Saturday, August 11, 2018


Bosch: Gamblers (detail of the hell section). I like Bosch best when just details of his paintings are presented.



When it's come to that
The end of my life
The glitzy tunnel
The well-lit exit
Let there be a shop where I can
Browse for just a while
The way I've always loved to
The best part of any experience
Being its commemoration
A whole life should be no exception
Relive before lights out
A finger on the switch
Relieve me later
Hold on
Just one more thing
Can we stop here? I always
Say after so much Do Not Touch-ing
I want a plastic Tyrannosaurus pressed in my hand
I want to make my own geodes
Polish pieces of coal
From the backyard and save them all
From the pressure of becoming
String Galapagosian shells in a strand around my neck
I want to make sure this has
Really happened
And is not some other thing
Give me proof
There are some items I need to see first, at last
A memento in my pocket
A key chain of my father's glasses
A postcard of my mother's silver hair
My loves, felt finger puppets in the shape of endangered birds
My friends, each a snow globe
Some astronaut ice cream
To tide me over

~ Cate Peebles, (Boston Review, Summer 2011)


Strikes me as fabulously American, that plastic Tyrannosaurus, the whole idea of a gift shop at the exit.

But it’s not just a jokey poem. It gets poignant:

I want to make sure this has
Really happened
And is not some other thing
Give me proof
There are some items I need to see first, at last
A memento in my pocket
A key chain of my father's glasses
A postcard of my mother's silver hair
My loves, felt finger puppets in the shape of endangered birds
My friends, each a snow globe
Some astronaut ice cream
To tide me over


Love it, the whole idea of souvenirs . . . without intrinsic value, but important as markers that can be kept as reminders of certain times, experiences and events.


But you know, there may be a kind of lesson in the fact that a typical souvenir of the sort sold in those stores is, well, there is no avoiding "negativity" here, a piece of junk . . . A precious memory deserves better — deserves a thoughtful, quality choice of a souvenir — or, and this is probably more common — such a souvenir will emerge on its own, outside of our choice. The best souvenirs are not those we buy, but rather are “found,” like poems.

 An unusual young man who was once at least somewhat in love with me, without return, gave me a lovely green marble (or perhaps actual malachite)
egg. I took it reluctantly. A few years later (now it seems like a few weeks) he died of cancer — and suddenly that egg became precious to me, reminding me of his jokes, his gentle personality, etc. I keep it on a kind of “altar” that I made, look at it with pleasure, and sometimes pick it up just to feel its smoothness. It's become my favorite “souvenir.” 

“I find it incredibly amazing how at every sunset, the sky is a different shade. No cloud is ever in the same place. Each day is a new masterpiece. A new wonder. A new memory.” ~ Sanober Khan

Kirk Ruse: Pele’s Song



~ “President Donald Trump is a symptom of a much larger problem. New research suggests that Trump's supporters are so motivated by racism and bigotry that they may willing to overturn American democracy so that white Christians like themselves can maintain continued power over our society.

~ Looking at Trump and his supporters' authoritarian views and apparent disdain for normal politics and democracy, it does not seem that this situation will end well. 

I do think there's certainly a very strong possibility that it's not going to end well — and that's from the perspective of a German historian. And as a historian, my natural tendency is to always try to stop people from invoking Hitler. In most cases it was not appropriate to make such a comparison. But now, with Trump, my resistance and that of other historians to making that comparison is being overcome.

But there is an important qualifier: History doesn't have to repeat. It doesn't have to look exactly like what happened before. It won't. But if we wait for Trump and this moment to fully become like Hitler and the Nazis, and that is the point at which you start to act, then it is already too late. The unfortunate aspect is that if you set the bar so high in terms of outrage and horror then people all too often let things continue when they could have been stopped earlier. Once it gets to that point it's way too late.

Where I see things going right now with Donald Trump is that if he is not stopped the result will be some form of authoritarian, racially exclusionary democracy. My focus is much less on a particular system, whether he's a fascist or not. It's much more the question of exclusion. Trump and his allies are trying to create a kind of white, Christian, male-dominated national community for their followers. He's drawing the boundaries around that community and excluding all those groups that don't fit in, whether it's the handicapped, immigrants, Muslims, Jews or other groups. Those Americans and others who are not part of Trump's imagined community will be second-class citizens and will have their rights restricted.

~ Trump's rise is a white backlash against Barack Obama and the perception that the United States is going to be a "majority minority" country. No modern democracy has survived a transition where the majority ethnic or racial group surrendered power. Trump's voters are rejecting multiracial democracy and cosmopolitan values. Most of the American news media is unwilling to state these facts.

Part of the problem is also a belief that progress is natural and that it moves in the direction of more freedom and more democracy. It happened slowly in this country. But there is nothing inherited or natural about it. Progress can just as easily slip back. As you pointed out, civil rights for African-Americans — it's only been about 50 years.

If you look at the situation in Germany for Jews, they were technically emancipated in 1871. So when you look at how they had those rights taken from them over a couple of years after 1933, you're talking about 60 years [later]. Things are getting better: Jews are getting more and more rights, Jews are getting more opportunities. more doors are open. Afterwards it got even better for the Jews in Germany, despite the fact that anti-Semitism was on the rise in the 1920s. And yet those rights were taken away.

So you can't get too comfortable. That's one of the things I think people don't necessarily appreciate. It's comforting to think that things always work out for the better over time. Maybe in the very long run that happens, but there are these steps backward, as we are seeing with Donald Trump. We have to fight to keep our democracy, our rights and our freedoms.

~ Part of this denial by many people about the dangers that Donald Trump and his authoritarian fascist movement represent is also a function of the myth of American exceptionalism.

That is a fundamental part of nationalism. If you're a nationalist, you believe your group is special and somehow superior. This means not acknowledging your country's wrongdoing. It means forgetting and playing dumb. Nationalism also means explaining away all the horrible things your country has done that are very similar to the horrible things that all countries have done.

But if you're a nationalist, you can't really acknowledge such things. So when people point them out, you take offense. They're attacking your identity by saying you are not special. And this is why academic history is not popular in certain respects.

~ Which is why piss-poor fantasy history from the likes of Bill O'Reilly is so popular. 

A historian's job is not to make people feel good about themselves. You might write a particular history that has a story to it and it may make people feel good, but that's not the point. Our history will read like the history of Britain and the history of France and the history of Germany and Russia. Countries that have had empires, that have suppressed people and committed unspeakable acts of violence. That's the reality. Should it make you feel bad? It should make you aware of the dangers and want to prevent such things from happening in the future.

~ What do we know about Hitler's rank-and-file supporters, those everyday "good Germans" who either actively or tacitly supported him? Once Trump is gone there will need to be a national reckoning about all of those people, whom history may remember contemptuously as "good Americans.”

Of course Hitler was not elected chancellor before he came to take full control and power. The most he had was 37 percent of the vote in a multiparty system, which means about two-thirds of the country didn't want a Nazi dictatorship. At the same time, if you take all of the people who voted for the Nazis, the Communists and the German nationalists, a significant majority of Germans voted for some kind of dictatorship.

They were certainly not voting for democracy anymore. That was finished. And so the notion that the end of democracy under Hitler came as some kind of surprise to Germany is partly false because most of them didn't want democracy anymore. They were looking for something else. They did not want a Hitler dictatorship, but some kind of authoritarian system was going to happen. It should also be clear that those people who followed Hitler or voted for him did so for different reasons. They were not all vicious anti-Semites. Some voted for him for economic reasons, some voted for him for nationalistic reasons, some voted as a protest. The frightening part, of course, is all those people weren't bothered enough by Hitler's anti-Semitism to not vote for him.

~ Just like in this country with Donald Trump.

Exactly. I can't say that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist. But there was no secret to his beliefs, just as there was no secret to Hitler's. So if you voted for him for some other reason, obviously, again, you were not bothered enough by Trump's racism to prevent you from voting for him. So there's a certain tolerance and acceptance of racism among Trump's voters and supporters.

Hitler became more popular as time went on, because he succeeded in doing things that people wanted. The economy improved -- not necessarily because of his policies, but it did improve. He started to take apart the Treaty of Versailles, which was enormously unpopular, and until 1939 he did it peacefully, which is what most Germans wanted. So the more success he had, the more Hitler was able to win people over. This included people who hadn't voted for him before.

Eventually, during the war, when Hitler's successes became enormous, even people who had opposed him at one point or another started to back him. So Hitler was popular, really, throughout the regime. It's quite remarkable. More so than the party itself and more so than any number of institutions in the party. So it's hard to say, in terms of "good Germans," who they were, because of course it was very difficult to express oneself. You don't know if your neighbor is flying a Nazi flag because they have to or because they really believe it.

Eventually, during the war, when Hitler's successes became enormous, even people who had opposed him at one point or another started to back him. So Hitler was popular, really, throughout the regime. It's quite remarkable. More so than the party itself and more so than any number of institutions in the party. So it's hard to say, in terms of "good Germans," who they were, because of course it was very difficult to express oneself. You don't know if your neighbor is flying a Nazi flag because they have to or because they really believe it.

I do believe, generally speaking, that most Germans were supportive of Hitler. And like what is happening in the U.S. with Trump and immigrants and Muslims and other groups, Hitler was tremendously successful at marginalizing the Jews.

Jews were Germans and many people saw them as such. And in almost six years: pushing them to the margins, removing their rights, removing their citizenship and removing them from the national community, so that by the time of the war what happened to them was much less of a concern to ordinary Germans. If you don't want to ask about what's happening to Jews, you don't have to.

For example, if you aren't necessarily totally anti-Semitic yourself, but there's an auction for Jewish property after the Jews have been deported and now you've got a nice living room table and chairs. You know on the one hand that's a terrible thing. You have just gained at the expense of someone who may have likely died as a result. And so to assuage that, you think to yourself, "They must have done something to deserve this. Innocent people can't get deported.”

~ Continuing the parallels with Trump, there is the common argument that Hitler was viewed as being a fool or an idiotic cartoon character by most Germans, especially elites, even while he and the Nazis were taking over the country. Is this correct?

Certainly earlier on he was seen that way. Outside of a very small circle of extreme nationalists Hitler was not taken seriously at all. German politics until the end of the First World War was still very much a kind of elitist enterprise. The notion that someone like Hitler, who was really a nobody, could play any kind of leadership role was laughable to most middle-class and upper-class Germans. This was true even in the early 1930s as he became a powerful national figure.

The business elites, military officers and some aristocrats who helped him win power did so because they firmly expected to be able to manipulate him. "Who is this guy? We are the natural rulers, and this person has no political experience whatsoever. He has never won an election, he has never held any elected office. We are going to use his popular support for our purposes."

I think there was also a certain degree of belief that after Hitler became chancellor he wasn’t going to last. He was the third chancellor in two years. Things were very unstable. Hitler had no experience, so the idea that he was going to succeed where all these other seasoned politicians and experienced people had failed before led a lot of people — Jews included — to take a “wait and see” approach.

~ As a historian of Germany, what were your thoughts when you first heard about Trump's concentration camps for immigrants, refugees and migrants? Especially the children who are put in very Nazi-sounding "tender care" baby prisons?

They only care about people who are in their group. Therefore, if you make fun of Ivanka Trump you are going to be demonized. But for them, if you make a horrible remark about a disabled child who has been removed from the arms of her mother: "So what?" That person’s mother should never have crossed the border. They are not thinking about that person as a human being. Trump's comments after Charlottesville where he called Nazis and other white supremacists "very fine people" was just another example of this.

With Trump's nationalistic rallies, and all of his language and imagery, he is setting up an environment where violence is possible. No one should be surprised when the violence occurs because we have seen that throughout history. Trump's intentions do not matter.

Once a process of violence and nationalism on a massive scale starts there is very little that can be done by regular people. For example, the only people who could stop Hitler after a certain point were the Russians, the Americans and the British. Individuals could not do it even though they tried.

~ How are people socialized into treating other people so badly? In particular, what of Trump's ICE enforcers who are enthusiastically breaking up families and otherwise dehumanizing and abusing nonwhite people?

You are going to have a certain segment of the population who are already ideologically aligned in that way. They are racist and hostile already. They are ready to go. Unfortunately, ICE seems to be an organization that attracts those kinds of people. In any society, whether they are sociopaths or not, such people need to be ideologically motivated. The problem is you need many more people. Hitler could not have followed through on his plans with just the SS. He had to bring in many other people, conscripts, to take direct roles in the killings.

That’s why it is important to inoculate people against such bigotry, racism and hatred ahead of time. Many ordinary people will do horrible things when told to do so by their leaders and government.

~ What are some things that give you hope? What are some things that scare you and cause you concern and worry?

What gives me hope is the public resistance. I think that awareness is putting some obstacles in Trump's path and has slowed down what otherwise might have been.

The scary part is the enablers and those other people who are in a position to stop Trump or otherwise restrict him but either aren't doing anything or are actually making the situation worse. There are, of course, people in the Republican Party in both houses of Congress who are complete cowards.

Again, Hitler couldn’t do anything without people who helped him ... and those people were not all Nazis.” ~


Many good points, e.g. Hitler was ridiculed at first, but rose to great popularity later. In a more sinister parallel, he was expected to last in office only a short time. I remember the widespread predictions that T would not last a single year. And some still keep predicting that he'll be removed practically tomorrow.

We've already had ample proof that nothing can touch T, not even the clearest proof of treason and Russian mob money laundering that Mueller can provide. T's base love Russia and Putin, and if you presented proof that T was born in Russia and is totally controlled by Russia that might even increase his popularity. These people hate democracy and adore dictators.

We have to come to grips with the new idea that a significant percentage of Americans adore dictators and want a dictator — as long as it’s their guy.

On the other hand, T is a half-wit (possibly demented) next to Hitler's diabolically shrewd machinations (Putin is also obviously quite shrewd; if only we had someone with Nixon’s cunning to face him!) But he's already done some damage, and empowered open racism, Neo-Nazis, etc. Obviously his base adores dictators (maybe they even secretly prefer Putin over T) and, again, would rather have a dictator as long as he's one of them. That a significant percentage of Americans would prefer a dictatorship to democracy was a painful eye opener to me and many others.

On the side of differences: Hitler wasn’t out for personal financial gain, and he wasn’t indifferent to the welfare of ordinary people. For instance, his “strength through joy” (Kraft durch Freude) program offered leisure activities and vacations to millions of workers. The production of the “people’s car” (Volkswagen) also began, with the idea of a truly affordable car. Hitler also began an anti-smoking campaign — truly visionary for the times. (Of course none of this is meant as any kind of “offset” for Hitler’s crimes against humanity.)


(Another point: those who rail against “identity politics” of race and gender often fail to recognize that nationalism is precisely that, as is the extolling of one’s own religion or any other “tribe.” If we evolved that way and it’s very hard for us to overcome that kind of automatic allegiance, we — as humanity — need to acknowledge it and deal with it, not just selectively condemn the kind of tribalism we happen to dislike. And we are all blind and unthinking in some respect.)


The historian' s article was chilling. Sentence after sentence exactly on target. After reading this I can't help but fear it may be too late to escape the worst consequences of our current situation. It was astonishing to see Trump elected. And each day since then has been another shock — the crassness of his language, his disrespect for our allies, and open admiration for our long declared historical enemies — suddenly N Korea and Kim, Russia and Putin, are admired and courted and toadied to, and Canada (Canada!!) is a hostile country. The level of public discourse has devolved to the level of "locker room talk" and the leader of the "free world" speaks puerile nonsense that skirts the edge of psychotic word salad. His acts defy the principles supposedly honored by our laws and constitution. Already young children have been taken from their families and put in cages. This is important — the unacceptable and unthinkable is already happening.

This raises the question — "Is it too late? Have we already lost the chance to stop the process that will end our democracy? Are our liberal coasts doomed to be swallowed by the agrarian, "flyover"  folks, all mad as hell and hell-bent on restoring an idealized version of an America that never existed, was never real, for anyone not born into the privileged white male heterosexual population? Are we like those Germans who felt progressive measures and the general forward movement of society could not suddenly be rescinded, lost, and replaced, that rights could not be revoked for those excluded and maligned as the sinister "other" and that then those excluded could be murdered en masse, by an enormous system designed for killing on an industrial scale?

It is so important to recognize that progress is not ensured, that all the important battles must be fought over and over, especially in any struggle with the privileged. Power and privilege are not willingly surrendered. In fact the enormous rage uncovered in the Trump base, is the rage of those who feel they have been robbed and cheated of what is rightfully theirs, all the privilege due them, that they feel is threatened by the freedom, rights and equality of all the others, the non white, the female, immigrants and refugees, non-Christians, and the poor. They actually feel persecuted by "Black lives matter," and the "me too," movement. As the nation's demographics continue to change, and the white Christian majority becomes the minority, their rage and fear increases, they want to defend their privilege by retaliating and attacking all perceived threats.  And yes, Trump has created a situation where violence is possible, a huge collection of tinder, just waiting for the spark.


My disappointment started with Bill Clinton, who seemed a younger, covert Ronald Reagan — not interested in the common good. Or, if interested (universal health care), rendered powerless by his sex scandals. But at least I didn’t fear for Social Security and Medicare, or the right to a safe abortion. The fundamentalists crazies were a nuisance, not a threat. And the global right-wing movement was still dormant — or so it seemed.

And yet, completely unaware of what was on the horizon, I felt disappointed with Bill Clinton! Talk about the Age of Innocence!

Now with the militarized police so much better equipped to break up demonstrations of those trying to defend human rights — while protecting Nazi parades — it is downright scary. Something IS going to happen. Perhaps the country will break up into smaller regions — at least that would mean the end of foreign wars. But all predictions are off.

What is completely freaky is that the confident predictions of how Trump would be out of office within months — certainly by the end of his first year — did not come true. As in so many authoritarian countries, a small minority can come to power and not let go — the famous checks and balances being easily subverted. Now there seems no end of this nightmare — except for some catastrophe that no one would call a happy ending. 

Can we even imagine a future? Or does the world as we know it simply have to end?


~ “While the majority of her peers embraced the Chicxulub asteroid [named for a crater off Yucatan] as the cause of the extinction, Gerta Keller remained a maligned and, until recently, lonely voice contesting it. She argues that the mass extinction was caused not by a wrong-place-wrong-time asteroid collision but by a series of colossal volcanic eruptions in a part of western India known as the Deccan Traps—a theory that was first proposed in 1978 and then abandoned by all but a small number of scientists. Her research, undertaken with specialists around the world and featured in leading scientific journals, has forced other scientists to take a second look at their data. “Gerta uncovered many things through the years that just don’t sit with the nice, simple impact story that Alvarez put together,” Andrew Kerr, a geochemist at Cardiff University, told me. “She’s made people think about a previously near-uniformly accepted model.”

Understanding the cause of the mass extinction is not an esoteric academic endeavor. Dinosaurs are what paleontologists call “charismatic megafauna”: sexy, sympathetic beasts whose obliteration transfixes pretty much anyone with a pulse. The nature of their downfall, after 135 million years of good living, might offer clues for how we can prevent, or at least delay, our own end. “Without meaning to sound pessimistic,” the geophysicist Vincent Courtillot writes in his book Evolutionary Catastrophes, “I believe the ancient catastrophes whose traces geologists are now exhuming are worthy of our attention, not just for the sake of our culture or our understanding of the zigzaggy path that led to the emergence of our own species, but quite practically to understand how to keep from becoming extinct ourselves.”

Keller and others accuse the impacters of trying to squash deliberation before alternate ideas can get a fair hearing. Though geologists had bickered for 60 years before reaching a consensus on continental drift, Alvarez declared the extinction debate over and done within two years. “That the asteroid hit, and that the impact triggered the extinction of much of the life of the sea … are no longer debatable points,” he said in a 1982 lecture. “Nearly everybody now believes them.” After Alvarez’s death, in 1988, his acolytes took up the fight—most notably his son and collaborator, Walter, and a Dutch geologist named Jan Smit, whom Keller calls a “crazy SOB.”

As Keller has steadily accumulated evidence to undermine the asteroid hypothesis, the animosity between her and the impacters has only intensified. Her critics have no qualms about attacking her in the press: Various scientists told me, on the record, that they consider her “fringe,” “unethical,” “particularly dishonest,” and “a gadfly.” Keller, not to be outdone, called one impacter a “crybaby,” another a “bully,” and a third “the Trump of science.” Put them in a room together, and “it may be World War III,” Andrew Kerr says.

Keller had a promising lead: The Earth’s four prior mass extinctions are each associated with enormous volcanic eruptions that lasted about 1 million years apiece. The fifth extinction, the one that doomed the dinosaurs, occurred just as one of the largest volcanoes in history seethed in the Deccan Traps.

Now she was drafting a new paper showing that the biggest Deccan eruptions—accounting for nearly half of the volcanoes’ explosive output—had been squeezed into the last 60,000 years before the mass extinction. During that time, so much gas, ash, and lava were pumped into the ecosystem that the Earth hit “the point of no return,” she said.

(from Keller’s bio: “She was returning from a picnic near Sydney’s Suicide Cliffs one day when a bank robber, fleeing the scene of the crime, shot her, puncturing her lungs, shattering her ribs, and landing her in intensive care. “Woman Shot ‘for No Reason,’ ” announced a headline in The Sydney Morning Herald. (“She looked dead,” a witness told the paper.) A priest came to administer last rites and, as Keller hovered in and out of consciousness, commanded her to confess her sins. Twice, she refused. “I credit that priest with my survival, because he made me so mad,” Keller told me. The experience also cured her of her death wish.”)

According to Keller’s research, while Deccan’s lava flows would have devastated the Indian subcontinent, its release of ash, toxic elements (mercury, lead), and gases (sulfur, methane, fluorine, chlorine, carbon dioxide) would also have blown around the world, wreaking havoc globally.

As she sees it, the ash, mercury, and lead would have settled over habitats, poisoning creatures and their food supply. The belches of sulfur would have initially cooled the climate, then they would have drenched the Earth in acid rain, ravaging the oceans and destroying vegetation that land animals needed to survive. The combination of carbon dioxide and methane would have eventually raised temperatures on land by as much as 46 degrees Fahrenheit, further acidifying oceans and making them inhospitable to plankton and other forams. Once these microscopic creatures disappear from the base of the food chain, larger marine animals follow. “At that point, extinction is inevitable,” Keller said.

Rocks elsewhere in the world support the sequence of events Keller has discerned in the Deccan Traps. She and her collaborators have found evidence of climate change and skyrocketing mercury levels following the largest eruptions, and other researchers have documented elevated concentrations of sulfur and chlorine consistent with severe pollution by volcanic gases. Keller posits that even the iridium layers could be linked to Deccan’s eruptions, given that volcanic dust can carry high concentrations of the element.

She also sees Deccan’s fingerprints in the fossil record. The gradual decline of the forams—followed by their sudden, dramatic downfall—aligns with Deccan’s pattern of eruptions: Over several hundred thousand years, its volcanic activity stressed the environment, until its largest emissions dealt a final, devastating blow. The Earth’s flora and fauna did not show signs of recovery for more than 500,000 years afterward—a time period that coincides with Deccan’s ongoing belches. The volcano simmered long after most species had vanished, keeping the planet nearly uninhabitable.

Keller fears that we are filling our environment with the same ingredients—sulfur, carbon dioxide, mercury, and more—that killed the dinosaurs and that, left unchecked, will catalyze another mass extinction, this one of our own devising. “You just replace Deccan volcanism’s effect with today’s fossil-fuel burning,” she told me. “It’s exactly the same.”

Keller sees a bleak future when she looks at our present. Oceans are acidifying. The climate is warming. Mercury levels are rising. Countless species are endangered and staring down extinction—much like the gradual, then rapid, downfall of the forams. Whether or not Deccan ultimately caused the mass extinction, its eruptions illuminate how our current environment may react to man-made pollutants. If Deccan was responsible, however, Keller’s theory casts our current actions in a terrifying light. (Not to be outdone, impacters recently highlighted the Chicxulub asteroid’s relevance to the present day in a paper for Science, arguing that the asteroid injected enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to cause 100,000 years of global warming.)

The asteroid theory has ingrained in the public’s imagination the idea that mass extinction will be quick and sensational—that we will go out in a great, momentous ball of fire. Big rock from sky hits the humans, and boom they go. But Keller’s vision of the sixth extinction, given what she sees as its parallels with Deccan volcanism, suggests that the end will be drawn out and difficult to recognize as such within humans’ brief conception of time. “We are living in the middle of a mass extinction today,” Keller told me. “But none of us feel that urgency, or that it really is so.” ~

Chicxulub Crater, buried underneath Yukatan


The asteroid theory of dinosaur extinction is so ingrained in the public imagination that it comes as a shock to learn that a serious competing theory even exists — and there is lots of evidence for it, including the four previous mass extinctions. And it’s awfully unpleasant to consider that humans are now producing the same gases that proved so deadly before.



~ “It’s no surprise that family members paint idyllic pictures of their mobster ancestors. Every mobster was also a father, brother, uncle, or grandfather, and—at least theoretically—his villainy didn’t spill over into those roles. The real question is why so many other people feel the same way. We don’t glamorize all violent crime; no one holds the Son of Sam or Charles Manson in high regard. (It’s hard to imagine their descendants gathering for a celebratory dinner at a steakhouse.) So why are Al Capone, Lansky, Arnold Rothstein, Luciano, and their ilk held up as mythic figures, even heroes of a sort, not just by their families but by the general public? Why are members of the Italian mafia treated more like celebrities than unsavory criminals?

Part of the answer is historical. According to James Finckenauer, an emeritus professor at Rutgers University and the author of “Mafia and Organized Crime: A Beginner’s Guide,” the glamorization of the mob started with Prohibition. In the early years of the twentieth century, mobsters were just small-time operators. Then came the Volstead Act, which outlawed alcohol. “One of the side effects was to solidify organized crime and create a real, international organization out of what was, in essence, small criminal groups,” Finckenauer told me. Because Prohibition was hugely unpopular, the men who stood up to it were heralded as heroes, not criminals. “It was the start of their image as people who can thumb their noses at bad laws and at the establishment,” Finckenauer said. Even when Prohibition was repealed and the services of the bootleggers were no longer required, that initial positive image stuck. Books like Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” communicated the idea that mobsters were men who cared about the happiness of their communities and who lived by their own codes of honor and conduct, impervious to the political whims of the establishment.

The specific immigrant identities of the original mobsters also made them easier to admire. With the significant exceptions of Meyer Lansky and Arnold Rothstein, the original high-profile mafiosos were, by and large, Italians. And, even as late as the nineteen-twenties, Italians and Italian-Americans were often considered “other” by much of the rest of the country. In fact, many people subscribed to what criminologists call the alien conspiracy theory of organized crime—the idea, as Finckenauer puts it, that “Southern Italians came to us with evil intent to create criminal enterprise on our shores.” (Today, Donald Trump advances a similar theory about immigrants from south of the border.) That outsized sense of Italians’ otherness, combined with the idea that the mob’s rigid rules precluded the involvement of outsiders, made mobsters less threatening. “By and large, people are under the impression that if they don’t have any dealings with stuff the mob deals with—no drugs, no borrowing money, no illegal gaming—they have nothing to fear from organized crime,” Finckenauer said. Because their violence seemed directed at their own communities, not anyone else’s, it was easy to romanticize.

Social psychologists have long distinguished between “in-groups” and “out-groups.” Out-groups come in different guises. There are some with whom we feel absolutely no affinity; often, we separate ourselves from them by putting them down. But other out-groups are enough like our in-group that, although their identity remains separate from ours, they seem like less of a threat, It is to this second category that the mafia belongs. People who see themselves as “all-American” can be fascinated by Italian mobsters, and even admire them, without worrying that their lives will come into contact with mobsters’ lives. It’s no coincidence that the other glamorized mob figures in the U.S. are Irish: from “The Departed” to the forthcoming Whitey Bulger bio-pic “Black Mass,” they’re presented as similar enough for sympathy, yet different enough for a false sense of safety to creep in. For reasons of language, culture, and race, members of the Chinese and Russian mob have proven harder to romanticize.

Ultimately, the mob myth depends on psychological distance, a term coined by the New York University psychologist Yaacov Trope to describe the phenomenon of mental distancing that takes place when we separate ourselves from events, people, emotions, or concepts. In some cases, that distance comes naturally. As painful events recede into the past, our perceptions soften; when we physically remove ourselves from emotionally disturbing situations, our emotions cool. 

Once attained, psychological distance allows us to romanticize and feel nostalgia for almost anything. It provides a filter, eliminating some details and emphasizing others. We speak of the good old days, hardly ever of the bad. Psychological distance is, among other things, a coping mechanism: it protects against depression and its close cousin, rumination, which pushes us to dwell too long on unpleasant details from the past instead of moving forward. When, instead, we smooth the edges of the past, remembering it as better than it was, we end up hoping for an equally happy future.

But psychological distance doesn’t require time. Under the right conditions, it can flourish in the moment. The psychological distance provided by “otherness” mimics the distance provided by time. It’s not a phenomenon unique to the mafia. It’s easy to glamorize warfare when there is no draft, or to idealize anyone whose life style seems risky and edgy without putting you, personally, at risk—spies and secret agents, rebels without a cause, the beatniks of Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road.” As long as there isn’t an easy-to-recall, factual reminder that brings us down out of the clouds of romanticism, we can glamorize at will. The lives of serial killers offer those concrete reminders: they lurk in neighborhoods like ours, threatening people who could be us. The mob is more abstract: it’s a shadowy, vague “organization” whose illicit dealings don’t really impinge on us. Abstraction lends itself to psychological distance; specificity kills it.

We grant mobsters dignity because we enjoy contemplating the general principles by which they are supposed to have lived: omertà, standing up to unfair authority, protecting your own. Those principles are what you see and hear when you watch Lansky and Luciano’s golden years reënacted in the “The Making of the Mob,” or when you follow Whitey Bulger’s takeover of Boston in “Black Mass.” In the same way, when Meyer II or Elaine Slott speaks to me about the past, I hear echoes of greatness—of lofty ideals and grand ambition, of important principles that the cold world didn’t always uphold. Because they’re related to him, Lucky Luciano’s familiars see him as a principled man worthy of our admiration instead of a criminal deserving of our disdain. Psychological distance allows us to see him this way, too. It makes us part of the family.

Omertà = code of silence



1. What’s the one quality that everyone must have?

Persistence, perseverance, determination, grit—call it whatever you want.

For centuries, humans have discovered that’s the one quality that separates people who get what they want from the people who don’t.

I’m not even talking about becoming successful. For example, the Stoics strived for achieving tranquility — not financial success or recognition.

But living a tranquil life is hard. And it takes a lot of hard work to achieve a state of tranquility. You see, persistence is what makes that possible.

When you give up without a good reason, you’ll never know how your life could end up.

2. What’s the one book you suggest everyone to read?

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

It’s a book about thinking. Sure, it’s a novel, and it’s about murder. But the book goes so deep that you can’t help but get touched by Dostoyevsky’s writing.

This book needs to be read consecutively. Preferably, you want to read it for at least two hours a day. And don’t read anything else during the time you read this book. You’ll never forget the period that you were reading it.

3. What’s one powerful piece of advice for living a fulfilling life?

Get clear on what you want.

People who always hesitate, can’t make up their mind, and who are all over the place, will be left behind.

Decide what you want. And be firm with your execution. Don’t deviate from the path. For nothing and no one. If others can’t accept that, they are not the right people in your life.

4. What's your one piece of financial advice?

Don’t try to make money.

That’s because of a well-known paradox: He who tries too hard will fail.

When you try hard to make money, you’ll become unethical and focus on the wrong things. When you focus on providing genuine value, you will be rewarded for your help.

But remember that you need money to eat and grow. Don’t act like a charity.

5. What’s one skill that everyone must have?


Not because we write so many texts, emails, and messages. No, writing is thinking.

So when you become a better writer, you’ll also become a better thinker.

How does one become a better writer? By writing more.

6. What’s one thing that you regret starting late or wished you started earlier?


I’m not talking about stocks or real estate. I’m talking about adopting the mindset of an investor.

I never thought of everything you do in life as investing. Working out, reading, taking classes, spending time with people who matter to you — it’s all investing because these activities have a return.

Buying a fancy car, going to restaurants multiple times a week, mindless online shopping—these are things that have little to no return.

7. What’s one thing you learned the hard way?

Doing something is different than reading about it.

Sometimes you read about something that sounds nice. Starting a business, moving to a specific country, working remotely, etc.

I always read and heard stories about how great it is to live in London. Then, I actually did it. And then, I found that many people in the city struggled to pay rent, started relationships only because they could save on their living expenses, and kept doing useless shit so they didn’t feel depressed.

Of course, this is not true for everyone in big cities. But it’s the way many people my age live. And that’s something none of them will admit.

8. What’s one thing that should never be forgotten?

You’re never alone.

Life gets hard sometimes. And for some of us, our natural instinct is to solve everything by ourselves.

Don’t do that. No one in the history of mankind became happy or successful without help. Realize that you’re not alone.

Seek out people who share the same values as you. Become friends. They will help you when the time is right. And vice versa.

9. What’s one thing we must not think twice on spending?

This is obvious, but my answer is “books”.

A few years ago, I acted like a cheapskate when it came to books.

I remember picking up Antifragile by Nassim Taleb in a bookstore once. I decided I couldn’t spend 10 bucks on that book. I probably went to a Starbucks after that to drop $5 on a fancy drink.

Anyway, I recently bought Antifragile. It made a big impact on my thinking.

I was an idiot for not buying/reading that book earlier. Do yourself a favor, if you see a book that might help you—buy it.

10. What’s your definition of life in 50 words?

No one knows what they are doing.

That’s life in 7 words. And it’s something I truly believe in. It’s what keeps me sane.

In the past, I always believed that everybody had it more figured out than me. But it turns out that no one has definite answers to the biggest challenges in life.

Why are we here? What’s the meaning of life? What should you do?

No one knows. We can all guess! And that’s what a lot of people do. I’m the same. However, we must know that everyone you see around you is no different from you.

That means we’re all the same. We’re trying to figure things out. That’s precisely what this article was about.

Drosera capensis: Cape sundew, a carnivorous plant


I like the last answer best. It rejects the absolutism of some of the previous answers. Life is too complex to know what we’re doing. We can’t even predict the weather with perfect accuracy (too many variables), much less life. So we might as well not be so hard on ourselves and others. We improvise. We muddle through. We do whatever it takes to survive. Sometimes it’s drugs and alcohol — perhaps that’s the only way a person can survive a particular situation. “When I had to live on coffee and alcohol, I lived on coffee and alcohol,” Milosz states in one of his poems (I forget which one, and I’ve forgotten all the other lines). Once you’ve lived and suffered long enough, you begin to understand just how hard life is, and how everyone — everyone — deserves at least some degree of compassion.

Writing — Nietzsche put it best: “To improve your style means to improve your thinking.” But is it the most important skill? I’d hesitate to put it in such absolute terms. “Intelligent empathy” or simply even “listening” are higher on my list.

Interesting that Darius chose Crime and Punishment. It’s a novel that haunts you. For me the greatest surprise and also the greatest lesson was the unintended killing of the pawnbroker’s sister. You may have the most perfect rationale even for murder — but there will be unintended consequences, and more victims, more evil.

But how are we to know what we “really” want? As Lawrence Durell put it, “Each psyche is really an anthill of opposing predispositions.” And so much depends on the stage of life. But choosing something — anything — and sticking to it is probably a lot better than trying too many things at once. “Get good at something, anything” — that would be my answer — perhaps the only absolute I’d defend, though probably even here exceptions could be found. So much depends on the circumstances.

I agree about investing in the broad sense. One of my regrets is not having gone to a certain poetry conference. Yes, it was expensive, but it would have been a memorable experience and a chance to interact with a poet I greatly admired. I realize that perhaps it would have been a disappointment — but if so, an interesting disappointment. “For a writer, even the bad is good.” Absolutely. Invest in experiences. (And yet, there are times when nothing is the best thing to do.)

In a minor vein, I remember  how much I enjoyed an exhibition of paintings by Georges Innes, and the delight I felt browsing through the book on Innes at the museum gift shop, reliving the pleasure of the paintings again. But, out of habit, I skipped buying the book, and instead ordered a used copy from Amazon. The pages were faded and bent; the whole book was shabby. Well, a “learning experience.”

“You are never alone.” Sometimes you are better off NOT asking for help. Most people don’t mean to be toxic and hurtful rather than helpful, but unwittingly even well-meaning friends may become just that. What I’ve learned instead is trusting my unconscious. Stop thrashing around and the answers will come.


I have a problem with books like Antifragile — they imply agreement with Nietzsche’s “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” I have found this to be a harmful falsehood, delaying my understanding of how trauma generally weakens us and makes us more vulnerable. Because of painful life history, now a relatively minor stress can throw a person into suicidal despair. As a friend once put it, “a traffic jam is an A bomb going off.” There you are, sobbing uncontrollably at the wheel.

No, we don’t become stronger in broken places — scar tissue is not stronger than healthy tissue. Adverse effects of misfortune are life-long — or, as a friend put it (very few people understand this), life simply isn’t long enough for us to recover from serious wounds. Studies do show this. True, there are lessons we can learn, and something good CAN indeed come from something bad — but don’t count on it. You will not escape suffering, and suffering is NOT good for you.

Sure, you need to develop skills on how to deal with inevitable disappointments and all kinds of badness that life is bound to throw at you. But there is no need to worry about too few challenges ahead. The real worry is that we may not get the kind of compassionate listening — or compassionate silence — that we most need when adversity hits.

There are a lot of apologists for suffering out there — a lot of people who’ve been brainwashed to believe that suffering is GOOD for you — which then implies that it’s not so bad to inflict suffering on others, especially children — it toughens them, right? It “develops character”? That’s why I keep returning to this theme. We could in fact prevent a lot of suffering, but lack the will — usually not because we are innately evil, but because we lack understanding and have been fed falsehoods, often by those who want to preserve their power but also by other victims who desperately try to “look on the bright side.”


Overall, there is indeed wisdom in these answers. The problem is that they sound too absolute. Don’t trust absolutes — they don’t hold in the face of life’s complexity.


Coming up in the next blog: Seek to be useful, not happy — also from Darius. Because even approximate answers can be useful. Absolutely.

Cape Disappointment State Park, WA; Eric Klemm


Asher Susser: ~ “Western societies see themselves as societies of individuals. The rights of the individual are at the core of political debate, guaranteed by the state. People organize politically as individuals.

[In the Middle East, you] belong to a group—that is, your family, your extended family, your tribe, and perhaps above all else, your religious denomination. So, you are first and foremost a Muslim, or a Jew, or a Christian—and some kind of Christian at that, either Maronite, or Greek Orthodox, or Greek Catholic; and these differences matter.

Why do we keep getting this wrong? Well, in the West, one unfortunate by-product of Edward Said’s influence is the unwillingness to recognize the otherness of the “Other.” . . . [W]hen [someone] from the U.S. and other Western states looks at the Middle East, he or she explains Middle Easterners not as Other, but as [just like] us! That’s why we got this whole story about Facebook and Twitter during the Arab Spring. It was a way of saying, “They’re just like we are!”

Westerners saw Facebook and Twitter, but didn’t see the Muslim Brotherhood. . . . And then the commentators were shocked when the Muslim Brotherhood walked all over everybody. But they were obviously going to walk all over everybody! The only people who are going to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from walking all over everybody is the military—not the secular liberals. The secular liberals, to kick the Muslim Brotherhood out of power in Egypt, had to use the military—nobody else could do it.” ~

“It is difficult at times to repress the thought that history is about as instructive as an abattoir.” ~ Seamus Heaney


“We want to be necessary, inevitable, preordained since eternity. All the religions, almost all the philosophies, even a part of science, bear witness to the heroic, indefatigable effort of mankind to deny in despair its own contingency.” ~ Jacques Monod, a Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist. “Contingency” is best understood as “accidental nature.” “The first scientific postulate is the objectivity of nature: nature does not have any intention or goal.”

From Wikipedia: [Monod] was also a proponent of the view that life on earth arose by freak chemical accident and was unlikely to be duplicated even in the vast universe. "Man at last knows he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he has emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor is his duty.”

But this seems to ignore the social context of human existence. No one is just an isolated individual. We derive the meaning of our life from the ways we touch the lives of others. Society definitely prescribes duties and complex rules, with penalties for those who’d break them. The duties and rules evolve over time. Our destiny? Definitely nothing ordained once and for all. Perhaps the most comprehensive answer here is that our destiny is simply to be a member of humanity (and that's not a small thing; that is magnificent). A multitude of factors determine the kind and degree of our contribution.

Also, the longer I live, the more I value affection, plain and simple. A smile. It’s affection, even the promiscuous smiling at strangers that at first so bothered me about Americans, back when I was in my teens, that takes away the bleakness of the secular view. It’s affection and personal warmth that transform atheism into humanism. Affection affirms the value of another. Cosmically we are a speck of dust, but we matter to each other. For me, that is enough.

And yes, it's our ability to see faces in things. For a moment I distinctly saw a German shepherd-like dog looking at me from the nebula! And I love it that the brain works that way, finding not just pattern, but something to love.

No real gentleman will tell the naked truth in the presence of ladies. ~ Mark Twain, A Double-Barreled Detective Story


~ “Teens' experiences with sex are changing, and the news is almost all good, says Kathleen Ethier, director of CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health.

"Fewer are initiating sex," Ethier says, "fewer are currently sexually active, they're having fewer partners, and they're using more effective hormonal birth control methods."

In 2007, nearly 48 percent of teens said they'd had sex at least once. A decade later, it's 39.5 percent. One change in the data that Ethier's not happy about is a recent decline in condom use.

In 2007, 61.5 percent of teens said they'd used a condom during their last sexual encounter. By last year, that rate had dropped to 53.8 percent. Ethier says this is due, at least in part, to "a decrease over time in requirements that school cover HIV and [sexually transmitted diseases] in health education programs."

According to the report, young people aged 15-24 account for half of the roughly 20 million new STDs reported each year.

One more red flag, Ethier says: More than one in 10 young women (11.3 percent) reported being forced to have sex.

When it comes to illicit drugs — like cocaine and heroin — teen use is way down, from 22.6 percent in 2007 to 14 percent in 2017.

For the first time, though, the survey also asked teens if they have ever misused prescription opioids. Fourteen percent said they had.


The survey also asked high-schoolers about bullying and violence at school. One in 5 said they'd been bullied at school. Fifteen percent said they'd been bullied electronically.

The rate of students who said they'd been threatened or injured with a weapon at school has dropped significantly in the past decade. But students of color are still far more likely than white students to say they missed school because of safety concerns at school or in their communities.

Mental Health

Roughly a third of teens surveyed said they'd experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

The news is even worse for students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Nearly two-thirds reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

In fact, in every category, LGB teens were at higher risk than their heterosexual classmates. They were twice as likely to report being bullied in school or electronically, three times as likely to seriously consider suicide and four times as likely to attempt suicide.

"It's shocking and alarming and tells us that things are terribly wrong," says Ellen Kahn, director of the Children, Youth & Families program at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. "We seriously need to address this."

Kahn says these data are a stark reminder of the lack of protections at the federal, state, district and school level for LGB teens and of why, she says, these protections are so sorely needed.


“Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly.” ~ Toni Morrison

To love another is something like prayer
and it can't be planned, you just fall into its arms
because your belief undoes your disbelief.

~ Anne Sexton

Grettis Skogafoss, Iceland



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

Shia-Sunni Battle


ending on beauty:

‘And yet there is music in me’: In the asylum
at Arles, Van Gogh wrote to his brother
the only words he could muster
for the fire that had overwhelmed his life.
And then he wandered out to remake the stars.

Joseph Fasano, Grace

Van Gogh: Cafe Terrace at Arles

Saturday, August 4, 2018


Dali: Marilyn-Mao, 1972, self-portrait with photomontage by Philippe Halsman


We woke in the dusk, the sun
an alien disk of glowing mauve,
the sky bleeding its last blue.
Ashes fell like snowflakes.

In satellite photos, horns of smoke
rose from the burning California coast.
Yet it wasn’t the aerial panorama,
but a single glance that leapt

like a lion at my throat.
I looked out the window, saw
flames like bodies, crimson-gold,
soaring then dipping, dancing

their way up the long hill
seven miles from my house.
As if it were being sung
in triumphant tongues:

a hymn to all the afternoons
a woman looks out the window
on a rose-bush and the hills,
idle dove-like clouds —

then the red dancing
with devouring gold —
As if life were being told
in non-human speech:

a story of how innocence
dies — oh dragon luck,
oh savior lake —
for the sake of a greater story.

~ Oriana

The shock of seeing “live” flames so close to one’s house is beyond words. It was my personal, small-scale 9/11 — you never feel as fully secure afterwards. Real-estate developed hired private fire-fighters who used the city water to wet down the new buildings that were closer to the fire — that caused a certain scandal too. But the people around me didn’t share my indignation: they said the real-estate developers could spend their money any way they saw fit. Furthermore, they said, those private fire-fighters were there to save *only* those buildings they were paid to save, and had no moral obligation to save a building next door, should it catch on fire. Nor were they obliged to turn off the water so that the municipal fire fighters would have adequate water pressure (fortunately no actual show-down occurred).

That poem goes back to October 2003 — our first great fire storm. We thought that was once in a lifetime. Then the following year, approximately on the anniversary, another great fire, though it didn’t come as close to the house. Then a blessed break, at least near my area, until 2007, when the fires consumed an area the size of Rhode Island. And now the fire season is year-round, and no one bothers with comparisons to Rhode Island.

Ah, innocence — back in 2003, we still thought we’d witnessed an exception. Instead, fire storms, or megafires, were about to become the new normal. 

fire at Clear Lake, California, 8-1-18; Tricia Bayman


~ “We have entered the era of the megafire—defined as a wildfire that burns more than 100,000 acres.

In early July 2018, there were twenty-nine large uncontained fires burning across the United States. “We shouldn’t be seeing this type of fire behavior this early in the year,” Chris Anthony, a division chief at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told The New York Times.

Nonnative species can also be a fire risk when they are deliberately introduced. Portugal has been tormented by wildfires, including an inferno last summer that killed more than sixty people, partly because of the flammability of eucalyptus, which is native to Australia and has become the mainstay of the national wood industry, transforming the Portuguese countryside, according to an environmental engineer who spoke to The New York Times, “from a pretty diverse forest into a big eucalyptus monoculture.”

In the United States, exurban and rural property development in the wildland-urban interface has been, perhaps, the final straw—or at least another lighted match tossed on the pile. Most wildfires that threaten or damage communities are caused by humans. Campfires, barbecues, sparks from chainsaws, lawnmowers, power lines, cars, motorcycles, cigarettes—the modes of inadvertent ignition in a bone-dry landscape are effectively limitless. Let’s say nothing of arson. Houses and other structures become wildfire fuel, and vulnerable communities hugely complicate forest management and disaster planning. In his panoramic 2017 book Megafire, the journalist (and former firefighter) Michael Kodas observes pithily that “during the century in which the nation attempted to exclude fire from forests, they filled with homes.”

. . . The Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the globe. We’ve become accustomed to seeing that tragedy dramatized by starving polar bears, the accelerating retreat of glaciers and sea ice, and the thawing of permafrost. Wildfires driving polar bears from their dens is something new, though, at least to me. But the size, frequency, range, and intensity of wildfires in Alaska and northern Canada have increased far more rapidly than in lower, more populated latitudes. Megafires have become every-year events up north. Soot and ash from these northern fires is blackening glaciers and the Greenland ice cap, causing them to melt at an even faster rate.

Boreal forests store enormous amounts of carbon that megafires release, to the detriment of the global environment. High-latitude peatlands store carbon that is released by tundra fires. Peat also stores vast amounts of mercury, which fire releases into the atmosphere. The lower edge of the stratosphere is significantly lower at high latitudes, and the fire clouds created by northern megafires—known as pyrocumulus, meteorological freaks that create their own weather, pouring lightning and embers back down on the ground—can also propel smoke upward, directly into the stratosphere, “where it becomes a global problem,” Struzik writes. The smoke from Canadian fires has been found to travel around the entire globe more than once. Some major fires burn so hot that the soil is sterilized, and forests cannot even begin to regenerate.

Then there’s Russia, which has the world’s largest boreal forest and is already suffering more tree loss from fire than any other country. The planet’s biggest carbon stores threaten to become carbon sources, supercharging global warming. The deliberate illegal burning of enormous tracts of Amazon rainforest—more than 100,000 fires were detected by satellites in Brazil in September 2017—is the greatest example of this threat. Indonesian peat fires, also illegal and done for agricultural land clearing, cover much of Southeast Asia in toxic haze for several months a year and triple Indonesia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Now we can add boreal forest megafires and increasingly flammable tundra to the list of not-quite-natural disasters darkening our planetary future.” ~

Current California fires from the Space Station


The age of innocence lasted as long as we expected the future to be always better than the past — in practically every way. We felt sorry for those who died before seeing the wonders of the Internet and other high-tech magic. I personally felt sorry for myself for having been born too early, with not enough lifetime left to see the many advances that were certain to come. Once the threat of another world war receded, no one thought that humanity’s very survival was at stake again — in a very different manner.

Now I came to appreciate a phrase that was not uncommon in Poland after WW2: “He died just at the right time.” It was spoken of those who died in 1937, 1938, or even in 1939 — as long as it was before September 1. Those were the lucky ones, spared the horror of the Nazi invasion — just as later those who died on the train, during the transport to a concentration camp, were called  the lucky ones.

These are heavy-hearted meditations. The age of innocence already seems a distant past.

Is there any hope? Having witnessed how the toxic soup of LA smog got cleaned up gives me *some* hope. Seeing teams of young people clean the beaches of litter is no small thing either —  it’s wonderful to see the young empowered to care for the earth. Neighbors installing solar? I'm next.

Too little too late? Perhaps. But better than nothing.



~ “Trump's lies and reversals are not due to mental illness but because he reacts to people and situations in the moment, with no thought of future or past.

When Trump is in the presence of someone he dislikes or distrusts, he attacks and  will continue to lash out for a while, but not necessarily forever. When someone he perceives as a threat becomes deferential (Rocket Man, for example), Trump not only stops attacking, he also  becomes highly vulnerable to influence.

In general, when Trump is around someone whom he perceives as supportive, or when he gets a phone call from a supportive billionaire, or when he hears a supportive commentator on Fox News, his thinking is rapidly influenced by what that person is saying. This is “sympathetic audience control.” With Trump, the impact is so strong that it persists after the person is gone — maybe even until another sympathetic individual comes along.

When Trump is in front of a large group of cheering people, his thinking is fully controlled by the crowd. It might seem he’s in control, but the opposite is actually the case. The supportive audience completely dominates his thinking, causing him to repeat, over and over, things he believes the audience wants to hear.

We need to add just one more element here to make sense of Trump’s roller coaster mind: Like my 92-year-old mom, Trump lives in a very small window of time, and no, I don’t mean he lives “in the moment” in that healthy, New-Age-y sort of way. I mean he has trouble looking backwards or forwards in time.

Sympathetic audience control and a small time window produce most of the odd cognitive glitches we see in our president. Moment to moment, he either sees a foe and shoots, or he sees a friend and is influenced. In that kind of perceptual world, Trump inevitably — and without shame or even awareness — shifts his views frequently, sometimes multiple times a day.

Not only do his views shift, he also has no trouble denying, entirely without guile, in my view, what he said yesterday. All that’s shiny and real to him is what friends or foes are saying inside those small time windows. Everything else is fuzzy, and that’s why he can so easily tell so many lies. From his perspective, lying has no meaning. Only reacting has meaning. Trump reacts.

Trump is capable of only a minimal level of analytical or critical thinking. Perhaps more alarming, our president doesn’t believe in anything and he rarely, if ever, means anything he says. The impulsive tweets, the conservative court appointments, the unfunded tax cuts, the obsession with a wall, the swipes at immigrants — all are byproducts (dross, if you will) of sympathetic audience control operating in small time windows. There are no principles operating here, just gusts of wind.

And if I’m right, Trump will continue to function this way — blindly, erratically and reactively, without principle or direction — for the rest of his life.”


As Epstein points out, we are all influenced by our audience. We speak cautiously and deferentially to a police officer, and relax around a trusted friend. We may tell a story one way to our parents, and a different way to our romantic partner.But for a typical person this “audience control” is only a minor aspect of their daily life. Trump is unusual in that audience control appears to be a dominant factor.

This is just one of the many ways that psychologists have tried to explain Trump’s chaotic behavior. Having watched Trump’s early interviews from the 1990s, I can’t help but note the sharp mental decline and thus am more inclined to see early dementia. But unusual susceptibility to audience control also has considerable explanatory power.



~ if it comes at all. It seems that nothing in life happens the way we were expecting it to happen. I guess it’s like a writer preparing an elaborate plot of a novel, and then the “characters become alive and take over — start saying and doing things not in the original plan.” And that’s just a novel — and all we need to know is that writing comes from the unconscious — of course we don’t control it! Life comes from everywhere (including “out of the blue”), wild, unpredictable, wonderfully or shockingly surprising. 

“When the student is ready, the teacher will come” — never happened to me — unless I start thinking in terms of a “different form.” Then the encounter with the poetry of Rilke could be said to have been that teacher. Otherwise, waiting for a mentor has been in the same category as “one day my Prince will come.”

And now I'm dealing with the knee replacement surgery not having turned out to be the way I expected. This is not minor, since it’s about the ability to walk and the long-awaited freedom from chronic pain — and that “last dance” that life was supposed to become. So, it won’t be a dance — or else it will be something I recognize as a dance only later, musing about the strangeness of it all. At least I finally know better than to try to predict. But the brain never rests, and parallel lives happen inside our head like parallel universes.

So, this constant annihilation of the imagined future . . . with something entirely different emerging instead. This should make Buddhists of us all, free of expectations, living in the present . . . I wonder if we ever achieve such purity.


The first half of life is particularly charged with “waiting for life to happen.” Rilke has an unusual poem called “Remembrance.” The first stanza describes this waiting:

And you wait, keep waiting for that one thing
which would infinitely enrich your life:
the powerful, the unique and uncommon,
the awakening of sleeping stones —
depths that would reveal you to yourself.

And then the speaker learns that the “one thing” has already happened — but it was several things — love, travel, work — life itself has happened while we were ostensibly living it, but in some depths still waiting for our “real life.”

Henry James has an unforgettable short story, The Beast in the Jungle. Here is the Wiki summary: ~ “John Marcher, the protagonist, is reacquainted with May Bartram, a woman he knew ten years earlier, who remembers his odd secret: Marcher is seized with the belief that his life is to be defined by some catastrophic or spectacular event, lying in wait for him like a "beast in the jungle." May decides to buy a house in London with the money she inherited from a great aunt, and to spend her days with Marcher, curiously awaiting what fate has in store for him. Marcher is a hopeless fatalist, who believes that he is precluded from marrying so that he does not subject his wife to his "spectacular fate".

He takes May to the theater and invites her to an occasional dinner, but does not allow her to get close to him. As he sits idly by and allows the best years of his life to pass, he takes May down as well, until the denouement where he learns that the great misfortune of his life was to throw it away, and to ignore the love of a good woman, based upon his preposterous sense of foreboding.

Marcher may appear so eccentric and unrealistic in his obsession that his fate could seem irrelevant and unconvincing. However, many critics and ordinary readers have found that his tragedy only dramatizes, with heightened effect, a common longing for an exalting experience that will redeem an otherwise humdrum existence, although most individuals will not endure anything like Marcher's final revelation at May's graveside.

The story has been read as a confession or parable about James' own life. He never married and possibly never experienced a consummated sexual relationship. Although he did enjoy a thorough experience of aesthetic creativity, it is possible that he still regretted what he called the "essential loneliness" of his life. This biographical relevance adds another level of meaning to "The Beast in the Jungle.” ~


Henry James, charcoal, John Singer Sargent, 1913


We tend to see ourselves always as living a narrative, our lives a journey through time. We have a past because we remember, and a future because we dream. Sometimes we get so caught up in ambition or regret we lose all sense of the present, and miss out on experiencing the richness of life as we are living it.

The story of the Henry James character who wastes his life waiting for some big future calamity, only to realize too late that his waiting was the calamity he feared, reminds me of one of my favorite novels, Dickens’s Great Expectations. The irony is that Pip's vision of his future as a monied “gentleman” is based on his assumptions that future will be a gift from Miss Havisham — who has immured herself in a never-ending single moment of betrayal in her past. She has stopped her clocks, still wears that wedding dress, still has the great “bride cake” waiting to be cut for celebrants long gone. She refuses to recognize time's passing, refuses to imagine a future. In her house, her body and her mind, all is ruin and decay. And because Pip believes in this imagined gift of a future, he does nothing but waste what he has, makes no preparations, works toward nothing, and refuses the good and honest connections he does have, culminating in his embarrassment for the kindest and most loving person he ever knew, Joe the blacksmith, who was his friend and protector from the early days of his youth.

The events that disabuse him of these false expectations, revealing his benefactor was not the mummified Miss Havisham, never full of anything but spite, but Magwitch the criminal he brought food to in the earliest scenes of the novel, come as both a disaster and salvation. A disaster because of the collapse of his dream of a future, salvation because that collapse also returns him to himself, a human being loved and loving, determined to be not cold and selfish but kind and generous. Not a tragedy of waste, like the James' story, but a redemptive story of recovery, of becoming more in a future unexpected, and better, than the one imagined. Pip will not be rich in anything but kindness, compassion, and humanity — still a bad fit for the cold Estella, despite the happy ending Dickens added later.

The lesson seems to be “take care in how you dream your future” — it is sure to be something far stranger than you imagine . . .  and, if your focus is always on that undependable prize, you will miss all the joys and riches, and all the lessons, being lived in the present.

We are as bad at seeing the future as we are at accurately remembering the past.
We are our own storytellers and our own myth makers, and in all of that, errors abound.

I have always shied away from thinking about the future. Never had any strong ambitions, never made many plans. And yet I feel I have lived very fully.



Ah, Miss Havisham! The first time I ever read a bit of Dickens in English, during my English lessons, was the chapter introducing Miss Havisham sitting in her wedding  dress at the table set for the wedding banquet, the cake moldy, everything dusty and decayed. What an unforgettable image of a disappointed bride at a grotesque extreme.

Much later, in college, I did read the entire novel, but neither Pip nor Estella (except for her training to break hearts) interested me — only, again, Miss Havisham. I didn’t yet know that I would to some extent become like her through my depressive brooding. And that had a lot to do with disappointed ambition, the future “stolen from me” — as if I had a right to a certain kind of future! As if life hadn’t already repeatedly and unsubtly shown me that nothing turns out the way we expected, and very few people get what they want — sometimes to their sorrow (“More tears are shed over answered prayers” ~ Teresa of Avila).

And most recently the surgery that “promised” to make me fully able-bodied — as if I never learned a thing. But the advantage now is that I can pull out of the low quickly, and switch the mental tracks to how I can best cope with whatever reality turns out to be. At least I’ve learned that much. I suspect that most people can’t help but form rosy expectations: it’s on automatic. We are wired that way. Sometimes we don’t even know we had those expectations until they crash.

I think you were very lucky not to have had strong ambitions. Unfortunately the whole culture encourages “great expectations.” Our parents form expectations of how we should turn out, adding to the burden. We must forgive them — it’s only human. And we must forgive ourselves for having ignored the red flags, the blatant truths, the constant lessons of the “best-laid plans of mice and men.” Slowly, slowly, we manage to learn “disappointment management.”

And once in a great while, reality turns out better than we expected. That too must be admitted, though I suspect the balance is negative for most people. Fortunately one of the great lessons is to count one’s blessings rather than one’s misfortunes and mistakes. Otherwise we run the risk of turning into Miss Havisham.

“When we fall in love, we feel super-important because we are able to reveal who we really are, giving a glimpse of our soul’s genius. The meeting between lovers is a meeting of images, an exchange of imaginations. You are in love because your imagination is on fire.”

(oops, I lost the source, but it’s probably James Hillman — it’s his typical language: he was a devout Jungian image-imagination person)

Not that I think a “soul’s genius” is a fixed set of images. It’s fluid, different at twenty than at forty. But who hasn’t noticed how each lover brings out an aspect of ourselves we were perhaps hardly even aware of? And who hasn’t felt at least somewhat alarmed by seeing a lover form an image of us that we feel is idealized, slanted toward his or her needs — and yet fascinating? And there are those special moments that become the unforgettable details of the love story. If we happen to be poets and writers, those are the “eternal moments” (as Milosz called them) that we’ll write about. Akhmatova is especially good at recording them, and has justly been called the great poet of love.

Chagall, Three Candles

“When you're a kid you figure everything is a sin because that's what you're told. As you age, you realize that most of that sin talk was just crazy. The folks who see the world as a sinful landscape haven't grown up.” ~ John Guzlowski


At some point in adulthood — I was well over twenty, possibly already over thirty — I finally realized that I haven’t done anything terribly wicked in my life. I mean yes, of course at times I’ve mis-stepped and hurt others, mostly out of ignorance and immaturity, without meaning to — but anything for which I’d be sentenced in a court of law, no. If I'm forgetting something, then perhaps some deed for which I’d get community service (which in the past I would have welcomed, since I suffered from a sense of not being useful enough). But nothing that would merit a prison sentence, much less the death penalty, and much much less eternal damnation.

And yet the power of early indoctrination is so great that I’d have brief but multiple anxiety attacks over the certainty of going to hell (well, non-belief was supposedly enough, but not having a perfect marriage worried me also) and recurrent nightmare about hell (those at least were interesting).

(I was told that this sign referred to a girl kissing a girl. The funny thing is, when I was growing up, only kissing a boy was a sin — priests and nuns were emphatic about that. Girls were allowed to kiss other girls, mostly on the cheek — but an occasional quick kiss on the mouth didn’t bother anyone. Girls who did that were called “heart friends.”)

Ta Prohm, Cambodia; John Fischer
The brain works in mysterious ways. After seeing this image, I googled the man who was the great love of my youth. I used to shiver and tremble if I just heard his voice in the hallway, in the distance. A teenage-like intensity, I know, though I was in my late twenties, which used to be known as the "Saturn return" — a time of great suffering, to which he certainly greatly contributed. It seems like another lifetime. I think we go through several lifetimes right in this life.

And whatever happened to the term "Saturn return"? I haven't heard it in ages. I think "shit happens" took over entirely. More accurate, but devoid of poetry.

 I'm so happy that this is no longer true for me! But sunsets have remained.

Malibu Pier, California


“When marrying, ask yourself this question: Do you believe that you will be able to converse well with this person into your old age? Everything else in marriage is transitory.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
My parents had that kind of marriage. Today (August 4) would be my mother's birthday. Since she liked to celebrate her birthday by climbing Mt. Whitney, here she is in her seventies.

“Poetic language. The more we practice it, the more we discover how thinking in poetry is actually the closest thing we have to enlightenment. Poetic consciousness is the deepest, fullest form of consciousness there is. The longer we practice it, like a yoga, the more we uncover about ourselves, our identity as children of the cosmos, or of God. Whatever you want to call it.” ~ Li-Young Lee, interview in Los Angeles Review of Books

Whitman’s “cosmic self” is perhaps Exhibit A here. Somehow “all about me” becomes larger than that, huge, all humanity and beyond — all there is, universal. As Whitman says, he’s a “cosmos.” How does it happen that the personal becomes not only the political, but in fact all-embracing, cosmic? Instead of making a direct statement, we find an image — and an image has a multitude of possibilities.

“The longer we practice [using poetic language], the more we uncover about . . . our identity as children of the cosmos.” I was tremendously affected by the statement in Desiderata that said, "You are a child of the Universe . . . you have a right to be here." It was the antidote to the Catholic message of being a wretched sinner, most likely headed for hell (while reason eventually rejects this message, it lingers at the emotional level). Being a child of god didn’t do anything for me because I saw god as evil — an angry, narcissistic (the non-stop need for praise), abusive father. Nature wasn’t kind in the human sense, but it wasn’t malicious — and it was beautiful. 

Epidote (a silicate mineral)


~ “. . . a future of even greater distance — and antagonism — between a Democratic coalition centered in racially diverse, largely secular, and post-industrial metropolitan centers and a Republican coalition grounded in small-town and rural communities that remain mostly white, Christian and rooted in traditional manufacturing, agriculture and resource extraction.

I fully expect smaller places to become more conservative and larger places to become more Democratic,” says McGoldrick, a long-time Republican consultant. “If you believe geographic sorting/ arbitrage is happening, then where people live and how they live is increasingly important in predicting their views on politics.” 

Since the early 1990s, the two parties' coalitions of support have steadily separated, both demographically and geographically. That process reached a new peak in the bruising 2016 presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Geographically, Clinton dominated the nation's biggest places, winning 87 of the nation's 100 largest counties, while Trump carried over 2,600 of the nation's other 3,000 counties, most of them smaller. (He won more counties than any candidate in either party since Ronald Reagan in 1984.)

Demographically, the divides were just as formidable, with Clinton posting big margins among younger and minority voters, Trump romping among blue-collar and older whites, and college-educated whites dividing almost exactly in half between them. The parties' positions in the House of Representatives largely follow these tracks, with Democrats relying mostly on diverse and white-collar urbanized districts, while most of the Republican caucus represents predominantly white and heavily blue-collar seats beyond the metro centers.

One reason small-town and rural areas tilt so much more toward the GOP than urban areas is because their demographic composition leans so much more toward the groups that now most favor Republicans: older, blue-collar and evangelical whites.

But the viewing data that McGoldrick cites point toward another key factor widening the American divide: voters with the same demographic characteristics display very different political and cultural attitudes depending on their geographic location. Each of the electorate's non-college whites almost always expressed more conservative views than did either non-whites or whites with a college degree living in the same kind of geographic area.

When asked, for instance, whether immigrants had a positive impact on their community, in urban areas 62% of college-educated whites and 51% of non-whites, compared to only 36% of non-college whites said yes. In suburban areas, 56% of college-educated whites and 50% of non-whites, compared to just 32% of blue-collar whites, saw a positive impact. In rural areas, about 40% of both college whites and non-whites saw a positive impact, compared to only about one-fourth of non-college whites.

The sole wrinkle in this general pattern is that in urban areas non-whites were slightly less likely than blue-collar whites to express liberal views on abortion and gay marriage — a reflection of the deep culturally conservative strains in many African-American and Hispanic churches.

But, just as important, Pew's survey also found that the share of each major demographic group expressing liberal views was almost always greater, often much greater, in larger than smaller places. three broadest groupings — whites without a college degree, whites with a four-year college degree or more and non-whites — bend steadily toward more conservative views as they move from the most- to the least-populated communities.

In an interview, Teixeira cited three reasons that could explain why voters with the same demographic characteristics are trending toward more conservative positions in smaller geographic areas.

"One is you hang around in an area where certain types of ideas are dominant and you tend to absorb those attitudes," he said. Second, he continued, in small places people are less likely to actually face personal interaction with the sources of so many cultural flashpoints. "There is a well known relationship about ... having certain attitudes about immigration or feminists and not encountering many," he notes.

Finally, he said, these impulses are reinforced by the growing economic gap between thriving larger metropolitan areas and smaller places that are struggling to hold population and jobs. "The fact is that a lot of these white non-college voters who are living in dense areas are living in areas that are working, where economic mobility is feasible, and that takes the edge off of their cultural conservatism,"
Teixeira says.

McGoldrick likewise sees cultural and economic factors reinforcing each other to deepen the urban/rural split. "The more 'politics' continues to become a series of cultural skirmishes and less about policy, the more the two parties find it advantageous to represent different worldviews," he says. At the same time, he notes, not only are urban centers more welcoming of the nation's propulsive demographic and cultural change, but they are also more likely to consider themselves winners in the economy's ongoing transformation.  

“My view is the forces driving politics from the New Deal to the end of the 20th century were largely about the role of government plays in society,” he says. “I believe, whether or not we realize, we have been in the midst of a different debate, which is the role technology plays in society.” ~

Chagall: Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1939

If ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, knowledge of nature is made for their destruction. ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism, 1811



~ “A sudden and unexpected death is merciful in comparison with slow and — even worse — fully conscious dying. This eternal, unchanging sediment of horror, with that festive noisy spectacle on the surface, provides, for me at least, an argument against the goodness of the Creator. This really eats at me and I return to the point I started from, to my metaphysical despondency as a fifteen-year-old.

. . . Hannah [92, in an old-age home] says she wants only one thing -- to die -- and that she cannot kill herself, how could she, because ‘I never even killed a fly in my entire life’. She tells me of her dream: she was it the Opera and was walking up the stairs, but when she reached the doors, they were locked. And then more stairs and locked doors.

‘How can one exit from life?’ she asks. ‘What can I do to fall asleep and not wake up?’ Who could succeed in convincing this helpless being whose one desire is not to be that she should feel the hope inherent in being alive? Let me note that in calling this arrangement of the world monstrous we enter into a purely human solidarity, we underline our, our species’ uniqueness in the universe, and our consciousness and our moral protests are backed by a bright and weak God against the dark and powerful God of Nature.” ~

Blake: Hecate, 1795

Milosz knew that the god he publicly worshiped will not and cannot break the laws of nature. He knew that his desperate wish for a “sign” — that a statue in a church would nod to him or move its stone or wooden hand — would never be satisfied. Thus, it’s not a caring god but the laws of nature that are “in charge.” It’s the laws of nature that govern reality, and not the god of wishful thinking (also known as “The Secret”). That’s the “bright and weak” god projected by the collective human psyche (never mind the assertions of omnipotence, a relatively late development), and that god of humanity is ultimately helpless against “the dark and powerful God of Nature.”

For one thing, the god of humanity is as yet pretty helpless to prevent the ravages of aging. Still, think how early “old” used to start in past centuries. Even in the late 19th century sixty was the beginning of old age — meaning toothless, half-deaf, frail, not infrequently already in a wheelchair. Sixty five was chosen as the age of retirement — with pension, and/or Social Security — precisely because it was regarded as being at death’s door.

At least we’ve managed to delay the worst of it. Not to prevent it, but to delay it — but that is already a great thing, these ten to twenty more years of reasonably healthy, productive life. Even the eighties can be a treasure, a very enjoyable decade — a view stated by Oliver Sacks, whose father regarded those years as a great gift (Oliver himself, alas, succumbed to cancer at only 82, his writing and lecturing still at full powers — another example of how a brilliant mind and having a lot to live for are no guarantee of an exceptionally long life, though these factors do increase the chances — life expectancy strongly correlates with IQ).

But back to Milosz’s “metaphysical despondency.” If god exists, he is either not good or else powerless to do much good. It’s interesting how close Milosz comes here to Rabbi Kushner, who likewise sees god as powerless to prevent “bad things” from happening to good people. In spite of being a “sum of human ideals and aspirations,” it’s not an attractive god, and this lack of appeal may be the reason so many find some consolation in Buddhist attitude of acceptance rather than struggle. 

Still, I understand Milosz’s or anyone’s longing for a deity that cares about humanity. I may slip into being a closet mystic now and then — it’s hard not to witness a startling coincidence and not read some human, all too human meaning into it. But I was also a closet naturalist even at the height of my Catholic years (between the ages of ten and twelve). It was great to drop it all and admit that all that time I was praying to empty air — which I couldn't help suspecting — just as I basically thought that yes, god existed, but he didn't give a damn about anyone's suffering — otherwise how would he be able to look into an old woman's face, with so much suffering in it, and just toss her into hell? To toss millions into hell every day? What a relief it was to be done with the evil monster, and see instead that nature acted with malice toward none.

(I suddenly thought of Trumpsters [Trump is surprisingly similar to Yahweh], and how they'd say that the people burning in hell deserve to be in hell. They are criminals! Rapists, drug dealers . . . no absurdity is too much when it comes to explaining away cruelty — just as the Germans thought that the Jews sent to concentration camps were criminals — or, alternatively, they were sent there for their own safety. Humans have always spent much energy trying to justify evil — including finding excuses for god.)


Yet there is another dimension to the problem of the ailments of old age, sometimes so severe that people literally want to die: medicine could be farther ahead, making the twilight years more pleasant, if money and human resources were spent in a more rational way. Research on the mechanisms of aging should be our priority, not the defense establishment building bombers and aircraft carriers. “When will they ever learn?” Look, the country can’t even manage to adopt the metric system.

(There is, by the way, the difference in life expectancy between the richest and the poorest regions of the US is now more than twenty years:

Lucien Freud, Self-Portrait, 1963


Lucien Freud, Self-Portrait, 2002


~ “Some people get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. As it turns out, your body could be giving off cues (without your knowledge) that you're an attractive blood meal, according to research from Professor Leslie Vosshall and her colleagues at the Rockefeller University of New York, Technology Networks reported.

"We attract mosquitoes via multiple sensory cues including emitted body odor from lactic acid, heat and carbon dioxide in our breath, and mosquitoes can sense differences between these cues to determine which animal or human to target for blood-feeding," she explained. This means that if your bestie leaves a backyard barbecue bite-free but you leave covered in itchy red welts, mosquitoes might be attracted to your unique body odor.

NBC News reported that Jonathan Day, professor of medical entomology at the University of Florida in Vero Beach, said that 20 percent of people get more mosquito bites than the general population, and people who produce more carbon dioxide, like pregnant women, are more likely to be attractive to mosquitoes.

"Lactic acid (given off while exercising), acetone (a chemical released in your breath), and estradiol [a potent hormone in the estrogen family] can all be released at varying concentrations and lure in mosquitoes. Your body temperature, or warmth, can also make a difference. Mosquitoes may flock to pregnant women because of their extra body heat," Cari Neirenberg reported for NBC News in an interview with Day.

Day also told TIME magazine that drinking alcohol can raise your metabolic rate, which in turns increases the amount of carbon dioxide you emit. This combination makes you attractive to mosquitoes. In addition to smell, the color of your clothes also play a role in whether or not mosquitoes will seek you out for their dinner. If you regularly dress in black, red, or navy blue, you're more attractive to mosquitoes because the pests are better able to see your silhouette and zero in on you.

What's more, a study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology found that people with type O blood are more likely to get bitten by mosquitoes than those with type A or B blood. Basically, a lot of things go into a mosquito's decision to bite you, and some of them — like your blood type — are out of your control.

If all this weren't bad enough, research published in Scientific Reports noted that mosquitoes are more likely to bite you when they're dehydrated. So, if you venture out for a hike in a remote area where mosquitoes haven't been able to find enough water to quench their thirst, you're more likely to become their meal no matter what you're wearing or how you smell.

According to the study, mosquitoes that had been deprived of water for just a few hours were much more likely to bite people than those with consistent access to water. While all of this new research increases our understanding of mosquito behavior, scientists are still no closer to knowing how to prevent you from getting bitten by mosquitoes entirely.

Wearing a bug repellant that contains DEET can help, but if you want to go all-natch, a number of essential oils can reduce your chances of becoming an unwilling target for these insect vampires. Healthline reported that essential oils like lavender, tea tree, Greek catnip, thyme, soybean, citronella, eucalyptus, and neem can help keep those pesky bugs off of your body. Dilute the oil of your choice in water and put the mixture into a little spray bottle you can carry in your bag. You can also opt for light clothing and avoid alcohol and rigorous exercise if you know you're venturing into a mosquito-heavy area.


I’ve tried just about every spray and type of clothing — everything, including mega-doses of B vitamins that were supposed to make you smell bad to mosquitoes. But some areas are so heavily infested that the only remedy is to stay away. When I still went camping, I learned to always carry a tube of hydrocortisone cream with me, to apply as soon as I felt even the tiniest sting. This at least alleviates the misery. (Sure, I carried a spray bottle too, but those essential oils never proved very effective.)

a mosquito's foot magnified 800 times

ending on beauty:
A broken moon on the cold water,
And wild geese crying high overhead,
The smoke of the campfire rises
Toward the geometry of heaven —
Points of light in the infinite blackness.
I watch across the narrow inlet
Your dark figure comes and goes before the fire.
A loon cries out on the night bound lake.
Then all the world is silent with the
Silence of autumn waiting for
The coming of winter. I enter
The ring of firelight, bringing to you
A string of trout for our dinner.
As we eat by the whispering lake,
I say, “Many years from now we will
Remember this night and talk of it.”
Many years have gone by since then, and
Many years again. I remember
That night as though it was last night,
But you have been dead for thirty years.

~ Kenneth Rexroth, from “Your Birthday in the California Mountains, New Poems" (New Directions, 1974)

 George Innes: Moonlight in Virginia, 1884