From Area 51 to the JFK assassination, conspiracy theories have long been a part of America's history and are constantly referenced in pop culture. In fact, entire TV shows and movies are even based on them (X-Files, Enemy of the State, JFK, etc). This fascination with the possibility of a truth beyond that which we are told is not limited only to the United States by any means, but it is so ingrained in our psyche that some people have a hard time distinguishing truth from fiction. Some conspiracies are insidious and spell out the possibility of deep-rooted issues within our government, while others could simply provide explanations for otherwise unexplained events. Regardless, they're all pretty damn interesting!
Listen to the Retrospectical Podcast Ep 14 – Modern Conspiracy Theories
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370
On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 left from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing. Only a few hours later, it disappeared from air traffic control radar only to reappear on military radar screens and then fall out of contact entirely, over the Andaman Sea (northwest of Malaysia, west of Thailand). Afterwards, people searched everywhere in a huge grid and it became an unbelievably popular topic on the internet, sparking many debates and offering many theories about what could have happened.
Here are the facts that we know of:
To date, no physical evidence of the Boeing 777 has been found.
The official stance is that all of the passengers are dead and that the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean.
Theories as to what could have happened vary wildly, but here are a few of the possibilities that we discussed on the podcast:
A pilot named Chris Goodfellow came forward to offer up one explanation of the missing plane. He suggests that after a fire broke out in the cabin, the pilot may have changed direction to the west in order to fly to a nearby airstrip to land the plane. An electrical fire may have explained away the fact that after a certain point in their flight pattern, all communications from the cockpit ceased. In this theory, it's possible that passengers and crew of the airplane passed out or were killed by the fire and/or smoke in the air and that the plane flew ahead on whatever course was locked in until crashing.
It should be noted that, although, Goodfellow is a pilot, this theory is pure speculation and there have been plenty of articles out there that refute many of his points.
Seized by Russian Special Forces
This theory (although admittedly quite convoluted) explains how hijackers could have gotten on board the airplane as first-class passengers, then accessed the electronics and equipment bay with the purpose of sabotaging the flight and spoofing its flight data. From that point on, they may have been able to take over the plane and redirect it to another location. The ultimate purpose is not entirely clear, but there are certainly many uses for a Boeing 777. You can dive into more about this theory here.
The latest news is that a piece of debris found to be part of a Boeing 777 (not necessarily MH370, though) washed up on an island in the Indian Ocean just this past week. Just maybe, this thing might get put to bed rather than staying out on a limb like so many other mysteries.
The belief in anti-vaccination conspiracies requires a belief that the governments, health organizations, scientists, politicians, pharmaceutical groups and humanitarian groups around the world may all be involved in a giant cover-up for one reason or another. Ok, the politicians and pharmaceutical groups may not be so hard to believe – but that everyone else could be in on it seems too far-fetched, right? Let’s look at a few of the theories floating around:
Continued Exposure to Mercury in Vaccines
Some anti-vaxxers use the argument that vaccines contain mercury and that these high levels of mercury that build up in the body can cause diseases and conditions that may affect people for the rest of their lives. This is because a compound called Thimerosal, which contained mercury was included within vaccines for many years.
Thimerosal was removed from almost all vaccines beginning in 1999, leaving flu vaccines as the main pediatric vaccine that still used thimerosal as a preservative.
It is extremely unlikely that many kids got each and every one of their yearly flu vaccines with thimerosal. It is more likely that they got just a few with thimerosal and the rest without, as thimerosal free flu vaccines became more widely available. After all, a flu vaccine with reduced thimerosal was available as early as 2002.
After a somewhat serious conversation, we generally like to loosen things up a bit and there is a good bit of that to go around on this subject. Here are a few great links to check out next time you find your self bored or in a bathroom stall. Maybe both, you never can tell!
Over the past few years, there has been a definite change in America’s attitude towards marijuana prohibition. In just my lifetime, we’ve gone from the “Just Say No” 1980’s to seeing 4 states and D.C. legalize recreational marijuana, with many more states offering some form of medicinal marijuana. So, how did the laws get like this in the first place, and what’s being done to bring this issue into the 21st century?
Listen to the Retrospectical Podcast Ep 13 – Legalizing Marijuana in the United States, featuring an interview with Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of NORML
History of Marijuana Laws in America
Marijuana has been popular for centuries and many smaller municipalities - up to the state level - have had various restrictions on it. “Hashish parlors” were as popular as opium dens and in the 1880’s, it was estimated that there were 500 such establishments in New York City alone. These could be found in most major cities in America and were frequented by men and women of all social classes.
Ironically enough, nationwide prohibition really began in the 1920’s, during the same era of alcohol prohibition in America (we all know how well that worked out). The Marijuana Tax act of 1937 took this all a step further. It was now heavily regulated via taxes since the federal government couldn’t regulate medicines at that time, only states could. Harry J Anslinger, the first head of the Federal Narcotics Bureau, launched a campaign against the “evils” of marijuana, connecting its use with violent crime and dirty, dirty immigrants.
William Randolph Hearst used his newspaper empire to help spread this propaganda in the late 30’s. Through fear and misinformation (and a bit of racism), Hearst and Anslinger were able to successfully turn public opinion against marijuana. In hindsight, many argue that this was mostly a campaign created to destroy the commercial hemp industry, which made a superior product for paper compared to Hearst’s wood pulp interests. Hemp was also in conflict with DuPont and their new product, Nylon, to replace hemp ropes. Never underestimate what people will lie about to make a buck, I suppose.
This era also saw the release of the now infamous movie, Reefer Madness (1936). This propaganda movie fit right in with the message that was being sent out at this time. It regained some popularity in the 1970’s as an unintentional satire about the misguided cannabis reform that had gone on some 40 years prior. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s now in the public domain and should be available on YouTube.
War on Drugs
The roots of the war on drugs started in the late 60’s, but in the 1980’s, the focus of law enforcement shifted to the “war on drugs”, led by the Reagan administration. Each president since Nixon has basically continued or augmented the war on drugs from his predecessor, and so it was left up to the states to attempt to pass some more logical legislation when it came to certain drugs. Some states went the other way, though, namely New York City’s “stop and frisk” policy, or California’s “three strikes” felony laws.
After thirty years of a mostly failed policy, popular opinion is beginning to shift away from the war on drugs, with people arguing that it’s a war on an idea and simply can't be won in any measurable fashion. The policy of just locking up drug users has not done anything to stop drug related violence or drug use at all, and it’s made lots of people rich (law enforcement contractors, private prisons) while not solving any problems at all.
Policies such as mandatory sentencing were deemed racist, as they tended to punish “ghetto” drugs much more harshly than ones that richer white folks might be abusing. This, of course, doesn’t even get into the legal drug abuse that was really starting up.. prescription pills.
Road to Legalization
In more recent times, things have began to change. Individual states started passing laws that slowly introduced decriminalization and medical marijuana. It became a state vs federal issue in the courts. A couple of cases set precedent for no use (even medicinal) from the fed, but in 2009 US Attorney General Eric Holder (AG) issued new guidelines: “It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal”.
In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana. Each state would treat marijuana like alcohol, limiting it to adults over the age of 21 and not allowing you to drive under the influence. Sales began Jan 1, 2014 in Colorado, and Washington followed later that year.
As of 2015, 4 states: Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Colorado, in addition to Washington, D.C., have passed laws that legalize recreational sales. There are 18 other states that have medical marijuana laws, ranging from California's system which almost feels like the wild west to Colorado's newer, more streamlined system. Other states allow only strains that are high in CBD and low in THC. Some states, like our home state of Illinois, have dragged their feet and, while there is a law in place, there is nothing happening on the ground.
Now that laws have been relaxed, there's actually an opportunity for regulation in the industry and medical research to be performed and peer reviewed. Colorado has seen numerous benefits after legalizing marijuana for recreational use. In the first 10 months, nearly $40 million in tax revenue was raised (from medical, recreational and licenses), the violent crime rate in Denver continues to decrease and so do statewide traffic fatalities. Marijuana is showing promise in all kinds of areas, from helping with Chemotherapy to preventing seizures to actually helping to kill cancer cells. Everything is starting to change quickly now, and there's no telling what the landscape will look like in a few years.
CBD, or Cannabidiol has been identified as having many more medical applications than THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. CBD has been used in the United States to treat children who have Dravet Syndrome, which is a severe form of epilepsy. CBD treatments can prevent seizures, and are far less harmful than other medicines, which sometime have deadly side effects. CBD quiets all of the electrical activity in the brain which helps stop seizures.
Industrial Hemp used to be a very common product. It’s able to be used in products like paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction (insulation), health food and fuel (similar to ethanol). It’s one of the fastest growing biomasses in the world, requires little to no pesticide and produces far more product with less resources when compared, for example, to cotton clothing. Turning hemp into paper requires almost no chemicals, especially when compared to paper made from trees (which is also far more damaging to the environment).
Hemp is commonly known as the non-psychoactive strain of cannabis (though they are all technically hemp). Hemp has a very low level of THC - no more than 0.3%, compared to the strains of 6 or 7% up to 20+% that are commonly used for smoking (and that version of the plant has poor fiber quality anyways). Currently, the US government does not distinguish between marijuana (containing higher levels of THC) and Hemp, which is an industrial product and contains levels of THC which cannot get anyone high. Industrial hemp’s Wikipedia page and the description of its uses reads like it is a super plant. Widespread use of industrial hemp could greatly help slow down deforestation and help relieve a score of other agricultural problems.
Cloning seems like something right out of a science fiction novel, or movie – and while it most certainly is, the practice has been around for thousands of years already. We weren’t cloning sheep, or humans that far back though – we were cloning plants from cuttings.
As the rapid pace of technology accelerated, more and more experiments took place within the scientific community to clone actual animal life. One of the first successful experiments was by Briggs and King in 1952 and resulted in the cloning of frogs.
They did this via nuclear transfer. It sounds incredibly difficult but it’s actually a very fundamental and simple process: first, the nucleus of an egg is removed and then the nucleus of a donor cell is implanted in its place. When the egg starts to divide, new copies of the older donor cell are produced – resulting in a perfect genetic copy of the original but going through the aging process from the beginning.
In the Spotlight
A little less than 30 years later, two interesting things happened within the span of 2 years: first, David Rorvik (an American Journalist) released a book called “In his Image: The Cloning of a Man” in 1978. The book claimed to follow the development of the first successful human clone and it sparked a huge amount of ethical debate in scientific and public forums alike. Ultimately, most thought the book to be a hoax, but nothing was ever proven one way or the other. The important thing that came from the book was the idea in the public’s mind that cloning of mammals (including humans) was just around the corner, if not possible at the time.
(Retrospectical Podcast Ep. 12 - Are Human Clones an Eventuality?)
The second thing was in 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that live, human-made organisms are patentable material. They later clarified their ruling.. in 2013 The Supreme Court issued a ruling that banned the patenting of naturally occurring genes but allowed edited or artificially created DNA to be patented. Companies were already starting to monetize our DNA and/or man-made synthetic DNA over 30 years ago! It makes it quite difficult to image what these same (and similar) companies are up to now - and unfortunately a lot of this development is happening behind the closed doors of private businesses rather than transparently.
Growing new cells for replacement (although this could cause a divide – will people with more means be able to live longer via replacement organs, etc long before we unwashed masses have the technology available to us?)
Cloning humans with the same genetic makeup in order to act as donors where the organs would not so easily be rejected
Allowing couples that are unable to have children to reproduce and create their own genetic offspring.
Compromising individuality (how would we treat clones of an original donor? Would they have the same rights and privileges, or be looked upon as lesser citizens of the world? How would they treat themselves?)
Decline of genetic variation (genetic diversity is one of the things that has allowed animals and humans to survive as long as we have – it fosters adaptation and prevents widespread diseases from wiping out entire species)
A black market of fetuses, body parts and internal organs (since this is already happening, is it simply an eventuality once the technology gets to the level of cloning at a high-level of success? How would we prevent people from taking the technology into their own hands? Should we?)
Current low level of fertility (Dolly, the famous sheep that was cloned in 1996, took 277 eggs to produce – 30 initially started to divide, 9 actually induced pregnancy and only one survived to term).
Pet cloning is already here.. cat or dog get run over by a car? If you have the money, you can already have a genetic copy of your dead pet created. One lab says “we have never failed in cloning a specific dog regardless of its size or breed”. There are currently orders and a waiting list. They cost $100,000.
While currently not available for public consumption, meat, eggs and milk from cloned animals were recently declared safe by the FDA, a preliminary decision that came after some five years of deliberation. The FDA has yet to decide whether products originating from cloned animals and from their offspring should be labeled as such.
Benefits of Cloned Food
The main benefit of food products originating from cloned animals is that it allows the food industry to have a greater control over the quality and quantity of foods produced. For example, ranchers can perpetuate their best livestock, resulting in a higher production of milk and eggs, as well as tastier meat. A study deemed that the safest animals to clone were cows, followed by pig, goat and sheep.
Side Effects of Cloned Food
While studies have found that young cloned animals are vulnerable to respiratory and cardiovascular problems, some experts believe that the risk to food safety of cloned animals is small. Studies in Japan have also not found any irregularities in cloned animals used for human consumption. However, a recent survey conducted in the United States found that some 60% of its participants had an aversion to consuming cloned food because of ethical reasons
A Forced Future
In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly brought forth a Declaration on Human Cloning (http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2005/ga10333.doc.htm) which bans therapeutic cloning (where cells are cloned for therapy of a disease or condition) and reproductive cloning (creating a living genetic duplicate duplicate).
Assuming that our friend David Rorvik was a fraud and did not actually witness the first human cloning experiments back when Mork and Minday was an exciting new TV series, no one has yet come forward with evidence of an actual, viable cloned human having been created. But we do know that it is possible - some notable animals that have already successfully been cloned are: Cats, Cattle, Deer, Dogs, Frogs, Goats, Horses, Mice, Pigs, Rabbits, Sheep and Wolves. We have also successfully created human embryos but they were never allowed to survive past the blastocyst stage (5-10 days after conception).
Scary right? So it’s illegal, but that doesn’t usually stop people from doing things anyway. Science marches on. Do you think that there are currently scientists experimenting and creating viable embryos that last beyond the blastocyst stage? Do you think that there have already been cloned humans and that we are just not on the short list of people to be informed of their successes?
I've always been enthralled with the idea of national parks. When I was a little kid, growing up outside Chicago, there was absolutely nothing in my world that compared to the pictures I saw of things like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone's geysers. I wanted to drive to each and every park on a grand road trip so I could see all the awesome natural areas that this country has to offer. I haven't been able to take such a road trip yet, but on smaller ones, I have managed to make my way to a few parks, and they're all much more spectacular in person.
Listen to the Retrospectical Podcast Episode 11 - America's National Parks
The roots of National parks go all the way back to Lincoln, who granted the lands of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove back in 1864 to the state of California. It was the first time park land had been set aside specifically for preservation and public use through the US government. Based on this precedent, in 1872 Yellowstone was made into a National Park, basically the first National Park in the world.
Early on, the parks had very few rules regulating them, which caused a lot of conflicts between private businesses, and men who wanted to keep the parks from becoming another Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls, an incredible natural feature, is surrounded by development, and was especially bad back in the 1800's. The people pushing to preserve the parks in the west also wanted to make sure they could remain wild places.
So, why is it important to protect this stuff?
Mesa Verde, the petrified forest and other places were under pressure from people developing the areas or just stealing everything that was there. Yellowstone had people carving their names into rocks everywhere, as if a geyser was nearly perfect, it just required their signature. Yosemite may have gone through the most growing pains. They had squatters, sheep grazing all over the top of the valley, and eventually had an entire valley dammed.
A single organization was needed to take control of all of the parks, and in 1916, through an act of congress, the National Parks Service was created. The parks are really a collection of people who helped preserve them, since nobody gets to claim credit for actually building them.
A few of the most important people early on in the parks:
John Muir - One of the first famous preservationists in America, he helped get the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia and Petrified Forests and many other wild areas preserved. He was known for the spirituality and fervor in which he talked about nature. Muir had a profound effect on the way the country viewed natural areas at the time and is sometimes referred to as the "Father of the National Parks".
So you have an immigrant who grew up to be a great champion for America's wild areas and helped create the idea of National Parks, which then spread around the globe. This idea spread as one of the great cultural gifts that America was able to give back to the world, kind of like Jazz.
President Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir at Yosemite, 1906.
Teddy Roosevelt - As president, Roosevelt was a great champion of preserving wild areas. He took a presidential tour of the national parks, and on his visit to Yosemite, spent several days camping alone (after ditching his entourage) with John Muir. Muir's passion fed the President's own for conservation, though they both had different approaches. For example, Roosevelt was an avid hunter, and Muir just couldn't understand that at all, but ultimately they both wanted the same thing.
In 1906, Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law, which gave the president authority, by presidential proclamation (basically the stroke of a pen) to create national monuments from public lands (lands already owned by the government) and set them aside for their natural, cultural and scientific features. This allowed at first for the preservation of specific sites like Devil's Tower in Wyoming and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, but was then interpreted to preserve most of the Grand Canyon, in Arizona, as well.
Upon his first visit to the Grand Canyon, President Roosevelt remarked: "Leave it as it is, the ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it." A man with a gift for oratory and a passion for wild areas was the best supporter that the early parks system could have hoped for. Roosevelt established 18 national monuments during his presidency.
Buffalo Soldiers - Early on in the parks, there were few laws and fewer people to enforce those laws to protect the land. The US army often served in the parks, and a particular African-American cavalry unit nicknamed the "buffalo soldiers". Serving at several parks in the Sierra Nevadas, they were among the early protectors of the park (and even introduced the distinctive ranger hat - aka the Smokey Bear Hat).
Gifford Pinchot - Pinchot was the first head of the US Forest Service. While he too wanted to preserve forests and other wild areas, he often clashed with Purists like Muir over the use of that land. Pinchot was in favor of using the land for practical uses and profitability. This would help support the lumber industry, but would be managed in a way that continuous cropping would take focus away from short-term gains.
Stephen Mather - Mather was the first director of the National Park Service. He, along with his assistant and successor Horace Albright, shaped the parks system into what it is today. Mather's goal for the parks was to expose it to as much of the public as possible. Through this, he believed that the public support for the parks would be overwhelming and strengthen the entire system they were building.
He expanded the number of parks, helping to determine which places should be chosen for new National Parks and National Monuments. In order to reach the most people possible, he helped create parks in the east and promoted a National Park to Park Highway in the west. Mather allowed cars into the parks for the first time and it really opened the floodgates in terms of tourism.
In 1920, the total visitors passed 1 million for the first time, and in 1925 they topped 2 million. The parks grew fast, which also created lots of congestion. (In 2009, there were nearly 63 million visitors to 59 national parks.)
An interesting story about Mather - He suffered from bipolar disorder which would occasionally cripple him. One of the ways he was able to treat this was to go back out west and spend time in the parks and other wilderness areas. In essence, his expansion of the parks to everyone was his attempt to share what had been so therapeutic and helpful to him.
Mather wanted to build scenic roads in as many parks as he could in order to stress the beautiful parts of the park. Roads were built with the landscape in mind and so as to not become an eyesore. They were placed in ways that the parks could basically be viewed from a car. The result of this were roads like the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier NP.
John D. Rockefeller Jr. - A Philanthropist who took great interest in conservation efforts. He purchased and donated land for Grand Teton, Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite and Shenandoah national parks. He was one of many philanthropists who were important in the creation of the parks.
Some cool features in parks:
Yosemite National Park in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, features Half Dome Rock, which looks from the valley floor to be a sphere of rock that was cleaved in half, leaving a perfectly vertical face directed into the valley.
Acadia National Park, on the Atlantic coast in Maine, is the oldest park in the east. It was created almost entirely from donated lands organized by people who just wanted to see the island preserved for everyone.
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the US, over 1900 feet deep, filled entirely by snow and rain, it's remarkably clear and has no inlet or outlet streams.
Death Valley is the lowest, driest and hottest place in the US. It's actually quite close to Mt. Whitney, the highest place in the continental US.
The Grand Canyon really is one of the great things in life that lives up to the hype. It's quite a humbling experience to visit, despite the crowds.
Great Basin National Park has trees called Bristlecone Pines that are over 5000 years old and some of the darkest night skies in America.
Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the longest cave system in the world, over 400 miles of explored caverns.
Yellowstone is actually on top of a supervolcano, essentially making the entire park a giant caldera and helping to fuel all of the geothermal features throughout the park.
We're joined by fantasy football veteran and former drinkfive.com contributor Vince Foss as we discuss the very best plays moving forward into championship week. We'll analyze the matchups and go over recent NFL news and updates that can impact the production of your players.
For Fantasy Football team managers, playing in week 15 is all about making the right starts to get to the championship. Whether you fought hard to get into the playoffs from the bottom of the league or coasted into a bye spot early on, everyone is on an even playing field and (in most cases) only has one shot.
We'll be paying special attention to the players that you should and shouldn't start in week 15 and what matchups to keep in mind should you make the championship game in Week 16. We're joined by regular guest and drinkfive.com contributor Mike Mocerino.
Welcome back! We're joined this week by fantasy football veteran Matt Ellis to discuss the best starts moving forward into Week 13. This is the last week of the regular season of most fantasy football leagues, so put your best foot forward!