Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

I Don’t Like Jokes


“Anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army in South Russia”; January 1918

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Afro-German soldier of the Nazi Germany – Free Arabian Legion; ca. September 1943

"hahahaha, but seriously guys, can I get off the catapult now?"

The Wehrmacht was an equal opportunity employer.

The Free Arabian Legion provided an opportunity for German blacks who wanted to fight for the Reich. The unit’s founder was Haj Amin Al Husseini, an anti-Semite Muslim.

The Legion included Arab volunteers from the Middle East and North Africa, war prisoners who opted to fight instead of go to prison … and blacks. In the end, the Legion saw very little combat action—and most of that during the Allies’ Operation Torch in French North Africa.

Nazi racial ideology in practice could be very inconsistent:

  • 57% of Soviet prisoners and millions of Soviet civilians die as a result of intentional Nazi policy. But a Russian volunteer battallion is raised to fight for Nazi Germany
  • Several groups of Africans fighting for France are murdered upon capture by German troops. But some African volunteers are enlisted in the German armed forces
  • Ethnic Germans in Poland are deemed superior to Poles. But these ethnic Germans, when found guilty of rape, are punished and declared as not being like “true” German men
  • Non-white colonial POWs who fought for France are treated badly and suffer worse mortality rates than white French POWs. But yet the Germans collaborate with certain groups of non-whites.

(More Info)

German soldier with Panzerkampfwagen VI “Tiger” in the background. Somewhere in the USSR; ca. 1943

He's just looked at the receipt for refueling.

He’s just looked at the receipt for refueling.


This is what Mount Rushmore was supposed to look like before they ran out of funds; ca. 1941


POW’s from the Hungarian Second Army, Russia; ca. 1942


The Hungarian Second Army (Második Magyar Hadsereg) was one of three field armies (hadsereg) raised by the Kingdom of Hungary (Magyar Királyság) which saw action during World War II. All three armies were formed on March 1, 1940. The Second Army was the best-equipped Hungarian formation at the beginning of the war, but was virtually eliminated as an effective fighting unit by overwhelming Soviet force during the Battle of Stalingrad, suffering 84% casualties. Towards the end of the war, a reformed Second Army fought more successfully at the Battle of Debrecen, but, during the ensuing Siege of Budapest, it was destroyed completely and absorbed into the Hungarian Third Army.

Canadian Soldiers take back a wounded from the front during the battle of Passchendaele; ca. November, 1917


Douglas Haig’s chief of staff, Launcelot Kiggell, reportedly broke down and wept when he finally visited the Passchendaele battlefield in the autumn of 1917, saying “Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?”

US Marine raising the Confederate battle flag after the Battle of Okinawa; June 22nd, 1945.

Just think, this was only 80 years after the end of the civil war.

Just think, this was only 80 years after the end of the civil war.

Once the castle had been taken, Dusenberg took off his helmet and removed a flag he had been carrying for just such a special occasion. He raised the flag at the highest point of the castle and let loose with a rebel yell. The flag waving overhead was not the Stars and Stripes, but the Confederate Stars and Bars. Most of the Marines joined in the yell, but a disapproving New Englander supposedly remarked, “What does he want now? Should we sing ‘Dixie?'”

MG Andrew Bruce, the commanding general of the 77th Division, protested to the 10th Army that the Marines had stolen his prize. But LTG Buckner only mildly chided MajGen del Valle saying, “How can I be sore at him? My father fought under that flag!”

LTG Buckner’s father was the Confederate BG Buckner who had surrendered Fort Donelson to then-BG Ulysses S. Grant in 1862.


*Well, if I ever go to war I’ll bring the flag of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I’ll die waving that flag!

Winston Churchill’s one-man pressure chamber, used on his personal plane during WWII. It had ash trays, a telephone and an air-circulation system.


Winston Churchill was susceptible to pneumonia and the long cold flights weren’t good for his health (none of Churchill’s planes were pressurized). He would wear an oxygen mask on some occasions (even when he slept). Sometime in 1942 they did build a pressure chamber for him, but they couldn’t get it into his plane without dissembling the tail section. The contraption was rejected out of hand – thus never used.


Hobby Lobby SCOTUS Ruling:

The Supreme Court ruling on BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, ET AL. v. HOBBY LOBBY STORES, INC. has now opened up the precedent (ignoring how narrowly tailored the ruling was to only contraception) that under the RFRA, even if its a compelling government interest, the state cannot mandate any firm with sincere religious beliefs to carry out a requirement, so long as the government can pick up the slack? It seems like the least restrictive means will always be making the government do it instead and not restrict at all anyone’s religious beliefs.

On page 46 of the opinion, Alito writes: “Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs. Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them.”

This certainly leaves open the possibility that the Court could rule differently on the “least restrictive means” issue in the future, but his language in section V-B, which discusses the “least restrictive means” test, seems to indicate that it is a difficult standard to pass. On page 41 of the opinion, he indicates that “the most straightforward way of [meeting the least restrictive means test] would be for the Government to assume the cost.” He also says that “HHS has not shown … that this is not a viable alternative.” This seems to indicate that if such a challenge were to come up regarding vaccination or blood transfusions, or whatever else, the burden would be on the Department of Health and Human Services to show that it would be impractical for the Government to cover the cost. That would be quite the burden for the Government to prove.

Ginsberg seems to agree with that reading in her dissent. On page 29 on the dissent, she writes, “And where is the stopping point to the ‘let the government pay’ alternative? Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage, … or according women equal pay for substantially similar work…? Does it rank as a less restrictive alternative to require the government to provide the money or benefit to which the employer has a religion-based objection?” In addition to indicating that the Court’s logic could prove problematic in the future, she asserts that it is flawed at present, saying, “In sum, in view of what Congress sought to accomplish, i.e., comprehensive preventive care for women furnished through employer-based health plans, none of the proffered alternatives would satisfactorily serve the compelling interests to which Congress responded.”

I agree with Justice Ginsberg on many points here, especially the last few pages of her dissent. Justice Alito attempts to narrow his ruling as much as possible, but leaves a lot of questions unanswered as to the basis for his narrow ruling. To me, the most compelling arguments come from sections III-4 and IV (pages 27-35) of Ginsberg’s dissent. She basically asserts that the Court’s ruling has much broader implications than it intends, and poses quite a few questions about the basis for the narrow ruling.

I am also inclined to agree with her reasoning that the Court should have no business in determining which religious views are legitimate and which are not, and that religious exemptions from generally applicable law should be reserved for groups that are organized “for a religious purpose” and/or “engaged primarily in carrying out that religious purpose”.

The Supreme Court ruling can be found here:

Justice Ginsburg’s dissent here:

The “Nixon Madman Theory”

Essentially, a key tenet of Nixon’s foreign policy was to make the leaders of communist countries think that he was unstable and prone to use nuclear force. What ensued in his first year in office in 1969 is one of the most fascinating episodes of the Cold War because it really highlights the growing split between the USSR and China and how Nixon tried to drive a wedge between them in order to strengthen the United States’ relative power and influence.

During the buildup to the Vietnam war after the Cuban missile crisis, and prior to Nixon taking office in 1969, leaders in the US and USSR would generally not explicitly threaten each other for fear of stoking another nuclear crisis. Nixon believed that the only way to end the war in Vietnam was to get North Vietnam and China to back down in the face of nuclear extinction, as the threat of nuclear escalation is what brought about a ceasefire during the Korean War. After secret peace talks in Paris to end the war stalled in the first few months of his presidency, Nixon went full ape. If Teddy Roosevelt believed that the United States should speak softly and carry a big stick, Nixon believed the United States should yell incoherently and flail its stick around.

In October 1969, Nixon issued a secret high level alert to his top military brass. He told them to be on standby to use nuclear force against North Vietnam and possibly the USSR and to scramble planes equipped with nuclear bombs to fly near Soviet airspace. This was kept secret from the American public, but was made loud enough so Soviet intelligence would pick up on it. At the time, Nixon wanted to escalate the war in Vietnam by expanding the bombing campaign into the North, which was not popular with the American public and would have likely resulted in fully-fledged war with China. So Nixon wanted the North Vietnamese, the Chinese and the Soviets to think that he would do anything to win the war in Vietnam without actually having to do anything. It was a huge gamble.

But let’s not forget that in the immediate months prior to Nixon’s secret order, the USSR and China were in an undeclared military conflict with each other over a border dispute. Relations between the two communist powers had soured since 1960, which Nixon sought to capitalize on.

Prior to Nixon issuing the nuclear alert, the USSR was considering a preemptive, possibly nuclear attack on China’s nuclear arsenal. The USSR worried that if the United States escalated the Vietnam war with nuclear force and if China responded with nuclear force too, then they would get dragged into a nuclear war with them as well. When a KGB officer approached an American diplomat about the possibility of the USSR striking China’s arsenal and how the US would respond – and allegedly even asked if the US would collaborate with the USSR to weaken China – Nixon made it very clear that the US would not tolerate an attack on its enemy by its other enemy.

But while Nixon intended the nuclear alert to influence events in Vietnam in his favor, some evidence from recently declassified Cold War documents suggest that the USSR mistakenly believed that the alert was meant to warn the USSR against attacking China’s nuclear arsenal.

Nixon did want to exploit the soured relations between the USSR and China in order to have leverage over the Soviets, and the nuclear alert had the unintentional effect of hinting that the US would side with China should a nuclear conflict arise between them and the USSR. This also unintentionally played into Nixon’s policy of opening up to China. By opening up to China, the US would no longer be dealing with one communist power, but rather two competing communist powers that were at odds with each other.

The nuclear alert issued in October 1969 did nothing to improve the situation in Vietnam (and arguably made things worse). While it did frighten the Soviets, they did ultimately interpret it as a bluff. Still, it indicated to the Chinese that Nixon would give them leverage over the USSR. It set the stage for rapprochement with China, which culminated in Nixon’s monumental 1972 visit to the communist country and the subsequent improvement of Sino-American relations. And of course, the visit laid the foundation for the deepening of economic ties between the two nations.


Mother hides her face in shame after putting her children up for sale in Chicago; ca.1948.


This picture was taken August 4, 1948, and published in a Chicago newspaper. After the picture appeared in papers throughout the US, offers of jobs, homes and financial assistance poured in. The mother, Lucille Chalifoux, was shielding her eyes from the camera, not sobbing as I first thought, according to the newspaper reports from the time, but then how do we really know. She was 24, married to an unemployed man 16 years older, and pregnant with her fifth child in six years at the time of the photo. Who’s to judge her true feelings?

What Happened Next

No one knows how long the sign stood in the yard. Apparently shortly thereafter the father abandoned the family, and records show he had a criminal record. Lucille went on governmental assistance. A fifth child, David, was born in 1949. The story line is not complete, but David was either removed from the home or relinquished in July 1950. He was covered in bed bug bites and in rough shape. He was adopted by a loving by strict home and ran away at 16, spent 20 years in the military, and has been a truck driver ever since. Rae says that she was “sold for $2 [in Aug. 1950] so her mother could have bingo money and because the man her mother was dating did not want anything to do with the children.” Milton was standing nearby crying, so the family took him too. Sadly, their new father was horribly abusive. Rae ran away at 17. Milton was removed from the home due to abuse (unclear at what age) and eventually ended up in a mental hospital diagnosed with “schizophrenia and having fits of rage”. He was released in 1967 at age 23. He eventually married, moved to Arizona, and is now divorced. No one knows what happened to Lana, other than she died of cancer in 1998. SueEllen was adopted, but I’ve not been able to find out any additional information other than she had two sons. She told her children that she was sold by her mother.

What The Kids Have To Say

Pictures tell a story, and this picture tells a mighty sad story– a story that left a lasting impact. The scars run deep… something always worth remembering when we speak of adoption dissolutions and disruptions. SueEllen: Dying of lung disease said, “[My mother] needs to be in hell burning.” Milton: “My birth mother, she never did love me. She didn’t apologize for selling me. She hated me so much that she didn’t care.” David: “[Our mother] got rid of all us children, married someone else, had four more daughters. She kept them. She didn’t keep us. … We’re all human beings. We all make mistakes. She could’ve been thinking about the children. Didn’t want them to die.”

In our infinite arrogance, we take our fellow mammals for granted…


When I was taken to Sea world as a child the entire experience was saddening to me. I mean, I did have fun, like any child would while watching spinning dolphins and jumping whales, but I remember being so sad. When we were waiting for the Shamu show to start, I apparently had taken off (I used to run away a lot as a kid, not really run away but I would adventure off.) My aunt says she turns around and sees me right around a slide-out area— which is a platform submerged about a foot into water; I was standing on the edge looking in the deep part of the water. Luckily for me a gentleman had spotted me and swooped me up before I fell into the water. The only thing that used to separate the public from the tank was only a chain that said “Do Not Enter”, which means absolutely nothing to a kid who can’t read. When we were leaving I remember there was a long hallway with windows on both sides where you could walk and you’d be able to see the whales below, I have no idea if it is still there or not, but I remember looking at one of the whales and all it was doing was swimming back and forth and back and forth and I, being like 5, ran up and down the hallway with it. I felt SO SAD! I was five years old at Sea world and I just wanted to cry! I remember asking my Grandma about the whales and why they were so sad.

Orcas are one of those things when you see in the flesh you’re almost taken a back by the sheer beauty of the natural world and at the same time you realize how fucked up humanity is sometimes for trying to contain such an amazing creature.



A police photograph of German Olympic athlete Dora Ratjen who had been arrested at a train station on suspicion of being a man in a dress. Magdeburg, Germany; September 21, 1938.


Dora Ratjen competed in the women’s High Jump at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

“Ratjen was born in Erichshof, near Bremen, into a family described as “simple folk”. The father, Heinrich Ratjen, stated in 1938: “When the child was born the midwife called over to me, ‘Heini, it’s a boy!’ But five minutes later she said to me, ‘It is a girl, after all.'” Nine months later, when the child, who had been christened Dora, was ill, a doctor examined the child’s genitalia and, according to Heinrich, said “Let it be. You can’t do anything about it anyway.” Dora stated, also in 1938: “My parents brought me up as a girl [and] I therefore wore girl’s clothes all my childhood. But from the age of 10 or 11 I started to realize I wasn’t female, but male. However I never asked my parents why I had to wear women’s clothes even though I was male.”

“On 21 September 1938, Dora took an express train from Vienna to Cologne. The conductor of the train reported to the police at the station in Magdeburg that there was “a man dressed as a woman” in the train. Ratjen was ordered out of the train and questioned by the police. He showed his genuine documents which said he was a woman, but after some hesitation, admitted to being a man and told his story.”

Ratjen at the 1936 Olympics:


Police mug shot:


Laika (c. 1954 – November 3, 1957) was a Soviet space dog who became one of the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth.

It makes me sad whenever I see this because I know how it turned out.

It makes me sad whenever I see this because I know how it turned out.

Laika was a stray dog, originally named Kudryavka (Russian: Кудрявка Little Curly); she underwent training with two other dogs, and was eventually chosen as the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 that was launched into outer space on November 3, 1957, (becoming the first dog in space, to orbit the Earth, and was also the first animal to die in space.) The Soviets designed the spacecraft knowing she would not survive. One Soviet scientist took her home to play with his children because he said “I wanted to do something nice for her. She had so little time left to live.” Laika likely died within hours after launch from overheating, possibly caused by a failure of the central R-7 sustainer to separate from the payload. The true cause and time of her death was not made public until 2002; instead, it was widely reported that she died when her oxygen ran out on day six, or as Soviet government initially claimed, she was euthanized prior to oxygen depletion.


As a kid who was very into rockets and airplanes I remember being told about her (mind you, I wasn’t born until the cold war was ending), but in my childish innocence I assumed she came back okay. 

Here’s a statement made by Oleg Gazenko, one of the Sputnik scientists:

“Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it… We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.”


You know what makes me (sorta) happy? They built her a window. Despite the challenges and costs of building a secure window in a pressurized capsule, they did it so the dying dog could look out.

Source here:

Gazenko speaks of the bond that grew between the dog and him as they worked toward her mission, leading us in unembroidered prose through a brief tale of preparation, hours of readiness on the launch pad, and the launch itself. But the heart of the article for me, and the part to which nothing I’ve found since makes reference, is this: Gazenko tells us that as engineers rushed against deadlines to complete the capsule that would carry the dog into space, outfitting it with equipment to record the details of her death, he took on a battle in Laika’s behalf. Against heavy objections from the decision-makers, he insisted upon the installation of a window. A window in a space capsule, where such a luxury would cause complications and expenses that I can barely imagine. A window for the dog whose monitored demise had been this man’s objective in all the interactions that had bonded her to him with the eager devotion of every well-trained working canine.

Yet Gazenko persisted and prevailed.


Roof In Peace.


The Irish Republican Army:


Basically, Britain ruled Ireland like a colony – like they ruled in America or in India. The Irish didn’t like this but it was much harder for them to win their independence due to Britain being right the fuck there. There were also many loyalists in Ireland, further muddying the situation, as well as Irish men in the British army fighting against the IRA.

irish-republican-army-leaders (1)

Initially Britain decided to give them representation in parliament instead of their independence, like what N. Ireland has now. That gave rise to a conflict within the IRA, with some of the rebels wanting to end the war and accept the offer of being represented in the legislature, and some of the rebels wanting to continue to fight until Britain gave them complete independence. The separatist faction of the IRA tended to be socialists who wanted independence from England so they could make significant changes to the political and economic workings of Ireland. The others were not exactly loyalists but were capitalists who thought that home rule would be good enough to turn things around without seizing the means of production from private owners and whatnot.

Somewhere along the line, religion came into it, with England being an officially Protestant nation and Ireland being officially Catholic.


So now you had Protestants being attacked in the Republic, Catholics being attacked in the North, the IRA blowing up everything British on both sides of the line, an argument within the IRA about socialism vs. capitalism leading to them to split into to the National Army (the official standing army of the Republic of Ireland) and the irregulars and thereafter into several different factions, with the British army trying to suppress all of the above from all directions.


The West Bank situation might be pretty comparable to this in about 20 or 30 years. Currently Israel is trying to settle loyalist families in the area, displacing the Palestinians. Eventually they might reach an uneasy peace with Palestinians and Israeli living side-by-side but still hating each other. Eventually the Palestinians start to want independence but Israel is reluctant to give up the tax income that the area represents so they offer the Palestinians self-government as long as they continue to pay taxes. Some Palestinians are OK with this, but some want to evict the Israelis entirely, who they see as the cause of the Palestinians’ suffering, and seize their land and incomes and distribute them among the Palestinians as reparations… do you see where this is going?

Pre-WW2 Germany – Nazi Ceremony, held at the Feldherrnhalle at Odeonsplatz in Munich.

Nazi Germany had a lot of classical architecture to emulate the ancient Greeks and Romans' sense of power, immensity, and structured government.

Nazi Germany had a lot of classical architecture to emulate the ancient Greeks and Romans’ sense of power, immensity, and structured government.

This photo is by Hugo Jaeger. He was the personal photograph for Adolf Hitler from from ’36 to ’45 and did so in color unlike Hitler’s other photographer Heinrich Hoffman who did black and white.

At the end of the war before Hitler died Jaeger ran into some Americans while carrying a suitcase of photos and the was worried about being caught with so many pictures of Hitler. The story goes that they opened the suitcase and found a bottle of booze which the Americans opened and drank with Jaeger while Jaeger slipped the photos out of the suitcase and soon after buried them in glass jars outside of Munich, Germany.

In 1955 Jaeger returned to Munich and dug the jars up to find the photos still safe and preserved. He then stored them in a bank vault until selling them to LIFE Magazine in 1965.

This photo is one of those photos.

Specifically this photo is from an annual ceremony that was the swearing in of the SchutzStaffel (SS) which as we know was the police arm of the Third Reich.

HERE is another picture from that same ceremony but from a reverse angle looking out at the crowd. This was also sold to LIFE magazine and was buried outside of Munich

Did celebrity efforts like Band Aid’s “Do they know it’s Christmas?” and USA for Africa’s “We Are The World” actually help alleviate famine in the 1980s?

In 1994 South African photojournalist Kevin Carter won the Pulitzer for this photo of a starving child being stalked by a vulture in the Sudan. Later that year Carter committed suicide.

Some people will say that the musicians selflessly raised large amounts of money to help the world’s neediest. Others – myself included – would say that when projects like this don’t involve professional humanitarianism and the beneficiaries (i.e. the people who are supposedly being helped), the law of unintended consequences allows for the best of intentions to pave a road straight to H-E-double-hockeysticks.

There’s three broad ways that Celebrity Aid is often asserted as a success, or conversely, criticized as a failure. Namely they are (1) the amount of aid that actually hit the ground, (2) the stereotypes of Africans it created in the media, and (3) that they may have actually been complicity in ethnocide in the Sub-Saharan African context. I’ll address each separately.

(1) The amount of aid that hit the ground.

Band Aid famously started when Bob Geldof led the charge to raise money for famine in Ethiopia. Naturally, it was done with the best of intentions. The problem is that whereas most people think of famines as natural disasters they are in fact socio-political disasters. To put it another way, there are two models of famine, “food availability decline” and “food entitlement decline” (this is most famously discussed by Amartya Sen). In most cases of famine – for example Ethiopia in the 1980s – there was plenty of food available – the problem is that the poorest people didn’t have access to it, i.e. they weren’t “entitled” in the sense that they couldn’t afford it. When crops fail, there is usually still enough food around to feed people, however the reduced amount of food creates inflation, thus driving up prices. Dumping more money into a hurting economy doesn’t help this (see Dambisa Moyo or Paul Collier’s discussion of aid and Dutch Disease), it worsens things by putting more money in the hands of the wealthy. Additionally, don’t forget that a huge amount of the money raised goes to covering costs of holding these events (honorariums for the artists are a part of this). Much is further siphoned off on the way (including by governments, I’ll get to that in part 3). This is assuming that the aid that arrives is delivered professionally. Humanitarian actors have learned in the last two decades that projects not directly involving local beneficiaries are doomed to failure, and this is still rarely put into practice. Therefore, though millions of dollars are raised, much of it doesn’t hit the ground, and what does hit the ground is more likely to cause further damage and upset the local economy, than to actually save lives.

(2) Media portrayals of Africa

By showing lots of images of starving children with flies on their faces, the image of Africa becomes one of suffering and backwardness, rather than being a continent of diversity of life, culture, religion and experience that rivals that of any other. This video of a tract by Binyavanga Wainana (read by Amistad’s Djimoun Hounsou) describes this issue much better than I can. Basically, the image of Africa as the ‘dark continent’ full of savage warriors and starving babies is not an accurate depiction, and events like Band-Aid and We are the World perpetuate these not only false but outright racist depictions of life in the developing world. The interaction that most people have with “Africa” as a concept therefore becomes the starving child with the flies on its face, rather than learning of the history of the Mali Empire, the Songhai Great Zimbabwe, Shaka Zulu, or of learning the literature of Chinua Achebe or Wole Soyinka, or even learning the inspiration recent struggles of anyone from Nelson Mandela or Zackie Achmat amongst countless others. Instead, when you ask people what happens in Africa, you get the image of the starving child. Band Aid played a more central role than anything else in constructing this image.

(3) Complicity in mass murder and ethnocide

This is the most controversial aspect of Band Aid and related endeavours that there are. Many (including Tim Allen, Alex de Waal) have argued that Band Aid was directly complicit in the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of people. This is a highly contentious point. A brief history lesson: Ethiopia was ruled by the West’s darling Haile Sellasse, before he was ov3ertrhown by a nominally-Marxist ruler called Mengistu Haile Mariam. His party, known as the Derg, received support from the USSR. In the early 1980s, a group of Ethiopian ethnic minorities rose up against his rule (a larger one was the Oromo Liberation Front, although Eritrean groups were very active). When crops began to fail (this occurred cyclically, with the worst year being 1984), Mengistu blocked aid to the region, blocked refugees from leaving, as while limiting the international assistance that arrived. What assistance did arrive was taken by the regime, and not sent to the minority areas. Though the regime definitely didn’t cause the famine, they undoubtedly made it worse, using it as a cheap form of counterinsurgency (similar uses of famine as a form of counterinsurgency occurred in the Biafran War in Nigeria in the 1970s, and in Darfur in the 2000s). Support for “Ethiopia” became support for the Derg, and the famine it perpetuated in minority areas of Gojjam, Eritrea, Hararghe, Tigray, and Wollo. Basically, in their attempts to raise money for starving children, fundraising ended up providing legitimacy to the Ethiopian regime, while also sending it lots of money that was inevitably re-directed to other areas (especially corrupt politician’s pockets).Along with Operation Lifeline Sudan, and assistance in the Biafran War, the Live Aid / Band Aid exploits are held up as the three most famous examples of humanitarianism gone wrong, and the best of intentions being manipulated by local actors to pursue policies of ethnocide.

The idea that we must “do something” and that we must “save the world” is dangerous if you don’t deliver aid professionally, through professionalized humanitarian channels no embodied in organizations like MSF, Oxfam, etc., with the involvement of the beneficiaries on the ground. The rather embarrassing Band Aid saga speaks to this point as well as anything else. Good intentions and cash simply aren’t enough; we need to do better.

How much did Band Aid/ We are the World/Live aid help? The optimistic answer would be “not much”, while the cynical answer would be “it actually made things worse”. But the silver lining would be that it helped professional humanitarians (i.e. not musicians, but actual trained NGO staff) sharpen their game and improve their delivery, to avoid the disasters that come when you deliver aid in an unprofessional manner.

German POW captured by the Soviets after defeat in Stalingrad, 1943

It’s quite sad knowing most of the men in that photo won’t survive the captivity that awaits them.

Oppression Olympics


Example: comparing the suffering of Native Americans or European Jews. Each group had its own unique challenges and faced its own unique obstacles. Their persecution or repression evolved from vastly different trends and motivations in society. Short of the objective fact that being considered a piece of property and not a human being is one of the most dehumanizing and traumatic acts it is possible to impose on a person, it is better to look at, in my opinion, a broad struggle for equality within an impersonal legal framework supported by variously motivated establishment figures. Otherwise, you risk obscuring the suffering and struggles of one group because group X had it worse.

So, to conclude, certain acts may have been undeniably worse or more repressive, but to compare them to other groups is of dubious merit and risks starting a meaningless and historically irrelevant competition.

Nazi rally in the Cathedral of Light c. 1937

Hugo Boss really knew how to do uniforms.

Hugo Boss really knew how to do uniforms.

The sense of pageantry is awe inspiring. I guess that was the whole point. Kinda hard to sell a nation on horrific anti-Semitism and other forms of genocide with a mere town hall meeting.


I don’t think the objectification of women is actually an accurate reflection of women’s sexuality, this is the problem. I feel like this manifestation is a gross exaggeration of men’s sexuality.

I do not think that the objectification of women is an accurate reflection of women’s sexuality, it’s a gross and inaccurate exaggeration of men’s sexuality. I think that it’s male bias that is causing this form of sexuality to be seen as our only option. Women are pretty much only allowed to display sexuality, when they’re behaving passively and submissively, paying more mind to mens’ desires than their own. We expect sexualized images of women to be highlighting women’s youth and naivety. If women are not young or naive, they’re often expected to behave as if they are, and if they can’t “pass”, they’re desexualized completely. Instances where women objectify men or express appreciation for mens’ bodies, for example, are seen as shocking, bold and out of the ordinary. They aren’t expected to ever be lustful, sexually forward or aggressive. Media that displays men in passive, sexually submissive positions is often assumed to be marketed toward gay men, rather than straight women. I think that if women were writing the songs and the music videos more often, we would see them behaving passively, acting as sex objects, fetishizing violence against women much less often. It’s true that women conform to norms and perpetuate these things to a certain degree too, but by nature of capitalism and the pressures of the market, women are forced to conform to male preferences in order to keep their head above water. In a society where women were just as likely to write a song as men were and were just as respected for it, they wouldn’t have to stick to our current “male-approved” topics. We’d see a wider variety of material coming out.

There is a huge difference between the way sexuality is treated in the music of Ani Difranco, Tori Amos and Fiona Apple, who cater to a largely educated female audience, and the way it’s treated in the music of Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift, who cater to a mainstream “male-dominated” audience. Difranco, Amos and Apple are not prudes. They often sing love songs, songs about sexual desire, raw, emotional break up songs and raunchy odes with detailed descriptions of their partners’ bodies that would make you blush. Check out Fiona Apple’s Hot Knife, or Slow like Honey, or Limp, orPeriphery.

These songs are not that different content-wise from the Rihanna’s bedroom slow jams or Taylor Swift’s “He done me wrong” tunes. But there’s something distinct about them. In the Rihanna and Taylor Swift examples, I get the impression that their sentiments have been filtered and censored to be more palatable to men. In Cyrus’s “wrecking ball”, she’s saying she came in like a wrecking ball, but her body language in the video is the complete opposite of that. She’s laying completely submissively on top of the wrecking ball. She’s allowing the wrecking ball to completely control her. The video isn’t about Miley Cyrus’s experience with the person she’s singing about, it’s about the audience’s relationship with and sexual attraction to Miley Cyrus. Her actual voice is completely secondary.Taylor Swift always expresses anger within these strict confines, she needs to be a certain amount of “feminine” when she’s expressing anger at men. She can’t betoo loud or too violent or too weird or too crazy and emotional. She still has to be pretty, she still has to be pining for the guy on some level. In Fiona Apple’s songs, she talks about sex and having crushes and going through breakups, but it’s her pure voice that’s telling the story. It’s not sugar-coated to be more main-stream. It’s not feeding into an exaggerated corporate driven male fantasy.

They also don’t shy away from the aspects of sex that women have to deal with, that make men uncomfortable to hear. Ani Difranco’s Out of Range and Out of Habit use very graphic, explicit imagery to convey her experiences with men as a musician, and her experiences with the cyclical nature of domestic violence. Tori Amos famously talks about surviving rape, in me and a gun.

I think by virtue of allowing women to be in top, respected positions in mass media, by giving them more of a direct role in the creation of these structures, rather than allowing them to make choices within structures where men still make all the rules, we would break some of this cycle, by expand the material we display and consider to be acceptable, giving people a lot more options and consequentially reducing the amount of “peer pressure” that people face now in regard to objectification.

Bedlam, 1946.

On May 6, 1946, Life magazine published “Bedlam 1946,” an exposé of two state hospitals: Pennsylvania’s Byberry and Ohio’s Cleveland State. To a country shaken by recent revelations of Nazi atrocities, the pictures were deeply affecting. The crisis in state mental hospitals motivated Dr. Walter Freeman to devise a simple version of the lobotomy procedure, one that could be used on a mass scale.

“All of a sudden America sees these photos that look like concentration camp photos. You see people huddled naked along walls, strapped to benches — and it really is this descent into this shameful moment. And the country did say, we have to do something about this.” – Robert Whitaker, writer

Read the 1946 Life article in its entirety, and see some of the pictures that horrified Americans:

by Albert Q. Maisel

The author of this article, through his previous writing and his testimony before a congressional committee, helped instigate important improvements in the Veterans Administration’s mental hospitals. The Ohio photographs were taken by Jerry Cooke with the permission of Frazier Reams, Ohio State Commissioner of Public Welfare, and the cooperation of the Ohio Mental Hygiene Association, an affiliate of The National Committee for Mental Hygiene.

A patient lies unattended at Cleveland State Mental Hospital

A patient lies unattended at Cleveland State Mental Hospital

In Philadelphia the sovereign Commonwealth of Pennsylvania maintains a dilapidated, overcrowded, undermanned mental “hospital” known as the “Dungeon,” one can still read, after nine years, the five-word legend, “George was killed here, 1937.”

This pitiful memorial might apply quite as well to hundreds of other Georges in mental institutions in almost every state in the Union, for Pennsylvania is not unique. Through public neglect ad legislative penny-pinching, state after state has allowed its institutions for the care and cure of the mentally sick to degenerate into little more than concentration camps on the Belsen pattern.

Court and grand-jury records document scores of deaths of patients following beatings by attendants. Hundreds of instances of abuse, falling just short of manslaughter, are similarly documented. And reliable evidence, from hospital after hospital, indicates that these are but a tiny fraction of the beatings that occur, day after day, only to be covered up by a tacit conspiracy of mutually protective silence and a code that ostracizes employees who sing too loud.”

Yet beatings and murders are hardly the most significant of the indignities we have heaped upon most of the 400,000 guiltless patient-prisoners of over 180 state metal institutions.

We feed thousands a starvation diet, often dragged further below the low-budget standard by the withdrawal of the best food for the staff dining rooms. We jam-pack men, women and sometimes even children into hundred-year-old firetraps in wards so crowded that the floors cannot be seen between the rickety cots, while thousands more sleep on ticks, on blankets, or on the bare floors. We give them little and shoddy clothing at best. Hundreds — of my own knowledge and sight — spend twenty-four hours a day in stark and filthy nakedness. Those who are well enough to work slave away in many institutions for 12 hours a day, often without a day’s rest for years on end. One man at Cleveland, Ohio — and he is no isolated exception — worked in this fashion for 19 solid years on a diet the poorest sharecropper would spurn.

Thousands spend their days — often for weeks at a stretch — locked in devices euphemistically called “restraints”: thick leather handcuffs, great canvas camisoles, “muffs,” “mitts,” wristlets, locks and straps and restraining sheets. Hundreds are confined in “lodges” — bare bedless, rooms reeking with filth and feces — by day lit only through half-inch holes though steel-plated windows, by night merely black tombs in which the cries of the insane echo unheard from the peeling plaster of the walls.

Worst of all, for these wards of society we provide physicians, nurses and attendants in numbers far below even the minimum standards set by state rules. Institutions that would be seriously unmanned even if not overcrowded find themselves swamped with 30%, 50% and even 100% more patients than they were built to hold. These are not wartime conditions but have existed for decades. Restraints, seclusion and constant drugging of patients become essential in wards where one attendant must herd as many as 400 mentally deranged charges.

Paid wages insufficient to attract able personnel, even by prewar standards, and often working 10- and 12- hour days, these medical staffs have almost ceased (with some significant exceptions) to strive for cures. Many have resigned themselves, instead, to mere custodial care on a level that led one governor to admit that “our cows in the hospital barns get better care then the men and women in the wards.”

Thus thousands who might be restored to society linger in man-made hells for a release that comes more quickly only because death comes faster to he abused, the beaten, the drugged, the starved, and the neglected. In some mental hospitals, for example, tuberculosis is 13 times as common as in the population at large.

Such conditions cannot be explained away as a result of wartime personnel shortages; the war merely accentuates long-existing failings. Most hospitals have never had enough personnel, even by their own low schedules. Wages have always been desperately low. Even a year before Pearl Harbor we had already crowded 404,293 patients into buildings built to hold 365,192.

Nor can any of these horrors be excused on the grounds of “common practice” or as “the best that can be done for the insane.” For some states have managed to eliminate overcrowding. Some states discharge, as cured or improved, three and four times as high a proportion of patients as others. A few, notably tiny Delaware, have managed to secure an adequate number of doctors, nurses and attendants.

Even within individual states some outstanding superintendents have managed to raise their institutions to a decent level despite low pay scales and heavy overloads. By ingenuity, leadership and hard work some have succeeded not merely in discountenancing beatings and restricting the use of restraints and solitary confinement but in elimination these relics of the dark ages entirely.

The sad and shocking fact, however, is that these exceptions are few and far between. The vast majority of our state institutions are dreary, dilapidated excuses for hospitals, costly monuments to the states’ betrayal of the duty they have assumed to their most helpless wards.

Patients in a hospital for the mentally ill, c. 1946

Patients in a hospital for the mentally ill, c. 1946

 Charges such as these are far too serious to be based solely upon observations of any single investigator. But there is no need to do so. In addition to my own observations on a dozen hospitals, in addition to court records and the reports of occasional investigating commissions, there is now available for the first time a reliable body of data covering nearly one third of all the state hospitals in 20 states from Washington to Virginia, from Maine to Utah. A by-product of the war’s aggravation of the long-existing personnel shortage, this data represents the collated reports of more than 3,000 conscientious objectors who, under Selective Service, volunteered for assignment as mental hospital attendants. The majority are still in service and, with Selective Service approval, these serious young Methodists, Quakers, Mennonites and Brethren have been filling out questionnaires and writing “narratives” for use in the preparation of instructional material for mental-hospital workers.

One may differ, as I do, with the views that led these young men to take up a difficult and unpopular position against service in the armed forces. But one cannot help but recognize their honesty and sincerity in reporting upon the conditions they found in the hospitals to which they were assigned. Supported as they are by other official data, their reports leave no shadow of doubt as to the need for major reforms in the mental-hospital systems of almost every state.

Consider, for instance, the shocking data on brutality and physical abuse of the patients. One report form a New York State hospital reads as follows:

“… The testimony revealed that these four attendants slapped patients in the face as hard as they could, pummeling in their ribs with fists, some being knocked to the floor and kicked. One 230-pound bully had the habit of bumping patients on the back of the head with the heel of his hand — and on one occasion had the patient put his hand on a chair, the striking his fingers with a heavy passkey…”

From a state hospital in Iowa comes the following report:

“Then the ‘charge’ (attendant) and the patient who had done the choking began to kick the offender, principally along the back, but there were several kicks a the back of the neck and one very painful one in the genitals which caused the victim to scream and roll in agony. … Sometimes more than 20 kicks must have been administered. Finally e was dragged down the floor and locked in a side room. When I asked the ‘charge’ how it started, he said ‘Oh, nothing. That ——- ought to be killed.’ The victim was in handcuffs all the time; had been in handcuffs continuously for several days.”

From an Ohio state hospital:

“An attendant and I were sitting on the porch watching the patients. Somebody came along sweeping and the attendant yelled at a patient to get up off the bench so that the worker-patient could sweep. But the patient did not move. The attendant jumped up with an inch-wide restraining strap and began to beat the patient in the face and on top of the head. ‘Get the hell up…!’ It was a few minutes — a few horrible ones for the patient — before the attendant discovered that he was strapped around the middle to the bench and could not get up.”

These are but examples among score upon score of cases described and corroborated in the records of the National Mental Health Foundation. The ultraskeptical may feel that they represent the exaggerated views of impressionable conchies with a moral ax to grind. But this idea is fully refuted by the facts concerning other cases which have broken into the newspapers and reached the courts.

The state hospital at Nevada, Mo. Was investigated as a result of a death of a patient, Cordell Humphrey, last July 6. An autopsy performed by Dr. Van Urk of Carthage, Mo. Showed that Humphrey had been beaten severely a short time before his death. “There were marks on the arms, legs, chest, abdomen and head, and injuries to the brain that could have caused the death,” Dr. Van Urk reported. As a result of this incident Attendant Massey Cloninger was sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary and another attendant is awaiting trial on charges of assault.

At Hastings, Neb., in February of this year, former State Hospital Attendant William L. Skelton was convicted of assault in connection with the death of Alfred T. Anderson, a patient. Skelton helped hold Anderson down while another attendant hit him with a blackjack.

A patient at the Cleveland State Mental Hospital

A patient at the Cleveland State Mental Hospital

In 1941 five attendants at Connecticut’s Fairfield State Hospital were charged with complicity in two separate beatings of patients, one of whom died. Two of these attendants were convicted of manslaughter and one of assault. Early in 1942 two attendants were arrested for abusing five patients at the Middletown State Hospital and one of the attendants received a jail sentence. As a result the Public Welfare Council and the U.S Public Health Service made a thorough investigation of all the Connecticut mental institutions. Yet only last November serious charges of maladministration at the Fairfield State Hospital brought about another inquiry which ended with the resignation of the hospital superintendent.

Hospital administrators do not, of course, countenance beatings in Connecticut or elsewhere. Yet in case after case, instead of bringing criminal charges, they have been satisfied merely to admonish or, at most, discharge the guilty attendant — leaving him free to move on to other states or even to other hospitals within the same state. A typical instance of this sort came to light in Cleveland last year when Attendant Aaron Copley was tried and convicted in Municipal Court on a charge of assault and battery upon a patient. Copley contended that he was “being made the goat” and that brutality was commonly practiced in the Cleveland hospital. He submitted charges involving seven separate beatings by three other attendants. When the court probation officer investigated these charges he found that Attendant Hunter, one of those accused by Copley, had a record of previous conviction for arson and had been an inmate of the Veterans Administration mental hospital and Perry Point, Md. Yet despite this record, elicited in a single week by a few letters from the probation officer, Attendant Hunter had had no difficulty in securing and retaining employment at the Cleveland hospital. Even after suspicious “accidents” had occurred in his ward while he was on duty. The hospital had never bothered to make even a cursory check of Hunter’s character and background.

The fact is that beatings are merely the extreme end product which thrusts upon overworked, poorly trained and shamefully underpaid employees the burden of controlling hundreds of patients whom they fear and despise. Far more frequent than beatings are the endless cruelties involved in the use of constraints. Although some hospitals have managed to dispense with physical restraints entirely and others permit their use only on written order from doctors, the all-too-widespread practice is to leave the decision to tie down a patient or throw him into solitary up to the harassed and fearful attendant.

The investigators of the Connecticut hospitals in 1942 cited the presence of 16 patients in restraint and 32 in seclusion at Norwich State Hospital in February of the year. Deploring this, they expressed the pious hope that “the use of such measures be materially decreased”. Yet in a single month in 1945, according to records cited by two “conchie” attendants, 26 patients in this same hospital spent 6,552 hours in canvas lacings, mittens and sheets. Eighty others spent 13,900 hours in solitary seclusion!

One contentious-objector attendant, reporting from a state hospital in New York, gave the following account of the way in which restraints are abused. He wrote:

“We have one patient, E.E., who has been in restraint sheets for a period of several months; often he is not even toileted once during the day … Another patient, A.H., has been in a camisole for over a month and the only time it is taken off is once a week for bathing.”

In Pennsylvania, the state Bureau of Mental Health has issued repeated detailed orders, ever since 1925, limiting the use of restraints. In theory, under these orders, restraints “should be applied only on written order of a physician and for a specified period.” In theory a complete and detailed record on the use of restraint is supposed to be kept.

Yet the notes of a conference of about 300 members of the conchie unit at a Pennsylvania hospital in August 1944 read:

Sheet restraints are used considerably but never reported; the usual practice for the first half-day in hydrotherapy (female) is to put patients tautly in restraints with hands above heads, often causing immobility of arms when restraints are removed. … Towels are frequently used on both male and female sides for temporary restraint. … Cuffs and straps are in general use, in all combinations, partial and complete; sheets are used to tie ankles, necks and chests to beds, benches and chairs. Hands and feet are often observed in swollen condition because of insufficient supervision in such cases.”

“Records show an average of 38 or more in restraint; there are some cases when actual number in restraint is greater than the recorded number. Some have been in restraint in B [building] for the seven months that one attendant has worked there; some are in [restraint] on the female side for weeks and months without the doctors seeing them ‘because the doctors don’t like to go upstairs.'”

In the more “enlightened” hospitals chemical restraints (i.e., drugs) are used to keep the patients under control so that they will be less trouble to the attendant. In theory these drugs can be prescribed only be physicians or registered nurses. In practice they are often sent up to the wards in batches and administered at the discretion of untrained attendants. A case cited by one conchie at another Pennsylvania state hospital (and corroborated by another from the same unit) illustrates the end result of such “free hand” administration of drugs:

“L. was a young man about 25 … so quick and strong that they had a great deal of trouble trying to overpower him. He was given sedation — sodium phenobarbital — every three hours … After a while, after I had objected to the doctor, sedation was stopped and he made a serious attempt to save the boy. I made a copy of his sedation record. In 108 hours he received at least 90 grains [sic] of sodium phenobarbital -making no allowances for probable overdoses and a good bit of Hyoscine. The last few shots were given when he had a fever. He had had so many sedatives, however, that it was hopeless and he died.”


When one studies the almost endless parade of cases such as these, the correlation between mistreatment and brutality on the one hand and low pay, long hours and overcrowding on the other hand is immediately apparent.

Male patients at an institution for mental illness in Ohio

Male patients at an institution for mental illness in Ohio

At Warren, Pa., for instance, the hospital is supposed to have a capacity for 2,074. Actually its average daily resident-patient population is 2.560; a 23% overload. The scheduled number of employees is 500 … the actual number in recent months has averaged 371. There have been four physicians — one to every 640 patients — when the official schedule calls for 12 and any decent standard would require from 18 to 25. The “secret” of these personnel shortages — which have existed since long before the war — is readily apparent when one examines the wage scales. Attendants at Pennsylvania state hospitals start at the magnificent base pay of less than $900 a year plus maintenance. By contrast the same state starts prison guards off at $1,950 a year plus maintenance, although the psychiatric attendant’s job is more dangerous and certainly far less pleasant than that of the prison guard.

Nor is Pennsylvania by any means the worst among the states. At the state hospital at Howard, R.I., there were approximately 200 vacancies among attendants on Dec. 13, 1945. The starting wage for attendants was $55 a month and maintenance.

The rated capacity of Cherokee State Hospital, Iowa is 1,200 patients. On Dec. 20, 1945 it had 1,725 on its rolls. Yet of 20 “budgeted” nurses only two were on the rolls; of 130 budgeted attendants only 62 were actually employed. Attendants’ wages start at $65 a month.

Penny-pinching is not limited to wages. Between skimped budgets and a lack of help scores of hospitals have not been able to maintain even a minimum standard of building maintenance. From one of the Virginia state hospitals comes the following report:

“There is no shower in the infirmary and senile ward … only two bathtubs for approximately 65 patients … In one bathroom dirty water from pipes in a bathroom overhead drips into our bathtub and on the patient being bathed, as well as on the attendant doing the bathing.”

From a New York state institution:

“On Ward 41 we keep the more disturbed and untidy patients … who frequently break the windowpanes. During the summer no attempt was made to replace broken panes. When cold weather came there were still no windowpanes put in. For two weeks we attendants called the attention of the supervisor to this condition but [he] merely passed it off as unnecessary, not bothering to even go out to the day room to investigate.”

Even the food is skimped. In 1940 the average value of the food consumed by patients in mental hospitals throughout the U.S. was 23.3c per day. Some states were trying to feed patients on as little as 17c a day and even in such high-cost areas as New York the daily food consumption was only 26.8c. In most cases these figures include the food raised by patient labor on hospital farms.

Investigators are often fooled by elaborate menus prepared by dieticians and carefully filed in the hospital records. How deceptive these menus can be is demonstrated by the records kept by one objector-attendant at a Connecticut state hospital.

One morning in August 1944, when the patients’ breakfast menu called for Maltex and soft-cooked eggs, the patients got merely Maltex. That night instead of a menu-listed ration of “macaroni, tomatoes and cheese” their supper consisted of nothing but lima-bean soup. A few days later breakfast was supposed to have consisted of “orange halves, corn meal and scrambled eggs.” The patients got only corn meal. For dinner that day they were supposed to have “beef stew and steamed rice with raisins.” They actually ate frankfurters, squash and potatoes. For supper they were scheduled to get naked beans and coleslaw. They actually got bean soup and nothing else.

From a New Jersey state hospital, an attendant writes:

“At its worst, which we see daily, the plate takes on the appearance of what usually is found in most garbage cans … I have seen coleslaw salad thrown loose on the table, the patients expected to grab it as animals would … Tables, chairs and floors are … many times covered with the refuse of the previous meal.”

The inadequacy of the patients’ food is often aggravated by the assignment of the finest food to the hospital staffs. The dinner menu for the doctors at a Pennsylvania state hospital on a Tuesday in August 1945 consisted of a “prime rib roast beef with gravy, broiled potatoes, roast corn on the cob, bread (white, whole wheat, rye or raisin) with butter, salad of cucumber, lettuce and celery, apple-apricot pie and coffee, tea, iced coffee, iced tea, or milk.” On the same day patients in several buildings got “hard boiled eggs, lima beans, beets, white bread without butter and milk or black coffee.”

Pennsylvania state law requires that all milk except Grade A be pasteurized. Grade A milk is required to have a bacteria count of fewer than 50,000 per cubic centimeter. On 22 separate occasions from January 1943 to December 1944 tests were made of the milk served in the patients’ dining room at Warren State Hospital. On only six occasions did it comply with the law. The average bacteria count of this unpasteurized raw milk was 398,100. On three occasions it exceeded 1,250,000 and on one occasion it exceeded 3,200,000!


Abuse and the punitive use of restraints, overcrowding, underfeeding and dilapidation might all be condoned if only these hospitals achieved a reasonable standard of treatment and cure. But the fact is that the vast majority of them fall far below the achievements of the far better hospitals and far, far below what could be achieved if cure rather than mere custody were the primary objective.

Pilgrim State Hospital inmates, 1936

Pilgrim State Hospital inmates, 1936

Annually, in the U.S. as a whole, for every 100 mental patients fewer than 12 are discharged as improved. Even of these, more than 40% have to be readmitted and reconfined, usually within a few months.

The discharge rate tends to fall as overcrowding rises. Again using pre-Pearl Harbor figures, New Mexico, overcrowded by 107.5%, achieves a discharge rate of only 4.1%. Illinois, on the other hand, has only a few hundred more patients than its buildings were deigned to hold. Its discharge rate is 15.9%, nearly four times as high as that of New Mexico.

There are eight so-called “special therapies” which provide a good index of the degree to which any hospital attempts to achieve cur or improvement for the large proportion of cases where modern medicine offers hope. In most of the northern and central states in all eight of these types of treatment are, at least theoretically, available to the patients. But the figures of 1939, before war emergencies rose, indicate the North Carolina offers only two of the eight; South Dakota, Vermont, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada offer only three; Alabama, Utah and North Dakota offer only four.

In some hospitals the shortage of personnel and the patient overload have progressed to the point where physicians make little pretense of treating any large proportion of the patients. The vast majority of patients get whatever treatment they do receive from unskilled and untrained attendants. A Mental Health Foundation report from an Iowa state hospital reads:

“Attendants give medications constantly and without doctor’s signature, on oral orders only. They decide restraint problems and no reports arte made. They receive no training. There are no nurses in this hospital.”

A similar report from another Iowa hospital says:

“There is no systematic review of classification and parole-eligibility by the staff. Such review was begun a year ago but given up as hopeless within a few weeks … Many patients are good parole prospects but are not considered except upon request of relatives … no longer any special diets for diabetics. Such diets used to be prepared some time ago but have been discontinued. Diabetics eat the same meals as other patients now.”

Despite work loads that would break the strongest men, many state hospital physicians labor to the point of exhaustion in a sincere effort to do their best under discouraging circumstances. In the many hospitals I have visited I have seen many men and women physicians doing jobs of truly heroic proportions. At Dayton, Ohio, a 73-year old woman physician has come out of retirement to work long hours, often visiting her patients in a wheelchair.


Others, however, are incompetents, alcoholics and psychotics who could hold no position in well-run institutions where cure is the objective. All too often the end result can be described in the terms used in a report form an Indiana state hospital:

“During my three months there I never saw the ward doctor give any but a cursory physical examination. He usually would stop but for a moment at the bedside of new patients. He was nicknamed ‘The Butcher’ by the nurses, after his manner of lancing boils. He seldom came to the ward to declare and expired patient dead. He would be called on the phone by the nurse when a patient was thought to have expired. Usually he would say ‘Oke’ and that would be the end of it. On outwards, patients are prepared for and set to the morgue without ever a doctor appearing on the ward.”

From a Pennsylvania state hospital a report reads:

“On one occasion a young patent with a fractured hip was sent to us (2-West, male infirmary) and we got him up into a wheelchair for several days, not knowing what was wrong with him. No doctor corrected our mistake until five weeks later.”

From Utah comes the report:

“A patient became ill and his rectal temperature was fond to be 105.4. The doctor who was called replied “He gets a high temperature every once in a while, so don’t worry about it.'”

Such instances of callousness and incompetence — and the records are replete with hundreds more — cannot, of course, be excused in men licensed ad physicians and pledged to the Hippocratic oath. Yet the major burden of blame must be placed elsewhere than upon physicians’ shoulders when reports such as this one from a Rhode Island state hospital are considered:

“After much persuasion our ward doctor finally examined a patient suspected of having tuberculosis and sent him eventually to the sanitarium. The patient died two days later of active tuberculosis. The doctor had far too many patients to handle. He was responsible for 550 at the hospital plus some 200 men at the state prison.”

As evidence mounts up one s led, inevitable, to the question, “Can things like this ever be corrected?” Fortunately, the answer is “Yes,” or rather, “Yes, but it takes hard work.” For the state of Ohio, where conditions were as bad as anywhere in the U.S., a major reform movement is now under way.

It started in 1943 when a group of conscientious objectors stationed at Cleveland State Hospital interested in two leading Cleveland citizens, the Rev. Dr. Dores R. Sharpe, executive secretary of the Cleveland Baptist Association, and Walter Lerch of the Cleveland Press. Before these men the conchies laid a stack of affidavits a foot high, affidavits covering conditions such as those I have describes and other horrors even worse.

After confirming the accuracy of the affidavits by his own investigations, Lerch broke the story on the front page of the Cleveland Press in October 1943. Day after day he brought forth more evidence — proving the beating and shackling of patients, proving the inadequacy and revolting nature of the food, the overcrowding, the low salaries, the neglect of treatment.

At first the stories were met by officials with shocked cries of “it ain’t so.” But when Haden Blake, an attendant, was ordered arrested for beating a patient and when Blake was permitted to walk out the back door and escape when the arresting officer cam for him, the governor was forced to authorize an investigation. Even so, for a period an attempt was made to cover-up and white-wash. The “investigation,” conducted by the state welfare director — himself under criticism as the man ultimately responsible for the operation of Ohio mental hospitals — brought forth a report reporting gross exaggerations.

In a patient's room at Cleveland State Mental Hospital

In a patient’s room at Cleveland State Mental Hospital


The entire matter might have died at this point, as have so many other newspaper exposes, had not the Cleveland hospital superintendent, a Dr. Hans Lee, made the mistake of seeking to oust the complaining conscientious-objector attendants instead of those charged with beatings. Lerch sailed in once again, showing that one objector, who had confessed to beating a patient, was being detained while the complaining witnesses were being dismissed. Within a few days another attendant was under arrest. A day or two later a patient walked off the grounds and to the great embarrassment of the authorities committed suicide in public. Church groups and civic bodies rallied around Lerch and Sharpe, calling for a real probe and, after eight weeks of charges and countercharges, Governor Bricker finally named a representative committee to conduct a real investigation.

For months Lerch kept the fires of criticism hot with further charges. It was shown that four female patients had arrived at the hospital only to be thrust into strong rooms and left there unattended until all four came down with pneumonia. Their unconscious bodies and high temperatures were discovered only on the day of their death.

It was shown that rats, in a makeshift basement morgue, ate away the face of an aged patient while his body awaited burial.

It was proved that only 13 beds were provided for tubercular cases in interior rooms having neither sunlight nor ventilation. It was demonstrated that during at least one two-week period no medical officer, except the superintendent on a routine tour, had seen the desperately ill people.

Lerch kept hammering away with more and more evidence until. In May of 1944, seven months after the first expose, the soon-to-retire governor appointed Dr. Frank F. Tallman to the long-vacant post of State Commissioner for Mental Hygiene. Then things really began to happen.

Within a few weeks, the superintendent at Cleveland “came to the conclusion” that he might best resign. The governor’s Griswold Commission came in with a scathing report, confirming the previously denied charges and recommending a $36,700,000 program for additions and new hospitals.

Yet Sharpe and Lerch and Tallman were hardly satisfied, for recommendations are not appropriations and the proposed “brick and mortar” building program, while desperately needed, did nothing to raise employee standards or solve personnel shortages. They kept on campaigning and in January 1945 got another break when Sharpe was appointed foreman of the Cayuga County Grand Jury.

Under the dynamic teacher that runaway jury took the old common law literally and proceeded to investigate the Cleveland hospital from dank cellars to dark attics. It finally issued a special presentment which concluded that an unprecedented indictment of the state itself as “the uncivilized social system which enabled such an intolerable and barbaric practice to fasten itself upon the people.”

With Lerch, now joined by other newspapers, making the most of Sharpe’s presentment, a reluctant legislature voted $17,000,000 for new hospitals. Under Tallman many of the worst abuses are being eliminated and the long, hard climb toward a decent standard begun.

A prime point in the new program calls for a chain of receiving hospitals, special institutions to which new cases are sent for diagnosis and three months or less of intensive therapy without the stigma of court commitment and incarceration in an “insane asylum.” The first of these was opened last November at Youngstown with a capacity of 80 patients and a staff of 60, including two physicians, a psychologist, two social workers and 14 graduate nurses.

Intensive treatment of this sort is expensive. It cost $6 a day as opposed to $1.20 a day in Ohio’s large and essentially custodial mental institutions. But it produces dramatically effective results. In the first three months of the Youngstown Hospital’s operation 89 patients were discharged after an average stay of only six weeks. Of these 71 were discharged back to their homes as “improved” and capable of at least a trial at adjustment to life in the outside world. Only 18 were sent to other institutions.

The gain to the state is obvious. For something less than $300 — spent on six weeks of intensive treatment — the state receives a high proportion of useful, economically productive citizens, while the custodial institutions, harboring identical cases, send as much or more per patient at their deceptively cheap rate of and, in the end, fail to restore the majority of these citizens to society.

In addition to these small intensive-treatment hospitals, Ohio has acquired hundreds of new beds since the reform movement started and had thousands more under, or awaiting, construction. A strong drive is under way to acquire new personnel and — even more important — to train new help so that they can function as medical personnel rather than as keepers. Many of the outstanding sadists and incompetents of the old regime have been dismissed; abuse and mistreatment of patients is no longer tolerated complacently.

Yet the leaders of Ohio’s mental-hospital reform movement — both within and outside of the administration — are by no means satisfied with the progress that has been made. Their principal difficulty centers around the pitifully low payments of attendants, nurses and physicians and the impossibility of securing adequate personnel to work 12-hour days for such small wages. Here, up to now, they have been stymied for the lack of appropriations.

But they are carrying on the fight. Under the leadership of Dr. Sharpe the newly formed Ohio Mental Hygiene Association has become a rallying point for everyone interested in hospital improvement. Governor Lausche has promised to press for funds for additional personnel and for the change-over to the eight-hour day. If these gains — plus substantial salary increases all the way down the line — can be wrung out of what has been a reluctant and penny-pinching legislature, Ohio will be well on the way to the leading position in the care of the mentally sick which the state once occupied 50 years ago.

For the rest of the country the Ohio experience demonstrates an effective technique through which reform can be achieved. It is no easy formula to follow. It requires years of hard work ad the intense interest of at least a few leading members of the community. But spark-plugged by understanding and dynamic leaders and properly presented to the people, a hospital reform can sweep any state — just as it has in Ohio. For what happens to the mentally-sick in our present hellhole hospitals is not the sad experience of some other fellow. Ever minister, every doctor and every leader of any community organization knows that mental illness can strike down members of his immediate circle. Given the facts and given leaders of the caliber of Sharpe or Lerch, the people of any state will rally, as have the common people of Ohio, to put an end to concentration camps that masquerade as hospitals and to make cure rather than incarceration the goal of their mental institutions.

[Originally from an exposé in published in LIFE Magazine on May 6th, 1946 titled “Bedlam 1946.” The original article is viewable via Google Books here. Lots more pictures. A transcribed (much more readable, lacking pictures) version of the article is here.]


There are several reasons, lack of education, racial intolerance, racial resentment, and a gullibility that borders on arrogance, I know this will probably piss off some people, but there are truths that are self evident, these folks have been sold an illusion called the American dream, and they buy it because they can see how wealthy their GOP masters have become, and they lack the education to work out that this dream can only work for the few and not the many. This ties into the bullshit notion of American exceptional-ism which only reinforces feelings of superiority over what they regard as not real Americans. Generations of these folks have been brought up on a diet of fear and lies about illegal immigrants and lazy colored people living on government handouts which will come out of their taxes if the ever reach that threshold. To these people modern democracy and progressive social policies are interpreted as welfare for non white Americans, so it is no surprise that every time the government tries to introduce things like social security, medicare, etc, the right wing screams communist, and the gullible echo, it is also a sad and regrettable fact that a lot of these people resent the passing of the civil rights act. Therefore instead of showing gratitude to the party that has ensured them some quality of life, they blindly vote GOP and dream of Beverley hillbillies and that elusive American dream.

Is there a Morality of Profit? Hrm. I dont think so!

“A society is moral if it both allows man to fulfill his potential and, in utilitarian terms, creates the most good. Fortunately, a society based on the profit motive can achieve both of these factors. By acknowledging the fundamentals of human nature — that man is intrinsically self-interested — and channeling it towards productivity through a system based on such an understanding, both individuals and societies will develop and grow.”

I beg to differ. Under this logic, the unbridled application of the profit motive would create the most moral society — and history shows us instead the Gilded Age. Unrestrained capitalism may produce the most wealth, but the wildly unequal distribution of that wealth guarantees that some will have more opportunity to fulfill their potential than others. The reality is that the more the profit motive rules, the less moral the resulting society.

I would have to be a blithering idiot to ascribe no good to the profit motive, nor acknowledge the multitude of positive human endeavors in which it plays an indispensable part. The transcontinental railroad, for example, allowed for the wholesale destruction of the buffalo, sealing the fate of the Plains Indians. But it also linked two sides of the continent — the epitome of an inevitable development. I would not be writing this without the internet and 10,000 inventions that preceded it — many motivated by the desire to make money. Societies in which there is no profit motive mostly do not work — witness North Korea. (I say “mostly” because many small communitarian societies in which there is no profit motive have worked very well. Native American tribes are a prime example.)

Without the profit motive we wouldn’t have much in the way of mining, oil and gas, skyscrapers, bridges, food production, housing, biotech, retail, fashion, banking and air travel — in short, all the elements of modern industrial society. It is also an indispensable part of any realistic solution to third world poverty — though ironically so, as this poverty is almost always inextricably linked to the legacy of rapacious colonialism.

But the fact is that the best things we do as human beings are never motivated by the desire for profit. Not one poem is written, symphony composed, or masterpiece painted. Miep Gies did not hide the Frank family for money, nor was it the reason Mother Teresa tended the sick of Calcutta. It’s not why 99.9 percent of all athletes pick up a football, swim a mile, or run a marathon. It’s not why you read to your kids at night, tend to an aging parent, or stage an intervention for a drug-addicted friend.

Here are two lists. One denotes 10 things done solely with profit as an overriding motive; the other, 10 things in which the desire for profit plays little or no part. (If there is a related consequence, I put it in parentheses.)


1. The Slave Trade (Civil War)
2. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
3. The Iraq War
4. Sex trafficking
5. Blood diamonds
6. The arms trade
7. The drug trade
8. The genocide of Native Americans
9. The destruction of rain forests
10. Off-shore drilling (The BP Disaster)

Little or No Profit Motive

1. Motherhood
2. Affection
3. Volunteering
4. The Arts
5. Play
6. Twelve-step Programs
7. National parks
8. Exploration
9. The Olympics
10. Education

The profit motive may be necessary, but “moral” hardly seems like the right adjective for it. Loan-sharking is not moral. Strip mining is not moral. Sweatshops are not moral. A world in which making money reigns as a supreme expression of morality would be a sorry utopia indeed. Greed may be inevitable, but the urge to accumulate as much as possible should be far down on the list of traits a society should ever want to anoint as one of its highest values.