Saturday, August 29, 2015



In high school I kept
a diary in English,
so if the teacher
caught me, and she did,
she wouldn’t understand. 
I had a small vocabulary
and even less to say.
“The weather is getting warm,”
I confessed in a foreign language.

My first class in Los Angeles,
on June evenings, 
in the palm-plumed dusk,
was a typing course. 
For rhythm, the instructor played
“The Yellow Rose of Texas”
above the cross-fire
of night students pounding
on the jamming keys.
i machined a sinister idiom:
Dear Sir: Due to circumstances
beyond our control —

College was a subordinate clause.
I bartered my youth
for footnotes to Plato.
I was a mouse in the auditorium,
scribbling neat, useless notes.
One time I graded three hundred
freshman papers on the death penalty.
I didn’t want to graduate.
Life was penalty enough.

To survive I had to learn
a third language,
an on-off code in the brain
it takes nightmares to crack:
words husked from the grain of things,
Adamic names that fit
animals like their own pelts —
fluent as flowers,
rare as rubies,
occult atoms in lattice of sleep.

To be silent and let it speak.

~ Oriana © 2015


Castle, lower Silesia



The similarity between the US and Russia

Oriana: Soon after I arrived, the US seemed to me like the propaganda image of the Soviet Union in fancy magazines like Soviet Life, meant for foreign readers — a paradise of prosperity and pre-hippie wholesomeness — except more Orwellian (advertising being more sophisticated and scientifically tested than political propaganda). 

The prosperity was a surface, I discovered almost immediately — though it was a large surface, endless square miles of suburbia — not a propaganda image, as with the Soviet glossie. What astonished me, though, was that Americans thought theirs was a classless society, while in every city and town the first thing I’d see was “good neighborhoods” and “bad neighborhoods”: the quiet tree-lined lanes and well-kept lawns, and  half a mile away, black-walled liquor stores and rusty old cars, stained old mattresses rotting away in the weedy yards. That was beyond any poverty I witnessed in Poland. This kind was sinister, malignant, without hollyhocks and sunflowers planted in front of the humble windows.

Populism was like “proletariat” to the square power. The cowboy instead of Europe's aristocratic ideal, and the "new Soviet man." The cult of the pioneer. Dostoyevski thought that Russia's destiny lay in Asia, the East/Siberia being like the American West. Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin — they all actually had a lot of admiration for the US as a role model. They wanted to be like the US, to match its development, its conquest of the vacant continent.


It’s odd that in spite of the official worship of Lenin -- at least given the abundance of portraits on the walls and carried in parades -- in school we were never told that he was warm and charming. And that's a repeated theme not only in Hammer's account: the warm smile, the jovial handshake, his ability to charm anyone, a peasant or an intellectual, have been noted by others as well, including H.G. Wells. 

Hammer: “Lenin rose from his desk and came to meet us at the door. He was smaller than I had expected — a stocky little man about five feet three, with a large, dome-shaped head and auburn beard, wearing a dark gray sack suit, white soft collar and black tie. His eyes twinkled with friendly warmth as he shook hands and led me to a leather-cushioned chair beside his big flat desk. We sat so close that our knees almost touched.

The room was very small and unpretentious, full of books, magazines and newspapers in half a dozen languages.  . . .    

During the hour or more our conversation lasted, I was completely absorbed by Lenin’s personality. His powers of concentration were enormous. When he talked to you, he made you feel you were the most important person in his life. He had a way of holding his face close to yours, his left eye squinting but his right eye transfixing you as if it were trying to pierce your innermost soul. By the time we were through, I felt embraced, enveloped, as if I could trust him completely.

. . . Our two countries, the United States and Russia, Lenin explained, were complementary. Russia was a backward land with enormous treasures in the form of undeveloped resources. The United States could find here raw materials and a market for machines, and later for manufactured goods. Above all, Russian needed American technology and methods, American machines, engineers and instructors. Lenin picked up a copy of Scientific American.

“Look here,” he said, running rapidly through the pages, “this is what your people have done. This is what progress means: buildings, inventions, machines, development of mechanical aids to human hands. Russia today is like your country was during the pioneer stage. We need the knowledge and spirit that has made America what she is today.”

[they proceed to discuss a trade exchange between Russia and the West]

“In looking back over the years at this memorable interview, I have tried my hardest to recollect the most striking feature of it all. I think it is this — that before entering Lenin’s room I had been so greatly impressed by the terrific veneration which he aroused among his followers that I somehow expected to meet a superman, a strange and terrible figure, aloof and distant from mankind.

Instead it was just the opposite. To talk with Lenin was like talking with a trusted friend, a friend who understood. His infectious smile and colloquial speech, his sincerity and natural ways, put me completely at ease.

Lenin had been called ruthless and fanatical, cruel and cold. I refuse to believe it. It was his intense human sympathy, his warm personal magnetism and utter lack of self-assertion or self-interest, that made him great and enabled him successfully to hold together and produce the best from the strong and conflicting wills of his associates.”


Hammer on FDR:

“Nobody could equal the speed of his mind, the warmth of his character and the charm of his personality. Add to this an unmatched capacity for decisive executive action. FDR was the consummate “can-do” president.

I am often asked to compare Lenin with FDR. They shared many qualities — not the least of which was that they were both approachable, unintimidating men who did not stand for a moment on the dignity of their office. In the presence of both men I felt the same captivating excitement and the same alertness. No half-baked idea, no vagueness could be risked with either man: they would spot in a flash and dismiss it.

Both had a strong sense of humor, though Lenin did not laugh as much as FDR, who loved nothing more than a joke and who was always on the lookout for the ridiculous and the absurd; but then Lenin did not have much to laugh about. The condition of the Soviet Union and the colossal strains of his work did not leave much room for humor.

Like FDR, Lenin was capable of dazzling intellectual flexibility. People I meet today, especially journalists who interview me, are astonished to hear that Lenin told me, in effect, that Communism was not working and that the Revolution needed American capital and technical aid.

The world has largely forgotten how deeply the Bolsheviks admired the industrial achievements of America and how common it was to hear them say that they wanted to make Russia a “socialist United States.” Lenin was greatly responsible for promoting this attitude, and it is not appreciated how pragmatic and realistic was the cast of his mind. Perhaps I can best convey this by saying that my own father — who in many ways typified the idealistic Communist sympathizer of those times — was far more romantic in his socialism than Lenin. It remains one of the ironies of my life that I found the father of world Communism to be less pure as a Communist and more pragmatic than my own father. (pp. 119-120, “Hammer”)


The murderer kills because he seeks “justice." ~ Steven Pinker (in a lecture on the culture of honor versus the culture of dignity)

Humans are moralizing animals, with a curious need to pass judgment on others and see that they get punished. Pinker studied the causes of violence, including the most common motive for homicide. According to police records, it’s not material gain; it’s “justice.” The killer is carrying out capital punishment; his victim deserves to die for this or that reason. Likewise, wars tend to be justified using the language of moral principles. Pinker suggests we need to think of morality less in terms of blame and punishment, but in terms of minimizing harm and maximizing flourishing.

It seems to me that when progressives speak of justice, it’s likely to mean human rights, equal opportunity, equal pay, etc. When conservatives speak of justice, they mean punishment, vengeance. It’s not an absolute difference, but a tendency.



“The story of Barabbas the criminal, whom Pilate offers to kill instead of Jesus, is predicated on the supposed Jewish custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover . . . BUT THERE WAS NO SUCH JEWISH CUSTOM. In fact, it flies in the face of deeply held Jewish (and, for that matter, Roman) beliefs about justice.” ~ Joel M. Hoffman, The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor, 2014


“Though we expect to find copying mistakes and other variations in our current versions of Josephus’s writings, we don’t in general suspect that the message of his texts was purposely altered in any significant way, except concerning the pivotal Jesus, James, and John the Baptist. And here nearly ever conceivable position has been proposed by scholars, including that Josephus didn’t mention any of these people, but later Christians added texts about them; that Josephus converted to Christianity, but his texts were changed to hide his belief in Jesus Christ; and that we have nearly perfect copies of what Josephus wrote.

What we can do is work from the preponderance of the scholarly evidence. Fortunately, that points us in a relatively clear direction. The passages about James and John are mostly authentic. The passage about Jesus is not. . . . No one seems to have been aware of this particular passage until the fourth century.” ~ Joel Hoffman, The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor

God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. — And we — we still have to vanquish his shadow, too. ~ Nietzsche, The Gay Science

Like billions of other poeple, I don't believe in the existence of Zeus. That's why I don't call myself an agnostic. If you can be sure that Zeus doesn't exist, you can be sure that the Christian god doesn't exist. Basically that was the moment of insight that made me an atheist at 14. That was it: I understood that Christianity was just another mythology.

But my atheism also a very deep intuitive response. The emotional certainty is really primary, since intellectually I could at least weakly defend agnosticism. The emotional certainty hit me first in connection with the absence of the afterlife, because who wouldn't want some kind of afterlife to exist? And I do understand the longing for a "real god." One who would be a companion, who'd understand and guide without judging, like an ideal friend. But there is not even a definition of "it" (I think the pronoun for a "real god" would have to be "it"), much less evidence.

In practical terms, atheism in the West comes down to not believing in the Christian god any more than in Zeus. Mythology is mythology -- a fascinating field of study, by the way. In my teens, when I developed an interest in classical mythology, I had no idea where it would lead . . .



About 50,000 years ago, homo sapiens developed the capacities for “innovation, planning depth, and abstract and symbolic thought,” as a study published in Current Anthropology puts it. Until recently, not much was known about why our species veered toward more sophisticated sensibilities.

A group of anthropologists and biologists at Duke University had a theory: It’s because our skulls changed shape. This would have led to, as their study argues, a “change in average human temperament toward a less aggressive, more socially tolerant individual.”

To test their hypothesis, the team measured more than 1,400 skulls—1,367 modern ones from 30 ethnicities; 41 from between 10,000 and 38,000 years ago; and 13 ancient ones from more than 80,000 years ago—paying special attention to the brow ridge, face shape, and endocranial volume. “The study was motivated,” the researchers say, “by us trying to find a biological explanation—with evidence—of what could explain the huge explosion of culture around 50,000 years ago.”

After taking stock of their painstaking measurements, the researchers were surprised by how well their data supported their hypothesis. They found that there had indeed been a structural change in the human cranium—specifically, our brow ridges shrunk and the upper parts of our faces got shorter. It happened in the late Pleistocene era, and the shift indicated a lowered level of testosterone acting on the skeleton. This “feminization” of our heads made us less violent and more genteel.

The researchers think that sexual selection could have been what feminized our skulls.


“A new MRI study and University College of London indicates that the secret to happiness is low expectations. Author and neuroscientist Robb Rutledge says, “Happiness depends not on how well things are going but whether things are going better or worse than expected.”

This rings very true in my experience. I once expected to make it big, and when I didn’t, I eventually got over that expectation, and have been much happier ever since. Every little success these days is a surprise and delight.

Like happiness, compassion is always in part a function of lowered expectations. We’re happier to accept other people’s difficult behaviors when we expect less from them.

It’s all about managing the “aspirational gap,” the gap between what is and what could be, what you have and what you expect. It’s all about expectation management.

As my sole comment on this, let me repeat the second paragraph:

“This rings very true in my experience. I once expected to make it big [Oriana: in my case, gain a national recognition as a poet], and when I didn’t, I eventually got over that expectation, and have been much happier ever since. Every little success these days is a surprise and delight.”

And I’d add: THINK SMALL. Do less, and do it slowly, easily. Take small steps. Lie down.



I’ve been using Xylitol for two years now. Aside from plain dextrose with its nice quick energy boost to the brain, Xylitol is my favorite sweetener. The only caveat: as with everything, MODERATION.

1. XYLITOL HAS ONLY A NEGLIGIBLE IMPACT ON BLOOD SUGAR AND INSULIN LEVELS. This means that unlike sugar, there are no highs and lows: no roller coaster for either your energy or your mood, and no subsequent cravings for more sweets and carbohydrates.  No adrenal fatigue, no weight gain, no increase in cortisol levels.  In fact, xylitol can help keep you hormonally balanced through its insulin stabilization factors.  And as I learned in my training with endocrinologist Dr. Diana Schwarzbein, healthy insulin response is essential to healthy aging and healthy hormones, as well as effecting cholesterol levels, incidence of Type II Diabetes, high blood pressure, and much more.

2. Tooth & Gum Health XYLITOL ALKALINIZES THE MOUTH. It not only reduces bacterial growth but actually inhibits and interferes with development of plaque, and bad bacterial strains such as strep.  The Journal of the American Dental Association said “Xylitol is an effective preventive agent against dental caries… Consumption of xylitol-containing chewing gum has been demonstrated to reduce caries in Finnish teenagers by 30-60%.  Studies conducted in Canada, Thailand, Polynesia and Belize have shown similar results…”  A study conducted at Harvard School of Dental Medicine concluded that “Xylitol can significantly decrease the incidence of dental caries.”  – which is why more and more dentists are recommending it, in toothpastes, gums and candies.  There is some indication that xylitol may work against biofilm, which would also be advantageous in the mouth. Sugar, of course, increases the acidity of the mouth and the body as a whole, as well as bacterial growth and the incidence of cavities.

3. Alkalinity XYLITOL IS ALKALINIZING, MAKING US LESS HOSPITABLE TO HARMFUL BACTERIA, VIRUSES, AND FUNGI.  Keeping the body alkaline makes it easier and more likely for you to stay healthy and balanced in every way.  Sugar, in contrast, creates an acidic environment, feeding destructive microbes and weakening the immune system.

4. Bone Health ANIMAL STUDIES SUGGEST THAT REGULAR CONSUMPTION OF XYLITOL CAN IMPROVE BONE STRENGTH DURING AGING, probably because of the increased consumption of calcium, as well as the alkalinizing effect.  The more acidic your system, the more the body will leech calcium from bones and teeth to re-balance itself.

5. Yeast/Candida Xylitol is the only sugar that does not feed yeast. In fact, it contributes to its destruction.  This means it is not only safe for those grappling with candida, it is actually beneficial.  This is not true of any of the other sugars or sugar alcohols, including sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, erythritol, as well as fructose, honey, maple syrup, agave, malt, molasses, coconut sugar, etc.


Never again will I kneel in my small country, by a river,
So that what is stone in me could be dissolved,
So that nothing would remain but my tears, tears.

~ Milosz, “From the Rising of the Sun”

Photo: Edward Byrne

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