Friday, October 16, 2015

Where Miracles Happen: Thoughts on The Leftovers 2.02: A Matter of Geography

Pearson Moore

John torched the structure and, surrounded by incredulous men, watched as it burned. It had to be done. People were being led astray. No one seemed to understand this was a place where great things were happening. Someone had to protect the place, and John took it upon himself to do so.

One of the men shook his head. "John, no one needs to protect it."

Well, John didn't exactly torch it, and we didn't hear any of the nonbelievers say anything--at least not in that scene. But the memory grows fuzzy after a while. After all, I'm not talking about the house-burning scene from Episode 2.01, and I'm not even talking about anything John Murphy did. I'm talking about what John Locke did when he destroyed the submarine--the only way to leave the Island--in Episode 3.13 of Lost. John Locke protected the Island, John Murphy protects the Miracle, and both men protect by blowing things up or burning them down.

Please don't read too much into this comparison. John Locke had real insight into the truths of the Island. We have as yet no indication that John Murphy is anything more than a self-appointed vigilante, rooting out and destroying men of faith (like his friend Isaac) he doesn't understand. Perhaps he will turn out to be the hero of the story, but methinks it unlikely. Six long years were required for Jack Shephard to transform from Man of Science into Man of Faith, and I doubt the chirping cricket is the final word on the fire chief's troubled conscience. He has much growing to do if he is to become the hero.

Whatever is truly bothering John, it's far greater than a little cricket, and far more powerful than the red-haired ghost that slammed Kevin's head into the stovetop. The true miracles are accomplished by forces beyond science, earthquakes unbeholden to 'fracking', powers owing nothing to 'mystique'. There's nothing man-made about these forces and earthquakes and powers beyond reason and science.

Let The Mystery Be

"Everybody's a-wonderin' what and where they all came from," Iris DeMent tells us in her song. The world worries "where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done." We devote the most sober and thoughtful and frightful moments of our lives considering the inevitability of death and the meaning of birth and life.

Last year we met the GR--the Guilty Remnant--in Mapleton, New York. This year we've been introduced to another GR--the *Grateful* Remnant--in Jarden, Texas. "We are spared, and for that we are grateful," as young Michael Murphy proclaimed last week from the pulpit. "We are the 9261," he said, bursting with pride and gratitude. All of Jarden is the new, happy, perfectly adjusted GR, the grateful remnant of Texas.

So the fanatics of every religious tradition pour into town for their 11-hour stay in the Promised Land. There are no atheists in foxholes, and there are no atheists among the survivors of families who lost a Departed--unless they're from the chain-smoking New York brand of GR (the guilty ones)--or maladjusted, bewildered people like Kevin Garvey, the former Chief of the Mapleton PD. So thousands come every day, millions every year, and tens of millions more would come if they could.

So much worry, so much anguish over "what and where they all came from" and "where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done." But imagine what would happen if no one on those buses assigned priority to the human circle of life. Do any of those fervent believers, waving arms to the sky and praying in circles, worry about why a mouse is born, or why a bird must die? Isn't the religious preoccupation with human life and death just another sign of the unnecessary complications posed by childish belief in some all-powerful being that holds humans somehow above the rest of the universe? Wouldn't the world be a simpler and better place if these religious zealots simply recognized the truth: All animals are born, live, and die. Human beings are animals the same as mice and birds. Therefore, we too will be born to this world, live for a time, and die. The laws of biology are the same for all, just as the laws of physics are the same for all. The heavens don't revolve around Earth, as the religious fanatics of old used to teach. Just as humans are no more than animals, so too our little ball of rock and water is nothing more than a planet circling a quite unremarkable little star.

Yessir, things would be a whole lot easier, and there would be a whole lot less stress and anger and war if the religious fanatics could just grow up and realize the truth that's staring them in the face. If common sense and logic ruled the world, the unbearable psychological nonsense of both forms of GR would disappear. If science ruled the human mind we wouldn't have to see all these delusional people suffering so much--and causing all this unnecessary suffering for us right-minded and properly adjusted folk.

If you believe common sense and logic and science are Damon Lindelof's antidote to the madness of the world, if you think this truth is the thesis of The Leftovers, you're not listening very well, and you're going to be mightily disappointed in the outcome of the series.

Listen carefully to the lyrics, the words of wisdom, the showrunners chose to introduce every episode of Season Two:

"I think I'll just let the mystery be."

No one interrupted the song to say, "Hey, you atheists out there, you can tune out for the next minute, 'cause you guys already know the truth. There is no god. There are no unexplainable phenomena. There are no mysteries." No, the song was chosen for all of us: "Let the mystery be."

Think about it this way. Two percent of the world's population of mice did not suddenly disappear into nothingness. Two percent of the world's population of birds did not instantaneously vanish and never come back. Two percent of dog and cat owners did not witness their pets dematerialize before their eyes. Only human beings were subject to this unprecedented violation of biolgical, chemical, and physical law. There has never been such a bewildering and catastrophic nullification of the law of the conservation of mass-energy, to our knowledge, in the history of the universe.

The premise of The Leftovers is that HUMAN LIFE IS MYSTERY. Common sense, logic, science, or indeed any construct human mind can devise is impotent to explain the meaning of human life. No scientific advance, no medical knowledge, not even the best supercomputer running full-tilt for days or years or millennia can figure out why humans are indeed different from every other part of the universe. We're not mice. We're not birds. We're not cats and dogs.

Let the mystery be.

Don't try to deny the mystery, or whatever unknowable force is in control of the mystery will set you straight, and probably not in a pleasant way. Don't try to control the mystery, for the mystery and the power behind it are not amenable to human manipulation. Don't claim for yourself some insight into its truth, for its truth is inscrutible.

But don't think, either, that we will ever be told how to think or believe or react to the MYSTERY that is at the core of The Leftovers. When Lindelof and Carleton Cuse were given the opportunity to inscribe on stone the secrets and truths of the universe, in Season Six of Lost, they chose two dead religions to convey the meaning of life, and they etched their stone tablet not with Hebrew or Latin letters, but with Egyptian hieroglyphs and Mesopotamian cuneiforms. Whether you're a devout atheist or committed Christian, faithful Muslim or observant Jew, you are going to be stretched and challenged and slapped in the face by this series. Don't believe me? Well, just ask Gladys, second in command of the GR in Season One.

Let the mystery be.

I suspect for just about all of us, schooled as we are in the bizarre Enlightenment era conceit that human beings are no more or less than ants, possessing importance no greater than clouds that are here today, gone tomorrow, the real difficulty will be found in agreeing that there is a mystery at all. Presented with the fact of such a mystery, our Enlightenment schooling will tell us the next step is to study it, quantify it, reduce it to mathematical principles.

Of course, this is precisely what we saw occurring when MIT made an offer of 2.7 million dollars for the purchase of Nora Durst's 'anomalous' home. "Our guess is that it's a matter of geography," the scientist told her. But these were not disinterested data collectors. Not if the University was willing to put up three million dollars. For three million dollars you don't get to study something of interest only to academics. The granting authority will expect--will demand--'real-world applications'.

"If you're right, then what? What does it matter?" Nora asked. That is, she wanted to know what the real-world application was.

"People want to be able to protect themselves against a recurrence," the MIT guy said. The MIT *scientist* said. The guy whose team will apply all the tools of logic and science, and oh, you can be sure plenty of supercomputer time, to catalog and study and infer and deduce and so completely understand the Departure and the forces surrounding it that they'll be able to predict with pinpoint certainty exactly how everyone can protect themselves from a recurrence. Yeah, sure. Good luck with that, MIT.

And So It Begins

Geography, the MIT guy said. The word struck a chord with Nora. Her objective became the identification of a place, any place at all, that would spare her a second round of unbearable misery. But there were no such safe locations in the town of Mapleton, a place requiring too much 'brittleness' to the bite, where "the chef requests no substitutions." Hemmed in on every side, no room to breathe--not even the food could be enjoyed without 'brittleness'--how could she possibly go on living?

"Do you want to get out of here?"

Kevin's offer made sense in so many ways. Only days before, Nora and Kevin were stumbling around each other, as they seemed to do throughout all of Season One. "Listen," he said when Nora offered to stay with him, "if we're going to can't just...We don't really know each other."

The missing phrases were 1. a family and 2. live together: "If we're going to be a family we can't just live together." But of course, a family does live together. That's what a family is and does. But they couldn't be a family, they couldn't live together, because they didn't know each other.

What followed was the strangest confessional scene I've ever witnessed. "I walk in my sleep. I abducted a woman against her will, watched her kill herself, then your brother Matt and I secretly buried her. And I smoke." Leaving the biggest sin for last, are we, Kevin? Once Nora confessed to her strange meetings with gun-toting prostitutes, they absolved each other. "It's okay," they told each other. Even Jill absolved her father and his lover. "It's okay. It's all okay."

I'm OK, you're OK.

Hey, that could be the title of a book, or even a terrific, time-tested, universally-applicable theory of psychological self-help. Yeah! Let's give it a good scientific name, though. How about Transactional Analysis? Sounds to me like they solved all their problems, so now they're ready to move on into paradise, into their Texas Jarden of Eden.

Most of you reading this didn't have to live through the upheavals of the 1960s. A lot of it--the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement, greater social awareness and tolerance--brought real benefit to the United States and to the world. In some ways the world of the late 1960s and early 1970s was a safer, saner, more enjoyable place to live. Books and ideas commonplace at the time could land you in jail nowadays, in this far more stifling world of the early 21st century. But some of the movements of the time were just so much nonsense. Transactional Analysis, it is safe to say, has not fared well since the days of free love and enlightenment-through-LSD and the philosophy of Turn on, Tune in, Drop out. "If it feels good, do it" was a useful mantra for irresponsible teenage Baby Boomers, but once we took the last toke (somewhere around 1975) and snorted our last line (somewhere around 1985) and started raising kids of our own, we stored "If it feels good, do it" in our closets, right next to the love beads and the Vietnam War protest signs, still coated in mud from Woodstock.

Lindelof didn't live through the silliness of the 1960s (though he and most of you missed out on the moon landing, which was the signature event of the 20th century, and a pretty awesome thing to witness, even on black-and-white television), but I doubt he will propose "I'm OK, You're OK" as the solution to everyone's Season One problems. In fact, I believe we've already seen, and especially in the powerful figure of Patti Levin and in the mind-numbing rap music blaring from Kevin's earbuds, that not a single problem from Season One has been resolved.

As important as geography is in this story, we already have an inkling that Jarden is no Garden of Eden. Nora has pinned three million dollars and all of her hopes on a place she believes safer than any other. But listen closely to the beautiful, majestic song that transported us from Mapleton to Jarden: "Take It All" by Ruelle. The very first verse speaks of traversing the gates of hell, where the ground rumbles. Hmmm. A place called 'hell' that the song says is frequented by earthquakes? Lots of earthquakes. Hmmm. Have we become acquainted with any such place in Season Two?

These are some of the qualities the song says Kevin and Nora will find when they arrive at their earthquake-prone destination:

high stakes

Doesn't sound like any Garden of Eden I've heard of. Yet the song encourages them to "take it all." And so they did: A run-down house with brown running water and light bulbs that explode, neighbors who spend their free time evaluating new arrivals' suitability for residency in the town that was spared by God, and earthquakes that make miraculous water and feisty teenage girls disappear into thin air. Welcome to the Jarden. And so it begins.

The Garden of Valenzetti
Some Thoughts on The Leftovers 2.01: Axis Mundi

Pearson Moore

Park rangers carry tasers and sidearms. Cowboys are high priests wielding ceremonial knives. Firefighters are sworn vigilantes, protecting with fire and flame the purity of this rare place. And peeing in the water makes it holy and sweet. Welcome to Jarden. Behold the Miracle, this garden untouched by God. "But in Jarden Town the sun shone bright, a Miracle," young Evie sang out, with conviction to tremble the soul and warm the heart:

The Light of Love poured down, it's a Miracle.
Our hearts are pure, we knew for sure, a Miracle.
That God has spared our Town.

The story began three years ago, we were told in Season One. The sudden, unaccountable, instantaneous disappearance of two percent of the world's population left the world stunned, angry, desperate, and grieving, injecting hearts and minds with depths of emotion unknown to innocent humanity. But the prologue to Season Two offered us fresh perspective. Suffering, grief, and death have never lacked depth or misery. Innocence? The idea is attractive, compelling, uplifting--but the concept has always been a fiction, conceived by tainted yet hopeful humanity. "Your water: Will it make us safe?" The question, posed in German by a frail, overweight, pasty-skinned, 50-something man, induced its own wave of sadness. He was a dead man walking. If not today, tomorrow. If not this year, then next. But we knew sometime, and sometime soon, this man would become rotting flesh entombed in moist earth. Whether or not a second 'departure' occurred, this desperate man, ready to spend thousands of Euros for a few hours under the Texas sun, would not be spared.

The idea of perception is central to this newest incarnation of Damon Lindelof's vision of the human condition. "We’re playing with this idea of what is it that makes magical places magical. It has to start with something that happened there. In this construct, Jarden, Texas is exceptional because nobody departed from there and there has to be a reason for that. What that reason is, is less interesting to us as storytellers than what people think the reason may be." (Damon Lindelof, interview with Christina Rasish,, 4 October 2015) As Tom Perrotta related, both the book and the series are "about the variety of the responses, individually and collectively" to the inexplicable disappearance of a fraction of the world's population. (Tom Perrotta, interview with Alan Sepinwall,, 26 June 2014)

But perception is not free-flowing. There are constraints on what Jarden, Texas is or might be. Lindelof framed the idea of constrained perception earlier this month:

Why is Jerusalem, Jerusalem? Why is Mecca, Mecca? These are places that have great religious significance. Is it because someone told stories about them, or is it because this is where Jesus lived or came, or is it because this is where Muhammad preached or lived? Why a pilgrimage from Mecca to Medina? Why is Vatican City in Rome? These are all intensely spiritual places. If you’ve been to any of them, it doesn’t matter if you believe in that religion, you feel it flowing through your body. It’s not just history, it’s something else. It’s infused with that power. (Damon Lindelof,, 4 October 2015)

There is a reality permeating Mecca, Jerusalem, the Vatican, and now the unremarkable town of Jarden, Texas. No single cause and effect relation can explain the truth of any of these places. "It’s not just history, it’s something else. It’s infused with that power."

If you're reading my words in this quiet corner of the Internet, you've probably digested other reviews of Axis Mundi. But you have unanswered questions. Why did the earthquake kill the pregnant woman's companions? Why was Jarden renamed 'Miracle'? The other reviewers reported these facts but provided no explanation. I also lack answers. But I don't think you're going to be disappointed. You see, I don't accept the other reviewers' perceptions. I reject them, whole-heartedly, because I feel they're simply wrong. Perception is not open-ended, as Lindelof told us. There are, in fact, right and wrong ways of looking at the problem of the Departure. There are right and wrong ways of thinking about the Miracle that is Jarden.

First of all, we don't know that the pregnant cavewoman's companions died in the earthquake. If you wish proof of this, please see one of Damon Lindelof's first television episodes, Lost 1.07, "The Moth." In this Lost, Season One episode, two of the main characters, Jack and Charlie, are trapped inside a cave when the entrance collapses. But they don't die, and in fact, their confinement leads to a life-giving discovery.

Now I seriously doubt we're ever going to learn whether the cavewoman's 'companions' lived or died. But their death is not the point of the prologue. The point is that they were not 'companions' at all. These dirty, naked women and men were the members of her clan. They were the source of her nourishment, her health, the life flowing in her blood, and the life growing in her womb. The clan was everything, and now she was forever separated from everything. There was no life, but there was hope.

The broad-winged bird circling overhead was not a vulture. Now some eagle-eyed (hah!) fan with Ultra HD-television will leave a comment: "You're wrong, Pearson. I froze the scene and zoomed in on the bird. It's Gymnogyps californianus, the California Condor, commonly known as a vulture. So you're wrong, and I'm never going to read your essays again!" I'm perfectly willing to admit the bird could be a condor. But it's not a vulture.

The distinction is not balanced on semantics or scientific definitions, but on perception and symbolic interpretation. We could certainly interpret the circling bird as waiting patiently, knowingly, for the woman's death, and the feast it would enjoy as it tore into her still-warm flesh. But again, the perception and the interpretation are incomplete, and terribly misleading. Take a closer look at what actually happened. Train those eagle eyes of yours on the events that transpired from 5:20 to 5:45. The woman is cuddling her newborn, tired and on the verge of sleep, when she hears the piercing cry of the circling hawk. She looks up, sees the fearsome source of the sound, and follows the bird's path through the sky. The hawk is circling not over her, but around a far-off column of smoke. Whether intentional or not, the bird of prey has drawn her attention to smoke, which means fire, which means clan, which means nourishment and health, love and life. It means everything.

The hawk is not a vulture because the bird doesn't symbolize death, but something else entirely. Nature is not only death, but life. Nature awaited her death, yes, of course, but it also provided the means for her to continue her life, and even woke her and virtually led her to a new clan. A meaningful interpretation, consistent with Lindelofian constraint, is that the bird was not a symbol of death, but in fact a symbol of life.

While I honor that interpretation, this is not the perception I would apply. I openly admit to strong bias, born of the time I spent on a free-floating island that ranged across various points on the Pacific Ocean over the six years from 2004 to 2010. So I look at that hawk as I might one of the Dharma polar bears, or sharks stamped with the eight-sided Dharmacakra, or the Smoke Monster himself. The various living avatars of the Island are neither 'good' nor 'evil', but manifestations of raw power, reduced to concrete form in the Cave of Light seen in Season Six of Lost. The hawk, for me, and probably for many fans of Damon Lindelof, is a symbol of pure, uncontrollable power. The Power of God, if you will.

The cavewoman's vision of the hawk was her frightful, hopeful, horrible, brilliant confrontation with the Divine. This is a deity at once cold and forbidding, yet warm and inviting. It is Paul Tillich's Ground of All Being, but also Source of All Death. It is Alpha and Omega, life and death, suffering and joy, terror and rapture, beginning and end.

You don't have to believe as I do. Perhaps the bird symbolizes enlightenment, or humanity's connection to earth and sky, or the circle of life, or some other concept foreign to my biased thoughts. The hawk may have little symbolic importance to the greater story occurring at the mystical spring 12,000 years later, when Jarden was spared the anguish of the Departure. But it doesn't symbolize death, and that's the truth--no matter how much you insist otherwise in the comments section below.

A Town Renamed

They shook their fists,
And cursed the skies,
Demanding explanation.
No answers came,
No soothing words,
To silence and frustration.
But in Jarden Town the sun shone bright:
A Miracle.

Jarden is the Miracle. It is the answer the world has been seeking for three long years. Pilgrims come from all over the world, determined, eager, wild-eyed, desperate, for a few moments under the bearded prophet's concrete pillar and a taste of life-giving water.

I've read close to 20 analyses of Episode 2.01, this spectacular reboot of the series. But I skimmed and ultimately passed over several dozen more. Good or bad, nearly every review I read spoke of the fact that Jarden had been renamed Miracle. Well, respectfully, I disagree. As far as I can tell, the town was never renamed. By some mechanism not yet explained, the entire town has been taken up into what the Federal government calls Miracle National Park. But the town signs remain. No one has scrawled out Jarden and written some other name for the place. Fierce-believing, energetic teenage girls call their town Jarden, not 'Miracle'. The town was not renamed. It is Jarden.

The names are important because they reflect perception and power. In fact, perception is power. To the Federal government, and to thousands of pilgrims lifting trembling arms to blue sky, this place is called Miracle. To proud and grateful residents, the town has been and will always be Jarden, Texas. Speak of miracles if you will, but do so without specificity. Don't tell the world you know what Jarden is, because in the telling, you assume the mantel of power. Don't try to claim understanding, don't sell mystical enlightenment in the reading of palms or words of truth from the pulpit, or town elders will shut you down, shut you up, threaten you (even in church), and if no other means of censorship works, burn your house to cinders and smoke. Perception is Power, and Jarden owns copyright, trademark, and patent on Power. You're just a visitor. Don't forget your wristband. Don't take it off. Or armed park rangers will taser you until you drop.

Jarden reflects biased perception, too. 'Jordan' seems to be the correct Texas pronunciation, but the etymology has no relation to the Biblical river flowing into the Dead Sea. Jarden is a variant of the Spanish word Jardín, or the French word Jardin, rendered in English as 'Garden'. The name doesn't refer to Texas. The reference is profound, mystical, and foundational to the second season.

Garden is a metaphor, sometimes understood as primitive perfection, but it seems to me one feasible interpretation, especially in the context of the prologue to Season Two, is that the Garden in our tale refers to a starting point. The clan we saw in the first moments of the prologue was sleeping at the First Fire, gathered in the First Cave, placed at the shores of the first waters that sustained human life. This clan, unknowingly, had taken up residence in the Garden of Eden. That baby, saved from the snake, was the First Mother. She was Eve, or in the parlance of our story, Evie.

Is she the pure one then, the Mother who trampled the snake underfoot rather than succumbing to its charm? Listen to the music. I find it fascinating that so many commentators have invoked parallels to Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" in discussing the prologue. I can't help but think that one of the factors stimulating such comparisons was the choice of music. The light, cheery orchestration certainly sounds like a waltz, and I suppose to untrained ears, like mine, the semblance to Johann Strauss' Blue Danube Waltz must have led to the conviction that Lindelof intended to hark back to the 1968 cinematic masterpiece. I believe such a possibility exists, but after researching the music, I'm not so sure. In fact, I think it more useful to consider the choice of music as having resonance with the specific theme of this long introduction to the season. The classical piece accompanying the cavewoman's birthing scene was written not by Johann Strauss but by Guiseppe Verdi, and it wasn't a waltz, but an overture to an opera: La Traviata, or in English, The Fallen Woman. The cavewoman is the Fallen Woman. Yes, she crushed the snake, but she was bitten, too, and eventually she succumbed to its venom. Eve from the Garden of Eden, who fell under the snake's spell? Or Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, who crushed the snake? Perhaps she is both.

Now here's why I believe it's important not to make assumptions about what a scene did or did not tell us. The fact that we don't know whether the cavewoman's clanmates are dead or alive is crucial to our understanding of the greater story. If we don't know something, if we aren't given enough information to make a reasonable determination of symbolic value or cause and effect, then this unknowable something is not germane to the story. There was a Departure, yes. Why? "What that reason is, is less interesting to us as storytellers than what people think the reason may be." Both the Departure and the earthquake that separated the cavewoman from her clan are unfathomable starting points. We can't build any guesses or metaphors of value based on the clanmates' death, but only on the separation of pregnant clan member from clan. From the cavewoman's point of view, her clanmates might as well be among the Departed. Her anguish and grief are the focal points, not anyone's supposed death.

Once you realize this truth, the possibilities are breathtaking. The rocks barring the woman's path back to the cave, in our mind's eye, become stand-ins for the barbed wire fence guarding Miracle National Park. Everyone outside the gates is suffering anguish and loss no less profound than the cavewoman's. These pilgrims grasp hands with family and friends, lift eyes to the sky, just as the cavewoman did when she grasped her newborn's hand and held her close. Jarden was spared, but just what does that truth mean? God spared the town. God did not touch a single resident. What does this mean, to be untouched by God? Is salvation to be found in being spared? Does being untouched by That Which is to be feared indicate a state of grace? Or does being untouched by That Which is Love indicate a state of damnation? Is Jarden the Garden of Eden, or does it inhabit the First Circle of Hell? Watch the first ten minutes again. This is not just prologue. It is metaphor. It is the symbolic exposition of everything we will witness in Season Two.


Winona Ryder as Abigail Williams,
"The Crucible," Twentieth Century Fox, 1996

"But in Jarden Town the sun shone bright, a Miracle," young Evie Murphy sang out, convicted in truth, courageous in word. Her strong voice spread the message of salvation that is Jarden, the Miracle wrought by God. More than anyone else we have met in this series, Evie is the purest, truest representation of hope. She is the most articulate messenger of the gospel message of Miracle. To use religious terminology, she is an evangelist, meaning one who spreads the gospel. Evie is short for Evangeline, a name that gained popularity just about the time Jarden, Texas was founded (1848). Evangeline means 'woman who spreads the gospel'. The name appears on thousands of birth certificates of the era, especially among American pioneer families, no less fiery and convicted than young Evie, supported in their westward migration by the widely promulgated religious doctrine called Manifest Destiny. The sun shone bright, the Light of Love poured down on the United States of America, for it was the Promised Land, and it was America's destiny--America's Manifest Destiny--to fill the continent from sea to shining sea.

The town name is no accident, then. The reference is certainly to the Garden of Eden, for this garden was in the very center of the continent. It was God's will that America was the Promised Land, predetermined--to use Michael Murphy's choice of word--no less than the Biblical readings at Sacred Mission Baptist Church that accused Michael's father, John.

I don't believe the name for John Murphy's daughter was random or accidental, either. Evie might mean Eve or Evangeline, Mother of Humanity or Evangelist of Jarden--or it might mean both. (And I suppose it might serve as an homage to one of Lindelof's favorite actresses, Evangeline Lilly.) I think the dual meaning is intentional. What does it mean to be the First Mother, or the most gifted evangelist?

She urinated in the water, just as our primordial First Woman did in the prologue. The act is not a one-off, throw-away action then, but an event imbued with great significance. Evie thought it a joke played on a too-serious chemist studying the miraculous waters. The cavewoman thought it nothing more than the simple act of relieving her bladder. But the repetition of the event was a signal: Look for significance.

My epiphany came when Evie and her two friends raced naked through the forest. This was no frantic run, but timed, choreographed, measured, full of patience and care. I don't know that I was supposed to tie this strange spectacle to the forest witchcraft scene that opened "The Crucible." I hadn't seen the film in nearly 20 years, but the memory came in a flash, and I looked on Evie with eyes newly-opened.

I am not saying Evie is a witch, or that she will point an accusing finger at those she wishes to condemn to hanging, as Abigail Williams did during the Salem witch trials in February to May, 1693. But I believe both Abigail and Evie are, or think themselves, in a fundamental and important way connected to powers beyond human comprehension. Evie knows, or thinks she knows, Jarden. It's not just a place, after all. "It’s not just history, it’s something else. It’s infused with [...] power."

Evie is brimming, full to overflowing with the power that is Jarden. And that's a dangerous state for any mere mortal. She drinks from the Cup of Life. Christians know this great chalice as the Cup of Christ that brings eternal life. Fans of Lost know it as the Cup of Jacob that likewise brings immortality. But note well: Every disciple who drank from the Holy Grail at the Last Supper was hunted down and executed. And Jack, the hero of Lost, accepted the Cup of Jacob, only to die at the MIB's hand. So that which is life brings suffering and death. Should we expect Evie will be spared a gruesome or mysterious fate?

Axis Mundi

We think of Mapleton, New York, and Jarden, Texas, as the only locales of significance in our story. In similar fashion, many fans of Lost probably consider that the Island and Los Angeles were the only locations of importance to Jack and Kate and Locke's story. But we already know of two characters connected to a third place of importance, and we will see many more as the season continues. How can I be so sure Australia will play an important role in The Leftovers? Over the six years of Lost we came to know 29 characters with direct, personal connections to Australia. The most important of these carried mystical connotations that helped immensely in understanding the nature of the Island. Already in Episode 2.01 we've learned the unnamed bearded prophet living atop the town's 'Miracle' pillar has or will establish a relationship with a certain David Burton, living at the origin of Flight 815: Sydney, Australia. David Burton, again, is not a throw-away name. He's wielding Chekhov's Gun, and we will certainly hear of him again, and most likely meet him, later in Season Two or sometime in Season Three. Other important characters will come to have connections with the continent.


Geographies of the mind are connected to time and place. If we wish to make sense of emotions and states of being, we must inevitably describe profound connections to physical locales. In Lindelof's words, there are "intensely spiritual places. If you’ve been to any of them, it doesn’t matter if you believe in that religion, you feel it flowing through your body."

So why was it necessary to use Australia as a focal point in Lost? Wasn't the Island enough? [/p] [p] The Island was more profound than metaphor, so the connections had to be understood as real, pervasive, and relevant to everyone on Flight 815, which is to say everyone who watched the television series. The Island was Lost's Axis Mundi, the center around which the world turned, or as I said in several of my books, it was the umbilical:

[The Island] is the umbilical, the connection between the natural world and whatever lies beyond the realm of the senses. It is through the [Island] that we live and move and have our being. Each of us carries a bit of the Light inside our hearts, as Jacob's guardian told us. When the Light goes out, we lose our identity, our connection to reality, we lose any possibility of life, death, or rebirth. (LOST Humanity, 7.93)

Jarden is clearly The Leftover's Axis Mundi, but it's not at all clear that we should think of Jarden as somehow similar to or the same as the Island. They could be very different or even antithetical to each other. In both Lost and in The Leftovers we can count on 'secondary' axes mundi, such as Australia, to bring clarity to the true meaning of the central geographical axis.

Many of you will never watch Lost, or never revisit the series if you did watch during its run from 2004-2010. But if you plan on doing so anytime in the future, you may wish to skip over the next section. I am going to spell out in fewer than ten words what the Island was, and I will expand on the idea, to show why I believe Jarden has a different meaning.

The Gospel According to Lindelof

"The Light Returns"
Jack Shephard after successfully replacing the Cork Stone
Lost 6.18, "The End," ABC Television, 2010

I've said the Island was an umbilical, but the image I danced around in my books, without ever coming out and saying it, carried the most profound significance. Here it is: The Island is the Ark of the Covenant.

The Island wasn't the Covenant itself, but the great floating chamber that housed the words of the Covenant. The Covenant, as I understand its expression in the television series, was an ongoing agreement, a never-ending work, that secured the Island's place as the guarantor of human survival. The words of the Covenant were carved into the Cork Stone, which sealed the Cave of Light and allowed pure divine energy to be transformed into life-giving water.

To remove the Cork Stone was to profane it, but also to destroy the Covenant or balance that allowed the Island to act as Axis mundi, give life, and guarantee human survival. Therefore profane hands, those of a man physically gifted but spiritually impure, had to remove the stone, and this was accomplished by electromagnetically-resistant but spiritually wounded Desmond Hume. It took physically wounded but spiritually pure Jack Shephard (i.e., Shepherd of Souls, the New Moses) to touch the engraved rock with clean hands and re-secure this Covenant Stone in its proper place, bringing equilibrium back to the world.

I doubt Damon Lindelof's artistic compulsion--to illustrate the nature of humanity's connection to the divine--will play out in the same way in The Leftovers. Some 30 million people watched the Lost finale, and there was probably not a dry eye among us. But half of us decided we didn't like the ending, and of those who thought it a satisfying finale, probably few understood what had happened. Lindelof was visibly disappointed in this reaction, and he's not likely to follow the same storytelling tack in The Leftovers.

But millions of us did understand, among them a certain Vince Gilligan, who paid tribute to Lost in the final scene of Breaking Bad. The last moments of Walter White paralleled almost frame-for-frame the final breaths of Jack Shephard:

The premise and story elements are strong, but at the very least they're going to be rearranged, spun into new thread, woven into new cloth. The appeal will be changed, probably narrowed, so as to stimulate new thought and discussion around the basic idea of human-divine connectivity. Perhaps the ending of The Leftovers will bring fewer tears, but I'm pretty sure the intention among Lindelof and his lieutenants is to instill a more profound sense of appreciation.

The Numbers

Yep. I saw it, too. Of course I saw it. I've written dozens of essays on The Numbers. You think I'd miss a framed instance of the most important of the Lost numbers? Hah!

For those of you new to the symbolic world of Lindelof, you will find a small but quite dedicated and very animated contingent of The Leftovers fans who pour over every frame of each episode, looking for important clues. And there, 19 minutes and 25 seconds into Episode 2.01, we had a biggie. It appeared only for a split second. Getting the screencap above took me three tries--that's how short its residence time was. But for Lost veterans, that fifth of a second is an eternity.

If you're not up for this microscopic analysis of every image and flash, don't worry. Numbers of any kind have made few conspicuous appearances in Season One, and they're unlikely to suddenly become important going forward. So you can ignore the numbers--even a number of monumental importance like 108.

Now, if you wish to go deeper, you can certainly meditate on the number's significance. 108 didn't appear accidentally. Lindelof and Company knew a certain important segment of the fan base would go crazy when they saw this number. But on The Leftovers 108 doesn't mean the sum of 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42, as it meant in Lost. There are no Candidates on this show. There's no Dharma Initiative. It is a number unto itself this time around, and its significance is tied to the identity of the pilgrims on the bus. The green bus, by the way. The color carries greater significance than the number, but we'll discuss that later. What does 108 have to do with people hoping to find safety or salvation in a small Texas town enclosed by barbed wire? Look at the people getting off the bus. There's a nun, in the traditional black and white 'penguin' habit. There are two stereotypical Orthodox jews in big hats, black suits, and long beards. Some are in wheelchairs. Others--the bulk of those coming off the bus--raise their arms high and look to the sky with bright, grateful, expectant faces. They grasp hands, form a circle, bow their heads. One of the men--the group leader--raises his arm to the heavens. You're not supposed to just let this go. As with the nun image and the Jew caricature, you're to understand these people as Evangelical Christians.

Everyone on the bus is a pilgrim, and by this I mean pilgrim in the most completely spiritual sense we can imagine. These are people committed to their religion who understand Jarden, Texas, as playing out truths central to the theological teachings of their faith traditions. It is in this light that we can formulate some guesses regarding the intended meaning of Number 108.

Hindu prayer chains (Japa mala) carry 108 beads. Each bead represents one of the 108 names or forms of the Lord Shiva, making 108 a holy number in Hinduism. The number 108 is considered important or holy by Buddhists, some Jews, and practitioners of several of the Eastern martial arts, among them Wing Chun and Kuk Sool Wan. When I saw the 108, the nun, the Orthodox Jews, and the Evangelical Christians, the number made perfect contextual sense. The 108 was a stand-in for the Hindus on the bus.

The idea of numbers is important, though, because of the way Lindelof has used the idea in the past. "Oh yes, the mystical numbers." Well, no, they're not mystical, and that's the point I wish to make here. Many of you are thinking this a brash statement, contrary to everything we learned in Lost. But consider these words from Season Six:

KATE: Why did you cross my name off of your wall? JACOB: Because you became a mother. It's just a line of chalk in a cave. The job is yours if you want it, Kate. (Lost 6.16, "What They Died For")

In Jacob's own words, Kate's name (and her Candidate Number, 51) were "just a line of chalk in a cave." There was no connection between the Candidate Numbers and any motif or truth, meaning 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 carried no intrinsic significance. Yet we know the numbers had tremendous meaning to the series. They appeared in virtually every one of the 121 episodes. How can I say they 'carried no intrinsic significance'?

The Numbers were an overlay. They were a value perception applied by various individuals and groups that had an incomplete or totally wrong-headed understanding of the Island, its powers, and its deeper significance. They were a misinterpretation, a misunderstanding. The Dharma Initiative was a misdirected effort to understand the Valenzetti Equation, which itself was a broken, half-assed scientific approach to what was, in the end, a problem of spiritual import.

If you read any of the interviews Damon Lindelof has given on the structure of The Leftovers, he's said repeatedly that his greatest ambition is to elicit a multitude of responses. As Tom Perrotta said, the series will depict "the variety of the responses, individually and collectively" of the characters. Our responses will mirror those of the characters, and we'll come up with our own, too. Everyone watching will produce a perceptual overlay that will contain various amounts of truth. This goes to the storytelling expectation of observer participation, which I discussed at length in several of my books on Lost. Without going into detail, it should be obvious to anyone reading these words that each of us holds dear certain truths. It follows logically that we will apply these truths to any work of art, and we'll interpret the art on that basis. In that sense, then, we participate in the artistic creation, imbueing the work--overlaying it--with truths it would otherwise lack.

The truth I see when I look at Jarden is that it is no Garden of Eden--at least, not the Garden I'm familiar with from the story in Genesis. So 'Garden of Valenzetti' is my way of saying that to think of Jarden as a perfect place is to construct a flawed and incorrect overlay. Superficially, in my mind anyway, Jarden seems to be a perfect place, spared the tribulations of God's wrath, but will soon be revealed as something frightful, and perhaps beautiful and frightful at the same time. Not a garden at all, then, but the Axis Mundi, with the fullest range of terror and wonder that any of us can imagine.

Daß ist eine Prüfung?

"Was kostet das?" the German pilgrim asked.
Michael shrugged. "It's whatever you wanna give."
The man grunted. "Daß ist eine Prüfung?"

Is this a test? he asked. Some children's game? And he and his translator friend walked away, throwing Michael's church brochure back at him. Of course it was a test. Michael poured the water from a one-liter Nalgene Tritan copolyester biological sample bottle into a rack of cork-stoppered glass test tubes. Scientific test tubes--used to contain what almost every pilgrim on the bus--on the green bus--would have considered precious holy water. What is this strange obsession I have with the color green?

"Le Destin Vert"
("Green Destiny")
Copyright 2012 Pearson Moore

In the mythology of Lost, blue represents the Valenzetti-loving Dharma Initiative, the Man in Black, and pre-enlightenment, science-loving Jack Shephard. Yellow represents the Man of Faith, John Locke, the immortal Jacob, and the Light emanating from the Source. If you mix the two colors together, you get green, which was most visibly seen in the green pill of Lost Episode 6.03, "What Kate Does."

To boil these colors down to basics, blue represents science, which in Lost is understood as an imperfect and often incorrect overlay, and yellow represents faith, which is trust in the power of the Island. Green, then, is a mixture of the two, a complicated melange not at all conducive to facile explanations. When I look at Michael I see the color yellow. He is as pure as they come, which he demonstrated not only with the German couple, but more importantly in the pulpit, when he stared down his own father, and told him, in the words of Paul of Tarsus, "See that no one returns evil for evil." (1 Th 5:15) He doesn't countenance John Murphy's Fahrenheit 451 raids, and he won't sully the pulpit by proclaiming anything less than the full truth.

When I look at Evie I see a woman superficially enamored of her town's status, but I see much more going on underneath. She seems to proclaim the Gospel of Jarden, but notice she sings Jarden's spiritual anthem not from the Baptist Church, but from the confines of her town's secular, non-religious high school. So Evie, to my eyes, is clothed in pure blue.

Yet Evie is touched in some way. Her parents understand her condition as epilepsy, but they speak of her as having 'left' or 'gone away'. "Come back, Evie," Erika implores as Evie's eyes stare blankly, her fingers twitching. When Evie finally 'comes back', she asks simply, "I went away?"

The implication is that in a town full of pure, untouched souls, she is unique, touched by the Hand of God. Many would consider such a woman to occupy an elevated state of grace. In the words of Father Peyramale, "You are the rarest of mortal beings," young Evie. Perhaps she is clothed in yellow after all. But I still see blue when I look on her face, and wait for the time when she betrays some hidden falsehood or conceit of the heart. All of which means Lindelof will build her into a saint greater than Father Peyramale's Bernadette of Lourdes, just to spite me and my half-baked theories. We shall see!

"But what about those test tubes, Pearson? Why would a Man of Faith like Michael Murphy condescend to the use of scientific symbols in proffering holy water? I thought you said he wore yellow, not blue."

I have ideas about that, certainly. But I've already written 6000 words. Do you think I'll ruminate on complex visual juxtapositions in fewer than a thousand words? We'd be here all night if we had to discuss the contradictions and miscues and red herrings of Episode 2.01, not to mention the strange mysteries popping up every minute. What's the deal with watering the lawn in formal wedding gowns? What's up with the plexiglas sarcophagus covering Asphalt Eruption #7 on the street leading into the town square? And what was Cowboy Jerry's goat sacrifice, the strange restaurant sin offering, supposed to achieve? Most of all, was that bird dead or alive when Erika buried it several days ago?

There is much to discuss, and more than could be covered in another 6000 words or even 12,000 words. Our discussion will have to wait. You have a life to live, don't you? So until then, watch out for snakes, eat raw eggs--shell and all, and beware the test, the children's game, of sacred water in profane tubes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Treasonous Loyalty: Benjamin Franklin, the Intolerable Acts, and the National Debt by Pearson Moore

He is inventor, diplomat, statesman, author. Skilled in the craft of negotiation, unequalled in the art of courtship and love. If we understand any of the founding fathers, surely we know him—his temperament, his beliefs, his motivations—better than any of the men whose vision, resolve, and oratory united colonists of disparate purpose into a single mind. Yet, in flagrant challenge to our long-held beliefs, the greatest of the architects of rebellion considered himself first of all an Englishman. Deeper, bewildering shocks await as we peer into this man’s life, accomplishments, and failures.

Following through history the cascade of events he set in motion late in the summer of 1774, we are not surprised to hear the shot heard ‘round the world on April 19, 1775, nor see with our own eyes the unanimous declaration he and his congressional colleagues signed a year later, during the hot summer days of July, 1776. Perhaps, though, we are not only surprised, but shocked, to learn that this printer from Philadelphia—this Englishman—was almost single-handedly responsible for a greater number of American deaths and a deeper obligation of debt than any single person prior to the 1980s. In fact, it is specifically because of the engrained Englishness of him that the American Revolution did not end in the spring of 1777, but instead engulfed the new United States, four European countries, and seven North American First Nations in a war that dragged on for eight and a half years, and became the inexorable trajectory that led to the French Revolution six years later, the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, and the debt crisis of the early 21st century. It is because Benjamin Franklin embodied an oxymoron—because of his treasonous loyalty—that French, not American English, to this very day is spoken in Montréal, Sherbrooke, and Québec, and the Stars and Stripes flies neither in Vancouver nor in Toronto.

The Englishman

The famous woodcut above does not represent a newly-patriotic Benjamin Franklin calling for united resistance to British overlords during the Revolutionary War, but rather a much younger Franklin’s appeal to fellow Englishmen to gather behind an earlier, but no less urgent, common cause. Franklin’s stirring call to arms was not issued in 1775, nor even in the Stamp Act days of 1765. Franklin created the woodcut in the early spring of 1754 (the version above was embellished by Samuel Kneeland of the Boston Gazette and published in May of that year) not in response to British tyranny, but in reply to French attempts to secure the continent. The tone of Franklin’s oratory and written discourse was strongly in keeping with Kneeland’s sentiment, expressed by the scroll emanating from the snake’s open mouth: Unite and Conquer. Unite against Canada, and conquer the French.

Franklin spoke of Frenchmen as representing a race distinct and inferior from the civilized humanity found only among gentlemen obedient to the British monarch. The French had strange laws and customs, the unnatural and subordinate nature of which was proven by French Canadians’ perverse ability to bring an entire continent of savages to their cause, which Franklin understood to be the removal of English colonies from what was otherwise a continent owned entirely by France. Franklin’s way of looking at the long conflict in the 1750s has carried through to modern times, though we no longer think of the French as members of a distinct “race,” and we are not as likely to refer to Native Americans as “savages.” Nevertheless, our interpretation of the events of that time is distinctly American, as indicated by the name we apply to the conflict. While historians in Europe and Canada know the battles of 1750s North America as The Seven Years’ War, American historians refer to the conflict as “The French and Indian Wars.”

Franklin’s energy and passion in rallying opposition to the French was no sideline in a life otherwise devoted to scientific investigation. His early immersion in science was not the sign of any infatuation with disembodied objectivity, but indication of a deeper sense of social propriety. Political and social intercourse in his mind were paramount to the fullest expression of humanity. He believed in the widest possible expression of arts and sciences, as long as creativity and industry were tempered by the greater call to civility and cohesive society. France, to Franklin, was an impediment both to human freedom and to proper social order.

Social health could only be achieved in a milieu which rewarded those who lived life according to natural laws. English customs were superior to all others in this regard, since rewards were not only possible, but could be expected to accrue to those who led virtuous lives. No such rewards were possible under French custom and law, in Franklin’s mind. In the colonies, and in England, there were gentlemen and commoners. In France, on the other hand, there were peasants and nobles. Franklin had started life a commoner, and in fact, one of the last of seventeen children born to a soap maker, he was not expected to have any impact on society. But Franklin early on recognized the immutable underpinnings of English culture, and applied himself in earnest to the task of rising from the anonymous ranks of common men to become a respected and even revered English gentleman. He knew instinctively that such a rise in social standing would never have been possible had he been born into the highly stratified and stagnant French socio-political system, and he came to despise French custom as destructive of the human spirit. Once a peasant, always a peasant, always under the crushing thumb of hereditary nobility. In the freedom-loving British Empire, on the other hand, social position was a matter of individual initiative.

The French and their corrupt, degrading society engulfed the North American continent. Franklin found this reality stifling, threatening, and entirely unacceptable. To the north of the Great Lakes and west of the Appalachian Mountains, Québec and her Indian allies controlled every river, hill, and valley. Further west and to the south, Louisiana controlled the continent as far inland as it had been explored.

Franklin rose quickly in the political world. Starting as a Philadelphia councilman in 1748, by 1751, largely as a result of his anti-French writings, he was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly. He was one of the most ardent supporters of colonial action against the French, and became the most vocal architect and champion of the goals of the Albany Congress in 1754, to which he led Pennsylvania’s delegation. When the Albany Plan of 1754 failed to gain colonial approval, he refused to accept the will of the people, and considered other options. Early in 1756, he rallied Pennsylvania residents and personally raised and supported a militia (“The Associated Regiment of Philadelphia”) to fight the French.

It was in this context that Franklin left for the Motherland in the mid-1760s. He had already been to England a few times to petition for various legal remedies to colonial concerns, but this time he stayed for several years. He became so oblivious to problems back in the colonies that upon passage of the hated Stamp Act, he nominated a friend to serve as administrator of the program in Pennsylvania. His acquiescence to arbitrary British taxation made him a sudden enemy among the common people of his colony. He had to work for several years to convince his fellow colonists that he was not indifferent to the plight of the politically disenfranchised citizens of Pennyslvania. During this period, Franklin’s disposition toward the colonies is not entirely clear. One truth that is easily discerned, though, is Dr. Franklin’s attitude toward England: He loved his new home, and more than anything else, he enjoyed living the life of an English gentleman.

The Intolerable Acts

Depending on the historian one consults, the Stamp Act is considered either the second of the Intolerable Acts (the Sugar Act being the first) or a hated precursor to the truly intolerable legislation passed in direct response to the Boston Tea Party of 1773. The Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act, and the Quartering Act were Parliament’s response to the uncivilized rabble-rousers who took their orders from Samuel Adams and twenty-eight-year-old Benjamin Rush. Franklin was by this time writing and speaking out against the oppression of the colonies by Parliament, but he was quite clear in his contention that the value of the tea had to be reimbursed. He continued to see himself as a gentlemanly representative of clear thinking and reasoned discourse who might be employed in diplomatic capacities to bridge misunderstandings between Parliament, the Royal Court, and the colonies. He had been serving in such a capacity for the better part of twenty years, having spent nearly half of that time living in England. He must have felt there was no reason he could not continue to serve as valued intermediary, even as Adams and his fellow conspirators began stockpiling arms for what they believed was an inevitable confrontation.
The four acts of Parliament directed squarely at Boston—the epicenter of the American rebellion—are collectively referred to as the Coercive Acts. They are known by this title to historians in both the US and the UK, and there is no question in any accepted history regarding their nature as instruments of political and legal coercion.

The broader appellation of “Intolerable” is applied to these acts, but many historians include in this designation the final parliamentary act of June, 1774: The Quebec Act. When Franklin learned of the act, he did not argue that the British Parliament had simply misunderstood conditions on the North American continent. He did not, as he did in the case of the Boston Tea Party, insist that anyone in Québec who had suffered injustice at colonial hands be reimbursed. Any inclination he might have had toward diplomacy, reconciliation with Britain, or resignation to parliamentary fiat evaporated as soon as he received word of the abominable law.

The Quebec Act granted citizens of the newly-conquered territory (won on the Plains of Abraham in September, 1759, and codified into law by the Treaty of Paris, 1763) extraordinary rights not even extended to the English-speaking colonists. The people of Québec were allowed to speak, write, and conduct all business, whether personal, public, or official, in the French language. French Canadians were allowed to retain their Roman Catholic faith and serve in His Majesty’s government. Worst of all, the Act reinstated the French system of laws. With a single act of Parliament, French language, culture, religion, and law were made legal and permanent fixtures within the confines of British North America.

“Intolerable” was probably the only word Franklin could use in polite company to describe his feelings about this bill. French culture meant doing business with and inciting to crime the native savages who stood ready to scalp children, rape women, and kill men. French law meant any legal act that could be considered an affront to civilized Englishmen. Franklin must have wondered if the members of Parliament had all lost their minds. Perhaps if he had grown up in another colony—a colony much closer to England—he might have understood.

The primary architect of the legislation was not a member of Parliament, but the Governor General of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton (made First Baron Dorchester in 1786, despite losing the colonies in the 1775-1783 rebellion). Governor Carleton added his voice to that of the former Governor of Canada, James Murray, in calling for the institution of rights peculiar to French Canada. Carleton was not English, but Irish, having been born in Strabane in 1724. This fact is critical, because it explains Carleton’s passionate drive for Canadian rights. Only thirty years before Carleton’s birth, Britain enacted the Ascendancy Laws, essentially making Roman Catholicism a crime in Ireland and rendering adherents to the Roman faith something less than second-class citizens. Carleton saw first-hand, every day, the demoralizing and violent repercussions emanating from Parliament’s inhumane treatment of his friends, relatives, and fellow Irish countrymen. Though he made no public statements to the effect, he must have been entirely resolved to preventing this type of administrative abuse. As Governor General of Canada, he enjoyed perfect placement for shaping of legislation favorable to the Roman Catholics living under his control. With conditions in and around Boston deteriorating by the week, it must have seemed entirely prudent to Parliament to take any steps necessary to prevent a continent-wide insurrection.

They could not have known that in so doing, they had alienated from their cause their most ardent supporter: Philadelphia’s most famous Englishman, Benjamin Franklin. More English than Thou, Franklin could never accept Parliament’s proclamation that French-speaking thieves, criminals, and drunkards were to be granted social standing equal to his own. His unswerving loyalty to England—or rather, to his understanding of England—caused him to join the cause to throw off the yoke of the motherland. In the summer of 1774, after reading the law Guy Carleton had fashioned and pushed through Parliament, Benjamin Franklin became the most determined foe of all things British. His loyalty led to his treason.

The National Debt

The shots fired at Lexington and Concord (for those of you enamored of my fellow Minnesotan, Michelle Bachman, Lexington and Concord were towns in Massachusetts, not New Hampshire!) must have seemed a blessing to Franklin. As soon as the Continental Congress received the reports, Franklin went into action. He knew Great Britain had virtually inexhaustible resources. The French were non-committal to the patriots’ cause, probably because they realized the situation was essentially hopeless. There was yet one way to even the field of battle: Take every port in North America away from the British. If the British had no port, they could land neither soldiers nor matériel; they would lose the war in a short matter of months.

The goal was not unreasonable. In fact, Franklin realized it was a practical, achievable objective. All the Patriots had to do, he realized, was to control Québec. If they could rally Canadians to the patriot cause, England would have no friendly ports in North America, and the United Colonies would be able to dictate any terms they wished.

It must have seemed a stroke of genius. The Continental Congress commissioned the publication and distribution of thousands of French-language pamphlets throughout the Province of Québec. It was a propaganda drive unparalleled in history, with dozens of French-speaking spies sent north to spread news of the Patriot cause and the tremendous benefits to be enjoyed by those who supported the revolution.

The early results were stunning. Montréal fell without a fight. When General Montgomery entered the city, he was welcomed as a conquering hero, even though his men had fired not a single musket. The pamphlets and spies had done their work very well indeed. There is quite a rich field for storytelling here, as one might imagine. My second novel, Intolerable Loyalty, follows the intrigues of one such spy, sent by Samuel Adams to turn Canada. I hope to publish Intolerable Loyalty later this year.

The spies were not able to sustain their early success. By the time General Montgomery and Colonel Benedict Arnold (his treason was five years in the future) converged on Québec City, resistance was stiff, from both British Regulars and from ordinary French Canadian citizens. Within weeks of the Battle of Québec (December 31, 1775), French Canadians had formed citizen militias to battle the Americans.
The failure was not military in nature. The Patriots could have sent ten times as many soldiers, they could have sent every weapon owned by anyone in the thirteen colonies—they still would have lost. Why?

The problem rested with the architect of the strategy. Benjamin Franklin had demonstrated nothing but contempt for the French, and especially for French Canadians, for more than a quarter of a century. His writings on Canada and the Ohio Territories were widely read, and his views on French language, culture, and law were well understood. When the Patriots invaded, they brought Franklin’s view of French inferiority with them.

Benjamin Franklin made one final, desperate attempt in May, 1776. While his colleagues in the Continental Congress were debating the question of independence, Franklin was in Montréal, sitting across the table from Roman Catholic bishops and leaders of Canadian industry and the French Canadian resistance. His words were eloquent, his manner was charming, but he was perceived as insincere. If Franklin had been able to convince the Canadians of his sincerity, rather than proposing legislation in Congress to ban the French language and then saying weeks later in Montréal how much he adored spoken French, the Patriots might have enjoyed some leverage. As it was, the British had granted rights and privileges not even bestowed upon the English-speaking colonists. “We have no quarrel with His Majesty’s government,” the bishops and business leaders told Franklin. By the end of May, 1776, Canadian militias and British Regulars had chased every Patriot soldier and diplomat out of the province.

The war went on for nearly ten years. It was not cheap. People like Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and several of the founding fathers spent the better part of the war traveling around Europe, begging for money to continue the revolution. Massive debt was taken on. Even by the end of the “Second War of Independence” in 1815, the debt from the Revolutionary War had not been paid off. European benefactors eventually received payment in full, but new debt replaced the old. By the end of the Civil War in 1865, the country faced a debt so large as to defy payment. If the nation had been a corporation, it would have faced dissolution or bankruptcy. The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, passed three years after the end of the Civil War, addressed the problem of debt: “The validity of the public debt of the United States... shall not be questioned.” Certainly the Civil War would have put the country into debt, regardless of the length of the Revolutionary War. But if the War of Independence had lasted two years, not eight and a half, the debt would have been miniscule rather than overpowering. The debt, of course, has never been paid down. The legacy of debt we have struggled with for over two hundred years has its origin in the ineffectual diplomacy of Benjamin Franklin.
Thanks to Franklin, French Canadians were never converted to the American cause. Years later, in 1812, Thomas Jefferson committed the same error of judgment that had doomed Franklin’s Canada initiative. The subjugation of Canada, Jefferson wrote in 1812, was “a mere matter of marching.” The United States, ten times larger and possessing military might a hundred times greater than that of Canada, could simply walk in and take the British province. But in 1812, as in 1776, Canada repulsed the invaders. Canadians do not see the world as Americans do, and certainly not as Benjamin Franklin saw the world. The Quiet Revolution of the 1960s would never have occurred if French Canada had succumbed to diplomats more sincere than Franklin, because Montréal and Québec would not be part of Canada, they would be English-speaking states in the United States of America.

New Light On Old History

To a student of history, nothing about historical research is boring. Every primary text comes to life in our hands, because we have studied the rich, nuanced, unbelievably complex circumstances of its creation. We are always discovering valid, intriguing ways of shedding new light, new interpretations on worn and accepted ideas.

I hope you found this re-examination of Benjamin Franklin both troubling and challenging. If you found yourself shocked, confused, or angry over these words, I succeeded in my objective, which was to coerce you into thinking new thoughts about some old ideas. In the end, I do not believe Benjamin Franklin was a failure, or the locus of sufferings felt into the 21st century. As with anyone of his time, he enjoyed both successes and failures, and he certainly caused some degree of suffering, personally, socially, and militarily, but such is the legacy of even the most successful and admired of political leaders. Franklin was a leader among leaders, a rare man whose talent in dozens of fields outshines some of the best to have achieved in any one of the areas he mastered. But I see my task as an historian, and especially as a novelist, to look at history with a fresh eye, and to relay that history to you, my readers, with the greatest passion I can bring to my words. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey into the life and times—and passion—of the greatest of the founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin.

Pearson Moore
September 13, 2011

Pearson is the author of Cartier’s Ring, an action-adventure historical novel telling the story of first contact from a Native American point of view.

Cartier's Ring, ebook edition:
Cartier's Ring, paperback:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Abdicating the Arctic

Tomorrow, the Arctic Council, comprised of Russia, Canada, the United States, Norway, Denmark, and three other countries bordering the arctic, will sign a treaty assigning search and rescue responsibilities in the high arctic. While the Council has said the practical S&R boundaries should not be interpreted as legal borders for other purposes, Canada should move quickly to avoid the impression that it is abdicating responsibility for the arctic.

As Paul Koring noted in his article in this morning’s Globe and Mail, the Council “explicitly accepted that the search-and-rescue boundaries won’t be used as precedents in the tangle of unresolved boundary disputes and overlapping claims in the resource-rich top of the world.” The problem for Canada lies in the final six words of that statement: resource-rich top of the world. Inevitably, disputes regarding resource ownership, recovery rights, and clean-up responsibilities will arise. Some tangible set of conditions will have to be used to set precedent for ownership, rights, and responsibilities, and it is in this regard that the present treaty is fraught with dangers for Canada.

Canada has been assigned an approximate 80-degree section of the 360-degree arctic region. Over forty percent of the arctic is given to Russia, with smaller pieces of the pie-shaped area going to the United States, Norway, and Denmark.

Since the search and rescue boundaries are practical in nature, they should be understood as fluid. If Canada, due to superior search and rescue capabilities, is able to assist with the rescue of sailors from a ship sinking in U. S.-controlled waters, the United States will be unlikely to turn down the offer of assistance. Such superior abilities could be used in future negotiations to argue for an enhanced Canadian presence in the arctic, and perhaps even an expansion of Canadian boundaries in future disputes over resources.

The problem is that Canada is ill-prepared for S&R work in the arctic compared to other nations. Norway, which already has a strong arctic presence in its oil drilling operations, has developed formidable resources for efficient work in the arctic. Russia has long possessed significant cold-water capabilities. Canada, according to Mr. Koring’s article, “has no dedicated search-and-rescue assets based north of the Arctic Circle...The nearest dedicated search-and-rescue aircraft are four 40-year-old Twin Otter utility aircraft based in Yellowknife.” It is not difficult to envision scenarios in which Norway and the United States will be best equipped for S&R operations in territories for which Canada is now responsible. With capabilities entirely inadequate to upholding of Canadian responsibilities, countries wishing to exploit arctic resources should have little difficulty in prevailing over weaker Canadian interests, presence, and abilities in the arctic.

I hope that Canada is not willing to so easily cede resource ownership and development rights. If the Harper government wishes to continue ignoring the high arctic, we should anticipate a high potential for consequences far more serious than simple loss of revenue to oil, minerals, and other resources. The larger concern is the health of the arctic itself, and it is here that we can find significant precedent that ought to raise our level of concern.

In April, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. For three months the open well spewed over eight million litres (53,000 barrels) of oil per day into the gulf. Some five million barrels (800 million litres) of oil were released into the ocean before the well was finally capped. The major problem in the capping effort was the inadequacy of the blowout preventer mechanisms installed in the cap, including severe design flaws that prevented the blowout preventer from working as specified. Only a few short months after the well was capped, the United States government approved the resumption of drilling in the gulf. Unbelievably, no blowout preventer design changes were required. Oil companies that wish to drill are allowed to use the same inadequate technology that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

We should anticipate that the United States, with its long-established contempt for environmental health, will have no more concern for the consequences of arctic drilling than it has consistently demonstrated in warmer waters. While this may pose only short-term consequences in tropical regions, a laissez-faire attitude toward pollution in the arctic is likely to prove deadly, and costly not just to Canada, but to the entire world.

Few species of flora and fauna are found in frigid arctic waters. Oil-consuming bacteria thrive in warm tropical water, but they find the cold water close to the pole a bit too hostile. If oil spills in the arctic, it is likely to remain there for a long, long time, causing severe, long-term damage in a fragile environment. Since the arctic region has effects on weather, plant and animal life, and many other natural phenomena far out of proportion to its size, the effects of arctic fouling are likely to have severe repercussions throughout the world, and especially for countries bordering the arctic.

It is time for Canada to beef up its arctic presence. We cannot allow irresponsible countries, like Russia and the United States, to pollute the arctic at Canadian expense, to the detriment of the entire world.

May 11, 2011

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Orange Crush, Blue Balls, Red Retreat

Margaret Wente is insightful as ever this morning. While I don’t know that I agree with her overall assessment, I find it difficult to quibble with most of her points. If you enjoy good political analysis, give this morning’s column a spin:

While she does not dismiss outright the notion that Harper’s pre-campaign attack ads played a prominent role in Ignatieff’s demise, she points to several other factors that proved useful to the Tories’ success. As biting and well-informed as her analysis is, I believe it falls short, and I will tell you why.

She correctly cites several examples of the Grits’ unwillingness to engage in the hard work of base-building, especially among minority constituencies. No one among the Liberals, she said, had the stamina to go out and drink 15,000 cups of tea. The muted and impotent Liberal appeals to minority ridings and groups was seen as insincere. Liberals gave up on ridings and ideas that had been their strong suit many years ago. I think she is spot on here, especially since her words are mirrored by a party insider, Robert Silver, who also presented a sterling analysis of Liberal deficiencies in the last election:

Ms. Wente invokes the obvious, that the Cowtown Wrangler was able to assemble a two-pronged political alliance centred in his stronghold of southern Alberta, but with a now entrenched eastern hub centred in central and southern Ontario. So strong is this continent-spanning coalition of political diversity finding room under the very generous Tory umbrella, Harper’s Posse was able to cede Québec and still manage a comfortable win.

The question for the political analyst, though, is WHY, and it is in this regard that both Ms. Wente and Mr. Silver fall short. I think Douglas Bell comes closest to nailing the analysis. He cites a simple, powerful, 60-second clip from The West Wing as the underlying reason for the destruction of the party of Laurier, Pearson, and Trudeau:

Here’s the Youtube citation:

I agree with the assessment of Bruno Gianelli (portrayed by actor Ron Silver, no relation to Robert Silver), and I believe it comes closest to explaining the reason for the diverse failures catalogued in both the Wente and Silver analyses. Democrats in the United States long ago caved into the notion that the L word was so damaging to political aspirations that it could never be invoked. Traditional liberal concerns—care for the poor, the elderly, the disadvantaged, the sick—had to be abandoned because Americans would not stomach the financial obligations imposed by these social responsibilities. The problem is that Trudeau’s Just Society does not work without an emphasis on providing for the dignity of all people as essential precursor to the establishment of rights for all Canadians. I believe it is the LPC’s abandonment of traditional liberal principles, more than anything else, that has left the party in ruins, and will inevitably lead to the complete disintegration of the party.

The young Mr. Trudeau of Papineau, who will almost certainly become the party’s leading voice, and probably also its formal leader, has his work cut out for him. If he wishes to breathe life back into this fearful, quivering mass, he’s going to have to demonstrate backbone. Trudeaumania did not begin with the playboy and his convertible. It began with the man of political integrity and doctrinal authenticity, who had no fear of standing up to the political titans of his day. The LPC will gain back its voice only when it decides that Liberal is not a dirty word, and that the Just Society is not only something achievable, but that it is, in fact, the stuff upon which Canada is properly founded.

May 5, 2011

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Vote. Vote because it matters. Because when you do, Canada changes for the better. This time, every vote counts, every vote is a mandate for a stronger Canada, for a brighter future. Because Canada is more than it could ever be under Harper. Vote because voting is change. Vote.

Vote. Vote not because it is your right, but because it is your duty. Because a country can reflect goodness and honesty only when good and honest people participate in its governance. Now is not the time to assert rights, but to embrace responsibility, for it is through the common good that each receives her just reward. Vote not for your sake, but for your country’s sake. Vote.

Votez. Votez parce que le Québec est le coeur et l'âme du Canada. Parce que le coeur et l'âme doivent être libre. Le meilleur du passé et de ce que nous sommes est ce que les femmes et les hommes libres donnent en héritage à leurs enfants. Votez parce que le Canada chérit son héritage de liberté. Votez.

Vote. Vote because you feel the energy around you. Because change and excitement and wonder are in the air. This time, it is real. The New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, and the Green Party have always stood for what is best in each of us, and what is best in Canada. This time your vote counts. Because orange and red and green are the most beautiful colours of the Canadian mosaic. Vote because in so doing, you express Canada’s will. Vote.

Vote. Vote because you matter. Because your voice needs to be heard. Your voice will be heard, and Ottawa will be better for it. Because your future is only as strong and just as Canada’s future. Vote because Canada matters. Vote.

May Day 2011