Monthly Archives: October 2011

America’s Stonehenge

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself."
-Robert Frost, "Mending Wall"

Yesterday my lovely bride Abbey and I went to America’s Stonehenge, a possibly archeological site just outside of Salem, New Hampshire. (Salem, NH, by the way is an unnecessarily confusingly close 37 miles from Salem, MA. Manchester, NH and Manchester, MA, and Concord, NH and Concord, MA are in a similar vein. As are Burlington, MA and Burlington, VT, although those last two at least have the decency to be separated by 200 miles. But that’s not what we’re here today to discuss…)

A short trail through the woods…

…leads to the main site…

which contains a maze of stone walls and chambers…

…about which several theories have been floated.

Some claim it to be a Native American megalithic site, for which there’s some decent evidence. Charcoal pits, pottery and other artifacts found on site have been dated to between 2,000 and 100 BC. There’s even evidence of a a stone slab being quarried in situ nearby.

Some researchers have even lined up walls and standing stones on the site with astronomical alignments, as a map there explains:

This stone, for example, would have had the summer solstice rise directly above it circa 1,800 BC:

As always, there are a few wrinkles with this theory, such as the fact that, given enough stones or lines, some are always going to line up with something. When I visited the Nazca lines in Peru in 2009, museums and guides in the area noted that 20% of the lines could be lined up with astronomical occurences. 20% could be lined up with sources of water. 20% could be lined up with mountain peaks and other features of the landscape. In other words, there were so many of them that 20% could be lined up with almost anything you choose.

It’s also worth noting that many of these stones have been “set up” from presumed “fallen” locations, and that 20th century clearing of the trees has occurred to create openings in the skyline. I.e., it would be very difficult at this point to know what the exact arrangement of stones, or view of the sky from them, was when the site was originally inhabited.

Further muddying the waters, the site was the location of the farm of one Jonathan Pattee (and family) in the early 1800s. Historical records show he used stone structures there for storage (cellars etc.) and also rearranged and cleared a lot of stone off of the site. Signs there also made reference to more stone being carried of in the 19th century when the site was used for quarrying purposes.

In the 1930s, the site, already of interest to picnickers, occultists, and my dear friend H.P. Lovecraft, was purchased by William Goodwin, who “restored” many of the structures there. Some people seem to be of the opinion that Goodwin only did maintenance-type work, setting up obviously toppled stones, restoring rocks that had been scattered from walls, etc. Others have the suspicion that he extensively rearranged things to support his pet theory, that Irish monks had established a settlement in the area around 900 AD.

Barry Fell, a subsequent researcher, believed that the site may have been even older, and contained evidence of Phoenician occupation. There is a small museum on site, which includes petroglyphs said to resemble Old World languages including Phoenican and Celtic:

Whatever one makes of all these claims, somebody clearly built a lot of something there. My own personal feeling is that there was some kind of original megalithic site in the area. Subsequent occupants made such extensive changes, though, that it’s very difficult at this point to determine what was there, or how it was arranged. Whatever it was or is, though, it’s pretty damn neat!

My favorite was the Oracle Chamber, guarded below by the lovely Abbey, which really is kind of eerie inside, and features some advanced drainage and acoustics:

I’d kind of like to go back there for a ghost hunt sometime:

It should be noted that the current owners since the late 50s have been careful stewards, making restorations only according to historical photographs, and sponsoring archaeological research at the site. On top of which, they have an alpaca farm there, which firmly establishes them as awesome in my book:

The opening quote, by the way, besides being suitably stone wall and elf-themed, was inspired by the fact that Robert Frost wrote “Mending Wall”, and many other of his most well-known poems, at a family farm in Derry, New Hampshire, right next-door to Salem. If you should happen to be in Derry you might, as Abbey and I did, stop off at the super-yummy Windham Junction Country Kitchen:

Some might fine meatloaf there, let me tell you!

The end of the Iraq War and the Courage of Progressive Convictions

This week’s announcement that all our troops will be home from Iraq by the end of the year got me thinking. We’ve certainly heard the obligatory Neo-Con voices saying that this a mistake, harms our security, harms the region, etc. I haven’t heard as many Progressive voices crowing, but I suspect that’s because they are so weary from the long years of misguided war that they’re just glad it’s finally over. That, and a sprinkle of sense and tact enough to know that this is a solemn occasion, suffused with a lot of loss for everyone involved.

But at the heart of this development lies a great irony: the Administration tried for what the Neo-Cons wanted, an extended ongoing presence after direct combat was ended. It failed to secure Iraqi cooperation with that goal, and it is this failure that has resulted in the end result Progressives have wanted for years, a complete end to the war, with all troops home.

This seems symptomatic to me of a frustration I’ve had with this Administration, the fact that it more often than rarely delivers, or tries to deliver outcomes that match the Conservative policy agenda. This, of course is done in the quite reasonable name of trying to work with the opposing side and achieve compromise. This after all, is actually a key trait of the Progressive worldview, the idea that even those who don’t agree with you may have some valid views, and that it’s important to find common ground.

Here’s the thing: Finding common ground is not a value the Conservative movement shares. They operate in the land of ideas like “we’re right, you’re wrong” and “if you’re not with us, you’re against”. And they’ve gotten where they have, electorally, by sticking to their guns (quite literally in some cases!) even when those guns are unpopular.

Wouldn’t it be something to see Progressives in power be equally unapologetic?

Apparently, I’m most like the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela

You must be wondering, dear reader, what I am referring to. Perhaps my recent Nobel Peace Prize? No, alas, the Nobel Committee has ignored me for yet another year. And in any case, if they were to award me, it should no doubt be for literature. Duh.

I am referring instead to my score on the political compass test.

It’s a nifty little thing that proceeds on the idea that the traditional left-right spectrum we’re used to in the U.S. is too limited, in that it collapses together what should actually be two different axes, one for economic freedom/control and one for social-political freedom/control.

I’ve taken it a couple of times over the years. In my most recent round, I ended up in the middle of the lower left quadrant, adjacent to, as alluded to above, the Infinite Sea of Compassion and first President of a free South Africa. Not a bad neighborhood really, but what I find to be interesting is my drift over the years.

I recall taking the test in the early 2000s and ending up socially liberal, but economically more conservative. Kind of a classic “New Democrat” in the Clinton mold. Later on, say circa 2004/2005, the anti-personal freedom and pro-business control excesses of the Bush years had pushed me further leftward on the economic scale, landing me more in classic Liberal territory, aka FDR and Johnson’s Great Society.

And now, a few years later, the corporate shenanigans of the Great Recession, and the chilling proof of the plutocracy’s ability to control outcomes throughout the political system have pushed me further leftward on the economic spectrum. This actually makes sense to me in terms of how I currently feel- what I would call a compassion-based world view. We’re here to take care of each other while also giving each other the freedom and space to live our own lives. Rather like everyone is everyone else’s mom, but the really cool while at the same time totally responsible mom.

How about you? I’d be fascinated to hear other people’s scores on the test, and whether the results surprise them or not…   

APOD, NDEs & the Omega Point

One of my favorite web sites is Astronomy Picture of the Day. I think the name is pretty much self-explanatory, but if it isn’t, take a look at the site and you’ll quickly get the picture. (Heh heh, I made a funny…)

Today’s post got me thinking in a meta-science vein. I say meta-science to place my ramblings in a field of thought that some might call pseudo-scientific, but I think of as being science that we just haven’t gotten around to yet. Rather like what Aristotle considered “metaphysics”, literally, “that which is beyond the physics” as it stood in his day. The clip in question is of what approaching the speed of light would look like in terms of its visual effects:

It occurred to me that what things looked like with all three effects (visual aberration, doppler and intensity) was remarkably similar to what people report in Near Death Experiences- seeing objects from a distorted, “floating above” perspective, shadowy indistinct figures and rushing toward a tunnel of light. This makes me wonder if those visual effects could have something to do with a speeding up of mental process that somehow approaches the speed of light.

If something like that was going on, it reminds me a little of Frank Tipler’s speculations about the Omega Point. In short, he saw consciousness eventually permeating the entire physical universe as the universe approached its “end” in a singularity, such that an infinite amount of thought processing could occur, and the subjective time experienced by this consciousness would be practically infinitely greater than the objective time of milliseconds it occupied. Could this be something like what human consciousness is doing in the instant before death, thus producing visual effects similar to what would be observed as one approaches the speed of light?

Don’t ask me precisely how, that’s for quantum physicists and neuroscientists to puzzle out, I’m just here to point the way. In all seriousness, I think (and history attests) that thought experiments and being open to flights of fancy is often the way that new perspectives emerge. It’s a noble pursuit. I just wish I had the nth dimensional math skills to take it further!


Bonus image! Also from Astronomy Picture of the Day, and having nothing to do with the above topic, but it sure is purty. A mosaic of the MESSENGER probe’s images of Mercury from its first “day” there, the Mercurian day being 176 days long: