Near-Death Experiences—What Would You Do?

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(from Varieties of Religious Experience, New York Times, December 24, 2016)

‘It’s Christmas; indulge me.

One of my hobbies is collecting what you might call nonconversion stories — stories about secular moderns who have supernatural-seeming experiences without being propelled into any specific religious faith. In some ways these stories are more intriguing than mystical experiences that confirm or inspire strong religious belief, because they come to us unmediated by any theological apparatus. They are more like raw data, raw material, the stuff that shows how spiritual experiences would continue if every institutional faith disappeared tomorrow.

Here are some public cases. Three decades ago A. J. Ayer, the British logical positivist and scourge of all religion, died and was resuscitated at the age of 77. Afterward, he reported a near-death encounter that included repeated attempts to cross a river and “a red light, exceedingly bright, and also very painful … responsible for the government of the universe.” Ayer retained his atheism, but declared that the experience had “slightly weakened” his conviction that death “will be the end of me.”

As a young man in the 1960s, the filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, of “RoboCop” and “Showgirls” fame, wandered into a Pentecostal church and suddenly felt “the Holy Ghost descending … as if a laser beam was cutting through my head and my heart was on fire.” He was in the midst of dealing with his then-girlfriend’s unexpected pregnancy; after they procured an abortion, he had a terrifying, avenging-angel vision during a screening of “King Kong.” The combined experience actively propelled him away from anything metaphysical; the raw carnality of his most famous films, he suggested later, was an attempt to keep the numinous and destabilizing at bay.

Barbara Ehrenreich, the left-wing essayist and atheist, had shocking, unlooked-for experiences of spiritual rapture as a teenager, which she wrote about in 2014’s don’t-call-it-religious memoir, “Living With a Wild God.” The “wild” part is key: Ehrenreich rejects the God of monotheism because the Being she encountered seemed stranger, less benign and more amoral than the God she thinks that most religions worship.

Lisa Chase, the wife of the late New York journalistic icon Peter Kaplan, wrote an essay for Elle Magazine last year about her experiences communicating, on her own and through a medium, with her husband after his 2013 death. There is no organized religion in her story whatsoever. But if you read the essay carefully, it’s clear that her quest was shaped by the fact that more than a few highly educated liberal Manhattan professionals have also had experiences like hers.

William Friedkin, the director of “The Exorcist,” had never seen an exorcism when he made his famous film. A professed agnostic, he decided recently to “complete the circle” and spent some time shadowing the Vatican exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth, just before Amorth’s passing at the age of 91. Friedkin recounted his experience in Vanity Fair this fall; it did not make him a Catholic believer, but it did seem to scare the Hades out of him.

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New Receptors Found in Human Retina Are the Cause of Seasonal Depression (SAD)

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Just in Time for the Winter Solstice—Great Piece on Seasonal Depression and the Brain

from NPR:

Just in time for the winter solstice, scientists may have figured out how short days can lead to dark moods.

Two recent studies suggest the culprit is a brain circuit that connects special light-sensing cells in the retina with brain areas that affect whether you are happy or sad.

When these cells detect shorter days, they appear to use this pathway to send signals to the brain that can make a person feel glum or even depressed.

“It’s very likely that things like seasonal affective disorder involve this pathway,” says Jerome Sanes, a professor of neuroscience at Brown University.

Sanes was part of a team that found evidence of the brain circuit in people. The scientists presented their research in November at the Society for Neuroscience meeting. The work hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal yet, but the researchers plan to submit it.

A few weeks earlier, a different team published a study suggesting a very similar circuit in mice.

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A Homosexual, a Pioneer, a Human rights Activist, & a Fiery Freedom Fighter—Hung by the Crown for Treason: Meet Sir Robert Casement

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Untold story of one of the most horrifying crimes of the twentieth century.

In September 1910, the human rights activist and anti-imperialist Roger Casement arrived in the Amazon to investigate reports of widespread human rights abuses in the vast forests stretching along the Putumayo river. There, the Peruvian entrepreneur Julio César Arana ran an area the size of Belgium as his own private fiefdom; his British registered company operated a systematic programme of torture, exploitation and murder.

Fresh from documenting the scarcely imaginable atrocities perpetrated by King Leopold in the Congo, Casement was confronted with an all too recognisable scenario. He uncovered an appalling catalogue of abuse: nearly 30,000 Indians had died to produce four thousand tonnes of rubber.

From the Peruvian rainforests to the City of London, Jordan Goodman, in The Devil and Mr. Casement, recounts a crime against humanity that history has almost forgotten, but whose exposure in 1912 sent shockwaves around the world. Drawing on a wealth of original research, The Devil and Mr Casement is a story of colonial exploitation and corporate greed with enormous contemporary political resonance.

Reviews

“Meticulously researched … A riveting, if harrowing, narrative which, in its treatment of corporate greed and exploitation, is full of contemporary resonance. A rich, moving, important book.” – Independent on Sunday

Above, clockwise: Casement in his 50s, he would be executed shortly; walking out of court after his appeal had been denied; Casement’s funeral in Ireland.

The New Yorker:

In 1910, the British government asked Roger Casement, a consular official, to investigate reports that a British-registered rubber-trading company was exploiting Barbadian workers in the Amazon. Intrepid and resourceful, Casement gathered testimonies about the armed extortion and debt bondage that supported the rubber trade. Back in London, he championed the rights of the Barbadian migrants as well as those of the indigenous Indians, tens of thousands of whom had died harvesting wild rubber for their masters. Casement was knighted for his efforts. But the adulation did not last. An Irish nationalist, he eventually left the consular services and devoted himself to organizing and arming the Irish Volunteers. In 1916, he was arrested and hanged for treason. With vivid touches of imagination and humor, Goodman captures the drama and paradox of Casement’s varied life. ♦

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In 1910, the British government asked Roger Casement, a consular official, to investigate reports that a British-registered rubber-trading company was exploiting Barbadian workers in the Amazon. Intrepid and resourceful, Casement gathered testimonies about the armed extortion and debt bondage that supported the rubber trade. Back in London, he championed the rights of the Barbadian migrants as well as those of the indigenous Indians, tens of thousands of whom had died harvesting wild rubber for their masters. Casement was knighted for his efforts. But the adulation did not last. An Irish nationalist, he eventually left the consular services and devoted himself to organizing and arming the Irish Volunteers. In 1916, he was arrested and hanged for treason. With vivid touches of imagination and humor, Goodman captures the drama and paradox of Casement’s varied life. ♦

Further Reading

https://www.firstworldwar.com/bio/casement.htm

http://www.easter1916.ie/index.php/people/a-z/roger-casement/

https://www.planetromeo.com/en/blog/gay-history-sir-roger-casement/

https://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/articles/the-life-and-death-of-roger-casement

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/28/roger-casement-gay-irish-martyr-or-victim-of-a-british-forgery

https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/roger-casement-easter-rising-executed

https://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n17/colm-toibin/a-man-of-no-mind

https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/11/roger-casement-the-gay-irish-humanitarian-who-was-hanged-on-a-comma

Click thumbnails to enlarge images:

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Link to The Devil and Mr. Casement

What Happened to George Washington’s Home During the US Civil War?

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Mount Vernon Today (MountVernon.org)


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Military pass signed by General Winfield Scott for Sarah Tracy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. The document enables her to pass “through the United States lines” to get to Mount Vernon during the Civil War; dated October 2, 1861.


The outbreak of the Civil War provided significant challenges to the preservation of George Wagington’s home at Mount Vernon, as the sectional crisis occurred during the infancy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. The violent nature of the conflict could have destroyed Mount Vernon as a physical structure while also tearing up the personal threads that bound the nascent Association. Despite the challenges, the Association was able to keep the property protected and open to the public during the war.

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An early image of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association—the group that singlehandedly saved the home of George Washington for posterity.


The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association took over operation of the estate in 1860 in an effort to stabilize and restore the mansion. As restoration efforts progressed, the political situation in the United States deteriorated. Mount Vernon, as a result, was in a precarious position. At the same time, Ann Pamela Cunningham was forced to return to her family home in South Carolina in the fall of 1860 to help run the family plantation following her father’s death.

Above: George and Martha Washington’s bed chambers at Mount Vernon.

With the conflict making travel difficult for Cunningham, the estate was managed by two staff members during the Civil War; a Northerner and a Southerner. Cunningham’s secretary, Sarah C. Tracy and Upton H. Herbert, Mount Vernon’s first Resident Superintendent, managed the estate through the war years. There were also free African-American employees working at the estate, including Emily the cook, Priscilla the chambermaid, Frances, a maid, and George, the coachman and general assistant.1

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Sarah Tracy, pictured above in an image taken in 1859, watched over the Mount Vernon estate during the six-year-long Civil War—her efforts ensured its safety as a piece of American history.


Cunningham believed that it was imperative that no military outposts were placed within the borders of the estate in order to physically protect the property. After a visit from Tracy, on July 31, 1861 General Winfield Scott issued Order Number 13, declaring the estate’s status as non-partisan. A large proportion of the visitors during the war were still soldiers, though without military aims. Soldiers who visited the estate were requested to be neither armed nor dressed in military uniform. Such actions ensured that Mount Vernon remained neutral, respected grounds.

Above, left: Mount Vernon’s 8’1” high cupola; above, right: the Washington’s dining room.

The end of the conflict had an immediate positive impact on the preservation of Mount Vernon. In November 1866 Cunningham was able to travel to meet with her Vice Regents and staff for the first time in six years. The Ladies’ Association passed a resolution reflecting a new post-war optimism, expressing their “unqualified approval of the manner in which the Superintendent and the Secretary had discharged the arduous duties committed to their charge. . .under difficult circumstances, the Mansion and grounds under their charge have been so well preserved and protected.”2 Despite the challenges, Mount Vernon remained safe and open throughout the war.

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The piazza at Mount Vernon faces the Potomac River.


Notes

1. “Mollie ______ to Caroline L. Rees, 21 October 186[1-4],” Kirby Rees Collection, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Virginia; typescript, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

2. Quoted in Dorothy Troth Muir, Presence of a Lady: Mount Vernon, 1861-1868 (Mount Vernon, Virginia: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, 1975), 86.

Source: https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/the-civil-war-years/

Read more, here:

https://www.mountvernon.org/preservation/mount-vernon-ladies-association/early-history-of-the-mount-vernon-ladies-association/#g-1160_m-everett2

https://www.mountvernon.org/the-estate-gardens/the-mansion/the-mansion-room-by-room/#-

https://www.mountvernon.org/the-estate-gardens/the-mansion/the-mansion-basement/

President Trump Just Called Himself a ‘Nationalist.’ Here’s What That Means—and Why It’s So Dangerous.

Nationalism is not patriotism. Just ask George Orwell.

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Normally, there’s a kind of catharsis in watching someone finally admit to themselves and the world who they truly are. Not here. It has never been much of a secret that Donald Trump, American president, is a nationalist. The debate is more often over what adjective might go in front. And yet it was singularly unnerving on Tuesday—in the context of a midterm election campaign in which he and his Republican allies are appealing to racism and anti-immigrant sentiment and fear in a strategy so explicit that The New York Times felt comfortable calling it out—to hear him declare, loudly and proudly, that he is “a nationalist, OK?”

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The juxtaposition here between “globalist” and “nationalist” is a Steve Bannon joint—a nice hat-tip to the guy on a day where he could be found playing a near-empty conference room on Staten Island. It’s the kind of binary nonsense that authoritarian types feed on, an us-or-them formulation where the United States can succeed, or the wider world can succeed, but you can’t have both. In the context of a globalized, entirely interconnected world—a development Trump is powerless to reverse—it is fantasy. But it gets the people going.

Now that the President of the United States has embraced it as his own, it’s worth digging into what the term “nationalist” actually means and the historical baggage it carries. For this, we can turn once again to George Orwell, the legendary British theorist who, more recently, has become a prop for diaper-wearing right-wing propagandists who looked him up on brainy quote dot com. The essential point, also made eloquently by Charles de Gaulle, is that not only are nationalism and patriotism not the same, the gap between them is not some difference of degree. They are often wholly contrasting emotional forces, as Orwell writes in his Notes on Nationalism:

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What’s on the Tube? Killer Legends–A Documentary from the Makers of Cropsey…

I thought Cropsey was a stellar documentary. So I’m eager to watch Killer Legends, this filmmaker’s second documentary about Urban Legends and there possible sources. Check it out, now, streaming on Netflix!

Killer Legends (One Sheet) 2014

For those unaware, like I was, but apparently, social scientists are trying to re-brand urban legends as “contemporary legends.” Well, whatever the label, what these legends basically boil down to is modern folklore or oft told tales — usually with a macabre element or an ironic twist to them, deeply rooted in popular culture, with just a hint of plausibility to keep the gullible hooked enough to keep passing them along. These tales are used as fables, parables, possible explanations for strange occurrences or events, but, more often than not, they are used as cautionary tales that usually happened to a friend of a friend of a friend or someone’s cousin’s uncle. And one of the prime examples of an urban legend is the tale of ‘The Hook.’

It begins with a young couple parked in a secluded lover’s lane engaged in some premarital necking. And as hormones rage, passions heat up, and few hickeys are born, the music on the radio is interrupted by a breaking news bulletin revealing an escaped mental patient / mad-dog killer has just escaped from a nearby asylum / prison; and this fugitive has one very distinguishing characteristic: one of his hands is missing, and has been replaced with a stainless steel hook — which he used to murder several people. The bulletin ends with the authorities encouraging everyone to stay indoors until this madman is captured. Of course, the girl is frightened and wants to head home. The boy, who was >this close< to getting to second base mere moments ago, scoffs, saying the killer is probably miles away. And as the minutes tick by while they argue about what to do, a sudden scraping outside her door frightens the girl so much the boy finally gives up and drives away. But when he gets to her house, ever the gentlemen, he exits the car and hoofs it around the hood to get the door for her. And there, caught on the passenger side handle, hangs a torn-off stainless steel hook covered in blood.

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