Monday, October 30, 2006

Perversions of Science: Say Cheese(cake)!

Warning! Depending on the anal-retentiveness of your place of employment, the following post may or may not be work-safe.

Congratulations, young lady. Because of your hard work and good grades, you’ve earned a scholarship to a prestigious university’s gold medal class of 1962. You’ll remember forever the first day you set foot on campus: the smell of book paper in the library; meeting people who would soon become your dearest friends; the vivid colors of the main quad, and so forth.

You’ll also remember stripping totally nude and posing for the camera.

By now, you’re probably wondering WTF I’m talking about. Was it a frat party gone horribly wrong? Had an innocent 1950s teenybopper gone horribly wild? Was her scholarship so paltry she had to engage in (ahem!) alternative revenue sources?

Actually, the nekkid pictures were a requirement of the university.

Dr. William H. Sheldon, a noted eugenics researcher whose previous research led him to claim that the intellectual development of Mexican and black children ended at ages twelve and ten, respectively, began to see anthropometry as a means to generate a more comprehensive exploration of personality than Sigmund Freud’s.

He categorized people into three body types (somatotypes) and ascribed stereotypical attributes to them to explain their personality and their competence in certain areas. The ‘endomorph’ personality was joyful, hedonistic, extroverted and tolerant. According to Sheldon, you can tell a person is an endomorph because he’s fat and jolly. ‘Mesomorphs’ were muscular and fit. Most important, they were intellectually agile, and thus made the best leaders. The ‘ectomorphic’ personality was introverted and socially awkward, but creative and thus made great artists and technical wizards. You could spot them anywhere because they’re skinny and look like geeks or nerds.

While I’m sure you can think of people who fit these stereotypes, you can also think of those who flatly contradict them. Sheldon’s somatotype theory does have a limited usefulness in mammal biology. Problem is, he was primarily a behavioral psychologist attempting to link body type with personality and intelligence. Repeated studies (including one concluded this past summer) rip Sheldon’s assertions to shreds. It’s pretty useless as psychological theory.

Nevertheless, Dr. Sheldon embarked on research to prove his hypothesis in 1940, when he managed to get four major universities to participate in a you-gotta-be-kidding-me (but I'm not) experiment. Harvard, Yale, Vassar and Mt. Holyoke would require incoming freshmen to pose for nude photographs in order to take anthropometrical measurements of their bodies and correlate them to their school records. The University of Wisconsin (Madison) and other A-list schools later followed.

The students were asked to disrobe and pose full-frontal, back to the camera, and in profile. The universities lied, and told the freshmen that the schools needed the nude photos to assess their posture (the school would actually require physical education classes for those severely lacking in this area). Hence, they were colloquially referred to as “posture photos.”

Figure 1. Actual posture photos illustrating the three main somatotypes.

The posture photo experiments began in 1940 and concluded in 1967. Some have noted the number of famous people who attended the participating colleges during that time, and most likely cooperated with the program (e.g. Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Meryl Streep, Brandon Tartikoff, Diane Sawyer). Considering that these were taken at the best schools, a lot of powerbrokers have their nude photos somewhere. Some were rumored to have wound up in sex shops and sold as pornography. In 1992, TV personality Dick Cavett (a 1955 Yale alum) joked:

When I was an undergraduate . . . there were no women [at Yale]. The women went to Vassar. At Vassar they had nude photographs taken of women in gym class to check their posture. One year the photos were stolen and turned up for sale in New Haven's red-light district. The photos found no buyers.
While the most prurient tales of whatever happened to those photos are urban legends, the truth was they were treated rather carelessly. They were haphazardly stored (with the names of the subject written on the back) in gym lockers or unused closets that faculty and staff would later discover.
In some respects, there’s little mystery as to why they were so thoughtlessly discarded. The original study no longer interested Sheldon and university deans. In fact, Sheldon had already published his findings in the 1954 book The Atlas of Man. So why did they continue the study for thirteen more years?

Dr. George Hersey, a noted art history professor, began researching this question in the mid-1990s, and came upon some disturbing information. He found similar anthropological studies occurring in Nazi Germany during the 1930s, and concluded that their purpose was to foster a eugenics plot bizarre enough to be science fiction:

From the outset, the purpose of these 'posture photographs' was eugenic. The data accumulated, says Hooton, will eventually lead on to proposals to 'control and limit the production of inferior and useless organisms.' Some of the latter would be penalized for reproducing . . . or would be sterilized. But the real solution is to be enforced better breeding--getting those Exeter and Harvard men together with their corresponding Wellesley, Vassar and Radcliffe girls.
Whether Hersey’s assertions are valid or not, data available from the posture photos would become a topic of discussion on the relationship between class, race, and intelligence during the 1990s.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Perversions of Science: Super Size My Forehead, Please

In the last post, I examined a twenty-first century application of anthropometry as an amusement, one catering to, as Enemy of the Republic aptly noted, our fascination with celebrity. Nineteenth century applications of this technology served as an important tool in forensic police investigations and sculpture. But the Twentieth Century perverted this science by ascribing scurrilous meanings to the measurements it produced.

By the 1890s, some researchers simply assumed that physical features indicated character and personality. This gave rise to a long series of dubious scientific movements based on the assumption that what you looked like proved what you were.

Among the first pseudo-scientific applications of anthropometry was a theory of ‘social pathology’ where members of the wealthy and middle classes disparagingly explained poverty, crime and vice as something arising from “the criminal classes,” so indicated by their physical features: low sloping foreheads, small (beady little) eyes set far apart, and so on.

Of course, we all know people with low sloping foreheads and beady eyes who are both intelligent and honest. For that matter, we probably know generous people who have big noses, and elfin-nosed people who are quite stingy. Thus, your common sense should tell you two things. First, the theory is utterly worthless for predicting what characteristic an individual might actually have. Second, many of these characteristics were applied by dominant Anglo society in the US to justify their discrimination against large immigrant groups (especially Irish, Italians, Eastern European Jews, et cetera), and non-whites. As the term ‘social pathology’ would imply, many outgroups were regarded as diseases, ones that required either treatment, control, or maybe even eradication.

The efforts to control and eradicate defective types led to another scientific movement often referred to as eugenics. In 1907, Indiana became the first state to require the sterilization of schizophrenic and mentally handicapped people against their will, and sometimes without their knowledge—they would undergo surgery for some other matter, and while under anesthesia another doctor would sterilize them, but no one would tell them the second procedure had been done. Washington and California followed suit two years later, and thirty other states adopted compulsory sterilization laws even though most were not considered “eugenics” states.

The sterilization program expanded to include criminals, on the belief that their genetic code—whether manifest in their physical appearance or not—contained a predisposition toward immoral behavior. By the 1930s, courts were ordering the forced sterilization of Native Americans who had neither committed any crime, nor exhibited symptoms of mental handicaps or disease. Between 1900-1970, the US forcibly sterilized 64,000 people to ‘purify’ the human race, a figure only topped by the Nazis’ 400,000.

In 1940, eugenics would move from the bizarre and cruel into the realm of the just plain bizarre.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

I Can Name that Face in Three Notes

I could have sworn that I first saw this on The Write Snark, but when I looked through the archives, I couldn’t find it. I didn’t think to save it at the time, because I didn’t think it was important. I then saw it again on Dandelion Wishes (NSFW), and promptly forgot about it. But they say the third time’s the charm. I saw it again on Tragic’s site, and this time it stuck.

“What is this?” you ask?

The celebrity look-alike software from scans uploaded photos and matches them to the celebrity faces that resemble them the most. Tragic had uploaded her own photo, and that of her husband, Kylearyn, and the computer spit back two collages of celebrity look-alikes.

Figures 1 & 2. Tragic and Kylearyn collages.

I began playing with the software during a recent IM session with Bellarosa, proprietor of Dandelion Wishes. Forgetting that she had already done so, I uploaded her photo to the scanner. Even though I used a different pic, my results were identical to hers. In both instances, the software said she looked like Kate Bosworth.

Figure 3. Kate Bosworth

Comparing the photos of Bellarosa and Bosworth, I noticed that they did, in fact, resemble each other greatly, and thought, “Hey this thing really works.” I started uploading photos of my family members to find that my mother was the splitting image of actress Mira Sorvino.

I then got the idea to upload all of your pictures into the face recognition software. Many times, I couldn’t find a match. Apparently, this program has a more difficult time with male faces, small faces, and faces in a crowd. Thus, for many of you, I got no results.

Nevertheless, can you match the famous faces below to their doppelgangers, the people who actually mean something to me? (Clicking on the link will take you to his or her web page).

Figure 4. Lucille Ball.

Figure 5. Hallie Berry.

Figure 6. Hillary Clinton.

Figure 7. Kian Egan.

Figure 8. Anne Frank.

Figure 9. Tommy Lee Jones.

Figure 10. Lenny Kravitz.

Figure 11. Lindsay Lohan.

Figure 12. Annika Sorenstam.

Figure 13. Reese Witherspoon.

Figure 14. Joey Yung.

After toying with this for awhile, I then thought of uploading the photos of several friends of mine, who are actually celebrities. I wanted to see if the software would match them to themselves, and rank them as the person looking most like them. I expected something along the lines of the classic story where Charlie Chaplin took third place in a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest.

Of the three photos, all of which were very sharp and clear pictures, the software said that it could find no matching faces for two of them. The third picture was of a woman who resembled actress Jodie Foster so much people sometimes confused her for the more famous thespian on movie sets. The software spat back a number of faces, none of them hers or Foster’s.

Okay, so my celebrity friends only make the D-list. I figured that more prominent people would have a better chance of matching their own photo. I uploaded a number of famous faces, and each time, the program either said that no matching photos existed, or shot back a list of celebs that didn’t list them at all as their own look-alike.

Frustrated to all hell by this point, I uploaded the picture below, thinking, “Okay. This is one of the most famous faces in all the world. Surely, the software would say this woman looked like herself.

The software responded with this collage.

I’m not sure how similar this program is to the ones used by actual police departments and intelligence agencies. You’d think that the pros use something a little more sophisticated. Otherwise, if the CIA were tracking Marilyn Monroe as a potential KGB agent, you might hear the following conversation in the halls of Langley:

Do you have the target in view?

Well, Chief, it’s either her, Barbra Streisand, Ralph Nader or Pele. They look so much alike.
Actually, the technology of face recognition is a very old one, technically known as ‘anthropometry.’ From the late-Nineteenth Century to the first decade of the Twentieth Century, when the widespread usage of dactyloscopy (fingerprinting) became common, police departments relied mostly on the Bertillion system of anthropometry to identify suspects who had fled their original jurisdiction.

Earlier, during the 1790s, Madame Marie Grosholtz Tussaud perfected a system of anthropometry that she used for creating wax statues of her friends and other famous people (she personally cast such figures as Benjamin Franklin, Marie Antoinette, and King Louis XVI). Anyone who’s ever visited Madame Tussaud's can attest to the accurateness of her system in its use to replicate current celebrities.

While fingerprinting might have seemed like the end for anthropometry as a forensic method, a group of dubious scientists, with dubious hypotheses, dubious methodology, and little morals, found a whole new use for anthropometry, and the practice would lead to some very hot debate during the 1990s.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The One Hundreth Post... always the shortest.

Image Hosting Video Hosting Myspace Games


Monday, October 23, 2006

Face to Face: The Maiden Voyage

Step into a twilight zone where cyberspace and reality meet.

Several weeks ago I got a visit from one of my cyberfriends, the woman known to all of us as Mayden. Since the visit, Mayden and I have e-mailed an IM’ed each other about the nature of cyberfriendship, and what relationship it has to the old-fashioned, flesh-and bone kind, if any. I’d be lying if I said there were no differences between cyber- and meatspace friends. But after meeting both her and our friend Enemy of the Republic (more about her later), I would wonder if perhaps those differences are superficial in most cases.

Had I not spent many hours talking to Cora over the phone, I would have been in for some surprises. To a large extent, she is pretty much the same person whom we read daily on Mayden’s Voyage. But real-time conversation conveys a deeper sense of the complexities, depth, and nuances that the printed word cannot. Face-to-face meaning adds another dimension, obviously. Yet, when I first spotted Cora and Tim coming out of the gate, the three of us had an almost immediate rapport from start to finish, and that made it fun to spend time together.

I’ve been in New York so long (almost twenty years) that everything seems so old hat, that is until friends and family visit. The look in their eyes when beholding this glittering jewel of an island infects even the most cynical among us, and the whole city looks new. This quality comes in kinda handy when the first place my cyberfriends wanted to visit happened to be where I do a lot of my work, namely The New York Public Library. When I led her to the Rose Room, the main reading area, she whipped out her camera and began snapping away. On the one hand, I had forgotten the beauty of the architecture, and of the ceiling mural. On the other hand, I worried that the guards might peg us as terrorists.

Figure 2. Cora and Tim on the steps of the New York Public Library

The highlight of the day, other than hanging with Cora and Tims, was the trip to FAO Schwartz, my favorite toy store. We even had a good warm up to it, a trip to the Nintendo Store on Rockefeller Plaza, a place I didn’t even knew existed (I think Cora looked it up before the trip). The most interesting thing to me about the store was the mini-museum within it, showcasing the history of Nintendo game systems. Of course, one of the systems in this historical collection was an old eight-bit console identical to the one I currently use at home (ahem!).

FAO Schwartz had a lot of ooh-ahh material, including stuffed animals that sold for $25,000, and precious dolls that were too dear for a child to touch, let alone play with. Tim bought several trick gliders that required some skill to operate. One of the enduring themes of the trips consisted of his practicing with them every chance he got. He managed to get it to do some impressive things by Monday. Cora said he practiced throwing it around her head all day Sunday.

Figure 3. FAO Schwartz as featured in the movie Big. Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia sample one of its most popular attractions.

On the last night of the visit, we went to the Hecksher section of Central Park and had an informal picnic with goodies purchased from a local deli, which had very good sushi, according to Mayden (I hate the stuff, myself, and will only eat it under court order). At twilight, the park was abuzz with children in the nearby playground; the clop-clopping of hooves as carriages, equestrians, and mounted cops passed by; tourists, perhaps instinctively sensing something about Cora, asking her to take their pictures; and the one randy couple that Tim in his eagerness and innocence pointed out to us.

We played cards in the hotel lobby that night, and pretty much hung out, and that was good too.

Figure 4, Mayden as I remember her.

After meeting Enemy, I began fantasizing about meeting all of you at some point—even you my dear lurker in Japan, and you the anonymous government visitor from Canada who stops by once a month to read for over an hour. After meeting Cora, I began to map out a fantasy trip route. Perhaps if I can get something close to a financial balance I could make the fantasy a reality.

Don’t worry. I’ll give you all plenty of advance warning should you want to bake a cake, hire a band, bolt your door, board your windows, file a restraining order, move, or something.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Kill the Music: Speculation and Hypotheses

Like Kathy Etchingham and (briefly) Scotland Yard, we could speculate that Jimi Hendrix met his maker at the hands of a jealous girlfriend, a lone angry nut who killed, as the late Dr. Phil Melanson would say, “for muddled personal reasons.” Yet, if we probe deeper into the conflict and haze surrounding the circumstances of Hendrix’s life, his death raises a number of important issues.

Like Hamlet, we try to avoid the specter of conspiracy. Yet until sufficiently explained or addressed, we cannot rule out the possibility that something really rotten occurred on that day in London, especially when numerous pieces of evidence are consistent with a conspiracy explanation. As the young prince of Denmark well knew, the ability to rule often requires the bloodshed of some, and the manipulation of others. In this sense, Hendrix’s death forces us to ask whether or not US foreign or domestic policy included the selective murder of socially influential figures.

Dr. Gavin Thurston, the coroner, recorded an open verdict. I shall do the same. Until more evidence comes in, we cannot even repeat the official version of events with any degree of confidence.

Meanwhile, I have formulated a hypothesis of Jimi’s death over the last eight years or so, based on the evidence at hand, inductive reasoning, and my own intuition. As I continue to research this question and test these hypotheses, I expect various facets of my thesis to fall by the wayside. I’m also totally prepared to ditch this thesis altogether and embrace an entirely new one if that’s where the search leads.

I stress that the following is speculation. Nothing more.

Hypothesis #1. Jimi participated in MK-ULTRA experimentation while stationed at Fort Campbell, KY. Sgt. Hoekstra, Jimi’s superior, swore in his affidavit that Hendrix appeared to be under the influence of some type of drug. Yet, when tested for any kind of street narcotic, he came up negative. Hoekstra also said that he had difficulty concentrating, and his superior officers characterize him pretty much as the world’s worst soldier. Yet, these reports came at the end of his military career in an effort to drum him out of the service. If Hendrix were as truly a back assward soldier, then we need some explanation of why they promoted him not once, but twice; and why they awarded him the Screaming Eagle patch.

Army records indicate that Hendrix served three periods of incarceration. Before that, he had a number of visits to the base psychiatrist, ostensibly in an effort to “cure” his professed homosexuality. The repetition of visits over the amount of time they took place would have been sufficient to have trained a compliant narcohypnotic subject depending on how susceptible Hendrix was to trance states. In this case, we would be helped immensely by knowing the exact function of Building #6781.

Furthermore, Hendrix exhibited symptoms of narcohypnosis long after he left the military. His sudden bursts of violence, at times when the antecedent for the violence is unclear, could have resulted from a random stimulus to Delta (combat/assassination) narcohypnotic programming. Anyone who lives in a big city is awash in stimuli. Candy Jones, and other narcohypnotic subjects maintained that a number of things--alone or in combination--could accidentally trigger a trance.

As mentioned in the mind control series, one of the effects of narcohypnosis is the accelerated learning curve. Hendrix’s facility with the guitar was debatable before and during his Army stint, and shortly thereafter. The stars of the Chitlin’ Circuit initially saw him as a chauffer and gofer, not a musician. Yet this changed all within the course of a few months. As he grew older, Jimi became aware of ideas within his head that originated from another source, a presence alien to him. They led him to create music, and do things that later shamed him--or so he claimed to Fayne Pridgeon:

He was so tormented and just so torn apart, like he was obsessed with something really evil... He used to talk about some devil or somethin[g] that was in him, you know, and he didn't have [any] control over it... [H]e didn't know what made him act the way he acted and what made him say the things he said, and songs ... just came out of him.

Hypothesis #2. Michael Jeffery never left British Army Intelligence Corps. Hendrix was not a business opportunity, but rather an assignment. Jeffery’s bonafides as an atrociously bad artist manager are well established. If managing an artist were his game, then we would have to wonder how he got dibs on a potential goldmine, especially since his other clients (if he had them) amounted to nil. He, his father, associates and civilian employers all established his credentials as a career intelligence soldier.

Hendrix suspected Jeffery of manipulating his life, and being able to do so from anywhere in the world. Hendrix was also told that were he to fire Jeffery, someone would murder him. Nevertheless, Jimi fired him, and died two days afterward.

While the pairing of Hendrix and Jeffery might have seemed random, or serendipitous (at least to Jeffery), an ex-spy friend, a type of operant known in the espionage trade as a ‘nightcrawler,’ specialized in arranging “chance meetings” through ‘non-witting’ participants.

As to why Jeffery (or British and US Intel) had any interest in Hendrix at all, I would suspect that it had something to do with his burgeoning popularity on the New York music scene. First, narcohypnosis was still in the experimental stage in 1962, and with experimentation comes volatility. Secondly, the Church Committee established that US Intel networks worried about potential “Pied Pipers,” especially dissident ones. If, Hendrix had developed his guitar skills through unwitting, or unintentional hypnosis, triggered by any one of a host of stimuli, then Intel might have regarded him as a possible Frankenstein, a monster who might have encouraged public action against the very institution that created him.

Jeffery’s claim that he was not aware of Hendrix’s death one week after it occurred is really hard to swallow. The fact that he immediately suggested that Hendrix had committed suicide—-which his former partner Eric Burdon declared four days earlier-- when no evidence of such had been established, indicates that he might have tried to distance any critical thought or investigation into Hendrix’s death, and distract attention to his previous threats should Hendrix part ways with him.

Hypothesis #3. Monika Dannemann was a control agent of some type. She had no active role in his murder, and most likely did not anticipate it. Dannemann flitted in and out of Hendrix’s life at various points. She showed up on the day he left Jeffery, the day a price presumably went out for his head. Phil Harvey’s affidavit discusses her berating of Hendrix on that night in detail, which is something that an agent sent to contain an unsuspecting and hostile target might do. The point of controlling someone is to get inside their heads, to probe their minds until you find something in their psyche to grab hold of and manipulate. Were Hendrix also subject to narcohypnosis, she would have also known how to keep him from responding violently to her.

I do not believe she participated in Hendrix’s murder. The preponderance of evidence goes to paramedics Reg Jones, John Saua, PC Ian Smith and Dr. John Bannister, all of whom said that he died early in the morning from an inhalation of red wine. I would doubt that she had the physical strength necessary to pin down Hendrix, force his mouth open, and pour the necessary amount of wine into his system. Even if he were sedated by tranquilizers, there would need to be a sufficient quantity to suppress his gag reflex, and other survival mechanisms.

While Dr. Thurston said that he had swallowed Vesperax on the official death certificate, we would have to question the thoroughness and accuracy of his autopsy, for nowhere on the death certificate does he mention alcohol, which would have been an extremely important contributing factor, especially in combination with tranquilizers.

Figure 1. Jimi Hendrix's Death Certificate

It sometimes happens that agents assigned to control a target wind up developing a bond of sorts with them, what’s known in spy lingo as an ‘emotional attachment.’ Were Dannemann used to bring Hendrix to her apartment, unaware that it would function as a death trap, then her future actions against the post-mortem defamation efforts against Hendrix would make much sense.

When Kathy Etchingham sued Dannemann for libel in a UK court, where defamation laws make it easy for plaintiffs to win, she, in effect, silenced Dannemann. For when Dannemann published her book, Etchingham hauled her right back into court. One has to wonder who might have gotten nervous when Dannemann found a publisher. One has to wonder who repeatedly called her on the telephone to whisper sweet death threats in her ear. Clearly, someone did not want her talking. After all, in a fit of rage she might indiscreetly say something explosive. Her death would ensure that nothing else she said would wind up on the pages of the daily tabloids.

Hypothesis #4. Conintelpro methodology for discrediting prominent figures, and the Huston plan allowing operative measures against selected targets continued well past the dates admitted to by Intel. What’s at issue here is not whether fictitious boogeymen in trenchcoats ruthlessly silenced opposition to the state. Cointelpro and the Huston Plan were very real programs stipulated under oath by their participants before the US Senate.

What’s at issue here is whether the CIA, NSA, the FBI and other spy networks terminated these programs at the time they said they did. Many believed that they did not. Noted FBI historian Brian Glick wrote that the FBI terminated Cointelpro only after it came to light, but still carried out similar activities under differently named programs. Citing Glick’s research, a number of scholars, activists and politicians including Dr. Noam Chomsky, US Rep. Cynthia McKinney, and Dr. Howard Zinn outlined what they saw as Cointelpro’s legacy in the 21st century in a paper presented before the UN.

With the exception of J. Edgar Hoover, every head of Intel endorsed the Huston Plan, as did President Richard Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell. Despite testimony before the Church Committee that Nixon revoked the plan after only five days, implementations of it would dovetail into Watergate in 1972, some two years later.

The Church Committee, most importantly, chronicled the history of Intel’s preoccupation with celebrity, the counterculture, and other elements of “The New Left.” FOIA accessed documents of Hendrix and other musicians show an additional preoccupation with rock and roll, and its possibility for galvanizing political dissent.

An allegedly former British Agent resigned his commission to work almost exclusively with Hendrix. Same agent controlled his finances and movements through the Yameta Corporation and concert scheduling. The Huston Report, a 43-page document outlining a US government policy that provided for operations against selective political targets, indicated the willingness to commit political murder, or assassination. Jimi’s name on the Security Index indicates that he was just such a target. Had Intel seen him as a special problem because of prior involvement with him, then they might have seen his murder—whether legally sanctioned or not--as an attractive option for many reasons.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Kill the Music: The Battle for Legacy

Kathy Etchingham (left) depicted Monika Dannemann as a rather minor figure in the rock star’s life, a pathetic liar, and possibly a murderess. These accusations may or may not have been true, but they are charges a reasonable person could make. For example, Dannmann colored her story over the years, more and more depicting herself as someone central to Hendrix’s life. Truth was Hendrix had an army of girlfriends, including Devon Wilson, who had been with Jimi for years, and last saw him only days before he died.

Although Monika might have exaggerated her importance, she was not the only one capable of stretching the truth. In the midst of her accusations against Dannemann, Etchingham also made several against Hendrix as well. She described him as paranoid, for starters. She also said that he occasionally exploded in sudden bursts of violence against both men and women, and because of his great physical strength beat them savagely. Lastly, she said that he had been strung out on drugs for many years, starting with marijuana, and eventually working his way up to becoming a full-fledged heroin addict.

In his 1978 book ’Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky (formerly titled Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child of the Aquarian Age), David Henderson confirmed other accounts of Hendrix’s brutality through second-hand sources, as did Charles Cross in his 2005 biography, A Room Full of Mirrors, where Hendrix ex Fayne Pridgeon (pictured left with Jimi) spoke of meeting Etchingham for the first time. Hendrix kept a photo of Pridgeon on the mantle of the apartment he and Etchingham shared, but wouldn’t tell his live-in girlfriend anything about the mystery image. Despite knowing Hendrix didn’t want her to, Etchingham tracked down Pridgeon, and secretly invited her over. When Hendrix walked into the apartment unexpected, and unannounced, he pulled Etchingham’s chair out from under her.

Pridgeon had no obvious reason to lie or exaggerate the incident, which clearly demonstrated Hendrix’s ability to wreak mayhem against a person getting on his nerves. And since she really hasn’t been shown as deceptive about anything, her account is fairly reliable. Yet, Etchingham’s descriptions of Hendrix’s violent tendencies are generally more intense, and many lack confirming sources. Nevertheless, her depiction of Hendrix as wild man pales to that of former co-manager Eric Burdon, who offered a number of third-person stories of graphic brutality, complete with victims on the edge of death, and eyeballs hanging out of their sockets.

Three nights after Hendrix’s death, and several days before the coroner’s inquest could even begin to determine anything, Burdon, without evidence or first-hand knowledge, declared Jimi’s death a suicide during a BBC television interview:

His death was deliberate. He was happy dying. He died happily and he used the drug to phase himself out of this life and go some place else. Because he realized that for him to stop off and correct what was wrong with his organization, the fact that he was being artistically stifled, he wasn't receiving his money I don't think, as much as he should have been getting. He realized that to stop off and do that, would kill him artistically anyway. Jimi just exited at the time he felt it was right.
Since Burdon could not have possibly known, especially at that date, how Hendrix died, and since the evidence we have strongly challenges the suicide verdict in any scenario, we might see his assuredness as a stupid mistake at best. At worst, we could it as a deliberate attempt to mislead, an attempt to portray Hendrix in a certain light that would show him as simply self-destructive.

Etchingham most likely exaggerated Hendrix’s violent episodes. But she most definitely exaggerated Hendrix’s drug usage. According to her, Hendrix had become a hardcore heroin user by the time their relationship had ended. Yet, out of all of Hendrix’s associates, she alone says that he was a heroin addict. While it’s possible that he might have experimented with the drug, he did not show any signs of prolonged heroin usage. He did not, for instance, have track marks, the arm scabs that attest to an exhausted supply of fresh veins. None of his other friends or acquaintances associated him with the drug. He had only gotten permission to leave Canada because the authorities believed that he didn’t use heroin, and a jury would later acquit him of the charge for the same reason. While in the US Army, his superiors specifically tested him for heroin, but came up negative. Dr. Thurston’s autopsy found no evidence of heroin use at all, and he did not indicate any severe damage to the septum, which would have occurred if Hendrix had a serious habit of snorting heroin or cocaine (which Etchingham also alleged that he did). The aforementioned David Henderson investigated Hendrix’s drug habits extensively. While Jimi indulged in whisky, marijuana and LSD, heroin was never his vice of choice by all accounts except Etchingham’s.

Stepping back, we can see that both the Etchingham and Burdon’s statements about Hendrix fall into a certain pattern. Jimi sporadically committed acts of aggression, which troubled him as much as they did the objects of his ire. Yet, Etchingham and Burdon might very well have exaggerated these acts, inexcusable as they were in the first place. Secondly, while Hendrix did in fact indulge in drugs, Etchingham portrays them as the center of his being. Although Hendrix shared troubling thoughts with Pridgeon, Etchingham, and Devon Wilson, Burdon exaggerated his depression, depicting it as so severe that he was on the road to actively do himself in.

Such stories would tend to diminish the esteem of a popular figure, especially if the figure were dead, and therefore in no position to refute the allegations. As The Church’ Committee’s Final Report and Supplements would indicate, exaggerating a “dangerous person’s” shortcomings were simply a matter of routine procedure. As one internal CIA memo instructed:

Show them as scurrilous and depraved. Call attention to their habits and living conditions, explore every possible embarrassment. Send in women and sex, break up marriages. Have members arrested on marijuana charges. Investigate personal conflicts or animosities between them. Send articles to the newspapers showing their depravity. Use narcotics and free sex to entrap. Use misinformation to confuse and disrupt. Get records of their bank accounts. Obtain specimens of handwriting. Provoke target groups into rivalries that may result in death [emphasis added].
In Hendrix’s case, attempts to blacken his reputation generally failed, perhaps in large part because of Dannemann, the very bitter rival of the woman making the allegations. For twenty-three years, Dannemann and Etchingham fought tooth and nail to establish themselves as Jimi’s most important love. Since Dannemann’s involvement with Hendrix became known immediately after his death, and her testimony at the coroner’s inquest led to a lot of press coverage, Dannemann had the upper hand in this battle, and she repeatedly called Etchingham a liar until the day she died.

Devon Wilson’s claim on Hendrix would probably surpass that of both women. But she died only five months after Hendrix, and thus could not really say much on the matter. Etchingham’s claim as his supreme consort took root with her investigation, but really bore fruit after Danneman’s death in 1996. In 1998, Etchingham published her Hendrix biography Through Gypsy Eyes, which received due publicity, especially in the UK. Although she never backed downed from her earlier accounts, Etchingham’s views of Hendrix were generally positive. She later embarked on a successful campaign to persuade the British government to declare the apartment she and Hendrix once shared a national historical landmark. With official recognition, she might very well have gained the advantage over Dannemann in the battle for Jimi’s legacy.

Figure 3. Etchingham/Hendrix Apartment

Figure 4. Closeup of the Blue Commemorative Plaque

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Kill the Music: Red, Red Wine

This post was edited for accuracy on October 5, 2006.

The official story of Hendrix’s death originates largely in the accounts given by Monika Dannemann to the press, the police, and the coroner. Yet, other, apparently credible witnesses give a story so conflicting as to the accounts of Hendrix’s final minutes of life, that both versions completely negate each other. They simply cannot both be true in any regard. Either one is completely false, or they are both completely false.

Dannemann’s Version/The Official Version

Hendrix and Dannemann attend a party on the afternoon of September 17, 1970, where they sipped wine, ate a vegetarian rice dish, and mingled with guests. Afterward, they repaired to the Samarkand Hotel, where Dannemann lived in a rather dingy basement apartment, instead of the more comfortable Cumberland Hotel where Hendrix had already paid for a room.

At approximately 11:00pm Hendrix received a call to meet persons unknown to Dannemann (and consequently to history). Hendrix somehow anticipated the call, and it made him quite anxious. Already coming down from an acid trip, he became extremely frightened, and upset. At around 10:30pm, he telephoned Chas Chandler, but could not reach him. So he left an agitated, but incoherent message on Chandler’s answering machine. In an effort to calm down, he then took a street tranquilizer known as a “black bomber” moments before a car arrived and took him away to who knows where.

Hendrix returned to the Samarkand at 3:00am on the morning of September 18. Still wound up, and hungry, Dannemann fixed him a tuna fish sandwich, and they talked on the bed until she fell asleep at approximately 6:00am. She awoke about four hours later, and went to the kitchen to smoke two cigarettes, before heading out to the store to buy another pack.

When she returned, at about 10:30am, Dannemann checked in on Hendrix and noticed that he had taken two of her Vesperax. Here, Hendrix might have been a victim of cross-cultural misunderstanding. In the US, one often takes such medications in doses of two. Vesperax, however, was extremely potent. The recommended dosage required the user to break a single tablet into four parts, then take a quarter of it. In other words, Hendrix had unwittingly swallowed eight doses. Still, this was nowhere close to fatal.

When Dannemann looked closer, she could see “sick” on the tip of his nose, yet, he was breathing normally, and his pulse matched hers. She called Eric Burdon to ask for advice, around 11:00am. Burdon told her that Hendrix was probably just tired, and that she should let him sleep. An hour later, she called again when repeated efforts to wake him proved futile. Burdon then told her to call an ambulance.

Paramedics revived Hendrix, and sat him in a chair. Dannemann watched as Jimi repeated tried to bend his head over to vomit. But the attendants kept pushing his head up, thus causing him to swallow what he could. Everything else went down his windpipe. Ultimately, they decided to strap him into the chair so that he couldn’t move his head at all, and it is at this point where he drowned.

Dannemann rode with Hendrix via ambulance to St. Mary Abbot’s Hospital. When she arrived hospital staff kept her from accompanying Hendrix to the emergency room—that was because, she believed, the nurses and physician on duty disapproved of interracial relationships. She caused quite a commotion arguing her case, but to no avail. A doctor came out about an hour later and told her that Hendrix had died.

Dr. Gavin Thurston, the coroner who conducted the official inquest the following week, declared that Hendrix had drowned on his own vomit because his gag reflex had been suppressed by a mild overdose of Vesperax. While that might have explained (if true) how Hendrix died, Thurston declined to answer any questions of why he died, and thus issued an open verdict in the case. In other words, the coroner never ruled out the possibilities of accidental overdose, suicide, or murder.

Reginald Jones, John Saua, and John Bannister’s Version

Paramedics Reginald Jones and John Saua got a call at about 11:15:am to report to Dannemann’s basement flat. They arrived precisely at 11:27am, only to find Hendrix’s body lying in a pool of vomit and red liquid in an empty apartment. Although they knew he was long dead, they did not have the credentials to declare him thus. So they did the standard procedures given to them by training, and called police for permission to transport the fallen rock star to St. Mary Abbot’s Hospital, where ER physician Dr. John Bannister worked on him for an hour before officially declaring him dead.

Although Dr. Bannister issued the statement of death at about the time that the official version declared Hendrix dead, the state of the body—the temperature, the discoloration of his mouth and mucous membranes, etc.—told him that Hendrix had died much earlier, approximately 3:00am that morning.

Jimi Hendrix had been dead for some time, without a doubt, hours rather than minutes. He didn't have any pulse. The inside of his mouth and mucous membranes were black because he had been dead for some time. He had had no circulation through his tissues at any time immediately prior to coming to hospital…

Dr. Bannister, Jones and Saua flatly contradict the bulk of the official story. Hendrix, they said, was not alive when the ambulance arrived. Dannemann was nowhere to be found. Furthermore, while Dannemann said Hendrix had eaten a tuna fish sandwich shortly before his death, the only foodstuff that Dr. Banister could pull out of Jimi was a copious amount of yellow rice.

The most important contradiction, however, is the cause of death. Dr. Thurston, the coroner, said Hendrix drowned in his own vomit. Dr. Bannister, the physician actively attending Hendrix said that the guitarist died from drowning, all right, but not in vomit. According to Bannister, Hendrix drowned in red wine:

[Red wine] was coming out of his nose and out of his mouth. It was horrific. The whole scene is very vivid, because you don't often see people who have drowned in their own red wine. There was red wine all over him, I think that he was naked but he had something around him—whether it was a towel or a jumper—around his neck. That was saturated in red wine. His hair was matted…The medical staff used an 18 inch metal sucker to try to clear Hendrix's airway, but it would just fill up with red wine from the stomach…

This is curious for a number of reasons. First of all, Hendrix didn’t like red wine. He preferred white. While it’s possible he might have had a glass or two for social reasons, we still have to wonder why Hendrix would willingly drink enough of the stuff to drown in it. Futhermore, Dr. Bannister’s blood alcohol test showed that Hendrix was only slightly above the legal limit. Had he simply been drinking red wine in that quantity, Hendrix’s blood alcohol level would have been much higher.

If true, Dr. Bannister’s steadfast insistence on this cause of death can only mean that someone forced red wine down Hendrix’s throat. So if we go with the observations of the doctor who actually attended Jimi as patient, then we can come to only one conclusion about his death: murder.

To read earlier posts in this series, click here.

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