Holy Crap!

big bang

Artist’s rendition of the Big Bang (Photo: NASA)

STOP THE PRESSES: Noah’s Ark has been found and rock circles prove God created the Earth.

The idea that the Ark and rock circles prove the literal six-day creation cycle is just some of the “evidence” that Louisiana State Senator John Milkovich, a Democrat by the way, recently offered to support his unconstitutional law that would mandate creationism be taught in Louisiana public schools. Louisiana State Senator Dan Claitor sponsored a bill to repeal one of Louisiana’s two creationism laws – the Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act – which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1987. The other Louisiana law, the Louisiana Science Education Act, allows teachers to supplement their biology curriculum with materials that “critique” evolution. This law is being used by some teachers to teach creationism. For example, students from the Bossier Parish School District, in north Louisiana are learning the “Creation point of view” by reading Genesis and being given “supplemental material debunking various aspects of evolution.”

Milkovich asked Claitor during the senate committee hearing on his law if Claitor was aware of the “abundance of recent science” Milkovitch had either imagined or misinterpreted scientific support of creationism. He asked: “Are you aware that there is an abundance of recent science that actually confirms the Genesis account of Creation? The notion of instantaneous Creation has been validated by the scientific study of heliocentric circles in rocks.”

One assumes the “heliocentric circles in rocks” Milkovich is talking about are actually polonium radiohalos, which have been a creationist talking point since the 1970s, when young Earth advocate, Robert Gentry found them.

Robert V. Gentry studied halos – microscopic, spherical shells of discoloration within minerals such as biotite that occur in granite and other igneous rocks. The shells are zones of radiation damage caused by the inclusion of minute radioactive crystals within the host crystal structure. Gentry concluded that solid rock must have been created with these polonium inclusions, which decayed with a half-life of three minutes. They could not have been formed from molten rock which took many millennia to cool (the standard theory) because polonium decays in a few minutes. This conclusion is taken by creationists as evidence that the Earth was formed instantaneously.

But Claitor was not anymore swayed than I am, so Milkovich then turned from geology to archaeology, claiming explorers had “validated the Biblical story of Creation by the archeological discovery of civilizations in the Mideast that seculars said did not exist” and that there was “published research” on the discovery of an “ark or large boat” that had beached itself on Mount Ararat in Turkey. This, supposedly, was where Noah’s Ark landed after the flood, as proof of creationism. (No such research exists.)

I would like to point out here that Noah is not the only person in the business of building large boats. Utanapishtim also built a large boat after Ea/Enki warned him that the gods were going to wipe out humanity for being too noisy. Never heard of Utanapishtim? Utanapishtim is a character in the  Akkadian epic poem of Gilgamesh who is tasked by Enki (Ea) to abandon his worldly possessions and create a giant ship to be called The Preserver of Life. He was also tasked with bringing his wife, family, and relatives along with the craftsmen of his village, baby animals and grains. The oncoming flood would wipe out all animals and humans that were not on the ship. Sound familiar? After twelve days on the water, Utanapishtim opened the hatch of his ship to look around and saw the slopes of Mount Nisir, where he rested his ship for seven days. On the seventh day, he sent a dove out to see if the water had receded, and the dove could find nothing but water, so it returned. Then he sent out a swallow, and just as before, it returned, having found nothing. Finally, Utanapishtim sent out a raven, and the raven saw that the waters had receded, so it circled around, but did not return. Utanapishtim then set all the animals free, and made a sacrifice to the gods. The gods came, and because he had preserved the seed of man while remaining loyal and trusting of his gods, Utanapishtim and his wife were given immortality, as well as a place among the heavenly gods. Any resemblance to the biblical story of Noah’s Ark is purely intentional.

So a big boat was found. Great. Assuming that any of the above is true, can it be proven that it is not Utanapishtim’s boat, since no one is sure where Mount Nisir is and the Ark and Utanapishtim’s boat were roughly the same size?

Even if all this so-called “evidence” were true, it would not be enough to sway the Supreme Court, which has held that teaching creationism in public schools violates the First Amendment’s doctrine of separation of church and state.

But Milkovich was not finished with his argument. “At one point, it was constitutional for people to be owned,” he said. “Looking back on history, what the courts deemed to be constitutional or unconstitutional is…something that changes.”

Thus Milkovich, in his best impression of the worst law professor in the country, criticized Claitor’s bill by comparing it to laws against slavery. There was merit in keeping dead letter statutes on the books, he implied, because the Supreme Court may one day decide to reverse itself or overturn laws that had been passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. The only example he could muster was the infamous 1857 case Dred Scott v. Sandford, in which the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the federal government could not regulate or prohibit slavery in any territory that joined the country after its initial formation. Put another way, Milkovich compared Edwards v. Aguillard, a case that protected public school students from religious indoctrination under the pretense of science, with Dred Scott v, Sandford, a case universally regarded as the worst stain in the history of the Supreme Court and one that declared that a black man, even if he were free, can always be considered a slave.

Milkovich also said that taking “God out of schools” and teaching children that humans are “evolved from gorillas” leads to “immoral behavior” like premarital sex. Well, it is quite a leap to believe that “taking God out of schools” leads to premarital sex. Where is the evidence for such a claim? Perhaps Milkovich can explain how “putting God in schools” will cause a decrease in abortions, premarital sex, and disrespect towards parents and teachers. While he is at it, possibly he can specify which religion’s version of God would do the best job in this role. Personally, I view blaming the lack of God in public schools as a HUGE copout for parents. “Well if they only had God in our schools then my children would do better.” WRONG! If parents teach their children to be respectful, stop having premarital sex, etc., then things would be better. Also, just to be clear, humans did not evolve from gorillas, and gorillas and humans did not evolve from Old World monkeys. Old World monkeys, humans, and gorillas evolved from the common ancestors  Nsungwepithecus gunnelli and Rukwapithecus fleaglei around twenty-five to thirty million years ago. To my mind, creationism is just a collection of inconsistencies and contradictory fantasies.

Milkovich is just the latest in a long line of crazy and outrageous Louisiana politicians. For example, former state Senator Elbert Guillory voiced support for creationism based on an experience he had with a shoeless, bone shaking, and “semi-clothed” witch doctor!

Another Louisiana politico, Senator Mike Walsworth, who also voted against Claitor’s bill, made a name for himself opposing evolution. During a 2012 education committee hearing, Walsworth demanded evolution supporters provide him with an experiment that “proved evolution.” When a local science teacher began to explain an experiment conducted by University of Michigan professor Richard Lenski, who froze thousands of generations of E. coli bacteria to analyze how they changed and evolved, Walsworth asked: “They evolve into a person?” 

In his final plea for his bill, Claitor pointed out that the state already had one creationism law, and creationists did not need to keep a second unconstitutional one on the books. But, for Louisiana’s “perspicacious” politicians, two laws are better than one – just like the animals Noah brought on his Ark.

Oh . . . and here is a depressing note on which to end this piece. Senator Claitor’s bill to repeal one of Louisiana’s two creationism laws  failed by a 4-2 vote in  Louisiana’s  Senate Education Committee. Why am I not surprised. Congratulations, Louisiana! I suspect that is your reward for bordering on Mississippi.





The Rabbits of Ravensbrück


Ravensbruck  Concentration  Camp

It was just after reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, a story that focuses on two sisters – Isabelle and Vianne Rosingal – in occupied France, and what they did to survive the war, that I read an article about seventy-two Polish Catholic female prisoners who were subjected to a series of inhumane medical experiments by Nazi doctors at Ravensbrück, World War II’s only all-female concentration camp. Their stories were as heart-rendering as those of Isabelle and Vianne. The Ravensbrück women were nicknamed throughout the camp as “lapins” or “rabbits” because they were used as human laboratory animals – and also, because the cruel experiments often left them with injuries and deformities that meant hopping was the only way they could move around.

Hitler had decreed that Germany needed Poland for expanded living space – the Poles were expendable.   At least three hundred villages were razed to the ground and the Polish people massacred. Some young Polish women were interred at Ravensbrück and a fate seemingly worse than death awaited them.  Ravensbrück, some fifty-six miles north of Berlin, was a forced labor camp for women. Prisoners from more than thirty countries were forced to work under brutal conditions in agriculture, local industry, the production of armaments, and camp maintenance.

In the beginning, Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (Protection Squadron; SS), used Ravensbrück as a show camp. There were flowers in the window boxes, birdcages and a beautiful road lined with trees. Himmler would show it to the international Red Cross to prove he was supposedly treating the prisoners well.

But  beginning in August 1942, seventy-four of them, and one German Jehovah’s Witness, were chosen to advance Nazi medical science. All were Christians, but Hitler had condemned the Poles as he had the Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals. The Nazis considered Poles racially inferior. These relatively healthy women in their teens and twenties were taken to a hospital and experimented on in the most horrific ways imaginable. Nazi doctors sliced deep into their legs, then sprinkled dirt and glass into the wounds and waited for the inevitable swelling, infection and fever. The doctors also smashed the women’s bones for grafting experiments. A total of seventy-two “rabbits” were subjected to these horrific experiments; sixty-three survived the war, largely due to the help of other inmates. Word reached the outside world via notes passed at great risk by prisoners working in factories and hidden in correspondence with families. The plight of the Ravensbrück “rabbits” became a cause célèbre for a unified network of underground resistance. Of the 130,000 women sent to Ravensbrück, only 40,000 survived.

Ravensbrück’s sulfonamide experiments, as they were known, were performed to test the efficacy of sulfa drugs. They studied nerve and tissue regeneration, including bone transplantation from one person to another. Otherwise healthy prisoners had parts of bone, muscle and tissue removed without anesthesia; healthy limbs were amputated. While the research was ostensibly to study battle wounds, that was only what the Nazis wanted people to believe.

The experiments were actually precipitated by the death of one of Hitler’s closest associates, high-ranking SS officer Reinhard Heydrich – nicknamed “The Blond Beast” by the Nazis and “Hangman Heydrich” by others – who died from injuries sustained during a car bombing in 1942. Heydrich was treated by Himmler’s personal physician, Dr. Karl Gebhardt, but Gebhardt refused to use sulfa drugs, thinking Heydrich would recover. When Heydrich died, Hitler blamed Gebhardt for the death of Heydrich, whose death some believed could have been prevented had Heydrich been treated with sulfonamide. Himmler suggested to Gebhardt that he should conduct experiments proving that sulfonamide was useless in the treatment of gangrene and sepsis. In order to vindicate his decision to not administer sulfa drugs in treating Heydrich’s wounds, Gebhardt carried out a series of experiments on Ravensbrück concentration camp prisoners, breaking their legs and infecting them with various organisms in order to prove the worthlessness of the drugs in treating gas gangrene. He also attempted to transplant the limbs from camp victims to German soldiers wounded on the Russian front. The Ravensbrück experiments were slanted in Gebhardt’s favor; women in the sulfonamide-treated experimental group received little or no nursing care, while those in the untreated control group received better care. Not surprisingly, those in the control group were more likely to survive the experiments.

At first, the experiments were conducted on male prisoners at Sachsenhausen, a camp in Oranienburg, Germany, but those were suspended because the prisoners complained too much and were becoming difficult to control.

So the physicians turned to women, thinking they would submit meekly. They would take groups of ten women, keep them for a while and then use a different group. Some of them died during the experiments, and several were executed right after. Some had not healed yet, and had to be carried to the shooting wall.

After the war, several Ravensbrück survivors said that those who were about to be executed would pinch their cheeks for color, do their hair, do the best they could to make themselves beautiful for that last walk. And they talked about whether they would be brave enough to shout “Long Live Poland,” because the Nazis hated that. There was a sedative drink the guards would give them, and some women refused to take it.

During the last months of the war, the Nazis were determined to execute all remaining “rabbits,” as that they were living proof of the atrocities committed. But other Ravensbrück inmates intervened in a great show of solidarity.

The “rabbits” had been gathered in a room and rumors were circulating; everyone believed this would be the night of their execution. That was when a group of Russian prisoners shut down the electrical grid, plunging the camp into darkness and allowing the women to hide under bunkers and in attic spaces. They remained safe this way until March 1945, when they were rescued and brought to Sweden via the Red Cross.

Ravensbrück was one of the last camps liberated, leaving the Nazis plenty of time to destroy documents. As a result, little is known about the camp. But by the time it closed down, the results of the countless rabbit experiments were slanted in Gebhardt’s favor.

The story of the “rabbits” went largely untold until 1958, when Caroline Ferriday, who lived in Connecticut and came from a wealthy New York City dry goods fortune, learned of it from a friend and convinced journalist Norman Cousins to write an article in the weekly magazine, Saturday Review. Cousins had, she knew, arranged to bring a group of “Hiroshima Maidens” to the United States for cosmetic surgery. Would he consider doing the same for the scarred young women of Ravensbrück? Reader donations poured in, totaling $5,000 — a healthy amount at the time.

Ferriday, then fifty-six, was determined: The women would come to America, and she would help them receive treatment for their Ravensbrück injuries.

After months of negotiations with the Communist Polish government, thirty-five of the “rabbits” – nearly half of the group – came to the United States for extensive treatment, both physical and mental. The women went to different cities, depending on which hospitals were best suited to handle their specific injuries. Four of the former prisoners stayed at Ferriday’s house in Bethlehem, Connecticut for Christmas in 1958.

Caroline Ferriday’s circumstances could not have been more different than that of the Ravensbrück “rabbits” – and yet she became one of their biggest defenders during a time when the reality of concentration camps seemed very distant to most Americans.

During the intensifying buildup to World War II in the mid-to late 1930s, Ferriday volunteered at the French consulate in New York City, where she was privy to news of France’s developing difficulties. French General Charles de Gaulle, having escaped to Great Britain when the Nazis invaded France, in 1940 gave a BBC radio address that invigorated the resistance spirit of everyday people and gave birth to the Free France movement. By 1941, Ferriday had become one of the early American members of France Forever, the Fighting French Committee in America, supporting the French Resistance during World War II. A few years later, Ferriday affiliated herself with the ADIR, or National Association of Deportees and Internees of the Resistance, founded in 1945 by female members of the French resistance who had survived their internment in the German camps. Ferriday became particularly moved by the energy of ADIR members Jacqueline Péry D’Alincourt, Genevieve de Gaulle, Anise Postel-Vinay, and Germaine Tillon, four women who had bonded as political prisoners in Ravensbrück. They were designated as NN (Nacht und Nebel, or “night and fog”); political prisoners who were meant to disappear and never to be heard from again. These four women, however, did not disappear.

All were later to have an impact on Ferriday’s life. In the 1950s, Ferriday joined the effort to help the “rabbits,” whom she had learned about through her affiliation with the ADIR. Ferriday remained friends with these four women until her death in 1990.

In 1958, thirteen years after the end of World War II, Ferriday was among the first to awaken the American public to the horrors of Ravensbrück. Because Poland was behind the Iron Curtain, the camp was liberated by the Russian Army, not the American. And since it was a camp for women and not specifically devoted to the extermination of the Jews, the history of this camp was slow to emerge.

Ferriday traveled to Warsaw in 1958 and acted as an emissary and liaison to meet with Polish officials and to gain the trust of the “rabbits.” She and Cousins, who had indeed agreed to help, contacted the “rabbits,” now in Poland, and arranged their trip to the United States for care. Cousins wrote a series of three articles about the “rabbits” that appeared in the Saturday Review in 1958 and 1959. The stories captured the hearts of Americans and gave Ferriday credit for her motivating role.

Ferriday returned to Warsaw a second time that year with Dr. William Hitzig, a prominent New York physician who also had aided Japanese victims of the atomic bomb for the Hiroshima Maidens project. Representing American doctors who had agreed to treat the “rabbits” if they came to the United States, Dr. Hitzig examined the women and assessed their medical needs. Of the fifty-three “rabbits” still surviving in 1958, thirty-five made the trip to the United States for a stay that lasted from December 1958 to December 1959. The “rabbits,” renamed the “Ladies,” stayed in small groups with host families in twelve cities from Boston to San Francisco. In addition to the medical treatment they received, the most remarkable change in the group as a whole was in the emotional and psychological regeneration of the “Ladies.”

In the summer of 1959, the “Ladies” gathered in San Francisco and began a cross-country tour. On their way to their final engagement in New York, they stopped in Washington, DC, where a large number of Senators and Representatives was host to the “Ladies” at a special lunch in the Senate dining room and they were delighted when Senator Frank Carlson of Kansas called the attention of the Senate to their presence. Two days after the “Ladies” were introduced to the Senate, with attention garnered from the United States tour, the Ravensbrück Lapins (Rabbits) Committee, which was legally empowered to act for the women, received a check from the German embassy to pay the medical costs for thirty of the women during their stay in America and was told that the Federal German Government was thoroughly and urgently examining possibilities of further relief. Ferriday continued to maintain relationships with several of the “Ladies” and other Ravensbrück internees

Caroline Ferriday died on 27 April 1990. Jacqueline Péry D’Alincourt attended her memorial service and in a tribute wrote: “In our first meeting our friendship was sealed. She wanted to know everything. She asked ‘What can I do?’ Every year she welcomed me to the lovely Connecticut home where she lived since 1913. Such was the incomparable benefactor of our association.” Genevieve de Gaulle, too, wrote a memorial tribute, hers appearing in the March/April 1991 ADIR newsletter Voix et Visages. She described Ferriday as “a sister to everyone. She helped us to gain recognition first, and then to compensate the victims of pseudo-medical experiments. She brought about this action with all her intelligence, all her generosity. . . .”

Visitors to Ferriday’s family home – the Bellamy-Ferriday House in Bethlehem, Connecticut – see a typewriter next to her desk which serves as a reminder of her lifelong correspondence with her international friends and her letters to various newspapers and officials that helped keep alive an interest in the plight of the Ravensbrück “Ladies,” formerly known as the Ravensbrück “Rabbits.”

rabbits 1958

The Ravensbruck survivors 1958

 * * *

The story of the Ravenbrück “Rabbits” has never been widely told, but now, a new novel called Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly describes their incredible journey, which spanned from the concentration camp to the United States, where a well-known philanthropist and socialite named Caroline Woolsey Ferriday would help them recover from their horrific injuries.

rabbits ferriday

Caroline Ferriday  [date unknown]