A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Posts Tagged ‘history’

Family Jewels (Central Intelligence Agency)

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 8, 2022

"Family Jewels." First 6 pages. "Approved For Release June 2007" [2nd Frame]. The CIA's official admission to illegal activities over a 25-year period.

“Family Jewels.” 1st 6 pages. “Approved For Release June 2007” [2nd Frame]. The CIA’s official admission to illegal activities over a 25-year period.

This. The infamous series of reports officially admitting to & describing secret illegal activities conducted by the CIA between 1959 and 1973. Most of these were declassified & released in 2007 due to FIFAs filed by the National Security Archive. These are copies of the original photocopied “secret” level memos & reports compiled at the behest of former CIA director Schlesinger as a result of enormous Watergate backlash (& initially “broken” as a NY Times front page feature in 1974) & this heavily redacted 700-page “book” was delivered to William Colby when he replaced Schlesinger. It is preceded by a short summary literally stating that the “Central Intelligence Agency violated its charter for 25 years until revelations of illegal wiretapping, domestic surveillance, assassination plots, and human experimentation led to official investigations and reforms in the 1970s.” This was delivered to Congress members many years before being declassified.

The contents are controversial for many reasons & many are obvious. The CIA officially admitted to 18 “issues,” some of which were fairly well known yet officially unconfirmed in some sectors (well above the rumor level). (I forget the reason, but these 18 issues were then reduced to only 8 in the attachments to the memo introducing this book–these documents.) Some then-suspected & later publicly infamous examples included the Nosenko defection, Project MOCKINGBIRD, assassination plots/attempts against Castro (shock!) and possibly as well as African & South American leaders, and moving on, illegal domestic surveillance of specific targets & more. Among traditional “conspiracy theories” addressed, these documents validate the numerous accusations of the Mafia’s direct involvement with/in CIA attempts to assassinate Castro — rumors long denied. Such admissions led to later further “embarrassing” revelations about the COINTELPRO program, the Church Committee, lesser known programs, various black ops activities (allegedly influencing American culture as seen in films like Apocalypse Now) & an untold number of potential human rights violations — particularly in South America — that included everything from (potentially lethal) torture (the infamous “Psychological Operations In Guerrilla Warfare,” modified several known times [yet rumored by some to have been modified several more times] provides a formal example of various strategies that, IMO, mirror Ho’s numerous effective tactics such as emphasizing the importance of the political component along with the military while engaging in unconventional warfare. Some of the changes made in revisions included replacing the term “removing” selected targets to instead “neutralize” them, how to frame the narrative to the local peasants after shooting a specific individual, & while discussing the illegality of certain actions, providing helpful suggestions such as “… professional criminals will be hired to carry out specific selective ‘jobs” — a section deleted in later versions of the manual, as well as selecting a person (presumably unknowing) to possibly die during a demonstration & thus create a martyr & “a situation which should be taken advantage of immediately against the regime so as to create greater conflicts.” [This section was also modified in later versions of this manual, which was written specifically for “freedom commandos” in a very well known country which was literally identified on the first page of the Preface itself.] to psyops to working with liaisons from friendly agencies to finding reliable interpreters & much more.

The memo refers to only 8 issues (and one would think a couple seem benign, which naturally is shocking…) yet within the 700+ pages, one finds documented mention of other known and unknown spurious and/or illicit programs such as Operation Phoenix. (The claims made by Director Colby in a Memo to Lloyd Shearer, Editor of Parade Magazine on January 10, 1972 would seem to literally contradict the reality of what has become known about that program in South Vietnam. The director states emphatically that the CIA “does not and has not used political assassination as a weapon.” Which can be interpreted in many ways and I’m confident the director consulted with lawyers about that wording to ensure what was literally said in that statement would hold up as accurate in court. My personal theory. However, one might surmise from mountains of plausible evidence over a much larger period of time than was studied for this report — and note the director does not put a timeframe around that assertion, so he must be 100% accurate throughout the entirety of the CIA’s existence, technically. Which seems to be quite doubtful to me, but I have no personal knowledge, so again, merely a theory. The second of three sections involves plausible denial as the director attempts to shift responsibility for “running” Operation Phoenix from the CIA to the Government of Vietnam. In this, that’s almost certainly an accurate statement, but many would argue only technically and not functionally in any feasible way. It’s common for many military advisors (and associated advisors) of many nations, including the US, to set programs up for training purposes to get local/sovereign governments, militaries, agencies, contractors, rebels, etc., to do the work themselves for this very reason — to be able to legally deny responsibility for any potentially illegal activity that could result in negativities, whether human rights abuse charges or an outright act of war (the US was not supposed to be allowed to enter Cambodia, for instance, as well as  Laos — at least until 1965 in Laos. Officially. “Officially.” But just because the US couldn’t legally go certain places didn’t mean locals trained by the US couldn’t, etc. Yet then there’s the little thorny issue that “official” sometimes doesn’t translate to “literal,” for whatever that tidbit’s worth. You can look it up. Last, Colby’s 3rd point is a strong assertion that Operation Phoenix was not a “program of assassination,” and admitted VC members died but typically resisting police arrest and relatively few at that. Well, this is not universally agreed upon, but there has been enough evidence, eye witness accounts from both CIA and US military involved, not to say Vietnamese as well, that it’s hard to put a completely accurate number to things, but first — yes, I would agree with Director Colby’s statement that “Operation Phoenix is not a program of assassination.” Director Colby is exhibiting skills he no doubt learned while attending Columbia Law School, and which most law school students regardless of the institution learn — everything depends on the words you use and the way they are arranged. It’s how you “frame the narrative.” Yes, I went to law school as well and I spent 12 years working in the legal field. I’m not the sharpest person out there, and not nearly as much as Mr. Colby was, but I can usually argue any topic I want or am faced with using the most bizarre, unlikely, fantastical arguments or assertions and yet make my case over and over because of how I frame my words, how I present my case. You don’t gain admission to a postgraduate level leading scientific “academy” that REQUIRES either an MD or PhD in one very narrow medical/scientific field, as well as some 20 years of experience — part clinical, part research — when you have earned degrees, including a terminal degree, and when you have over 30 years of professional experience — but NONE that have anything to do with that specific scientific field unless you can do your due diligence, build a case and frame your argument in a convincing enough fashion to be basically the lone person ever admitted without any required credentials. Because I DO/DID meet the standards in terms of multiple degrees, including a terminal degree, and while my 30 years of work experience weren’t all in that one narrow specialty, I can make a case I’ve often made which is basically simply because I lacked the official job TITLE of “X” didn’t/doesn’t mean I didn’t do that job. In point of fact, there were times when I did little BUT that job for any number of roles and companies while often wearing many hats, without the specific title (and often the salary to go with it). Moreover, I was able to show over 100 medical/scientific postgrad-level books I’ve read and researched over the years to the point where I have literally taught small lessons and classes to scientists and surgeons in that field, and I HAVE worked in other medical/science fields and published at the peer review level, and much more, and I provided evidence over a period of weeks, provided a detailed personal research proposal, which I literally had been working on just on my own — cause I’m weird like that — and it worked! And that’s worked dozens of times and I’ve never lied and it’s always been legitimate. One other example. How do you gain admission to a narrow, highly focused professional organization with tight high-level admission criteria when you lack any degree in that one field and the org requires multiple degrees in it, as well as the required 20+ years of verifiable work experience at a very senior level — again, verifiable — when you never had that job title, nor those official responsibilities? Same method. I have more degrees than they require, but in other fields of study. I never had that job title, but I did in related fields and have been a professional member of a major professional organization of that related high-tech field for decades, and I was able to prove that while not having that title, I nonetheless fulfilled such a role in nearly every company for which I worked for over two decades. Case closed.

Yes, I went on too long, but to prove a point. Director Colby is accurate in stating “Operation Phoenix” is not a program of assassination.” But look at the words used, the word choice. This wasn’t under questioning where one has to think on their feet. This was a letter sent to an editor in which Mr. Colby, and even colleagues — such as agency lawyers — would have had ample time to prepare to a legal, technically accurate way of responding to each of these issues while skirting admission to what may otherwise amount to the same. Because while it was not a “program of assassination,” there is little doubt that it WAS a program of A) intelligence gathering (typically under incredibly inhumane torture methods that left few survivors — but they weren’t “assassinated” and B) an official VC “Neutralization” program in which South Vietnamese PRUs went to villages in search of individuals on lists given to them daily labeling certain persons as VC they needed to find and “neutralize.” And am I making this up or writing in a subjectively critical fashion. No, I don’t believe so. Not only have I studied this program using articles, books, documents, etc., written and published by former CIA and US military professionals involved with the program, but I’ve read explicit accounts of aspects of it as reported by various South Vietnamese witnesses and survivors. And indeed, even straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak as one of the program’s major proponents who was so very publicly and who was one of the US provincial leaders (and yes, it wasn’t “run” by the CIA, but it WAS created and funded by the CIA, if not administered as well, which is merely splitting hairs with Colby’s choice of words in “run by”) — Col. Andrew R. Finlayson (Ret.), USMC who joined the program in a leadership role in the summer of 1969 under the umbrella of the CIA. He wrote an infamous piece called “ A Retrospective on Counterinsurgency Operations: The Tay Ninh Provincial Reconnaissance Unit and Its Role in the Phoenix Program, 1969-70″ that was published in a journal called Studies in Intelligence Vol. 51 No. 2, 2007. It’s not a household name journal because it has a very niche audience. But guess who reads Studies in Intelligence? You’re right — me! As I write, I’m looking at the cover of an issue titled “CIA and the Wars in Southeast Asia 1947-75” from the August 2016 issue. Fascinating. And beside it I have Col. Finlayson’s own article in its entirety, which I had already read and just read again. And despite claims of NON-government attribution in the journal as the material is “created by individuals other than US government employees,” the publisher of this journal is the Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington D.C. 20505. 🙂 Get that? I guess the only way the CIA can back that assertion up is by having Retired individuals “create” the material published in the journal because otherwise it’s nothing BUT US government and CIA-focused! That’s awesome. I like playing word games like that. The point is though that the colonel talks a good game and is a good PR manager for the program — for HIS territory, but can’t speak on behalf of the others. But it was very effective in his territory. I’d wager many would say it was extremely effective in its goals by any standard, so he has little to brag about. When your goals are detain (or shoot on sight), torture and torture to death in many cases, and “neutralize” “suspected” VC adversaries — and the word “neutralize” can take on so many meanings — you can afford to claim you’re not assassinating people and you can afford to even possibly claim those killed were largely “resisting police arrest” and then basically end your argument by saying that besides, the CIA’s “abuses” couldn’t possibly compare to “the Viet Cong’s conscious campaign of terrorism…” Beautiful. Lawyer-speak. Of course your opponent is much more vile than you, so you can admit to being vile — just not as bad as the other guy. You can say no assassinations, but admit to people getting “killed in the course of military operations” or “resisting police arrest” when you know — but the civilians don’t — that those two phrases merely mean having PRU squads headed by US CIA and military leaders go from village to village with a list of people to obtain and “neutralize,” resulting in a large majority being gunned down in the villages before ever making it back to get interrogated. Moreover, as has always been the case in such warfare,  but as Americans only started learning then and didn’t really “get it” until decades later in the desert, various forms of unconventional warfare can complicate things because when you have to capture and detain specifically named persons in areas where there are no street addresses or phone numbers and worse, NO Uniforms so one can tell the difference between combatant and civilian, well as most people know by now, when you can’t tell ‘m apart, you just start shooting. (You never know who’s going to be the suicide bomber…) And with even the operators in this classified program getting daily body kill count quotas like the regular army units, there was pressure and temptation to just start producing bodies and label them whatever the adverserial label was for that day — Viet Cong, VCI, whatever. So the colonel is right in arguing Phoenix’s effectiveness. Between Tet and Phoenix, the VC were basically wiped out. But Colby plays a nice legal trick on the editor by his choice of words and his intentionally downplaying Methods of death (indiscriminate murder but not assassination could be one way of looking at it) so that they would be viewed as both understandable (in a war zone, not a prison) and even desirable (resisting arrest? They probably deserved it, especially since they were commie terrorists) and the icing on the cake was Colby’s assurances that there really weren’t that many “abuses” and besides the VC were SoMuchWorse!

Just for the record, since it’s impossible to know how many deaths to attribute to Operation Phoenix, that doesn’t mean that haven’t been many attempts to do so on behalf of many different groups and the generally agreed upon minimal is about 25,000 killed and the Facts And Details site refers to Wikipedia in stating that between 1965 and 1972, “Phoenix operatives had ‘neutralized’ 81,740 suspected NLF operatives, informants and supporters, of whom 26,369 were killed.” I happen to know that Wiki got that info from MACV itself, ie., the US military/government. So as with all of the body count numbers there, how reliable are those? Col. Finlayson tries to justify the program’s effectiveness AND the raw deal it’d gotten in the press as a human rights criminal program by stating “only 14% of the VCI (their prey) killed under Phoenix were killed by PRUs” … while most of “the rest died in skirmished and raids involving South Vietnamese soldiers and police and the US military.”

Wow. I don’t know about you, but wow. If that’s not a prime example of “changing the narrative,” I don’t know what is. PRUs were “Provincial Reconnaissance Units” designed solely for the Phoenix program, described by Finlayson himself as “the most controversial element of Phoenix.” Paramilitary forces known as “Counter-Terror Teams.” Over 4,000 of them operated throughout South Vietnam and were originally under the individual command of US military officers until the end of 1969 when they were handed back to the CIA. The 18-men teams were heavily armed in addition to having state of the art med kits, radios, motorcycles and 4×4 Toyota trucks. The colonel’s original assessment was that they “lacked fire discipline,” which he doesn’t adequently define leaving readers to guess if that implies they were basically cowboys who started shooting at first sight until they ran out of ammo, thus accounting for a good portion of the 14% the colonel claims the PRUs were responsible for killing. Recall, the US government itself claimed over 81,000 people died under Phoenix, so if the PRUs “only” killed 14%, that would come close to 12,000 people. And that’s a number to be proud of, according to the colonel, since others did “most” of the rest of the killing. In other words, those other 70,000 dead people weren’t his fault so lay off him. Yes, it’s that damn simple. And yes, Colby did what any good lawyer would do and misrepresented facts by framing them in vague terms with zero specifics and comparing the assurance of a small (undefined) number of “abuses” and killed to the horror that the enemy doled out, allowing the American public to feel some relief from any war guilt they may have been feeling. And since this letter was written in 1972, a shitload of Americans were feeling shitty about a whole lot of things. So it was good to not feel shitty about one of those things, right?

Okay, I apologize for getting way off track, but I sometimes enjoy getting carried away. Retirement does that to you. You feel the need to babble incessantly at times, a fault my wife kindly reminds me I’m guilty of at times.

So going back to the original top of Family Jewels, I started to try and attach it as a “family member,” so to speak, of one of the infamous “CIA torture manuals,” in this case the “Psychological Operations In Guerrilla Warfare” manual, which I’ve had and studied for years. And I have the other torture manuals. But I have to be candid in stating I know those much better than Family Jewels for many reasons, but one is simply that I rarely have the time these days to read a 700-page tome with everything else I do so I’ve read bits and pieces of it and I’ve read a lot About most of it, which is where I got the info to spit out something about the CIA finding 18 “issues,” though only 8 are outlined in the memo. One issue that often is associated with all of these documents and manuals is training. Specifically the training the CIA does (and the military and now also private contractors, formerly referred to as mercenaries) for tens of thousands of international militaries and police units. And unfortunately with a number of those trained later being accused of human rights violations. Some have called it a “Culture.”

One aspect of this culture that seems to have been there from the beginning through the present is the military & police training of a rumored number of students numbering in the hundreds of thousands, largely through the School of Americas (SOA), now renamed, which trained military & police leaders from hundreds of countries since its creation in 1946 with a special emphasis on Latin American students & with a focus on counterinsurgency used to allegedly fight communism during the Cold War but since the dismantling of the Cold War, a new focus on illegal drug lords & gangs, who were allegedly rebranded “terrorists” after 9/11, but which resulted in autocratic countries led by so-called dictators, most accused by various organizations of being guilty of US-backed atrocities & human rights violations as it was alleged that many labeled whomever they wished (political opponents, unruly peasants, etc.) as “terrorists” to eliminate via infamous, feared “death squads.” Examples of such who were alleged graduates of SOA, newly American trained, include Argentine General Viola, Panama’s Manuel Noriega, Guatemalan Colonel Alpirez (allegedly killed US citizens, among others), Honduran General Discua, Salvadoran Colonel Monterrosa, Guatemalan Colonel Osorio (convicted of murdering anthropologist Myrna Mack) & virtually all of the officers working for the most notorious of them all, Chilean General Pinochet, such a brazen “terrorist” that in 1976, two Chilean diplomats were assassinated on the streets of Washington, DC itself, stunning both the world & the US federal government. The fact that the Letelier political assassination was carried out by Chilean secret police in the US (through the South American Operation Condor project) has led some to question whether the CIA would have been aware of such activities, though I’m unaware of anything considered definitive on the part of anyone.

My point in belaboring that last mentioned aspect of the Family Jewels documents is that a major “issue” the CIA possibly found itself “guilty” of during a 25-year period could conceivably be representative of the agency’s entire history of its training international professionals, possibly through the present. That is purely speculative, but cannot be ruled out.

Ultimately while both scholars & critics (as well as victims) have been happy to have so much documented information released, a number of people have asserted that it’s difficult to believe that over a 25-year period, “only” 18 “issues” (let alone 8!) were found & self-reported by the CIA when skeptics assert there surely must be much more than “only” that many. I personally have no knowledge or theories regarding that as I am merely a student of history & remain absorbed in reading, research & analysis with documented histories of any number of subjects, as my weakness is that I’m interested in too much & thus spread myself too thin.

I could go on endlessly, but I’ve already devoted too much time & energy to this post. But both for anyone interested as well as to publicly emphasize that ALL of documents & information described & discussed herein is “open source,” declassified & identified as such, readily available to any interested parties at multiple sources & one only needs a search engine & several minutes to find, access & obtain this & additional documents at will. As I stated, I am a student of history & take such seriously. As a result, I view it as necessary, essential & intellectually honest to (re)learn the standard fare we all receive but to be honest & objective enough to find & learn about the warts & possible ugliness regarding not only world history but nationalistic history & thus to eventually gloss over the perennially regurgitated & THINK, because we aren’t used to doing that & it’s actually often discouraged in some areas. Thus I’ve pondered things my entire life & found myself wondering how Hawaii became a US state, because no one ever learns about that, or why did Puerto Rico become a US territory before 1900 yet while many residents have pressed for official statehood status, it hasn’t happened & yet Alaska & Hawaii flew by them many years later. Why? History indicates the participants in World War I were so exhausted & everything had become so futile that it was rumored that they were in the process of brokering a peace when US President Wilson entered the fray at the last minute (to some), resulting in an alleged unnecessary extension of the war with an alleged million additional deaths & if remotely true, why? For that matter, we don’t learn about additional Wilson-led adventures following the war, ones that might surprise some people were they too read of this history. And moving beyond the US, we rarely learn much of anything other than Western European history. That is fascinating but there’s more to the history of the world than just that. What about good Mr. Rhodes? Why the India/Pakistan partition when Britain released its former colony? Why do we not learn about the one tiny, backwards third world country to effectively defeat three of the greatest powers in the world, all within roughly a 3-4 decade period & initially lacking weapons, financing, infrastructure, technology, etc.? Why have we forgotten Gary F Powers? And on and on. There are so many questions and so many mysteries and so much fascinating information to be gleaned from history that I could have devoted my entire life to learning and only have gotten a fraction of the way there by this point. And now I’m going to cut it off early because despite being able to write more, I’ve been up all night doing this and it’s now morning and it’s time to start the coffee. I hope this post was informative and interesting for some and oddly, I didn’t come up with this idea on my own. I was pinning a document on a Pinterest board when a popup appeared urging me to write something, and without my realizing what that would lead to, I did. And I’ll know better next time, but it was fun and gonna go now. Have a good day.

Posted in foreign affairs, military, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Book Review on Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America by Evan Carton

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 13, 2021

Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of AmericaPatriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America by Evan Carton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Brown. The John Brown Gun Clubs. He was controversial, hated by many, admired by some, likely a hero to many victims. A political/historical lightning rod. Some would agree he was a humanitarian and race patriot while possibly disagreeing with some of his methods and actions. Others will hate him and his legacy for eternity. I found his upbringing, strong convictions and willingness to do virtually anything and risk everything in order to do what he felt was not only right, but likely ethically and morally necessary. Yet while I agree with his views on the issues he faced and attacked, I remain bothered by one thing. He grew up in a very historically traditional Euro-American puritanical household, much like me in a stringent Calvinist family, much like many Americans historically. For these people, there is nothing but black/white, hot/cold, “right/wrong,” heaven/hell. In other words, no gray areas, no moderation, no compromise, and a total refusal to consider anyone else’s interpretation of their Christian religious beliefs (historically Calvinist or Calvin/Knox-influenced) could possibly be right when THEY are the only ones right. We’re talking many millions of Americans over the past 400 years up to today’s evangelicals/fundies. So while I think racism/slavery and his moral objections were right, the fact remains that Southern “Christians” used the very same holy book, the Christian Bible, to justify slavery and even argue Jesus/God demanded it — and like it or not (and I do not), Jesus (I think) and certainly Paul essentially condoned if not encouraged slavery in the letters, sermons, teachings, etc., attributed to them. So if John Brown was using the Bible as his moral compass for what ultimately started/resulted in the Civil War, he actually technically would likely have been very wrong! Which begs the question, if he (or anyone like him) were that fervent in America (like many other monotheists in other countries and cultures) to take one or more issues from their holy books and make it their lives’ obsession to the point of murders and even war, would anti-racists and progressives still support and praise him? Because then what would be the difference between them and “radical” Islamist jihadists? They’re referred to as extremists, but aren’t they possibly (because I’m not entirely sure) acting the most accurately of that faith in following through on their holy book’s teachings? Despite their methods and actions, which the rest of the world does not condone and for which they are termed terrorists? Wouldn’t US evangelicals, who took extreme views (and too many do) possibly using their holy book (too many of them don’t since virtually ALL of them cherry pick the hell out of anything and EVERYTHING they assert is required or banned by God while they conveniently ignore their god’s words and commands on many things they don’t like or agree with, proving them to be the worst of hypocrites) as justification to become a type of American Taliban? I mean, what’s the damn difference? So my concern with John Brown — and I’m EXTREMELY anti-racist/antifascist and I support the John Brown Gun Clubs — is that if he had chosen to focus on a different issue to the extremes that he did using the Christian bible as his justification, what if for example he had theoretically decided it was NECESSARY to practice a form of genocide on ALL known or suspected gay/lesbians in America, as well as any other issue he felt personally strongly about, strong enough to become a mass murderer while hero to many?

And just to drive that example in harder to make my point while also being 100% accurate in my descriptions of most influential US Christians today, what if he felt so strongly about “The [Jewish] Law” — because Jesus is quoted as stating he came to [earth] to abide by and follow The Law, a fact that is conveniently glossed over by nearly every Christian alive as they tell everyone that while the assertions that homosexuality is an “abominable sin” as seen in the Sodom story — in the Old Testament (“the JEWISH Bible”) — and some are willing to kill over that [as well as abortion], a) neither of which Jesus ever mentioned while instructing his followers to care for the old, sick and poor over 160 times in the Gospels and b) I’ll probably get shot for writing this, but the majority of practicing Jews are pro-choice and they are because they are largely convinced that the Judeo-Christian god is NOT opposed to it and hence is (essentially) pro–choice himself (sorry for the male pronoun). Before you firebomb my house, I know you Christians violently disagree, and for over 50 years one major reason I’ve heard my whole life is that it’s “Murder” (and millions of babies have been murdered because of it) … why? Because naturally life begins at conception, and of course God certainly made it that way, so we need to harass women who may be seeking one and kill doctors who perform them. Right? Uh, no. And you don’t know why because Christians not only don’t read their holy book, the Bible (they read convenient little devotionals with a couple of verses instead), but they sure as hell don’t read the Old Testament because it’s obsolete and doesn’t count cause it’s the “Jewish Bible” and the “angry” god of the OT changed to the Jesus/God of love and peace in the New Testament (which is an entirely different topic, but they’re wrong about that too, per his own words, but since they don’t read their bibles, they don’t know that).

Well, let’s address several things so I can return to John Brown. 1) If the Old Testament no longer counts (and I’ve heard that from hundreds to thousands of conservative Christians around the world — it is not a minority belief), then why fight to the death over OT homosexuality and perceived OT abortion issues? Why not fight to the death about shrimp if you’re going to be consistent? Or facial hair? It’s the epitome of cherry picking and it’s so hypocritical it’s almost beyond comprehension of any reasonably intelligent person. 2) The second point is Christians are wrong about the OT’s current lack of relevance besides anything but a history text. It’s THEIR bible and their god and you know why? Jews do. YOUR god states pretty damn strongly that he is the LORD God and HE DOES NOT CHANGE! Not then, not in the first century (CE), not today. So morons, just because you think Jesus is a better, different version of God, you’re wrong on two counts because your god states unequivocally he does NOT change and Jesus (God) was NOT about peace and love, but he stated he came [to earth] bringing a sword as he intended to destroy the family unit and turn family member against family member while also instructing his disciples to go out and buy swords. That wasn’t for catching fish. 3) Your god does NOT say life begins at conception and using that entity and the holy book you don’t read as justification for that assertion and the evil acts you do is dead wrong. I don’t have time to look the OT passage up (it may be in Isiah, but it’s been months since I read it — on my 18th reading of the entire bible from front to back), but you can look it up yourselves. Many/most traditional/orthodox Jews are pro-choice because there is a passage in “their” OT bible where God is attributed with instructing the chosen people that Life Begins At Birth — NOT conception! Doubt me? Upon birth, God breathes the Breath of Life into a newborn. Not in the womb, not in some magical holding place where spirits wait to get little bodies one day. You don’t like what you just read? Not my problem, not my fault. It’s YOUR god, your religion, your holy book — not mine. Many believe the Bible is the “inherent word of God” (and seeing their theologian apologists twist hard to explain the millions of contradictions to meet that standard is hilarious; one quick example is asking which creation story/myth do you believe and why? What, I’m the fool who thinks there’s more than one? Um, read the first two chapters of Genesis and you’ll find two different creation myths, so WHICH IS IT if the bible is the “inherent word of God?”).

Okay, almost back to the book except I still haven’t made my extreme theoretical point I mentioned long ago to drive that example in harder about Brown’s reliance on the Christian Bible for his moral code to justify his belief and actions regarding slavery. What if he were as devout as is claimed but instead of slavery (or the homosexual example I provided), he felt just as strongly about the Old Testament commandment that children are to obey and honor their parents so that if they somehow fail, all families (Abrahemic monotheists — such as Christians) are instructed to take them out and stone them to death? What, crazy? Don’t believe me? Read the damn Bible, the OT, cause that’s in there! And yes, it’s a crazy example, but that was my intent.

So if John Brown, relying on his Puritanical religious background and belief system did not decide to take on slavery but instead felt just as strongly about the previous example commandment, we wouldn’t have clubs and erect statues in his honor then if he had gone around stoning kids to death for back talking their parents! Thus while I essentially admire and support his conviction and legacy, if not his actions, it’s because I believe them to be morally correct. But I fear that if he had chosen a different controversial issue to engage in the same type of actions and outcomes using his religion to justify everything, I would seriously hate his guts and any legacy he left, because he could have become a Christian Hitler — basically what most current American evangelicals want out of Donald Trump and his fascist, white christian nationalist ilk as they proudly scream publicly that they intend to “exterminate” all minorities, immigrants (despite ALL of them coming from immigrants themselves), people of color, non-“Christians” (as if they know a damn thing about their religion, as I’ve repeatedly proven within a minute of talking to any of them), and most especially Democrats, progressives, liberals, etc., or simply everyone not like them. Do you see my point? He did the right thing, but he justified it with the wrong source, because that same source was used to justify the very reason he basically went to war, as well as millions of other historic atrocities in general, so he could simply have used that same source and “moral code” allegedly arising from it to justify any violent actions to and against anyone for any reason. And that has always bothered me about any such person and a legacy I otherwise admire as I, too, call him a true patriot. Thank goodness he actually acted more as a humanist — dare I say secular humanist? — than a stereotypical monotheistic religionist, because then he might have become a historical monster just as Hitler did as he (and Mussolini) made deals with the Pope to protect the Pope’s constituents provided the Pope supported, or at least remained silent, about what they were freaking doing. Oh, and I think I recall that Hitler grew up Catholic while many of the soldiers in the German Wehrmacht were devout Lutherans. Under the belief they were acting on behalf of Christianity and the Christian god while becoming devils (metaphorically) in the process.

I feel John Brown did the right thing and I admire him, and I admire his absolute commitment and the moral code he had in order to do what I and many others view as “the right thing” in fighting against slavery and freeing slaves. Yet I worry a part of me will always be bothered that his Calvinistic religious beliefs could instead have been twisted, much like many claim Islamic jihadists have, while showing the same level of commitment to other religious commandments as he chose to interpret them… Anyway, this book? It’s one of the better books on Brown that I’ve read. Definitely recommended.

View all my reviews

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Review of “The Emperor’s Assassin”

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 19, 2021

The Emperor's AssassinThe Emperor’s Assassin by Autumn Bardot
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an admittedly subjective and biased comment, but while I know people who like this book and historical fiction in general, I can’t do it. It’s not just I don’t like historical fiction. That is true, but not the problem. The problem is simply that I’ve always been a serious student of history, am a member of two professional history orgs (like AHA), feel it’s essential to study the past for a zillion reasons, most of which should be obvious except to Americans who are generally too lazy, stupid and apathetic to read any history. If I had a dollar for every time I actually heard someone say something like they didn’t know anything about WW I and didn’t care, didn’t know anything about WW II because “it didn’t matter or have any impact on their life or work,” which I once found stunning but now sadly expect and this side from what should be obvious to most (read Philip Dick or P Roth to get an idea of other potential realities we could be living in if tens of millions of people hadn’t sacrificed everything). In fact a few times I’ve gotten so ticked that the old professor in me kicked in so I gave a few bored 4.0 GPA accounting, economics, etc., students an hour lecture off the top of my head going decade by decade outlining basics that have transpired so that, yes, it did and DOES impact you and your job, you apathetic dumbass! The worst though are the few who told me they didn’t even know who was in the damn Vietnam War. I didn’t bother, there’s no hope. All I could say was “Well, they spot you one of the countries just in the name of the war!”

So is there a point? Yes. Historical fiction is not history, it’s not accurate nor is it intended to be. It is nothing but fantasy out of the author’s head who is using elements of some historical events as a backdrop for their story. In a sense then it’s genre fiction like sci fi, horror, fantasy, thriller, etc., all of which have their legitimate place, but the backdrop-purported historical environment may be nice, realistic or cool, but since the author is making a story up and simply surrounding it with the façade of a semblance of historical reality, they could just as easily put unicorns, spaceships, monsters and the like in and with a “legit” historical backdrop, there would likely be little difference between such absurdities and dragons, rumored by many to have once existed. The author is writing a fantasy but if I want to read fiction, I’ll read fiction. If I want history, I don’t want some fairytale – I want serious nonfiction! So yes I know I’m probably in the minority and probably sound grumpy as well, but I think I have a case and I’m sticking to it. Otherwise I recommend it for those who like the genre.

View all my reviews


Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Book Review: Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 20, 2020

Well, unfortunately I’m rather livid at the moment because even though I had written I do not have the time or energy for a proper review due to severely bad health and a late time of night, I had just spent 1.5 hours working on the BEGINNING of a review, presumably saving as I went along as I always do. However, I don’t know what happened, but the page refreshed and everything was lost — all of my time and work and I don’t have the time or energy to try to recreate that, so I’m very unhappy. As a result, I’m just going to leave a few minor paragraphs or so with apologies… I did want to do it justice.

Normally I’m a fan of Bart Ehrman’s, although I don’t always agree with him. Unfortunately, I think this is his worst book and I’m shocked he put his name to it. Frankly for the scholar people view him as and he frankly promotes himself to be, he embarrasses himself in his sad efforts to first, trash the credentials of those he opposes in the initial stages of the book, especially as compared to his own “fantastic” academic credentials, which should be beneath him for multiple reasons: 1) it’s unnecessary and unprofessional, 2) other people DO have legitimate credentials despite what he thinks, and worse, he misrepresents at least one or more in terms of their specialties proving a lack of validity in facing a scholar of his character and 3) while I don’t have time to go into all of his academic background, I doubt he’d love it if people knew the initial fundamentalist “academic” institution where he obtained a three year (?) degree acknowledges on its own website currently that this degree was NOT accredited. Moreover, as someone who over the course of my entire life, have known countless friends, colleagues and family members who attended and graduated from Moody Bible Institute, I can attest to the fact that not one of them were able to find professional employment post-graduation, largely due to their spurious academic “qualifications.” This, the vaunted academic “scholar” Bart Ehrman!

As to the book, his arguments are weak and generally beneath his usual standards — by far — and do little to convince anyone that he has outdone his “opponents.” Indeed, he actually relies on hearsay and speculation, which are hardly convincing in the academic world. (The fact that no New Testament author ever MET Jesus, let alone possibly even met someone who knew him, is a non-issue for Ehrman as his relates that PAUL, of all of them, CLAIMED to have met Peter and James, yet there is not one shred of either independent evidence nor Jewish evidence to confirm that, so all we have to go on is Paul swearing he did, so must have. Good enough, eh? And I jumped off my roof today and flew around town because despite no one seeing and documenting it, I swear I did and thus it’s true. Not too different from American fantasies in 2020, where whatever one wishes to believe is apparently true. (Until science proves them wrong. Like every time.) Another little hint is the long acknowledged fact that while no one in the Bible, including the authors of the Gospels, can possibly provide evidence (nor is there independent evidence anywhere) of any sayings of this Jesus, let alone the accuracy of claimed sayings, Paul may have “known” of a couple — through his debatable vision. Again, we have to take him at his word, and then one must wonder why Paul virtually NEVER refers to Jesus’ actual LIFE. If he “knew” him as he claimed, wouldn’t he have recorded … something? No, instead we get post-crucifixion spirit Jesus and the religion Jesus never set out to create while Paul himself did.Finally, the actual topic of this book — Did Jesus exist? Well, there are tons of books on the subject, from all angles. And so many areas to cover. And so many Jesus’s back then, as apparently not only was it a somewhat common name, but also somewhat common for others claiming that name while additionally claiming to be the Messiah. More importantly, there are so many clues, examples and outright facts to make one legitimately doubt he existed that it’s entirely possible to assert with authority that he did not exist — as a number of people do. A few things before referring to others. It’s virtually undisputed that the Gospels were written long after his death, that the authors are unknown (with the names attributed to them generally considered to have been so potentially hundreds of years after they were written), that the authors did not know Jesus nor knew anyone else who knew Jesus and the fact that Jesus and his followers are assumed to have been illiterate and thus Jesus never left one shred of any alleged teachings of his, as well as the fact that each gospel was written in educated Greek while this Jesus would have spoken Aramaic (with some Hebrew translation thrown into the gospels for good measure when it came to the alleged prophecies, most of which have been proven to have been taken out of context, simply wrong or even nonexistent), it’s plausible to assert that possibly everything attributed to Jesus, if not virtually all of the gospels themselves, were complete fabrications. Indeed, scholars have had to resort to a hypothetical source they refer to as “Q” (as well as a couple of other such sources) to fill in a ton of blanks, because there is no evidence to support many of the claims made in the gospels, so naturally someone HAD to know the details and we’ll just conveniently call him “Q.” There is absolutely no evidence for this Q, let alone independent evidence at that. A million other things aside, in addition to the well-known town of “Nazareth” Jesus came from not yet actually even existing, thus forcing theologians to stretch hard to make other Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, Semitic, Arab and eventually Latin translations of words that appeared to be close to “Nazareth” while yet none of them actually meant or were “Nazareth” somehow fit, which REALLY ticks them off due to its inconvenience, ultimately there is literally no independent evidence or mention from the first century (nor virtually any Jewish mention as well, literally) to confirm or even allude to the validity of ANY claims of this Jesus the Jewish Messiah ever existing — and this in a century famous for its record keeping, particularly by the Romans, if not other peoples and races. Thus there are records on nearly everything and everyone of note throughout the empire, and certainly Judea as well, and among untold numbers of records, there are none of any crucifixion of a Jesus of Nazareth (it wasn’t until after 300 CE that Jewish Christian writers and historians began referring in print to a place even called something similar to “Nazareth,” while a Greek variant was found sometime after 220 CE. Indeed, no secular reference to such a town was ever found until a 1962 archaeological dig, which traced the inscription found back to around 300 AD — in Hebrew), none of any mammoth earthquake (let alone any earthquake) on the day of the crucifixion, nor of the temple’s curtain being ripped in half (which Jewish historians would surely have documented), NOR any resurrected zombies wandering the streets of Jerusalem, nor any huge crowds gathering around any teachers in that general area and by that name, nor of any travels, arrivals and departures of any Oriental “wise men” come to worship the babe — who was either there within Herod’s grasp or in Egypt depending on which gospel one chooses to believe — nor of any famous miracles, healings and exorcisms by a Jesus in Galilee (a backwater at the time), and certainly no dead people coming back to life. Etc., etc. There is NO independent evidence to back up a shred of this fancy nor any evidence outside of the Bible itself, and the gospels disagree with each other in so many ways that those who believe the book to be the inerrant word of God (how does one combine four different resurrection stories?) must be driven crazy by this and those who find alternate ways of interpretation then are forced to cherry pick!

It’s late and I can’t continue, so I’ll close with some reference material I’m recommending for dear deluded Mr Ehrman, as well as any other readers who may be interested. These are by no means the only resources — simply ones that come to mind at the moment (although the first is pretty good).

1) Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All by David Fitzgerald.

2) Jesus: Mything in Action, Vol. I (The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion Book 2) by David Fitzgerald. If I recall — and it’s been awhile — I think this is the first of a three-book series and this book covers the gospels…

3) Deciphering the Gospels: Proves Jesus Never Existed by R.G. Price.

and an interesting additional book not specifically about Jesus, but really more about the Bible and specifically the Old Testament. It’s an archaeological account by two Jewish academics and scientists who seemingly prove the bulk of what we know as the Old Testament — if true at all — was never ever written until Israel and Judah had been split as separate kingdoms and Israel had been conquered and taken away and while I don’t want to give away all of the spoilers, the gist is these stories appear to be scientifically proven to have not been written until possibly around 700 BCE, thus potentially calling into question basically all we’ve been taught and all we’ve been taught to believe and pretty much everything else associated with it and that follows it. Even if you disagree, it’s intellectually interesting and a good exercise in (internal) debate.

4) The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman.

Ultimately, I would only recommend this book to show people additional confirmation of any scientific or literal evidence of the lack of the Biblical Jesus. If you’re a theocratic religionist who lacks an open mind, this book won’t be for you — it might serve only to irritate you. If you are interested in this debate, or series of debates, you may find this book intriguing, although I would have it pretty low on my reading list. Ultimately Ehrman’s worst book and definitely not recommended.

My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Visit my Goodreads Author webpage:


View all of my Goodreads reviews:


biographies blog blogging blogs Book Reviews books Christianity creative writing David Weber death family fantasy god health history hockey home life literature magazines military military sci fi music NHL pets Philip K Dick Pittsburgh Penguins poetry poets politics publishing rays road review relationships religion Republicans reviews rrr science fiction sci fi Sidney Crosby sports Stanley Cup Technology thriller writing

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

On Aristotle’s “Politics”

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 30, 2020

PoliticsPolitics by Aristotle
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Doesn’t live up to his reputation. But then, some feel he himself didn’t live up to his reputation. Or more realistically, that there were others possibly more deserving of his reputation and legacy. I believe many scholars have determined Democritus (with his mentor Leucippus) were actually more influential, accurate, knowledgeable and diverse, among other things. Noted virtually universally as the “father of modern science,” through Leucippus’s influence, he is often thought to be the first physicist, as he is typically credited for his formulation of an (detailed) atomic theory for the universe. In fact, his atomic hypothesis was developed to such a degree, and unlike anything else at the time, bore a resemblance to modern science and one could essentially argue that what we know, or learned, about atomics in the twentieth century was directly influenced by Democritus’ atomic theory, which in many ways remains the basis for current atomic physics. Moreover, he dabbled and proved influential in a number of other areas, ranging from geometry specifically and math in general to geography and anthropology to the importance and essence of epistemology to scientific aesthetics to politics and natural philosophy (of course), where he seemed especially concerned with the subject of ethics, to military tactics as well as cosmology, poetry, biology and many, many more subjects — really the first true Renaissance man. Really kind of puts some better known philosophers to shame (not that some weren’t also geniuses — it’s just that many people can’t find many in history, and virtually none before Democritus to explore and master such a wide variety of subjects. Indeed, his “void” thesis lived on to influence Newton and continued to hold that influence basically until Einstein).

However, regarding this book by Aristotle, while this was a subject he was well versed in and despite this book being a bit dated, it was still fairly well done for the times, had some good ideas, thoughts, points, etc. Unfortunately, there’s always been some controversy surrounding it due to some textual irregularities and discrepancies in some of the eight “books” making up this book, or rather what remains of them. (Some of the major topics among these different books include ideas about community, citizenship, regimes, education, constitutions and political theory, among others.) However, this to the point that some have argued the book represents seemingly two different versions, or perhaps stages, in Aristotle’s thoughts, beliefs, positions, etc., and the two opposing sides seem so varied, almost oppositional, that IF Aristotle even wrote the entire thing himself, it’s likely he would have done so over a long period of time, so that a significant period of time elapsed between the first and later sections, thus explaining its inconsistencies and, one might say, possibly two different belief systems. Thus, I’m only giving it two stars because even though it might otherwise merit three at least, the problems noted make it difficult to have confidence regarding sufficient authenticity, consistency and more, and frankly results in a poor book in its known form and hence one of his lesser works. As a result, not recommended.

View all my reviews

biographies blog blogging blogs Book Reviews books Christianity creative writing David Weber death family fantasy god health history hockey home life literature magazines military military sci fi music NHL pets Philip K Dick Pittsburgh Penguins poetry poets politics publishing rays road review relationships religion Republicans reviews rrr science fiction sci fi Sidney Crosby sports Stanley Cup Technology thriller writing

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Book Review: Leningrad: State of Siege

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 20, 2020

Leningrad: State of SiegeLeningrad: State of Siege by Michael Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Westerners tend to think of their losses, sacrifices, etc., when thinking about WWII, and Americans in particular like to “brag” on how not only did they save the world twice in less than 35 years, but “won” WWII. I’m an American with family who fought in that horrible war, who went in on D-Day and suffered terrible wounds and casualties, so I’m not trying to make light of this situation, nor am I a Russian “fan,” commie supporter, etc., as some might accuse me upon reading this. But if you study WWII, the US certainly played a big role, and really carried the war in the far east, but as for Europe, well, we didn’t come close to suffering the horrible atrocities, suffering and losses the Russians did. Not even close. The US, in total, lost slightly over 400,000 people in the war, a horrible figure to be sure. But Russia, or the Soviet Union, suffered roughly 10 Million military deaths and combined with civilian deaths, the total was closer to 25 MILLION, which basically makes all of the other countries fighting in that theater look like they were going to a high school dance, because if you want to read about some true atrocities (aside from the Holocaust itself, of course), study the Leningrad and Stalingrad campaigns. We love to laud Patton as an ass kicker, and he was a charismatic leader, but he had nothing on the Soviets, whose Field Marshal Zhukov beat the shit out of the Germans while driving them back to Berlin where the Germans surrendered to him personally. I don’t write this to mock my own country, nor to disrespect our losses and sacrifices. But I’ve basically had it with “patriots” who love to talk about how America kicked everyone’s ass in WWII while saving the world when we barely partook of the majority of the years, battles and campaigns other countries did, and while our civilians at home had nothing to worry about as opposed to nearly all European countries, as well as many in the Pacific theater. If you are unaware of these facts, I advise you to read this book, read another on Stalingrad I have listed in my bookshelves here, and anything else educational, because it really opens the eyes and makes one appreciate just how horrible things were on the eastern front, and how many people in other countries might be justified in arguing that it was the Soviets and not the Americans who won the war… Recommended.

View all my reviews

Posted in Book Reviews, military | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

%d bloggers like this: