Saturday, June 15, 2019


Tolstoy's death mask — as if sculpted by Michelangelo


“You should have gone into physics —
there’s so much poetry in physics,”
were my father’s last
words to me — a last shining of the light
for a moment, the last time
he recognized me in the nursing home.

My father did not believe in God.
He believed in physics,
the greatest poem of our time —
But I wasn’t a poet enough
to ride on the lip of infinity,
the event horizon before the birth of stars.

Leaning with slight menace,
my father would instruct me,
“An electron is not a thing.
It can be described only in mathematics.”
“It’s not about numbers,” he insisted.
“Mathematics is about beauty.”

Everything is mainly nothing,
a black hole of whirling metaphors.
One time, an impatient schoolgirl,
I asked, “How do you know
how to solve this equation?
He replied: “Intuition.”

One night I will go leaping
from moon to moon to star
to test the curvilinear
poetics of space-time.
Somewhere along a nebula,
in fluent mathematics,

I’ll wave to my father who told me
not to worry about the universe —
the red shift of receding galaxies,
silent music where nothing is lost.

~ Oriana


“And if I failed to mention this detail in its proper place, it is because you cannot mention everything in its proper place, you must choose between the things not worth mentioning and those even less so. . . . And if all muck is the same muck that doesn’t matter, it’s good to have a change of muck, to move from one heap to another a little further on, from time to time, fluttering you might say, like a butterfly, as if you were ephemeral.” ~ Beckett, Molloy
Sometimes negative phrasing makes the wisdom more emphatic. Indeed we are forced to choose between “the things not worth mentioning and those even less so. . . .”A friend’s remark, “It’s only a poem,” which first made me want to strangle her, eventually became a life-saver.

And the moment when I understood, truly understood, that we ARE ephemeral was life-changing. I was finally able to cease living for the future. It even became possible to feel happy.

(Perhaps it’s not worth mentioning that my spell-check tried changing Beckett to Bucket. A shameless digression: buckets are useful for watering flowers in hard-to-water corners of the yard. So after the image of Beckett with garbage, let’s feast of blossoms.)


“As soon as you look at the world through an ideology you are finished. No reality fits an ideology. Life is beyond that. That is why people are always searching for a meaning to life. But life has no meaning; it cannot have meaning because meaning is a formula; meaning is something that makes sense to the mind. Every time you make sense out of reality, you bump into something that destroys the sense you made. Meaning is only found when you go beyond meaning.” ~ Anthony de Mello

Hegel, the spiritual father of Marx and various other “history is on our side” ideologues


~ “The founders of the mindfulness movement have grown evangelical. Prophesying that its hybrid of science and meditative discipline “has the potential to ignite a universal or global renaissance”, the inventor of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Jon Kabat-Zinn, has bigger ambitions than conquering stress. Mindfulness, he proclaims, “may actually be the only promise the species and the planet have for making it through the next couple of hundred years”.

But anything that offers success in our unjust society without trying to change it is not revolutionary – it just helps people cope. In fact, it could also be making things worse. Instead of encouraging radical action, mindfulness says the causes of suffering are disproportionately inside us, not in the political and economic frameworks that shape how we live. And yet mindfulness zealots believe that paying closer attention to the present moment without passing judgment has the revolutionary power to transform the whole world. It’s magical thinking on steroids.

There are certainly worthy dimensions to mindfulness practice. Tuning out mental rumination does help reduce stress, as well as chronic anxiety and many other maladies. Becoming more aware of automatic reactions can make people calmer and potentially kinder. Most of the promoters of mindfulness are nice, and having personally met many of them, including the leaders of the movement, I have no doubt that their hearts are in the right place. But that isn’t the issue here. The problem is the product they’re selling, and how it’s been packaged. Mindfulness is nothing more than basic concentration training. Although derived from Buddhism, it’s been stripped of the teachings on ethics that accompanied it, as well as the liberating aim of dissolving attachment to a false sense of self while enacting compassion for all other beings.

The neoliberal order has imposed itself by stealth in the past few decades, widening inequality in pursuit of corporate wealth. People are expected to adapt to what this model demands of them. Stress has been pathologized and privatized, and the burden of managing it outsourced to individuals. Hence the peddlers of mindfulness step in to save the day.

But none of this means that mindfulness ought to be banned, or that anyone who finds it useful is deluded. Reducing suffering is a noble aim and it should be encouraged. But to do this effectively, teachers of mindfulness need to acknowledge that personal stress also has societal causes. By failing to address collective suffering, and systemic change that might remove it, they rob mindfulness of its real revolutionary potential, reducing it to something banal that keeps people focused on themselves.

The fundamental message of the mindfulness movement is that the underlying cause of dissatisfaction and distress is in our heads. By failing to pay attention to what actually happens in each moment, we get lost in regrets about the past and fears for the future, which make us unhappy. Kabat-Zinn, who is often labelled the father of modern mindfulness, calls this a “thinking disease”. Learning to focus turns down the volume on circular thought, so Kabat-Zinn’s diagnosis is that our “entire society is suffering from attention deficit disorder – big time”. Other sources of cultural malaise are not discussed. The only mention of the word “capitalist” in Kabat-Zinn’s book Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness occurs in an anecdote about a stressed investor who says: “We all suffer a kind of ADD.”

By practicing mindfulness, individual freedom is supposedly found within “pure awareness”, undistracted by external corrupting influences. All we need to do is close our eyes and watch our breath. And that’s the crux of the supposed revolution: the world is slowly changed, one mindful individual at a time. This political philosophy is oddly reminiscent of George W Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”. With the retreat to the private sphere, mindfulness becomes a religion of the self. The idea of a public sphere is being eroded, and any trickle-down effect of compassion is by chance. As a result, notes the political theorist Wendy Brown, “the body politic ceases to be a body, but is, rather, a group of individual entrepreneurs and consumers”.

Mindfulness, like positive psychology and the broader happiness industry, has depoliticized stress. If we are unhappy about being unemployed, losing our health insurance, and seeing our children incur massive debt through college loans, it is our responsibility to learn to be more mindful. Kabat-Zinn assures us that “happiness is an inside job” that simply requires us to attend to the present moment mindfully and purposely without judgment. Another vocal promoter of meditative practice, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson, contends that “wellbeing is a skill” that can be trained, like working out one’s biceps at the gym. The so-called mindfulness revolution meekly accepts the dictates of the marketplace. Guided by a therapeutic ethos aimed at enhancing the mental and emotional resilience of individuals, it endorses neoliberal assumptions that everyone is free to choose their responses, manage negative emotions, and “flourish” through various modes of self-care. Framing what they offer in this way, most teachers of mindfulness rule out a curriculum that critically engages with causes of suffering in the structures of power and economic systems of capitalist society.

Kabat-Zinn, a dedicated meditator, had a vision in the midst of a retreat: he could adapt Buddhist teachings and practices to help hospital patients deal with physical pain, stress and anxiety. His masterstroke was the branding of mindfulness as a secular spirituality.


In Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion, Jeremy Carrette and Richard King argue that traditions of Asian wisdom have been subject to colonization and commodification since the 18th century, producing a highly individualistic spirituality, perfectly accommodated to dominant cultural values and requiring no substantive change in lifestyle. Such an individualistic spirituality is clearly linked with the neoliberal agenda of privatization, especially when masked by the ambiguous language used in mindfulness. Market forces are already exploiting the momentum of the mindfulness movement, reorienting its goals to a highly circumscribed individual realm.

A truly revolutionary mindfulness would challenge the western sense of entitlement to happiness irrespective of ethical conduct. However, mindfulness programs do not ask executives to examine how their managerial decisions and corporate policies have institutionalized greed, ill will and delusion. Instead, the practice is being sold to executives as a way to de-stress, improve productivity and focus, and bounce back from working 80-hour weeks. They may well be “meditating”, but it works like taking an aspirin for a headache. Once the pain goes away, it is business as usual. Even if individuals become nicer people, the corporate agenda of maximizing profits does not change.

Perhaps worst of all, this submissive position is framed as freedom. Indeed, mindfulness thrives on doublespeak about freedom, celebrating self-centered “freedoms” while paying no attention to civic responsibility, or the cultivation of a collective mindfulness that finds genuine freedom within a co-operative and just society.

Rather than being used as a means to awaken individuals and organizations to the unwholesome roots of greed, ill will and delusion, mindfulness is more often refashioned into a banal, therapeutic self-help technique that can actually reinforce those roots.

The consequences for society are potentially dire. The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has analyzed this trend. As he sees it, mindfulness is “establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism”, by helping people “to fully participate in the capitalist dynamic while retaining the appearance of mental sanity”.

The rhetoric of “self-mastery”, “resilience” and “happiness” assumes wellbeing is simply a matter of developing a skill. Mindfulness cheerleaders are particularly fond of this trope, saying we can train our brains to be happy, like exercising muscles. Happiness, freedom and wellbeing become the products of individual effort. Such so-called “skills” can be developed without reliance on external factors, relationships or social conditions. Underneath its therapeutic discourse, mindfulness subtly reframes problems as the outcomes of choices. Personal troubles are never attributed to political or socioeconomic conditions, but are always psychological in nature and diagnosed as pathologies. Society therefore needs therapy, not radical change. This is perhaps why mindfulness initiatives have become so attractive to government policymakers. Societal problems rooted in inequality, racism, poverty, addiction and deteriorating mental health can be reframed in terms of individual psychology, requiring therapeutic help. Vulnerable subjects can even be told to provide this themselves. To change the world, we are told to work on ourselves – to change our minds by being more accepting of circumstances.” ~


~ “Why have so many been so off about China for so long? In part it’s because policy makers and academics alike look for patterns, not exceptions. We are trained to generalize across cases and use history as a guide to the future. But China has always been sui generis—an innovator in the ancient world that became a poverty-stricken nation in the modern one; a nation with a deep and proud imperial history ruled by a post-1949 Communist leadership with an aversion to remembering it; a rural nation with some of the world’s most sophisticated high-tech surveillance.

There is also a fundamental disconnect in how American and Chinese leaders see time. For Americans, memories are short, attention is fleeting, and policy lurches from crisis to crisis. In Washington, passing a budget and keeping the lights on seem more and more like heroic acts. In China, by contrast, memories are long, attention is enduring, and the government plans for the long haul. China’s rise in artificial intelligence and other technologies has been in the works for years. Its military modernization started in the 1990s. Back then, a Chinese admiral was asked how long before China would build its own aircraft carrier. He replied, “in the near future”—by which he meant sometime before 2050.

These different views of time hang over modern geopolitics. For American leaders, U.S. global leadership is the way of things. For Chinese leaders, it is an aberration: China was a great power until the Opium Wars in the 1840s ushered in a “century of humiliation” by the West. In Beijing, China’s rise isn’t new. It’s a reversion to the way things used to be.

Donald Trump’s administration has turned the page, acknowledging that the United States and China are locked in a competitive struggle with some mutual interests and many conflicting ones. The administration’s fundamental China shift doesn’t get the attention or praise it deserves. Even so, getting U.S. policy on China right won’t be easy. Our economies are tightly interconnected, our domestic politics are each highly charged, and our security interests are more and more at odds. A good China policy starts by recognizing that China’s rise is in many ways unique, and that general patterns and predictions may obscure more than they clarify.” ~



The different perception of time is especially striking.


Deng Xiaoping was asked, “What was the effect of the French Revolution of 1789 on China?” Deng replied, "It is too early to know.”



Here are the top twelve countries with the highest suicide rate:

South Korea
Sri Lanka

But Wikipedia lists Greenland first, South Korea second, and Lithuania third. I’ve also seen Lithuania first, Russia second. Some of these countries (e.g. Lithuania, Latvia, Russia) have a high rate of alcoholism. Alcoholism is a major risk factor for suicide.

US is #34, better than Romania, but ahead of Sweden and Norway. Poland is #23, close to France.

In this country, the #1 state for suicide is Wyoming. War veterans are at special risk. There is also a huge gap between male and female suicides. But that's also true for Poland, Mexico, and Slovakia.

Greece has the lowest suicide rate in Europe.

Suicide in the US is the 11th most common cause of death; in male teens and young men, it's #2, after accidents.

Greece: A rocky harbor



~ “Birds are capable of extraordinary behavioral feats, from solving complex puzzles to tool making. There may be good reason for that. A new study shows that, pound for pound, birds pack more neurons into their small brains than mammals, including primates.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this study is the first to systematically measure the number of neurons in the brains of more than a dozen bird species, from tiny zebra finches to the six-foot-tall emu. By doing so, neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel and her team at Vanderbilt University discovered that avian brains contain more neurons per square inch than mammalian brains.

This means that birds pack more brain power per pound than mammals, offering an explanation for their remarkable cognitive talents. What’s more, the study shows that evolution has found more than one way to build a complex brain.

Scientists have long wondered how birds—with their teeny-tiny brains—are capable of exhibiting many complex behaviors, some of which were thought to the be exclusive domain of larger primates. Birds can manufacture tools, cache food, plan for the future, pass the mirror test, use insight to solve problems, and understand cause-and-effect. They’ve also been observed to hide food in front of other birds, and then relocate that food when the other birds aren’t looking. This suggests that birds have a “theory of mind,” which means they’re capable of inferring what other birds are thinking. Very few animals can do that.

Prior to this, scientists just figured that avian brains were simply wired in a completely different way compared to primate brains. But this theory hasn’t been borne out empirically; studies have shown that avian brains are structured quite similarly to mammalian brains.

Now the tired old notion that birds are stupid is starting to fall by the wayside. “We found that birds, especially songbirds and parrots, have surprisingly large numbers of neurons in their pallium [or forebrain]: the part of the brain that corresponds to the cerebral cortex, which supports higher cognition functions such as planning for the future or finding patterns,” said Herculano-Houzel. “That explains why they exhibit levels of cognition at least as complex as primates.”

The parrot, for example, has as many neurons in its walnut-sized brain as the macaque monkey, which has a larger brain about the size of a lemon. When the functional connectivity of avian brains are mapped, it looks similar to what’s found in mammals, such as mice, cats, monkeys, and even humans.

But by packing these neurons in such a dense fashion, birds have been endowed with higher cognitive power per pound than mammals.

“In designing brains, nature has two parameters it can play with: the size and number of neurons and the distribution of neurons across different brain centers,” said Herculano-Houzel, “and in birds we find that nature has used both of them.”

This means that evolution has found more than one way to build a powerful brain. Previously, neuroscientists thought that, as brains grew larger, neurons had to grow bigger as well in order to be able to connect over large distances. The new study shows that there are other ways to add neurons, namely by keeping them small and locally connected, while allowing a small percentage to grow large enough to make longer connections. This keeps the average size of neurons down, which allows for a smaller brain.

The researchers aren’t sure which of the two brain types evolved more recently. It’s possible that the super-compact avian brains came first, and that mammals evolved a “different” kind of brain. Or perhaps birds, who are descended from dinosaurs, evolved their highly efficient brains as a requisite for flight, since birds need to be light and agile.” ~


Every group of creatures starting with flatworms have brains (with a few exceptions, like the echinoderms). The smallest animal with a brain is probably a crustacean, Stygotantulus , which is less than a tenth of a millimeter in length. You could check Wikipedia for a list of smallest animals in each phylum or category, and remember that almost every multicellular animal except for sponges, jellyfish, and echinoderms have brains. (Jellyfish are the largest creatures without brains, though there are politicians who may not seem to have any.)

“Echinoderm is the common name given to any member of the phylum Echinodermata of marine animals. The adults are recognizable by their radial symmetry, and include such well-known animals as starfish, sea urchins, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers, as well as the sea lilies or "stone lilies". ~ Wikipedia

Who needs brains?


~ “Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a highly stigmatized and misunderstood condition. Australians with BPD face considerable barriers to accessing high-quality and affordable care, according to new research published today.

For every 100 patients we treat in inpatient psychiatric wards, 43 will have BPD. People with this condition are vulnerable, impulsive, and highly susceptible to criticism – yet they continue to face stigma and discrimination when seeking care.

We have come a long way since the days of viewing mental illness as a sign of weakness, but we are lagging behind in our attitude towards BPD. At least part of this stems from the way we frame the condition, and from the name itself.

Rather than as a personality disorder, BPD is better thought of as a complex response to trauma. It’s time we changed its name.

BDP is characterized by emotional dysregulation, an unstable sense of self, difficulty forming relationships, and repeated self-harming behaviors.
Most people who suffer from BPD have a history of major trauma, often sustained in childhood. This includes sexual and physical abuse, extreme neglect, and separation from parents and loved ones.

This link with trauma – particularly physical and sexual abuse – has been studied extensively and has been shown to be near-ubiquitous in patients with BPD.

People with BPD who have a history of serious abuse have poorer outcomes than the few who don’t, and are more likely to self-harm and attempt suicide. Around 75% of BPD patients attempt suicide at some point in their life. One in ten eventually take their own life.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) does not mention trauma as a diagnostic factor in BPD, despite the inextricable link between BPD and trauma. This adds to viewing BPD as what its name suggests it is – a personality disorder.

Instead, BPD is better thought of as a trauma-spectrum disorder – similar to chronic or complex PTSD.

The similarities between complex PTSD and BPD are numerous. Patients with both conditions have difficulty regulating their emotions; they experience persistent feelings of emptiness, shame, and guilt; and they have a significantly elevated risk of suicide.

Labelling people with BPD as having a personality disorder can exacerbate their poor self-esteem. “Personality disorder” translates in many people’s minds as a personality flaw, and this can lead to or exacerbate an ingrained sense of worthlessness and self-loathing.
This means people with BPD may view themselves more negatively, but can also lead other people – including those closest to them – to do the same.

Clinicians, too, often harbor negative attitudes towards people with BPD, viewing them as manipulative or unwilling to help themselves. Because they can be hard to deal with and may not engage with initial treatment, doctors, nurses and other staff members often react with frustration or contempt.

These attitudes are much less frequently seen from clinicians working with people suffering from complex PTSD or other trauma-spectrum disorders.

What could a name change do?

Explicitly linking BPD to trauma could alleviate some of the stigma and associated harm that goes with the diagnosis, leading to better treatment engagement, and better outcomes.

When people with BPD sense that people are distancing themselves or treating them with disdain, they may respond by self-harming or refusing treatment. Clinicians may in turn react by further distancing themselves or becoming frustrated, which perpetuates these same negative behaviors.

Eventually, this may lead to what US psychiatric researcher Ron Aviram and colleagues call a “self-fulfilling prophecy and a cycle of stigmatization to which both patient and therapist contribute”.

Thinking about BPD in terms of its underlying cause would help us treat its cause rather than its symptoms and would reinforce the importance of preventing child abuse and neglect in the first place.

If we started thinking about it as a trauma-spectrum condition, patients might start being viewed as victims of past injustice, rather than perpetrators of their own misfortune.
BPD is a difficult condition to treat, and the last thing we need to do is to make it harder for patients and their families.


~ “PTSD is generally related to a single event, while complex PTSD is related to a series of events, or one prolonged event.

Symptoms of PTSD can arise after a traumatic episode, such as a car collision, an earthquake, or sexual assault.

PTSD affects 7–8 percent of Americans at some point in their lives. Symptoms may result from changes in some regions of the brain that deal with emotion, memory, and reasoning. Affected areas may include the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex.

The symptoms of complex PTSD can be more enduring and extreme than those of PTSD.

Some mental health professionals have started to distinguish between the two conditions, despite the lack of guidance from the DSM-5.

A doctor may diagnose complex PTSD when a person has experienced trauma on an ongoing basis.

Most frequently, this trauma involves long-term physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

The following are some examples of trauma that can cause complex PTSD:

    experiencing childhood neglect
    experiencing other types of abuse early in life
    experiencing domestic abuse
    experiencing human trafficking
    being a prisoner of war
    living in a region affected by war

Complex PTSD is a relatively recent concept. Because of its variable nature, healthcare professionals may instead diagnose another condition. They may be especially likely to diagnose borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Some researchers have identified areas of substantial overlap between complex PTSD and BPD.

However, the conditions may also have differences. Authors of a study from 2014 reported that, for example, people with complex PTSD had consistently negative self-conceptions, while people with BPD had self-conceptions that were unstable and changing.

People with complex PTSD may experience difficulties with relationships. They tend to avoid others and may feel a lack of connection.

BPD can cause a person to swing between idealizing and undervaluing others, resulting in relationship difficulties.

People with PTSD or complex PTSD may exhibit certain behaviors in an attempt to manage their symptoms. Examples of such behaviors include:

    abusing alcohol or drugs
    avoiding unpleasant situations by becoming "people-pleasers"
    lashing out at minor criticisms

These behaviors can develop as a way to deal with or forget about trauma and emotional pain. Often, a person develops them during the period of trauma.

Once the trauma is no longer ongoing, a person may begin to heal and reduce their reliance on these behaviors. Or, the behaviors may persist and even worsen with the passage of time.

Friends and family of people with complex PTSD should be aware that these types of behaviors may represent coping mechanisms and attempts to gain some control over emotions.

To recover from PTSD or complex PTSD, a person can seek treatment and learn to replace these behaviors with ones that are more positive and constructive.

One goal of treatment is to attempt to develop or recapture feelings of trust in others and the world.

This can take time, but participating in healthy relationships with family and friends is a positive step.


Man is the only religious animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion—several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat, if his theology isn't straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven.” ~ Mark Twain (1835-1910), Letters from the Earth, "The Damned Human Race," 1909

Twain in Tesla's lab


The rutabaga (Brassica napus) or swede is a root vegetable that originated as a cross between the cabbage and the turnip. Rutabagas are often confused with turnips despite the noticeable differences. Rutabagas are larger, part white and part purple, with creamy orange flesh and ribs near the stem, and with a sweet flavor when roasted. On the other hand, turnips are white with a purple-red top and a peppery taste.

Here are the 7 health benefits of rutabagas.

1. Rutabagas can help you fight cancer along with your treatment.

Rutabagas contain the sulfur-containing antioxidant glucosinolates, which has been shown to reduce the growth of cancerous tumors. Also, rutabagas contain carotenoids and vitamin C to fight free radicals that prevent the mutation of healthy cells.

2. Rutabagas can help prevent premature aging.

Rutabagas are effective in fighting free radicals. This has the potential in preventing premature aging, improving eyesight, and stimulating healthy regeneration of cells throughout the organs and tissues.

3.  Rutabagas could improve the immune system.

One serving of rutabagas possesses 53 percent of vitamin C. Vitamin C could stimulate the immune system to produce white blood cells.

4.  Rutabagas can help improve digestive health.

The rutabaga contains a sufficient amount of fiber. A one-cup serving of rutabagas contains 3 grams of dietary fiber. The daily recommended dietary fiber intake for men and women are 38 grams and 25 grams, respectively. Fiber can help prevent constipation, making one’s bowel movement more regular.

5.  Rutabagas could fight high blood pressure.

Rutabagas are high in potassium and low in sodium, which lowers blood pressure. One cup of rutabagas contains 554 milligrams of potassium compared to 34 milligrams of sodium.

6.  Rutabagas can help with weight loss.

Low calorie, nutrient-rich foods like rutabagas are efficient weight loss diet plans. High-fiber foods also offer the metabolism and assist manage body weight. One cup of rutabaga contains only 66 calories.

7.  Rutabagas may assist in the improved enzymatic function.

Rutabagas supply zinc, an essential mineral which for a variety of enzymes. The mineral tends to help strengthen each protein’s overall structure and help support its activity.

ending on beauty:
(I had trouble choosing, so I’ve decided to use both)

And now the sparrows warring in the eaves,
The curd-pale moon, the white stars in the sky,
And the loud chaunting of the unquiet leaves
Are shaken with earth's old and weary cry.

~ W. B. Yeats, born on June 14 in 1865

Time passes through us, or we pass through it
as guests to god's wheat.
In a previous present, a subsequent present,
just like that, we are in need of myth
to bear the burden of the distance between two doors . . . 

~ Mahmoud Darwish

Saturday, June 8, 2019


“The kiss of the oceans — postcard from 1923.” The Panama Canal was completed in 1914.

TV Men: Lazarus


Yes I admit a degree of unease about my
motives in making
this documentary.
Mere prurience of a kind that is all too common nowadays
in public catastrophes. I was listening

to a peace negotiator for the Balkans talk
about his vocation
on the radio the other day.
"We drove down through this wasteland and I didn't know
much about the area but I was

fascinated by the horrors of it. I had never
seen a thing like this.
I videotaped it.
Then sent a 13-page memo to the UN with my suggestions."
This person was a member

of the International Rescue Committee,
not a man of TV.
But you can see
how the pull is irresistible. The pull to handle horrors
and to have a theory of them.

But now I see my assistant producer waving her arms
at me to get
on with the script.
The name Lazarus is an abbreviated form of Hebrew 'El'azar,
meaning "God has helped."

I have long been interested in those whom God has helped.
It seems often to be the case,
e.g. with saints or martyrs,
that God helps them to far more suffering than they would have
without God's help. But then you get

someone like Lazarus, a man of no
particular importance,
on whom God bestows
the ultimate benevolence, without explanation, then abandons
him again to his nonentity.

We are left wondering, Why Lazarus?
My theory is
God wants us to wonder this.
After all, if there were some quality that Lazarus possessed,
some criterion of excellence

by which he was chosen to be called
from death,
then we would all start competing to achieve this.
But if

God's gift is simply random, well
for one thing
it makes a
more interesting TV show. God's choice can be seen emerging
from the dark side of reason

like a new planet. No use being historical
about this planet,
it is just an imitation.
As Lazarus is an imitation of Christ. As TV is an imitation of
Lazarus. As you and I are an imitation of

TV. Already you notice that
although I am merely
a director of photography,
I have grasped certain fundamental notions first advanced by Plato,
e.g. that our reality is just a TV set

inside a TV set inside a TV set, with nobody watching
but Sokrates,
who changed
the channel in 399 B.C. But my bond with Lazarus goes deeper, indeed
nausea overtakes me when faced with

the prospect of something simply beginning all over again.
Each time I have to
raise my slate and say
"Take 12!" or "Take 13!" and then "Take 14!"
I cannot restrain a shudder.

Repetition is horrible. Poor Lazarus cannot have known
he was an
imitation Christ,
but who can doubt he realized, soon after being ripped out of his
warm little bed in the ground,

his own epoch of repetition just beginning.
Lazarus Take 2!
Poor drop.
As a bit of salt falls back down the funnel. Or maybe my pity
is misplaced. Some people think Lazarus lucky,

like Samuel Beckett who calls him "Happy Larry" or Rilke
who speaks of
that moment in a game
when "the pure too-little flips over into the empty too-much."
Well I am now explaining why my documentary

focuses entirely on this moment, the flip-over moment.
Before and after
don't interest me.
You won't be seeing any clips from home videos of Lazarus
in short pants racing his sisters up a hill.

No footage of Mary and Martha side by side on the sofa
discussing how they manage
at home
with a dead one sitting down to dinner. No panel of experts
debating who was really the victim here.

Our sequence begins and ends with that moment of complete
and sport—
when Lazarus licks the first drop of afterlife off the nipple
of his own old death.

I put tiny microphones all over the ground
to pick up
the magic
of the vermin in his ten fingers and I stand back to wait
for the miracle.

~ Anne Carson, 2000

The year of publication is important — for one thing, it makes us understand the reference to the Balkans. Remember the attempt at “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia? The West was sure no such atrocity was possible anymore after the Holocaust — “never again” is in fact still solemnly invoked.

And now the horrible realization that yes, it can happen again, and no country is a safe refuge.

And then the question, why Lazarus? Did he have any special merit? No. But what the speaker ignores is that Lazarus had CONNECTIONS. His sisters happened to be friends with the right healer. Connections, studies tell us, are more important than mere intelligence, talent, skills and degrees.

The year of publication also explains the importance of TV — here presented as a clever analogy of Plato’s Cave. Now it would probably be the social media, or artificial intelligence creating entire virtual reality for us, as in The Matrix.

Was Lazarus grateful for his resurrection? We tend to assume he was because most of us also assume that everyone want to live. On the whole this assumption is correct: even the old and the sick, as long as they are not in terrible pain, would rather live. That’s why suicide (except in the case of terminal illness) is such a great emotional shock. If it’s someone close to you, you never completely recover from that shock. But you do learn: no, not everyone wants to live.

To make things even more complicated, there is also that part in us that does want to die — that “wants to be stone,” as Mary Oliver put it. While I am not sure if Freud was on the right track when he spoke of Eros and Thanatos, Thanatos being the “death drive,” I see the intellectual pleasure in the fearful symmetry, in the contradictions that life seems to consist of.

In her first Lazarus poem, Anne Carson has this unexpected passage:

what Prince Andrei said when they told him Moscow had burnt
right down to the ground.
He said Really?
A man who had been to the war! had seen our lives are just blind arrows flying.

~ Anne Carson, Lazarus (1st Draft)

A part of us knows that our lives are so transient they might as well be likened to blind arrows. And another part cannot be reconciled to it and makes no end of stories that try to "explain" everything that happens. And we just live with that contradiction.
Giotto: The Raising of Lazarus (detail)


Lazarus always seems to me a horror. Summoned, "ripped"out of the grave by a command he couldn't refuse, carrying all the distance of death with him,  including "the vermin in his ten fingers” — was resurrection not a catastrophic miracle, a violation not only of the natural order but of our sensibility? Who would want to have a dead one at the dinner table?

The nausea and repulsion of this idea reflects the horror of “repetition", of having to do it over and over again, endlessly and hopelessly,  like a blind mule at a grindstone. We have seen that the most unimaginable horrors will repeat again and again, even with a pledge to "never forget," that it takes more than memory to avoid the dead rising, the worst evils re emerging, powerful and cruel as ever. Breaking out of the pattern, the endless wheel, the house of mirrors, takes more than remembrance. Vigilance, awareness, resistance, and determination to refuse the kind of delusions and seductions pandered by these revenants . . . all necessary, but not guaranteed sufficient.

I am also reminded of Pierre and War and Peace. In that world, what we see is history's massive sweep moving outside the control or effect of any single individual, no villain or hero "creates" history, but are rather part of the entire system, determined more than determining. If not that particular individual, (Napoleon, Hitler, Trump) another will become the agent of forces operating at that particular place and time . Our ultimate survival may depend on the ability to recognize the dead at our table.


“The dead at our table” is such a powerful image. People who not only come from an earlier era — that’s obviously not their fault — but who want to force the rest of us to go back in time, to re-experience that “greatness” that never was. Unbreathable air, undrinkable water, a wasteland where a forest used to be — never mind, their alleged superiority went unchallenged.

“I am interested in the shape of ideas even if I do not believe in them. There is a wonderful sentence in Augustine:

‘Do not despair: one of the thieves was saved;
do not presume: one of the thieves was damned.’

That sentence had a wonderful shape. It is the shape that matters.” ~ Samuel Beckett

St. Dismas (aka San Dimas, or the Good Thief), a 1750 statue on a bridge in Breznice, Czech Republic


“People constantly change their story… we are writing fictitious versions of our lives all the time, contradictory but mutually entangling stories that, however subtly or grossly falsified, constitute our hold on reality and are the closest thing we have to truth.” ~ Philip Roth

The wisdom I get from Roth here is that we should not to get too attached to our story — which in a while we'll change anyway. It's all fiction — all writers seem to agree on this point, whether they happen to be Buddhist or Unitarian.

And we are free to redo the narrative to make it more happy. We can “revise” our past so it’s not such an unmitigated disaster — for instance, I have to remember that in spite of everything — and in some part because of it — I managed to write some fine poems, essays, articles. I’ve touched some minds as a teacher. At times I’ve been privileged to be of help to friends and strangers. It’s a matter of focusing on that rather than falling for the automatic “negative bias” that we are apparently wired with — i.e., it’s easier for us to remember negative events.

There’s even something called the Narrative Therapy: the patient invents a new narrative for his life. “Invents” may be too strong a word — perhaps we should talk rather about revision, or “cognitive reframing.” But some would say that “invents” is the accurate word. We invent our stories, and thus to a significant degree we invent ourselves. I think part of the excitement of a new love relationship is that we invent our stories again — and thus discover (or is it “create”?) new aspects of ourselves.

But even if we don’t deliberately engage in this creation of a new narrative, our story (stories) will change anyway: every stage of life has its own emphasis, sees different events as more or less meaningful. Of course we also “remember” things that never happened — false memory is a universal phenomenon. And we are blessed with the ability to forget.

 Odysseus and Penelope, Francesco Primaticcio, 1545. Odysseus is about to tell Penelope about his amazing adventures. I wonder, though: will he omit a few details?



~ “In 19th-century England, the rich really were different. They didn’t just have more money; they were taller—a lot taller. According to a study colorfully titled “On English Pygmies and Giants,” 16-year-old boys from the upper classes towered a remarkable 8.6 inches, on average, over their undernourished, lower-class countrymen. We are reproducing the same kind of division via a different set of dimensions.

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and liver disease are all two to three times more common in individuals who have a family income of less than $35,000 than in those who have a family income greater than $100,000. Among low-educated, middle-aged whites, the death rate in the United States—alone in the developed world—increased in the first decade and a half of the 21st century. Driving the trend is the rapid growth in what the Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton call “deaths of despair”—suicides and alcohol- and drug-related deaths.

The sociological data are not remotely ambiguous on any aspect of this growing divide. The affluent live in safer neighborhoods, go to better schools, have shorter commutes, receive higher-quality health care, and, when circumstances require, serve time in better prisons. They also have more friends—the kind of friends who will introduce them to new clients or line up great internships for our kids.

These special forms of wealth offer the further advantages that they are both harder to emulate and safer to brag about than high income alone. Our class [the educated elites] walks around in the jeans and T‑shirts inherited from our supposedly humble beginnings. We prefer to signal our status by talking about our organically nourished bodies, the awe-inspiring feats of our offspring, and the ecological correctness of our neighborhoods. We have figured out how to launder our money through higher virtues.

Most important of all, we have learned how to pass all of these advantages down to our children. In America today, the single best predictor of whether an individual will get married, stay married, pursue advanced education, live in a good neighborhood, have an extensive social network, and experience good health is the performance of his or her parents on those same metrics.


New forms of life necessarily give rise to new and distinct forms of consciousness. If you doubt this, you clearly haven’t been reading the “personal and household services” ads on  At the time of this writing, the section for my town of Brookline, Massachusetts, featured one placed by a “busy professional couple” seeking a “Part Time Nanny.” The nanny (or manny—the ad scrupulously avoids committing to gender) is to be “bright, loving, and energetic”; “friendly, intelligent, and professional”; and “a very good communicator, both written and verbal.” She (on balance of probability) will “assist with the care and development” of two children and will be “responsible for all aspects of the children’s needs,” including bathing, dressing, feeding, and taking the young things to and from school and activities. That’s why a “college degree in early childhood education” is “a plus.”

In short, Nanny is to have every attribute one would want in a terrific, professional, college-educated parent. Except, of course, the part about being an actual professional, college-educated parent. There is no chance that Nanny will trade places with our busy 5G couple. She “must know the proper etiquette in a professionally run household” and be prepared to “accommodate changing circumstances.” She is required to have “5+ years experience as a Nanny,” which makes it unlikely that she’ll have had time to get the law degree that would put her on the other side of the bargain. All of Nanny’s skills, education, experience, and professionalism will land her a job that is “Part Time.”

The ad is written in flawless, 21st-century business-speak, but what it is really seeking is a governess—that exquisitely contradictory figure in Victorian literature who is both indistinguishable in all outward respects from the upper class and yet emphatically not a member of it. Nanny’s best bet for moving up in the world is probably to follow the example of Jane Eyre and run off with the lord (or lady) of the manor.


The mother lode of all affirmative-action programs for the wealthy, of course, remains the private school. Only 2.2 percent of the nation’s students graduate from nonsectarian private high schools, and yet these graduates account for 26 percent of students at Harvard and 28 percent of students at Princeton. The other affirmative-action programs, the kind aimed at diversifying the look of the student body, are no doubt well intended. But they are to some degree merely an extension of this system of wealth preservation. Their function, at least in part, is to indulge rich people in the belief that their college is open to all on the basis of merit.

All of this comes before considering the all-consuming difference between “good” schools and the rest. Ten years after starting college, according to data from the Department of Education, the top decile of earners from all schools had a median salary of $68,000. But the top decile from the 10 highest-earning colleges raked in $220,000—make that $250,000 for No. 1, Harvard—and the top decile at the next 30 colleges took home $157,000. (Not surprisingly, the top 10 had an average acceptance rate of 9 percent, and the next 30 were at 19 percent.)

It is entirely possible to get a good education at the many schools that don’t count as “good” in our brand-obsessed system. But the “bad” ones really are bad for you. For those who made the mistake of being born to the wrong parents, our society offers a kind of virtual education system. It has places that look like colleges—but aren’t really. It has debt—and that, unfortunately, is real. The people who enter into this class hologram do not collect a college premium; they wind up in something more like indentured servitude.


From my Brookline home, it’s a pleasant, 10-minute walk to get a haircut. Along the way, you pass immense elm trees and brochure-ready homes beaming in their reclaimed Victorian glory. Apart from a landscaper or two, you are unlikely to spot a human being in this wilderness of oversize closets, wood-paneled living rooms, and Sub-Zero refrigerators. If you do run into a neighbor, you might have a conversation like this: “Our kitchen remodel went way over budget. We had to fight just to get the tile guy to show up!” “I know! We ate Thai takeout for a month because the gas guy’s car kept breaking down!” You arrive at the Supercuts fresh from your stroll, but the nice lady who cuts your hair is looking stressed. You’ll discover that she commutes an hour through jammed highways to work. The gas guy does, too, and the tile guy comes in from another state. None of them can afford to live around here. The rent is too damn high.

Real-estate inflation has brought with it a commensurate increase in economic segregation. Every hill and dale in the land now has an imaginary gate, and it tells you up front exactly how much money you need to stay there overnight. Educational segregation has accelerated even more. In my suburb of Boston, 53 percent of adults have a graduate degree. In the suburb just south, that figure is 9 percent.

With localized wealth comes localized political power, and not just of the kind that shows up in voting booths. Which brings us back to the depopulation paradox. Given the social and cultural capital that flows through wealthy neighborhoods, is it any wonder that we can defend our turf in the zoning wars? We have lots of ways to make that sound public-spirited. It’s all about saving the local environment, preserving the historic character of the neighborhood, and avoiding overcrowding. In reality, it’s about hoarding power and opportunity inside the walls of our own castles. This is what aristocracies do.


The slaveholding elite were vastly more educated, healthier, and had much better table manners than the overwhelming majority of their fellow white people, never mind the people they enslaved. They dominated not only the government of the nation, but also its media, culture, and religion. Their votaries in the pulpits and the news networks were so successful in demonstrating the sanctity and beneficence of the slave system that millions of impoverished white people with no enslaved people to call their own conceived of it as an honor to lay down their life in the system’s defense.

That wave ended with 620,000 military deaths, and a lot of property damage. It did level the playing field in the American South for a time—though the process began to reverse itself all too swiftly.

The United States, to be clear, is hardly the most egregious offender in the annals of human inequality. The European nations from which the colonists of North America emigrated had known a degree of inequality and instability that Americans would take more than a century to replicate. Whether in ancient Rome or the Near East, Asia or South America, the plot remains the same. In The Great Leveler, the historian Walter Scheidel makes a disturbingly good case that inequality has reliably ended only in catastrophic violence: wars, revolutions, the collapse of states, or plagues and other disasters. It’s a depressing theory. Now that a third wave of American inequality appears to be cresting, how much do we want to bet that it’s not true?

Conservatives continue to recycle the characterological solutions, like celebrating traditional marriage or bringing back that old-time religion. Sure—reforging familial and community bonds is a worthy goal. But talking up those virtues won’t save any families from the withering pressures of a rigged economy. Meanwhile, coffee-shop radicals say they want a revolution. They don’t seem to appreciate that the only simple solutions are the incredibly violent and destructive ones.

We [the affluent elites] need to peel our eyes away from the mirror of our own success and think about what we can do in our everyday lives for the people who aren’t our neighbors. We should be fighting for opportunities for other people’s children as if the future of our own children depended on it. It probably does.

The article on meritocracy is an example of how unaware we are of “the dead at the table.” The increasing inequality of our society is demonstrated, and also, the extent in which those bare bones are kept concealed from all members, not only the victims. The illusions that the rich and powerful belong where they are because they earned it, the poor are poor because they deserve it, and anyone can make good if they work hard enough, are bolstered by ideas as seemingly innocent and unrelated as protecting the environment or eating healthy. Who could oppose such things?? Simply, those who can't afford them.

This is all pervasive. And as long as we ignore or are blind to it we're going to repeat that particular pattern, of a violent eventual upheaval attempting to break out and accomplish change. Change at an enormous cost in human suffering. And as we know, even the hardest-won changes can be reversed or corrupted — a process far too common lately.


It’s only about ten years ago that I realized that “eating healthy” actually reflected class privilege. It takes the right neighborhood — markets that carry fresh produce — the right housing, with adequate kitchens — and enough leisure to do at least some minimum of your own cooking. In the majority-Hispanic neighborhood where I live, it takes a live-in grandmother who does traditional cooking.

The benefits of wild-caught salmon, extra-virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, berries, fermented products — things we discuss freely with educated friends — wouldn’t we feel downright embarrassed to even mention these items to a cleaning lady? Yoga and meditation classes?

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, kidney and liver disease, decreased life expectancy — the price that people pay for being poor comes in a variety of ways. Worse schools, more crime — everyone knows about that. But when the life expectancy in some counties is almost twenty years less than the life expectancy in rich counties — now that is huge, since there is no putting a price on life itself.


~ “A new study offers you a reason for your lack of wealth.

It's one that's going to hurt.

The study, entitled "Talent vs Luck: The Role of Randomness in Success and Failure," looked at people over a 40-year period.

Alessandro Pluchino of the University of Catania in Italy and his colleagues created a computer model of talent.

Pluchino and friends mapped such apparent basics as intelligence, skill, and ability in various fields.

They then looked at people over a 40-year period, discerned what sort of things had happened to them, and compared that with how wealthy they had become.

They discovered that the conventional distribution of wealth -- 20 percent of humanity enjoys 80 percent of the wealth — held true.

But then they offered painful words: “The maximum success never coincides with the maximum talent, and vice-versa.”


It's galling, isn't it, to look at some of the relatively talentless quarterwits who bathe in untold piles of lucre?

"So what is it that makes the difference?" I hear you pant, with an agonized grimace.

Are you ready for this?

"Our simulation clearly shows that such a factor is just pure luck," say the researchers.

The researchers actually looked at different events that had happened in people's lives and ranked them according to how lucky or unlucky these events were.

"It is evident that the most successful individuals are also the luckiest ones. And the less successful individuals are also the unluckiest ones," they said.

The danger here is that such a conclusion offers a blessed excuse to many who have chosen not to use their talents in ways that might have brought them fortunes.

But there are those, too, who actively don't seek to be wealthy, but prefer a life that makes them, well, happier.

The scientists, though, offer some rude awakenings to those who prefer to imagine that the wealthy have some special talent.

"If it is true that some degree of talent is necessary to be successful in life, almost never the most talented people reach the highest peaks of success, being overtaken by mediocre but sensibly luckier individuals," they say.

This leads them to suggest that their research "sheds new light on the effectiveness of assessing merit on the basis of the reached level of success and underlines the risks of distributing excessive honors or resources to people who, at the end of the day, could have been simply luckier than others."

On the other hand, I meet so many wonderful, talented, fascinating people who never made much money at all.

In the end, my test is very simple: "With whom would I rather have dinner? With whom would there be glorious laughter?”

I will leave you, though, with the researchers' words, ones that may say so much about our current world: "Our results are a warning against the risks of what we call the 'naive meritocracy' which, underestimating the role of randomness among the determinants of success, often fail to give honors and rewards to the most competent people.” ~


I never associated talent with success as measured by money. I had only a vague idea that some people did — until a certain moment some two months after my arrival in the US at seventeen, after graduating from a Warsaw high school. In the course of a conversation I made some remark or another — I have zero recollection what it was. But I have total recollection of the response: “If you’re so smart, how come you’re not rich?”

It was the first time in my life that I heard that phrase. I can’t recall another occasion which left me so startled and speechless. Was wealth supposed to be the proof of one’s intelligence? This was absolutely new to me. By that standard, I’d be mentally retarded.

True, I came from an abnormal political and economical culture. But above all, I was raised in the worship of talent and accomplishment rather than money. One of my greatest heroes was Vincent van Gogh. There were no billionaires on my list.

But even though I understood success differently and and didn’t measure it by money, it still took me many, many years to understand that circumstances play a huge role. The sheer randomness of life is terrifying to us; likewise, we want to preserve our faith in the “just universe.” In the fairy tales we read to children, virtue is always rewarded. Only at the college level (or at least that was my case) could an instructor relate a German tale of a different sort. A man is riding his horse on a path somewhere in the Black Forest — and the sun sets. Now, even assuming the man has a lantern (this was never mentioned), the Black Forest at night was regarded as a frightening place. So, to reassure himself, the rider thinks, “What should I fear? I am a good man. If there is justice, no evil shall befall me.” And a voice from the darkness replies, “There is no justice.”

One of the worst side effects of the belief in a just universe is self-blame. There is no such thing as sheer misfortune — it’s your fault. “How did you attract cancer into your life?” New Age devotees used to ask until, fortunately, enough people rebelled against this extreme game of blaming the victim.

No, cancer is not caused by negative thinking. Intelligence is mainly genetic — but, as this study and various previous studies found, intelligence does not guarantee anything (having received good parenting is a better predictor — but again, any parent knows that each child is different; even identical twins aren’t exactly “identical”).

Persistence is much praised as the “key to success.” Persistence is part genetic as well — but the real tragedy of persistence is how easily it can be applied to the wrong goals. As the poet Phil Levine said, it’s futile to collect pennies in the hope of buying a Rolls Royce.

I should have known better about the power of circumstances — of sheer luck — based on the fact of growing up around war survivors who got to see others mowed down just because of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. It had nothing to do with merit.

Now, absolute statements are practically never 100% true. But it’s enough if they are true, say, 80% of the time. And some would say that 99% is more like it. Considering we can’t choose our parents, gender, or the time and place of our birth, what else is all that significant?

But here we stray into the debate about the existence of free will. And we mustn’t go there, since the debate is endless.


Here is a video about the experiences of a woman who bought into the “Prosperity Gospel” and came to believe that only good things happen to good people:


“If the past is a foreign country, it is a shockingly violent one. It is easy to forget how dangerous life used to be, how deeply brutality was once woven into the fabric of daily existence. Cultural memory pacifies the past, leaving us with pale souvenirs whose bloody origins have been bleached away. A woman donning a cross seldom reflects that this instrument of torture was a common punishment in the ancient world; nor does a person who speaks of a “whipping boy” ponder the old practice of flogging an innocent child in place of a misbehaving prince. We are surrounded by the signs of the depravity of our ancestors’ way of life, but we are barely aware of them. Just as travel broadens the mind, a literal-minded tour of our cultural heritage can awaken us to how differently they did things in the past.

. . . The Bible depicts a world that, seen through modern eyes, is staggering in its savagery. People enslave, rape, and murder members of their own immediate families. Warlords slaughter civilians indiscriminately, including children. Women are bought, sold, and plundered like sex toys. And Yahweh tortures and massacres people by the hundreds of thousands for trivial disobedience or for no reason at all. These atrocities are neither isolated nor obscure. . . . According to the biblical scholar Raymund Schwager, “the Hebrew Bible contains over six hundred passages that explicitly talk about nations, kings, or individuals attacking, destroying, and killing others . . . Aside from the approximately one thousand verses in which Yahweh himself appear as the direct executioner of violent punishments, and the many texts in which the Lord delivers the criminal to the punisher’s sword, in over one hundred other passages Yahweh expressly gives the command to kill people.” (Pinker goes on to say that the good news is that none of it happened: Noah’s Flood, Exodus, the punitive scorching of cities of the plain — it’s mythology; nevertheless, the bible gives us a glimpse into the values of the ancient world.)”

~ Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

At the risk of being seen as having an intellectual crush on Pinker, I do find his style pretty vivid, and his reminders of how horrible the past was quite pertinent. I always saw the past as horrible; Pinker documented it in a compelling manner.

The burning of Atlanta — would we tolerate it now?


~ “During the American Civil War and the emergence of the Lost Cause in its wake the contending commanding generals, Lee and Grant, found themselves with reputations neither wholly deserved. Grant is often presented as a butcher, indifferent to casualty lists, who ground down the gallant Lee, the Confederate general being much more solicitous of his troops. The numbers do not bear this out. Throughout the war Lee’s armies inflicted casualties (killed and wounded, disregarding captured or deserted) of 15.4% on his enemies, while the troops under his command suffered 20.2% casualties. Lee’s casualty rate not only exceeded Grant’s, but all of the other major commanders of the Confederacy as well.

By the end of the war Lee’s armies suffered casualties which exceeded those of Grant by over 55,000 men — again considering only killed and wounded; desertions increase the number significantly. And while it is true that during the bloody march down the peninsula in the spring of 1864 the Army of the Potomac suffered horrendous casualties, as a percentage of his fighting strength Lee’s were worse. The Confederate Army bled itself out before withdrawing into the trenches at Petersburg and Richmond, from which Lee surely knew there would be no escape. The casualties were grisly for both sides of the American Civil War, but that Grant was a butcher in comparison to Lee is a myth according to the numbers.

When Lee surrendered to Grant in April 1865, receiving generous terms for the treatment of his men from the Union commander, major combat operations of the Civil War were at an end. At least in the Eastern Theater of the war, fighting continued in several regions. General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to William T. Sherman at the end of April, with Sherman following Grant’s lead and offering generous terms to his beaten enemies. Across the South resistance continued for a few weeks, as one Southern department after another conceded defeat. The last land battle of the Civil War, other than some guerrilla raids, occurred at Palmito Ranch in Texas, a two day engagement in which John J. Williams, the last combat fatality of the war, was killed.” ~

Lee's statue being removed in New Orleans
“Everyone has a plan until he gets punched in the face.” ~ Mike Tyson


Sure, it’s easy to dismiss this by saying that Tyson has had a very special, literal experience of getting hit in the face. But note that he says “everyone,” and I think he’s right. He's talking about how life punches everyone in the face, sooner or later — e.g. you lose your job, a very nasty punch. Or someone you thought you were going to marry actually marries someone else. Or, you were reading a book on how to live to be one hundred, and the phone rings: the pathology results are just in, and it’s not good news. It doesn’t take the “wisdom of age” to realize that there’s something more important than making plans: it’s the confidence that no matter what happens, you can cope. 

Bombardment of Algiers by Lord Exmouth, 1816; painting by George Chambers, Sr. (1803-1840)
~ The Bombardment of Algiers (27 August 1816) was an attempt by Britain and the Netherlands to end the slavery practices of Omar Agha, the Dey of Algiers. An Anglo-Dutch fleet under the command of Admiral Lord Exmouth bombarded ships and the harbor defenses of Algiers.

There was a continuing campaign by various European navies and the American navy to suppress the piracy against Europeans by the North African Barbary states. The specific aim of this expedition, however, was to free Christian slaves and to stop the practice of enslaving Europeans. To this end, it was partially successful, as the Dey of Algiers freed around 3,000 slaves following the bombardment and signed a treaty against the slavery of Europeans. However, this practice did not end completely until the French conquest of Algeria. ~ Wiki



~ “Schrödinger’s cat might not only be dead or alive, but also brought back from the brink, according to scientists who said they have discovered a warning sign for quantum transitions once thought to be instantaneous and unpredictable.

The upshot is that the fate of Schrödinger’s cat can not only be predicted shortly in advance but even reversed once under way, the scientists said.

Crucially, based on the quantum jump theory proposed by Danish physicist Niels Bohr, it was thought the fate of the cat was both unpredictable and instantaneous upon peeking inside the box.

But now, scientists writing in the Nature journal believe the jump is not instantaneous, just very fast, and that it is actually more of a glide than a jump. What’s more, there are telltale signs that a quantum jump is about to occur, even if in a broader sense it remains unpredictable.

Dr Zlatko Minev, first author of the research from Yale University, said: “When you open the box – in other words, when you begin your observation – usually in that time [the transition] appears abrupt and instantaneous.” But looking on a shorter timescale, it seems the situation is very different.

The team made their discovery using an experimental setup involving an electrical circuit that mimics an atom with three energy levels, cooled to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, enclosed in a metal box and irradiated with microwave light. One beam of microwave light provided the energy for the quantum jump and the other allowed scientists to monitor the situation. They were then able to detect quantum jumps as the “atom” became excited or lost energy.

The team said the work also shows “quantum jumps” are not so much abrupt leaps between energy levels, as Bohr proposed, but gradual transitions more akin to a glide.

Minev said the research could prove valuable to quantum computing. “In a quantum computer, when a quantum jump occurs, that can be an error in the calculation,” he said.

Although a lot of research is going into detecting and correcting such errors, Minev said the new study raised another possibility, suggesting it might be possible to spot when errors are about to arise and thereby prevent them.

Other experts in the field welcomed the research, with Prof Vlatko Vedral of the University of Oxford describing the work as “a very beautiful experiment”. ~


Not an instantaneous  quantum leap but a quantum glide? It will take getting used to. 


~ “Materialists such as Spinoza and Diderot argued that if matter itself was dynamic there was no need to posit a transcendence beyond its borders. The radical Enlightenment took its cue from the pantheistic determinism of Spinoza, probably the most reviled philosopher of eighteenth-century Europe. If Nature and Spirit were one, there was no need to imagine an all-powerful will lording it over the material world. Pantheism [in the era of the Enlightenment] was linked arms with political radicalism.” ~ Terry Templeton, “Culture and the Death of God”


One reason Spinoza is so dear to me is that he didn't hold a double standard promoted by certain Enlightenment writers: philosophy for the elite, and the “consoling lies” of religion for the uneducated masses. Spinoza didn't believe in dispensing consoling or noble lies to anyone. The task of the philosopher was to educate; Spinoza held all human beings to be educable.

The odd thing is that today we still have people arguing that atheism or agnosticism or a metaphoric understanding of religion is fine for you and me, but what about Joe Six-Pack? Doesn’t he need traditional religion? Isn’t he going to fall apart if we tell him that he won’t see his dog in heaven? My view is that Joe is not that fragile, and his private view may very well be that religion is fairy tales, just as he suspected when first told of Eve being made from Adam’s rib or about Jonah and the Whale.


~ “Scientists have developed an immunotherapy that uses immune cells cultured from stem cells instead of cells that are taken from patients to seek and destroy cancer cells.

The approach may lead to "off-the-shelf" stocks of cancer-killing cells, say researchers from the University of California, San Diego and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

In a paper now published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, the authors describe how the cells showed enhanced "anti-tumor activity" in mice with ovarian cancer seeded from human cancer cells.

The immunotherapy is a type known as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) therapy. It increases immune cells' cancer-killing power by reprogramming them to express CAR protein, which has been engineered to bind only to cancer cells.

Advantages of natural killer cells
Typically, CAR immunotherapy uses genetically altered white blood cells known as T cells that are grown from cells taken from patients. This approach is called CAR-T cell immunotherapy and has been the focus of much research and funding lately.

But the new approach uses natural killer (NK) cells obtained from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) instead of patient-specific T cells.
"NK cells," explains senior study author Dan S. Kaufman, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, "offer significant advantages as they don't have to be matched to a specific patient.”

Because one batch of iPSC-derived NK cells can be potentially used to treat thousands of patients, it opens the prospect of standardized, 'off-the-shelf' treatments for use with other anticancer drugs.

ending on beauty:

She was smiling and chatting away,
talking about how lovely
the mountain was in the morning sun,
how much she loved it all,
how this was the last time
she was going up because she knew
she didn't have another climb in her,
but it was lovely, lovely, lovely.

~ John Guzlowski, Climbing