Hello, everyone. You may have noticed that my upload schedule has recently become a lot slower on the blog. There are a few big reasons for this.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’ve wanted to devote more energy to The Divine Conspiracy on DeviantArt. That is certainly true, as I have been writing a new story centering on the Bridgewater Triangle and how the urban legend intersects with indigenous Wampanoag mythology. Progress has been slow, mostly because I’ve been reading the book Spirit of the New England Tribes to understand their spiritual traditions better.
But that’s far from the only reason progress has been slow. For one thing, I recently decided to have myself tested for hemochromatosis, or iron overload in the bloodstream. My Dad has the disorder, and with all the tests I’ve been subjecting myself to (blood tests, MRIs), it’s increasingly likely that he passed it down to me. Fortunately, the disorder is easy enough to treat. Dad takes care of his by frequently donating blood. A doctor also informed me that eating red meat also contributes to iron buildup, so I’ve been wondering lately if going on a mostly vegetarian diet would help at all (I say “mostly” because, while I don’t have much of an appetite for most meat products these days, I’m not sure I’m ready to give up cheeseburgers of meat lover’s pizza).
On top of that, I also came down with a nasty cold this week that has left me more exhausted than I have ever felt in recent memory. Mom and I believe it is influenza, mostly because it is definitely a lot worse than most colds I’ve had and because a COVID test I took yesterday came out negative. Either way, yesterday morning was an absolute slog. I got up to eat breakfast, only got halfway through because my appetite just wasn’t there, and went back to bed for the next five hours. You can imagine that I didn’t have the energy to stand up, let alone write anything.
The good news is that I’m pretty sure Thursday morning was rock bottom for me, and now there’s no way to go but up. You can likely expect a new post on the blog sometime next week or the week after. There won’t be a big birthday retrospective like the one I did for Watership Down last year, and it won’t be about that TV series I hinted at in previous update posts.
For those who are curious, I was referring to The Shannara Chronicles, based on the Shannara series by Terry Brooks. I remember seeing the first season of the show back when it first aired on MTV and being profoundly disappointed in the choices the series creators made. However, I couldn’t find any streaming services that offered it for free. I especially did not want to pay $17.99 to watch it on Amazon Prime and end lining that vampire Bezos’ pockets.
Instead, this year’s mini-retrospective will be about a very underrated heavy metal band that is almost as near and dear to my heart as Terry Brooks’ books are. I won’t say which one just yet. Just keep a lookout for it in the near future.
And that’s everything I wanted to discuss with you guys today. Remember to wash your hands and keep your masks on because we may be done with COVID, but COVID sure as hell isn’t done with us! Until next time, friends.
…and it certainly took me on a roller coaster ride, especially regarding its main subject.
(Trigger warning for those sensitive to violent crime topics: this article will contain mentions of such subjects and some brief references to pedophilia.)
This documentary series, which served as one of the earliest Netflix original programs, generated a storm of controversy when it first premiered in December 2015, thanks to its shocking accusations of police corruption and misconduct in the trial of Steven Avery.
Before we explore that controversy, a little background: Steven Allan Avery was a resident of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, who grew up in a family that was widely viewed as the redneck black sheep of the community. Nevertheless, his father owned a successful auto salvage business that kept his family fed.
Avery’s calm rural existence was shattered in July of 1985 when he was sentenced to thirty-two years in prison for the rape and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen, despite eyewitnesses corroborating his alibi of being in Green Bay at the time. He was released after 18 years when DNA evidence proved that the rape had actually been committed by Gregory Allen, another local man who bore a striking resemblance to Avery and had a history of violence against women. A vengeful Avery decided to sue the Manitowoc County police department for $36 million and was even the primary inspiration for new Wisconsin state legislation to decrease the likelihood of future wrongful convictions.
But, to paraphrase the words of Michael Corleone, just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in. On Halloween of 2005, a local photographer named Teresa Halbach went missing, and a search party found her Toyota RAV4 in the auto salvage junkyard a few days later. Police searched Avery’s property and claimed to have found Teresa’s bones in the remains of a bonfire Steven had held on Halloween. They later found the key to the RAV4 in Steven’s bedroom, and Steven was arrested and tried for her murder. When his nephew, Brendan Dassey, confessed to helping his uncle kill Teresa and dispose of her corpse, things became even bleaker for Steven. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, while Dassey (only 17 at the time of his sentencing) was ineligible for parole until 2048.
Steven and Brendan’s defense teams pointed to numerous inconsistencies in the prosection’s evidence, including but not limited to:
It seemingly took multiple searches of Steven’s property to find enough evidence to incriminate him (I think the key wasn’t discovered until the sixth search, if I’m not mistaken).
Steven’s lawyers questioned why Steven didn’t use the compactor in the junkyard to dispose of the RAV4 and how he would be stupid enough to leave Teresa’s bones lying around on his property.
The lawyers also questioned how little of Steven’s blood was found inside the RAV4, especially when they found a vial of Steven’s blood collected from his previous conviction that looked like a hypodermic needle had punctured it. This was possibly disproven by the prosecution when analysis proved that there was no EDTA (a preservative added to blood samples to prevent coagulation) in the sample.
Brendan Dassey’s confession was also thrown into question, thanks to the coercive tactics his interrogators used and Dassey’s intellectual and developmental disabilities (he scored in the seventies on an IQ test), which the defense argued made him highly impressionable.
Interim and Reactions
I’ll admit that I was fully convinced that Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey had been framed by the last few episodes of the first season. However, as I looked at some other articles about the incident, I learned about certain troubling facts of Avery’s past that the miniseries’ directors, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, had conveniently left out.
They did talk about some morally questionable things Steven had done before his 1985 conviction. For example, in January of that year, he ran his first cousin off the road and threatened her with a gun after she accused him of masturbating in her direction. They also brought up an incident from 1982 where Avery and a few friends horrifically murdered a cat by pouring gasoline over it and dropping it on a fire (which the documentary frames as an accident) and his burglary of a bar the year before. Avery dismisses it in the first episode by saying that he “was young and stupid and hanging out with the wrong people.”
Somewhat less defensible is the fact that Steven wrote letters to his first wife threatening to murder her, especially when she told Steven she wanted a divorce. He is also alleged to have told another prisoner that he planned to create a torture chamber with which to spirit away female victims. He even bought handcuffs and leg irons shortly before Teresa’s murder, which he claimed was for his then-girlfriend Jodi Stachowski. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Stachowski (who was featured in the first season) later claimed that Steven threatened to kill her if she said anything that made him look bad and had been physically abusive in the past.
Not even members of his own family were allegedly safe from Avery’s depredations. A female relative claimed that Avery had raped her in 2004 and threatened to kill her family if she told anyone. Also, Brendan Dassey later claimed that Steven had touched him in ways that made him uncomfortable, so there’s that too.
That being said, that still doesn’t mean the prosecution is totally innocent either. There are clearly several holes in their arguments. For instance, Dassey originally claimed that Teresa had been murdered in Avery’s bedroom, despite there being no blood anywhere in the room. Their alternate theory that Teresa was murdered in Avery’s garage is also questioned by his attorneys, who question how Avery could have been thorough enough to scrub all of her DNA from the garage and the junk inside and still not think to dispose of her bones. On top of all that, the Manitowoc County sheriff’s department clearly had a conflict of interest in involving themselves in Avery’s case (so much so that his trial took place in neighboring Calumet County). Yet, they were the ones who searched Avery’s property and found all the evidence the prosecution used.
The second season, released in December of 2018, mainly follows Kathleen Zellner, an attorney specializing in wrongful convictions, as she tries to build a case for Avery’s innocence. At the same time, we follow Brendan Dassey’s new attorneys as they battle for appeals all the way to the Seventh Circuit and the Supreme Court.
All the while, Zellner digs up new inconsistencies in the prosecution’s evidence, including but not limited to:
The idea that the police did not take Steven’s blood from the vial that his attorneys originally found but from Avery’s bathroom sink after he bled into it from a cut on his middle finger (possibly supported by marks from a crowbar on Avery’s front door).
Zellner also managed to gain access to a bullet found in Avery’s garage that allegedly had Teresa’s D.N.A. on it, arguing that if Avery had fired it through Halbach’s skull as the prosecution claimed, there should be bone fragments embedded in it. Instead, forensic investigators only find wood fragments and a waxy substance that Zellner suspects to be Halbach’s lip balm (thus suggesting where Teresa’s D.N.A. came from).
Zellner learned of a truck driver who claimed to have seen the RAV4 in a location away from the Avery property before it was discovered in the junkyard. Unfortunately, the first officer he told of this was Andrew Colborn, the officer accused in the first season of being one of the masterminds behind Avery’s framing, and thus nothing came of it.
Zellner also interviews Debra Kakatsch, the Manitowoc County coroner at the time, who was not only prevented from investigating the alleged site of Halbach’s murder but was also prevented from testifying at the trial and even quit her job a few months later as she no longer felt safe.
The most shocking new evidence that Zellner uncovers is Bobby Dassey’s internet history. Bobby (Brendan’s brother) is revealed to have a morbid interest in violent pornography (some involving children). Zellner even claims that several of the subjects of the images Bobby searched even looked like Teresa Halbach. The same motorist who claims to have seen the RAV4 off the Avery junkyard also texted his friend Scott Tadych (Brendan Dassey’s stepfather) about it, asking to be put in touch with Dassey’s attorneys. Nothing came of it.
There are many reasons to criticize the Manitowoc County police for letting their obvious biases color their view of this case, as I’ve hopefully demonstrated above. However, that doesn’t mean I’m totally convinced that Steven Avery is innocent of Teresa Halbach’s murder, especially in light of his previous history of violence against women. True, it is doubtful that the murder occurred either in Avery’s bedroom or garage. But, even with the alternate scenario that Zellner lays out in the final few episodes, I see no reason why Steven couldn’t still have been involved as well.
Even if it seems like one hell of a coincidence that Avery’s second conviction came right when he was trying to hold the sheriff’s department accountable for its previous foul-up, that doesn’t seem so improbable when you remember that there is a reason American police jokingly refer to prisons as “crime colleges.” Allow me to reiterate this Pyotr Kropotkin quote from my essay on anarchism:
Have not prisons-which kill at will and force of character in men, which enclose within their walls more vices than are met with than in any spot on the globe-always been the universities of crime? Is not the court of the tribunal a school of ferocity?
Pyotr Kropotkin, Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Model
If you combine the horror of American prisons with Avery’s previous violent tendencies, you can probably see why I and many others have a nagging suspicion that Zellner and Steven’s loved ones might be barking up the wrong tree.
However, I am absolutely not convinced that Brendan Dassey had anything to do with the crime. Given his limited intelligence and lack of a criminal record before his fateful interviews, plus the fact that that interview is literally the only evidence connecting him to Halbach’s death, I feel extremely confident in stating my opinion that Dassey is innocent. If you think I’m being overconfident, allow me to point you to another Netflix Original true-crime documentary series called The Confession Tapes, which details the numerous coercive techniques police can use to obtain false confessions. When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s Netflix Original docudrama about the Central Park Five, also provides a good case study on false confessions.
The date was December 28th, 1922. A group of over 2,000 delegates from all over the former Tsarist empire of Russia gathered in Moscow to consolidate the new socialist republic they had fought so hard for over the last five years. Two days later, from the stage of Bolshoi Theatre, they presented to the Russian people the Treaty on the Creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Thus began the first true socialist nation in the history of the world.
But the country’s birth was not without strong labor pains. Indeed, the three biggest names associated with the advent of the Soviet Union-Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky- all had very different ideas for structuring the new government and how best to continue the worldwide socialist uprising they started. In this entry of “The Complete Noob’s Guide to the Left,” we’ll examine the philosophies of these three men to see how the future of socialism may have progressed had either one may have done things differently, as well as how Russia fared when Stalin became the victor.
Part 1: Lenin vs. Stalin
Lenin had already been in poor health for about a year before the December 30th declaration. He had been showing signs of hyperacusis, insomnia, and headaches that were so bad that he tried to get his wife and sister to purchase potassium cyanide so he could kill himself. To this day, no one is exactly sure what was wrong with him; theories include neurasthenia, cerebral atherosclerosis, and even syphilis.
In any case, Lenin’s poor health worsened significantly when he suffered a stroke in May of 1922. He had largely recovered by July but then suffered another stroke in December. It has been reported that this second stroke was caused by an argument with secret police chief and Stalin loyalist Feliks Dzerzhinsky over a crackdown in the Caucasus region. Another Stalin loyalist, Sergo Ordzhonikidze, had been sent into Stalin’s homeland of Georgia to quell protest movements against the “autonomization model” that Stalin advocated for. Lenin was angry that Dzerzhinsky had exonerated Ordzhonikidze for any wrongdoing, but the stroke left him unable to do anything about it.
Perhaps I should explain what this “autonomization model” is. Autonomization was Stalin’s proposed solution to the problem of what relationship the former states of the Russian Empire would have with the Bolshevik ruling class in Moscow. He offered to incorporate the Russian regional republics into the new Soviet Federation, with the ethnic minorities of each respective region allowed autonomy within the boundaries of Soviet law. Many republics protested this approach, especially Ukraine, Belarus, and the Caucasian states of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.
Lenin sided with the regional republics, arguing that Stalin was pursuing an imperialistic goal. Remember that Lenin’s principal innovation in Marxist thought was combatting the new capitalist model of imperialism, which Marx had failed to foresee. He was worried that autonomization would undermine the Soviet Union’s credibility as the vanguard of the worldwide socialist revolution. The regional republics’ right to self-rule must be preserved, he argued.
Stalin and Lenin managed to reach a compromise before Lenin’s second stroke. Stalin, aware of how powerful Lenin still was within the Bolshevik Party system, agreed to Lenin’s terms, allowing the new socialist republic to come into being as the USSR on December 30th. After the second stroke, however, Stalin quickly set about limiting Lenin’s activities under the pretense of not exacerbating Lenin’s poor health.
But Lenin wasn’t finished with Stalin. He wrote letters protesting against Stalin’s power grabs throughout 1923, even after suffering a third stroke in March. His anti-Stalin complaints became especially vociferous after Stalin insulted his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, when she refused to let him see an ailing Lenin in his bedroom.
The biggest one was “Lenin’s Testament,” which he finished in January of that year, which notably argued for the removal of Stalin from the position of general secretary in favor of Leon Trotsky. He also argued that the centralization of the new socialist government functions should be limited solely to defense and international relations to keep thuggish personalities like Stalin from taking advantage.
Sadly, after Lenin finally passed away on January 21st, 1924, at the age of 53, Stalin managed to persuade the other party leaders to ignore these suggestions. Of course, one must wonder what would have become of the Soviet Union if Trotsky had taken power.
Part 2: Stalin vs. Trotsky
I think the best way I’ve heard to explain the differences in Leninism, Stalinism, and Trotskyism comes from this Quora article by historian Cameron Greene: Stalinism was the conservative side of Bolshevism, Leninism the moderate/centrist side, and Trotskyism the radical side.
Stalin advocated the “socialism in one country” policy, which argued that Russia should not focus on leading socialist revolutions in other countries until it has perfected socialism in the Russian state. He also pursued rapid industrialization and collectivization of agriculture, intensification of class conflict (especially with kulaks or property-owning peasants), a one-party totalitarian police state to crush counter-revolutionary movements, and subordination of socialist movements across the globe to the interests of the Soviet vanguard. Stalin was also willing to seek the advice of private enterprises like the Ford Motor Company to help the Soviet Union get its state-owned enterprises off the ground.
On the other hand, Trotsky argued for a global socialist revolution in multiple countries to overwhelm the international capitalist order more quickly. He also argued that the bureaucratic police state that Stalin was developing was antithetical to the working class self-determination and mass democracy that Marx advocated for. He was also a harsh critic of Stalin’s willingness to cooperate with capitalists to help jump-start Soviet industrialization, as he was determined not to negotiate with capitalist nations.
Unsurprisingly, Stalin did not take kindly to this criticism. After Lenin’s death, Stalin and the Politburo gradually stripped Trotsky of his government positions until he was formally exiled from the Soviet Union in February 1929. He had been living in Alma-Ata (now Almaty, Kazakhstan) for a year at that point. He spent the rest of his life dodging assassination attempts as he traveled the world railing against Stalin’s betrayal of the socialist revolution, even forming the Fourth International in France in 1938. Stalin’s assassins finally caught up with him two years later. Trotsky died at the age of 60 on August 21st, 1940, in Mexico City from brain injuries caused by the blunt end of an ice ax wielded by Ramon Mercader.
It is tempting to argue that the Soviet Union would have been a true worker’s paradise if Trotsky had come to power instead of Stalin. Let’s face it: even if his rapid industrialization did bring Russia into the modern era, Stalin was a terrible ruler by any standard. While there is still debate over whether or not the great famines of 1930-33 (the Ukrainian Holodomor being by far the most infamous) were deliberately engineered by Stalin or whether it was an unintended side effect of rapid collectivization, there is no question that it is a large black stain on his character. The dekulakization program, which took place around the same time and may have led to over half a million deaths, is a lot less excusable, as is the Great Purge of Stalin’s political enemies in 1937, which some estimate killed over a million. His religious persecutions and the roughly 1.6 million who died in the gulags should also not be dismissed.
That being said, however, there isn’t much reason to believe that Trotsky would have been any less of a dictator. Okay, that is kind of a lie. He did believe that the Soviet Union should be more of a union of worker’s councils, which does appeal to my personal preference for anarcho-communism (even if all the communes would still have been required to report to Moscow). However, as the YouTube channel Alternate History Hub explains in their video “What If Stalin Never Came to Power,” Trotsky wasn’t any less bloodthirsty than Stalin. Indeed, Stalin’s rapid industrialization ideas in his Five-Year Plans were actually stolen from Trotsky. The only difference was that Trotsky wanted to share the profits with all Russian citizens, not just a privileged few. There is no reason to believe that a Trotskyist Russia would have avoided the famines and purges that plagued Stalin’s Russia.
In addition, Trotsky would have had a whole nation at his disposal to pursue his goal of a worldwide socialist revolution. Indeed, given that Trotsky was of Jewish heritage, it is highly likely that Trotsky would have been a lot tougher on Nazi Germany than Stalin was. Of course, this could have backfired on the Soviets, as this might have led to fascists being seen as martyrs to the anti-communist cause and leading to the Soviet Union being the main Allied antagonist of World War II instead of the Axis Powers. Then again, it may also have led to socialism gaining a solid foothold in many more countries than just Cuba, Vietnam, and others. Or maybe I’m just being too optimistic.
Some fellow socialists have gone further, arguing that Bolshevism itself was its own worst enemy, that Soviet Russia was doomed to an oppressive dictatorship no matter which leader it ultimately chose. For instance, the October 1973 issue of The Socialist Standard (the official magazine of the Socialist Party of Great Britain) includes an article titled “Trotskyism, Stalinism: What’s the Difference,” where the author argues that Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and all of the other Bolsheviks were operating off a grievous misinterpretation of Marx. He contrasts Lenin’s view that “on its own, the working class cannot go beyond the level of trade union consciousness” with Marx and Engel’s view that “the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority.” He also points to how Trotsky handled the Kronstadt rebellion as proof that he was no better than Stalin.
The Kronstadt rebellion was one of the most prominent left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks. Thousands of Soviet sailors, soldiers, and civilians seized control of the port city on the island of Kotlin near St. Petersburg for sixteen days in March of 1921. The rebels were disillusioned by the direction of the Bolshevik government. They demanded more civil rights and economic freedom for the working class, that more libertarian socialist groups receive government representation, and that the bureaucratic systems implemented by the Bolsheviks be dismantled. The Bolshevik party leaders, Trotsky included, dismissed their rebellion as a capitalist false flag and invaded the island on March 18th, slaughtering thousands. This move was widely criticized even by contemporary leftists, perhaps most notably Emma Goldman in her essay “Trotsky Protests Too Much.”
In the end, if you ask my opinion, the Bolsheviks ended up falling prey to the same trap that the Founding Fathers of the United States fell into when they created the United States; they were not confident enough in the decision-making capabilities of the working class to allow them to exercise true democracy. True, the Bolsheviks had a leg up on the Founders in that half of them weren’t slave owners, but it’s hard for me to argue that they were any more altruistic than the Founders in the end, given how little tolerance they gave towards leftist ideologies that differed from their own.
However, that leads me to think about the other factions of the Russian socialist movement. Indeed, the Bolsheviks were only one of three main factions in the Russian revolution. So join me on the next episode, where I compare and contrast the Bolsheviks with the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries. See you then!
Hello again, beautiful watchers! I figured that since I have ended a somewhat ongoing series on this blog recently, it was time that I give some more updates on what’s going on on this site in the future.
First of all, many of the future blog ideas I mentioned in my New Year’s update post are still things I’m interested in. The first one I tend to tackle is the next “Noob’s Guide to the Left” entry, where I plan to compare and contrast Stalinism and Trotskyism to better understand their place in both Russian and communist history. I’m also still interested in examining myths surrounding the 2020 election and the Capitol insurrection (as well as “ancient aliens” myths), and I’ve also got some new ideas for “P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist.”
As for the desire to talk more about animation, I still haven’t decided how to tackle that subject on this blog. I do have some ideas, but I think I’d prefer to sleep on them a bit more before I fully commit to them. I also want to expand upon some spiritual traditions I mentioned in the post I wrote a while back about my religious beliefs, particularly ones involved in Western esotericism, as that is one of the special interests that my autistic brain is focused on at the moment and also because of the significant influence they have on The Divine Conspiracy.
Speaking of which, that is another significant change that will occur on this blog. You see, with all of the nonfiction writing I’ve been doing on PrestonPosits, I’ve found I have very little time for my fiction writing endeavors on DeviantArt, including The Divine Conspiracy. I won’t deny that my insecurities as a writer have played a part in that as well. However, I figured it was time to commit to the project much more concretely. And so I’ve decided that from now on, I’ve decided that I will be devoting every other writing day solely to DeviantArt.
This is undoubtedly going to affect my upload rate on PrestonPosits. My upload rate is already slow because I’m working three out of every seven days of the week, and I never have the energy to write after I get home every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On the other hand, I often go months without uploading on DeviantArt, which I imagine must be immensely annoying for my watchers on that site. Unfortunately, this is the best compromise I can come up with at the moment. This means that I’ll be working on the next Divine Conspiracy story this Thursday, then PrestonPosits on Saturday, Divine Conspiracy on Sunday, then PrestonPosits next Tuesday, and so on.
This likely means that I won’t be doing a large birthday retrospective this May like the one I did last year on Watership Down. I do have an idea for a smaller retrospective on a T.V. series that adapted a certain book series I’m a huge fan of (rather poorly, in my opinion), but I’d prefer to keep that a secret for now.
My biggest focus for the near future is seeing what happens when the Banks family decides to go toe-to-toe with the supernatural forces of the Bridgewater Triangle. Makes sure to tune in to my DeviantArt account to see how that turns out! I hope you’ll see me there, friends!
For the final entry in my world tour of famous paranormal triangles, let us examine one man’s attempt to present a grand unifying theory of anomalous triangles. The man in question is the equal parts renowned and reviled Scottish-born biologist Ivan Terence Sanderson.
Sanderson is probably best remembered today for helping to found the pseudoscience/subculture of cryptozoology alongside Belgian-French zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans. But he didn’t just content himself with the search for folkloric beasts. As the legend of the Bermuda Triangle gained popularity in the 1960s, Sanderson threw his hat in the ring with an apparent discovery he made in 1968. He claimed that the Bermuda Triangle was but one of twelve such regions on Earth where reports of unexplained phenomena and electromagnetic distortions were higher than usual. Five each rested along the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, while the other two rested at the North and South Pole. Sanderson believed that these vortices were shaped like icosahedrons and that the electromagnetic anomalies were caused by cold air and sea currents.
A trio of Soviet scientists (Nikolai Goncharov, Vyacheslav Morochov, and Valerey Makarov) expanded on Sanderson’s ideas in a 1973 article titled “Is the Earth a Large Crystal?” In it, they claim that they had discovered that twelve pentagonal plates of cosmic energy cover our planet and that electromagnetic abnormalities occur at the junctions of these plates (62 in all). They additionally claimed that these plates ran parallel with natural phenomena like seismic fracture zones, ocean ridges, animal migratory routes, and even the locations of ancient civilizations (especially those that constructed megaliths). Perhaps Ancient Aliens alumnus David Arthur Childress puts it best:
…we are speaking about an intelligent geometric pattern into which, theoretically, the Earth and its energies are organized- and possibly in which the ubiquitous megalithic sites are also positioned.
David Hatcher Childress. “Mapping The World Grid.” Bibliotecapleyades unknown . 28 Apr 2008
Of course, the evidence for this phenomenon being a reality is entirely dependent on the vortices actually being paranormal hotspots. I’ve already covered the Bermuda Triangle and the Devil’s Triangle in previous articles and found the evidence decidedly lacking. So let us examine the remaining Vile Vortices and see what mysteries lie within.
The South Atlantic Anomaly
The SAA, located off Brazil’s southeast coast, is interesting because it is an actual scientific phenomenon that NASA has documented. This is because the vortex is located in the region where the Earth’s inner Van Allen radiation belt comes closest to its surface (120 miles to be exact), thus allowing cosmic rays and solar radiation to reach farther into the atmosphere. This thinning often exposes satellites to higher-than-usual radiation levels due to trapped protons, causing technical problems in spacecraft like the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station and sometimes even destroying the craft (as with the Japanese X-ray observatory Hitomi in March of 2016).
While the reasons why spacecraft malfunction over the SAA are fully scientifically understood, that still hasn’t stopped paranormal researchers from connecting it to the Bermuda Triangle, thanks to reports that aircraft often experience electronic and navigational malfunctions while flying in the region. The story of the sailboat Tunante II doesn’t help in that regard.
According to the Argentine news website Infobae, the sailboat set out from Buenos Aires on August 22nd, 2014, carrying four passengers on a pleasure cruise to Rio de Janeiro. Four days later, the boat’s owner, Horacio Robert Morales, sent out a distress signal stating that a storm had damaged the vessel’s rudder, mast, and engine. While a Norwegian cargo ship sent to assist the Tunante lost sight of it the next morning at 4 a.m., records from the company that owned the satellite phones onboard indicated that the vessel had survived the storm. But, despite a search covering over 40,000 square miles, no trace of it was found other than an empty life raft.
Some paranormal researchers have seized upon the timeline of events and the Argentine government’s seeming reluctance to carry on the search to suggest that they may be covering up something. However, relatives of the Tunante’s passengers have not ruled out the possibility that the sailboat might have run across pirates that may have hijacked the vessel and its occupants and spirited them away to who knows where.
The Algerian Megaliths
So talking about this vortex is kind of tricky, mostly because I can’t seem to figure out which megaliths the vortices proponents are talking about. The most commonly cited location associated with the supposed vortex is Djebel Mazala Salluste, located outside the city of Constantine in the northeast corner of Algeria. Oddly enough, though, many sources cite it as being south of Timbuktu, which would place it in Mali, while another lists its coordinates as 26.6 North, 4.8 West, which would put it in the central region of the country.
In any case, some have connected a spate of plane crashes in the western Sahara region with the vortex at Djebel. For instance, Air Algerie Flight 5017 was carrying 116 passengers and crew from Burkina Faso to Algiers on July 24th, 2014, when it crashed due to ice accretion in the engines, which caused the plane to stall. At least one source, Ranker.com, implicitly connected the crash to the vortex at Djebel, even though the aircraft came down near the southern border of Mali. Ivan T. Sanderson apparently became interested in the site after hearing reports of two submarines and four smaller boats that vanished off Algeria’s coast. I haven’t been able to determine which of these he was referring to, although I’ve come across two submarines, the HMS Urge and Minerve, which disappeared in the western Mediterranean in 1942 and 1968, respectively. However, both wrecks have since been located (near Malta and France, respectively), so there’s not much of a mystery there.
The Zimbabwe Megaliths
This time the center of the vortex is more concrete, resting around the medieval African city that gave Zimbabwe its name. Constructed between the 9th and 15th centuries CE, it was the capital of a great kingdom back in the late Iron Age, although which kingdom is something that modern archaeologists have yet to figure out. First discovered by Portuguese explorers in 1531, Europeans didn’t properly investigate it until 1871.
Of course, because this was the colonial period we’re talking about, the British rulers of the country then known as Rhodesia often bent over backward trying to deny the indigenous Shona people their rightful credit for constructing the city. Because, of course, these backward tribesmen couldn’t possibly be smart enough to build a structure this sophisticated. They need us to bring them into the modern era so they can become smart enough to build structures that sophisticated.
Of course, this begs the obvious question: If the Shona didn’t build Zimbabwe, who did? You probably already know where this is going.
While not as famous as the Great Pyramids of Giza and Meroe in that regard, Great Zimbabwe has on occasion been caught up in the “ancient astronauts” hysteria that really blew up in popularity when the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens started airing in 2009. It doesn’t matter that archaeologists have demonstrated numerous times that ancient peoples had the tools and the resources to construct these sites. In many ways, the ancient astronaut theories have continued the racism that turned the Global South into what it is today.
As for Bermuda Triangle-like activity around Great Zimbabwe, I haven’t been able to find much. Some have mentioned planes vanishing in the region, although those same sources describe those disappearances occurring over the Sahara Desert, which is on the complete opposite side of the continent.
Speaking of ancient aliens, Pakistan’s Mohenjo-Daro is another site that has often been connected with alien builders as well as vile vortices. Ivan Sanderson claimed to have received a letter from a woman who said that planes carrying gold bullion over nearby Afghanistan would go missing, although some of their gold cargo would be left behind, oddly enough.
However, the former area of the Indus Valley Civilization is probably better known among ancient astronaut enthusiasts for the persistent rumors that the area bears scars from an impossibly ancient nuclear war dating as far back as 12,000 years ago. Let’s examine the supposed evidence, shall we?
Many passages of the Hindu holy text the Mahabarata describe scenes that sound uncomfortably similar to modern descriptions of nuclear warfare. “A single projectile charged with all the power of the universe… An incandescent column of smoke and flame, as bright as 10,000 suns, rose in all its splendor… It was an unknown weapon, an iron thunderbolt, a gigantic messanger of death which reduced to ashes an entire race.”
Mohenjo-Daro itself, along with its sister city Harappa, allegedly are the sites of mass graves, with skeletons scattered across the streets “as if some instant, horrible doom had taken place,” in the words of Kisari Mohan Ganguli, who wrote the first complete English translation of the Mahabarata. “People were just lying, unburied, in the streets of the city.” Some of the skeltons also showed radiation levels 50 times greater than normal, comaprable to modern victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The city of Jodhpur, resting in the Thar Desert in northwestern India, is allegedly so radioactive that cancer deaths and birth defects are extremely common, to the point that the government has quarantined the area. In addition, an archaeologist named Francis Taylor claimed to have discovered an ancient city nearby, which shows signs of a nuclear blast that killed as many as half a million people.
Finally, there is the Lonar crater, located under a lake around 300 miles east of Mumbai. The crater is about 3900 feet in diameter and is definitly not volcanic in origin. Maybe it could be the result of a nuclear explosion, then?
However, episode 541 of Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid podcast pretty much put paid to all of these ideas:
He logged onto a searchable online copy of the Mahabarata and found nothing even remotely similar to the passage quoted above.
He similarly found no mention of mass graves in the abundance of archaeological literature available on Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, or any of the other excavated sites in the Indus Valley region.
Jodhpur having radiation levels that high from a nuclear conflict that occured 8-12,000 years ago makes no sense. Even the strongest nuclear isotopes, like cesium-137 and strontium-90, only have half-lives of 30 years at most. Even Hiroshima and Nagasaki are clean of radiation just three quarters of a century after the infamous bomb drops. Furthermore, there is absolutely no evidence that Francis Taylor’s city of half a million people ever existed.
The quotes attributed to Ganguli make no sense, as he lived in the 1880s-90s, long before nuclear weapons were even concieved of.
Indeed, it seems as if everything involving nuclear weapons in ancient India and Pakistan was invented out of whole cloth, most likely by Erich von Daniken in his infamous 1968 book Chariots of the Gods? However, I prefer to save those comments for a list of ancient astronaut theories that I will almost certainly be making sometime in the future. In the meantime, let’s move on to…
The Wharton Basin
The Wharton Basin is a region of the ocean floor located between Western Australia and Java. The area has not been mapped since the 1960s, despite being on the boundary of the Indian and Australian tectonic plates, thus making it a very active seismic zone. Indeed, the basin ended up on many a geologist’s radar after it was struck by two massive earthquakes on April 11th, 2012, measuring a magnitude of 8.6 and 8.2, respectively. While they occurred too deep underwater to trigger tsunamis (unlike the infamous 9.2 magnitude quake that triggered the deadly Boxing Day tsunami of 2004), geologists are concerned that the quakes may have further destabilized the fault lines that they lie upon.
As for supposed Bermuda Triangle-type activity, there isn’t much to report, probably because the shipping lanes in the region are a bit more lightly traveled than the ones in the Bermuda Triangle. However, one major mystery is connected with the area: the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 8th, 2004, carrying 239 passengers and crew bound for Beijing. Air traffic control lost communications with the aircraft around 38 minutes after takeoff. However, they could still track on radar until it suddenly vanished about 200 nautical miles northwest of Penang Island. Search efforts naturally focused on the South China and Andaman Seas until analysis of satellite communications showed that the plane had last been detected over the Indian Ocean at a point about 1500 miles west of Perth, Australia. There are numerous guesses for how the aircraft got there, ranging from hijacking to being shot down to outlandish theories involving black holes and alien abduction. However, there is probably nothing to connect it directly with the supposed Wharton Basin vortex.
The Hebrides Trench
This vortex rests in the Pacific Ocean and centers on the Loyalty Islands on the eastern edge of the Coral Sea. The trench, marking the area where the Australian tectonic plate is being subducted under the New Hebrides plate, is around 4.7 miles deep. It is known for its unique wildlife (cusk-eels, prawns, and other crustaceans) and its frequent earthquakes. The most recent occurred in February 2021 and measured 7.7 on the moment magnitude scale. And that’s the weakest of the many earthquakes listed on the trench’s Wikipedia page!
As for supernatural phenomena, one book published by TIME-LIFE called Mysteries of the Unknown describes strange currents and “ocean vortices of water.” I’m tempted to believe they may be describing maelstroms here, but I’m not entirely sure.
Perhaps the biggest mystery associated with the region is Sandy Island. This phantom island, which supposedly rested east of New Caledonia, has been described as early as 1774 by Captain James Cook. It was first formally recognized in 1876 after being “discovered” by a whaling ship named Velocity. The island, which was roughly the size of Washington D.C., continued to appear on maps as late as 1982, even though cartographers quickly began to doubt its existence. It was finally disproven in November 2012, when the Australian research vessel RV Southern Surveyor surveyed the seafloor and found that no island had ever existed there.
Of course, some quickly jumped to supernatural conclusions when they heard about a whole island disappearing. However, most researchers today believe the Velocity actually encountered a massive raft of pumice that an underwater volcano had expelled.
The Hamakulia Volcano
Speaking of underwater volcanoes, this one, located northeast of Hawaii’s Big Island, is allegedly the site of plane and ship disappearances. There have also been reports of strange lights around the crater as well as “piezomagnetic effects” that magnetize rocks and cause them to throw navigational equipment out of whack.
This might sound like something out of The X-Files, but scientists actually understand very well what is going on here. For instance, the blog Cryptoville points out that volcanoes often produce lightning due to static electricity buildup in the ash cloud, a phenomenon that has been widely photographed. Piezomagnetic effects are nothing mysterious either; they are simply another effect produced by natural electric energies during a volcanic eruption, such as the friction of magma flowing underground.
With all this in mind, it’s probably no wonder that ships and planes are sometimes lost in this region. It’s far from inconceivable that the magnetization of the rocks could mess with a sailing vessel or aircraft’s electronic hardware, so there’s probably no Bermuda Triangle type portal to worry about.
This South Pacific island (known to its indigenous inhabitants as Rapa Nui) forms the easternmost vertex of the Polynesian Triangle, the other two being New Zealand and Hawaii. Its biggest claim to fame is undoubtedly its over 900 moai, which is the name given to the monolithic humanlike statues that dot its landscape. Carved out of compressed volcanic ash at the quarry Rano Raraku, the natives carried them to all parts of the island between 1250 and 1500. They are commonly agreed to be the representations of deified ancestors, set around the island as protectors.
Sadly, they could not protect the Rapa Nui people from the cruel hammer of colonialism when Europeans first arrived in 1722, bringing disease and slave raiders. While it has been long believed that the Rapa Nui society was already in decline due to deforestation caused by the construction of the moai, a growing number of experts believe the colonizers exaggerated such reports to absolve themselves of blame (because of course they would!). By 1877, the island’s native population had been reduced from as much as 3,000 to just 111. Thankfully, the population has increased to 7,750 as of 2017, with most still living on Rapa Nui in the village of Hanga Roa.
Of course, along with colonialism came the arguments that the Rapa Nui peoples couldn’t have possibly created the Easter Island moai. There had to be someone else. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the moai have shown up frequently in ancient aliens lore. Not helping with such rumors is the idea often spread that many of the statues (some of which are as much as 33 feet tall) have the entire rest of the body buried underground, which is demonstrably untrue.
However, famed Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, upon hearing the common Rapa Nui explanation that the statues literally “walked” to their present positions, conducted an experiment in 1997 alongside Polish engineer Pavel Pavel. A team of 16 people tied a rope around a moai replica’s head and base and rocked it back and forth, causing it to literally rock forward.
Heyerdahl’s experiment sadly had to be cut short due to damage inflicted on the statue in the process. However, a much more successful version of this experiment was performed in 2012 by American archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo. They used teams of three people to rock a ten-foot-tall moai replica with ropes tied around its head about 330 feet. You can view the results in this Youtube video on National Geographic’s official channel, as well as on the November 7th, 2012 episode of PBS’ Nova, titled “Mystery of Easter Island.”
The North Pole
The northernmost part of the globe has been well known for causing wonky behavior in compasses. Indeed, the Magnetic North Pole is where all compasses point to, to that’s to be expected. However, the Arctic is no stranger to mysterious disappearances, perhaps the most notable being the Captain Sir John Franklin expedition in 1845.
Captain Franklin’s expedition, consisting of the combined 129 man crew of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, set out from Greenhithe, England, on May 19th of that year. European whalers last encountered it in Baffin Bay in July. Subsequent archaeological investigations, writings by the crew, and interviews with local Inuit peoples have since demonstrated that the missing expedition became trapped in ice off Prince William Island in September 1846 and, after losing two dozen men (including Franklin), the crew abandoned both ships and set out for the Canadian mainland in April 1848. All eventually perished due to a combination of hypothermia, starvation, lead poisoning, zinc deficiency, and exposure to the harsh polar climate. Indeed, many crew members resorted to cannibalism to no avail.
Indeed, even though that cause of the expedition’s demise is well understood by this point (and both ship’s wrecks have since been located), that hasn’t stopped some from speculating about supernatural foul play. Most notably, the 2007 novel The Terror by Dan Simmons (subsequently adapted as a TV series by AMC in 2018) depicts the expedition being stalked by a demonic beast from Inuit mythology on top of trying to stay alive in the harsh Arctic climate.
The South Pole
The South Pole is also involved in a tale of a doomed expedition. In 1911, the race was on to be the first people to reach the South Pole. The two teams were led by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and British Royal Navy officer Robert Falcon Scott. Amundsen’s team became the first humans to ever set foot on the South Pole on December 14th, 1911. Scott’s team reached the pole a little over a month later, on January 17th, 1912.
While Amundsen’s team managed to reach their base fully intact, Scott’s crew struggled through blizzards and frostbite, having failed to reunite with the dog teams that were supposed to resupply them. They all succumbed to the elements over the next two months, with Scott himself being the last to perish, probably around March 29th. While they failed in their goal of being the first to reach the pole, they did make one significant discovery. Among their corpses, the search parties found 35 pounds of Glossopteris tree fossils from the Permian period (299-252 million years ago), which, along with being the first fossils ever found on Antarctica, proved that the continent had once been in warmer climates and connected to the other continents.
But some believe that Antarctica holds more secrets. For example, notice the strange shape of this mountain:
This is one of three mountains in the Ellsworth Range, located at the base of the peninsula that juts out below South America, that many say look suspiciously like pyramids. Some, like the new-age website “Earth. We Are One,” have even gone as far as to argue that the pyramids were built by an ancient civilization over 100 million years ago, apparently misinterpreting a study by the Royal Society that showed that Antarctica was lush with vegetation during the Middle Cretaceous. They also incorrectly argue that Antarctica was located at the equator 100 million years ago (it wasn’t; global temperatures were just warmer back then).
In reality, the pyramidal shape of these mountains is the result of glaciers smoothing out their topographies. Indeed, scientists have noted that the mountains are four thousand feet high, which would make them ten times larger than the Pyramids of Giza. That would be a tall order for any advanced civilization, whether they came from space or not. Indeed, it’s hard not to draw comparisons between theories like this and H.P. Lovecraft’s novella At the Mountains of Madness, which, incidentally, may have inspired the 1960 French conspiracy tome The Morning of the Magicians, which in turn was heavily plagiarized by Erich von Daniken in Chariot of the Gods? Interesting.
Also, there’s this conspiracy theory about the disputed territory of New Swabia, which has been rumored to have served as a base for the Nazi Party ever since their defeat in 1945, but that’s a little too ridiculous to get into here, so let’s just wrap this up.
And finally, my world tour of paranormal triangles has come to an end. I hope you had as much fun as I did. Remember to tune in for new updates later this week, as there will be some significant changes to how this blog works in the future. So keep your eyes peeled, and maybe keep your eyes peeled for anything strange if you ever find yourself traveling through one of these triangles. I know I’ve shown a lot of evidence to suggest that there’s nothing supernatural going on in these places, but you never know…
The idea that the Bermuda Triangle is an inherently more dangerous and mysterious part of the sea seems to have started in the wake of the Flight 19 incident in 1945, especially after this article that appeared in the September 17th, 1950 edition of the Miami Herald. The term “Bermuda Triangle” was coined in February of 1964 by Vincent Gaddis in an article he wrote for the pulp magazine Argosy. But it wasn’t until Charles Berlitz wrote the book The Bermuda Triangle in 1974 that the public at large learned just how deadly this stretch of the Atlantic really was.
Or maybe not, as librarian Larry Kusche demonstrated in his book The Bermuda Triangle Mystery-Solved, published the following year. He found that Berlitz and several other authors had either exaggerated or omitted details, making some incidents sound more mysterious than they actually were or even invented some incidents out of whole cloth (like a plane that allegedly crashed off Daytona Beach in 1937 that Kusche could find no newspaper records of).
One particularly egregious error that Kusche found was Berlitz writing about an ore carrier that allegedly vanished three days from an Atlantic port. Kusche found the ship had actually departed from a port of the same name on the Pacific coast! Kusche deadpanned that Berlitz’s research was so sloppy that “If Berlitz were to report that a boat were red, the chance of it being some other color is almost a certainty.”
Indeed, the findings of the Coast Guard, Lloyd’s of London, and NOAA seem to back up Kusche’s conclusions that the so-called Bermuda Triangle is in reality no more dangerous than any other part of the ocean. So what is the truth behind some of the more infamous vanishings? Let us examine ten such incidents to determine the real stories behind them, starting with:
1. The Ellen Austin (1881)
The story behind this particular derelict ship begins on the outskirts of the Sargasso Sea when the crew of the 1800-ton schooner comes across an unknown and completely abandoned vessel on a voyage from London to New York.Part of the Ellen Austin crew boards the ship and confirms that not only are there no souls aboard, but they cannot find any sign as to why the crew may have abandoned ship. Everything, including the mystery ship’s cargo of mahogany, is in order, except for the captain’s log and the ship’s nameplate, which are missing.
The captain of the Ellen Austin orders the salvage crew to steer the mystery ship to New York. Two days later, the ships are separated in a storm, and when the Ellen Austin finally catches up with the other ship, the salvage crew has also gone missing.
The tale appears to have entered the popular imagination after it was retold by Rupert Gould, a retired Royal Navy commander, in his 1944 book The Stargazing Talks. There are other variations of the story. One tells of the Ellen Austin captain trying to send a second salvage crew over, only to abandon the mystery ship when the terrified crew refuses to board it. Another tells that the Ellen Austin never saw the mystery ship again after being separated by the storm. But which is the correct version of the tale?
If Larry Kusche is correct, none of them are because he could find no concrete evidence that the incident happened at all. There was a schooner named Ellen Austin operating in the North Atlantic at the time (built in 1854), although it was named Meta until 1880. Kusche could not find any casualty reports from around the time that suggested anything unusual happening to the ship’s crew between leaving London on December 5th, 1880, and arriving at New York City on February 11th, 1881. Furthermore, the ship made a stop in St. John’s, Newfoundland, which would have taken her far away from the Sargasso Sea.
Of course, Kusche’s search for the truth was complicated by the fact that Gould never gave a source for where he originally heard the story. However, an investigation by the website Sometimes Interesting found that the earliest mention of the incident came from a 1906 newspaper article from the Daily Deadwood Pioneer Times, which gave the year of the incident as 1891. That webpage offers a very detailed history of the Ellen Austin that I highly recommend you read for yourself (including an 1857 incident where the captain beat a crew member with wire rope and set his dogs on him).
Ultimately, neither they nor Kusche could find any concrete evidence that the Ellen Austin encounter really did happen. It could simply be a mixup of the records that prevents us from getting the real story, but until we get better confirmation, perhaps it’s best just to regard this as a nautical tall tale.
2. USS Cyclops (March 1918)
This nearly 20,000 ton US Navy collier sailed into history after departing from Barbados on March 4th, 1918, en route to Baltimore, Maryland, with 306 crew and passengers on board. When the ship failed to arrive on schedule on March 13th, a massive search was launched, which was unable to find any wreckage.
Some more fantastically minded Triangle enthusiasts might point to UFOs or Atlantis or the Kraken or interdimensional portals to explain the vessel’s disappearance, but there are plenty of more logical explanations:
The ship’s captain, George W. Worley, had a bad reputation. He was a violent drunkard who would verbally abuse crew members over minor infractions and even chased the ensign with a loaded pistol at one point. He was also reviled for his pro-German sympathies, and subsequent investigations even found that he was born in Germany. This has led some to speculate that Worley may have spirited the Cyclops away to Germany to help with their war effort. It certainly doesn’t help that one of the ship’s passengers, Alfred Louis Moreau Gottschalk (consul-general in Rio De Janeiro), also held pro-German sympathies. However, there are no records on Germany that the ship ever came to Germany, and there is no concrete evidence that the ship may have run across a U-boat or mine during its voyage either.
The crew of the molasses tanker Amolco claimed to have spotted the Cyclops near Virginia on March 9th, the day before a massive storm swept the area, which could have claimed the vessel. However, this makes no sense, as that means the Cylcops would have safely reached port the next day, three days ahead of schedule. This isn’t to say the ship couldn’t concievably encountered a storm en route to Baltimore, but the March 10th storm almost certainly wasn’t it.
The most likely theory is that the highly corrosive manganese ore that the Cyclops was carrying may have corroded the I-beams running along the length of the ship, eventually causing it to break in half in the middle of the ocean. BBC journalist Tom Mangold also proposed in a 2009 documentary that that ore could have become wet due to the cargo hatch covers being canvas, which could have caused the cargo to shift and cause the ship to list, which could have led to its foundering in bad weather.
The Cyclops’ sister ships, the Proteus and the Nereus, would also vanish while traveling the same route in November and December of 1941, respectively. The last, the Jupiter, later became the USS Langely, the US Navy’s very first aircraft carrier, which was scuttled off the southern coast of Java on February 27th, 1942, after sustaining heavy damage from Japanese bombers.
3. SS Cotopaxi (December 1, 1925)
You may remember this ship for its appearance in Stephen Spielberg’s classic 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in which the long-lost bulk carrier is found sitting intact and abandoned in the middle of the Gobi Desert. The ship’s mysterious vanishing after departing from Charleston, South Carolina, on November 29th, 1925, with a cargo of coal bound for Havana, led many to connect the ship’s disappearance and her 32 crew members with the Bermuda Triangle.
However, we know this isn’t true for two reasons. The first is that the Cotopaxi sent out a distress signal on December 1st, reporting that the ship was caught in a tropical storm and was listing and taking on water. Many experts suspect that the ship’s wooden cargo hatches may have been damaged, thus allowing water to flood in. Several family members of the Cotopaxi’s crew even sued the ship’s owners when a carpenter revealed that the company had ordered the ship to depart for Havana before he could finish repairing the dilapidated hatch covers.
The second reason is that the ship’s wreck has since been found. No, I’m not talking about that news story from 2015 about the Cuban Coast Guard finding the ship abandoned floating somewhere west of Havana. That was from a satirical newspaper called the World News Daily Report and has been debunked by Snopes.
The actual wreck of the Cotopaxi was found forty miles east of St. Augustine, Florida, sometime in the 1980s. However, it wasn’t positively identified as the Cotopaxi until January of 2020, after about fifteen years of work by marine biologist Michael Barnette. The ship’s wreck was later the subject of the series premiere of Shipwreck Secrets on the Science Channel the following month.
4. Flight 19 (December 5, 1945)
By far the most infamous Triangle vanishing was the day five Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers flew off into history, taking their 14 crew members with them and helping to cement the Bermuda Triangle’s place in the popular imagination. What was the squadron’s vanishing really as mysterious as its reputation claims it is? Let us examine the timeline of events on that day and find out.
The squadron took off from the Naval Air Station in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at 2:10 p.m. with Lieutenant Charles C. Taylor in command. The squadron was set to perform an exercise called “Navigation Problem No. 1,” which involved a practice bombing run on the Hens and Chickens Shoals in the Bahamas. They were the 19th squadron scheduled to complete the three-hour run that day.
The squadron completed the bombing run around 3:00 and continued flying due east for another 77 miles as instructed, intending to turn north over Grand Bahama Island and then return west for home. However, this is when the trouble started, as Taylor suddenly sent a distress signal around 3:30, stating, “I don’t know where we are. We must have gotten lost at the last turn.”
This transmission was overheard by Lieutenant Robert Cox, who was just then preparing to leave Fort Lauderdale with his own squadron of bombers. When Cox asked Taylor to clarify what was going on, he got this baffling answer:
Both of my compasses are out and I am trying to find Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I am over land but it’s broken. I am sure I’m in the Keys, but I don’t know how far down, and I don’t know how to get to Fort Lauderdale.
Lieutenant Charles C. Taylor, December 5th, 1945
Even if we acknowledge that Taylor was almost certainly mistaking the northern half of Abaco Island for the Florida Keys, it is still a baffling error. How did Taylor think the planes could have gone that far off course? Here’s a map of the region to show you what I mean.
True, Flight 19 was experiencing compass problems, but it’s hard to believe that that could have brought the plane that far off course. In any case, Taylor decided that flying northeast would bring them back over land, which should have taken only twenty minutes.
Lt. Cox offered to come and find Flight 19, but Taylor turned him down, sure he knew where he was. When that didn’t work, one of Taylor’s students suggested flying west, arguing that any Fort Lauderdale plane worth its salt would follow the setting sun. Even as late as 5:00, Taylor was still convinced beyond all reason that he was over the Gulf of Mexico and could be heard saying, “Change course to 90 degrees [due east relative to Fort Lauderdale] for 10 minutes.” To which a frustrated trainee responded: “Damn it, if we could just fly west, we would get home! Head west, damn it!” By this time, the Flight had drifted into an oncoming storm.
Around 5:50, several radio stations had managed to triangulate Flight 19’s position as being within 100 nautical miles of 29 degrees north, 79 degrees west, which enabled the Navy to start planning a rescue mission. This was hampered somewhat by Taylor’s refusal to switch to his radio’s search and rescue frequency.
By around 5:24, Taylor seemed to have finally realized his error and ordered the planes to head west, only to change his mind around 6:04 and tell his trainees, “We didn’t fly far enough east. We may as well turn around and fly east again.” The last message ever received from Flight 19 came at around 6:20:
All planes close up tight… We’ll have to ditch unless landfall…When the first plane drops below ten gallons, we all go down together.
Charles Taylor, December 5th, 1945
The plot thickened further after 7:00 when three flying boat aircraft set out to search for the missing bombers. One of them, a Martin PBM Mariner, which had taken off from the Banana River Navy Air Station with 13 crew members at 7:27, vanished after sending a routine radio call three minutes afterward.
With the complete timeline laid out, it’s self-evident what really happened to Flight 19; they got lost and eventually ran out of fuel. Indeed, Charles Taylor, while an experienced pilot, was not exactly competent. He had gotten lost twice while fighting in the Pacific theatre of World War II and had to ditch his planes both times. Even on the day of Flight 19’s mission, he had shown up 25 minutes late and asked for someone to take his place. His reasons are unknown. I’ve read some sources suggesting he had a hangover, but I haven’t been able to confirm it. If that wasn’t bad enough, Taylor didn’t even bring essential navigational equipment like a watch or a plotting board with him. Indeed, the only reason the Navy didn’t ultimately pin all the blame on Taylor was because his mother begged them not to ruin her son’s reputation.
As for the PBM Mariner, that design had an unfortunate history of gas leaking out from fully loaded fuel tanks, often setting off catastrophic explosions. Indeed, the crew of the tanker SS Gaines Mills witnessed a mid-air explosion at around 9:12 a few miles off Cape Canaveral and later found an oil slick in the water around where the blast took place. The escort carrier USS Solomon had been tracking the Mariner on radar and had lost the flying boat in that exact position.
5. Star Tiger and Star Ariel (January 30, 1948; January 17, 1949)
Both of these incidents involved Avro Tudor Mark IVB passenger planes belonging to British South American Airways, and both vanished while covering roughly the same route.
The Star Tiger initially set out from Lisbon, Portugal, on January 28th and stopped in Saint Maria in the Azores to refuel. However, the airliner departed sooner than expected as pilot Brian W. MacMillan wanted to get ahead of a storm that was set to drift across their route. The plane took off at 3:34 p.m. with 25 passengers and crew (including distinguished World War II veteran Sir Arthur Coningham) on the 29th.
The Star Tiger flew at a shallow 2,000-foot altitude to avoid the worst of the headwind. At 3:15 a.m. the next morning, the plane radioed its position to its destination on Bermuda and estimated its arrival time as 5 a.m. It was the last that was ever heard from the Star Tiger. After attempting to contact the aircraft three more times and receiving no response by 4:40, the radio operator on Bermuda declared a state of emergency. The rough weather hampered the search, and it was called off after only five days.
While subsequent investigations of the Star Tiger’s loss have been unable to determine the exact cause of the plane’s loss (especially with the absence of any wreckage), they have determined that the aircraft had more than enough fuel to reach Bermuda. They have also ruled out engine or structural failure, as the plane was designed to run on as little as two engines, and the craft was flying at a low enough altitude that cabin pressure shouldn’t have been a problem.
The most likely possibility was that, given that the crew kept reporting that they were flying at 20,000 feet instead of 2,000 feet, they may have forgotten their actual altitude and may have accidentally flown the plane straight into the ocean, likely due to fatigue after a long flight.
The Star Ariel departed from Kindley Field in Bermuda at 8:41 a.m. on January 17th the following year with 20 passengers and crew en route for Kingston, Jamaica. Unlike the Star Tiger, the Star Ariel flew in excellent weather. The plane sent two radio messages at 9:32 and 9:42, reporting that it was flying 150 miles south of Kindley Field at 18,000 feet and would reach Kingston at 2:10. It was never heard from again. Despite a six-day search covering a million square miles, no trace of the plane was found.
Subsequent investigations found that the Star Ariel had switched to Kingston’s frequency at 9:37, which was unusual given that the plane was still so close to Bermuda at the time. This may have combined with problems with radio communication, including ten-minute blackouts, which may have led Kingston radio to miss any distress calls the plane may have made. Guesses as to what may have brought the Star Ariel down are scarce, again given that no wreckage was found. In the same 2009 documentary mentioned in the Cyclops entry, Tom Mangold suggested that faulty heaters may have brought down both planes. The Star Tiger flew at such a low altitude because its heater was broken, thus leaving it little room to maneuver in case of emergencies. Meanwhile, the Star Ariel could have suffered from a mid-air explosion due to hydraulic vapors being exposed to the heater.
In any case, the Tudor Avro was retired from passenger service and switched to freighter service instead. A subsequent attempt to return two Avros to passenger service ended when the Star Girl was involved in the Llandow air disaster of March 12th, 1950, when the plane stalled due to overloading upon approach to RAF Llandow in southern Wales. Of the 83 passengers and crew on board, only three survived, making it the deadliest air disaster in history at the time.
6. Douglas DC-3 NC16002 (December 28, 1948)
The Douglas DC-3 has long had a reputation as being one of the most reliable aircraft ever designed and built, with hundreds remaining in use to this day, mainly as cargo planes. Even so, a fair share of DC-3s have met with unfortunate ends, including the one registered as NC16002.
That airliner had arrived at San Juan, Puerto Rico, at 7:40 p.m. Pilot Robert Linquist noted that the landing gear warning light was not working and that the batteries were low on charge. Linquist did not want to delay the return trip to Miami, Florida, and decided to use the plane’s generator to charge the batteries mid-flight.
The plane took off at 10:03 with 32 passengers and crew, despite the way that the drained batteries were interfering with the plane’s radio transmitter. Even so, the craft was able to complete routine radio transmissions until 4:13 in the morning, when it reported that it was about 50 miles south of Miami. It was never heard from afterward.
Oddly enough, despite being allegedly that close to Miami, the DC-3’s last message was not received by Miami air traffic control. It was instead heard in New Orleans, about 600 miles away. Given that both cities had tried to warn the plane that the wind had shifted from northwest to northeast (although it is unknown whether the flight crew received that message), it is likely that the wind blew the aircraft off course. This would have been a big problem, given that the plane only had enough fuel for another hour and twenty minutes of flight time.
Even so, it seems strange that the plane should have vanished so thoroughly even with the Gulf Stream dispersing debris, given that the area in which it disappeared contains relatively shallow water. In his 2007 book The Bermuda Triangle, David West reported a story about a diver named Dr. Greg Little, who claims to have discovered a DC-3 wreck about seven miles south of Bimini in the Bahamas that may be consistent with NC16002’s description. However, DC-3s were also widely employed in the drug trade in the Bahamas during the 70s, so that’s something to keep in mind as well.
7. SS Marine Sulpher Queen (February 4, 1963)
The Sulpher Queen was among the 533 T2 oil tankers built during World War II in order to help transport vital oil to the war effort. Originally christened as the SS Esso New Haven in 1944, she was renamed and converted in 1960 to transport molten sulfur in a single tank that spanned 306 feet of its total 524-foot length.
Her final voyage began three years later when she set out from Beaumont, Texas, on February 2nd for Norfolk, Virginia. She carried 15,000 tons of molten sulfur, kept at 275 degrees, along with 39 crew members. Her last known position was a point approximately 350 miles west of Dry Tortugas, according to her last radio message on the 4th. When communications failed over the next two days, a nineteen-day search was called, mainly focusing on the Straits of Florida. While some debris, including life preservers bearing the ship’s name, was located, neither the ship itself nor her crew members have ever been discovered.
Let’s get a few facts straight before we go from zero to aliens here. The T2 tanker class was infamous for being remarkably prone to catastrophic structural failures. They were particularly prone to breaking in two in rough or cold seas, mostly due to their speedy construction, which entailed welding the steel hull plates together instead of attaching them with rivets. Indeed, such structural weaknesses were observed on the Marine Sulpher Queen before she set out on her fateful voyage (one of her crew members even told his wife that the ship was a “floating garbage can”). But her owners, being the greedy capitalists that they were, insisted that the ship set out anyway so that they wouldn’t lose out on profits. Given that sixteen-foot waves were reported in the area around the time of the disappearance, it’s entirely possible that the ship broke in two and rapidly sank like all the other T2 tankers before her.
There is also the possibility that the ship’s highly flammable sulfur cargo may have ignited and blown the ship to pieces. The Sulpher Queen’s tank was remarkably leaky, and fires often started around it. The leaking sulfur would puddle and cake around vital electrical equipment, causing it to short out. While I haven’t found any sources other than the 2005 book Ghost Ships by Angus Konstam to back this up, there have also been reports that a ship out of Honduras reported sailing through a patch of ocean that smelled strongly of sulfur off the west tip of Cuba around four days after the Sulpher Queen vanished.
A much more interesting development occurred in January of 2001. According to an article on texasescapes.com, a group of scuba divers claimed to have found a capsized wreck in the Gulf of Mexico about 140 miles west of Fort Meyers, Florida, that fit the Marine Sulpher Queen’s description in 423 feet of water. Sadly, there does not seem to have been any new developments regarding that wreck since then.
8. The Witchcraft (December 22, 1967)
This mystery revolves around a 23-foot cabin cruiser owned by hotelier Dan Burack. He had invited a close friend, Father Patrick Horgan, on an evening cruise to see the Miami Christmas lights from offshore. They planned to cut the engine near buoy #7, about a mile offshore, and take in the scenery.
The trouble started around 9 p.m. when Burack radioed the Coast Guard to inform them that the cruiser’s propeller had struck a submerged object, and the boat would consequently need to be towed. Burack seemed calm, perhaps because a) he had recently had the Witchcraft’s hull fitted for a flotation device that rendered the cruiser virtually unsinkable, and b) he had flares with which he could signal passing boats should the need arise.
This makes it seem all the more baffling that when a Coast Guard vessel did reach buoy #7 just 19 minutes later, there was no sign of the Witchcraft whatsoever. Not even a subsequent six-day long 24,500 square mile search was able to turn up any sign of the missing vessel.
So what happened? Here are some theories:
A thunderstorm that happened to pass through the area that night swept the cruiser away. The problem is that Burack seems like he could have easily radioed another SOS in that case.
Another possibility is that the fast moving Gulf Stream current carried the Witchcraft away from buoy #7 without Burack or Horgan noticing. This seems somewhat unlikely too, however, not only because of the aformentioned flotation device but also because, again, there was nothing stopping Burack from sending out another distress signal.
By far the most intruiging theory (at least for those who don’t buy into more supernatural explainations), as proposed by the likes of blogger Michelle Merritt and the YouTube channel Bedtime Stories is that Burack and Horgan faked their apparent deaths in order to avoid culpability for a criminal past.
Merritt notes that, at least to one familiar with the geography of the Miami waterfront, Burack’s route makes no sense. The biggest reason is that Burack and Horgan apparently sailed out into the Atlantic to view the Christmas lights, which should have been easier to see from within Biscayne Bay. She also notes that buoy #7 is not a mile offshore, as most reports claim, but only 300 yards from South Pointe Park, where it marks the entrance into Government Cut. Furthermore, given that Burack’s home was located about 2.5 miles north of South Pointe Park, it seems like he was going rather far for such a casual outing. All of this led Merritt to conclude that Burack and Horgan lied about their actual position to the Coast Guard, presumably to lead them on a wild goose chase.
But why? Merritt notes that Miami was in dire financial straits at the time. Several millionaires living in the city had been robbed, with the thieves using the waterfront as a highway to untold riches. Burack had been struggling financially for years, especially after his Galen Hall Hotel burned down under curious circumstances in 1963. After completing a new resort, the Galen Beach, he sold out his interest in the property. With the city doing down the tubes, Burack likely saw that his hotelier career was over, and he and Father Horgan sailed off into history.
Also worth noting is what happened to one of Burack’s neighbors precisely one month after the Witchcraft disappeared. On January 22nd, 1968, Saverio “Sam” Codomo, a real estate developer with Mafia ties, was throwing a party for his recently wed daughter when two masked bandits broke in and tied everyone up. They stole several valuable coins and escaped by boat.
Coincidence? Who knows?
9. SS Sylvia M. Ossa (October 15, 1976)
This T2 tanker was christened as Egg Harbor in 1943, was rebuilt as a bulk carrier in 1963, and had been renamed seven times throughout her years of service. She set out from Rio de Janeiro with a cargo of iron ore bound for Philadelphia and was reported lost alongside all 37 crew members around 140 miles west of Bermuda. If the New York Times is to be believed, the only debris ever recovered was an oil slick, a capsized lifeboat, and a life preserver with scorch marks on it.
Many Triangle enthusiasts are quick to jump on supernatural explanations due to statements from a Coast Guard spokesman that the weather was clear that day, with calm seas and visibility for forty miles. However, the same New York Times article mentioned above also notes that two days before the Ossa was reported missing, she had set out a radio message stating that she had run into gale-force winds and thus would be overdue for her arrival in Philly. The seas may have been much heavier than the crew anticipated, however.
10. SS Poet (October 1980)
This ship started life as the USS General Omar Bundy in August of 1944, serving as a transport ship for the US Navy in the final months of World War II. She remained in military service until 1964, when she entered the private sector and was converted into a cargo ship. She changed names several times and was going by the SS Poet when she sailed on her final voyage.
She departed Philadelphia on October 24th, 1980, carrying 34 crew members and 13,500 tons of yellow corn bound for Port Said, Egypt. The ship radioed its position off Cape Henlopen, Delaware, at 9:00 that evening. When it failed to radio any updates by November 3rd, six days before its scheduled arrival at Port Said, a massive search covering over 750,000 square miles was called. Not a single piece of debris was recovered.
Theories for what happened have included that the ship was hijacked by Iranian terrorists, pirates, or the New Jersey-based Gambino crime family. Another theory is that a storm that rolled across the ship’s route the night after its departure from Philly sank it. Some have even suggested that water might have gotten into the cargo hold and caused the corn to expand to the point that it could have ruptured the hull. While the ship was old and likely had been kept in service long after it should have been retired, it seems rather unlikely that the hull was that flimsy.
Others have suggested that a rogue wave might have capsized the ship. These unpredictable waves, reaching 80-100 foot heights, have been known to spring up during storms to swallow ships whole. Indeed, a possible rogue wave has also been implicated in the disappearance of the Sylvia M. Ossa as well.
Hopefully by now, one can see that the Bermuda Triangle mystery really isn’t a mystery at all. Practically every significant reported disappearance reported in the region has a logical explanation when you really look into it. True, the Triangle region has played host to several UFO reports and even some sea monster sightings. One particularly unusual case involves the crew of the famous submersible Alvin, who allegedly encountered a creature that looked awfully similar to a small plesiosaur in October of 1969 while inspecting undersea cables in the Tongue of the Ocean in the Bahamas. Then again, I learned about that particular incident from another Charles Berlitz book, Without a Trace, so maybe take that one with a grain of salt.
In all, practically every source knowledgeable about the area, from the Coast Guard to NOAA to Lloyd’s of London, has denied that the Bermuda Triangle is any more dangerous than any other part of the ocean, especially considering the heavy air and sea traffic that goes through the region every day. Indeed, when the World Wide Fund for Nature published a study demonstrating the ten most dangerous waters for shipping in 2013, the South China Sea, the North Sea, and the Mediterranean made the cut, but not the Bermuda Triangle. Indeed, when all is said and done, it seems like the Bridgewater Triangle has more to offer the average mystery hunter than the Bermuda Triangle.
And that’s all I have to say about the Bermuda Triangle, but not the rest of the Vile Vortices. Tune in next time for the conclusion of my paranormal triangles world tour where I examine Ivan T. Sanderson’s theory to see if there is anything to his theory of there being twelve Bermuda Triangles! See you soon!
In the time since I wrote my last article debunking common climate change denier myths, I’ve come across several more that I feel need to be addressed. Some I heard from my Dad or other family members and others from documentaries specifically trying to debunk some of these myths. I figured I’d throw my two cents in the ring to maybe help science win out over the short-sighted greed of Big Oil, Big Coal, and the lying politicians that help keep them in business. No need for a grandiose intro; let’s just jump right into it!
1. It’s the volcanoes, stupid!
Over the past 250 years, humans have added just one part of CO2 in 10,000 to the atmosphere. One volcanic cough can do this in a day.
Ian Plimer, “Legislative time bomb,” ABC News Australia, August 13th, 2009
It is undoubtedly true that there is far more carbon stored in the rocks of the Earth’s crust than there is in the atmosphere or the ocean. It is also true that volcanoes expel anywhere from 65 to 319 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.
Here’s the catch, though. Scientists have demonstrated that the amount of CO2 pumped into the air due to the burning of fossil fuels equates to an average of 34 billion tons, about 100 times greater than the volume produced by volcanoes.
Yes, volcanoes do influence climate patterns, but that has far more to do with sulfate aerosols than carbon emissions, and those tend to cause cooling rather than warming as they reflect sunlight.
Speaking of which…
2. Warming is caused by a lack of volcanic activity.
It is true that the early twentieth century was largely bereft of big explosions between the eruption of Novarupta in Alaska in 1912 and the eruption of Mount Agung in Bali in 1963. It is also true that recent eruptions (most notably Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991) caused global temperatures to decrease as much as 0.3 degrees Celsius.
However, scientists have demonstrated that the comparative lack of volcanic activity between 1925 and 1960 cannot account for the warming that has occurred since the 1970s. Indeed, measurements of aerosol optical thickness, or AOD, data since 1979 has shown that only about 0.12 degrees Celsius at most of the 0.5 degrees of surface warming observed during that period can be attributed to volcanic activity.
3. It’s the solar cycles, stupid!
I already discussed solar cycles, specifically the solar magnetic activity cycle, in the previous climate change myths article, in which I debunked the common myth that sunspots have more to do with warming climate than the greenhouse effect. I especially made clear that the gap between Cycle 23 and Cycle 24 displayed above should have meant a global drop in temperature between 2000 and 2008 (albeit with a different graph than this one), which clearly did not happen. However, there are other solar cycles deniers have turned to in trying to prove their “superior knowledge,” including the Milankovich cycle.
Unlike the magnetic activity cycle, which has more to do with varying solar radiation levels, the Milankovich cycle has more to do with eccentricities in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. First hypothesized by Serbian astronomer and geophysicist Milutin Milankovich in the 1920s, this theory has helped planetary climatologists demonstrate how changes in Earth’s orbit can affect planetary climate patterns.
Naturally, climate change deniers have seized on this cycle to try to explain away the recent warming trend. Indeed, I recently remember hearing my Dad explain to Mom about some kind of thousands-year-long cycle (I want to say 30-40,000 years) that the Earth was going into again as yet another reason why there’s nothing to worry about.
However, there’s one big reason why this assumption is way off base, as NASA’s climate blog demonstrates. The changes caused by any of the variables covered by the Milankovich cycle (changes in orbit shape, in Earth axial precession or “wobbling,” and changes in the planet’s tilt) work on geologic time, meaning that they take thousands of years to have any noticeable effects. It is exceedingly evident that the warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution has risen far too fast to be caused by anything other than the burning of fossil fuels.
Furthermore, the planet is currently in an interglacial period, which means that global temperatures should have continued on a 6,000-year downward trend. But the sheer amount of CO2 we’ve been adding to the atmosphere has canceled much of that out. The same NASA article I linked above mentions that natural concentrations of atmospheric CO2 tend to vary between 180 and 280 parts per million (or PPM for short). The current concentration rests at around 417 PPM, the highest levels we’ve seen in 650,000 years. Be afraid, people!
4. Other planets are warming.
This argument has been applied to eight other large bodies orbiting around our Sun. Most of these arguments tend to focus on four in particular: Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto. Deniers argue that if these other planets are warming, it is proof positive that it is solar radiation and not CO2 warming the Earth.
Let us examine each of these planets, in turn, to see if these arguments hold up to scrutiny:
First of all, collecting climate data from Mars is problematic since we know so little about the Red Planet. Still, there are various factors that scientists point out that we should take into account when assessing its climate patterns:
First, the Red Planet’s orbital eccentricities are five times greater than that of Earth’s.
Second, unlike Earth, Mars has no oceans and a very thin atmosphere, making its climate much more suceptible to extraterrestrial influences.
Third, Mars frequently experiences massive dust storms which have an enormous impact on climate patterns.
Finally, we have little to no historical data prior to the 1970s to compare with current observed changes, so we have no way of knowing if these changes are frequent trends or infrequent outliers.
Jupiter has not actually experienced any observed warming. Such warming is predicted based on the idea that several of the gas giant’s famous storms along the equator are merging into one humungous super-storm, which is projected to cause warming around the planet’s equator and cooling at its poles.
The argument that Neptune is warming is based on an observed increase in the planet’s luminosity around 2007 and that of its largest moon, Triton. However, this was a case of seasonal change: Neptune takes around 165 years, which means that it only completed its first orbit since it was discovered in 1846 in 2011. What scientists observed was summer coming to Neptune’s southern hemisphere.
As for Pluto, determining its climate patterns is even more problematic than with Mars. Its orbit takes 248 years, and it was only discovered in 1930. It has only been briefly visited one space probe, the New Horizons, in July of 2015. Indeed, the only “evidence” that the dwarf planet is warming comes from two observations made in 1998 and 2002. As SkepticalScience.com points out, that would be equivalent to making observations about Earth’s climate based on data collected over just three weeks out of a whole year! We simply do not know enough about Pluto to make these kinds of judgments.
Finally, I reiterate that solar radiation levels have been on a downward trend for the last forty years! The Sun is not causing this abnormal warming!
5. There was no warming during the Industrial Revolution.
Why didn’t we have global warming during the Industrial Revolution? In those days you couldn’t have seen across the street for all the carbon emissions and the crap coming out of the chimneys.
Alan Titchmarsh, quoted in “Back to nature,” The Telegraph, October 6, 2007
I remember my grand-uncle making a similar argument around Thanksgiving. He claimed that we would have seen it long before contemporary times if CO2 really were causing a worldwide increase in temperature. But here’s a good question for people who make this kind of argument: How much CO2 do you think it takes to cause a noticeable warming trend?
I don’t know what their answer would be, but, as always, scientists have crunched the numbers. In the late 18th century, during the first fifty years of the Industrial Revolution, emissions averaged out to about 3-7 million metric tons. By about 1850, the average had increased to 54 million. And what’s the current emission rate? Ten billion metric tons of CO2 a year, I shit you not!
As for Titchmarsh’s quote up above… you do realize that carbon emissions are different from soot, right?
6. The switch to renewables will destroy the economy.
One major study that pushes this myth was complied by Spanish economist Gabriel Calzada Alvarez in 2009, who claimed that for every new job created in the alternative energy sector, Spain lost 2.2 jobs in other economic sectors. Let’s put aside the fact that Calzada is involved with a libertarian think tank that takes money from Exxon Mobil (which alone should discredit him) and instead examine the multiple ways the study fails with even a cursory glance.
First, the study underestimated the number of jobs created by renewable energy in Spain since 2000. Calzada claims the number of jobs created was less than 50,200, whereas the United Nations Environmental Programme puts the number closer to 188,000.
Second, Calzada’s arguments should mean that the Spanish province of Navarre, which currently obtains 70% of its energy from renewable sources, should be experiencing high unemployment. However, Jose Maria Roig Aldasoro, the province’s Regional Minister of Innovation, Enterprise, and Employment, pointed out in direct response to Calzada’s study that unemployment in Navarre decreased from 12.8% in 1994 to less than 5% in 2007.
Third, Calzada was discovered to have cherry-picked data in order to support his conclusions. Perhaps most egregiously, he claimed that solar energy destroyed 15,000 jobs in the previous year, seemingly ignoring that that is a drop in a bucket compared to a 500% increase in the sector over the previous three years.
Fourth, Calzada seems to operate under the belief that government subsidies into the creation of green jobs crowd out private investments, which he believes are more efficient at job creation. This ignores the fact that private investments are at an all-time low thanks to economic stagnation and that this only really works when all economic resources are being utilized, which very rarely happens.
Finally, Calzada is proven wrong by the fact that many studies, including one done in 2004 by UC Berkeley, have shown that the renewable energy sector creates more jobs than fossil fuels, mostly because renewable energy tends to involve more labor-intensive manufacturing, installation, and maintenance than coal or oil extraction and transportation. True, renewable energy tends to be more expensive than nonrenewable, but that’s only because fossil fuel companies do not account for the air pollution and health effects that their products produce.
In short, Calzada’s study was clearly reaching for excuses to support oil over solar to make its Exxon donors happy. Speaking of being paid off…
7. Climate scientists are being paid off.
It is, of course, very tempting to dismiss this argument as a case of psychological projection. After all, it’s common knowledge by now how Exxon-Mobil, Koch Industries, and other fossil fuel companies have spent years lobbying politicians and the public to sow doubt about the scientific consensus behind anthropogenic climate change. But for the sake of argument, let us see how conservatives justify this narrative in their own words:
In truth, the overwhelming majority of climate-research funding comes from the federal government and left wing foundations. And while the energy industry funds both sides of the climate debate, the government/foundations monies go only toward research that advances the warming regulatory agenda. With a clear public policy outcome in mind, the government/foundation gravy train is a much greater threat to scientific integrity.
Henry Payne, “Global Warming: Follow the Money,” National Review, February 25, 2015
How do skeptics claim that scientists acquire such funds? Mainly research grants, which sometimes can reach millions of dollars. However, Scott Mandia, writing on his WordPress blog, has a question for deniers who follow this line of reasoning:
How many climate scientists are driving a Mercedes sports coupe or other $100,000+ car into a three car garage in a posh gated neighborhood?
Scott Mandia, “Taking the Money for Grant(ed)- Part 1,” Global Warming: Man or Myth?, updated on March 22, 2010
Mandia uses a NASA grant proposal he and his team received the month he wrote that article to demonstrate how grant money is usually spent. Out of the $437,232.67 his team receives over three years, the total costs come out to:
$152,678.50 to pay the 135 participants and trainees.
$4000 for consulting services to assess the cirricula being developed.
$76,064.25 for adminsitrative fees and others that are not collected by those named on the grant.
$204,489.92 to actually pay the investigators over the three years.
Mandia himself only receives $16,088.25 per year, while the PI, or principal investigator, at $16,391.77, barely gets over $300 more. Not exactly Mercedes money.
Meanwhile, oil companies like Exxon Mobil and BP made profits in excess of $20 billion in 2020, far more than any company solely investing in green energy, which is certainly enough to sway more unscrupulous scientists into selling their souls to live in the lap of luxury.
Climate scientist Richard Alley also made this salient point regarding this point in this interview:
If we could overturn global warming; if we could prove that CO2 was not a greenhouse gas; if we could prove that we could burn all we want and not worry about it, how exciting would that be?… Is there any possibility [that out of] tens of thousands of scientists, there isn’t one of them that’s got the ego to do that?! It’s absurd! It’s absolutely, unequivabably absurd! We’re people and we’ve got it in us the way people do.
“What drives scientists- Richard Alley,” published by the channel UQx Denial101x Making Sense of Climate Science Denial on August 25, 2015
Trust me, if any scientist ever found definitive proof that CO2 emissions weren’t causing climate change, everyone from National Geographic to ExxonMobil to the New York Times and everyone in between would be hailing them as the hero or heroine of the century. But none has arrived so far, and until then, we have to treat anthropogenic warming as an absolute certainty.
8. Why are we focusing on America and ignoring China?
It’s easy for deniers to cry hypocrisy when it comes to comparing America’s CO2 output with China’s. After all, China has had the dubious honor of being the largest emitter of greenhouse gases since 2006. Take this graph from 2017, for instance.
Indeed, since China’s total CO2 emissions far outpace those of the United States, you might understand at first glance why deniers might be incensed by environmentalists giving the U.S. such a hard time when China is clearly so much worse.
But notice the right-hand side of the graph. That side shows the tons of CO2 per person that were released into the atmosphere in 2017. When one looks at the data there, one can easily see that America’s CO2 emissions are far greater than China’s (which is rather impressive, given that China’s population of over 1.4 billion is far larger than America’s).
One also has to look at the cumulative amount of CO2 each country has historically emitted from 1850 in order to truly make the comparison fair. When looking through the lens of this metric, it becomes obvious that the U.S. once again outpaces China by a wide margin.
But even if all of this wasn’t true, so what? Do any other countries’ CO2 emissions absolve us of our own climatological sins? As the biggest global superpower, don’t you think we should be setting a good example for others to follow? I’m just saying, maybe those three-quarters of a trillion dollars that we spend on our military every year might be better spent on building up instead of breaking down.
9. CO2 limits will hurt the poor.
Climate change skeptics love to argue that enforcing restrictions on CO2 emissions would have a dangerous impact on the GDP of developing nations like India and many countries in Africa and South America. Of course, as my debunking of myth no. 6 on this list demonstrates, investment in renewables is likely to help these countries more than hurt them. But, of course, the real question here is, “Which will hurt the Global South more? CO2 limits or climate change itself?”
To answer this question, James Samson led a team of climate scientists in creating a new metric known as the Climate Demography Vulnerability Index (or CDVI for short) in 2011. First, they measured how much a population in any region on Earth is predicted to grow as well as how much the local climate is expected to change to determine which areas are most vulnerable. This showed that the areas most vulnerable to climate change were central South America, Eastern and Southern Africa, and the Middle East.
They next compared this metric to the amount of CO2 emissions that each country produced per capita and found that the countries that contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions were the ones most affected.
It is also highly unlikely that these countries will have the infrastructure necessary to handle these drastic climate impacts. In this light, Skeptical Science.com argues that the assertion that “CO2 impacts will hurt the poor” is just a dog-whistle for “Rich, developed countries should be allowed to pollute as much as they want.”
This kind of entitlement, along with the massive waves of immigration that are likely to result from climate impacts in the Global South, lead to the final climate myth I will cover here, which is by far the darkest of them all.
10. Overpopulation is causing the warming trend.
Here is where the ugly specter of fascism rears its ugly head once again.
Many experts have noticed that the far-right is starting to turn away from outright climate denial and finding an alternative source for the warming trend. They blame overpopulation, immigration, and multicultural attitudes towards certain populations they see as inferior.
“But Preston,” I imagine you must be asking from beyond your computer screens, “isn’t environmentalism a left-wing ideology.” Not always. Many ecofascists today (perhaps most notably Anders Brevik) have cited Madison Grant as an influence. You may remember Grant as one of the founders of the wildlife management discipline, but he is far more infamous for his influence in the fields of eugenics and scientific racism. Perhaps the most damning indictment of Grant’s legacy is the fact that none other than Adolf Hitler referred to his 1916 book The Passing of the Great Race as “my Bible.”
Speaking of the Nazis, much of their ideology also contained ecological undertones. Social ecologist Janet Biehl has argued that the Nazis had a deep abiding interest in “traditional agrarian romanticism and a hostility to urban civilization.” Indeed, the infamous white nationalist slogan “Blood and Soil” was first popularized by prominent Nazi ecologist and race theorist Richard Walther Darre, explicitly tying the Aryan race’s ancestry to the land that is “rightfully” theirs.
Ecofasict tendencies have continued to flourish through the writings of radicals like Ted “the Unabomber” Kaczynski, and Pentti Linkola. You may remember me mentioning Linkola in my Halloween article on Deathspell Omega, where their suspected vocalist, Mikko Aspa, cited him as an influence on his politics. Allow me to provide you with some more context as to why Aspa’s support of this man is such a red flag.
Linkola, who died in April 2020 at the age of 87, believed that democracies were ineffectual at preventing large-scale ecological collapse and that the only way to save humanity was mass murder to curb exponential population growth. He was a devout believer in “lifeboat ethics,” a philosophical concept developed by Garrett Hardin, an American ecologist well known for his anti-immigrant activism. Indeed, this Linkola quote succinctly (and chillingly) summarizes what lifeboat ethics is all about:
What to do when a ship carrying one hundred passengers suddenly capsizes and only one lifeboat? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship’s axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides of the boat.
Pentti Linkola, The Doctrine of Survival and Doctor Ethics, 1992
We’ve seen similar expressions of a need to stop overpopulation even in more left-wing philosophies like anarcho-primitivism and the deep ecology movement, who also often argue for a drastic reduction in human population growth to prevent ecological catastrophe.
But I think all this is missing an important question: Does human overpopulation even exist in the first place? Leaving aside the fact that I already demonstrated that the Global South has little to no impact on greenhouse gas emissions, many environmentalists have argued that people arguing this Malthusian rhetoric are painting a reductive picture of what is really going on.
United Nations statistics have pointed out that population growth has actually slowed worldwide since the 1960s will likely start to level out sometime later this century and then start declining. Other critics have argued that issues like world hunger aren’t caused by overpopulation; they’re caused by late-stage capitalist inefficiency leading to resources not getting where they need to. Still others have argued that fears of overpopulation in the Global South have racist and colonialist undertones to them (for example, American biologist Paul Ehrlich claimed that his 1968 book The Population Bomb was first inspired by a trip he took to Delhi, India). As environmentalist David Roberts notes in this article he wrote for Vox, “where you find concern over ‘population,’ you very often find racism, xenophobia, or eugenics waiting in the wings.”
Indeed, Roberts also correctly notes that population growth often slows whenever women become more educated and start entering the workforce. He also points to income inequality as a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions.
So once again, the problem turns out to be capitalism all along. Why am I not surprised?
And that’s the end of this second go-round at helping to put paid to several more climate change myths. Once again, a big thank you to SkepticalScience.com for helping inform the critiques of these new myths. Join me next time for some more debunking as I dive into the mysterious waters of the Bermuda Triangle to uncover the truth behind some of its most famous disappearances. Until next time, friends.
It’s a new year, beautiful watchers, and it’s coming upon almost two years since I started this blog. Incidentally, it was actually one of my 2020 New Years’ resolutions to start this blog. Now, in 2022, I’ve three more. In order of the most to least likely I’m am to actually accomplishing it, they are:
Start doing sit-ups everyday. I feel like I should be doing a little more exercise considering that I’m usually spending 70% of my days off sitting down, either in front of a computer or reading a book. Besides, I’m kind of curious to see how far the number I can do in one sitting goes up by the end of the year.
Get a drivers’ license. I flunked the first driving course I took when I was in high school, and another one I took during college ended up getting cut short because of what I assume was a bureaucratic foul-up. This isn’t to say that I’m not totally blameless: I tend to get easily distracted, which certainly isn’t an ideal quality in a potential driver. However, I feel like I would be less of a burden on my parents if I was able to drive myself to wherever I needed to go.
Learn how to play the guitar. It feels kind of weird being as obsessed with music as I am and yet not being able to play an instrument. The problem is that the instruments I have available to play on hand are… less than satisfactory. One is a classical guitar made by Hohner that has a body so big that I can barely get my arms around it. The other is a much smaller children’s beginner guitar made by First Act that is much easier to handle but is missing its lower E string. Of course, assuming that I manage to surmount those obstacles, there’s still the matter of whether or not I have the patience to actually master the riffs. Still, there’s plenty of easy ones to start with. Pantera’s “Walk” might be a good place to start.
But you probably don’t care about all that. You’re probably more interested in what I have planned for writing on the blog (and possibly also DeviantArt). To be honest, however, I’m kind of low on ideas at the moment. True, I still have ongoing series like “P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist” and “The Complete Noob’s Guide to the Left” to keep me occupied. But beyond that, I’m having trouble coming up with new ideas beyond direct follow-ups to subjects I’ve already written about. Indeed, beyond the series I mentioned above, I have two main concrete ideas right now:
The first is a follow-up to the one I wrote about ten common climate change denial myths. I’ve come to believe that the original top ten list didn’t cover enough myths, especially because I’ve since learned about major ones that I missed, like the idea that volcanoes emit more carbon than humans. I’ve also heard new ones from Dad or other relatives (like one involving a 27,000 year solar cycle that’s causing the Earth to start moving away from the Sun, thus causing a period of cooling… maybe. I don’t remember the details). You can probably expect that one sometime later this month.
The next are two more ideas for posts relating to the subject of paranormal triangles, which I think may come out sometime next month (which is fitting, since my first paranormal triangles article came out on February of last year). The first is going to look at ten of the most infamous disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle to determine whether or not more mundane factors might have led to their vanishing. The second is going to look at Ivan T. Sanderson’s concept of “vile vortices”, of which the Bermuda Triangle is a part, to determine whether or not these places really are as dangerous as Sanderson claimed they were.
I’ve also been considering making lists debunking myths relating to the 2020 presidential election and myths relating to the January 6th insurrection. I’ll also definitely be continuing my look into offshoots of Marxist-Leninist philosophy in my “Noob’s Guide” series in my never-ending quest to prove that there is an alternative to the neoliberal capitalist system that made the Capitol insurrection happen in the first place.
But beyond all that, there is something else that has been bugging me. I’ve mentioned before that I am a huge animation buff. But I feel that hasn’t been reflected that well in my work on this site. Aside from the article I wrote on the “animation age ghetto” and the reviews I wrote of Watership Down’sthree animatedadaptations so far, I haven’t done much in that arena. I still need a bit of time to figure out how I might remedy that, although the best idea I have right now is maybe going through each year going backward from 2021 and seeing which films and T.V. series were the best of each year. Maybe. We’ll see.
On top of all that, I want to focus more attention this year on The Divine Conspiracy on DeviantArt. I find it hard to muster up the courage to actually work on my “magnum opus,” though, mainly because I find the amount of ambition that I’ve invested into the concept intimidating. I have so many things that I want this series to be. I want to explore ideas from the esoteric sides of religion and spirituality that I barely even understand. I want to convincingly show the weight of the cosmic horror elements pressing down on the Banks family. I want it to be an accurate portrait of the world as I see it, with the dark supernatural forces battling the Banks’ constantly exacerbating reactionary and regressive forces that are tearing both America and the world apart. I want to be sure I can make my characters actual characters and not just one note stereotypes and stock archetypes. Above all else, though, I want it to be a good fantasy series that makes people laugh, cry, grip their seats in terror, and hits the same emotions as any of the great fantasy epics of our time.
But I’ll deal with those struggles as they come, and my PrestonPosits watchers can expect a further short update regarding my activities on DeviantArt in the near future. For now, though, let’s hope this New Year is better than the last two. I look forward to what I can accomplish in the year to come, and I hope you’ll stick with me for the ride. Until next time, beautiful watchers!
…and it is easily one of the most joyless media-watching experiences I have ever had to endure.
We all know Charles Dickens’ story of how the elderly miser Ebenezer Scrooge is transformed into a kinder, gentler soul when several ghostly spirits help him see the true magic of the holiday season. We’ve also seen it portrayed in many adaptions starring Reginald Owen, Alastair Sim, Albert Finney, George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart, and many others in the title role (although the version starring Michael Caine alongside the Muppets will always be my personal favorite). It has been well renowned for not only helping to codify many modern Christmas traditions in a time when the holiday had slowly been regaining popularity in Victorian England but also for simply being a life-affirming story about the value of kindness and generosity.
Even so, some have noted that the story, despite acknowledging the plight of the poor numerous times, doesn’t really engage with the question of why they’re impoverished in the first place and paints too much of a happy, sentimental picture over the very genuine and very terrible suffering that the lower classes went through in this period. Need I remind you that Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto appeared only five years after A Christmas Carol was published?
It seems that this was the lens that Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight was approaching the story through when he wrote the three episodes that make up the 2019 adaptation. He decided to lift the veil on the horrific conditions that the proletariat worked under as the age of capitalism truly codified itself in the early 1800s. But does Knight’s approach work when he applies his critiques of systemic abuse to an adaptation of A Christmas Carol of all things?
Before I go into my many, MANY problems with this adaptation, however, I should at least go into what I felt the series did right.
The best element that the series has going for it is its cast. Despite being much younger than the traditional image most of us have of an elderly skinflint, Guy Pearce is suitably imposing, manipulative, and chilling as a more middle-aged Scrooge. Stephen Graham is obviously having fun playing Jacob Marley, providing most of the series’ rare moments of comic relief as he stumbles in confusion through Purgatory. Another standout performance is Andy Serkis as a much more grizzled and imposing version of the Ghost of Christmas Past than we’re used to.
Meanwhile, Vinette Robinson gives an intense performance as Mary, the matriarch of the long-suffering Cratchit family, while Lenny Rush is delightfully adorable as Tiny Tim.
Another point in the series’ favor is its cinematography and set design. The setting is appropriately Victorian, and the design for Purgatory is suitably dark and Christmassy. It takes the form of what looks like a giant abandoned Christmas tree lot, which is tended by the Ghost of Christmas Past periodically burning the trees.
The more horror film-inspired scenes are also very creative, especially during the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come sequence when Scrooge sees the ceiling of his office transform into a frozen pond surface and watches in horror as Tiny Tim falls through it and drowns.
That being said, the series also does that annoying thing some cinematographers do in that they try to emphasize the darkness of the story by making the shots so dark that you can barely tell what’s happening onscreen. This series is definitely guilty of that, although it does brighten up a little as the story goes along.
The literal darkness is one thing, but the thematic darkness inherent to this version of the story is what ruins it. For example, this version begins with a boy with a prominent facial scar pissing on Marley’s grave. This alone is cringeworthy edgelord bullshit, but what pushes it into unintentional hilarity is that as some of the piss drips on Marley’s corpse, he wakes up and starts loudly complaining about how he’s not allowed to rest in peace. And it all goes downhill from there.
The biggest sin that this series commits is the way it handles Scrooge himself. One can argue that Scrooge in the original novella really wasn’t all that bad a guy. True, he is ruthless in charging his financially challenged debtors for more than their meager dwellings are worth. He also just sits on his wealth rather than spend it on anything and pays Bob Cratchit starvation wages that more than likely are condemning his youngest son to an early death. Plus, when told that the poor would rather die than slave away in prisons or workhouses, he famously responds, “Well, if they’re going to die, they’d better do it and decrease the surplus population!” But that type of evil is subtle enough that some readers (especially those more sympathetic to Ayn Rand) might wonder why he’s treated as evil at all, especially since he is presented as scrupulously honest and, for all his grumbling, does allow Cratchit to take Christmas Day off.
Unfortunately, Knight’s solution to this problem goes so far beyond the realm of good taste that one ends up concluding that Pearce’s Scrooge deserves nothing more than an eternity in the lowest pit of Hell. For example, unlike in the novella where Scrooge and Marley’s business doesn’t seem to go beyond the impoverished Londoners they lend money to, this version portrays them as the Victorian era equivalent of a private equity firm, buying struggling small businesses for far less than they’re worth and gradually ruining them for a profit. The consequences of this are shown plainly when the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge a factory explosion and a mine collapse that was directly caused by his financial meddling. Indeed, the boy shown pissing on Marley’s grave was a survivor of the mine disaster.
But that’s nothing compared to what made Scrooge this way in the first place.
(Major trigger warning for those sensitive to issues of sexual assault, especially the kind involving children. Please proceed with caution for the following three paragraphs!)
Knight was determined to show Scrooge as having the worst childhood possible, from watching a pet mouse gifted to him by his sister get decapitated by his howling drunken beast of a father…
…to his father letting him be sexually assaulted by his schoolmaster so that he could get a discount on tuition fees. Incidentally, this leads to the other most infamous scene in the series when Scrooge’s sister (named Lottie in this version) pulls a gun on the schoolmaster to rescue Scrooge from his abuse after their father dies. I will admit that I was rather entertained by this scene, mostly because of present-day Scrooge’s reaction (“She pulled a fucking gun on him!” he exclaims in shock).
Later, the effects of this abuse are shown when Mary Cratchit, desperate for money to save Tiny Tim’s life, asks Scrooge for help. Scrooge says he will, but only if she will come to his house to prostitute herself. When she is halfway undressed, however, Scrooge tells her to put her clothes back on, as he wasn’t interested in sex, just in trying to prove how easily people will abandon their morals for money. The Ghost of Christmas Past storms away afterward, convinced that Scrooge is beyond all hope of redemption.
Many critics trashed the series for this, as it seemed less like Knight was using this to open up a dialogue about these issues and more like he just added them for shock value. It doesn’t help that after Scrooge dismisses Mary, she lays a curse on him that is strongly implied to have set Marley and the Spirits on him. The ending even implies that Mary will continue to enlist the Spirits’ help to punish men who abuse women. Many reviewers have pointed out how having the only central non-white character be into witchcraft is… rather tone-deaf at best, but that’s probably a conversation for someone more qualified than me to have.
The unrelenting grimness of the proceedings is not helped by how sluggish the pacing is. The series runs for three episodes that bring it up to a total runtime of just seven minutes shy of three hours. And believe me, you will feel every single minute of it, especially if you watch it all in one sitting as I did with the version shown on Hulu (plus commercials! Joy to the fucking world!).
To give you an idea of just how badly the series paces itself, let me show you where the appropriate plot beats happen in this version of the story:
Scrooge doesen’t even leave his office until about 40 minutes in. Most other feature-length adaptions are well into the Ghost of Chrsitmas Past sequence by this point.
Jacob Marley’s meeting with Scrooge happens an hour in, at the beginning of the second episode!
The Ghost of Christmas Past sequence last for about seventy-five minutes! And virtually all of it is spent wallowing in Scrooge’s miserable childhood and equally miserable business career watching him carry on the cycle of abuse to basically all of London’s lower class (and possibly even farther: Marley mentions them having employees as far away as India). There is no Christmas cheer to be seen anywhere. Scrooge’s eternally sunny nephew Fred never shows up again after his short visit in the beginning and Fezziwig has become Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Adaptaion.
The consequently truncated Ghost of Christmas Present sequence, which only lasts twenty minutes, doesn’t lighten the atmosphere one bit. For one thing, the role of said Ghost is filled by, of all characters, Scrooge’s deceased sister, presumably just to remind us more about how Scrooge sucks. And for another, because Mary Cratchit is a witch in this version (ugh!), when Scrooge visits the Cratchit dwelling, she’s able to see him, which causes her to have a nervous breakdown and ruin Christmas for everyone. Fa la la la la, la la, la la!
Finally, with not even half an hour left, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come finally arrives… and he looks utterly ridculous!
All of this makes the ending scenes feel incredibly rushed. Scrooge decides to reject redemption because he doesn’t feel he deserves it (Yeah, no shit!) and decides instead that all he wants is to save Tiny Tim from the skating accident he foresaw, which he accomplishes by spreading salt over the ice. He then visits the Cratchits to announce that he’s shutting down his business, thanks Mary for summoning the spirits (ugh!), and heads off to try to become the best person he can be. And despite Pearce’s best efforts to bring back memories of the joyful Scrooges of old, none of it feels convincing. This is still a ruthless, sexually harassing capitalist we’re talking about. After almost three hours of Steven Knight ripping out all of the salvation present in the story, it’s hard for me to get on board with him suddenly taking a 180 and saying, “See, I can do Christmas cheer too!”
I get what Steven Knight was trying to do. He wanted to lift the veil on the economic conditions underpinning this beloved classic and recontextualize it with our more modern understanding. But in doing so, he ended up removing everything that made A Christmas Carol a beloved classic in the first place. Scrooge is turned into an irredeemably awful cad, the darker elements are handled with about as much subtlety as a Monty Python sketch, the story is too busy wallowing in the melodrama to actually go anywhere most of the time, and the supposedly “happy” ending is so rushed and underdeveloped that it almost makes the whole affair seem like an unfunny joke.
Hell, I almost recommend watching Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas instead: at least that film’s incompetence makes for good riffing material at parties and such. Basically, any adaptation of A Christmas Carol is better than this one simply by virtue of having some goddamn cheerfulness to them as opposed to three hours of wallowing in a cycle of abuse. And I’m giving this one a 3/10. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Marxism-Leninism was by far the most widespread strain of socialist thought to emerge in the 20th century. It was the form of government that the Soviet Union took after the death of Vladimir Lenin, as Josef Stalin sought to combine Lenin’s philosophy with that of Karl Marx. The results were wildly successful for a time; at its height in the early to mid-1980s, thirty countries followed Marxist-Leninist principles when setting up their socialist governments. But today, only four are still considered bona fide Marxist-Leninist states: Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, and China. But did these states fail on their own merits, like capitalist propaganda would have us believe? Or did capitalism end up strangling the baby in its crib to stop the working class from seeing a better way?
Before we answer those questions, we must first examine what Marxist-Leninists actually believe. The main difference between Marx and Lenin was that Lenin thought that Marx had been mistaken when he predicted that the working class would achieve solidarity as poverty got worse and more jobs were replaced by machines. Lenin instead argued that by outsourcing hard labor to overseas colonies during the age of imperialism, the capitalist ruling class had managed to instill workers with a false sense of solidarity with the bourgeoisie. They did this mainly by providing the workers with enough benefits to satisfy them and forestall a populist uprising.
Lenin argued that the solution to this problem was to form a political party composed of intellectuals to show the misguided working class that their bourgeois solidarity is wasted on rich people who don’t care about them. With this vanguard party in place, a revolution would overthrow the old bourgeois class and be ruled under a dictatorship of the proletariat, which Marx predicted in his original writings. Lenin interpreted this “dictatorship of the proletariat” as a one-party political system that would determine what was good for the workers and establish a strong law enforcement arm to suppress counterrevolutionaries (something that many other socialist thinkers disagreed with; more on that later).
With all of this in place, the path to the classless, stateless society that Marx originally dreamed of would eventually be realized as the rest of the world saw how well the citizens of the Soviet Union were doing under the newer, better communist regime. But sadly, as history has demonstrated, capitalism doesn’t like competition as much as it claims it does.
History and Principle Figures
Russia did indeed have its socialist revolution in October of 1917 that established the very first non-capitalist nation in the modern-day. Some sources, like the Libertarian Socialist Wiki, have divided the subsequent history of Marxism-Leninism into six phases.
Phase One starts with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and ends with the invasion of the USSR by Nazi Germany in 1941. This period saw the establishment of the Soviet Union as a formal state in 1922, Josef Stalin coming to power in 1924 after Lenin’s untimely death, Mongolia becoming a socialist republic the same year, and Stalin pursuing a policy of isolationism as he pursued independent industrial development.
Phase Two lasted from 1941 to 1959. This period saw the Allied Powers’ defeat of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire with significant help from the Soviet Union and the beginning of the Cold War between the USSR and the United States. This period also saw the first big wave of new socialist republics as the USSR sought to spread its foreign influence. Yugoslavia was the first to join in 1943, followed by Poland (1945); Albania and Bulgaria (1946); Romania (1947); Czechslovakia (1948); East Germany, Hungary, and China (1949); North Korea (1950); and Cuba (1959). Stalin died in 1954, and his successor, Nikita Krushchev, pursued a policy of de-Stalinization. Meanwhile, the capitalist countries begin covert military operations to destabilize emerging communist governments like those in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954).
Phase Three lasted from 1960 to 1973 and saw the creation of several Marxist-Leninist organizations that failed to seize power in their home countries. Examples include the Naxalite movement in India, the Red Army Faction in West Germany, and the Japanese Red Army. Others successfully achieved socialism, like Yemen in 1967 and Congo and Somalia in 1969. It also saw tensions between the US and Soviet Union reach a fever pitch during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Meanwhile, tensions between the USSR and China led to the Sino-Soviet Split, as Mao Zedong accused Nikita Krushchev’s policies of de-Stalinization and attempts at peaceful coexistence with the West as a betrayal of Marxist principles. Even so, Mao himself eventually established friendly relations with the US after Nixon’s famous visit in 1972. During this period, the US would also pursue much more hostile relations with other Marxist-Leninist nations, most infamously with its toppling of Salvador Allende’s government in Chile in 1973 and the Vietnam War (1964-1975).
Phase Four lasted from 1974 to 1988 and saw the second big wave of states joining the Marxist-Leninist cause. These included Ethiopia in 1974; Benin, Angola, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Mozambique in 1975; Afghanistan in 1978; Nicaragua and Grenada in 1979; and Burkina Faso in 1983. Indeed, one might call this the golden age of Marxism-Leninism, as not only did the philosophy hold sway over 30 nation-states at this time, but revolutionaries were conducting insurrections against their capitalist regimes all over the globe, albeit with little success. Meanwhile, the US continued its fight against the rise of communism. First, it seized upon the assassination of socialist prime minister Maurice Bishop to lead an invasion that toppled Grenada’s Marxist-Leninist government in 1983. Then it joined France, Libya, Israel, and several other nations in assassinating Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara in 1987. This period also saw American president Ronald Reagan become involved in the Iran-Contra affair, in which he was outed as using money from illegal arms sales in Iran to fund the Contra movement to oust the Communist government of Nicaragua.
Phase Five, lasting from 1989 to 1992, was when the bottom dropped out of the old communist regimes, as the contradictions inherent in the centralized economies of places like the Soviet Union caused them to start falling apart, partly thanks to Mikael Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika and glasnost. The age of neoliberalism formally codified itself as authoritarian governments, communist or otherwise, were replaced by capitalist representative democracies. Only five countries still operated on Marxist-Leninist principles when it was all over; China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, and Cuba.
Phase Six, which started in 1993 and continues today, sees the remaining five socialist governments struggling to adapt to the neoliberal era. Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba remain steadfastly Marxist-Leninist despite often overbearing international pressure. Meanwhile, China has adopted more and more capitalist elements as the years have gone by, while North Korea devolved into an authoritarian hellscape. What major socialist movements are left have mostly turned to social democracy or libertarian socialism (like the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, or the PKK and Rojava movement in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria).
I have rather complex feelings about the Marxist-Leninists. On the one hand, Marxism-Leninism has a lot to answer for in terms of some of their actions, some of which might even rise to human rights violations. Indeed, the millions of deaths that occurred under events like the Holodomor in Stalinist Russia, the great famines that happened under Mao Zedong’s watch in China, and the millions of people murdered by Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia could make a strong case that trying to centralize the entire economy under government control never works.
Even many contemporary leftists had a lot of negative things to say about how Lenin and co. were handling things in Russia. For example, Polish communist Rosa Luxemburg heavily criticized Lenin’s idea of a vanguard, which she thought would lead to a one-party totalitarian state (something that would prove all too true once Stalin took power). My personal political hero, Pyotr Kropotkin, also criticized the Marxist-Leninists as being too centralized and authoritarian. The great American anarchist Emma Goldman, deported to Russia for her radical views, even wrote a two-volume book entitled My Disillusionment in Russia, in which she excoriated the Marxist-Leninists for their suppression of independent voices (something that was brilliantly depicted in the 1981 film Reds during her argument with John Reed (see my review of that film here)).
However, as my literacy of the history and philosophy of the political left has increased, I’ve also come to realize two things. The first is that, in many cases, the supposed crimes of the Marxist-Leninist regimes have often been grossly exaggerated or even outright fabricated by capitalist propagandists. Much capitalist propaganda would have us believe that all communist nations were Stalinist or Maoist hellholes where everyone was crushed under famine and economic stagnation and anyone who dared to speak out about it was deported to a life of hard labor in the gulags. Of course, this ignores the fact that the gulags were discontinued under Krushchev’s administration as part of his de-Stalinization policies. It also ignores the fact that the Soviet Union became an industrial superpower that vastly increased living standards. Many egalitarian achievements, in the form of social programs for education, housing, health, and jobs, helped lift up much of the population.
Speaking of which, that leads me to the second thing I’ve realized: that capitalism is far deadlier than communism could ever hope to be. Let’s say we take 1997’s The Black Book of Communism at its word and assume that communism has indeed killed 94 million people in the 100+ years since the Bolshevik Revolution. That doesn’t change the fact that capitalism kills just as many, if not more, people every five years!
Of course, that’s not including all the atrocities that capitalism wrought on the world during the age of imperialism. Let’s go through some of these atrocities one by one and see how long it takes to surpass The Black Book’s death toll, shall we?
The Atlantic slave trade is estimated to have directly killed around 17 million, according to the United Nations, although many estimates place the death toll much higher.
Colonial negligence by the British resulted in the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1852, which some have estimated killed as many as 1.5 million.
The colonization of North America in the wake of Christopher Columbus’ arrival lead to genocide of the Indigenous population, resulting in anywhere from 50 to 100 million deaths.
King Leopold II of Belgium’s infamously brutal treatment of rubber laborers in the Congo Free State between 1885 and 1908 resulted in the deaths of 15 million, according to the highest estimates.
Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust against the Jews, the Romani, the homosexuals, the disabled, and several other groups (resulting in over six million deaths) is a direct legacy of the systems of racism created by capitalists to justify the Atlantic slave trade.
One direct rebuttal of The Black Book by noted leftist philospher Noam Chomsky noted how deaths from hunger in India typically exceeded 4 million deaths even in non-famine years, in contrast to the 15-55 million figure death toll often applied to China’s Great Famine of 1959-1961.
Of course, that doesn’t cover nearly all the people killed by capitalism and all the genocides, wars, and just plain negligent actions that it propagates, but the point still stands. In all, I think the last paragraph of this article from the eco-socialist journal Capitalism Nature Socialism puts it best:
Leftists who object to communism will hardly put an even infinitesimal dent on the capitalist killing machine by reproducing anti-communist propaganda. It only helps intensify the threat of burgeoning anti-communist legislation and fascist street actions against the left as a whole… Let us then consciously reorganize and struggle for economically tenable classless egalitarian ends before capitalists obliterate most of humanity and other beings with another world conflagration or simply conducting their regular buisness.
Indeed, from what I’ve gathered, it seems that the ultimate end goal of Marxist-Leninists and anarcho-communists is ultimately the same: a classless, stateless society devoid of any and all forms of coercive power. The former just disagree that such a society can be achieved without some form of centralized government, no matter the risk of it turning just as authoritarian and repressive as the capitalist society it is trying to replace.
Still, though, Vietnam and Cuba seem to have managed to achieve stable systems under Marxist-Leninist principles, even despite pressure from the capitalist West to “reform,” so maybe I’m overstating my case. Even so, I still think it’s imperative to remind my dear readers that arguments about what kind of socialist government should replace the current capitalist world order should wait until after we gain the upper hand. Arguments over whether Marxists, anarchists, primitivists, or syndicalists are correct should wait until after we’ve extricated ourselves from under the crushing weight of income inequality and climate change. What matters now is that the capitalists are hurting people, and we need to make them stop!
And that’s another episode of The Complete Noob’s Guide to the Left in the bag! Join me in future installments as I look at the various communist ideologies that directly spun off from Marxism-Leninism, like Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism, Titoism, Guevarism, and others. Stay tuned for those, and maybe keep an eye for this year’s Christmas special sometime later this month. See you then, beautiful watchers!