Sunday, December 18, 2016



Your hand in mine, we walk out
To watch the Christmas Eve crowds
On Fillmore Street, the Negro
District. The night is thick with
Frost. The people hurry, wreathed
In their smoky breaths. Before
The shop windows the children
Jump up and down with spangled
Eyes. Santa Clauses ring bells.
Cars stall and honk. Street cars clang.
Loud speakers on the lampposts
Sing carols, on juke boxes
In the bars Louis Armstrong
Plays White Christmas. In the joints
The girls strip and grind and bump
To Jingle Bells. Overhead
The neon signs scribble and
Erase and scribble again
Messages of avarice,
Joy, fear, hygiene, and the proud
Names of the middle classes.
The moon beams like a pudding.
We stop at the main corner
And look up, diagonally
Across, at the rising moon,
And the solemn, orderly
Vast winter constellations.
You say, "There's Orion!"
The most beautiful object
Either of us will ever
Know in the world or in life
Stands in the moonlit empty
Heavens, over the swarming
Men, women, and children, black
And white, joyous and greedy,
Evil and good, buyer and
Seller, master and victim,
Like some immense theorem,
Which, if once solved would forever
Solve the mystery and pain
Under the bells and spangles.
    There he is, the man of the
    Night Before Christmas, spread out
    On the sky like a true god
    In whom it would only be
    Necessary to believe
    A little. I am fifty
    And you are five. It would do
    No good to say this and it
    May do no good to write it.
    Believe in Orion. Believe
    In the night, the moon, the crowded
    Earth. Believe in Christmas and
    Birthdays and Easter rabbits.
    Believe in all those fugitive
    Compounds of nature, all doomed
    To waste away and go out.
    Always be true to these things.
    They are all there is. Never
    Give up this savage religion
    For the blood-drenched civilized
    Abstractions of the rascals
    Who live by killing you and me.

~ Kenneth Rexroth, 1955

Fillmore Street is in San Francisco. Note, in the poem, the clanging of streetcars (or call them cablecars). 

“Sword” is the sword of Orion — the faint three stars at a diagonal from his “belt.” The violent aspect of the sword image is removed because it's a sword in the sky, in a cloud of light.
“Savage religion” is, I assume, both ancient pagan myths (e.g. Orion the Hunter) and a kind of modern folkloric tradition of Christmas, Santa, the Easter Bunny (Rexroth includes birthday celebrations in this category of rituals, and I think he’s right). And nature in general is equated with all this — the night, the moon, the constellations — the kind of nature celebrated in pagan traditions that still survive in a changed form, still serve us.

Note that the Abrahamic god is dead:

 You say, "There's Orion!"
    The most beautiful object
    Either of us will ever
    Know in the world or in life
    Stands in the moonlit empty

Orion looks like a theorem in geometry:

Like some immense theorem,
    Which, if once solved would forever
    Solve the mystery and pain
    Under the bells and spangles.

Of course this is just wishful thinking, but the speaker knows it. He wants us to believe in the mythological Orion as a true god “only a little.” There is peril in believing in anything too intensely.

The poem was written at the height of the Cold War and the witch hunts of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s House on Un-American Activities. It is a protest against the murderous fanaticism that often result from a devout belief in any religion, including secular religions like rabid nationalism, white supremacy, fascism, or communism. Even if Santa stands for commercialism, the spirit of giving must still be acknowledged. Better Santa than any kind 

of Führer.

a frozen spider web (first I wanted to post a photo of Joe McCarthy, but that’s just too depressing)

Dear God:

Thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy.

Joyce (on “kiddylitter”)

The Roman feast of Saturnalia as the origin of Christmas was used in the Puritan attack on traditional observance.


Warning! Huge spoiler alert! This movie relies on a surprise twist. This review gives away the surprise. It’s meant to be read only by those who’ve already seen the movie or those who don’t intend to see it. (That said, strangely enough the official preview gives away at least half of the surprise.)


One of the famous final pronouncements in the movie Casablanca is that “the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” It’s far more important to fight the Nazis than to carry on a romance. In “Allied,” as one reviewer observed, the problems of the world don’t amount to a hill of beans next to the problems of the little people. That too may be regarded as the modern attitude: we don’t believe in great causes and aren’t willing to die for anything.

The female protagonist of Allied is a liberated modern woman: it’s impossible to imagine that she’d tell her husband to “do the thinking for both of us,” as Casablanca’s Ilsa has Rick do, throwing the burden of ethical choice entirely on the man while she refuses to strain her pretty little head. The false Marianne is a sharp-shooter and a ruthless killer (aside for one fascinating moment that isn’t followed up), and is sexually uninhibited to the point of being sexually aggressive; before they are married, she teases, lectures, and patronizes Max; nor is she coy when it comes to vulgar language, and once in a while she even wears pants — the elegant draped sort (as one critic said, this movie is about clothes), but pants nevertheless, with their symbolism.

In fact the movie tries so hard to be modern — unlike the old-fashioned, romantic but repressed “Casablanca” — that it features two open lesbians who are willing to entertain men by showing them “how girls kiss.” The cameos of the lesbian couple are gratuitous and do nothing to advance the plot. In fact it would serve both historical authenticity and the “pretend” theme of the movie if the lesbians tried to pass as straight. But “Allied” wants to be oh-so-modern — except when Marianne chooses to be a housewife and a stay-at-home mom and is apparently totally fulfilled in these roles. 

 More about the fascinating moment when the false Marianne could kill but doesn’t (renewed warning: if you haven’t yet seen the movie but intend to, please read no further): this moment of compassion, of non-betrayal of friendship, could establish the heroine’s credibility as good rather than evil. In a better plot, the spared woman would turn up again and in turn save “Marianne.” But the woman is never seen again.

A major theme in the movie is becoming what we pretend to be. Max and “Marianne” pretend to be lovey-dovey husband and wife and in fact fall in love and become lovey-dovey husband and wife (with an idealized super-quiet, trouble-free baby) — even after, early on, she delivers the warning: “It’s not fucking that messes up our work. It’s feeling” (she’s the one who delivers all the best lines in the movie, most of them in the Casablanca part). But the male protagonist, Max, does not become a Catholic even though he’s impersonating a “deep Catholic” (though this is shown only in terms of the jumbo-size cross that “Marianne” puts around his neck).

More important, the false Marianne who’s impersonating Marianne Beauséjour does not become someone like the real Marianne, the martyred heroine of the Resistance. For instance, she does not choose to pass on FALSE information to the Nazis, proving her loyalty both to her husband and her country. On the contrary: except at the very end, when love triumphs, our heroine remains a dedicated Nazi spy (and the male protagonist, by the way, is willing to commit treason in order to save his marriage).

The movie doesn’t explain why and how Marianne, a Parisienne and proud of it, became a Nazi agent. Nor can we know if she truly believes in Aryan racial superiority, Hitler’s genius, making Germany great again and ruling the world, or the need to exterminate the inferior races, homosexuals, the disabled and so forth. The viciousness of the Nazi ideology is not even hinted at — and many younger Americans could use a reminder. 

Since in Germany it’s illegal to display the swastika, the German neo-Nazis have taken to flying the Confederate flag instead. It appears that Trump’s father was a KKK member, getting arrested in a Klan costume for “failure to disperse” during a KKK riot

There is only one rather muted “Heil Hitler” in the movie, and Hitler’s portrait in the office of the German ambassador is shown from a distance and in soft focus. The Nazis have been reduced almost to a prop, a mere plot device. “Allied” doesn’t take them seriously; it couldn’t care less about the ethics of enabling pure evil. Never mind the Nazi atrocities and the death and suffering of millions. Love alone is important — why, even flirtation with its clever repartees  is very important — elegant clothes are supremely important. Not so the moral evil of collaborating with the Nazis.

Nor is Max upset that his forbidden personal investigation as to whether or not his wife really works for the Nazis leads to the death of a young British pilot on his first flying mission. He died as a war hero, right? His father is going to be proud of him.

But that’s a relatively minor matter. The major problem is that no amount of surface goodness that the heroine displays, her idealized wife-and-mother persona, her cuddling the unnaturally silent baby — nor even her final self-sacrifice — can make up for the fact that she does betray her secret-agent husband (whom she genuinely loves — we must believe this if the movie is to work) by passing on information to the Nazis. And people die as a result, or are imprisoned and tortured.

By the way, there is a minor “Casablanca moment” in the movie. Marianne complains about Max’s spending so much time at the office. She asks, “Why must you go?” He replies, “To help liberate your country.” And she says, “Then you must go.” She appears to put her country first. The viewer doesn’t begin to suspect that all the while she’s actually betraying her country.

In Casablanca, collaboration with evil is not an option. In Allied, it’s shrugged off as if it were a kind of unorthodox career option. Yet I, for one, cannot sympathize with anyone who is working for the Nazis. That the viewers are asked not to mind this collaboration and to see the heroine as simply wonderful is a disquieting sign of our times.

On the other hand, for all the big-budget glamor and the pizzazz of the scenes set in Casablanca — the best part of the movie, with the best lines — “Allied” has no chance of becoming a classic on the order of “Casablanca.” “Casablanca” was daring in presenting a sullied romance as great love with its own sacredness — but then it restored the larger moral order of putting fighting the Nazis first, ahead of the romance. “Allied” is not daring in any sense — only morally and historically blind.


(an utterly shameless digression: The scene I identified with most is when the plane’s engine sputters again and again and fails to start. That’s my life, I thought, that’s so many lives — thwarted by the most idiotic, mundane circumstances.)

(P.S. Marianne repeats this line twice: “A real husband would offer a cigarette to his wife before lighting his own.” In the context of the movie “a real husband” works well. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help thinking that, especially back then, the line would be, “A gentleman would offer a cigarette to a woman before lighting his own.” In fact that would be an automatic habit, and not just in terms of offering a cigarette to a woman, but also to another man. Just good manners.)

gun battery in Normandy — reminds me of smaller bunkers that I saw on the Baltic coast

“Book IV of My Struggle: A Cat's Life tracks with pitiless candor & lyricism innocent American cat recruited by KGB.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates (on Twitter)


Oddly enough, recemtly I had to deal with a man in his sixties who acted like a little boy arguing with Mommy. Rather than being a father figure, Trump is a child figure, a boy king who's still fighting against Dad . . . the country has been "parentified" for lack of a father figure.

~ "Dr. Justin Frank: Anybody who has been a child of parents who are very narcissistic, who are involved with themselves, not paying much attention to the children, those children have to make a lot of noise in order to get attention. They feel neglected. And mainstream America who voted for Donald Trump as a group of many people who are churchgoers, good people, hard-working, out of work now for a variety of reasons and they feel really neglected and completely ignored by people inside the beltway, whether it's by the Clintons by Obama, even, and I think that Trump, who grew up in a place where he was only paid attention to when he yelled and screamed and then when he did exactly what his father wanted and then when he got out of military school, I think his thin skin allows him to tune into narcissistic loss and pain. And so he can feed his audience and be fed by them.

He's much better in person than he is on TV because in person there is this energy that he communicates. He's sort of like a political version of Judy Garland who would come in and eventually in a few minutes have the audience eating out of her hand. And she would get fed by them and feed them back and forth because of her vulnerability and their vulnerability. And that's how he got so much popularity.

And the second thing he does is he's an expert at externalizing or deflecting blame. So he can get angry outside and a lot of these people didn't know who to get angry at. So he can get angry at the parents, he can get angry at Washington and he can express a lot of anger and rage which justifies people supporting him. And I think that those two things — having been narcissistically injured and in pain and also being able to be really angry at being ignored and not paid attention to and not included — I think is a lot and goes a far way.

Thom Hartmann: But 35 years of Reaganomics has basically raped the middle class, it's ripped, it's eviscerated, it's ripped the guts out of the middle class and so now more than sixty percent of Americans are not prepared for a one-thousand-dollar emergency in their lives. They couldn't handle a thousand-dollar emergency in their lives.

Dr. Justin Frank: Right.

Thom Hartmann: That's massive and so, and the Democrats, rather than fighting back against it by going back to LBJ, FDR, Great Society programs, let's strengthen Medicare, let's strengthen Social Security, let's ? The Democrats to some extent went neoliberal instead and, oh well, you know, we'll become like the Republicans were in the nineteen fifties, kind of the, you know, nice Main Street guys.

Dr. Justin Frank: Republican light.

Thom Hartmann: Exactly. And that didn't solve the problem. So we're still, we have been in an era of Reaganomics since the eighties. It has not been done away with. Reaganomics, economics and this globalism is added to it, and so that's what creating the vulnerability that you're describing, in my opinion.

Dr. Justin Frank: I agree with that and I don't see why this has to be either/or psychoanalytic or political. I think they really can support each other. For instance, one of the things that Reagan did, and first thing almost when he took over, was to declare ketchup a vegetable. That's not exactly a good thing for school lunches.

But the second thing is he was very adamant in breaking down public education. He really wanted to privatize schools. Education suffered tremendous. So the people who were educated from 1980 to, during, you know, his reign and after don't have the kind of education and so they don't really know as much. And the other thing he did right from the beginning was he broke unions and he was very much in favor of breaking unions and he tried to break down and dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency.

So all of those are related not so much to economics but also to the social compact and to the fact that people should be able to rely on having clean water, should rely on having good air to breathe, should rely on being able to join a union and bargain for their wages, should rely on being able to have vegetables at school. All of those things are about being able to rely on a government that's there for you as opposed to a government that is "the problem". And he always saw government as the problem.

What happened with the Democrats, I think, Clinton, you're right, tried to out-Republican the Republicans, and Obama, I think, was afraid. I think Obama didn't really try, and partly being the first black president it was very difficult because he believed so much in logic, reason, compassion and that this is a country of red and blue states.

He kept trying to collaborate with people like Mitch McConnell and Ryan and Boehner, and all those people, they don't want to collaborate with him, they just want to destroy him. And he kept that he could argue with them or help work out with them and he couldn't. And he was afraid and so the only time he's really shown the kind of courage I would have liked in the president was when he was campaigning for Hillary Clinton in the last couple of months before the election, when he essentially talked about how dangerous Trump is, how incompetent he is, how he doesn't know very much or anything and that, and he even said at one point, democracy's on the ballot.

And so one of the senses that I have psychologically of Trump's power is that he really understands how to have power, how to execute power, and how to scare people. He scares people. I've got a lot of texts from people saying, aren't you afraid as a psychiatrist that you're going to be sued by Trump and José Andrés is being sued for leaving his restaurant, taking out his restaurant of his hotel because of Trump's racist anti-immigrant remarks. So he's suing him. So aren't I afraid? And I think that that's one of the things that we're struggling with.

Anyone who says I look like the president-elect will be sued for defamation. And besides, I'm not “orange.” I'm “rufous.”

As far as Trump's background and who he is and how he got to be this way, he did write and did talk about his father. And his father was a very successful businessman who also scared people and bullied people. And he said the most important thing is to win. Trump competed with his older brother who was the junior actually Fred Trump Jr., and Fred Trump Jr. was just too nice a guy and easy going to be a killer. And Trump's father wanted somebody who was going to be really tough and Donald showed, turned out to be that kind of kid who was a fighter in school, got into fights, who was very much of a bully and didn't really believe in rules and had to be sent to military academy in order to calm down.

Thom Hartmann: Would you argue that his brother, I mean, his brother kind of famously died from alcoholism...

Dr. Justin Frank: Yes.

Thom Hartmann: ... that that was the consequence of his being basically destroyed by his father and perhaps by his younger brother Donald?

Dr. Justin Frank: I think it was being destroyed by his father and by his younger brother Donald, absolutely. And I think that it was also that his alcoholism, part of the destruction has to do with turning their back on him because he was just a nice guy and that's what narcissistic and sadistic parents do.

And the competitiveness with the brother, Donald, is what is called, and Anna Freud talks about identification with the aggressor. If the father kicks the son, the son kicks the dog. And this is what we've got.

Donald Trump, his father Fred and mother Mary Anne MacLeod, a fisherman’s daughter from the Outer Hebrides. Mary Anne left abject poverty in Scotland to become a domestic in the US.

Thom Hartmann: Right. And this is what, I mean, you're telling the story of Mussolini's Italy, you're telling the story of Hitler's Germany.

Dr. Justin Frank: Yes. And one difference between Mussolini and Hitler and Trump — there's several, but there are two main ones. One is sort of a relief to me which is that Trump is 70 and those guys were in their thirties and early forties, so they had a long life ahead of them to be dictators.

But the second thing that's a difference is that the in modern world, Trump he has tweets and by the fact that he tweets so much and does all those things on Twitter, he is essentially inviting the people around him close like Kellyanne Conway and other people to say you have to stop doing that, you have to grow up, you have to use a teleprompter. And he's inviting the American people, some of whom were trying to do it even, to set limits on him. So in a way . . . 


Thom Hartmann: So he's still fighting with his parents!

Dr. Justin Frank: He's still fighting with his parents but he's turned us into his parents. That's what's so strange.

Thom Hartmann: Or some others. He's turned it to his colleagues.

Dr. Justin Frank: Yes, but there's never been a president who was not a father figure in this country in some way, whether it's Bush, whether it's Gerald Ford, whether it's certainly Reagan was, Roosevelt was, they all were in one way or another. Clinton was, Obama, both Bushes were in many ways.

But the second thing that's a difference is that the in modern world, Trump he has tweets and by the fact that he tweets so much and does all those things on Twitter, he is essentially inviting the people around him close like Kellyanne Conway and other people to say you have to stop doing that, you have to grow up, you have to use a teleprompter. And he's inviting the American people, some of whom were trying to do it even, to set limits on him. So in a way ...

We have a child [as president] for the first time, a person who is very similar to a ten-year-old child.

Dr. Justin Frank: There is a series of generations where every generation, certain people who have a strong — fancy word, epistemophilic instinct — they love to learn, is always at odds with a part of the population and an inner part of all of us that doesn't want to learn and that doesn't want to think. We're attracted, and I write about this in my book, we're attracted to non- thought. There's something appealing about it, just like . . .

Thom Hartmann: Just safety, right? Just leave me alone.

Dr. Justin Frank: Yeah. I can do the same thing. I can say, well, Trump equals Reagan. I mean, the danger is, you're right, but the danger is we can just turn that into a mantra and not think about it anymore because we've now categorized.

Thom Hartmann: Ah.

Dr. Justin Frank: So even the most thoughtful people, let's say you're one of the most thoughtful people, is attracted to non-thought, that once you figure it out, you put him in a category and then you don't have to think about it. And then you can respond and react without thinking about it, because he's already locked into a preconception that you have about him.

Dr. Justin Frank: That's the danger that Trump invites because of his bombastic behavior and his incitement to hate.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah.

Dr. Justin Frank: And I do have to say one other thing, which is, if you're a father, you have a super-ego function. You have to help your children learn about the Ten Commandments, learn about right and wrong, learn about not killing, learn about respecting other people, learning about paying attention, not coveting this and that. Trump is not that kind of person. He is not going to be a super-ego leader in this nation. He's going to be a super-ego permission giver.

So just this morning the New York One television station said that there's about a hundred and twenty percent increase in hate crimes since the election.

That has to do with a permission to hate and a permission to be destructive. And the super-ego big picture and the father figure has to step up and say something so when Mike Pence or somebody else says, 'well he doesn't like all the Nazi stuff'. Actually, Trump has to say something every day because the real father is there every day.

He's the id. And what he's done is he's parentified a lot of us. That the one thing I learned in working in psychiatric wards when I was a resident, the most important thing in order to ever have a patient is that when somebody's in the hospital you have to set limits. especially with teenagers. You have to stop destructive behavior. There is nobody who can do that with him. There is nobody who's willing to stand up to him except for this guy who wrote an article yesterday in the New York Times.

Thom Hartmann: Evan McMullin.

Dr. Justin Frank: Evan McMullin, that you mentioned, there was a guy today who's an elector who's refusing to vote for him and I think that other electors have to realize this. It, you have to set limits with him before he ever takes office, because, and what limit would you set with him? You can't say, 'oh don't tear paper, don't write, you know,

Thom Hartmann: Don't antagonize China.

Dr. Justin Frank: Don't antagonize China. That's not going to work.

Thom Hartmann: Don't start a nuclear war!

Dr. Justin Frank: The only limit you can set with him is, you make a choice: your business or the presidency. And that's the limit. If you want to be President, you have to sell everything, divest everything, and your kids can't run it. It's gone.

Thom Hartmann: Right. He's not going to do that.

Dr. Justin Frank: Well, then, he shouldn't be President. It has to be some group of people who can get together to do that. Because that's how you have to set limits with somebody like this. This is a person who hates reality.

It's one of the psychotic aspects, and these are psychotic elements. I'm not saying he's psychotic. But one of the psychotic elements that is very important to pay attention to is the hatred of reality. He hates limits. He hates reality. He is already planning to change where he lives, change all kinds of things for the presidency. He really doesn't believe - and I don't like it - that a window can't be open and shut at the same time. But he refuses to accept it. That's that. I'm going to treat whenever I want wherever I want. It's very disturbing for a president or anybody, but for president...

Thom Hartmann: So if, I mean, it would take basically the Republican Party to enforce that...

Dr. Justin Frank: Yes.

Thom Hartmann: ... you must divest yourself of your business.

Dr. Justin Frank: They won't. They're afraid of him.

Thom Hartmann: Right, so then, there, and I agree with your analysis. So he becomes president. He becomes president and now we have a child king, basically. It's like the boy king in the French court in the 17th century.

Dr. Justin Frank: Right, or King George who was crazy, George the third in England.
You have to keep talking and you have to push through your fear. I mean, the biggest thing is that Trump knows how to instill fear in other people. He sues them, he scares them, and he can use the government. He's made a whole group of of immigrants afraid, he's made Muslim people afraid, he's made Jews afraid since there's all these new anti-semitic things, he's made blacks afraid, he's made many women afraid. The hard thing is to push through the fear and stand up.

Thom Hartmann: OK.

Dr. Justin Frank: And we all have, were born, the ones in this country, we live under a constitution where everybody supposedly has the same freedoms and the same rights including free speech. And I think the only way to deal with him is to not ever just give in and go along. I don't want to be like Al Gore, I don't want to be kiss the ring, and I don't think it's the right thing to do emotionally, psychologically, politically. It's just wrong.

We can be sure he'd never vote for Trump


Was Hitler a father figure? To me, as I watch some videos of him, usually giving speeches, he seems more like a crazy uncle, overly emotional, bombastic, histrionic. Charismatic and inspiring? He must have seemed that way to millions. He knew how to stir up fear and hatred and rabid nationalism. But personal appeal? That remains puzzling.

My mother had a habit of asking, “How could the Germans have fallen for this buffoon?” She was haunted by that question all her life.

Not that I see Trump as Hitler (sooner Putin). Hitler was interested mainly in power, and he was an ideologue of  anti-Semitism and Germans as the Master Race. (I can’t really say “white supremacy” since the Slavic peoples he wanted to enslave, displace, and ultimately exterminate were also white.) Trump doesn’t seem committed to any particular ideology unless the supremacy of Trump and the art of a con job.

The best analog of Trump is Italy’s Berlusconi, he of sex scandals, greed and corruption. A “kleptokrat” robbing the country for his personal enrichment. Trump is now too old and fat for sex, but money remains a huge interest. He and his cabinet of “plunder monkeys” (to use Stephen King’s phrase) will be masters at looting the country in the coming Scamalot.


To be sure, similarities between Hitler and Trump CAN be found. Here is an article that examines these similarities, as well as the differences.


~ “What makes the comparison between Hitler and Trump so poignant is not just the rhetorical marginalization [“OTHERING”] of groups, lifestyles or beliefs, but the fact that both men represent their personal character as the antidote to all social and political problems.

Neither Hitler nor Trump campaign on specific policies, beyond a few slogans. Instead, both promise a new vision of leadership. They portray the existing political systems as fundamentally corrupt, incompetent, and, most importantly, unable to generate decisive action in the face of pressing problems.

Both use their personal biographies—or rather, the highly edited accounts of their personal biographies they present to the media—to conjure up a new style of politics, which is based neither on expertise nor on detailed policy proposals. Instead—they suggest—their own personal 'struggle' shaped them into—supposedly—authentic leaders, capable of overcoming adversity through sheer force of character. In this scenario, democracy has less to do with representative institutions than with a leader who is intuitively 'in tune' with the sentiments of the people.

Hitler's famous autobiography was called My Struggle (Mein Kampf) for a reason. This supposedly difficult-to-read book continues to enjoy surprising popularity in many countries throughout the world. In India, it has been on bestseller lists for many years, and is widely used as a textbook on leadership in business schools.

This should give us pause for thought. Like Hitler, Trump is capitalizing on a longing for charismatic leadership, to which even highly developed Western democracies seem very susceptible when democratic structures fail to deliver all the desired outcomes. No Western democracy currently faces problems on the scale of those Germany grappled with before 1933. And yet, there is a very real sense amongst a large part of the population that they have not been on the "winning side" for a long time.

The gap between rich and poor is getting wider, and in the process, the classical attributes of political leadership—education, expertise, eloquent speeches—have come to be seen not as problem-solving strategies, but as the identity markers of a social elite who are looking after their own interests only.

Even where new policies on healthcare, education, or job creation achieve their goals, they are not popular, because they are tinged with that smell of elitism that makes many ordinary people not feel valued by the political classes. Trump has not been the first demagogue to capitalize on such sentiments, and he will not be the last. Trump is a symptom of a fundamental problem with our democratic system, which we seem utterly unable to fix.” ~


Trump the coked-up 3 a.m. Twitterbrain, Trump the Grand Buffoon, and now the Un-President — these phrases are being tossed around, but they don’t explain T’s refusal to grow up, or why millions fell for him (to the extent that he could credibly boast how he could shoot someone and not lose any votes). I appreciate articles that increase our understanding of this psychopathology — and articles that analyze the similarities and differences between Trump and Hitler.

Is Trump an “enfant terrible”? That implies a child’s terrifying candor. The most iconic enfant terrible is the child who cried that the Emperor has no clothes. Trump is more terrifying by far: he IS the Emperor, but childish in the brain in a world that requires adult thinking power.

“China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters — rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act.” “Unpresidented” seems like a Freudian slip — we are going to be an “unpresidented” country — a country of orphans without a father.


(Interesting that it started with iconography. It makes me wonder if world history would have been different in certain ways if the crucifix had not come the central image of Christianity -- it wasn't in early Christianity.)

Before about 1100, Christian devotions focused on Christ’s divine nature and triumph over death. Images of the crucifixion showed Jesus alive and healthy on the cross. For this reason, his killers were not major focus in Christian thought. No anti-Jewish polemics were composed during these centuries; artworks portrayed his executioners not as Jews, but as Roman soldiers (which was more historically accurate) or as yokels. Though there are scattered records of anti-Jewish episodes like forced conversions, we find no consistent pattern of anti-Jewish violence.

In the decades around 1100, a shift in the focus of Christian veneration brought Jews to the fore. In an effort to spur compassion among Christian worshipers, preachers and artists began to dwell in vivid detail on Christ’s pain. Christ morphed from triumphant divine judge to suffering human savior. A parallel tactic, designed to foster a sense of Christian unity, was to emphasize the cruelty of his supposed tormentors, the Jews.

Grünewald: Crucifixion, Isenheim Altar
Partly out of identification with this newly vulnerable Christ, partly in response to recent Turkish military successes, and partly because an internal reform movement was questioning fundamentals of faith, Christians began to see themselves as threatened, too. In 1084 the pope wrote that Christianity “has fallen under the scorn, not only of the Devil, but of Jews, Saracens, and pagans.” The “Goad of Love,” a retelling of the crucifixion that is considered the first anti-Jewish Passion treatise, was written around 1155-80. It describes Jews as consumed with sadism and blood lust. They were seen as enemies not only of Christ, but also of living Christians; it was at this time that Jews began to be accused of ritually sacrificing Christian children.

Ferocious anti-Jewish rhetoric began to permeate sermons, plays and polemical texts. Jews were labeled demonic and greedy. In one diatribe, the head of the most influential monastery in Christendom thundered at the Jews: “Why are you not called brute animals? Why not beasts?” Images began to portray Jews as hooknosed caricatures of evil.

The first records of large-scale anti-Jewish violence coincide with this rhetorical shift. Although the pope who preached the First Crusade had called only for an “armed pilgrimage” to retake Jerusalem from Muslims, the first victims of the Crusade were not the Turkish rulers of Jerusalem but Jewish residents of the German Rhineland. Contemporary accounts record the crusaders asking why, if they were traveling to a distant land to “kill and to subjugate all those kingdoms that do not believe in the Crucified,” they should not also attack “the Jews, who killed and crucified him?”

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Jews were massacred in towns where they had peacefully resided for generations. At no point did Christian authorities promote or consent to the violence. Christian theology, which applied the Psalm verse “Slay them not” to Jews, and insisted that Jews were not to be killed for their religion, had not changed. Clerics were at a loss to explain the attacks. A churchman from a nearby town attributed the massacres to “some error of mind.”

But not all the Rhineland killers were crazy. The crusaders set out in the Easter season. Both crusade and Easter preaching stirred up rage about the crucifixion and fear of hostile and threatening enemies. It is hardly surprising that armed and belligerent bands turned such rhetoric into anti-Jewish action.

For the rest of the Middle Ages, this pattern was repeated: Preaching about the crusades, proclamations of Jewish “enmity” or unsubstantiated anti-Jewish accusations were followed by outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence, which the same shocked authorities that had aroused Christians’ passions were then unable to restrain. We see this in the Rhineland during the Second Crusade (1146), in England during the Third Crusade (1190), in Franconia in 1298, in many locales following the Black Death in 1348, and in Iberia in 1391. Sometimes the perpetrators were zealous holy warriors, sometimes they were opportunistic business rivals, sometimes they were parents grieving for children lost to accident or crime, or fearful of the ravages of a new disease.

Some may well have been insane. But sane or deranged, they did not pick their victims in a vacuum. It was repeated and dehumanizing excoriation that led those medieval Christians to attack people who had long been their neighbors.

Today’s purveyors of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-police and anti-abortion rhetoric and imagery may not for a moment intend to provoke violence against Muslims, immigrants, police officers and health care providers. But in the light of history, they should not be shocked when that violence comes to pass.

A Nativity scene without Jews, Arabs, Africans, or refugees


“A man of twenty, I peek stealthily into the window of the tiny study, in Carmel Valley, California, where my older self sits writing this book. I shudder to see as reality some of the things I have feared: the wrinkles, the baldness, the ingrained mannerisms; I console myself that the figure at the desk has not grown fat, and that he is writing. I glance through other windows, wondering in spite of myself at the lack of furniture and other possessions (so old and yet so poor!); I gaze uncomprehendingly at the rosy-cheeked child, the graceful wife. I follow the writer through a few of his days, remarking dismally at their regularity, mundaneness, domesticity, lack of risk. “Is that all there is?” I ask. I yearn to rap on the window, to ask him what provoked this rejection of freedom, this submission to desolate routine. What puzzles me most of all is his appearance of being, despite his extreme age and manifest impoverishment of experience, so much happier than I have ever been.” ~ Robert Grudin


I know that my 20-year-old self would be totally baffled by my current self. I'd have to show her the first book I bought in the US, The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant, to prove it’s really me. Yes, there is some continuity of intellectual interests, but just about everything else has changed.

My younger self would probably be disappointed by my lack of ambition more than anything else. She might even despise me for my wanting to enjoy life. But then . . . what did she know?


"Up until the 1950s, nobody knew what the spleen was for. We thought it didn't matter," says Dr. David Shatz, a surgical critical care specialist at the University of California, Davis, whose research focuses on spleen trauma.

We know that while you're still a fetus, the spleen makes red blood cells. And as an adult, the spleen acts as a garbage can, filtering out damaged blood cells and platelets. But you can live with some old broken blood cells, so if you injured your spleen in the 1950s, doctors wouldn't waste time trying to stitch it up. They'd cut it out in a splenectomy and send you on your way.

But modern imaging technology has left us with a different picture of the spleen, realizing that it has a role in the immune system. Blood slows down as it passes through the spleen, which gives the immune system time to recognize and make antibodies for certain types of bacteria.

"It processes encapsulated bacteria — ones that cause meningitis and ones that cause pneumonia," says Shatz. Without the spleen to keep these bacteria in check, about 0.5 percent of people who have their spleens removed develop sepsis, a potentially deadly blood infection.

"It's not very common, but it's common enough to be a problem," says Shatz. Generally, doctors try to reduce the risk of sepsis with vaccination for pneumococcus, H. influenzae type B (Hib), and meningococcus, so patients' immune systems can recognize these bacteria without a spleen's assistance.

But not everyone gets those vaccinations, so some doctors have tried other tactics. Because it turns out that spleens can do something no other organ can: They can make more of themselves.

When a spleen is injured, cells from the organ scatter throughout the abdomen. If the cells are lucky enough to land somewhere with a lot of blood vessels, they start to grow into tiny extra spleens called splenunculi. The whole process is called splenosis, and it seems to be pretty common: about 1 in 5 people have accessory spleens.

"As far as we know, the spleen is the only organ that can do this," says Shatz. Even livers, with their impressive regenerative powers, can't replicate like a spleen.

To reduce the rates of post-splenectomy sepsis, some doctors have tried to deliberately make accessory spleens. Instead of removing a spleen entirely, they've cut spleens up into tiny pieces and left the bits inside patients to grow. Studies have also been done in animals, and according to Shatz, the procedure was fairly side-effect-free.

Unfortunately, it's hard to tell whether these accessory spleens have any real benefit. Although the spleen-bits attached and grew, only a handful of cases were looked at, so it's hard to tell whether the new spleens did their jobs as well as their full-sized counterparts — or better than no spleen at all.

Shatz hopes to one day do a large clinical trial. "We'll assign a random number; some spleens will get cut up, and some spleens will go in a bucket." But it hasn't been a research priority, says Shatz. Spleens are cool, but they're not critical.

In the meantime, cheers to the spleen, an underappreciated but impressive organ, filtering away whether you need it to or not. Count your blessings (or count your spleens), and if you aren't in the 18.8 percent with spare splenunculi, don't whine about it. Or, as my dad would say, "don't get spleeny.”


ending on beauty:


Ghosts all over the apartment
all over the building and the streets

Darker evenings await

Colder dreams await

I shiver, sleeper’s chrysalis

All night rain

~ Sutton

the ghost orchid

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