Known and Unknown


Current political controversies and “debates” have allowed me to discover that I know a lot of things. Really know them. I’ll bet you know them too.

  • I know that a nation doesn’t create prosperity by increasing taxes.
  • I know that no industry can be “fixed” by having it operate by force — that is, government.
  • I know that you don’t help “the homeless” by giving them more and more free stuff. You don’t help their neighbors, either.
  • I know that the world is not being destroyed by “climate change,” and that no one who takes out a 30-year mortgage and schemes to get his little daughter into Stanford really believes it is, no matter what he says.

“Income inequality” is neither immoral nor harmful in itself, despite the fact that holders of great wealth are generally harmful in themselves.

  • I know that Thoreau was right: that government is best which governs least.
  • I know that “income inequality” is neither immoral nor harmful in itself, despite the fact that holders of great wealth are generally harmful in themselves.
  • I know that the United States is not to blame for the political systems of other countries.
  • I know that the United States should stop trying to make itself to blame for the political systems of other countries.
  • I know that you can’t trust people just because they’re cops, soldiers, teachers, judges, or workers in “intelligence agencies.” (My, what a lot of scare quotes I use, and need!)
  • I know that a managed economy is a sick economy.
  • I know that it’s not a good idea to open any country’s borders to everyone who wants to cross them, especially when you guarantee the entrants free education, free healthcare, free housing, free lawyers, and applause.

A managed economy is a sick economy.

  • I know that guns don’t kill; people do.
  • I know that wars on drugs aren’t good for anyone but gangsters.
  • I know that wars on poverty aren’t good for anyone but bureaucrats.
  • I know that hanging around an Ivy League school doesn’t make you smart, but it’s very likely to get you a government job.
  • If people asked themselves, “Is that really true?”, and spent a few minutes finding out, there would be a revolution in this country.
  • I know that the great majority of America’s “leaders,” and “opinion leaders,” haven’t read a real book in the past 20 years, if ever.
  • I know that if people asked themselves, “Is that really true?”, and spent a few minutes finding out, there would be a revolution in this country that would dwarf all the upheavals in our history.

As you see, I could go on. But that’s a sample of the things I know — and again, that you know too. These things aren’t even debatable. We know them. It’s a waste of time to argue about them, unless you want a laugh; and it’s hard to laugh at irrationalities you’re expected to pay for, either with money or with something more important, which is sanity.

You can’t trust people just because they’re cops, soldiers, teachers, judges, or workers in “intelligence agencies.”

With that thought in mind, I’ve stopped listing the things I know and started listing the things I don’t know. This list is much longer — in fact, it’s endless — and it’s a thousand times more interesting.

Here are a few things that I don’t know, and would like to know.

  • I would like to know what happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke.
  • I would like to know how far south the Vikings got in North America.
  • I would like to know where Jesus got the money that financed his ministry. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus?
  • I would like to know whether Lizzie Borden really did kill her father and stepmother, and if so, how she managed to do it without leaving any traces of evidence on herself. Recall that the parental units were butchered with an axe in a small frame house, just before noon on a warm day, when there were windows open all over the neighborhood, and people were walking by in the street, just a few feet away, and that one of the victims faced her assailant and might be expected to have made some protest, loudly.

Why are alligators native to the southern United States and to China, and to no place in between?

  • I would like to know what happened to Judge Joseph Force Crater, who disappeared from the streets of New York on August 6, 1930, and was never seen again. Though a ladies’ man, he had bought only one ticket for a show called Dancing Partners, which he did not attend, at least literally. (One thing I do know is that Judge Crater is the best of all possible names for a public official who suddenly disappears, and that Dancing Partners is a pretty good name for whatever it was that happened to him.)
  • I would like to know the explanation for the Crouch family affair, a series of mysterious deaths that began on November 22, 1883, in my home county in Michigan.
  • I would like to know why very few of the big infectious diseases were found among the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas, since those people had not only originated in the Old World but had many contacts with the Vikings. And by the way, didn’t anyone ever just get blown in a boat from Africa to Brazil, carrying his diseases with him?
  • I would like to know what happened to the Mound Builders and the Anasazi.
  • I would like to know why alligators are native to the southern United States and to China, and to no place in between.
  • I would like to know why Sequoyah gave his people a syllabary rather than an alphabet. Come to think of it, I would like to know why Saints Cyril and Methodius gave the Slavs a new alphabet, instead of adopting either the Latin or the Greek, which would have made more sense.
  • I would like to know what became of Wallace Fard Muhammad.

How salty did St. Peter and St. Paul’s conversations get while they were arguing theology?

  • I would like to know exactly what Aaron Burr had in mind, or if he had anything in mind, when he did those strange things that got him indicted for treason.
  • I would like to know exactly what happened to Louis XVII and to the little princes in the Tower.
  • I would like to know why insects preserved in amber for tens of millions of years appear to be the same insects that live with us today.
  • Having had kidney cancer, I would like to know what causes it. In fact, I would like to know what causes a lot of forms of cancer. And other diseases. Many.
  • I would like to know how salty St. Peter and St. Paul’s conversations got while they were arguing theology. (See Galatians 1 and 2.)
  • I would like to know why — really, why — Richard Nixon didn’t demand a recount in the election of 1960.
  • I would like to know why, after some of the greatest lines of poetry ever written (“Look! Look! He is climbing . . .”) Robert Penn Warren’s “Evening Hawk” concludes with “a leaking pipe in the cellar.”
  • I would like to know why Eleazer Williams, an American who translated the Book of Common Prayer into Iroquois, suddenly decided that he was the king of France.
  • I would like to know where the rest of the Satyricon is.

Why — really, why — didn't Richard Nixon demand a recount in the election of 1960?

  • I would like to know, out of all the Viking ships that set out for Iceland, Greenland, or Vinland, and all the Polynesian vessels that set out for Hawaii, once those places were known, what proportion got lost and were never heard from again.
  • I would like to know what happened on board the Mary Celeste.
  • I would like to know where the Griffon went down.
  • I would like to know what happened to Peking Man.
  • I would like to know who wrote the book of Job, and when, and where.
  • I would like to know, for sure, how the pyramids were built, and what all those big rooms inside the Great Pyramid were used for.

And, not least, I would like to know what readers of Liberty would like to know. What’s on your list?

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Bill Merritt

I want to know:
• What was in the Mayan codices that were burned by the conquistadors. Two separate world views have come down to us . . . those stemming from Ancient Greece and those originating in China. The Maya had a third and, perhaps, the Incas had a fourth. Philosophy. Poetry. Literature, all lost to us.
• What FDR knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor and when he knew it.
• What’s inside a black hole.
• What Jimmy Carter knows about UFOs. When Carter was running for president he campaigned on the flying saucer issue, promising the American people that, when elected, he’d use his presidential powers to summon up the governments files on UFOs, then tell the rest of us what was inside. After he took office he never said anything more about UFOs.
• Why Americans don’t generally know that there’s a course of drugs you can take after being exposed to HIV that will reduce the chance of infection by 75%.
• How Fermat proved his last theorem.
• Whether the Pope believes in god. Notions of right and wrong and divine retribution after death would so limit the political machinations it takes to land that job that no believing Christian would ever get it.
• What was going through Lee’s mind when he launched the attack at Gettysburg. The greatest military genius on defense America ever produced couldn’t see what was going to happen when he sent his men across an open field and up a hill into the mouths of Yankee cannon and Springfield rifles?
• What Ezekiel saw. De Wheel, de Wheel, de Wheel, away in de middle of de air.
• What, if anything, is buried on Neahkahnie Mountain. In 1697 a heavily loaded Spanish galleon sailing from Manila beached itself on what is now the coast of Oregon. A hundred and thirty years later the Tillamook Indians told the first white settlers that strange, pale people who looked a lot like you, waded ashore and buried a box on that mountain. People have been looking for that box for close to two centuries, but never found anything.
• What’s in the JFK assassination files that the government won’t release, even after the 50-year deadline has passed for all the files to be made public.
• And, of them all, I’d most like to know what was in Ptolemy’s memoirs of campaigning with Alexander the Great. After Alexander died Ptolemy, one of his generals, hightailed it to Egypt, set himself up as pharaoh, founded the Ptolemaic dynasty, stole Alexander’s body to give himself legitimacy, and wrote a history of Alexander’s campaigns which, by ill fortune, he stored in the Library at Alexandria. Only to have it, and the library, burn down after being bombarded by Julius Caesar’s attacking fleet. Or torched by fanatical Christians. Or be pitched into the Nile by Moslem conquerors, depending on whom you want to blame. For that matter, I’d like to have copies of everything else in that library, too.


Figured I'd drop in this classic on the Lizzie Borden case by Florence King, since it's never a bad time to re-read Florence King:


I think the short answer to your Iroquois syllabary question would be that syllabaries, in suitable languages, provide for a much greater writing economy, which would be of quite noticeable benefit when writing by hand especially if you have to dip your quill into an inkwell every twenty seconds or so. Consider that the word Cherokee, for example, has only three fairly simple characters when written in their own syllabary which, to me, looks like quite a remarkable feat of human ingenuity.
I suppose the main reason we tend to think that alphabets are the only suitable way to go is that words in European languages do not tend to break down into very many nice, universally usable syllables. But that is not always the case with other languages. I was assured, for example, that in Japanese a consonant is always followed by a vowel or vice versa and that makes it a uniquely suitable language to use a syllabary of which they’ve — surprise, surprise —created two: hiragana and katakana (in addition to or to supplement the kanji, the Chinese characters that they still, to my amazement, prefer). They can write down with them any Japanese word and fairly close approximation of most foreign words if you don’t mind an extra vowel or two in some of them, which of course places the writing system at a disadvantage compared to, say, English where every word is always spelled exactly the way it sounds.
And since everybody is going to ask: So where is the extra vowel in Mazda? I’ll use it as an example that illustrates my point rather nicely. Mazda, in Japan, is called Matsuda. Three nice, neat, universal syllables each of which can be used in thousands of other words. In comparison Mazda (a word deemed more suitable to the westerner’s ear) has only one decent syllable of any further use beside the word it is part of (i.e. worth creating a special character for it). And Cherokee languages appear to be very similar to Japanese with a few exceptions.
The Hawaiian language doesn’t use a syllabary but it would almost certainly benefit from it too, much like any Polynesian language with a lot of endlessly repetitive syllables and few consonants to pair the vowels with (i.e. fewer combinations would be needed). For example Merry Christmas in Hawaiian language is said Mele Kalikimaka . Now don’t those beautiful universal syllables in it just beg to be used in a syllabary with which you could cut the length of those words and the number of characters in them in half? And as for the Merry Christmas: while English could certainly find a good use for a special syllable character for Christ, I think that the syllable breakdown of the phrase, in comparison to the Hawaiian version, underscores my point here about languages suitable and unsuitable for syllabaries quite sufficiently unless you wouldn’t mind using thousands of syllable characters. (It may also not be a coincidence that the syllabary friendly languages seem to be agglutinative.)
The problem with syllabaries is that they have to be much more language specific than alphabets and it would certainly make learning foreign languages and moving around the globe a bit more difficult, but in a handwritten world, and looking at some specific languages (though not that many) I almost want to ask: Why wouldn’t they use a syllabary? Other problem with them might be that there is sometimes more than one way to write a given word but in which language is the grammar easy? And of course for a proper language analysis a true alphabet can’t be beat, but then any existing alphabet can be used for that.
Lastly, while English might be using an alphabet, its spelling is so far divorced from its pronunciation that learning to write it is more akin to learning the Chinese characters as each word has to be memorized individually, thus partly defeating the whole purpose of an alphabet in the first place and so perhaps we should call the English system a pictobet or alphalogobet. It is certainly not a prime example of the usefulness of the alphabet, though, just like the Chinese characters, it enables people who would not otherwise properly understand each other to communicate.


FWIW, the evidence shows pretty clearly that the first Borden to die, the stepmother, was facing away from her assailant and was taken by surprise. The second (the father) was asleep on the living room couch. And Lizzie could easily have avoided getting blood visibly on herself in several different ways---stripping off her outer dress (women in those days wore several layers of clothing, so she wouldn't have needed to be completely naked, no matter how hot that one movie was) holding her father's coat up in front of her (nobody would be surprised to find blood on the clothes of a murder victim) and so on.

Stephen Cox

Thanks! I'd be curious to know the evidence that Lizzie's stepmother was facing away when attacked. The sources I know (or remember!), including Sarah Miller's book of three years ago, say that she was facing the murderer. No clothes were found with blood on them, and while it's possible that Lizzie burned one of her dresses a little later, axe-murdering two people would have covered her with blood, twice over, and getting it all off would have been a major operation, accomplished in TWO brief periods of time (so as not to drip blood around while going downstairs to kill the father, after killing the stepmother upstairs), without the knowledge of the maid, who was in the house. Lots of water and rags would have had to be used, and then disposed of.

Leonard Blue

I would like to know why the outfits worn by the Beatles on the cover of "Abbey Road" were chosen.

Leonard Blue

"I would like to know what happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke"

They were probably taken as slaves by the natives.


I'd like to know what the hell was going on in LBJ's mind while he sat there, year after year, as approximately 30,000 young Americans died in Vietnam during his presidency. Robert McNamara says he "didn't want to be the first American president to lose a war." What then was going on in McNamara's mind? Talk about "The Fog of War"!

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