, Handbook of South American Indians ed. Julian H. Steward, reported that, “The Pirah grew maize, sweet manioc (macaxera), a kind of yellow squash (jurumum), watermelon, and cotton” (p. 267). So it turns out that, like the Ancestral Puebloan, the Piraha have been on their way toward a more agricultural lifestyle for a while. I also noted that the same publication added the detail that the Piraha “did not drink rum,” but by the time Daniel Everett met the Piraha in 1978 traders had already introduced them to alcohol and it had become an occasional problem. Not only were they becoming agricultural but also Westernized, two factors that likely contributed to decreased immunity.

Like other modern hunter-gatherers, the Piraha have been effected by the Neolithic Revolution and are in many ways far different from Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. Ancient dietary habits are shown in the analysis of ancient bones — M.P. Richards writes that, “Direct evidence from bone chemistry, such as the measurement of the stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen, do provide direct evidence of past diet, and limited studies on five Neanderthals from three sites, as well as a number of modern Palaeolithic and Mesolithic humans indicates the importance of animal protein in diets. There is a significant change in the archaeological record associated with the introduction of agriculture worldwide, and an associated general decline in health in some areas. However, there is an rapid increase in population associated with domestication of plants, so although in some regions individual health suffers after the Neolithic revolution, as a species humans have greatly expanded their population worldwide” (A brief review of the archaeological evidence for Palaeolithic and Neolithic subsistence). This is further supported in the analysis of coprolites. “Studies of ancient human coprolites, or fossilized human feces, dating anywhere from three hundred thousand to as recent as fifty thousand years ago, have revealed essentially a complete lack of any plant material in the diets of the subjects studied (Bryant and Williams-Dean 1975),” Nora Gedgaudas tells us in Primal Body, Primal Mind (p. 39).

This diet changed as humans entered our present interglacial period with its warmer temperatures and greater abundance of vegetation, which was lacking during the Paleolithic Period: “There was far more plant material in the diets of our more recent ancestors than our more ancient hominid ancestors, due to different factors” (Gedgaudas, p. 37). Following the earlier megafauna mass extinction, it wasn’t only agriculturalists but also hunter-gatherers who began to eat more plants and in many cases make use of cultivated plants (either that they cultivated or that they adopted from nearby agriculturalists). To emphasize how drastic was this change, this loss of abundant meat and fat, consider the fact that humans have yet to regain the average height and skull size of Paleolithic humans.

The authors of the mummy study didn’t even attempt to look at the data of Paleolithic humans. The populations compared are entirely from the past few millennia. And the only hunter-gatherer group included was post-contact. So, why are the authors so confident in their conclusion? I presume they were simply trying to get published and get media attention in a highly competitive market of academic scholarship. These people obviously aren’t stupid, but they had little incentive to fully inform themselves either. All the info I shared in this post I was able to gather in about a half an hour of several web searches, not exactly difficult academic research. It’s amazing the info that is easily available these days, for those who want to find it.

Let me make one last point. The mummy study isn’t without its merits. The paper mentions other evidence that remains to be explained: “We also considered the reliability and previous work of the authors. Autopsy studies done as long ago as the mid-19th century showed atherosclerosis in ancient Egyptians. Also, in more recent times, Zimmerman undertook autopsies and described atherosclerosis in the mummies of two Unangan men from the same cave as our Unangan mummies and of an Inuit woman who lived around 400 CE. A previous study using CT scanning showed atherosclerotic calcifications in the aorta of the Iceman, who is believed to have lived about 3200 BCE and was discovered in 1991 in a high snowfield on the Italian-Austrian border.”

Let’s break that down. Further examples of Egyptian mummies is irrelevant, as their diet was so strikingly similar to the idealized Western diet recommended by mainstream doctors, dieticians, and nutritionists. That leaves the rest to account for. The older Unangan mummies are far more interesting and any meaningful paper would have led with that piece of data, but even then it wouldn’t mean what the authors think it means. Atherosclerosis is one small factor and not necessarily as significant as assumed. From a functional medicine perspective, it’s the whole picture that matters in how the body actually functions and in the health that results. If so, atherosclerosis might not indicate the same thing for all populations. In Nourishing Diets, Morell writes that (pp. 124-5),

“Critics have pointed out that Keys omitted from his study many areas of the world where consumption of animal foods is high and deaths from heart attack are low, including France — the so-called French paradox. But there is also a Japanese paradox. In 1989, Japanese scientists returned to the same two districts that Keys had studied. In an article titled “lessons fro Science from the Seven Countries Study,” they noted that per capita consumption of rice had declined, while consumption of fats, oils, meats, poultry, dairy products and fruit had all increased. […]

“During the postwar period of increased animal consumption, the Japanese average height increased three inches and the age-adjusted death rate from all causes declined from 17.6 to 7.4 per 1,000 per year. Although the rates of hypertension increased, stroke mortality declined markedly. Deaths from cancer also went down in spite of the consumption of animal foods.

“The researchers also noted — and here is the paradox — that the rate of myocardial infarction (heart attack) and sudden death did not change during this period, in spite of the fact that the Japanese weighed more, had higher blood pressure and higher cholesterol levels, and ate more fat, beef and dairy foods.”

Right here in the United States, we have are own ‘paradox’ as well. Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes makes a compelling argument that, based on the scientific research, there is no strong causal link between atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Nina Teicholz has also written extensively about this, such as in her book The Big Fat Surprise; and in an Atlantic piece (How Americans Got Red Meat Wrong) she lays out some of the evidence showing that Americans in the 19th century, as compared to the following century, ate more meat and fat while they ate fewer vegetables and fruits. Nonetheless: “During all this time, however, heart disease was almost certainly rare. Reliable data from death certificates is not available, but other sources of information make a persuasive case against the widespread appearance of the disease before the early 1920s.” Whether or not earlier Americans had high rates of atherosclerosis, there is strong evidence indicating they did not have high rates of heart disease, of strokes and heart attacks. The health crisis for these conditions, as Tiecholz notes, didn’t take hold until the very moment meat and animal fat consumption took a nosedive. So what gives?

The takeaway is this. We have no reason to assume that atherosclerosis in the present or in the past can tell us much of anything about general health. Even ignoring the fact that none of the mummies studied was from a high protein and high fat Paleo population, we can make no meaningful interpretations of the presence of atherosclerosis among some of the individuals. Going by modern data, there is no reason to jump to the conclusion that they had high mortality rates because of it. Quite likely, they died from completely unrelated health issues. A case in point is that of the Masai, around which there is much debate in interpreting the data. George V. Mann and others wrote a paper, Atherosclerosis in the Masai, that demonstrated the complexity:

“The hearts and aortae of 50 Masai men were collected at autopsy. These pastoral people are exceptionally active and fit and they consume diets of milk and meat. The intake of animal fat exceeds that of American men. Measurements of the aorta showed extensive atherosclerosis with lipid infiltration and fibrous changes but very few complicated lesions. The coronary arteries showed intimal thickening by atherosclerosis which equaled that of old U.S. men. The Masai vessels enlarge with age to more than compensate for this disease. It is speculated that the Masai are protected from their atherosclerosis by physical fitness which causes their coronary vessels to be capacious.”

Put this in the context provided in What Causes Heart Disease? by Sally Fallon Morell and Mary Enig: “The factors that initiate a heart attack (or a stroke) are twofold. One is the pathological buildup of abnormal plaque, or atheromas, in the arteries, plaque that gradually hardens through calcification. Blockage most often occurs in the large arteries feeding the heart or the brain. This abnormal plaque or atherosclerosis should not be confused with the fatty streaks and thickening that is found in the arteries of both primitive and industrialized peoples throughout the world. This thickening is a protective mechanism that occurs in areas where the arteries branch or make a turn and therefore incur the greatest levels of pressure from the blood. Without this natural thickening, our arteries would weaken in these areas as we age, leading to aneurysms and ruptures. With normal thickening, the blood vessel usually widens to accommodate the change. But with atherosclerosis the vessel ultimately becomes more narrow so that even small blood clots may cause an obstruction.”

A distinction is being made here that maybe wasn’t being made in the the mummy study. What gets measured as atherosclerosis could correlate to diverse health conditions and consequences in various populations across dietary lifestyles, regional environments, and historical and prehistorical periods. Finding atherosclerosis in an individual, especially a mummy, might not tell us any useful info about overall health.

Just for good measure, let’s tackle the last piece of remaining evidence the authors mention: “A previous study using CT scanning showed atherosclerotic calcifications in the aorta of the Iceman, who is believed to have lived about 3200 BCE and was discovered in 1991 in a high snowfield on the Italian-Austrian border.” Calling him Iceman, to most ears, sounds similar to calling an ancient person a caveman — implying that he was a hunter for it is hard to grow plants on ice. In response, Paul Mabry writes in Did Meat Eating Make Ancient Hunter Gatherers Get Heart Disease, showing what was left out in the research paper:

“Sometimes the folks trying to discredit hunter-gather diets bring in Ötzi, “The Iceman” a frozen human found in the Tyrolean Mountains on the border between Austria and Italy that also had plaques in his heart arteries. He was judged to be 5300 years old making his era about 3400 BCE. Most experts feel agriculture had reach Europe almost 700 years before that according to this article. And Ötzi himself suggests they are right. Here’s a quote from the Wikipedia article on Ötzi’s last meal (a sandwich): “Analysis of Ötzi’s intestinal contents showed two meals (the last one consumed about eight hours before his death), one of chamois meat, the other of red deer and herb bread. Both were eaten with grain as well as roots and fruits. The grain from both meals was a highly processed einkornwheat bran,[14] quite possibly eaten in the form of bread. In the proximity of the body, and thus possibly originating from the Iceman’s provisions, chaff and grains of einkorn and barley, and seeds of flax and poppy were discovered, as well as kernels of sloes (small plumlike fruits of the blackthorn tree) and various seeds of berries growing in the wild.[15] Hair analysis was used to examine his diet from several months before. Pollen in the first meal showed that it had been consumed in a mid-altitude conifer forest, and other pollens indicated the presence of wheat and legumes, which may have been domesticated crops. Pollen grains of hop-hornbeam were also discovered. The pollen was very well preserved, with the cells inside remaining intact, indicating that it had been fresh (a few hours old) at the time of Ötzi’s death, which places the event in the spring. Einkorn wheat is harvested in the late summer, and sloes in the autumn; these must have been stored from the previous year.””

Once again, we are looking at the health issues of someone eating an agricultural diet. It’s amazing that the authors, 19 of them, apparently all agreed that diet has nothing to do with a major component of health. That is patently absurd. To the credit of Lancet, they published a criticism of this conclusion (though these critics repeats their own preferred conventional wisdom, in their view on saturated fat) — Atherosclerosis in ancient populations by Gino Fornaciari and Raffaele Gaeta:

“The development of vascular calcification is related not only to atherosclerosis but also to conditions such as disorders of calcium-phosphorus metabolism, diabetes, chronic microinflammation, and chronic renal insufficiency.

“Furthermore, stating that atherosclerosis is not characteristic of any specific diet or lifestyle, but an inherent component of human ageing is not in agreement with recent studies demonstrating the importance of diet and physical activity.5 If atherosclerosis only depended on ageing, it would not have been possible to diagnose it in a young individual, as done in the Horus study.1

“Finally, classification of probable atherosclerosis on the basis of the presence of a calcification in the expected course of an artery seems incorrect, because the anatomy can be strongly altered by post-mortem events. The walls of the vessels might collapse, dehydrate, and have the appearance of a calcific thickening. For this reason, the x-ray CT pattern alone is insufficient and diagnosis should be supported by histological study.”

As far as I know, this didn’t lead to a retraction of the paper. Nor did this criticism receive the attention that the paper itself was given. None of the people who praised the paper bothered to point out the criticism, at least not among what I came across. Anyway, how did this weakly argued paper based on faulty evidence get published in the first place? And then how does it get spread by so many as if proven fact?

This is the uphill battle faced by anyone seeking to offer an alternative perspective, especially on diet. This makes meaningful debate next to impossible. That won’t stop those like me from slowly chipping away at the vast edifice of the dominant paradigm. On a positive note, it helps when the evidence used against an alternative view, after reinterpretation, ends up being strong evidence in favor of it.

An Empire of Shame

America as an empire. This has long been a contentious issue, going back to the colonial era, first as a debate over whether Americans wanted to remain a part of the British Empire and later as a debate over whether Americans wanted to create a new empire. We initially chose against empire with the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation. But then we chose for empire with the Constitution that allowed (pseudo-)Federalists to gain power and reshape the new government.

Some key Federalists openly talked about an American Empire. For the most part, though, American leaders have kept their imperial aspirations hidden behind rhetoric, even as our actions were obviously imperialistic. Heck, an Anti-Federalist like Thomas Jefferson took the imperialistic action of the Louisiana Purchase, a deal between one empire and another. Imperial expansionism continued through the 19th century and into the 20th century with numerous military interventions, from the Indian Wars to the Banana Wars. Not a year has gone by in American history when we weren’t involved in a war of aggression.

Yet it still is hard for Americans to admit that we are an empire. I’ve had numerous discussions with my conservative father on this topic. At times, he has surprisingly admitted we are an empire, but usually he is resistant. In our most recent debate, it occurred to me that the resistance is motivated by shame. We don’t want to admit we are an empire because we are ashamed of our government’s brutal use of power on our behalf. And shame is a powerful force. People will do and allow the most horrific actions out of shame.

Empires of the past tended to be projects built on pride and honor, of brazen rule through force. We Americans, instead, feel the need to hide our imperialism behind an image of benign and reluctant power. The difference is Americans, ever since we were colonists, have had an inferiority complex. It makes us both yearn for greatness and fear mockery. Our country is the young teenager that must prove himself, while not yet having the confidence to really believe in himself. So, we act slyly as an empire with implicit threats and backroom manipulations, proxy wars and covert operations, puppet governments and corporatist front groups. Then, when these morally depraved actions come to light, we rationalize why they were exceptions or why we were being forced to do so because of circumstances. It’s not our fault. We don’t want to hurt others, but we had no other choice. Besides, we were defending freedom and free markets, that is why we constantly intervene in other countries and endlessly kill innocents. It is for the greater good. We are willing to make this self-sacrifice on the behalf of others. We are the real victims.

I regularly come across quotes from American leaders who publicly or privately complained about our government, who spoke of failure and betrayal. This has included presidents and other political officials going back to the beginning of the country. Think of Jefferson and Adams in their later years worrying about the fate of the American experiment, that maybe we Americans didn’t have what it takes, that maybe we aren’t destined to be great. The sense of inferiority has haunted our collective imagination for so long that it is practically a defining feature. Despite our being the largest empire in world history, we don’t have the self-certain righteousness to declare ourselves an empire. That is why we get the false and weak bravado of someone like Donald Trump — sadly, he represents our country all too well. Then again, so did Hillary Clinton represent our country in her suppressing wages in Haiti so that U.S. companies would have cheap foreign labor (i.e., corporate wage slavery), the kind of actions the U.S. does all the time in secret in order to maintain control. We have talent for committing evil with a smiling face… or nervous laughter.

Rather than clear power asserted with pride and honor, the United States government acts like a bully on the world stage. We are constantly trying to prove ourselves. And our denial of imperialism is gaslighting, to make anyone feel crazy if they dare voice the truth of what we are. We tell others that we are the good guys. What we really are trying to do is to convince ourselves of our own bullshit. This causes a nervousness in the public mind, a fear that we might be found out. We are paralyzed by our shame and it gets tiring in our trying to keep up the pretense. The facade is crumbling. Our inner shame has become public such that now we are the shame of the world. That probably means our leaders will soon start a war to divert attention, and both main parties will be glad for the diversion.

There is a compelling argument made by James Gilligan in Preventing Violence. Among other things, he sees as a key cause to interpersonal violence is shame. And that there is something particularly shame-inducing about our society, especially for those on the bottom of society. He is attempting to explain violent crime. But what occurs to me is that our leaders are just as violent, if not more violent. It’s simply that those who make the laws determine which violence is legal and which violence illegal, their own violence being in the former category as it is implemented through the state or with the support of the state. Maybe it is shame that causes our government to be so violent toward foreign populations and toward the American population. And maybe shame is what causes American citizens to remain silent in their complicity, as the violent is done in their name.

The United States was always this way

“The real difficulty is with the vast wealth and power in the hands of the few and the unscrupulous who represent or control capital. Hundreds of laws of Congress and the state legislatures are in the interest of these men and against the interests of workingmen. These need to be exposed and repealed. All laws on corporations, on taxation, on trusts, wills, descent, and the like, need examination and extensive change. This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations.”

―Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes: Nineteenth President of the United States, (from REAL Democracy History Calendar: October 1 – 7)