Saturday, December 16, 2017


Goya: The Rape of Europa, 1772


Forget for a moment
the god’s handsome hide,
the princess’s spray-thin tunic. 

How small Europa’s parents
look in the faded light —
the king and queen,
disheveled in their grief,
with their perennial missing-person ad:
 “Last seen on the back of a white bull.”

The parents do not count next to the divine
distended nostrils, or Europa’s thighs.
Again they blame themselves for having let
their little girl weave daisy chains
too near the shore, for failing to warn her
not to trust strange bulls.
blind to Europa’s starring role
in future titillating art, they cannot grasp
the honor of it: their little girl
abducted to the island of Crete,
the cradle of new myths, her name
stretched over the whole continent.

The queen, swollen from weeping,
says over and over, “I wanted to hide her
under an ordinary name,
but you wanted her to shine
round-voweled like the moon.”
The king is silent.

In Crete, new art is being born,
frescoes showing bulls,
new religious ideas. 
Europa’s parents, in worn-out robes,
wander about their provincial palace,
now empty of their daughter’s steps.
They remember how she laughed
running to catch sun spots, butterflies;
how, when she was five,
she picked poppies that grazed like fire
in the ruins of an old temple,
but they withered in her eager clasp
before she got home, and she cried.

But mostly, like an echo
traveling away, they grow silent.

~ Oriana


Myths do not mention
those left behind.

~ that’s the insight from which the poem unfolded. But I’ve decided that those lines are too direct, and omitted those lines.

Forget for a moment
the god’s handsome hide,
the princess’s spray-thin tunic. 

How small Europa’s parents
look in the faded light —

~ that says it right there: the myth pays no attention to the parents’ suffering. I devote the poem to correcting this omission, trying to imagine the bereft parents. My tiny spark of compassion doesn’t change the myth — Zeus, a sexual predator par excellence, gets his way as he always does. But for a moment the reader is distracted from that “triumph” and made aware of the grief it caused.

It’s interesting that according to the myth Europa had three sons with Zeus — Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Sarpedon — who became the judges in the underworld, assessing each new arrival’s vices and virtues. 


“It isn’t the revolutionaries who are demons. It’s the ideas to which the revolutionaries are enslaved.”

~ “What Dostoyevsky diagnosed — and at times suffered from himself — was the tendency to think of ideas as being somehow more real than actual human beings.

When Fyodor Dostoyevsky described in his novels how ideas have the power to change human lives, he knew something of what he was writing about.

Born in 1821, the Russian writer was in his 20s when he joined a circle of radical intellectuals in St Petersburg who were entranced by French utopian socialist theories. A police agent who had infiltrated the group reported its discussions to the authorities. On 22 April 1849, Dostoyevsky was arrested and imprisoned along with the other members, and after some months of investigation they were found guilty of planning to distribute subversive propaganda and condemned to death by firing squad.

The punishment was commuted to a sentence of exile and hard labor in Siberian prison, but the tsar's authority to decree life or death was confirmed by forcing the prisoners to undergo the ordeal of a mock execution.

In a carefully stage-managed charade Dostoyevsky and the rest of the group were taken on the morning of 22 December 1849 to a regimental parade ground, where scaffolding had been erected and decorated with black crepe. Their crimes and sentence were read out and an Orthodox priest asked them to repent.

Three of the group were tied to stakes in readiness for execution. At the last moment there was a roll of drums, and the firing squad lowered its rifles. Reprieved, the prisoners were put in shackles and sent into Siberian exile — in Dostoyevsky's case for four years of hard labor, followed by compulsory service in the Russian army.

Dostoyevsky's experience had altered him profoundly. He did not abandon his view that Russian society needed to be radically changed. He continued to believe that the institution of serfdom was profoundly immoral, and to the end of his life he detested the landed aristocracy. But his experience of being on what he'd believed was the brink of death had given him a new perspective on time and history. Many years later he remarked: "I cannot recall when I was ever as happy as on that day." [after getting a reprieve]

From then onwards he realized that human life was not a movement from a backward past to a better future, as he had believed or half-believed when he shared the ideas of the radical intelligentsia. Instead, every human being stood at each moment on the edge of eternity. As a result of this revelation, Dostoyevsky became increasingly mistrustful of the progressive ideology to which he had been drawn as a young man.

Dostoyevsky's indictment of nihilism is presented in his great novel The Devils. Published in 1872, the book has been criticized for being didactic in tone, and there can be no doubt that he wanted to show that the dominant ideas of his generation were harmful. But the story Dostoyevsky tells is also a dark comedy, cruelly funny in its depiction of high-minded intellectuals toying with revolutionary notions without understanding anything of what revolution means in practice.

The plot is a version of actual events that unfolded as Dostoyevsky was writing the book. A former teacher of divinity turned terrorist, Sergei Nechayev, was arrested and convicted of complicity in the killing of a student. Nechayev had authored a pamphlet, The Catechism of a Revolutionary, which argued that any means (including blackmail and murder) could be used to advance the cause of revolution. The student had questioned Nechayev's policies, and so had to be eliminated.

Dostoyevsky suggests that the result of abandoning morality for the sake of an idea of freedom will be a type of tyranny more extreme than any in the past. As one of the characters in The Devils confesses: "I got entangled in my own data, and my conclusion directly contradicts the original idea from which I start. From unlimited freedom, I conclude with unlimited despotism."

Though he criticized him for relying too much on individual acts of terror, Lenin admired Nechayev for his readiness to commit any crime if it served the revolution. But as Dostoyevsky foresaw, the use of inhuman methods to achieve a new kind of freedom produced a type of repression that was much more far-reaching than the theatrical cruelties of tzarism.

Dostoyevsky's novel contains a lesson that reaches far beyond Russia. Early English translations bore the title The Possessed — a misreading of a Russian word more accurately rendered as The Devils or Demons. But the earlier title may have been closer to Dostoyevsky's intentions. Though at times he is merciless in his portrayal of them, it isn't the revolutionaries who are demons. It's the ideas to which the revolutionaries are enslaved.

Dostoyevsky thought the flaw at the heart of Russian nihilism was atheism, but you needn't share his view on this point to see that when he writes of the demonic power of ideas he has fastened on a genuine human disorder. Nor do you need to approve of Dostoyevsky's political outlook, which was a mystical version of nationalism deeply stained with xenophobia.

We like to think that liberal societies are immune to the dangerous power of ideas. But it's an illusion to think we don't have demons of our own. Possessed by grandiose conceptions of freedom, we've tried to change the systems of government of countries we don't begin to understand. Like the deluded revolutionaries of Dostoyevsky's novel, we've turned abstract notions into idols and sacrificed others and ourselves in the attempt to serve them.


Let me quote the crucial statement here: 

“Lenin admired Nechayev for his readiness to commit any crime if it served the revolution. But as Dostoyevsky foresaw, the use of inhuman methods to achieve a new kind of freedom produced a type of repression that was much more far-reaching than the theatrical cruelties of tzarism.”

By the way, the folksy, vulgar, super-contemptuous term that D uses for “The Devils” does not have the dignity of “demons.” Based on the Russian title (the same word also exists in Polish), I think the Dostoyevski meant the anarchist revolutionaries themselves. Nevertheless, we don’t have to go by the writer’s presumed intention. I like the article’s thesis that it’s the ideas that are the enslaving demons. Interesting how the mistranslation of the title actually added a layer of depth. 


~ “The great prophet of how market forces taken to an extreme destroy both democracy and a functioning economy was not Karl Marx but Karl Polanyi. Marx expected the crisis of capitalism to end in universal worker revolt and communism. Polanyi, with nearly a century more history to draw on, appreciated that the greater likelihood was fascism.

As Polanyi demonstrated in his masterwork The Great Transformation (1944), when markets become “dis-embedded” from their societies and create severe social dislocations, people eventually revolt. Polanyi saw the catastrophe of World War I, the interwar period, the Great Depression, fascism, and World War II as the logical culmination of market forces overwhelming society—“the utopian endeavor of economic liberalism to set up a self-regulating market system” that began in nineteenth-century England. This was a deliberate choice, he insisted, not a reversion to a natural economic state. Market society, Polanyi persuasively demonstrated, could only exist because of deliberate government action defining property rights, terms of labor, trade, and finance. “Laissez faire,” he impishly wrote, “was planned.”

Polanyi believed that the only way politically to temper the destructive influence of organized capital and its ultra-market ideology was with highly mobilized, shrewd, and sophisticated worker movements. He concluded this not from Marxist economic theory but from close observation of interwar Europe’s most successful experiment in municipal socialism: Red Vienna, where he worked as an economic journalist in the 1920s. And for a time in the post–World War II era, the entire West had an egalitarian form of capitalism built on the strength of the democratic state and underpinned by strong labor movements. But since the era of Thatcher and Reagan that countervailing power has been crushed, with predictable results.

In The Great Transformation, Polanyi emphasized that the core imperatives of nineteenth-century classical liberalism were free trade, the idea that labor had to “find its price on the market,” and enforcement of the gold standard. Today’s equivalents are uncannily similar. We have an ever more intense push for deregulated trade, the better to destroy the remnants of managed capitalism; and the dismantling of what remains of labor market safeguards to increase profits for multinational corporations. In place of the gold standard—whose nineteenth-century function was to force nations to put “sound money” and the interests of bondholders ahead of real economic well-being—we have austerity policies enforced by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with the American Federal Reserve tightening credit at the first signs of inflation.


This unholy trinity of economic policies that Polanyi identified is not working any more now than it did in the 1920s. They are practical failures, as economics, as social policy, and as politics. Polanyi’s historical analysis, in both earlier writings and The Great Transformation, has been vindicated three times, first by the events that culminated in World War II, then by the temporary containment of laissez-faire with resurgent democratic prosperity during the postwar boom, and now again by the restoration of primal economic liberalism and neofascist reaction to it. This should be the right sort of Polanyi moment; instead it is the wrong sort.

Polanyi got some details wrong, but he got the big picture right. Democracy cannot survive an excessively free market; and containing the market is the task of politics. To ignore that is to court fascism. Polanyi wrote that fascism solved the problem of the rampant market by destroying democracy. But unlike the fascists of the interwar period, today’s far-right leaders are not even bothering to contain market turbulence or to provide decent jobs through public works. Brexit, a spasm of anger by the dispossessed, will do nothing positive for the British working class; and Donald Trump’s program is a mash-up of nationalist rhetoric and even deeper government alliance with predatory capitalism. Discontent may yet go elsewhere. Assuming democracy holds, there could be a countermobilization more in the spirit of Polanyi’s feasible socialism. The pessimistic Polanyi would say that capitalism has won and democracy has lost. The optimist in him would look to resurgent popular politics.” ~

Nazi veterans in Vienna in 1930


Not that the opposite extreme works either. Let me quote myself from another blog:


In 1929 Will Rogers visited the Hammer brothers, Armand and Victor, in Moscow. He made a very perceptive remark — I’m surprised that it remained unknown. “Communism’s like Prohibition. It’s a fine idea, but it won’t work.”

That’s a marvelous analogy. Alcoholism is a great evil, but you can’t combat it by making alcohol illegal. The same goes for greed.

Actually Lenin saw that communism didn’t work. That’s why he introduced NEP, the “new economic policy,” which allowed limited private enterprise and restored the use of money (in his desire to “destroy the power of money,” Lenin tried the coupon system).

Perhaps communism, like Prohibition, simply had to be tried so that humanity could see that an extreme approach doesn’t work. Capitalism (in some form -- it's constantly evolving) is here to stay, as is legal, regulated alcohol and tobacco (at long last, the “war on drugs” seems on its way out too). The difficult problem is how to encourage creative, entrepreneurial capitalism while restraining predatory capitalism.

The only thing we know is that no system will ever be perfect. But we must keep on trying to create a better world — in all possible ways, without rigid ideologies. 

Moscow 1950; Semyon Friedland


~ “The British are catching up with an American awareness of the intertwined political influence of the secretive super-rich, social media, and the Kremlin. In America, illicit support for Trump has been investigated by intelligence agencies, Justice Department officials, and major media organizations. Uncovering election interference in Brexit-Britain has been a more freelance business . . . mapping the scale and penetration of Russian trolls and bots sowing hatred and division via social media.

In both the US and the UK, investigations into the deployment of these shadowy forces are still in progress. In close contests, every influence counts. There is, therefore, an understandable temptation to emphasize that without secretive billionaires, or the Russians, or Facebook, the outcomes of the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election would have been different. And as elections are likely to carry on being close-run, it is important to track down and expose systemic manipulation. But it does not follow that slush funds, algorithms, and alleged conspiracies were primary causes of the electoral shocks of 2016. Nearly 63 million Americans voted for Trump, although Hillary Clinton outspent him by half a billion dollars. In the UK, 52 percent of voters backed Brexit. A widespread revolt against elite entitlement and genuine resentment against a rigged system are the most important explanations in both cases.

The emerging picture of efforts to manipulate the outcomes of the US election and the Brexit referendum leads to an awkward paradox. For the first time in a long time, voters who recognized the rigged nature of the system voted in large enough numbers to overthrow “the swamp” of “politics as usual”; at the same time, the system itself was perhaps more rigged than ever, thanks to the new-fangled methods. While it is vital to expose how these worked, it is even more important also to develop a politics that validates voters’ legitimate repudiation of a corrupt establishment, rather than dismisses them as ignorant and gullible. The risk of exaggerating the effect of novel methods of subversion is that it will only reinforce cynicism about politics and government in general—and that would be a win for billionaires like Robert Mercer, and their friends and helpers like Nigel Farage, and all they stand for.

Behind both Brexit and Trump was a widespread repudiation of entitlement. Part of its energy in Britain has now gathered around a resurgent Labour Party, which made unexpected gains in June’s general election despite vicious attacks from the right-wing press on its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. In the US, the current of opposition and resistance is running through the #MeToo wave of revulsion at sexual harassment and male abuse of power. A groper-in-chief president faces his own public reckoning, as more and more voices—this week, a blistering denunciation from the editorial board of USA Today—call out his presumption of the right to belittle and humiliate. Trump remains in office, and Brexit proceeds, but unearned entitlement is everywhere on the run. The enemies of democracy—from oligarchs to billionaires—have reason to be fearful.” ~

School in the year 2000, as imagined in 1910


~  “BY ANARCHY Matthew Arnold meant a toxic kind of freedom. He meant a society where market forces dominate the nation; where the commercial media sets the agenda and coarsens and simplifies everything it touches; where corporations are barely restrained from despoiling the environment, where human beings are treated as tools to be picked up and put down at will; where there is no more pastoral care and precious little sense of community, where hospitals treat the body but no one treats the soul, where no one knows their neighbors any more, where romantic love is seen as the only bond worth pursuing –- and where there is nowhere to turn to at moments of acute distress and inner crisis. It’s a world we’ve come to know well.

Arnold believed that the forces of anarchy had become overwhelming in Europe in the second half of the 19th century. Religion was in terminal decline. Business reigned triumphant. A practical, un-psychological money-making mentality ruled. Newspaper circulation was growing exponentially. And politics was dominated by partisanship, conflict and misrepresentation.

In the past, religion might have served to reign in these anarchic tendencies. But in his best poem, Dover Beach, Arnold described how ‘the sea of faith’ had ebbed away, like a tide from the shore, leaving only a ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.’

What could replace the function that religion had once played in society? What forces might constrain anarchy and civilize, guide, inspire and humanize instead? Arnold proposed one resounding solution: Culture. It must be Culture, he proposed, that would overcome the forces of anarchy inadvertently unleashed by Capitalism and Democracy.

But to play such a role, by Culture one could not simply continue to mean what a lot of people then (as today) understood by the term: namely, an interest in going to art galleries on holiday, watching an occasional play and writing some essays about Jane Austen at school.

By Culture, Arnold meant a force that would guide, educate, console and teach, in short, in the highest sense, a therapeutic medium. The great works of art weren’t to be thought of as mere entertainment. They contained – when interpreted and presented properly (and this is where Arnold thought his society had gone so wrong) – a set of suggestions as to how we might best live and die, and govern our societies according to our highest possibilities.

Arnold’s goal was therefore to try to change the way the elite establishment (the museums, the universities, the schools, the learned societies) were teaching works of Culture, so that they could become what he felt they had it in their power to be: a proper bulwark against modern Anarchy and the agents to deliver appropriate doses of those important qualities, ‘Sweetness and Light’.

By ‘Light’, Arnold meant ‘understanding.’ The great works of culture have it in their power to clear mental confusion, they give us words for things we had felt but had not previously grasped, they replace cliche with insight. Given their potential, Arnold believed that schools and the mass media had a responsibility to help us get to know as many of these light-filled works as possible. He wanted a curriculum that would systematically teach everyone in the land: ‘the best that has been thought and said in the world,’ so that through this knowledge, we might be able to ‘turn a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits.’


By ‘sweetness,’ Arnold meant that he wanted works of Culture to be presented to the audience in sweet ways. He saw the absolute necessity of sugar-coating things. In a free society, cultural authority could no longer be strict and demanding – people would simply turn away or vote for something less severe. Anyone who wanted to advocate serious (but potentially very beneficial) things would have to learn the art of sweetness. They would have to charm and amuse and please and flatter. Not because they were insincere but precisely because they were so earnest. In Arnold’s ideal world, the lessons of advertising – which in his day discovered how to sell expensive watches and fire tongs and special knives for boning chickens – would have to be used by intellectuals and educators. Instead of wondering how to persuade middle-income people to purchase potato peelers or soup dishes, they would ponder how to make Plato’s philosophy more impressive or how to find a larger consumer base for the ideas of St Augustine.

By sweetness, Arnold also meant kindness and sympathy. He wanted a world where people would – in the public realm – be nicer to one another. Enough of the brutality and coarseness of the Daily Telegraph, a publication that every day took pleasure in gunning down new victims and turning personal tragedies in to the stuff of mockery. He wished Culture to help foster a spirit of kind-hearted enquiry, a readiness to suppose that the other person might have a point, even if one didn’t quite see it yet. He wanted to promote a tenderness to people’s failings and weaknesses. He saw sweetness as an essential ingredient of a good, humane society.

Culture and Anarchy remains filled with eminently valid answers to the problems of the modern world. With religion gone, it really is only Culture that can prevent Anarchy. But we still have a way to go before Culture has been divested of, to use Arnold’s words, all that is ‘harsh, uncouth, difficult, abstract, professional, exclusive’ about it.


A while back I wondered why, aside from an occasional esthetic nostalgia for the old liturgy (vanished now, stamped out by Vatican II), I never missed religion. That’s that practically all apostates tend to say: I don’t miss god, I miss the singing.

But wasn’t there supposed to be some sense of emptiness? What emptiness?? I never felt it. I think it was mainly because my mental life was so rich, and became even richer once the constraints of religion and the sheer time devoted to it were no longer a problem. Just literature was enough, or just science, but I had both . . . and was just beginning to explore classical music, and of course learning English in my own mad and insatiable way — and learning a language to a functional level is tremendously enlarging.

I didn’t realize how lucky I was: even long before college, my education gave me the tools to enjoy the pleasures of culture, and those were endless. Matthew Arnold was hoping that culture — and he meant “high culture” — would become available to almost everyone.


An excellent phrase: government by organized money

“Beggars do not envy millionaires; they envy other beggars who are more successful.” ~ Bertrand Russell

I think that Russell hit on something that may be relevant to the phenomenon of why the poor adore Trump and the rich in general. But there are countries in which the rich are resented; it seems that in no other country do the poor adore the rich as they do in the US. As someone (at this point the attribution to John Steinbeck is disputed) observed, only in America do the poor regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

Speaking of beggars, Bertrand Russell's childhood home, Pembroke Lodge:



~ “The slippery-slope argument goes something like this: If Masterpiece Cakeshop, and its owner, Jack Phillips, can refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding, what’s to stop him from refusing to bake a wedding cake for two Jews, or an interracial couple, or anyone else for that matter?

But ultimately, it misses the point: that it’s not Jews or people of color or anyone else who are the targets of these “religious freedom” claims. It’s women and LGBT people. Because at the end of the day, these “religious freedom” claims aren’t about religious freedom. They’re about the Culture War. They’re about sex.

First, if Phillips and his ilk were consistent, they would have plenty of sinful people to turn away from their businesses. In Matthew 5:32, for example, Jesus forbids divorce and says that remarriage is the same as adultery. So why isn’t Phillips turning away the remarried?

Here’s another example. In 1 Corinthians 6:9, one of the seven so-called clobber verses (out of 31,102 in the Bible) that talk about homosexuality, Paul states that “neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes (malakoi) nor homosexual offenders (arsenokoitai) nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Whoever Paul is talking about here—it’s almost certainly not all gay men, and definitely not lesbians, but even if it were—they are placed on the same level as thieves, slanderers, and swindlers. No better and no worse.

And yet, I’m unaware of a single case in which a service provider sought the right to refuse service to a slanderer on the basis of a religious belief. Why?

Nor has Phillips asserted a right to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a Hindu wedding, even though most evangelical Christians believe Hinduism to be a form of idolatry—which is forbidden over 100 times in the Bible, on penalty of death.

In other words, these “religious freedom” claimants are being highly selective about when their conscience compels them to discriminate. Of all of the sins in Scripture, it seems that only those involving sex and gender—contraception, abortion, LGBT people—are the only ones which trigger such claims.

These “religious freedom” claims are extensions of the five-decade old Culture War. They are front-line issues in politicized Christianity, not Christianity itself, and are stand-ins for a cultural clash that runs deeper than any individual claim.

The Culture War is a battle about sex, but it is really a battle about what country we are living in: either a Christian nation, with right-wing Christianity as its moral bedrock, or a diverse, secular nation, in which religious claims are respected, but not used as a trump card over the civil rights of others.

After all, the reason I’ve scare-quoted “religious freedom” here is that these kinds of claims are really quite novel. For two centuries, the First Amendment was primarily a shield held up by persecuted religious minorities—Jehovah’s Witnesses, Native Americans—against governmental interference in their religious practice. No third parties were involved; these minorities wanted to practice their religion and be left alone.

To be sure, this history is still marred by Christian domination. The First Amendment didn’t stop Mormon polygamy from being banned, and it didn’t stop the government from seizing lands held to be sacred by Native Americans. It was often used against Catholics as well.

But in principle, the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment was a shield protecting minority religions from government interference.

Only in the last 20 years has it been used as a sword, allowing a religious individual to discriminate against someone else. In cases like Masterpiece Cakeshop or 2014’s Hobby Lobby, it’s not just the government and the practitioner. It’s the government, the practitioner, and the person the practitioner is harming. That is a crucial, and unprecedented, difference: Today’s “religious freedom” claimants want to abridge the rights of others.

And it’s not a coincidence. Poll data shows that when you scratch a “religious freedom” claimant, what you find underneath is someone who really wants to ban abortion, overturn same-sex marriage, and bring back anti-sodomy laws. These organizations—the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Becket Fund, Liberty Counsel—are fundamentally insincere. They’re not defending our “First Freedom.” They’re fighting the Culture War.

Ultimately, Christian conservatives don’t just want to be left alone to practice their religion in peace. Ultimately, they want to impose their religious beliefs on others. They want to win the Culture War and ban the stuff they don’t like.

That’s why the slippery-slope argument is off point. We shouldn’t be asking “what’s to stop this person from turning away Jews?” We should be asking “why is it that the only people this person wants to turn away are women and gays?” Because that’s what reveals this campaign for what it is.

Now, two important caveats.

First—and this is a historical point I wish we could all keep in mind—this kind of religious freedom claim was, in fact, used against African Americans during the 1960s and 1970s. Bob Jones University, for example, argued that it had a First Amendment right to refuse admission to black students (and, later, to segregate them in special housing).

And on a local level, “religious freedom” was offered as a pretext by restauranteurs and hoteliers to deny service to blacks. God separated the races on different continents, evangelicals said in the 1950s, and we must not interfere with His plan.
So it’s not as though the slippery slope isn’t true. It was true quite recently, in fact. The modern “religious freedom” movement was born in segregation.

It’s also true that, when pressed, “religious freedom” activists admit that the slippery slope is accurate in principle. In one memorable exchange from 2014, Congressman Jerrold Nadler asked the Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver why, under the laws Staver favored—which have now become law in 22 states—a wedding photographer couldn’t refuse service to Jews.

Anti-Semitism has surged during the Trump administration, but probably Staver’s clients—including the Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis, now a hero of the New Christian Right—wouldn’t turn Jews away. That’s not what they’re worried about.

No—what they’re worried about are women and gays; sex and gender; the Culture War and the Christian Nation. And they want to win. Don’t let claims of “religious freedom” fool you.” ~


~“If the Bible story were true, it would be consistent. It wouldn’t change with time. God’s personality wouldn’t change, God’s plan of salvation wouldn’t change, and the details of the Jesus story wouldn’t change. But the New Testament books themselves document the evolution of the Jesus story. Sort them chronologically to see.

What did Paul know?

Paul’s epistles precede Mark, the earliest gospel, by almost 20 years. The only miracle that Paul mentions is the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:4). Were the miracle stories so well known within his different churches that he didn’t need to mention them? It doesn’t look like it.

~ Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:22–3). ~

The Jews demand signs? Then give them one. Paul had loads of Jesus miracles to pick from. But wait a minute — if the Jesus story is a stumbling block to miracle-seeking Jews, then Paul must not know of any miracles.
Evolution of the story

Miracles come later, with the gospels. Looking at them chronologically, notice how the divinity of Jesus evolves. He becomes divine with the baptism in Mark; then in Matthew and Luke, he’s divine at birth; and in John, he’s divine since the beginning of time.

The four gospels were snapshots of the Jesus story as told in four different communities at four different times. The synoptic (“looking in the same direction”) gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke share much source material, and they have much overlap. Nevertheless, 35% of Luke comes uniquely from its community (such as the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son), and 20% of Matthew is unique (such as Jesus and his family fleeing to Egypt after his birth and the zombies that walked after Jesus’s death). And John is quite different from these three, having Gnostic and (arguably) Marcionite elements, reminders of important early versions of Christianity that are now gone.

There are dozens of noncanonical gospels. Christian churches reject these in part because they were written late. But if we agree that the probable second-century authorship for (say) the gospels of Thomas, Judas, and James is a problem because stories change with time, then why do the four canonical gospels get a pass? If the gospel of John, written 60 years after the resurrection, is reliable despite being a preposterous story, why reject Thomas, written just a few decades later?

The answer, it seems, is simply that Thomas doesn’t fit the mold of the flavor of Christianity that happened to win. History, even the imagined history of religion, is written by the victors.” ~

 Michelangelo: Last Judgment — St. Peter holding the keys to heaven. Look at the size of those keys! I like the little head next to Peter's massive thigh. Who’s that??

“The whole notion of one true faith being the ticket to heaven, while the rest of humanity is to be tortured forever, must have come from a sick, sadistic mind . . . yet it's still currently held by millions.” ~ Robert Ingersoll (I think)

~ “Being immobile for many hours each day does more than raise the risk of a host of diseases. DiPietro and her colleagues have good evidence that, as the years wear on, it actually reduces the ability of older people to get around on foot at all.

To measure the effect of prolonged sitting on mobility, DiPietro and colleagues took data from the large NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study of men and women ages 50 to 71. The participants were all healthy when the study started in 1995 and 1996.

The researchers recorded how much those in the study watched TV, exercised or did gardening, housework or other physical activity at the beginning of the investigation. They included "light" physical activity like "puttering around, walking to get the mail, or walking to the car" says DiPietro.

The results: Those who watched five or more hours of TV per day had a 65 percent greater risk of reporting a mobility disability at the study's end, compared with those who watched less than two hours per day. DiPietro says this association was independent of their level of total physical activity and other factors known to affect the ability to easily move around.

She offers an antidote: Get up at least every 30 minutes when staring at a screen.” ~

ending on beauty:

God made everything out of nothing,
but the nothingness shows through.

~ Paul Valery

Saturday, December 9, 2017


Salvador Dali: Alice’s Evidence
It’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then ~ Alice in Wonderland

(Alice attends a trial of the Knave of Hearts, who’s accused of stealing the Queen’s tarts. Alice finds that she’s growing in size and becomes more and more fearless.)

`Here!' cried Alice, quite forgetting in the flurry of the moment how large she had grown in the last few minutes, and she jumped up in such a hurry that she tipped over the jury-box with the edge of her skirt, upsetting all the jurymen on to the heads of the crowd below, and there they lay sprawling about, reminding her very much of a globe of goldfish she had accidentally upset the week before.

`Oh, I beg your pardon!' she exclaimed in a tone of great dismay, and began picking them up again as quickly as she could, for the accident of the goldfish kept running in her head, and she had a vague sort of idea that they must be collected at once and put back into the jury-box, or they would die.

`The trial cannot proceed,' said the King in a very grave voice, `until all the jurymen are back in their proper places — all,' he repeated with great emphasis, looking hard at Alice as he said do.

Alice looked at the jury-box, and saw that, in her haste, she had put the Lizard in head downwards, and the poor little thing was waving its tail about in a melancholy way, being quite unable to move. She soon got it out again, and put it right; `not that it signifies much,' she said to herself; `I should think it would be quite as much use in the trial one way up as the other.'

As soon as the jury had a little recovered from the shock of being upset, and their slates and pencils had been found and handed back to them, they set to work very diligently to write out a history of the accident, all except the Lizard, who seemed too much overcome to do anything but sit with its mouth open, gazing up into the roof of the court.

`What do you know about this business?' the King said to Alice.

`Nothing,' said Alice.

`Nothing whatever?' persisted the King.

`Nothing whatever,' said Alice.

`That's very important,' the King said, turning to the jury. They were just beginning to write this down on their slates, when the White Rabbit interrupted: `Unimportant, your Majesty means, of course,' he said in a very respectful tone, but frowning and making faces at him as he spoke.

`Unimportant, of course, I meant,' the King hastily said, and went on to himself in an undertone, `important—unimportant — unimportant—important—' as if he were trying which word sounded best.

Some of the jury wrote it down `important,' and some `unimportant.' Alice could see this, as she was near enough to look over their slates; `but it doesn't matter a bit,' she thought to herself.

 At this moment the King, who had been for some time busily writing in his note-book, cackled out `Silence!' and read out from his book, `Rule Forty-two. All persons more than a mile high to leave the court.'

Everybody looked at Alice.

`I'm not a mile high,' said Alice.

`You are,' said the King.

`Nearly two miles high,' added the Queen.

`Well, I shan't go, at any rate,' said Alice: `besides, that's not a regular rule: you invented it just now.'

`It's the oldest rule in the book,' said the King.

`Then it ought to be Number One,' said Alice.

The King turned pale, and shut his note-book hastily. `Consider your verdict,' he said to the jury, in a low, trembling voice.
. . .

`Let the jury consider their verdict,' the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

`No, no!' said the Queen. `Sentence first—verdict afterwards.'

`Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. `The idea of having the sentence first!'

`Hold your tongue!' said the Queen, turning purple.

`I won't!' said Alice.

`Off with her head!' the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.

`Who cares for you?' said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) `You're nothing but a pack of cards!'

 At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her: she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off, and found herself lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered down from the trees upon her face.

`Wake up, Alice dear!' said her sister; `Why, what a long sleep you've had!'

`Oh, I've had such a curious dream!' said Alice, and she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange Adventures of hers that you have just been reading about; and when she had finished, her sister kissed her, and said, `It was a curious dream, dear, certainly: but now run in to your tea; it's getting late.’

~ Lewis Carroll (Reverend Charles Dodgson), Alice in Wonderland, 1865


This is actually more succinct and better, I think, in the preliminary version, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, 1864. Below is the last page of the handwritten manuscript, with Carroll’s own drawing.


What liberation it is to finally see that about any set of bullies! They need to be nasty because the real power, which comes from depth and wisdom, isn’t there.

My past is full of both continuities and discontinuities. But mainly I nod my head: I was a different person then. My first “Alice wakes up experience” — I mean the very ending, when she says, “You’re nothing but a pack of cards” — goes back to the age of 14, when I realized this about Catholicism: it's all made up, it's all mythology. All those gilded icons might as well be a pack of cards. And in an instant, I became a different person: one who made a quantum leap in courage and understanding.

(My story of awakening is relatively dull. What I love the story of a priest going over the seven traditional proofs of god's existence — something he’s done many times before — and suddenly seeing that all of them were invalid. Also the story of a pilot and writer who was reciting the Creed during mass, repeating “I believe”, “I believe” — and realizing that he didn’t believe a word of it.)

Looking at the manuscript version (which I prefer: “The verdict first, evidence later”), I'm also reminded at how stunned I was by the American judiciary principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” The implications go beyond the judiciary system: it’s how we treat people on a daily basis. Do we instantly ascribe malicious motives to them, or are we willing to see most of them as basically decent, just beset by problems like everyone? 


Dear Alice! That wonderful book where nonsense makes sublimest sense, and Alice's strange adventures perfectly mirror the truth of experience. How often I've found I must run as fast as I can to stay in the same place, or that I woke up as myself but changed several times before making it to noon, or have been brought to trial by some paper tribunal, pronouncing verdicts without evidence, flimsy as a pack of cards. So much wisdom in Alice, it makes her irresistible!!


“Life should be a joy: not a ledger of sins and failures to live up to impossible standards, but an iridescent beauty like a dragonfly.” ~ Oriana Ivy

“As people age and time horizon grows shorter, people invest in what is most important.” ~ Oh, I thought, so I was not unique in having my “cornered by mortality” moment.

“Youth is a period of perpetual disappointment.” ~ So it wasn’t just my youth?

“Older adulthood is a period of pleasant surprise.” ~ So that’s a universal phenomenon? So I'm pretty average after all? Still not a poster child for normalcy (to me, “family” is a foreign language), nevertheless my life has been in some ways TYPICAL??

Fortunately, reading this article I was long past the point when I’d be bothered by seeing myself as typical, average, “merely human.” The phrase “merely human” is a gigantic oxymoron, since being human is glorious.

The article talks about diminished expectations and how we come to accept them and accept ourselves as less than exceptional, members of the choir rather than soloists. The reward is contentment. Once we are fifty or so, we become steadily more happy as long as we are reasonably healthy. And, quite often, older means richer — for one thing, the mortgage is paid off.

I thought of my own midlife crisis (though up to that point it had been a whole-life crisis) and how, once I pulled through it, I defined myself as “posthumous.” The earlier phase of striving and ambition was over — it felt like another lifetime, this driving myself without mercy, in spite of huge amount of rejections. The Sisyphean labor, the tears, the despair — literally. In fact it feels like an understatement.

Now I submit rarely, and pretty much only at invitation. Not getting wider recognition doesn’t bother me anymore — it’s not important, and I'm in the stage of life when I concentrate on what is important: the prose essays I'm doing now (compared to poetry, that’s as easy as doodling), the enjoyment and creation of beauty (I’ve discovered gardening). Just lying down and thinking once more, in continual astonishment, how happy I am.

I don’t feel I have to achieve anything. I don’t have to prove anything. Been there, done that. Now just to harvest and enjoy. Reading and writing, but without pressure — not only am I posthumous, but at the stage of unbridled hedonism (it helps to know that this is my last chance for unbridled hedonism).

I am not not pursuing any dream. I have no dream — just micro-projects and micro-ambitions. Following my bliss, yes, but bliss with a small “b.” And blisses in the plural, rather than one central passion. Still learning, still having an active life of the mind — but nothing I do is a stepping stone to anything else. It has to be satisfying in itself.

And beauty. I must have beauty. As Khalil Gibran said: “We live only to discover Beauty. All else is a form of waiting.” He may be right.

And a clarity has emerged, precisely about the inner life. Little things don’t bother me because my life of the mind is always there for me. Life hasn’t given me certain things which I once desperately wanted, but I don’t resent that. I don’t think that a malicious deity manipulated circumstances so as to make me or anyone else unhappy. It had nothing to do with “deserving.” Like most people I too have learned the most important lesson: to focus on what we have rather than on what we don’t have. And to savor the gentle winter light in all its radiance.



That U-shaped curve of happiness rings true. When I was young I often thought I'd like to be an old woman, living outside objections to my choices, in dress or words or attitude. An old woman, I thought, could be what she wanted to be, and no one would interfere, because she had moved outside the circle of their desire. What freedom! When you are young you are everybody's business, when you are old you are nobody's business but your own.

It makes sense that the nadir of happiness comes in mid life. The future is not then a promise, but a pressure — it weighs on you, measures your failures, mocks your small accomplishments, reminds you time and opportunity are limited and short. Moving into the later stages of life, always dependent on reasonably good health, you might lift your nose from the grindstone, ditch your watch and alarm clock, and look about you, finding a world of infinite interest, entertainment  and delight. Do what you love, love what you do. Think your own thoughts, be slow enough to see beauty wherever you find it. Breathe.



So true. My own crisis, combined with severe depression, had as a major premise: “My future has been stolen from me.” So I can only nod when you say “In mid life, the future is not a promise, but a pressure — it weighs on you, measures your failures, mocks your small accomplishments, reminds you time and opportunity are limited and short.”

And I realized I could remain stewing in bitterness and waste what years remained brooding on the various misfortunes of my life, or I could choose productivity nevertheless — never mind recognition. It was a major awakening, the most dramatic one in years.

Down the line, I even got the international audience I used to dream about. The blog did it. Wow — I can’t complain about luck anymore. 

One more important point: You stop blaming yourself for having accomplished so much less than you were hoping to accomplish because you gain a better understanding of life. No, it wasn’t that I was lazy — what a joke! On the contrary, people like me are workaholics. It wasn’t that I lacked ambition — I mean, talk about being "driven"! In fact at one point I burned out from entering a gazillion contests. What I lacked was connections — and the more accomplished I became and the more acquainted with the poetry world, the more I saw that it’s “totally who you know, totally” — to quote a more worldly friend.

I also started too late, had too little money to enroll in the kind of MFA program that could have provided mentoring . . .  and on and on. And another friend may have been correct as well — the one who said, “You have brains enough to make it . . . What you don’t have is experience. You should travel and have affairs.” Travel and romance (both the start and the end of it) are well known for triggering bursts of creativity. (If you are a genius like Dickinson, you can afford to be a recluse; otherwise, prepare to pay a heavy price for reclusiveness. And no, in modern times no one will devote themselves to preserving your writing for posterity.)

One way or another, I saw the huge role of circumstances, stopped blaming myself, and began to enjoy writing once more — this time mostly as essayistic prose, a wonderfully inclusive medium. I only wish I dropped self-blame sooner, and understood sooner that the great gift we give to others is simply our unique being (Heidegger).

It’s such a relief to realize you don’t have to try to be charming. You don’t have to try to be clever, or witty, or marvelously accomplished . . . or . . . . or . . .  any of those things we desperately tried to be in our teens and beyond. We touch the lives of others often when we are least aware of it; we serve by being ourselves. 



Happiness is having some kind of work for which you have infinite patience. ~ Jeremy Sherman

Me in my poetry years. I didn’t realize my luck. There was also agony, of course, but when I look back at my life, those were the heights — the best years.

The best years, but the happiest years? Only while I was engaged in creative work.

"Once I lived as the gods —
more is not needed.”

     ~ Hölderlin, To the Fates

Ultimately, though, my happiest years are right now. I still have infinite patience when it comes to writing prose. And now I can finally be happy also when not working, not doing anything in particular — just looking at my patio, say, my own small Garden of Eden. What I have now, above all, is contentment — and the gratitude for it.

Victoria amazonica, St. Petersburg Botanical Institute

~ “Our epoch began somewhere around the end of the eighteenth, the beginning of the nineteenth century, and should be viewed as a whole. It is distinguished by a central philosophical problem ripening slowly as a result of the criticism directed at traditional Christian beliefs and aristocratic institutions, monarchy chief among them. . . . The true revolutionaries were the poets and the artists, even the most ethereal and least bloodthirsty of them, because they cleared the way; that is, they acted as the organizers of the collective imagination in a new dimension, that of man’s solitude as a species.” ~ Czeslaw Milosz


Yes, the poets and the artists — and certainly the great novelists, and now the great movie-makers. They all played an important role in the growing secularization of the culture. They gave testimony to the fact that religion was fading, and the psychology of human beings was becoming the center of interest, not a deity whose existence was becoming less and less certain.

That meant a certain loneliness, since other humans are not always a reliable source of comfort to us. Still, if there is no one up there in the clouds, where else can we turn? Only to family and friends — and to pets. Modernity means that a dog is a “member of the family.”

Secularization was also linked to the rise of democracy. There was less and less enchantment with the royalty. Along with the waning interest in serving the “King of Kings,” not as many really wanted to “serve the king,” now no longer seen as having any kind of “divine right.” Writers and artists were perhaps the first to realize that no one really had the “mandate of heaven.” Human, all too human . . .

Another page from Lewis Carroll's manuscript


~ “Hitler exploited images and tropes that were familiar to Christians: God, prayers, original sin, commandments, prophets, chosen people, messiahs—even the familiar Christian tripartite structure of time: first paradise, then exodus, and finally redemption. We live in filth, and we must strain to purify ourselves and the world so that we might return to paradise.

To see paradise as the battle of the species rather than the concord of creation was to unite Christian longing with the apparent realism of biology. The war of all against all was not terrifyingly purposeless, but instead the only purpose to be had in the universe. Nature’s bounty was for man, as in Genesis, but only for the men who follow nature’s law and fight for nature. As in Genesis, so in My Struggle, nature was a resource for man: but not for all people, only for triumphant races. Eden was not a garden but a trench.

Knowledge of the body was not the problem, as in Genesis, but the solution. The triumphant should copulate. After murder, Hitler thought, the next human duty was sex and reproduction. In his scheme, the original sin that led to the fall of man was of the mind and soul, not of the body. For Hitler, our unhappy weakness was that we can think, realize that others belonging to other races can do the same, and thereby recognize them as fellow human beings. Humans left Hitler’s bloody paradise not because of carnal knowledge. Humans left paradise because of the knowledge of good and evil.

When paradise falls and humans are separated from nature, a character who is neither human nor natural, such as the serpent of Genesis, takes the blame. If humans were in fact nothing more than an element of nature, and nature was known by science to be a bloody struggle, something beyond nature must have corrupted the species. For Hitler the bringer of the knowledge of good and evil on the earth, the destroyer of Eden, was the Jew.

“Therefore I believe myself to be acting according to the wishes of the Creator. Insofar as I restrain the Jew, I am defending the work of the Lord.”

Hitler’s basic critique was not the usual one that human beings were good but had been corrupted by an overly Jewish civilization. It was rather that humans were animals and that any exercise of ethical deliberation was in itself a sign of Jewish corruption. The very attempt to set a universal ideal and strain toward it was precisely what was hateful.

Any nonracist attitude was Jewish, thought Hitler, and any universal idea a mechanism of Jewish dominion. Both capitalism and communism were Jewish. Their apparent embrace of struggle was simply cover for the Jewish desire for world domination. Any abstract idea of the state was also Jewish. The frontiers of existing states would be washed away by the forces of nature in the course of racial struggle: “One must not be diverted from the borders of Eternal Right by the existence of political borders.”

The strong should starve the weak, but Jews could arrange matters so that the weak starve the strong. This was not an injustice in the normal sense, but a violation of the logic of being. In a universe warped by Jewish ideas, struggle could yield unthinkable outcomes: not the survival of the fittest, but the starvation of the fittest.

For Hitler, the conclusion of World War I demonstrated the ruin of the planet. Hitler’s understanding of its outcome went beyond the nationalism of his fellow Germans, and his response to defeat only superficially resembled the general resentment about lost territories. For Hitler, the German defeat demonstrated that something was crooked in the whole structure of the world; it was the proof that Jews had mastered the methods of nature.

If a few thousand German Jews had been gassed at the beginning of the war, he maintained, Germany would have won. He believed that Jews typically subjected their victims to starvation and saw the British naval blockade of Germany during (and after) World War I as an application of this method. It was an instance of a permanent condition and the proof of more suffering to come. So long as Jews starved Germans rather than Germans starving whom they pleased, the world was in disequilibrium.

Hitler understood that agricultural science posed a specific threat to the logic of his system. If humans could intervene in nature to create more food without taking more land, his whole system collapsed. He therefore denied the importance of what was happening before his eyes, the science of what was later called the “Green Revolution”: the hybridization of grains, the distribution of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the expansion of irrigation. Even “in the best case,” he insisted, hunger must outstrip crop improvements.

 In Hitler’s world, the law of the jungle was the only law. People were to suppress any inclination to be merciful and were to be as rapacious as they could. For Hitler, nature was the singular, brutal, and overwhelming truth, and the whole history of attempting to think otherwise was an illusion. Carl Schmitt, a leading Nazi legal theorist, explained that politics arose not from history or concepts but from our sense of enmity. Our racial enemies were chosen by nature, and our task was to struggle and kill and die.

Since politics was nature, and nature was struggle, no political thought was possible. This conclusion was an extreme articulation of the nineteenth-century commonplace that human activities could be understood as biology. In the 1880s and 1890s, serious thinkers and popularizers influenced by Charles Darwin’s idea of natural selection proposed that the ancient questions of political thought had been resolved by this breakthrough in zoology. When Hitler was young, an interpretation of Darwin in which competition was identified as a social good influenced all major forms of politics.

Hitler entitled his book Mein Kampf — My Struggle. From those two words through two long volumes and two decades of political life, he was endlessly narcissistic, pitilessly consistent, and exuberantly nihilistic where others were not. The ceaseless strife of races was not an element of life, but its essence.” ~


Darwin actually wrote that cooperation was the major reason why humans became the dominant species. Altruism is actually in harmony with Darwin's thinking: all social species (e.g. wolves, elephants, various primates) manifest it to some degree. 

~ “With movies being seen by 88 million Americans a week in 1937, and by 150 million people throughout the world, Goebbels feared that a powerful anti-Nazi campaign by Hollywood studios could prove disastrous to German ambitions. Consequently, the propaganda minister turned to Georg Gyssling, German general consul in Los Angeles, for help in manipulating the American psyche. Gyssling cajoled, threatened, and did everything in his power to ensure that the Jewish-dominated studios followed Production Code Administration (PCA) regulations and made no film attacking Hitler or his government.

By 1937 the motion picture business reigned as the nation’s fourth largest industry, with over $2 billion in capital investments. Lavishly paid movie industry leaders accounted for 40 of the 63 Americans earning more than $200,000 in 1937. Topping the list was Louis B. Mayer at $1.3 million, making him the highest paid employee in America. The MGM head earned more in salary that year than the entire U.S. Senate combined. As the number of American films shown in Germany steadily dropped from 61 in 1933–34 to 36 in 1936–37, the moguls were forced to deal with Gyssling if they wanted to protect their studios’ bottom lines and their own high salaries.

During his first three years as consul, Gyssling repeatedly used the threat of imposing Article 15, which refused permits for any film deemed “detrimental to German prestige,” to hammer the moguls into compliance. As German military aggression increased after the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Gyssling became even more aggressive with Hollywood, intimidating individual actors and studio employees. When he heard that Malvina Pictures was preparing to release I Was a Captive of Nazi Germany in July 1936, Gyssling contacted the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association and demanded they stop the filming. Based on a true story, the movie recounts the harrowing experience of American journalist Isobel Steele, who was arrested and imprisoned by Nazi authorities on charges of espionage in August 1934. Steele spent four months in solitary confinement at Berlin’s infamous Moabit prison and was deported only after the intervention of the U.S. State Department. Upon her return home, the celebrated journalist wrote numerous stories describing her experiences in Nazi Germany.

When MPPDA officials told Gyssling they had no jurisdiction over independent companies such as Malvina, the consul sent Isobel Steele a letter on German consulate stationery, threatening her for participating “in the making of a film allegedly dealing with certain experiences of yours in Germany.” He warned Steele that if the film were released, any future production in which she might appear would be banned. Similar threats were sent to every cast member, warning that they too would be permanently banned in Germany if they appeared in the film.

Gyssling also summoned the movie’s German actors and actresses to the consulate. Seated at his desk with a massive portrait of Hitler behind him and swastika flags throughout the office, the six-foot-three consul appeared a daunting figure to his nervous visitors. He let the actors know reprisals would be taken against family members living in Germany if they appeared in the film. The movie’s cast took Gyssling’s threats seriously. Following their meeting, a number of actors quit, while others agreed to continue under the condition that their names did not appear in the credits.

When producer Alfred Mannon approached industry censor Joseph Breen about getting the seal of approval needed to book I Was a Captive of Nazi Germany into first-run theaters, the Production Code Administration head agreed with Gyssling and rejected the movie on the grounds that it violated the Code provision “which directs that ‘the history, institutions, prominent people, and citizenry of other nations shall be represented fairly.’” The PCA’s board of directors in New York overruled Breen; however, without a major studio backing it, the film soon disappeared from circulation.

Although he ultimately lost this battle, Gyssling won a larger war by letting Hollywood’s German community know they could not escape the long arm of Adolf Hitler. The PCA might have defied Gyssling, but who would protect their relatives in Germany if actors and actresses dared do likewise?

Gyssling had considerably more success in forcing changes in two major films that promised to be far more critical of the Nazi regime, The Road Back (1937) and Three Comrades (1938). Both were based on novels by German writer Erich Maria Remarque, the fervent anti-Nazi who lived in exile and had published All Quiet on the Western Front in 1929. Hitler hated Remarque’s antiwar novel so much that he banned the author and his books from Germany. Although Three Comrades was released after The Road Back, it was the first of the two productions to catch Georg Gyssling’s attention. Set in late-1920s Germany, the novel told the story of three disillusioned German World War I veterans, Robert, Otto, and Gottfried, fighting to survive in an economically devastated nation. In the film, which is filled with critiques of the German government, the left-wing hero Gottfried is eventually killed in a street clash with Nazi thugs.

Gyssling succeeded in turning Remarque’s anti-Nazi critique into a harmless love story stripped of its dissident political edge. As the opening page of the film’s press book declared, “3 Comrades is not a propaganda picture. The locale might be any large Central European city and the time is the present. It is not political or controversial, and its turbulent scenes could happen in any country.” Americans would learn nothing about the Nazi threat from this film, which was precisely what Gyssling wanted.

The able representative of the Nazi government also fought to depoliticize The Road Back, Remarque’s sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front. The 1931 novel told the story of a shell-shocked squad of German veterans forced to deal with the economic and political chaos of postwar Germany. When Gyssling learned that Universal Pictures was turning the book into a film, he contacted Breen with his usual objections: “It would beyond all doubts lead to controversies and opposition on the part of the German government as the story gives an untrue and distorted picture of the German people.” He urged Breen to use his influence to kill the project.

The final version of The Road Back was a neutered rendering of the polemical novel. As New York Times film critic Frank Nugent complained, “the spirit of the book has been lost, its meaning changed”; the novel’s “tragic impact has been vitiated by a meandering conclusion.” Berlin had little to fear from this production.

Gyssling also achieved a number of smaller victories along the way. After news leaked out that Warner Brothers was planning to make The Life of Emile Zola (1937), a film about Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish officer wrongly convicted by anti-Semitic officials of transmitting French military secrets to the German government in 1894, Gyssling called the studio and spoke to the film’s associate producer. Several days later, Jack Warner ordered several lines cut in which Dreyfus was referred to as a Jew. The word “Jew” was never spoken in the film.

Gyssling’s power over Hollywood was clear. More often than not, the German diplomat succeeded in convincing studios to delete scenes his government would find offensive. The moguls hated Gyssling but understood that the cost of ignoring his demands went far beyond any one film; he had the power to keep their productions out of every theater in the rapidly expanding German empire. Despite their bitterness, most movie executives just shrugged and chalked it up to the cost of doing business.


Let’s detox from this with some beauty:

‘While others were saluting the flag, I saluted the wind.’ ~ Dave Bonta

Wild horses, probably in New Mexico


~ “For three years, I've been monitoring IS's Arabic language media and trends in the way it communicates.

I have never seen the group's propaganda more subdued than it is now.

For months, IS has been putting its all into diverting supporters' attention away from the hemorrhaging territories of the “caliphate".

In the summer of 2015, it was producing more than 200 videos, radio programs, magazines and photo reports each week.

It was also releasing dozens of claims about its military operations every day.

IS wasn't just mindlessly pumping out propaganda - it was manufacturing a brand.

Media officials had a direct line to the caliph himself and pervaded every part of the organization.

They had a hand in everything from military affairs and external terrorism, to irrigation projects and traffic policing.

In many ways, they were making the IS "utopia" really look like a utopia, painting an intense — and, by all accounts, demonstrably false — picture of life in the "caliphate".

Photos and videos depicted giggling children playing freely at funfairs, modern medical care being dispensed to the elderly and infirm, and bags of cash being delivered to the poor and destitute.

Nowadays, IS propagandists can barely get out 20 pieces of media in a week.
And that's not all — their utopian message has almost entirely evaporated.

While they may have been able to churn out a few photographs of grape farming in Egypt and drug policing in Afghanistan in the past few weeks, their output is more stilted now than it has ever been.

These days, the IS brand is all about war.

Its images of children zooming down inflatable slides have been replaced by pictures of teenagers scrambling through trenches and driving bomb-laden vehicles.

The focus is squarely on buoying morale: showing that its fighters are enthusiastically dying in its name is a way to shame those having doubts.

Increasingly, IS seems to be relying on places outside of its heartlands to keep up the propaganda flow: its Sinai and Afghan affiliates have been disproportionately vocal of late.

Second is IS's reduced manpower.

Alongside IS fighters, media operatives have long been in the sights of the coalition and its allies.

Its spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani and information minister Abu Muhammed al-Furqan were killed last year.

Countless other mid- to high-level propaganda officials, cameramen, editors and producers have been targeted by coalition air strikes.

These mounting losses have inevitably had an impact on the operation as a whole.

Third, the internet is not quite the "safe space" it once was.

Whether it is down to coalition cyber-offensives, or self-regulation by internet service providers, IS can no longer use big social-media platforms and file-sharing spaces like it once could.

Propaganda is a litmus test for organizational health, and that its brand has disintegrated in this way does not spell success for the group's insurgent prospects in Syria and Iraq, at least in the short to medium term.

While this is certainly something to be optimistic about, it is not all good news.

IS may be less productive than ever, but the quality and ambition of its propaganda remains head and shoulders above that of its rivals.

Indeed, in spite of the pressures the group is facing on the ground in Syria and Iraq, the trickle of instructional materials on how to plan terror attacks still emerging online could prove extremely dangerous.

Another threat comes from its supporters, who still swap recipes for homemade explosives and handcrafted poison in their droves.

The problem hasn't gone away, it's just changed.

It is far too early to talk about the end of IS — either in Iraq and Syria, or as a "virtual caliphate" — but neither should we ignore the fact that it is reeling.” ~

Isis propaganda used to feature images of happy children at play


To me the fascinating thing is the sameness of it all: the Soviet propaganda trying to create a picture of workers’ paradise, American counter-propaganda relying on images of model kitchens (think of Nixon’s famous “kitchen debate”), and now the Islamic utopia showing happy children, free medical care, and aid to the poor. And, come to think of it, the Nazis too specialized in presenting the Aryan utopia — again centered on the images of happy, well-fed families.

Against this, we’ve had various movements promoting the monastic ideal. Yet even religions with a strong monastic tradition had to acknowledge the importance of the family: after all, new members were needed. But the family is subversive: it’s about individual happiness rather than serving the state or the church. 

But what about our domestic religious fanatics? “They want war in the Middle East. The Battle of Armageddon, at which time Jesus Christ will return to the Earth and vanquish all God’s enemies.” ~ Dr. Diana Butler Bass, theological scholar 

~ “US mission drift is especially tragic because ours was a country born of a liberal vision made most possible by isolation and abundance both of which are no longer possible anywhere. Liberalism is easiest to embrace when you're safe.

It's unlikely that there will ever be another chance for a country to be founded in such isolation and abundance as ours was.” ~ Jeremy Sherman


“I’ll make egrets great again!”

photo: Zsolt Kudich


Oriana Ivy: I think I finally understand the prohibition against saying "Yahweh." If a deity has a personal name — Yahweh, Zeus, Wotan, Marduk, Isis, Osiris, etc — then Yahweh is at the same level as those other gods. The name had to be forbidden, basically erased, and something more abstract substituted, including Ha Shem, which literally means "the name."

Leonard Kress: Right! But even worse — it makes the name of God just another proper noun like Sigmund or Doris. I think the contemporary Jewish G-d makes more sense. There should be an element of strangeness, unapproachableness, distance, mystery, terror, etc. All those things that Rudolf Otto said in The Idea of the Holy.


To my surprise, the word “translation” appeared under Leonard’s post. So I clicked to see how English (apparently not recognized as such by the Facebook computer) would be translated into English.

Right! But even even even even even in even even even — it makes the God of God, like or Doris. I think the contemporary Jewish G-D makes more sense. There is an element of :, unapproachableness, distance, mystery, etc. The those things in the rudolf said that the idea of the idea of the idea.
Automatically Translated


Maybe that’s finally the definition of god we’ve been looking for: “the idea of the idea of the idea.” This we can find in the Gospel according to rudolf (not to be confused with Doris).

photo: Ryan Seek
Charles: Looks like abstract art.

~ “RELIGION TEACHES HELPLESSNESS. Sometimes we don’t recognize the deep relationship between religiosity and resignation. In the most conservative sects of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, women are seen as more virtuous if they let God manage their family planning. Droughts, poverty and cancer get attributed to the will of God rather than bad decisions or bad systems; believers wait for God to solve problems they could solve themselves.” ~ Valerie Tarico, summarizing sociologist Phil Zuckerman

Oriana: I remember my silent rebellion when first told that humans cannot NOT sin; even worse was the teaching that humans are so depraved that they can’t do anything good either, except when empowered by the gift of grace.


The history of religion is fascinating. I've just been reading of the difficult job the priestly editors had trying to stitch Elohim and Yahweh into a single deity — but then every religion we know of had its origin in earlier religions (note the plural).



~ “Most moons in our solar system are tiny relative to the planets they orbit. These planets wouldn’t miss a moon or two if one got knocked out of orbit. But Earth’s moon is relatively large. So Earth without its large nearby moon would be a very different world indeed.

Imagine … no solar or lunar eclipses.

No calendars based on a system of months. The word month, after all, stems from a word that means moon. That’s because many calendars are based on the changing phases of the moon.

With no moon, there’d be no nearby world for astronauts to visit. We might never have begun to venture out into the solar system.

The moon and sun together cause the tides. If we’d never had a moon, we’d still have tides, but they wouldn’t be as strong.

What’s more, the moon has a place in human culture. Imagine no romantic moonlight walks – no concept of moon madness, or lunacy.

But the biggest change – for us humans and for other earthly life – would be in the length of Earth’s day. Without a moon, Earth would spin faster. Our day would be shorter. Why?

It’s because, billions of years ago when Earth was young, our planet spun around on its axis much faster. Our world’s cycle of day and night was less than 10 hours long. The ebb and flow of the tides are what put the brakes on Earth’s spin. So – if you’re imagining Earth with no moon – you have to imagine our day on Earth much shorter than our present-day 24 hours.” ~


~ “While the admonition to control breathing to calm the brain has been around for ages, only recently has science started uncovering how it works. A 2016 study accidentally stumbled upon the neural circuit in the brainstem that seems to play the key role in the breathing-brain control connection.  The circuit is part of what's been called the brain’s “breathing pacemaker” because it can be adjusted by altering breathing rhythm (slow, controlled breathing decreases activity in the circuit; fast, erratic breathing increases activity), which in turn influences emotional states. Exactly how this happens is still being researched, but knowing the pathway exists is a big step forward. Simple controlled breathing exercises like the 4-7-8 method may work by regulating the circuit.

Breathing regulates your blood pressure.

“Take a deep breath” is solid advice, particularly when it comes to keeping your blood pressure from spiking. While it’s unclear whether you can entirely manage blood pressure with controlled breathing, research suggests that slowing your breathing increases “baroreflex sensitivity,” the mechanism that regulates blood pressure via heart rate. Over time, using controlled breathing to lower blood pressure and heart rate may lower risk of stroke and cerebral aneurysm, and generally decreases stress on blood vessels (a big plus for cardiovascular health).

Counting breaths taps into the brain’s emotional control regions.

A recent study showed that controlling breathing by counting breaths influences “neuronal oscillations throughout the brain,” particularly in brain regions related to emotion.  Participants were asked to count how many breaths they took over a two-minute period, which caused them to pay especially focused attention to their breathing.  When they counted correctly, brain activity (monitored by EEG) in regions related to emotion, memory and awareness showed a more organized pattern versus what’s normally experienced during a resting state. The results are preliminary, but add to the argument that controlling breathing taps into something deeper.

The rhythm of your breathing affects memory.

A 2016 study showed for the first time that the rhythm of our breathing generates electrical activity in the brain that influences how well we remember.  The biggest differences were linked to whether the study participants were inhaling or exhaling, and whether they breathed through the nose or mouth.  Inhaling was linked to greater recall of fearful faces, but only when breathing through the nose. Participants were also able to remember certain objects better when inhaling. Researchers think that nasal inhalation triggers greater electrical activity in the amygdala, the brain’s emotional epicenter, which enhances recall of fearful stimuli. Inhaling also seems linked to greater activity in the hippocampus, the seat of memory.

Controlled breathing may boost the immune system and improve energy metabolism.

While this is the most speculative of the study findings on this list, it’s also one of the most exciting.  The study was evaluating the “Relaxation Response” (a term popularized in the 1970s book of the same name by Dr. Herbert Benson, also a co-author of this study), which refers to a method of engaging the parasympathetic nervous system to counteract the nervous system's “fight or flight” response to stress. Controlled breathing triggers a parasympathetic response, according to the theory, and may also improve immune system resiliency as a “downstream health benefit.” The study also found improvements in energy metabolism and more efficient insulin secretion, which results in better blood sugar management. If accurate, the results support the conclusion that controlled breathing isn't only a counterbalance to stress, but also valuable for improving overall health.” ~

photo: Harry Penders

ending on beauty:

Be like the fox.
Make more tracks than necessary — some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

~ Wendell Berry


Khalil Gibran: “We live only to discover Beauty. All else is a form of waiting.”  

Jeremy Sherman: “Happiness is having some kind of work for which you have infinite patience.”

I agree. These are the most striking statements not only in this blog, but perhaps this entire year. And even that is too restrictive. This is deep, timeless wisdom.