Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Jazz Farm

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In 1899, a doctor in Germany by the name of Schneiderlin recommended the use of Morphine and Hyoscine for alleviating pain during surgical procedures. Another gentleman, Richard von Steinbuchel proposed the usage of such substances to ease the pain of childbirth in women. This was an induced state known as ‘Twilight Sleep’, and the method was slowly tested and implemented by the medical community. This idea spread to America, where they opted to use Scolpamine, Morphene and Chloroform for the childbirth itself, and through tests they found that a cocktail of Scolpamine and Henobane rendered the women into a somewhat subdued delirium, with side effect such as amnesia and disorientation. The medical practitioners also noted another side effect of the concoction; the women were blunt, candid and offered answers to questions truthfully. This remarkable revelation prompted one Dr. House, years later to come up with the bright idea of using this process when interviewing criminal suspects. The practice proved to be so effective, that even the mere threat of Scolpanime at one point became a guarantee of confession in and of itself, without the drug ever having to be administered.

This would not be the first, and definitely by no means the last time that government authorities would experiment with drugs on civilians, criminal or otherwise. By now it is rather well known that from the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency has a storied relationship with drugs and human experiments, none more infamous than MK-Ultra. What is not so widely known about this program is that it was implemented on many Jazz musicians during the birth of the Bebop era and beyond. It is no secret that Jazz musicians had storied relationships with narcotics, especially heroin, but there were forces beyond the obvious street dealing peddlers and thugs feeding the culture. The evolution of the more classical, big band swing style of the ‘Jazz Age’ era was replaced by something far more expressive and radical, and not entirely natural. However, from the timeline of the music we have prescribed to us for our collective consumption, we are told as much. Unfortunately, even if the process itself appeared natural, there were government and other forces fostering and nurturing its growth, regardless of the welfare of those who practiced it.

Much akin to the purity of an artistic endeavor such as music, some programs were started with good intentions, and for the betterment of those who engaged and that of others. When nefarious elements get introduced, however, this can have disastrous consequences. Two examples of this were the Narcotics Farm Projects, and the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments. The latter of the two was actually part of a health program pioneered between the mutual efforts of one Julius Rosenwald and Booker T Washington. Rosenwald had read Washington’s book ‘Up From Slavery’, and cited it as one of the most life changing books he had ever read. He endeavored to pour a good chunk of his wealth accrued from his successes with business such as Sears, Roebuck & Co and built over 5000 schools for black children. These were known as ‘Rosenwald Schools’, and featured such storied cultural alumnus such as John Lewis, Maya Angelou, Eugene Robinson, George C Wolfe and others. Rosenwald and Washington found common ground on many things, including the lack of healthcare for black people in America. In 1915 Washington passed, but Rosenwald still stuck to his plans. By 1926 one of the more pressing matters for the black community was Syphilis, especially in the south. At one point the CDC reports that during the late 1920s up to 35% of black people had been observed with the disease. In 1929 the cure rate was less than 30%, and post the wall street crash and with the onset of the depression, Rosenwald funding for the treatment of cases, and by his death in 1932 this had fallen to the Government. Again, something that started out with good intentions devolved in to something profoundly inhumane which is still referenced today. The true ethical quandaries of the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments became such a grotesque violation of human rights when, post 1947, it had been found that penicillin was the correct treatment for people afflicted with the condition. Nevertheless, these men were never informed of the treatment, nor cured of their affliction. This story was broken in 1972, and in 1973 there was a supreme court case regarding the matter which resulted in reparations being paid to the families of the afflicted. Another story broken in 1973 was in regards to what had become of the Narcotics Farm project…  (more...)

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