Monday, August 29, 2016


Moscow 1950, Semyon Friedland

Dorothy Healey at Chelsea Bookshop, Long Beach, California

She stood before us, five feet tall,
middle-aged, a middle-class hairdo,
a skirted suit in neutral-color
and stumpy old-fashioned heels.
Her smoky hair was turning silver-white.

She looked Republican, could even pass
as a Mormon missionary.
And we the audience of dowdy poets
and semi-hippies from the state college,
some thirty of us in jeans and T-shirts,
long hair, the men with pigtails.

I was “right on the money” that she’d say:
“America is not a democracy; it’s ruled
by the rich.” Except she didn’t say
“rich” — too heavenly to American ears.
She said, “the bourgeoisie” (oh music
of my childhood) and “the ownership class.”

I hated certain features of capitalism:
ruthless rents, non-stop jingle of ads
pushing toothpaste to improve your sex life,
not having free health care or college.
But I also fell in love with Kleenex,
and a system that produced Kleenex
could not be wholly evil. Kleenex and
soft toilet tissue — now that was a revolution.

Embarrassing, I knew: my politics
reduced to pampering one’s behind.
Yet somehow I knew that WAS more real
than the dictatorship of the proletariat.
“Communism” sounded too extreme,
too stiff like the old-style “toilet paper”
(and shortages even of that).

Listening to Dorothy’s low-pitched,
cultivated, rational voice —
she’d mastered the art of not raising it —
as she carried on about the exploited
American masses, I heard the harmonics
of an earlier time —
when the police beat labor organizers
with union-busting batons —
there would be jail, there would be blood.

You had to be willing to risk your life,
and Dorothy had been, pure and devout.
Yet whenever she said “revolution” and
“the dictatorship of the proletariat,”
I couldn’t help but think — mistakenly —
about her having gone to a girls’ college.

I knew many in the audience
were New Age, convinced
each person was born with a mission
freely chosen in the astral plane,
a sacred task. How did the dictatorship
of the proletariat fit with the current lifetime?
Perhaps Dorothy’s secret sacred task
was to open our eyes to how irrelevant
Communism had become.
The Soviet Union still existed then,
but after the moon landing,
it didn’t count. Not much.

Funny, who knew soft toilet tissue
and the moon would decide?
On campus the day after
I heard an Old Left professor say,
“That bootprint made in blood.”

I heard the same bitterness
in Dorothy’s slightly gravely voice —
it seemed on the verge of pain.
“The bourgeois ideology,” she repeated
a lot. Did she really say, “the end of history,
the withering away of the state”?
We used to snicker at that Marxist prophecy
in my Warsaw high school.
The Last Judgment seemed more likely,
the proletariat inheriting the earth.
The audience sat blank-faced.
Then a polite applause
and putting away the chairs.

Afterwards a friend and I
went to Park Pantry, a nearby coffeeshop.
There I saw Dorothy again,
having a sandwich with her mother.
“Her mother’s ninety years old,”
my friend whispered in awe.
The two looked alike,
their white-haired heads leaning close,
more like two elderly sisters, I thought.

When the waitress turned up, I pointed out
Dorothy to her, and said with hushed thrill,
“Do you know who that woman is?
It’s Dorothy Healey, the head
of the American Communist Party.”
(Again I was mistaken: she was the head
of the Southern California chapter.)
The waitress raised her eyebrows,
stared, then said, “Oh really,”
and took our order. She didn’t seem to know
she was a member of the proletariat.

Did Dorothy know
that the waitress didn’t know?
Did she care? It was late,
so we skipped the walk
to the cliffs to watch
the full capitalist moon
above the black-glistening bay.


Dorothy died aged 91.
She quarreled with her comrades —
“What do those donkeys
in New York know?” —
and in old age she left the party:
another act of great courage.

The Chelsea Bookshop is no more.
I need not tell you
about the Soviet Union.
Only Park Pantry remains.

~ Oriana © 2016

Recently I learned more about Dorothy Healey, and came to respect her much more than I did back when I met her at that lecture. She really was an extraordinary woman, heroic during her labor-organizing years, fearless of jail and other persecution. But her lecture was heavy on obsolete Marxist rhetoric, so it was easy for me then to relegate her to the “dustbin of history.” She seemed stuck in the thirties. 

But think of her during the Red Scare of the McCarthy years. To be so hated takes great courage.

A bright woman blighted by the Marxist twilight.

Later, after she left the communist party, she spoke more freely, rejecting the Soviet model, criticizing those societies as backward. But no matter what, the Old Left was dead. And to think that people had been willing to die for those now forgotten dogmas, and ever believed in the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”  


(Quick clarification: when I attended the lecture, I mistakenly believed that Healey was the head of the American Communist Party. Actually she was the head only of the Southern California chapter. And somehow even after the lecture I maintained my mistaken belief; assuming the correct information was presented during the introduction, it must not have registered — another instance of a belief blanking out incoming information.)



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

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

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

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

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

Capitalism’s great blessing: making consumer goods plentiful and affordable has also turned out to be a curse. The past was plagued by scarcity; now we are plagued by excess. Marx noticed the problem of overproduction; consumerism brought on the problem of over-acquisition, of life-strangling glut. It revealed that people are not good at letting go of useless junk and outgrown toys.

Of course the primary problem is environmental destruction; this is where heavy industry-centered Soviet-style regimes turned out to be even worse (of course it can be argued that Soviet-style “socialism” is actually state capitalism). But the daily problem is the clutter of useless possessions which threatens to engulf so many of us — the constant, energy-draining battle trying to “organize” useless possessions.

Don’t organize — throw it out! Letting go of possessions — who knew message this was going to be born from the battle with Moloch. And wasn’t it already Thoreau who said that things are in the saddle and ride mankind? 

From mindless accumulation to mindful letting go . . . 

It turns out that there is a class angle to this. The poor have been criticized for so many things — why do they eat junk food, unhealthy and expensive, e.g. potato chips rather than the super-cheap  and nutritious fresh potatoes; why do they smoke, an expensive habit, and then run out of money for necessities; why do they waste money on lottery tickets; why do they have children if they can’t afford to feed them, and so on.

I am against shaming the poor — or anyone. People who “misbehave” are usually damaged persons who are under heavy stress. They smoke and drink to self-medicate. Poor decision making? The lack of the future tense in their speech? Their brain function may be subnormal (see 

I remember what an addiction expert said about addicts: “They were raised to be incompetent.” Those raised in poverty were never taught how to live well on little money —  for instance how to cook vegetables or prepare any fresh food. No pots? On the contrary, the kitchen is likely to contain a large number of pots of all sizes that aren’t in cabinets but instead pile up on the floor, amid empty beer bottles, broken plastic toys, an old non-working TV set or two, boxes, half-empty shampoo bottles, and more. And more. The stuff can pile up so high that the windows become completely covered with junk from the inside.

(A quick disclaimer: there are certainly poor people who are also tidy. The smallest and most cramped apartment I’ve ever visited happened to be spotless, without a single excess item.)

But what most stays in my mind from my encounters with both rural poverty and the homeless is the amount of useless junk that’s never thrown out. I will never forget a homeless woman whose cart was filled to overflowing with strips of paper towels from public restroom, or the man dragging around not one shopping cart, but three. And what was inside those three tightly packed carts? Not blankets and extra clothing, but hundreds of plastic bags and dozens of broken small appliances like rusty toasters and alarm clocks, and the like “treasures” apparently fished out from garbage bins.

True, that’s mental illness. That’s clearly pathology. But a lot of us suffer to a degree from that pathology. That’s why so many books on decluttering and article with titles like “Feeling Poor? Get Rid Of Clutter.” And, suddenly, pushback: articles on why it’s “classist” and elitist to be decluttering, to want clean, beautiful open spaces.

And yet I never owned so much stuff as I did when I was extremely poor, and yes, in my case at least, it was a symptom of my poverty. More confessions later.


~ “Suddenly, decluttering is everywhere. It may have started with Marie Kondo and her mega-best seller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” but it has exploded into a mass movement, anchored in websites, seminars and — ironically — a small library’s worth of books about how to get rid of stuff.

I understand why people with a lot of stuff feel burdened by it, and the contrasting appeal of having less of it. I cleaned houses to put myself through college as a single mother. I spent my days in expensive homes, full of large televisions and stereo systems, fully furnished rooms that collected dust.

In a new documentary about the [minimalist] movement, “bad” consumption is portrayed by masses of people swarming into big box stores on Black Friday, rushing over one another for the best deals. They are, we’re led to understand, slaves to material goods, whereas the people who stay away from mass consumption are independent thinkers, free to enjoy the higher planes of life.

But those people flocking to Walmart and other stores don’t necessarily see things that way. To go out and purchase furniture, or an entertainment set, or a television bigger than an average computer monitor — let alone decide that I can afford to get rid of such things — are all beyond my means. That those major sales bring the unattainable items to a level of affordability is what drives all of those people to line up and storm through doors on Black Friday.

Those aren’t wealthy people who have a house full of expensive items they don’t need. Those are people teetering on or even below the poverty level, desperate for comfort in their homes. To point to them as a reason to start an anti-consumerism movement is just another form of social shaming.” ~


No, we shouldn’t shame the poor for rushing to Walmart sales and for eating junk food. Nevertheless, minimalism and beautiful clean spaces are a sign of a more cultivated and secure set of mind. We shouldn’t stereotype the poor as living in dirt and clutter — yet those below the poverty line seem more likely to hoard useless, broken stuff and fill their yards with stained mattresses, old toilets, and rusted junk cars. (I can’t get out of my mind what I heard or read somewhere: “His yard is full of weeds not because he’s poor. He’s poor because his yard is full of weeds.”)

Though extreme clutter may be more common among the very poor, especially the rural poor (I’ve witnessed it both in inland California and in Vermont), let’s face it: the middle class is also prone to mindless acquisition and not getting rid of things because “they might come handy one day.” The elderly often live with enormous accumulations of things of little worth, or none — old magazines, hundreds of old socks and handkerchiefs, stacks of chipped dishes, forty-year-old blouses and coats, multiple jello molds and rusty baking trays, wobbly end tables and soiled arm chairs, Tupperware, envelopes stuffed with expired warranties, thousands of old photos and slides, warped cassette tapes, never-used mugs from souvenir-shops, smelly old magazines, crossword puzzles filled out decades ago. Those who inherit the parents’ houses spend weeks, sometimes months, digging out the geological strata of those pathetic family treasures. Not infrequently they have to rent a giant dumpster. They get woozy with fatigue, they develop sciatica; they go out to celebrate when the floor finally shows.

The decluttering books are right: there is something terrifically empowering about getting rid of useless old stuff and creating clean, uncluttered space. And Marie Kondo is right about doing it the radical way: when we focus on what we truly want to keep and retain only those possessions that give us joy, there isn’t really all that much. We keep wearing the same four or five favorite outfits, sit in one favorite armchair while the other two are just taking up room . . . How spacious the living room becomes without that klutzy furniture!


Marie Kondo advises tossing stuff out in a ruthless, totally radical fashion — almost all you own must go! —  so that you get to the point when “something clicks.” She doesn’t actually use the word “enlightenment,” but it’s easy to guess she means nothing short of satori.

She is right about so many things, big and small. You’ll never use those spare buttons. Storage is hoarding (let me repeat this so it’s loud and clear: STORAGE IS HOARDING). “Papers? Throw out everything” (she explains why we don’t have to keep bank statements and the like).

What about those eighty rolls of toilet tissue? Are you stockpiling for WWIII?

Kondo begs the clutterholics to drop of fear of getting rid of too much. This goes especially for items that seem to have personal meaning. Yet you’ll never re-read those two thousand books, or those eighty notebooks filled with college lecture notes (or your own journals, for that matter). You’ll never look at those faded pictures documenting what you did during your summer vacations before digital photography made it possible to dispense with prints.

“How many pairs of jeans do you own?” I once overheard a teenage girl ask her friend. “Oh, maybe twenty pairs,” the other girl replied. “I own two hundred!” the first one exclaimed. “Wow!” stunned silence, then:  “Where do you store them?” ~ “In a box under the bed,” the first girl casually replied, as if to say “Where else?”

This reminds me of yet another story. My mother said to a visitor from Warsaw, a woman scientist, “Sears has a sale on pants. Would you like to go?” “No, I already have two pairs,” the woman replied. “One pair of black pants and one pair of gray pants.” And if you think about it, that is sufficient: two pairs of pants instead of two hundred. It’s also understood that those pairs of pants are of the very  highest quality.

Marie Kondo described closets so stuffed with clothes that it was a major struggle to wrestle out a single item. I can identify with that. When my life was at its bottom in my late twenties, I became a compulsive thriftstore shopper. My closets did reach that condition. The poorer I was, the more clothes I owned, also reaching the status of worst-dressed — precisely at the stage of life when I should have worn beautiful clothes, being young and effortlessly attractive. But desperation = greed = mindless acquisition.

I am certainly done with the acquisition stage. Now for the radical paring down, part 2 (I’ve accomplished part 1 early in 2014. In March or so of that year I remember telling the Salvation Army employee, “This is probably the last time you’re coming to this address.” He replied, “You think you’re done? You’ve barely started.” This instantly sounded true. I admit I was terrified.

Oddly enough, this time the first book to go was Kathleen Norris’s elegant hardback on acedia. I experienced a thrill of joy as I took it off the shelf, from which it shall be gone forever. Why did I ever think it would be hard to let go?

And that expensive jacket that never looked right on me? We don’t even realize what an energy drain it is every time we see it in your closet, and what emotional power surge awaits as we fold it into a donation bag.

Why does radical dispossession change your life? Because you have to keep asking yourself what is important to you NOW, what gives you joy NOW — not twenty years ago.

Once you get started, you can barely wait: what will be left? What will it reveal about the essence of yourself NOW?

Wait, someone may object. Don’t you need to money to create a beautiful house? Marie Kondo strongly hints that you create a beautiful house first — through elimination — and then your prosperity is likely to increase. 

Even if your income stays the same, you will still be a happier person. All kinds of consequences follow an increase in happiness.

Clutter is poverty, no-clutter is wealth — if not physical, then at least spiritual. Think of monks in their spartan cells.

Petrus Christus, Portrait of a Carthusian, 1446

Still, everyone (everyone who isn’t rich, that is) believes that even upper-class homes have their islands of clutter. What about those obsolete electronics that we suspect lurk in that stylish cabinet? And we are willing to bet that the hostess has more purses than she could use in two lifetimes. Perhaps. But perhaps not. One of the best thing about financial security is that you let go of stuff without fear — should it turn out you need something after all, you can simply replace it. Fearlessly tossing stuff out makes you feel rich — never mind that the stuff has zero value to start with.

Kondo is radical because she has discovered that being half-hearted about discarding doesn’t work. If you throw out only half of your stuff, it can still take forever to find anything. Atkins certainly seemed radical when he advised cutting out carbs and eating protein and fat instead. The more fat you eat, the more fat you’ll burn, he said — provided you keep carbs as close to zero as possible. (Fat is the only food your body can’t turn into blood sugar, which drives up insulin, the hormone that makes you fat.)

Of course howls of protest went up from those pushing grains and egg substitutes. Thus it’s not surprising to see people protest the “elitist” equation: rich person = spacious and clean; poor person = messy and hoarding. This is not an absolute truth: there are poor people who are tidy. The rich people I’ve personally known? Always shockingly tidy. Every single one.

True, they have domestic help, but it’s also the mentality. They surround themselves with elegance and beauty. If you have something beautiful on the wall, you don’t want to spoil the view with piles of old newspapers on the floor. If you have a marble tabletop, you don’t want to strew it with junk mail.

My first encounter with minimalism was the Warsaw apartment of two sculptors, father and son. It was more like an art gallery: a sacred space.

Artists and the rich. It still startles me to see a way in which there is these two categories fit together along the dimension of open, uncluttered spaces.

“Churches are always clean. A dirty church just doesn’t work,” I remember Thomas Moore saying. Sacred space needs to be beautiful: clean and uncluttered.

We can laugh about it

but only Marie Kondo’s book has become a huge best-seller. There is a reason.

aphorisms by Janet Luhrs, author of Simple Living


Abundance floods our lives when we give it all away.

Purging stuff is like falling in love.

Imagine loving everything in your home.

Success begins when we stop being so “organized” and simply focus on what is important. 

And here is one more related article


After my father passed away, I started the process of picking up the pieces. Paperwork was filled and filed, ceremonies held. Then we had to empty out his old apartment. The month we spent cleaning out his old apartment shocked us all. There was just so much stuff. Bags of clothing, random knicknacks, mountains of books, kitchenware, furniture. A lifetime's accumulation of things.

It was cruelly ironic.

My dad invested countless hours, loads of money and energy into acquiring, transporting, moving and maintaining these possessions. Now, after his death, we were struggling to make away with it all. As the move-out day came closer, we even started panicking. How could we ever find a way to dispose of all of this stuff?

But we did. Even the purchases my father had been so proud of were sold, given away, donated, recycled or thrown away. We kept a tiny fraction of usable items (many of which soon disappeared as well).

So many resources, human and environmental, went into these possessions. All for what? Most simply went to waste. It struck me that people were undergoing this same experience all over the world. I became convinced that the consumerism I was brought up with was deeply shortsighted and harmful. It was a system that didn’t acknowledge anything except for an individual’s short-term needs. There is no wider context. It’s just you, the stuff and your desire to buy said stuff.

The environment gets screwed. Your wallet gets screwed. And then everyone gets screwed when you die and everything has to be thrown away, much of it ending up in landfills or in our oceans.

So I decided I was going to try something different. There was so much stuff already out there. I thought, I can probably get by without getting any new stuff, right? At least for 200 days, I thought. A nice, solid number.

For 200 days, I didn’t buy anything new except for food, basic toiletries and medicine. Everything else would be borrowed or bought secondhand. I made a conscious effort downgrading what I already owned. I targeted to minimize the legacy of trash and unusable materials I left behind. I explored alternative, zero-waste methods of clothing myself, such as shopping via classifieds, thrift stores and exchanging clothing via clothing swaps. I expanded my knowledge of homemade and minimalistic cleaning methods.

I got rid of a lot of stuff that was weighing me down, like extra clothing, extra kitchenware, extra photos. I donated my wedding dress. Most of all, I learned to live with less.

Most material possessions are just nice-to-haves. They add a spark of happiness in your life. But the spark fades quickly, and unless you have a constant and solid foundation of emotional wellness, you need to ignite these sparks continuously by buying more and more.

As we are starting to see clearly, we are hitting the limits of the planet’s ability to provide more. This used to make me panic — will I have “enough” for the future in a world where climate change has made getting resources so hard? But there is never enough when you always need more.

So, set a date to start taking a break from needing more. You might very well find that you have quite enough. I know I did.

You can't take it with you


The usual objection to this is “Oh, no. If people stop buying stuff they don’t need, it will destroy the economy.”

In the wake of 9/11, when the nation was reeling from the wound to the collective psyche, President George W. Bush urged Americans to go shopping. His defenders point out that there was a fear that the terrorist attack might cause a recession.

Somehow, however, it sounded incredibly shallow.

My main response to the anti-anti-consumerist protests, though, is twofold:

1. People who are able to divest themselves of a mountain of useless possessions and live simply will always be a tiny minority.

2. Those who stop buying useless stuff will not necessarily stop spending. They will now have money to spend on other things — travel, health, education. And when they do buy something in the “consumer” category, it will be a thing of quality, an upgrade from what
they had before.

Jean Cocteau and companion 

And now for something related but different. Here is a somewhat long but eye-opening article on “social insurance” — going back to the visionary Enlightenment thinker Thomas Paine.

THOMAS PAINE PROPOSED SOCIAL INSURANCE BASED ON COMMON PROPERTY (or how come no one objects to the “idle rich”)

~ There are two basic ways to obtain income: wages from work, and rents from property (including interest and profits). ~

“Republican leaders tend to think of social insurance as a socialist or communist scheme designed to undermine private property and free markets. Their arguments can be traced to Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, whose 1944 book The Road to Serfdom warned that the emerging social democratic regimes of Europe were stepping onto a slippery slope to totalitarianism. Adapted into an illustrated booklet distributed widely by General Motors in the mid-1940s, The Road to Serfdom has fueled American opposition for decades now. Ronald Reagan, probably inspired by Hayek, made a recording opposing Medicare for the American Medical Association in 1961, predicting that it would lead to the state dictating to people what jobs they must perform and where they must live and work.

The ironies here are rich. Conservative criticisms of social insurance reflect profound misapprehensions of its relation to private property. Social insurance, in both theory and practice, arose in defense of private property and against communist and socialist threats. Exploring these origins is essential now because they contain important lessons that will help us strengthen social insurance to meet the challenges of post-industrial capitalism.

Long before Babeuf and his followers tried to undo poverty through communism, England tried to address the problem through the Poor Law system, first codified under Tudor reign and revised many times since. Poor Law regimes were characterized by means testing, “less eligibility,” stigmatization, work requirements, and state regulation of the poor. Means testing subjected the poor to probing and humiliating inquiries into their means of support. Less eligibility meant that the support the poor could claim had to be less than the lowest-paid worker’s wages—a formula intended to deter potential claimants of relief and ensuring them only bare subsistence.

Poor relief stamped on its recipients the degrading badge of dependency. The able-bodied unemployed were often forced to labor in workhouses, under the stigma of the presumption that they were too lazy to work unless compelled to do so. In the workhouses, they were confined by the totalitarian governance of overseers, under conditions barely different from slavery, and denied civil rights. Poor Law ideology rationalized such harsh measures on the assumption that poverty was either inevitable—in the case of disability or death of able-bodied workers within the family—or caused by vices such as laziness, alcoholism, gambling, and sexual licentiousness. (Such thinking is easily recognized in U.S. welfare policies for the poor, especially since the “welfare to workfare” reform of 1996.)

Paine regarded both Babeuf’s scheme and England’s Poor Laws as outrageously unjust. State communism violently abrogated the fundamental rights of individuals to liberty and the fruits of their labor. The Poor Laws, too, undermined the liberties of the poor and inflicted suffering and humiliation on them. Neither regime was compatible with democracy. A third way to address poverty was needed—one compatible with individual liberty, universal dignity, equal democratic citizenship, and distributive justice.

Paine began with an analysis of the fundamental causes of poverty. Against Poor Law reasoning, Paine denied that poverty was either inevitable or due to vice. And against Babeuf, Paine denied that private property inherently caused poverty. The difficulty lay only in the distribution of claims on the income derived from ownership. Private property systems offer two basic ways to obtain income: wages from work and rents from property (including interest and profits). But not everyone can work. All human beings are unable to work for substantial periods of their lives, and some are unable to work at all. If work cannot provide for all, then the way to ensure that no one suffers poverty is to ensure that all are entitled to rents. And in principle, all should be, he writes:

The earth, in its natural uncultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race; that in that state, every person would have been born to property; and that the system of landed property . . . has absorbed the property of all those whom it dispossessed, without providing, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss.

Therefore Paine proposed to end poverty by reconfiguring the system of property rights. Property, he argued, should incorporate a scheme of social insurance, including old-age pensions and disability insurance. Everyone would own this property, by right. He also proposed stakeholder grants for young adults. These would be funded by a 10 percent inheritance tax on land and personal property.

The key features of his plan were generosity, universality, and entitlement. Generosity meant that social insurance payments should be sufficient to prevent poverty, not merely to prevent starvation. Universality gave everyone a stake in the system and avoided the humiliations and violations of privacy entailed by means testing. Entitlement meant that everyone could claim payments as a property right, a claim of justice rather than charity, and thereby avoid the stigma of dependency. These features ensured every adult’s personal independence, with no one forced to forgo their liberty as a condition of subsistence.

Less than a century later, social insurance became a reality under Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of Germany and minister president of Prussia. During the 1880s, Germany instituted the first health insurance, retirement pensions, and workers’ compensation plans. Bismarck was no socialist. He also promoted the notorious Anti-Socialist Law, which prohibited socialist meetings and mailings and authorized police to banish socialist leaders from their cities. For Bismarck as well as Paine, social insurance was erected as a defense against communist and socialist revolution, and as proof that a system of private property and markets could deliver a decent standard of living and security to all.

Paine saw that, if adults are to retain their freedom and personal independence in contexts where they cannot work, or where work doesn’t pay decently, they need a source of rents—property income. Otherwise they will be at the mercy of meddling bureaucrats—the overseers of the poor—or subordinated to the whims of private charitable donors. Modern social insurance follows Paine: it is structured as an entitlement, functionally equivalent to a property claim on an income stream. Property claims distribute income on an impersonal, nondiscretionary basis, independent of anyone’s judgment of what a particular individual needs or deserves. Social insurance shares this virtue. Because it is not means-tested, claimants do not have to prove their neediness before suspicious authorities. Nor do their claims hang on bureaucrats’ judgments of their individual moral deserts. The size of their claims is based on impersonal rules graded to their record of prior contributions into the system.

Property is not, as a general matter, earned. As Paine observed, land and other natural resources are produced by no one’s labor. The state decides through property law who gets to claim natural resources. In the United States, original claims to land and mining rights have mostly been given away. Assets produced by labor in one generation are inherited, not earned, by the next. Even when assets such as housing are created by their owners’ labor, their market value is less a function of those labor inputs than of surrounding social activities and legal arrangements, including property laws. Income from property is also, as a general matter, unearned and a function of prior constructions of property law. No one works to earn their returns on passive investments.

Paine saw that the distinction between the dependent and independent is a function of property entitlements alone, and not of whether one ever lifted a finger to earn, pay for, or deserve the property in one’s possession. The idle rich are counted as independent, even if their income wholly derives from passive investments, speculation in zero-sum financial games, and inherited property. Why? Only because their property endowment empowers them to pay for the things they want, rather than be forced to beg for someone else’s charity. From a causal point of view, however, they are entirely dependent on the labor of others, since they produce nothing themselves.

Paine saw a better way: ensure that everyone has entitlements—property claims—to a sufficient stream of income to live freely and decently.

Paine was also right to see that robust and universal social insurance is a constitutive feature of a sound economy based on private property and markets, not a threat to it. Capitalism began with wholesale attacks on numerous forms of property rights: primogeniture, entail, commons rights, chartered monopolies. It has also engaged in massive property innovation, including the creation of corporate stock, intellectual property, rights to the broadcast spectrum, and many types of derivatives. In constantly redefining property, capitalism has always engaged in redistribution. Recognizing this reality is an important step toward overcoming the ideological obstacles to redefining property rights in the interests of everyone—not only of the 1 percent.

Marble butterfly, San Juan Island


“Imagine for a minute that you were at a coffee shop and were offered the option of being served coffee in either a lovely porcelain cup or in a not-so-lovely plastic cup. Which cup should you pick?

According to Aradhna, when we drink coffee—or for that matter, when we eat or drink anything else—we taste it not just with our taste-buds, but also with our other senses. The sense of smell, as most people know, is inextricably intertwined with the sense of taste. (Without being able to smell, for example, some people claim that we cannot distinguish between potato and apple. I’ve never checked this myself, but after seeing this video—particularly the latter half—, I have a good mind to try it out on my kids!) Indeed, Aradhna argues, it is not just the sense of smell that is intertwined with taste, but virtually all the other senses, including touch, sound, and sight are too, which is why the texture of chips (soft vs. crisp), the sound that it makes when we bite it (its “crunchiness”), as well as its color (golden yellow vs. white or brown), can all significantly affect our enjoyment of it.

According to Aradhna, the reason all of our senses matter is because all sensory inputs are ultimately combined into one overall evaluation in the part of our brain called the orbitofrontal cortex. In other words, we literally cannot distinguish the extent to which different sensory inputs contributed to our overall enjoyment of food. This may be one reason why people’s brains light up more—meaning there is evidence at the neurological level that people derive greater enjoyment—when they taste the same wine from a bottle that they think is more (vs. less) expensive.

A question that follows from the perspective of someone who wishes to maximize their pleasure from drinking a cup of coffee, then, is: should one attach importance to the cup? Or, put in more general terms, does “packaging” matter? Does the cover of a book matter for enjoying its content? Does a person’s physical attractiveness matter for enjoying their company?

The answer, according to Aradhna, would be resounding “Yes!” While she points to one reason why we enjoy something more when it is presented in a more pleasing manner—namely, that our brain combines all sensory inputs into one overall evaluation—findings from yet another stream of research, on “halo effects,” reveal another reason why superficialities matter. Halo effect findings reveal that, when something is more pleasing to our senses, we impute a whole bunch of other positive qualities to it. Thus, for example, a good-looking person is thought to be more intelligent, competent, and warm, which is why attractive people earn more money than their less-attractive counterparts. Halo effects seem to apply, within some limits, to inanimate stimuli as well, which is why we enjoy a shopping environment more when it looks and smells good.

In sum, presentation matters. The cup from which we drink matters, perhaps not as much as the coffee itself, but it can certainly add significantly to, or detract significantly from, our enjoyment of the coffee. Likewise, it stands to reason that we enjoy a book more when its cover is better-designed and a hotel room more when it is more put-together, etc.”

Coffee plant in bloom

ending on beauty:

I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs:
A palace and a prison on each hand;
I saw from out of the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the Enchanter’s wand.

~ Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage


Sunday, August 21, 2016


Colonel Salt Cave inside Sodom mountain, Israel

“On march the banners of the King of Hell,”
My Master said. “Toward us. Look straight ahead:
Can you make him out at the core of the frozen shell?”

. . . I stood now where the souls of the last class
(with fear my verses tell it) were covered wholly;
They shone below the ice like straws in glass.

Some lie stretched out; others are fixed in place
Upright, some on their heads, some on their soles;
Another, like a bow, bends foot to face.

When we had gone so far across the ice
That it pleased my Guide to show me the foul creature
Which once had worn the grace of Paradise,

He made me stop, and, stepping aside, he said:
“Now see the face of Dis! This is the place
Where you must arm your soul against all dread.”

. . . The Emperor of the Universe of Pain
Jutted his upper chest above the ice;
And I am closer in size to the great mountain

The Titans make around the central pit,
Than they to his arms. Now, starting from this part,
Imagine the whole that corresponds to it!

If he was once as beautiful as now
He is hideous, and still turned on his Maker,
Well may he be the source of every woe!

With what a sense of awe I saw his head
Towering above me! For it had three faces:
One was in front, and it was fiery red;

The other two, as weirdly wonderful,
Merged with it from the middle of each shoulder
To the point where all converged at the top of the skull;

The right was something between white and bile;
The left was about the color that one finds
On those who live along the banks of the Nile.

Under each head two wings rose terribly,
Their span proportioned to so gross a bird:
I never saw such sails upon the sea.

They were not feathers―their texture and their form
Were like a bat’s wings―and he beat them so
That three winds blew from him in one great storm:

It is these winds that freeze all Cocytus.
He wept from his six eyes, and down three chins
The tears ran mixed with bloody froth and pus.

In every mouth he worked a broken sinner
Between his rake-like teeth. Thus he kept three
In eternal pain at his eternal dinner.

For the one in front the biting seemed to play
No part at all compared to the ripping: at times
The whole skin of his back was flayed away.

“That soul that suffers most,” explained my Guide,
“is Judas Iscariot, he who kicks his legs
On the fiery chin and has his head inside.

Of the other two, who have their heads thrust forward,
The once who dangles down from the black face
Is Brutus: note how he writhes without a word.

And there, with the huge and sinewy arms, is the soul
Of Cassius.―But the night is coming on
And we must go, for we have seen the whole.”

~ Dante, Inferno, Canto 34 (excerpts), tr John Ciardi

 Gustave Doré, Satan in the Lake of Ice. Doré doesn’t literally follow Dante’s description in every detail; we can only faintly make out the three faces, a perverse parallel to the Trinity, and the legs of Judas dangling from his mouth. This marvelous, husky Satan is almost amiable. Note the souls nearest Satan, vertical in the ice "like straws in glass."

Never mind the popular idea that the eternal fires would be hottest at the center of hell. According to Dante, Satan is imprisoned in a lake ice! A giant being with three faces and three sets of bat-like wings, he’s frozen in ice up to the upper chest.

Dante isn’t shy about literary invention, to put it mildly. He invents not just the Lake of Ice, but also a whole alternate ending of the Odyssey — note the astonishing Canto 26, the Ulysses Canto, where instead of returning to Ithaca Odysseus sails westward until he glimpses Mount Purgatory and is shipwrecked for the final time.

Dante wrote this description of Satan in the Lake of Ice at the center of the earth around the year 1310. Given that we are talking about the early fourteenth century, we should give Dante credit for knowing that the earth was a giant sphere — this is long before “Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” What was on the other side of the globe? Only the ocean, and the giant mountain of Purgatory, directly opposite Jerusalem.

The human mind needs answers, and Dante formulated such answers as seemed reasonable to the educated people of his time and place. And hell, purgatory, and heaven were all actual places rather than “only” states of mind. We can psychologize Dante’s vision, but only to a degree. When he puts Satan at the center of the earth, it’s a literal Satan at the literal center of the earth.

The Lake of Ice is surprising, given that the Lake of Fire was the common assumption about hell, based on its mention the Book of Revelation. It’s hard to imagine that Dante didn’t know that particular verse. But, as with his heretical elevation of Beatrice to the status of a saint and his personal female savior, he had the courage to go against the established imagery. To be sure, we can always point to Dante’s symbolic meaning: Satan’s heart is closed to love, so it is symbolized by ice.

There is certainly fire imagery in the Inferno. The towers of Dis, the metropolis of hell, burn with eternal flame. A rain of fire is used to punish homosexuals. But more interesting by far are the inner flames of rage that burn within the wrathful — even though those eternally angry souls are presented as caked with mud “in a marshy flood,” rather than burning in fire. Thus they resemble the sullen (the depressed), who are sunk in a swamp, completely 

submerged in mud.  

 (Jan van der Straet, also known as Stradanus or Stradano): Canto 8, The Wrathful. Dante the Pilgrim is leaning down, trying to identify one of the sinners.

Had Dante chosen to cast Satan into the Lake of Fire, there would be no originality. So he daringly went for the other extreme. In literary and psychological terms, it was the perfect move. In terms of what modern science knows about the center of the earth, however, it turns out that the Lake of Fire is a closer fit — minus the sinners. 

 A more traditional image of Satan, the City of Dis, and the fires of hell

When I googled the subject a few years ago, the first item to show was a creationist website about hell. But the real story is a lot more interesting. Here is the most fascinating part: ~ “Earth has a powerful magnetic field, and that is all thanks to the partially molten core. The constant movement of molten iron creates an electrical current inside the planet, and that in turn generates a magnetic field that reaches far out into space.

The magnetic field helps to shield us from harmful solar radiation. If the core of the Earth wasn't the way it is, there would be no magnetic field, and we would have all sorts of problems to contend with.” ~

Not that I think any of my readers believe in heaven and hell, except right here on earth. But it turns out that what lies in the center of the earth, along with the story of how we came to find out about it, is fascinating — arguably more so than any mythology of the Underworld. Here is the rest of the article:

“Humans have been all over the Earth. We've conquered the lands, flown through the air and dived to the deepest trenches in the ocean. We've even been to the Moon. But we've never been to the planet’s core.

We haven’t even come close. The central point of the Earth is over 6,000 km down, and even the outermost part of the core is nearly 3,000 km below our feet. The deepest hole we've ever created on the surface is the Kola Superdeep Borehole in Russia, and it only goes down a pitiful 12.3 km.

All the familiar events on Earth also happen close to the surface. The lava that spews from volcanoes first melts just a few hundred kilometers down. Even diamonds, which need extreme heat and pressure to form, originate in rocks less than 500 km deep.

What's down below all that is shrouded in mystery. It seems unfathomable. And yet, we know a surprising amount about the core. We even have some idea about how it formed billions of years ago — all without a single physical sample. This is how the core was revealed.

One good way to start is to think about the mass of the Earth, says Simon Redfern of the University of Cambridge in the UK.

We can estimate Earth's mass by observing the effect of the planet's gravity on objects at the surface. It turns out that the mass of the Earth is 5.9 sextillion tons: that's 59 followed by 20 zeroes.

There's no sign of anything that massive at the surface.

"The density of the material at the Earth's surface is much lower than the average density of the whole Earth, so that tells us there's something much denser," says Redfern. "That's the first thing."

Essentially, most of the Earth's mass must be located towards the center of the planet. The next step is to ask which heavy materials make up the core.

The answer here is that it's almost certainly made mostly of iron. The core is thought to be around 80% iron, though the exact figure is up for debate.

The main evidence for this is the huge amount of iron in the universe around us. It is one of the ten most common elements in our galaxy, and is frequently found in meteorites.

Given how much there is of it, iron is much less common at the surface of the Earth than we might expect. So the theory is that when Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago, a lot of iron worked its way down to the core.

That's where most of the mass is, and it's where most of the iron must be too. Iron is a relatively dense element under normal conditions, and under the extreme pressure at the Earth's core it would be crushed to an even higher density, so an iron core would account for all that missing mass.

But wait a minute. How did that iron get down there in the first place?

The iron must have somehow gravitated — literally — towards the center of the Earth. But it's not immediately obvious how.

Most of the rest of the Earth is made up of rocks called silicates, and molten iron struggles to travel through them. Rather like how water on a greasy surface forms droplets, the iron clings to itself in little reservoirs, refusing to spread out and flow.

A possible solution was discovered in 2013 by Wendy Mao of Stanford University in California and her colleagues. They wondered what happened when the iron and silicate were both exposed to extreme pressure, as happens deep in the earth.

By pinching both substances extremely tightly using diamonds, they were able to force molten iron through silicate.

The pressure actually changes the properties of how iron interacts with the silicate," says Mao. "At higher pressures a 'melt network' is formed."

This suggests the iron was gradually squeezed down through the rocks of the Earth over millions of years, until it reached the core.

At this point you might be wondering how we know the size of the core. What makes scientists think it begins 3000 km down? There's a one-word answer: seismology.

When an earthquake happens, it sends shockwaves throughout the planet. Seismologists record these vibrations. It's as if we hit one side of the planet with a gigantic hammer, and listened on the other side for the noise.

"There was a Chilean earthquake in the 1960s that generated a huge amount of data," says Redfern. "All the seismic stations dotted all over the Earth recorded the arrival of the tremors from that earthquake."

Depending on the route those vibrations take, they pass through different bits of the Earth, and this affects how they "sound" at the other end.

Early in the history of seismology, it was realized that some vibrations were going missing. These "S-waves" were expected to show up on one side of the Earth after originating on the other, but there was no sign of them.

The reason for this was simple. S-waves can only reverberate through solid material, and can't make it through liquid.

They must have come up against something molten in the center of the Earth. By mapping the S-waves' paths, it turned out that rocks became liquid around 3000 km down.

That suggested the entire core was molten. But seismology had another surprise in store.

In the 1930s, a Danish seismologist named Inge Lehmann noticed that another kind of waves, called P-waves, unexpectedly traveled through the core and could be detected on the other side of the planet.

She came up with a surprising explanation: the core is divided into two layers. The "inner" core, which begins around 5,000km down, was actually solid. It was only the "outer" core above it that was molten.

Lehmann's idea was eventually confirmed in 1970, when more sensitive seismographs found that P-waves really were traveling through the core and, in some cases, being deflected off it at angles. Sure enough, they still ended up on the other side of the planet.

It's not just earthquakes that sent useful shockwaves through the Earth. In fact, seismology owes a lot of its success to the development of nuclear weapons.

A nuclear detonation also creates waves in the ground, so nations use seismology to listen out for weapons tests. During the Cold War this was seen as hugely important, so seismologists like Lehmann got a lot of encouragement.

Rival countries found out about each other's nuclear capabilities and along the way we learned more and more about the core of the Earth.

We can now draw a rough picture of the Earth's structure. There is a molten outer core, which begins roughly halfway to the planet's center, and within it is the solid inner core with a diameter of 1,220 km.

How hot is it inside? In 2013 a team of French researchers produced the best estimate to date. They subjected pure iron to pressures a little over half that at the core, and extrapolated from there. They concluded that the melting point of pure iron at core temperatures is around 6,230 °C. The presence of other materials would bring the core's melting point down a bit, to around 6,000 °C. But that's still as hot as the surface of the Sun.

A bit like a toasty jacket potato, Earth's core has stayed warm thanks to heat retained from the formation of the planet. It also gets heat from friction as denser materials shift around, as well as from the decay of radioactive elements. Still, it is cooling by about 100 °C every billion years.

Knowing the temperature is useful, because it affects the speed at which vibrations travel through the core. That is handy, because there is something odd about the vibrations.

P-waves travel unexpectedly slowly as they go through the inner core – slower than they would if it was made of pure iron.

"Wave velocities that the seismologists measure in earthquakes and whatnot are significantly lower [than] anything that we measure in an experiment or calculate on a computer," says Vočadlo. "Nobody as yet knows why that is.”

That suggests there is another material in the mix.

It could well be another metal, nickel. But scientists have estimated how seismic waves would travel through an iron-nickel alloy, and it doesn't quite fit the readings either.

Vočadlo and her colleagues are now considering whether there might be other elements down there too, like sulphur and silicon. So far, no-one has been able to come up with a theory for the inner core's composition that satisfies everyone. It's a Cinderella problem: no shoe will quite fit.

She says the secret might lie in the fact that the inner core is nearly at its melting point. As a result, the precise properties of the materials might be different from what they would be if they were safely solid.

That could explain why the seismic waves pass through more slowly than expected.

Earth has a powerful magnetic field, and that is all thanks to the partially molten core. The constant movement of molten iron creates an electrical current inside the planet, and that in turn generates a magnetic field that reaches far out into space.

The magnetic field helps to shield us from harmful solar radiation.

None of us will ever set eyes on the core, but it's good to know it's there.

And here is more stunning research news:

~ “Put simply, the Earth’s solid inner core spins eastward at an incredibly fast pace, while the molten outer core rotates the other way, but much slower.

Though scientists previously discovered that Earth’s inner core spins faster than the planet itself, the recent study is the first to find a connection between the two sections.

In May 2013, two Nature Geoscience studies indicated that the inner core of solid iron may be softer than previously thought. Its rotational speed can actually fluctuate over time. Research published a month earlier suggested that the core runs much hotter than previously measured, estimating the center’s temperature to be 6,000 degrees Celsius (about 10,800 degrees Fahrenheit), or roughly as hot as the surface of the sun.” ~

~ “Decades of research have shown that venting, far from releasing anger, actually makes it worse. The fact that venting actually increases rather than reduces anger indicates that Freud’s cathartic model is misguided. A more modern theory of anger, the cognitive neoassociation model, proposes that people associate violent, aggressive actions with angry thoughts (Bushman, 2002). Thus, aggressively styled behavior, such as hitting things, or ranting (basically saying nasty things about someone and wishing them ill) maintain a person’s attention on angry thoughts, rather than dissipating the anger. Venting and ranting effectively keep angry feelings in memory and increase rumination about the offending event.

Martin et al. performed an experiment to test the emotional impact of using rant sites. They found that reading another person’s rants online for five minutes had a negative effect on mood. Additionally, they asked participants to spend five minutes writing a rant of their own. As expected, after ranting, participants felt decreased happiness and increased anger.

These findings about ranting accord with previous research that showed that supposedly “venting” anger through such actions as hitting pillows or whatever actually increase anger levels, and, more troublingly, increase subsequent aggressive behavior as well. For example, one study (Bushman, 2002) found that doing nothing at all for two minutes was actually effective in reducing anger, whereas punching a sand bag for as long as one wanted while thinking of an offending person increased anger towards that person. Furthermore, when given an opportunity to punish another person in a game by blasting them with noise, people who had previously “vented” their fury on a punching bag were more aggressive (gave louder and longer blasts) than those who had done nothing to vent their anger.

The fact that venting actually increases rather than reduces anger indicates that Freud’s cathartic model is misguided. A more modern theory of anger, the cognitive neoassociation model, proposes that people associate violent, aggressive actions with angry thoughts (Bushman, 2002). Thus, aggressively styled behavior, such as hitting things, or ranting (basically saying nasty things about someone and wishing them ill) maintain a person’s attention on angry thoughts, rather than dissipating the anger. Venting and ranting effectively keep angry feelings in memory and increase rumination about the offending event.

Ranting may be an indulgence that weakens one’s ability to cope effectively with one’s emotions. In summary, doing nothing at all is a more effective way of dealing with anger compared to hitting a pillow, or posting rants on the internet. Perhaps better yet though would be to learn to use one’s anger constructively rather than mindlessly trying to blow it off as if one was a human pressure cooker.” ~


Buddhism has some interesting suggestions on anger management. As I understand it, you don't suppress, but you don't express either — you witness and watch it pass. Of course there are legitimate grievances as well as just an ego reaction, and those grievances can be calmly discussed. Self-control and not raising one’s voice — in the era of Trump, that can seem like a lost cause, I know.

Expressing anger by shouting hate-filled statements is not “healthy self-expression.” Verbalizing anger creates more anger. Calming down, deliberately softening one’s voice and especially one’s rhetoric, allows wisdom to enter.

I'm reminded of a very successful man who came from a poor Italian-American family. He said, “I owe everything  I have achieved in life to my resolution, early on, never to raise my voice.”

For me “enlightenment” happened not through Buddhist practice (though I'm all for it — whatever works), but through realizing that I strengthen whatever it is that I “practice” doing, i.e. do it again and again so it becomes effortless and automatic. It grew to a huge problem with delusional thoughts like “I am a total failure.” I got so skillful at entering depression, eventually it was less than a minute from the thought to spiraling down the whole sequence of negative automatic thoughts. I could become depressed at will, whenever I wanted to disengage from having to cope with the world and just brood over the past catastrophes and wounds of my life. A terrible habit — but it took just one moment of insight to achieve a perception shift that closed that door forever (at first, would you believe it, I missed being depressed).

I have some knowledge of neuroscience (only as compared to the average person), and it's been helpful in this way: there are many competing neural pathways which can be weakened or strengthened by habitual activation. When people talk about the "higher self," that phrase can actually be translated as the activation of certain pathways. We have SOME degree of control over which pathways will become dominant (that's why I define myself as an agnostic on free will -- though I agree that we don't control our moment-to-moment motivation, and motivation is critical here, and attaining complete clarity about self-destructiveness versus productivity and being of some use). Again, in lay terms, if we “practice being emotionally strong,” we get stronger; if we practice having meltdowns, we get better and better at having meltdowns. I come from a family of strong women — something I've always been acutely aware of, a burden at times — and it was easy for me to step into that pattern when I saw it was needed — like Claudia, I always knew that, far from being hopeless and helpless, I was at core a very strong person — or else I risked wasting whatever life remained on "practicing being depressed" (I got excellent at being depressed! hey, no mediocre mild depression for me!)

A quick clarification: this is not about letting out an automatic curse when you stub your toe or spill coffee. It’s about aggressively ranting in response to complex problems. “Ranting may be an indulgence that weakens one’s ability to cope effectively with one’s emotions” — yes, because practice makes perfect. When we habitually activate certain neural pathways, it becomes easier and easier to access those pathways, and they become dominant.

Thus, one can become stuck in anger as one “practices” angry outbursts that only amplify anger — they don't diminish it. Just as people don't seem to realize that a depressed person is seeking to amplify the sadness, and is not interested in “cheering up”, so a chronically angry person keeps escalating the anger, whether consciously or not. Having experienced even some child abuse creates a special proneness to this. 


But Freud did give us some important insights that changed our ways of understanding forever.


“It was through attention to the unconscious that Freud made his major discoveries, the most important being that from birth to death we are, every last one of us, divided against ourselves. We both want to grow up and don’t want to grow up; hunger for sexual pleasure, dread sexual pleasure; hate our own aggressions — our anger, our cruelty, our humiliations — yet these are derived from the grievances we are least willing to part with. The hope of achieving an integrated self is a vain one as we are equally divided about our own suffering; we do in fact love it and want — nay, intend — never to relinquish it. What Freud found most difficult to cure in his patients, Phillips tells us, “was their (mostly unconscious) wish not to be cured.”

[Freud] shows us how and why we bury the facts of our lives, and how, through the language of psychoanalysis, we can both retrieve these facts and describe them in a different way.” One of these ways has to do with the fantasy-ridden longing to see ourselves in a heroic (self-justifying?) light. “But heroism,” Phillips continues, “was another cultural ideal that would look different after psychoanalysis.” Freud would realize “that the idea of heroism was an attempted self-cure for our flagrant vulnerability.”

The best one can hope for in analysis is reconciliation, not cure. But oh! that reconciliation. What a gift it is.”


So true! I loved my depression, but at least I knew that I did. I sought to increase sadness (a pretty universal symptom of depression); I didn’t want to relinquish it; I didn’t want to relinquish the grievances that sustained it. The breakthrough came only when I became ashamed of being depressed and finally decided to be done with the brooding and the crying fits — because it was too late in life not to be happy and to waste what little time was left. “It’s too late in life for depression” — that insight put a sudden end to my self-destructive behavior.

Now and then I hate having to cope, but — what is the alternative? Sitting on a park bench talking to myself, as in Blue Jasmine? That was only one step beyond what I was doing behind the closed doors of my study or in the privacy of my car (it’s my great good luck not to have had an accident when driving while crying, and I mean crying vehemently).

“You can practice falling apart — or you can practice being strong.” And as we know, practice makes perfect.

“We long to see ourselves as heroic” — this can be a saving factor. In the end — I hate to confess how late in life — I chose to perceive myself as almost heroic rather than victimized. Or, to put it more simply, to practice being strong and capable of coping.

Actually something of this sort happened once before in my life — during the time that I became more and more committed to poetry. I semi-understood that seeking my “real self” was simply not important. Even romance was suddenly and wonderfully not that important. What I looked like, how I dressed — not that important. What counted was my poems — the quality of my poems.

Discovering my vocation was the best therapy, and the only kind I needed. At first I was sure that I’d be a always be a poet and never run out of inspiration. That turned out to be a false belief. I felt I was a total failure and did slide into depression. Eventually I had an insight that ended the depression — and I also broadened my self definition to “writer.” And again, what counted was not my personality type but the quality of my writing. 

 Bosch: The Ascent of the Blessed. The nudity — the soul is tends to be nude in art — but without genitals. But why are the angels almost always dressed? Note the strange globe at the top, with the entrance to heaven — it has a ceramic look.


“Two developments in the history of the Bible are deeply related, and not merely coincidental. One is the lamentation of the loss of the experience of hearing God’s voice. The other is the rise of the language of introspection: an interiorized subjective dialogue with oneself.

In our own time, we are acculturated from infancy on, to understand our mental life as a narratized interior mind-space in which we introspect in a ceaseless conversation with “ourselves.” Our ancestors, however, were acculturated to understand their mental life in terms of obedient responses to auditory prompts, which they projected outwards as the external voice of God. Although these “bicameral” people could think and act, they had no awareness of choices or of choosing — or of awareness itself.

In 1976, Julian Jaynes proposed that that as recently as 3,000 years ago, human beings were non-introspective. Jaynes claimed that one could trace this cultural transformation over the course of a scant millennium by analyzing the literature of the Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament,” OT). This book tests Jaynes’s assertions by examining the OT text in Hebrew, as seen through the lens of the Documentary Hypothesis and modern critical historical scholarship.

Did the writers of the oldest biblical texts have words in their cultural lexicon to correspond to our words such as “mind” or “imagination” or “belief?" Or do the translations into English that employ such mentalistic words (such as the King James Bible) tell us more about the minds of the translators than the minds of the biblical authors?

In sharp contrast to the early OT texts, the later texts of the OT display a lexicon of profound interiority. The writers have become acculturated to experience their mental life as a rich introspective consciousness, full of internal mind-talk and “narratization,” and perceiving their own actions as the result, not of obedience to an external voice, but of self-authorized, internal decisions.”

~ “The Minds of the Bible” by Rabbi James Cohn, book description on Amazon

I continue to be fascinated by the question we wanted to ask already during the first year of religion lessons — and one daring little boy did in fact ask — “How come god speaks so much in the bible stories, but then he stops speaking? How come he doesn’t speak to us?” As I’ve related before, the nun smiled sadly and, after a suspenseful silence, replied with a disappointing generality: “Times were different then.”

But times really WERE different then. The archaic human mentality was so vastly different from ours that we can never quite enter it. Some thinkers valiantly keep trying. Among them is the Hebrew scholar Richard Elliott Friedman. In “The Disappearance of God,” he traces the gradual disappearance of the highly active, talkative god of the Torah to the hidden, silent god of the last books of the Hebrew Bible.

Rabbi James Cohn goes a step farther as he analyzes the Hebrew text from the early books onward. Influenced by the “bicameral mind” theory of Julian Jaynes, Cohn suggests that the early biblical figures commonly “heard voices,” including the voice of god. Or rather, that is how they interpreted their experience. They apparently lacked “mentalistic” words, the language of introspection. They acted in obedience to what modern psychiatry would label as “command hallucinations.” Those would later be confined to a small group of people known as the prophets; by our standards, those prophets often appear to be psychotic.

Is that too extreme an interpretation? Currently we have nothing more plausible. “Times were different then.” Cultural evolution happens. Could it affect brain function itself? If we gain a new word, and the concept that goes with it, can that word change the way we think and act? Apparently so.

Salar de Uyuni, salt flats in Bolivia, under water 

SUMMER SQUASH AND PECTIN (known to be healing in inflammatory intestinal disorders, and now linked to protection against diabetes)

~ “We tend to think about squashes, both summer and winter, as starchy vegetables. This thinking is correct, since about 85-90% of the total calories in squashes (as a group) come from carbohydrate, and about half of this carbohydrate is starch-like in composition and composed of polysaccharides. But we also tend to think about polysaccharides as stagnant storage forms for starch that cannot do much for us in terms of unique health benefits. Here our thinking is way off target! Recent research has shown that the polysaccharides in summer squash include an unusual amount of pectin—a specially structured polysaccharide that often include special chains of D-galacturonic acid called homogalacturonan. It's this unique polysaccharide composition in summer squash that is being linked in repeated animal studies to protection against diabetes and better regulation of insulin. We expect to see future studies on humans confirming these same types of benefits from consumption of 

summer squash.” ~

ending on beauty

Let me not mar that perfect Dream
By an auroral stain
But so adjust my daily Night
That it will come again.

Not when we know, the Power accosts —
The Garment of Surprise
Was all our timid Mother wore
At Home — in Paradise.

~ Dickinson #1335

Frederic Edwin Church: River of Light, 1877