I am walking in gray Warsaw,
past the swan parks, helmet gates,
the pale angels in cathedrals,
wild archangels in the clouds —
but there are no leaves.
Not one chestnut leaf is left,
crimson, crimped by frost.
And the ivy called wild wine
is spread leafless on the walls
like a crown of thorns.
Not even the last ghost leaf
to reach to me its small hand.
Leafless sidewalks, leafless sky —
bridges leading into fog
for the final time.
Gone, that cloud-dream of returning,
looking out of my high window
on my poplars greening, passing
silver rumors of the wind —
and then golden lies. But the girl
who knew them smiles.
The gray city in me weeps not
cold November rain, but tender
eggs from centuries of stone.
“Pigeons,” I coo. “My pigeons.”
~ Oriana © 2015
BETWEEN PROSE AND DESPAIR
I was told that my poems are from another century. I think of them as rather than another realm — one in which beauty is a supreme value.
This one was written toward the end of the period when the past was still a radiant presence in my life. I’d already lost the future — hence my self-description as “postshumous.” But it’s only recently that I realized that the past has left me also.
Contrary to the New Age rhetoric, living in the now is not necessarily blissful. The pressing concerns are mostly pedestrian, draining. Memory is nicely edited — you don't reminisce about dental visits or car repairs. I don't mean to say that the past was paradise. But to me it was another layer of time and reality, another world enriching this one.
Yes, this is another instance of diminished brain function. It occurs together with the decline in creativity: memory and writing went together. I was very much a poet of memory. Memory, mother of the muses.
I mean the kind of memory that occurs spontaneously, that is elicited by a glance at something — what Proust called “involuntary memory.” It can still happen — it just doesn’t happen as it used to. So the past isn’t with me much . . . which all the masters assure us is a good thing. I live in the now without really trying. I am glad not to be brooding about the bad things; I just didn’t know that the good things would leave as well. Not irretrievably, no; but their radiant, effortless presence is no more.
The decrease in creativity didn't bother me at first, because quality kept going up. Then I reached a limit; then it was a choice between despair and prose. I realize it's not only aging but also circumstances, esp a huge increase in practical chores. But the process started way before the recent change in my life circumstances, so I sadly conclude that in my case at least aging is taking its toll.
What can be done? We cope somehow. I practice “harvesting” — the perfecting of older poems. And I do enjoy prose, which is always there for me. There are worse fates.
MARX WAS WRONG: THE TWILIGHT OF THE WORKING CLASS (Ryszard Kapuściński)
Marx believed that the working class will liquidate capitalism. The Communist Manifesto proclaimed, “The bourgeoisie creates its own grave-diggers: the workers.” But in reality it’s capitalism that gradually liquidates the working class.
It started with the peasants. The peasants, understood as the numerous and impoverished community of intimidated, illiterate small farmers has virtually disappeared in the developed world. The more modern the country, the fewer people are employed in agriculture. The same fate is currently catching up with the working class. In highly developed societies it’s a disappearing social class. The economy of the future will need minds rather than hands.
Two forces have become the grave-diggers of the workers: modern technology and international finance. The first one makes production more efficient and profitable. The second one directs investment wherever labor is cheapest and most submissive. In Asia labor costs one tenth of what it costs in America, and labor unions are prohibited.
The modern world is the world of the rich. Whoever does not belong to the privileged class is doomed to being subordinate, to mere subsistence and obedience. Whoever rebels will be defeated. In any case, the spirit of rebellion among the exploited and marginalized (the “excluded,” as the French say) grows weaker and weaker. Among them, the spirit of resignation is universal: you won’t break through the wall by ramming it with your head.
A few economic dogmas have been shattered. The most important one — that increased investment, commerce, and technology will increase the well-being of the entire society. Now it’s obvious: it’s those who are already rich who get richer. In each country and in the whole world, humanity can be divided into two groups: the winners and the losers. One man feels he’s climbing higher and higher, while another sees that he’s not even in the game, far away from the banquet table.
Those are the two divisions of the human family. It has always been that way, but the modern mass media made it more and more obvious.
There is increasing unemployment. In the developed countries, in 1974 there were 18 million unemployed; twenty years later, in 1994, there are 34 million. As a rule, if the unemployed person finds a new job, that job will be lower-paid. Unskilled labor is worst-off. It’t a great economic and humanitarian problem. What kind of work can these people do? One solution is to invest in culture and education in order to prepare people for life in the modern world which rewards skills and education. But governments tend to cut spending precisely in the areas of education and vocational training.
The twilight of the working class in the developed world doesn’t mean the total disappearance of the working class. Traditional industries are flourishing in the Third World. The international capital has liquidated the expensive working class of rich countries with the hands of the cheap workers in the Third World. ~ Ryszard Kapuściński, Lapidarium III, 1997, tr. Oriana Ivy
Fifty years ago, young Bob Dylan sang about the beginning of this “liquidation of the working class” in the developed countries.
THE EYE IN THE SKY: FUSING GOD AND SATAN
This morning I had a naughty thought, “If I were god, I would do good things for people.” This morning, an even more subversive thought arose (I take no responsibility for my thoughts. They simply arise). Remembering how god was presented to us as the eye in the sky, spying on everyone’s sins, I realized that in the book of Job there was a hint that this was the function of one of the sons of god, Satan (ha Shatan) -- THE ADVERSARY. The Prosecution. It was Satan who “walked up and down the earth,” building the case against this or that human being.
It was bad enough that god would make bets with Satan. There was no need for the fusion of the two entities. God was unlovable enough as judge and executioner. To make him also collect the evidence for the Prosecution was really going too far.
In Rogier van der Weyden’s painting, the task of “weighing the souls” (the heavier ones went to hell) seems to have been delegated to Archangel Michael. In the town where I was born, right under the “ambona” (from where the priest preached the sermon) there was a baroque naked angel (with a loincloth billowing about) weighing the souls, one scale dipping down: a new meaning to “heavy soul.
Rogier Van Der Weyden, Archangel Michael Weighing the Souls
“FAITH MOVES MOUNTAINS”: DOES IT?
When I first heard the statement that faith moves mountains, I was a child and thought as a child — literally. So my immediate question was, "Really? Has anyone tried it? Has any mountain ever been moved that way?" I was fascinated by the possibility — imagine, no bulldozers needed!
Later I realized that the statement was symbolic, but even at that level, I had my doubts. I didn't know anyone who's accomplished anything difficult by faith alone, though I knew of some who perished that way (wartime stories). Any examples of accomplishment I knew relied primarily on very hard work, the "miracle" being that the people were willing to put in much more effort than average.
To do that kind of work you had to be obsessed with your goal, single-minded, ruthlessly casting off distractions, and compulsive. Maybe obsession is a kind of faith, but obsession — having the obsessive/compulsive personality — was a more accurate description.
I first experienced it in my late teens, when I devoted myself to acquiring a mastery of English. At 17 I was beginning to read Shakespeare in the original while my peers found the language sheer hell to learn (it was that, too). I dare say it had nothing to do with faith, and everything to do with my greed to pick up new words and phrases (I was past the age of effortlessly learning a new language — that ends at puberty).
(As an aside: While no one has as yet moved a mountain by faith alone, many have died as a result of faith. Often it was having too much faith in a psychotic religious leader or in bizarre ideas, e.g. the true believers can’t be harmed by poison or dangerous snakes. Faith healers can claim an occasional success, but let’s not forget that faith can kill.)
Mount Denali, Alaska
WAS DAVID HUME’S “NO-SELF” EMPIRICISM INFLUENCED BY BUDDHISM?
In 1734, in Scotland, a 23-year-old was falling apart.
As a teenager, he’d thought he had glimpsed a new way of thinking and living, and ever since, he’d been trying to work it out and convey it to others in a great book. The effort was literally driving him mad. His heart raced and his stomach churned. He couldn’t concentrate. Most of all, he just couldn’t get himself to write his book. His doctors diagnosed vapors, weak spirits, and “the Disease of the Learned.” Today, with different terminology but no more insight, we would say he was suffering from anxiety and depression. The doctors told him not to read so much and prescribed antihysteric pills, horseback riding, and claret—the Prozac, yoga, and meditation of their day.
The young man’s name was David Hume. Somehow, during the next three years, he managed not only to recover but also, remarkably, to write his book. Even more remarkably, it turned out to be one of the greatest books in the history of philosophy: A Treatise of Human Nature.
In his Treatise, Hume rejected the traditional religious and philosophical accounts of human nature. Instead, he took Newton as a model and announced a new science of the mind, based on observation and experiment. That new science led him to radical new conclusions. He argued that there was no soul, no coherent self, no “I.” “When I enter most intimately into what I call myself,” he wrote in the Treatise, “I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception.”
Until Hume, philosophers had searched for metaphysical foundations supporting our ordinary experience, an omnipotent God or a transcendent reality outside our minds. But Hume undermined all that. When you really look hard at everything we think we know, he argued, the foundations crumble. Descartes at least had said you always know that you yourself exist (“I think, therefore I am”), but Hume rejected even that premise.
Hume articulates a thoroughgoing, vertiginous, existential kind of doubt. here’s Hume’s really great idea: Ultimately, the metaphysical foundations don’t matter. Experience is enough all by itself. What do you lose when you give up God or “reality” or even “I”? The moon is still just as bright; you can still predict that a falling glass will break, and you can still act to catch it; you can still feel compassion for the suffering of others. Science and work and morality remain intact. Go back to your backgammon game after your skeptical crisis, Hume wrote, and it will be exactly the same game.
In fact, if you let yourself think this way, your life might actually get better. Give up the prospect of life after death, and you will finally really appreciate life before it. Give up metaphysics, and you can concentrate on physics. Give up the idea of your precious, unique, irreplaceable self, and you might actually be more sympathetic to other people.
PARALLELS WITH BUDDHISM
The Buddha doubted the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent God. In his doctrine of “emptiness,” he suggested that we have no real evidence for the existence of the outside world. He said that our sense of self is an illusion, too. The Buddhist sage Nagasena elaborated on this idea. The self, he said, is like a chariot. A chariot has no transcendent essence; it’s just a collection of wheels and frame and handle. Similarly, the self has no transcendent essence; it’s just a collection of perceptions and emotions.
“I never can catch myself at any time without a perception.”
That sure sounded like Buddhist philosophy to me—except, of course, that Hume couldn’t have known anything about Buddhist philosophy.
Or could he have?
[The author goes on to establish that Hume had the opportunity to learn about Buddhism during his stay in France, when he was in contact with the Jesuits, who were aware of Buddhism because of Jesuit missionaries to Tibet and Siam.]
Of course, it’s impossible to know for sure what Hume learned at the Royal College, or whether any of it influenced the Treatise. Philosophers like Descartes, Malebranche, and Bayle had already put Hume on the skeptical path. But simply hearing about the Buddhist argument against the self could have nudged him further in that direction. Buddhist ideas might have percolated in his mind and influenced his thoughts, even if he didn’t track their source. After all, contemporary philosophers have been known to borrow ideas without remembering exactly where they came from.
I published an article about Hume, Buddhism, and the Jesuits. As I was doing my research, many unfailingly helpful historians told me that my quirky personal project reflected a much broader trend. Historians have begun to think about the Enlightenment in a newly global way. Those creaky wooden ships carried ideas across the boundaries of continents, languages, and religions just as the Internet does now (although they were a lot slower and perhaps even more perilous). . . . New links between Eastern and Western philosophy keep emerging.
“SEE NO GOOD, HEAR NO GOOD, SPEAK NO GOOD”
“I look at the twentieth century, which in many ways was a secular humanist century… in that very century, the emancipation of women occurred, the end of colonial domination of the less developed third world nations was largely ended, the civil rights movement broke the back of segregation, and homosexuals began to overcome the prejudice that has prevented them from achieving full membership and justice in the social order. Each of these is a powerful achievement….” ~ Bishop John Shelby Spong
The paragraph continues, but I want to stop right there — just to thank Bishop Spong for enumerating some of those achievements. There is a toxic tendency some people have to “see no good, hear no good, speak no good” when it comes to the collective human accomplishments, the collective human genius that has given us so much. All they see is that we are a rotten bunch, prone to violence. Yet this list is just a beginning. Science (especially physics and biology), technology (jet travel and computers — think how recent those are), and medicine really took off in the twentieth century. The social safety net increased considerably, and the European and American working class rose from wretched misery. The progress continues to stun me.
There has also been a lot more questioning and free discussion. The literal belief in Bronze-Age and Iron-Age mythologies has continued its decline even in the US. Ecological awareness began to emerge. On and on, there is so much GOOD that could be said about the twentieth century that those who utterly omit that good, always dwelling on the dark spots, are in my eyes guilty of prejudiced perception. As Jack Gilbert said, “To see only evil is to praise the devil.”
Such people seem to take secret joy in negative developments. Maybe it’s not so much a psychological quirk as simply a bad habit, like chewing one’s nails or hair pulling. Maybe it can be stopped. Gently. Gentleness has also been one of the developments of the twentieth century, especially when it comes to child rearing, but also in how people treat one another, recognizing the dignity of simply being human as never before.
GALACTOSE PROMOTES CELL COMMUNICATION, A HEALTHY IMMUNE SYSTEM, AND AMMONIA REMOVAL
Galactose is a simple sugar that is produced naturally in the human body in the range of 2 -10 g. It’s also part of lactose, the “milk sugar”. Lactose is composed of glucose and galactose. (Note that unlike sucrose, the table sugar, lactose contains no fructose.) A nursing mother converts some of the glucose in her body to galactose, the “brain sugar” for the baby. By being converted to aminoacids such as GABA and glutamine, galactose helps remove toxic ammonia from the brain.
Galactose is one of the eight “essential sugars.” Without galactose, you would not be able to function. Your body needs galactose to function properly.
Galactose contributes directly (as well as through bonds by way of contact points on cells) to vital information and control processes in the body. It also functions as a fundamental and structural substance for cells, cell walls, and intracellular matrix. Your immune system wouldn’t be able to function without galactose either. Your body wouldn’t know which cells are “good” and what cells are “bad.” Your body wouldn’t know who the invaders were and which ones should be attacked by antibodies.
Interestingly, galactose is known as the “brain sugar” and supports the brain development of babies and children. Studies indicate that the monosaccharide sugar helps triggers long-term memory formation. Galactose also has been shown to inhibit tumor growth and stop its spread, or metastasis, particularly to the liver. This beneficial sugar can also enhance wound healing, decrease inflammation, enhances cellular communication, and increases calcium absorption. Getting a proper amount of galactose can also help to protect against exposure to X-ray radiation, and developing cataracts. Oddly enough, its been shown that galactose levels are usually lower in people with arthritis and in those with lupus.
Interestingly, lactose also has less significant metabolic effects than other sugars. Sugars can be compared on how quickly a specific sugar will cause a rise in blood sugar level. This measurement is called the Glycemic Index. Certain sugars and carbohydrates cause a spike, or rapid rise, in blood sugar level. This spike causes an insulin response and may over time lead to health problems such as diabetes, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and other issues. Maintaining a more even blood sugar level is ideal and appears to be beneficial. Lactose’s glycemic index number (45) is much lower than glucose (100), and galactose is much lower at (25).
LACTOSE CAN FUNCTION OF A PRO-BIOTIC
In order to break down lactose in the digestive system, your body manufactures an enzyme called lactase. As we get older though, our ability to produce this enzyme declines. If your body doesn’t break down all the lactose, it will continue to pass through your digestive system. The “good” bacteria in your digestive system will take advantage of this undigested sugar, and use it as energy so it can grow and flourish. Lactose can help establish and maintain a healthy micro flora in your gut.
Oriana: BUT ISN’T DAIRY A CANCER RISK?
Early studies found that high consumption of dairy products to be associated with increased risk of ovarian and prostate cancer; galactose in particular was singled out. This was a correlation, which need not imply causation. Ovarian cancer has a strong genetic component. The correlation has not been found when the consumption of skim milk products was studied. Later studies questioned the validity of the early studies even in terms of full-fat dairy.
Excess galactose is converted into glucose. A rare (1:60,000) genetic defect results in a deficiency of a necessary enzyme, leading to excess levels of galactose in the blood and urine. This defect can be detected prenatally, or later in newborns (who cannot be breast-fed or utilize any other animal milk, and are given soy milk instead). In the US the screening is routine.
There are legitimate concerns about the safety of drinking milk (for instance, for the best composition of milk, cows should eat grass rather than commercial feed). The presence of galactose should not be one of those concerns. It makes sense that nature would provide an extremely beneficial sugar in breast milk.
Next blog: fucose, usually part of the fucoidan polysaccharide. Protects against auto-immune disorders. Think seaweed, certain mushrooms. It's all more complex than in our wildest dreams.
Jean Dubuffet, Cow with a Subtile Nose, 1954
***ending on beauty and humor:
INFINITIES WILL MAKE YOU CRY
about gravity, quantum physics, and string theory — and it sounds like a sacred chant
Sunset on Pluto
With Marxism, socialism or income equality, where is the talk of how do we create wealth? The past seven years of politicians has encouraged non-work like never before.
Love the paintings of weighing the souls.
Best lines: “Give up the prospect of life after death, and you will finally really appreciate life before it. Give up metaphysics, and you can concentrate on physics. Give up the idea of your precious, unique, irreplaceable self, and you might actually be more sympathetic to other people.”
Maybe work in the sense of making a living in a single job 8 hrs a day will become obsolete due to technology. Marx actually had a vision of more fulfilling work, and a variety of work rather than something monotonous. The young Marx, before he turned into a prophet of the revolution, was a lot more interesting. In some ways he remains relevant. What about the constant recessions? It’s difficult on people to be getting laid off. The job they manage to get later — if they succeed — usually pays less.
Capitalism will evolve, but we don’t know into what. Marx would be astonished to discover the decline of the working class in the developed countries, even though he correctly described the decline of the peasants. This is so ironic now that we can see what’s happening — but just fifty years ago, who would ever have guessed? True, there were some people voicing their concern over the high wages of the American worker, and also over the use of industrial robots, the increasing mechanization of the assembly line. But those were outliers.
In mid-twentieth century, every prediction about the 21st century started with space travel. We were supposed to be colonizing Mars. Religious wars? No one would have guessed.
We live in tremendously interesting times . . .