Saturday, August 17, 2019


Fra Angelico: A music-making angel. “Angels are not only guardians and messengers, but also musicians.” ~ Thomas More
a year ago today
I found myself riding the subway psychotic
(I wasn't depressed, I wanted to rip my face off)
unable to write what I thought, which was nothing
though I tried though I finally stopped trying and
                looked up
at the face of the man
directly across from me, and it began
to melt before my eyes
and in an instant it was young again
the face he must have had
once when he was five
and in an instant it happened again only this
it changed to the face of his elderly
corpse and back in time
it changed
to his face at our present
moment of time's flowing and then
as if transparently
superimposed I saw them all at once
OK I was insane but how insane
can someone be I thought, I did not
know you then
. . . And then I tried once more
I focused
on another's face, no need to describe it
there is only one
these scary and extremely
realistic rubber masks
and there is as I also know now
by your grace one
and only one person on earth
beneath a certain depth
the terror and the love
are one, like hunger, same
in everyone
and it happened again,
for maybe five minutes long enough
long enough
this secret trinity
I saw, the others
will say I am making it up
as if it mattered
I make up nothing
not one word.

~ Franz Wright, Thanks Prayer at the Cove, The Beforelife

Helen Vendler comments:

“There is a marvelous fluidity here to the way the lines and words replicate the mutating face. Franz Wright’s short lines may be drawn from the practice of his father, the poet James Wright, as has sometimes been said; but that does not matter if his line breaks justify themselves, as they do in this unnerving description of “these scary and extremely realistic rubber masks,” human faces seen by the psychotic observer. Written out as prose, the poem loses its moment-to-moment montage effect:

I looked up at the face of the man directly across from me, and it began to melt before my eyes and in an instant it was young again, the face he must have had once when he was five, and in an instant it happened again only this time it changed to the face of his elderly corpse, etc.“


Someone else might observe that this psychotic episode was actually a mystical experience, human life universalized and compressed in time in those faces changing back to infancy and then forward to death at an old age. As Cocteau observed, mirrors are the doors through which death comes and goes — we see ourselves age, and may still remember — in modern times with the help of photographs — what we used to look like a long time ago. In any case, Franz Wright has given the reader a powerful reminder of our transience.

This is an excerpt from a longer poem, a prayer of thanks for regaining sanity through religious conversion and marriage. In a case like the speaker’s, I say only “Whatever works.” For William James, arguments about existence or non-existence of god were irrelevant; if certain supernatural beliefs helped a person lead a more satisfying life, that was enough — no need to analyze the rationality of those beliefs. Never mind Socrates who wanted to examine everything, or Descartes who started by doubting everything, and so on — some people lead lives not of quiet desperation, but of deep despair, their brain impaired by multiple addictions — and then I say with James, “Whatever works.” 

From an interview with Franz Wright:

~ Wherever I happened to be living over the years, I always found myself wandering into Catholic churches. My mother is Greek and took me to Greek Orthodox services as a child, but for some reason, I was always drawn to Catholic churches. I would wander into them, sit in the back, and attend mass. When I became a Catholic, I had been sick for a very long time, two and a half years. I thought I had lost my mind and that writing was over for me completely. I was suicidal.

Then something happened. I met the young woman I would marry, and I stopped drinking. I started to get better. I moved to Waltham, where we live now. One day, as I did most days, I found a Catholic church and sat in the back for mass. On this morning, it just came over me. I thought, “Why not become one of those people I admire so much?” People who believe something is possible, who refuse not to believe it. Christianity is my tradition. It could be Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, or Hinduism—I believe these are all different languages for the same experience—but the Catholic tradition is where I feel happy and at home. It seems to me the summation of all of the attempts to live this life of belief in the impossible. So I followed the priest after mass on this particular morning and said, “How do I join?” In those days, I looked pretty horrible, like I had been beat up. My clothes were dirty. I didn’t have any teeth. I weighed about sixty pounds more than I do now. I had fallen into this state of real despair. The priest was afraid of me, he told me later, but he took me into the initiation course. I attended those meetings, and after about a year, I was baptized. I was forty-seven years old. It was a very happy time for me.

Image: It is interesting that going to mass brought you back to poetry. Can you say more about the actual experience of the mass that helped this to happen?

FW: I had an experience that I imagine other people must have when they are surrounded by their families. It was of being in a place where you feel a completely unqualified acceptance and love, where you feel completely safe and at home. I had never felt that anywhere. The ritual of the mass seemed to be literally real but also a focusing of all the energy in the universe into this place. It was an experience of participation in the human family, like being at a meal with your family. I felt love from these complete strangers around me. I was able to carry that with me out into the world. It was clear that for my entire life I had felt absolutely terrified of other people and did everything possible to isolate myself. I didn’t work. I didn’t teach, except for a few jobs off and on. I lived in sinister places and surroundings, sometimes doing illegal things to survive, sometimes being homeless. I lived in great terror of the world and of other people. This new sense of unqualified acceptance and love was the most moving experience of my life. It made me want to write again.

Before I began writing again seven years ago, I thought of poetry as a kind of religion. I thought of the poem as the holy thing, the aim of everything. If there’s a change, it’s that I came to see there was no necessity anymore to finish a poem. The poem was a step to the next point. The poems were all attempts to find a place to store the joy and certainty of the ultimate goodness and coherence and tenderness of reality.” ~


For me it's fascinating that his experience of Catholicism was so different than mine. He finally felt accepted — I felt condemned as a sinner. Nor did I ever feel that Catholicism ever made reality more coherent and tender — in fact the opposite. The only coherence lay in accepting that god was either evil or utterly indifferent.

Evil seemed more likely — that's how dictators were. They could do evil just to amuse themselves, or perhaps they had a bet going — see the Book of Job. In fact after becoming acquainted with the Book of Job, I could see how it could be argued that every person is the subject of an identical bet — let’s see what it will take to break this man or woman.

To those of us who grew up with the God of Punishment, what Hitch says makes perfect sense.

I did enjoy the calm dusk of empty churches, with just a few scattered people here and there. I enjoyed sitting in a pew, soaking in that calm. Later I discovered that Buddhist meditation chapels had a similar atmosphere — but they didn’t have the spacious architecture, stained glass, chandeliers etc. I speak of the past, before Vatican 2, when the church seemed to know the power of beauty.


That he felt unqualified acceptance in Roman Catholicism is utterly puzzling to me. For me, I was totally judged with no possibility of ever being good enough. Essentially damned, even as a small child.


Same here. But I have met a few adult converts to Catholicism, and they seem completely different, more like Protestants, no fear of hell, they are going to heaven for sure. And  finally it dawned on me that, being adults, and a "hot catch" for the church, they were treated differently from us kids, who were low-status abuse material (I mean mainly emotional abuse). The adults interested in converting were treated with respect, spoken to politely, catered to, not threatened with hell etc. I speak, strangely enough, from personal experience — one time I had a partner who in spite of pleas decided to take those classes, and I attended one of them. What a different atmosphere. The priest spoke to the would-be converts in a soft voice, and with such respect!

Imagine someone who is not used to being valued coming to such a class and gaining a sense of being valued. And if the priest (the leader) is nice — after all, he’s wooing these adults — the others in the class will treat other students well too. People’s behavior can really change depending on how they are treated.

A former cult member told me that to gain a recruit, they’d arrange “love-bombing.” The outpouring of hugs and compliments and overall sweetness toward the new person was engineered to be virtually irresistible.

Bosch: Ascent of the Blessed. The nudity — the soul is usually nude in art, but without genitals. But why are the angels almost always dressed? The strange globe at the top, or is it a tunnel, with the entrance to heaven — it has a ceramic look, like the bottom of a giant soup bowl.



A follow-up on shooters: not mental illness, but anger

“I’m a former psych nurse and a current corrections nurse. The way I see it, mental health has it wrong. What I observe is that most violent people are completely sane. It’s just a different set of values. If you value power and control over others then being violent is the most sensible, most effective means to that end.” (signed "M" — a response to an article in Psychology Today that likewise says there is no clear evidence linking shootings to mental illness)

In the course of working as a creative-writing instructor in prisons, at Folsom Maximum Security I happened to meet a former hitman serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole. He was a radical white supremacist (though he'd killed for money regardless of race). By radical I mean that being Eastern European wasn't white enough for him. Aside from having no conscience, he came across as highly intelligent, self-controlled, and self-confident. Under different life circumstances, he might have become a successful trial lawyer (psychopathy is high among trial lawyers, actors, CEOs, and surgeons). 

When the nurse said “a different set of values,” I suddenly remembered that man at Folsom (he typically dismembered the bodies).

From another source:

“Most of the research shows that people with mental illness are actually less likely than the general population to go on to shoot somebody else or to commit mass violence,” said Dr. Jonathan Metzl, a psychiatrist and director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. “To be honest, it’s quite frustrating as a psychiatrist to have this kind of false narrative be perpetuated because it’s a distraction from the story we should be telling.”

The general claim that psychiatric disorders are tied to gun violence is “a gross oversimplification,” said Jeffrey Swanson, a psychiatrist and behavioral scientist at Duke University. He and other scientists have known this for nearly three decades.

Metzl said there are many other factors that are strongly associated with shootings, including access to guns, a state’s gun laws, an attacker’s past history of violence, substance abuse, misogyny and racism, to name a few. 

And while most mass shooters have a history of showing symptoms — emphasis on “symptoms” — of a mental illness, only about a quarter actually have a diagnosis of a mental illness. This rule also applies to those with personality disorders, said Michelle Galietta, a forensic psychologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

Galietta said when researchers looked at 1,100 patients recently discharged from psychiatric hospitals, they found factors like a history of violence, substance use and childhood trauma were more likely to predict a future gun attack than a past diagnosis of a mental illness.
Galietta said only a few symptoms of mental illness — such as anger, impulsivity, emotional feelings of isolation — increase a person’s risk for carrying out violence.

Most active shooters, according to the FBI and Secret Service, are male, white and relatively young, with an average age in their 30s. 

Domestic violence is one of the strongest predictors of future gun violence.

When it comes to mental health, few of these shooters would match the criteria for a mental health diagnosis, but most show signs of anger, impulsivity, social isolation and alienation. Many are also disaffected. 

“They’re disconnected from healthy relationships and from belonging to a broader community,” said Jeffrey Swanson. 

These feelings evolve into what the Secret Service calls patterns of “aggressive narcissism” — whereby the attackers “unrealistically believe that they were deserving of certain relationships, successes, or benefits, with some reacting angrily when they did not obtain what they believed they deserved. 

One sweeping characterization Swanson can make of mass shooters: “They’re marinating in hate towards other people.”


Being openly bigoted is apparently a source of pride to this driver. Note, however, that the car is Japanese.

 "The fact that we are discussing creating a mental illness data base, which would involve massive HIPAA violations, rather than a white supremacist data base, which would involve a few hours on Twitter, is telling." ~ Bunny Sparber
Let’s detox with Paul Jenkins: Phenomena, Reverse Spell, 1963

“Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth.” ~ June Jordan
Also: “To tell the truth is to become beautiful, to begin to love yourself, value yourself. And that's political, in its most profound way.”

“Poetry to me is prayer.” ~ Anne Sexton


Sexton too tried to become religious, but writing already was her religion, her salvation. Franz Wright lost the ability to write, and going to church miraculously restored it to him. Perhaps his need for a family was so great that it had to be satisfied in some form. 

Everglades National Park. To me loving nature is also a form of prayer

IRRESISTIBLE REPOST: HOW NOT TO BE DESTROYED (starts with “Blue Jasmine” but soon goes beyond)

Don’t miss “Blue Jasmine” — Kate Blanchett’s acting is beyond praise. You empathize in spite of all the negative traits she portrays. You empathize because she is so profoundly human. I suspect that at a certain level of depth, we are indeed beyond good and evil. Judgment is pointless. Only empathy remains.

The movie made me remember the time I had lunch with a very successful older man, a former compounding pharmacist, BBB (I remember only his initials) and his wife. I thought she’d be supremely self-confident in her chic clothes, with all the “advantages of wealth.” She turned out to be acutely insecure. She was nobody except BBB’s wife. Her UCLA extension classes didn’t add up to anything. If deprived of all her wealth, what would she become? A bag lady isn’t too far-fetched. 

At that point I was already an established poet and writer. Established not in terms of fame, but in terms of skills and vocation. I could talk with BBB the way she could not, about things that went over her head. That lunch was quite an eye-opener. I never thought I’d feel sorry for a rich wife.

After much adversity (including being told I had no talent) and years of feeling lost in the thorn-woods of youth, I have become a writer, able to write about topics beyond myself. Was all the hardship necessary to make me a writer? I probably would be a writer no matter what, but, assuming a different country and a different life, more intensely intellectual perhaps, yet probably including motherhood and a professional career, a totally different kind of writer — beyond what I can imagine. 

If disaster struck, my rescue would lie in my ability to continue to be a writer. My motto is VOCATION, VOCATION, VOCATION. If that somehow vanished (e.g. a stroke that destroys language), it would be a loss of self and a living death. It’s better that we don’t know what pathetic end could be in store while we dream of continued ability to be productive, and then a sudden death. 

Dying with honor, that martyrdom-burdened Polish motto, now has a different personal meaning. Dying the way Hitchens died, regretting nothing, writing through pain until the end. I wasn’t really his fan — and then I saw, in interviews, how he was facing death, unbowed. 

Perhaps I’m underestimating my social skills, being able to help others thanks to having been a survivor more than once. Perhaps that kind of usefulness is the most important part of the meaning of my life. But right now — and it’s been this way for a very long time — it’s between me and the language. I no longer care that it’s not my native language and I can still be confused about tenses and articles. I can deliver content, and, with luck, even the pleasure of verbal music.

As my last meal I’d want new potatoes with grass-fed butter and fresh dill — that will have to remain imaginary, as so much else in my life — imagined so intensely that in a sense it did happen to me. I used to want POET inscribed on my tombstone, and then realized — there will be no tombstone. To which I can say — tremendous victory! — So what? Horseman, pass by.



~ “The 2008 crash wiped 13% off global production and 20% off global trade. Global growth became negative – on a scale where anything below +3% is counted as a recession. It produced, in the west, a depression phase longer than in 1929-33, and even now, amid a pallid recovery, has left mainstream economists terrified about the prospect of long-term stagnation. The aftershocks in Europe are tearing the continent apart.

The solutions have been austerity plus monetary excess. But they are not working. In the worst-hit countries, the pension system has been destroyed, the retirement age is being hiked to 70, and education is being privatized so that graduates now face a lifetime of high debt. Services are being dismantled and infrastructure projects put on hold.

Even now many people fail to grasp the true meaning of the word “austerity”. Austerity is not eight years of spending cuts, as in the UK, or even the social catastrophe inflicted on Greece. It means driving the wages, social wages and living standards in the west down for decades until they meet those of the middle class in China and India on the way up.

Neoliberalism, then, has morphed into a system programmed to inflict recurrent catastrophic failures. Worse than that, it has broken the 200-year pattern of industrial capitalism wherein an economic crisis spurs new forms of technological innovation that benefit everybody.

That is because neoliberalism was the first economic model in 200 years the upswing of which was premised on the suppression of wages and smashing the social power and resilience of the working class. If we review the take-off periods studied by long-cycle theorists – the 1850s in Europe, the 1900s and 1950s across the globe – it was the strength of organized labor that forced entrepreneurs and corporations to stop trying to revive outdated business models through wage cuts, and to innovate their way to a new form of capitalism.

The result is that, in each upswing, we find a synthesis of automation, higher wages and higher-value consumption. Today there is no pressure from the workforce, and the technology at the center of this innovation wave does not demand the creation of higher-consumer spending, or the re‑employment of the old workforce in new jobs. Information is a machine for grinding the price of things lower and slashing the work time needed to support life on the planet.

For the past 25 years economics has been wrestling with this problem: all mainstream economics proceeds from a condition of scarcity, yet the most dynamic force in our modern world is abundant and, as hippy genius Stewart Brand once put it, “wants to be free”.
There is, alongside the world of monopolized information and surveillance created by corporations and governments, a different dynamic growing up around information: information as a social good, free at the point of use, incapable of being owned or exploited or priced. I’ve surveyed the attempts by economists and business gurus to build a framework to understand the dynamics of an economy based on abundant, socially-held information. But it was actually imagined by one 19th-century economist in the era of the telegraph and the steam engine. His name? Karl Marx.

The scene is Kentish Town, London, February 1858, sometime around 4am. Marx is a wanted man in Germany and is hard at work scribbling thought-experiments and notes-to-self. When they finally get to see what Marx is writing on this night, the left intellectuals of the 1960s will admit that it “challenges every serious interpretation of Marx yet conceived”. It is called “The Fragment on Machines”.

In the “Fragment” Marx imagines an economy in which the main role of machines is to produce, and the main role of people is to supervise them. He was clear that, in such an economy, the main productive force would be information. The productive power of such machines as the automated cotton-spinning machine, the telegraph and the steam locomotive did not depend on the amount of labour it took to produce them but on the state of social knowledge. Organization and knowledge, in other words, made a bigger contribution to productive power than the work of making and running the machines.
Given what Marxism was to become – a theory of exploitation based on the theft of labor time – this is a revolutionary statement. It suggests that, once knowledge becomes a productive force in its own right, outweighing the actual labor spent creating a machine, the big question becomes not one of “wages versus profits” but who controls what Marx called the “power of knowledge”.

In these musings, not published until the mid-20th century, Marx imagined information coming to be stored and shared in something called a “general intellect” – which was the mind of everybody on Earth connected by social knowledge, in which every upgrade benefits everybody. In short, he had imagined something close to the information economy in which we live. And, he wrote, its existence would “blow capitalism sky high”.

Collaborative production, using network technology to produce goods and services that only work when they are free, or shared, defines the route beyond the market system. It will need the state to create the framework – just as it created the framework for factory labor, sound currencies and free trade in the early 19th century. The postcapitalist sector is likely to coexist with the market sector for decades, but major change is happening.

More than 200 years ago, the radical journalist John Thelwall warned the men who built the English factories that they had created a new and dangerous form of democracy: “Every large workshop and manufactory is a sort of political society, which no act of parliament can silence, and no magistrate disperse.”

Today the whole of society is a factory. We all participate in the creation and recreation of the brands, norms and institutions that surround us. At the same time the communication grids vital for everyday work and profit are buzzing with shared knowledge and discontent. Today it is the network – like the workshop 200 years ago – that they “cannot silence or disperse”.

True, states can shut down Facebook, Twitter, even the entire internet and mobile network in times of crisis, paralyzing the economy in the process. And they can store and monitor every kilobyte of informations we produce. But they cannot reimpose the hierarchical, propaganda-driven and ignorant society of 50 years ago, except – as in China, North Korea or Iran – by opting out of key parts of modern life. It would be, as sociologist Manuel Castells put it, like trying to de-electrify a country.

By creating millions of networked people, financially exploited but with the whole of human intelligence one thumb-swipe away, info-capitalism has created a new agent of change in history: the educated and connected human being.

In fact, on the ground in places such as Greece, resistance to austerity and the creation of “networks you can’t default on” – as one activist put it to me – go hand in hand. Above all, postcapitalism as a concept is about new forms of human behavior that conventional economics would hardly recognize as relevant.

Think of the difference between, say, Horatio in Hamlet and a character such as Daniel Doyce in Dickens’s Little Dorrit. Both carry around with them a characteristic obsession of their age – Horatio is obsessed with humanist philosophy; Doyce is obsessed with patenting his invention. There can be no character like Doyce in Shakespeare; he would, at best, get a bit part as a working-class comic figure. Yet, by the time Dickens described Doyce, most of his readers knew somebody like him. Just as Shakespeare could not have imagined Doyce, so we too cannot imagine the kind of human beings society will produce once economics is no longer central to life. But we can see their prefigurative forms in the lives of young people all over the world breaking down 20th-century barriers around sexuality, work, creativity and the self.

The feudal model of agriculture collided, first, with environmental limits and then with a massive external shock – the Black Death. After that, there was a demographic shock: too few workers for the land, which raised their wages and made the old feudal obligation system impossible to enforce. The labor shortage also forced technological innovation. The new technologies that underpinned the rise of merchant capitalism were the ones that stimulated commerce (printing and accountancy), the creation of tradable wealth (mining, the compass and fast ships) and productivity (mathematics and the scientific method).

Present throughout the whole process was something that looks incidental to the old system – money and credit – but which was actually destined to become the basis of the new system. In feudalism, many laws and customs were actually shaped around ignoring money; credit was, in high feudalism, seen as sinful. So when money and credit burst through the boundaries to create a market system, it felt like a revolution. Then, what gave the new system its energy was the discovery of a virtually unlimited source of free wealth in the Americas.

Today, the thing that is corroding capitalism, barely rationalized by mainstream economics, is information. Most laws concerning information define the right of corporations to hoard it and the right of states to access it, irrespective of the human rights of citizens. The equivalent of the printing press and the scientific method is information technology and its spillover into all other technologies, from genetics to healthcare to agriculture to the movies, where it is quickly reducing costs.

The modern equivalent of the long stagnation of late feudalism is the stalled take-off of the third industrial revolution, where instead of rapidly automating work out of existence, we are reduced to creating what David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs” on low pay. And many economies are stagnating.

The equivalent of the new source of free wealth? It’s not exactly wealth: it’s the “externalities” – the free stuff and well-being generated by networked interaction. It is the rise of non-market production, of un-ownable information, of peer networks and unmanaged enterprises. The internet, French economist Yann Moulier-Boutang says, is “both the ship and the ocean” when it comes to the modern equivalent of the discovery of the new world. In fact, it is the ship, the compass, the ocean and the gold.

The modern day external shocks are clear: energy depletion, climate change, aging populations and migration. They are altering the dynamics of capitalism and making it unworkable in the long term. They have not yet had the same impact as the Black Death – but as we saw in New Orleans in 2005, it does not take the bubonic plague to destroy social order and functional infrastructure in a financially complex and impoverished society.

The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information; and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. Everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy: between old forms of society molded around capitalism and new forms of society that prefigure what comes next.

Is it utopian to believe we’re on the verge of an evolution beyond capitalism? We live in a world in which gay men and women can marry, and in which contraception has, within the space of 50 years, made the average working-class woman freer than the craziest libertine of the Bloomsbury era. Why do we, then, find it so hard to imagine economic freedom?” ~


I was very struck by the comparison of information technology to the impact of the printing press. But we'll see . . . If humanity survives long enough, that is.

Capitalism is always evolving. I wonder if there is any need to speak of “post-capitalism” — there are many kinds of capitalism, with different degrees of regulation. There is a question of values, however. Should profit be the ultimate value, even at the cost of widespread human suffering? Can we evolve toward seeing the common good as more important than making the very rich even richer?

From Andrew Yang’s website:

~ “First, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist system. There have been many different forms of capitalist economies ever since money was invented around 5,000 years ago. The current form of institutional capitalism and corporatism is just the latest of many different versions. Similarly, there are many forms of capitalism in service around the world right now. For example, Singapore is the fourth richest country in the world in terms of per-capita GDP. It’s had an unemployment rate of 2.2 percent or lower since 2009 and is regarded as one of the most free and open, pro-business economies in the world. Yet the government in Singapore routinely shapes investment policy, and government-linked firms dominate telecommunications, finance and media in ways that would be unthinkable in America, Norway, Japan or Canada.  Like Singapore, many countries’ form of capitalism is steered not by an unseen hand — but by clear government policy.

Imagine a new type of capitalist economy that’s geared toward maximizing human well-being and fulfillment. These goals and GDP would sometimes go hand-in-hand, but there would be times when they wouldn’t be aligned. For example, an airline removing passengers who’d already boarded a plane in order to maximize its profitability would be good for capital but bad for people. The same goes for a drug company charging extortionate rates for a life-saving drug. Most Americans would agree that the airline should accept the lost revenue and the drug company accept a moderate profit margin. But what if this idea was repeated over and over again throughout the economy? Let’s call it human-centered capitalism — or human capitalism for short.

Human capitalism would have a few core tenets:

1. Humanity is more important than money.

2. The unit of an economy is each person, not each dollar.

3. Markets exist to serve our common goals and values.

We could create an entirely new parallel economy around social good.” ~

Excerpted from the new book The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future by Andrew Yang. 

See also


Capitalism has long generated much controversy. “Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all. “ ~ John Maynard Keynes. But there are many positive views of capitalism as well: “Capitalism knows only one color: green. All else is necessarily subservient to it. Hence race, gender, and ethnicity cannot be considered within it.” ~ Thomas Sowell.

Perhaps what is needed is a middle-of-the-way attitude: “I am a capitalist. I believe in capitalism. But capitalism only works if you have safety nets to deal with people who are naturally left behind and brutalized by it.” ~ Thomas Friedman


“All the world's a stage, and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.” ~ Seán O'Casey

Janos Szasz: Trio, 1950s


~ "There was a time when almost every rural British family who kept bees followed a strange tradition. Whenever there was a death in the family, someone had to go out to the hives and tell the bees of the terrible loss that had befallen the family. Failing to do so often resulted in further loss such as the bees leaving the hive, or not producing enough honey or even dying. Traditionally, the bees were kept abreast of not only deaths but all important family matters including births, marriages, and long absence due to journeys. If the bees were not told, all sorts of calamities were thought to happen. This peculiar custom is known as “telling the bees”.

Humans have always had a special connection with bees. In medieval Europe, bees were highly prized for their honey and wax. Honey was used as food, to make mead—possibly the world's oldest fermented beverage—and as medicine to treat burns, cough, indigestion and other ailments. Candles made from beeswax burned brighter, longer and cleaner than other wax candles. Bees were often kept at monasteries and manor houses, where they were tended with the greatest respect and considered part of the family or community. It was considered rude, for example, to quarrel in front of bees.

The practice of telling the bees may have its origins in Celtic mythology that held that bees were the link between our world and the spirit world. So if you had any message that you wished to pass to someone who was dead, all you had to do was tell the bees and they would pass along the message. Telling the bees was widely reported from all around England, and also from many places across Europe. Eventually, the tradition made their way across the Atlantic and into North America.

The typical way to tell the bees was for the head of the household, or “goodwife of the house” to go out to the hives, knock gently to get the attention of the bees, and then softly murmur in a doleful tune the solemn news. Little rhymes developed over the centuries specific to a particular region. In Nottinghamshire, the wife of the dead was heard singing quietly in front of the hive—“The master's dead, but don't you go; Your mistress will be a good mistress to you.” In Germany, a similar couplet was heard—”Little bee, our lord is dead; Leave me not in my distress”.

Telling the bees was common in New England. The 19th century American poet John Greenleaf Whittier describes this peculiar custom in his 1858 poem “Telling the bees”.

Before them, under the garden wall,

Forward and back,

Went drearily singing the chore-girl small,

Draping each hive with a shred of black.

Trembling, I listened: the summer sun

Had the chill of snow;

For I knew she was telling the bees of one

Gone on the journey we all must go!

And the song she was singing ever since

In my ear sounds on:—

"Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!

Mistress Mary is dead and gone!”

In case of deaths, the beekeeper also wrapped the top of the hive with a piece of black fabric or crepe. If there was a wedding in the family, the hives were decorated and pieces of cake left outside so that the bees too could partake in the festivities. Newly-wed couples introduced themselves to the bees of the house, otherwise their married life was bound to be miserable.

If the bees were not “put into mourning”, terrible misfortunes befell the family and to the person who bought the hive. Victorian biologist, Margaret Warner Morley, in her book The Honey-Makers (1899), cites a case in Norfolk where a man purchased a hive of bees that had belonged to a man who had died. The previous owner had failed to put the bees into mourning when their master died, causing the bees to fall sick. When the new owner draped the hive with a black cloth, the bees regained their health. In another tale, an Oxfordshire family had seventeen hives when their keeper died. Because nobody told them about the death, every bee died. There are plenty of such tales in Morley’s book.

The intimate relationship between bees and their keepers have led to all sorts of folklore. According to one it was bad luck to buy or sell hives, because when you sell one, you sell your luck with your bees. Instead, bees were bartered for or given as gifts. If bees flew into a house, a stranger would soon call. If they rested on a roof, good luck was on its way.
But the relationship between bees and humans goes beyond superstition. It’s a fact, that bees help humans survive. 70 of the top 100 crop species that feed 90% of the human population rely on bees for pollination. Without them, these plants would cease to exist and with it all animals that eat those plants. This can have a cascading effect that would ripple catastrophically up the food chain. Losing a beehive is much more worse than losing a supply of honey. The consequences are life threatening. The act of telling the bees emphasizes this deep connection humans share with the insect.” ~


~ “Beyond him being (obviously) a genocidal maniac, there's an aspect to Hitler's rule that gets missed in our standard view of him. Even if popular culture has long enjoyed turning him into an object of mockery, we still tend to believe that the Nazi machine was ruthlessly efficient, and that the great dictator spent most of his time…well, dictating things.

So it's worth remembering that Hitler was actually an incompetent, lazy egomaniac and his government was an absolute clown show.

In fact, this may even have helped his rise to power, as he was consistently underestimated by the German elite. Before he became chancellor, many of his opponents had dismissed him as a joke for his crude speeches and tacky rallies. Even after elections had made the Nazis the largest party in the Reichstag, people still kept thinking that Hitler was an easy mark, a blustering idiot who could easily be controlled by smart people.

Why did the elites of Germany so consistently underestimate Hitler? Possibly because they weren't actually wrong in their assessment of his competency—they just failed to realize that this wasn't enough to stand in the way of his ambition. As it would turn out, Hitler was really bad at running a government. As his own press chief Otto Dietrich later wrote in his memoir The Hitler I Knew, "In the twelve years of his rule in Germany Hitler produced the biggest confusion in government that has ever existed in a civilized state."

His government was constantly in chaos, with officials having no idea what he wanted them to do, and nobody was entirely clear who was actually in charge of what. He procrastinated wildly when asked to make difficult decisions, and would often end up relying on gut feeling, leaving even close allies in the dark about his plans. His "unreliability had those who worked with him pulling out their hair," as his confidant Ernst Hanfstaengl later wrote in his memoir Zwischen Weißem und Braunem Haus. This meant that rather than carrying out the duties of state, they spent most of their time in-fighting and back-stabbing each other in an attempt to either win his approval or avoid his attention altogether, depending on what mood he was in that day.

There's a bit of an argument among historians about whether this was a deliberate ploy on Hitler's part to get his own way, or whether he was just really, really bad at being in charge of stuff. Dietrich himself came down on the side of it being a cunning tactic to sow division and chaos—and it's undeniable that he was very effective at that. But when you look at Hitler's personal habits, it's hard to shake the feeling that it was just a natural result of putting a workshy narcissist in charge of a country.

Hitler was incredibly lazy. According to his aide Fritz Wiedemann, even when he was in Berlin he wouldn't get out of bed until after 11 a.m., and wouldn't do much before lunch other than read what the newspapers had to say about him, the press cuttings being dutifully delivered to him by Dietrich.

He was obsessed with the media and celebrity, and often seems to have viewed himself through that lens. He once described himself as "the greatest actor in Europe," and wrote to a friend, "I believe my life is the greatest novel in world history." In many of his personal habits he came across as strange or even childish—he would have regular naps during the day, he would bite his fingernails at the dinner table, and he had a remarkably sweet tooth that led him to eat "prodigious amounts of cake" and "put so many lumps of sugar in his cup that there was hardly any room for the tea."

Hitler and Benito Mussolini


He was deeply insecure about his own lack of knowledge, preferring to either ignore information that contradicted his preconceptions, or to lash out at the expertise of others. He hated being laughed at, but enjoyed it when other people were the butt of the joke (he would perform mocking impressions of people he disliked). But he also craved the approval of those he disdained, and his mood would quickly improve if a newspaper wrote something complimentary about him.

Little of this was especially secret or unknown at the time. It's why so many people failed to take Hitler seriously until it was too late, dismissing him as merely a "half-mad rascal" or a "man with a beery vocal organ." In a sense, they weren't wrong. In another, much more important sense, they were as wrong as it's possible to get.

Hitler's personal failings didn't stop him having an uncanny instinct for political rhetoric that would gain mass appeal, and it turns out you don't actually need to have a particularly competent or functional government to do terrible things.

We tend to assume that when something awful happens there must have been some great controlling intelligence behind it. It's understandable: how could things have gone so wrong, we think, if there wasn't an evil genius pulling the strings? The downside of this is that we tend to assume that if we can't immediately spot an evil genius, then we can all chill out a bit because everything will be fine.

But history suggests that's a mistake, and it's one that we make over and over again. Many of the worst man-made events that ever occurred were not the product of evil geniuses. Instead they were the product of a parade of idiots and lunatics, incoherently flailing their way through events, helped along the way by overconfident people who thought they could control them.” ~



~ “It’s going to get worse.

That’s the warning of a former violent extremist, Christian Picciolini, who joined a neo-Nazi movement 30 years ago and now tries to get people out of them. White-supremacist terrorists—the ones who have left dozens dead in attacks in Pittsburgh, New Zealand, and El Paso, Texas, in recent months—aren’t just trying to outdo one another, he told us. They’re trying to outdo Timothy McVeigh, the anti-government terrorist who blew up an Oklahoma City federal building and killed more than 100 people in 1995—the worst terrorist attack in the United States before September 11, 2001.

On Saturday morning in El Paso, a gunman shot and killed 22 people, including children, at a Walmart. The store was crowded for back-to-school-shopping season. The victims included a high-school student, an elementary-school teacher, and a couple carrying their infant son, who survived. And the shooter, according to an online manifesto authorities attributed to the suspect, saw himself fighting a “Hispanic invasion” as he gunned them down.

Picciolini now runs a global network, the Free Radicals Project, where former extremists like him provide counseling to others trying to leave extremist movements. He spoke with us about the mainstreaming of white nationalism, what it takes to de-radicalize far-right extremists, and why the problem is metastasizing.  

Yara Bayoumy: What are your thoughts in the aftermath of El Paso?

Christian Picciolini: I’m as horrified as everyone else is. And frustrated, because this is something I’ve been banging the drum about for 20 years—that the escalation of violence would get worse. The [white-supremacist] ideology is spreading more into the mainstream than it ever has before. There aren’t checks and balances to counter it. There aren’t programs being funded to help people disengage from extremism. Some of the rhetoric coming from the very top is emboldening extremists.

Bayoumy: Talk to us about the evolution you’ve seen since you were in the movement 30 years ago—these views used to be on the fringe, and now are much more mainstream.

Picciolini: Unfortunately, I think that the underpinnings of the ideology have always been there. The extremists were on the fringe, and very visible, but other people weren’t willing to voice those beliefs. Thirty years ago, when I was in the movement, we were turning off the average American white racists who didn’t want to be so open and visible about those beliefs. So there was this effort to make it more mainstream, to grow the hair out, turn in the “boots for suits.” I never thought we would have a social and political climate that really kind of brought it to the foreground. Because it’s starting to seem less like a fringe ideology and more like a mainstream ideology.

Kathy Gilsinan: What role does the internet play? There’s a lot of discussion about internet radicalization for members of ISIS—is this a parallel process for white-supremacist movements, or are there differences?

Picciolini: It’s a very parallel process. The propaganda is very similar. The internet itself is a platform. Thirty years ago, marginalized, broken, angry young people had to be met face-to-face to get recruited into a movement. Nowadays, those millions and millions of young people are living most of their lives online if they don’t have real-world connections. And they’re finding a community online instead of in the real world, and having conversations about promoting violence.

Bayoumy: What about the shooter’s apparent anti-immigrant manifesto? Does anything in it strike you as surprising?

Picciolini: Unfortunately I’ve read every one of these things, since the first, in 2009, when James von Brunn walked into the D.C. Holocaust Museum and killed a guard [Stephen Johns]. He left a manifesto that had the same conspiracy theories, and much of the same language, that [we’ve seen] in other shootings up until this week—this whole idea of the “Great Replacement,” of “white genocide,” the belief that immigrants are going to overwhelm the white race. That, frankly, is a crock of shit. But we see things in the news that seem to kind of stand behind these notions—that border facilities are overwhelmed. Even though it’s not really a threat to anyone’s race. Migration has been happening for centuries, and we’re still here. Nations change over centuries, borders have been different. But that’s all the language white supremacists have been using for decades.

Bayoumy: What about the international connections between these movements?

Picciolini: There was always a connection overseas; these far-right movements shared the same names, the same leadership structure. Certainly the manifestos suggest that they’re playing off of each other; the El Paso shooter referenced support for the New Zealand shooter. It’s no longer a lone-wolf-type situation, which is something we were pushing in the ’80s and ’90s. The ideology then was that there were no leaders, there was no centralized movement, individuals were empowered to act on their own. But the internet has really solidified this movement globally through all these forums online; they’re connected in the virtual world in ways that we often can’t be in the real world. I would say that the threat of a transnational, global white-supremacist terrorist movement is spreading.

Bayoumy: How do they raise money?

Picciolini: Thirty years ago, music was the vehicle for that; you’d have touring white-supremacist metal bands, and groups would raise money off ticket sales. Nowadays, there’s a lot of crowdsourcing. These groups are generating revenue, for instance, through serving ads on some of their propaganda videos. If ads are being served on their videos, chances are good, depending on how many views, they’re making ad revenue based on Google, Facebook, YouTube, serving ads against their content. So, in that sense, de-platforming is good. It does slow them down quite a bit. From my perspective, it also makes people harder to reach. And a lot of times, it also emboldens them to get even more vile and vitriolic about what they’re doing, because they feel kind of like a caged animal. They play the victim narrative.

Bayoumy: What does disengagement look like? What’s a typical example of someone reaching out to you saying they want to leave? How do you help them through that?

Picciolini: It’s a whole lot of listening. I listen for what I call potholes: things that happen to us in our journey of life that detour us, things like trauma, abuse, mental illness, poverty, joblessness. Even privilege can be a pothole that detours us. As I listen to those—rather than debate or confront them about their ideology, but creating a rapport with them—I start to fill in those potholes. I will find resources in their community to help them deal with the trauma, with whatever it is that was the motivation for them to go in that direction. 

Nobody’s born racist; we all found it. Then I leverage the community around them to try to engage them and support them, and try to find ways for them to crawl out of that hole. Typically what I found is, people hate other people because they hate something very specifically about themselves, or are very angry about a situation within their own environment, and that is then projected onto other people. So I’m really trying to build resilience with people.

I’ll also do immersions to try to challenge their ideology—so I’ll introduce them to the people they think they hate once they’re ready, and challenge them in the same way I was challenged. It’s helped me disengage over 300 people over the years.

Bayoumy: What are some of the things that prompt these people to question their beliefs?  

Picciolini: Certainly not facts. It’s very emotional. I try to take them through an emotional journey where they come to the conclusion that they’ve changed, and it’s not me telling them that they’ve changed. What I’ve found least effective is me telling them that they’re wrong, or me telling them that they need to think a certain way. Typically these people are pretty idealistic, although they’re lost, typically pretty bruised emotionally, and they have very low self-esteem.

Gilsinan: So it’s not effective to say, “Actually, immigration is often good for the economy.” Then what’s your answer instead?

Picciolini: I’ve always found it very difficult to sway opinion when it’s a group of people. When people are in a group, they tend to not be as vulnerable or as forthcoming. So I think it has to be a personal journey. But there has to be a way to sway a whole group of people, so facts are important—for most people, facts are still important. For folks in these movements, they have their own set of facts. Two plus two equals five, so you can’t argue that two plus two equals four, even though we know that that’s the case. You have to take them through situations where they challenge themselves.

I was working with a 31-year-old man in Buffalo, New York, several years ago, and he had been discharged from the military for an injury that he suffered during basic training and wasn’t able to deploy to Iraq at the time. And he saw all his friends go off to war and fighting for America, and he wasn’t racist going in, but he started going in that direction and became very much of an Islamophobe. When he came home, he started drinking and got really heavily involved in the white-power movement.

He got a copy of my book and he wasn’t very happy with [it], because I had left the movement and he was still very much in it. And after a couple of weeks of talking with him, I finally met him in person and asked him if he’d ever met a Muslim person before, and he said he didn’t want to; he thought that they were evil, the enemy, animals, whatever, insert word here. And when I flew out I had arranged, unbeknownst to him, a meeting with an imam at a local mosque. When I convinced him to go, we spoke with the imam, and then two hours later, it was as if these men had known each other their whole lives. The guy who I was working with was a Christian, and he learned that Jesus was part of the Koran, and Muslims revered him as a prophet—all these things that he never knew. They were both Chuck Norris fans; they bonded over that. We were crying at the end, and hugging.

And now they eat falafel together every chance they get.

But it’s not an easy process; it’s a very, very long process. If you think about quitting smoking, or drinking, or anything like that. For me, from the time I was 14 years old till I was 23, those were kind of the adult developmental years, so there were a lot of things that I had to unlearn.

Gilsinan: What’s next?

Picciolini: I really think we need to get away from using the term lone wolves, because while they are single actors, they are part of a larger ecosystem. I just think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. They’re all trying to outdo each other, not just the last person, but Timothy McVeigh. Terrorists will always find another way to do it. I have to ask myself, Do we have white-nationalist airline pilots? There have to be. I knew people in powerful positions, in politics, in law enforcement, who were secretly white nationalists. I think we’d be stupid and selfish to think that we don’t have those in the truck-driving industry.” ~

“I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they're searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose.” ~ Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi, now dedicated to help people leave hate groups

“Unlike Islamist jihadists, the online communities of incels, white supremacists and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists make no metaphysical truth claims, do not focus on God and offer no promise of an afterlife or reward. But they fulfill the functions that sociologists generally attribute to a religion: They give their members a meaningful account of why the world is the way it is. They provide them with a sense of purpose and the possibility of sainthood. They offer a sense of community. And they establish clear roles and rituals that allow adherents to feel and act as part of a whole. These aren’t just subcultures; they are churches. And until we recognize the religious hunger alongside the destructive hatred, we have little chance of stopping these terrorists.” ~ Tara Isabella Burton


~ “DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Well, if Jesus is to Hamlet for you, Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew Bible, comes closest to King Lear, a passionate, impulsive figure. 

Prof. BLOOM: I think that Shakespeare probably founds his extraordinary figure of King Lear— irascible, jealous, intense, immensely awesome, angry, bereft, dangerous
on the Geneva Bible's version of—which is essentially not very different from what is now the authorized, the King James... 

ELLIOTT: I mean, I've got to interrupt you and just say that those descriptions that you just gave are not what we think of when people of faith think of God. 

Prof. BLOOM: No, they are not, dear. But if they would read the Hebrew Bible or read the authorized version of the Hebrew Bible, the King James Testament, we have a little problem here. There are four different layers in the five books of Moses. The original strata of Yahweh as written by the author we call the Yahwist is of a remarkably impish kind of a person. He is not God the Father. He is something of a mischief maker. He conducts on-the-ground inspections all the time to satisfy his curiosity. He is very much a human being. He prefers the cool of the day in the Garden of Eden because evidently he gets hot as human beings get hot. He picnics on the side of Mount Sinai with Moses and 70 elders of Zion, who stare at him silently while he sits there silently and he eats and they eat. He closes the door of Noah's ark with his own hands. With his own hands, he buries his prophet, Moses. And most of all, with his own hands, at the beginning, almost like a child playing with a mud pie, he plays with the moistened Earth and makes there a figurine. And then he breathes life into that figurine, and man becomes, as the Hebrew Bible says, a living soul and this is Adam. That is not what most people, I admit, think of as God. 

ELLIOTT: No, I think most of us have this image of God the Father. 

Prof. BLOOM: Yes. But God the Father is a later invention, on the one hand, of the Talmudical rabbis but primarily of Christian theology when they devise the Trinity, when Jesus of Nazareth, the more or less historical figure, has become an absolutely different figure, a Greek dying and reviving, God, a theological God. Yahweh is not a theological God at all. He is a human, all-too-human God. But I'm not saying any of this to startle or shock anyone. I'm doing this in the same spirit in which I teach my students to read "King Lear" or to read "Hamlet," to pay close attention to what is on the page. 

ELLIOTT: You say that Shakespeare would have never let Hamlet and Lear share the same stage. 

Prof. BLOOM: Absolutely not. No. 

ELLIOTT: And now you make the case that the God of the Hebrew Bible is just as incompatible with the God of Christianity. 

Prof. BLOOM: The basic argument of this book, "Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine," is that we have three very different personages or beings: the more or less historical Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew of the first century of the common era; the Greek theological formulation, or God, Jesus Christ; and the original God of the Hebrews, now greatly shrunken into God the Father, Yahweh, he who will be present wherever and whenever he chooses to be present and will keep himself absent when perhaps we most want him and need him. These three figures are so incompatible with one another that I don't believe it is possible to bring them coherently together in any single statement. They come out of totally different realms of discourse. Trying to think them together is really an act of psychic violence. In the end, the disturbing thing I... 

ELLIOTT: What do you mean psychic violence? 

Prof. BLOOM: I mean that the operations of the mind have got to become extremely distorted in order to bring the more or less historical Jesus, the Greek theological God Jesus Christ and the human, all-too-human God, Yahweh, into some coherent relationship. The normal processes of thought are being disturbed, and an act of imposition is taking place. 

ELLIOTT: Now you write that a Messiah who is God and who dies on the cross as an atonement for sins is irreconcilable with the Hebrew Bible. Why is that? 

Prof. BLOOM: Yahweh does not commit suicide. And if one is to take the argument of Christianity, then Yahweh is, in effect, committing suicide through his supposed son. Yahweh also does not, even as a descending dove upon a human female virgin, bring forth a son. This is material that comes to one out of Greek and pagan traditions but has nothing to do with traditional Judaism. 

ELLIOTT: Harold Bloom, you conclude that it's really a myth for us to talk about this Judeo-Christian outlook. 

Prof. BLOOM: I think that it is very good for social reconciliation, but Judeo-Christian tradition is a myth. As I quote the great scholar of Hebraic matters Jacob Neusner as saying, "Judaism and Christianity are different groups of people talking different languages about different Gods to very different people." There is no Judeo-Christian tradition anymore than there could be, say, a Christian-Islamic tradition. 

And, of course, I'm a great realist, my dear. As I say at one point in the book, there are now at least one and a half billion people in the world who are Islam. There are at least one and a half billion people in the world who are self-described as Christians. Whether 50 years from now, there will be of the 14 million now self-identified Jews more than a mere scattering, I would not be prepared to say. What that means about the existence of Yahweh is also a very interesting question. He is, after all, covenanted. Would he survive the disappearance of the Jewish people if that, indeed, is what happens? I do not know. I may, as I say, lack trust in the covenant, but though I keep asking Yahweh to go away, I say so many times in this book, he won't go away. He haunts me. 

ELLIOTT: You really want Yahweh to go away? 

Prof. BLOOM: Yes, I would love him to go away, but he won't. 

ELLIOTT: He wakes you up at night. 

Prof. BLOOM: He wakes me up at night, yeah. He gives me nightmares. I brood about him during the day. My mother died fully trusting in the covenant with him, and I suppose my father did also. That Yahweh will not go away even though I want him to... 

ELLIOTT: It could be a sign of a covenant. 

Prof. BLOOM: Yes, but not a covenant in which I am willing to trust. He does not seem to me trustworthy. But, of course, rather massively, it may be that he never meant to be trustworthy. To say, `(Hebrew spoken), I will be present or absent depending upon where and when I wish to be present or absent,' is, from a literary as well as from a human point of view, an extraordinary remark. It carries enormous authority and force, and again, it is very difficult to argue with or against. 

ELLIOTT: Harold Bloom's new book is "Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine." We spoke with him from New Haven.

From an Amazon review: “Harold Bloom, renowned and influential literary critic, has written a very personal exploration and exposition of the conflict in theology between Christianity and Judaism. We discover the topic is a life-long fascination; the author still possesses and treasures after a fashion a volume presented him on his doorstep at age ten by an itinerant missionary: The "New Testament" in Yiddish, a language he grew up with in the '30s of the Bronx.

Bloom completely smashes the PC (he avoids this rubric) notion of a "Judeo-Christian heritage." Instead, he argues persuasively, early Christians, including the writers of the four Gospels and Paul, the true founder of the faith, so distorted the Judaic "Tanakh" that the Christian version of the "Old Testament" is in reality a real and calculated misrepresentation (and a gross distortion) of the collected Judaic writings. Among the more surprising assertions--with arguments impressive--is that Christianity is the OLDER of the two religions!

From another review: “Bloom is a pleasure to read. Hilarious even. "Eighty-nine percent of Americans regularly inform the Gallup pollsters that Jesus loves each of them on an individual and personal basis. That moves me perpetually to awe and to no irony whatsoever." Is this not the most ironic line ever?  

This is one thing about HB that I really enjoy. He gives license to elitism and the pleasurable appreciation of the blessing of intellect despite the enormous guilt one feels for the common folk. The very sad face he uses to express his insights lend strength to the Socratic view that the unexamined life is not worth living knowing full well there are so many who live lives that are not worth living. It is hard to live a happy life while suffering through the realization of the common lot of most men. But we have permission to try to reach happiness through irony.”

Another and last: “The core conclusion of Bloom's book is that the Christian New Testament constitutes the greatest misreading in the history of literature. "Greatest" because its various authors are genuinely brilliant in how they bend the Hebrew scriptures to align with their new Christ the Messiah, and a "misreading" in that it considers itself to be the fulfillment of the "Old Testament" even though it frequently gets the Tanakh just plain wrong. Bloom is inclined to refer to it as the "Belated Testament" when he points out how the New Testament's turning of Yahweh into the tame, vague God the Father is a disappointing neutering of the most complex and enigmatic character in all of Western (indeed world) literature.”


The striking comparison with King Lear reminds me that Yahweh demands constant flattery — the proverbial “singing of praises.” That alone makes him pretty unsympathetic in my eyes. A perfect being would not crave constant praise — would have no need for it.

As for Yahweh's having a body just as the Greek gods had bodies, that's totally obvious in the text, especially in the early books when he is quite active — doesn't just sit on a throne or in a chariot, but walks and talks and intervenes in people's affairs.

Thomas Paine was closer to the Gnostics when he made this daring statement: “It is not a God, just and good, but a devil, under the name of God, that the Bible describes.” ~ Thomas Paine, 1797 (note that when writers say "God," they mean Yahweh. I don't get the impression that Jesus or the Holy Ghost are included. That way we don't get into contradictions.)


Shelley, who in Prometheus Unbound had observed that the wise lack love and those who have love lack wisdom, went to his end in The Triumph of Life asking why good and the means of good were irreconcilable. ~ Harold Bloom, The Anatomy of Influence


~ “People age at different rates. A 2015 Australian study finds that people's tendency to age more slowly or quickly than their contemporaries is evident in healthy people as young as their 30s.

In the study, researchers looked at a group of people, all of whom were 38 years old. The researchers determined these participants' "biological ages" based on how well their body systems were working. To determine each person's biological age, the researchers looked at the participants' cognitive abilities, blood pressure and markers of their kidney, liver, lung and immune system function, among other measures.

They found that the participants' biological ages ranged from 28 to 61. In other words, some of the 38-year-olds functioned as well as people in their late 20s, whereas others more closely resembled the functioning of people in their early 60s.

"We set out to measure aging in these relatively young people," the study's first author, Dan Belsky, an assistant professor of geriatrics at the Duke University Center for Aging and Human Development, said. “Most studies of aging look at seniors, but if we want to be able to prevent age-related disease, we're going to have to start studying aging in young people," he said.

Belsky said he was surprised to find "so much variation already by the midpoint of the life course in how people are aging." "The biological age range being from below 30 to over 60 is really extraordinary," he said.

The same information that the researchers used in the study to determine people's biological ages is typically collected during routine medical checkups. Doctors could use this data to explain to patients, in a relatable way, how their lifestyles are affecting their health, Belsky said.

In the study, researchers looked at data from nearly 1,000 people born between 1972 and 1973 in the same hospital in Dunedin, New Zealand. The participants were part of the Dunedin Study — an ongoing project to track the health of a group of people from their birth — and they undergo physical exams and extensive interviews every few years.

The researchers also used data collected from the participants from age 26 to 38, to calculate a "pace of aging" value, or approximate measure of how fast they were aging. For this calculation, the researchers used measures such as the participants' waist-hip ratio, body mass index and cardiorespiratory fitness.

They found that for people who were aging the most rapidly, every chronological year correlated to three years of physiological aging. People aging faster also tended to report feeling older.

Furthermore, in a separate study in which undergraduate students at a U.S. university looked at photos of the participants' faces, with no additional information, the students rated the participants with higher biological ages as looking older than their biologically younger counterparts.

The study shows that it's possible to detect the types of changes that come with age in people who are still young and free of disease, he said. For example, researchers were able to detect declines in organ function and strength, as well as cognitive decline.

"Only about 20 percent — perhaps a little bit less, or a little bit more — of variation in life span is genetic in nature," Belsky said, adding that environment and lifestyle play large roles in aging. "What we see with aging is really about the interaction between our genes and the environments we encounter," he said. "There's nothing about this process that's set in stone.”


Alas, many factors that slow down or accelerate aging are beyond our control. So much depends on genetics, social class, and the number of “adverse childhood experiences.”

~ “Here we report relationships of personal‐history characteristics with Pace of Aging. The six characteristics were familial longevity, childhood social class, adverse childhood experiences, and childhood health, intelligence, and self‐control. We selected these characteristics because each has an established link to morbidity and mortality.

Study members with shorter‐lived grandparents, who grew up in lower social class homes, who experienced more ACEs [adverse childhood experiences], who had poorer childhood health, who scored lower on IQ tests, and who had poorer self‐control all showed evidence of accelerated biological aging during their 20s and 30s.” ~

So — is there nothing we can do? I'm sorry to sound so predictable, but we can eat more vegetables, especially members of the cabbage family. To satisfy our sweet tooth, we can choose sweet potatoes rather than junk food. We can try to stay active and useful in whatever ways are meaningful to us. 

No matter what we do, we can’t win this ultimate battle — not with today’s biomedical technology (sure, we were promised miraculous cures decades ago).  But we can “die with honor,” having lived a rich and productive life, or we can die prematurely because of heavy smoking and/or eating junk food. 

Are these truly “lifestyle choices” — or are they heavily determined by our genes and early circumstances? Without being judgmental about what others eat and do in general, let’s focus on ourselves. Presumably the readers of this blog have a higher-than-average intelligence and education. Those resources, combined with having something to live for, should point us toward healthier, longer living. But we have to be realistic as well: no amount of kale will make us immortal.


Ending on beauty:

In a room the size of one solitude

My heart

The size of one love
Looks at the simple pretexts of its own happiness

At the pretty withering of flowers in the flower pots

At the sapling you planted in our flowerbed

At the songs of the canaries

Who sing the size of one window

~ Forough Farrokhzad (Iranian; 1934-1967; died in a car accident at the age of 32.) 

The American-Iranian poet Sholeh Wolpé writes, “Farrokhzad is Iran's most revered female poet. She was a poet of great audacity and extraordinary talent. Her poetry was the poetry of protest — protest through revelation — revelation of the innermost world of women (considered taboo until then), their intimate secrets and desires, their sorrows, longings, aspirations and at times even their articulation through silence. Her poems are still relevant in their advocacy for women’s liberation and independence.”)


In a room the size of one solitude

My heart

The size of one love . . .

Andrew Wyeth: Wind from the Sea, 1947