Sunday, March 12, 2017



Stalin was still alive.
My parents mentioned “Mr. S.”
Never repeat what you hear at home.
I spoke when spoken to:
Children and fish have no voice.

Santa Claus was banned at the preschool. 
The Christmas tree was decorated
with cardboard numerals six,
to celebrate the Six-Year Plan.
On the wall hung a large portrait
of Mr. S. with a marvelous mustache,
arms around smiling children.

Then Mr. S. died. Newspapers showed
“the masses” weeping at his funeral.
After the weeping stopped,
streets changed names.
Portraits of the mustache
were taken off the walls.

New leaders gave speeches admitting
“past errors and deviations.”
My uncle’s double death sentence,
commuted to life in prison,
had been one of those deviations.
A hero of the wartime Underground,
he was released, given treatment
for problems caused by torture,
a sum of money.
After eight years in prison pajamas,
he could now afford the best suits.

Red banners still flapped like laundry
from official balconies.
In shop windows instead of goods,
pictures of Karl Marx, Engels, Lenin.
In city parks, begonias were planted to read:

Conversation remained
a goulash of politics and rumors
about where to get butter and meat.
Favorite joke: How come
in Poland no one sleeps?
— Because the Party keeps vigil
and the enemy never sleeps
Aunt Lola was offended by the slogan,
We are the manure
for future generations.

Radio Free Europe
crackled through the static.
Propaganda posters rotted in the rain.
at a New Year’s Eve party,
a Hungarian scientist whispered,
Nothing’s going to change
for a thousand years.

~ Oriana

But the only thing we can be sure of is change itself. It includes the fall of empires and the death of tyrants.

~ “According to his daughter Svetlana, who was at the bedside, at 9.50 pm on the 5th [of March, 1953] Stalin’s eyes opened with ‘a terrible look – either mad or angry and full of the fear of death’. He raised his left hand, pointing upwards, perhaps threateningly, and then death took him. It was announced on the radio the next day, with appeals for calm, and the funeral was held in Red Square on March 9th in the presence of a huge crowd — so large that some were crushed to death. Stalin’s veteran colleague Vyacheslav Molotov, whose wife was in a prison camp where she was known as Object Number Twelve, spoke in praise of the dead tyrant. So did Malenkov and Beria, but in private Beria made no secret of his relief at the dictator’s passing. Stalin’s body was embalmed and was presently put on display with Lenin’s corpse in the renamed Lenin-Stalin Mausoleum.” ~

(Molotov’s wife, Polina, was arrested in 1948, charged with Zionism, and sentenced to five years in a labor camp. She was released by Beria within days of Stalin’s death.)

~ “The guards slept late the morning [of March 1], and so, it seemed, did Stalin. Twelve o'clock, one, two o'clock came and no Stalin.

The guards began to get worried, but no one dared to go into his rooms. They had no right to disturb Stalin unless invited into his presence personally.

At 6.30 [p.m.] a light came on in Stalin's rooms, and the [security] guards relaxed a little. But by the time 10 o'clock had chimed they were petrified. Lozgachev [one of the guards] was finally sent in to check on Stalin.

“I hurried up to him and said 'Comrade Stalin, what's wrong?' He'd, you know, wet himself while he was lying there. He made some incoherent noise, like "Dz dz". His pocketwatch and copy of Pravda were lying on the floor. The watch showed 6.30. That's when it [cerebral hemorrhage] must have happened to him.”

The guards rushed to call Stalin's drinking companions, the Politburo. It was their tardiness in responding and calling for medical help that put questions of doubt in [Russian historian Edvard] Radzinski's mind.

Did they already know too much and so did not need to hurry to the "old man's" side?

Mr Radzinski says Yes. He asserts that Stalin was injected with poison by the guard Khrustalev, under the orders of his master, KGB chief Lavrenty Beria. And what was the reason Stalin was killed?

"All the people who surrounded Stalin understood that Stalin wanted war — the future World War III — and he decided to prepare the country for this war," Radzinski says.

 "He said: we have the opportunity to create a communist Europe but we have to hurry. But Beria, Khrushchev, Malenkov and every normal person understood it was terrible to begin a war against America because the country [Russia] had no economy.

"It wasn't a poor but a super-poor country which was destroyed by the German invasion, a country which had no resources but only nuclear weapons.

"It was the reason for his anti-Semitic campaign, it was a provocation. He wanted an answer from America. And Beria knew Stalin had planned on 5 March to begin the deportation of Jewish people from Moscow.”

At 9.50pm on 5 March Stalin died. By the next day his body was lying in state in the Hall of Columns, a few streets from Red Square. It is estimated that several millions came to see him one final time. Several hundred were rumored to have died in the crush.” ~

From the New York Times:

~ “Relying on a previously secret account by doctors of Stalin's final days, the authors [of “Stalin’s Last Crime”] suggest that he may have been poisoned with warfarin, a tasteless and colorless blood thinner also used as a rat killer, during a final dinner with four members of his Politburo.

They base that theory in part on early drafts of the report, which show that Stalin suffered extensive stomach hemorrhaging during his death throes. The authors state that significant references to stomach bleeding were excised from the 20-page official medical record, which was not issued until June 1953, more than three months after his death on March 5 that year.

Four Politburo members were at that dinner: Lavrenti P. Beria, then chief of the secret police; Georgi M. Malenkov, Stalin's immediate successor; Nikita S. Khrushchev, who eventually rose to the top spot; and Nikolai Bulganin.

The authors, Vladimir P. Naumov, a Russian historian, and Jonathan Brent, a Yale University Soviet scholar, suggest that the most likely suspect, if Stalin was poisoned, is Beria, for 15 years his despised minister of internal security.

Beria supposedly boasted of killing Stalin on May Day, two months after his death. ''I did him in! I saved all of you,'' he was quoted as telling Vyacheslav M. Molotov, another Politburo member, in Molotov’s memoirs, “Molotov Remembers” (published in 1992).

''Some doctors are skeptical that if an autopsy were performed, that a conclusive answer to the question of whether he was poisoned could be found,'' Brent said. ''I personally believe that Stalin's death was not fortuitous. There are just too many arrows pointing in the other direction.’'

Mr. Brent and Mr. Naumov, the secretary of a Russian government commission to rehabilitate victims of repression, have spent years in the archives of the K.G.B. and other Soviet organizations.

Russian officials granted them access to some documents for their latest work, which primarily traces the fabulous course of the Doctors' Plot, a supposed collusion in the late 1940's by Kremlin doctors to kill top Communist leaders.

The collusion was in fact a fabrication by Kremlin officials, acting largely on Stalin's orders. By the time Stalin disclosed the plot to a stunned Soviet populace in January 1953, he had spun it into a vast conspiracy, led by Jews under the United States' secret direction, to kill him and destroy the Soviet Union itself.

That February, the Kremlin ordered the construction of four giant prison camps in Kazakhstan, Siberia and the Arctic north, apparently in preparation for a second great terror -- this time directed at the millions of Soviet citizens of Jewish descent.

But the terror never unfolded. On March 1, 1953, two weeks after the camps were ordered built and two weeks before the accused doctors were to go on trial, Stalin collapsed at Blizhnaya [his “nearer” country house in Kuntsevo], a north Moscow dacha, after the all-night dinner with his four Politburo comrades.

After four days, Stalin died, at age 73. Death was laid to a hemorrhage on the left side of his brain.

Less than a month later, the doctors previously accused of trying to kill him were abruptly exonerated and the case against them was deemed an invention of the secret police. No Jews were deported east. By year's end, Beria faced a firing squad, and Khrushchev had tempered Soviet hostility toward the United States.

In their book, Mr. Naumov and Mr. Brent cite wildly varying accounts of Stalin's last hours as evidence that — at the least — Stalin's Politburo colleagues denied him medical help in the first hours of his illness, when it might have been effective.

The authors state that a cerebral hemorrhage is still the most straightforward explanation for Stalin's death, and that poisoning remains for now a matter of speculation. But Western physicians who examined the Soviet doctors' official account of Stalin's last days said similar physical effects could have been produced by a 5-to-10-day dose of warfarin, which had been patented in 1950 and was being aggressively marketed worldwide at the time.

Why Stalin might have been killed is a less difficult question. Politburo members lived in fear of Stalin; beyond that, the book cites a previously secret report as evidence that Stalin was preparing to add a new dimension to the alleged American conspiracy known as the Doctors' Plot.

That report — an interrogation of a supposed American agent named Ivan I. Varfolomeyev, in 1951 — indicated that the Kremlin was preparing to accuse the United States of a plot to destroy much of Moscow with a new nuclear weapon, then to launch an invasion of Soviet territory along the Chinese border.

Mr. Varfolomeyev's fantastic plot was known in Soviet documents as ''the plan of the internal blow.'' Stalin, the book states, had assigned the Varfolomeyev case highest priority, and was preparing to proceed with a public trial despite his underlings' fears that the charges were so unbelievable that they would make the Kremlin a global laughingstock.

Mr. Naumov said in an interview today that that plan, combined with other Soviet military preparations in the Russian Far East at the time, strongly suggest that Stalin was preparing for a war along the United States' Pacific Coast. What remains unclear, he said, is whether he planned a first strike or whether the mushrooming conspiracy unfolding in Moscow was to serve as a provocation that would lead both sides to a flash point.

Mr. Brent said he believes that fear of a nuclear holocaust could have led Beria and perhaps others at that final dinner to assent to Stalin's death.

''No question — they were afraid,'' he said. ''But they knew that the direction Stalin was going in was one of fiercer and fiercer conflict with the U.S. This is what Khrushchev saw, and it is what Beria saw. And it scared them to death.''

The authors say that Stalin knew of his comrades' fears, citing as proof remarks at a December 1952 meeting of top Communist leaders in which Stalin began laying out the scope of the Doctors' Plot and the American threat to Soviet power.

''Here, look at you — blind men, kittens,'' the minutes record Stalin as saying. ''You don't see the enemy. What will you do without me?’” ~


Though this may seem like a confused and speculative account, let me emphasize that according to  Molotov’s memoirs Lavrentiy Beria, Security Chief and deputy Prime Minister, allegedly boasted that he killed Stalin. Beria’s own struggle for power ended in June 1953, when Khrushchev and Molotov turned against him, and he was arrested. In December, on Khrushchev’s orders, he was executed. His remains were buried in a forest near Moscow.


But here is my “Exhibit A”: the summary of Stalin’s autopsy:

~ “Post-mortem examination disclosed a large hemorrhage in the sphere of the subcortical nodes of the left hemisphere of the brain. This hemorrhage destroyed important areas of the brain and caused irreversible disorders of respiration and blood circulation. Besides the brain hemorrhage there were established substantial enlargement of the left ventricle of the heart, numerous hemorrhages in the cardiac muscle and in the lining of the stomach and intestine, and arteriosclerotic changes in the blood vessels, expressed especially strongly in the arteries of the brain. These processes were the result of high blood pressure.” [O: emphasis mine]

While prudently citing hypertension as the culprit, the good doctors left behind enough traces of pathological evidence in their brief report to let posterity know they fulfilled their professional duties, as best they could, without compromising their careers or their lives with the new masters at the Kremlin.

High blood pressure, per se, commonly results in hypertensive cerebral hemorrhage and stroke but does not usually produce concomitant hematemesis (vomiting blood), as we see here in the clinical case of Stalin [he was vomiting blood on March 4], and a further bleeding diathesis affecting the heart muscle, scantily as it is supported by the positive autopsy findings.

As I have written elsewhere, we now possess clinical and forensic evidence supporting the long-held suspicion that Stalin was indeed poisoned by members of his own inner circle, most likely Lavrenti Beria, and perhaps even Khrushchev, all of whom feared for their lives.” ~

(the article from which this excerpt is taken was published in Surgical Neurology International in 2011)

For me, the autopsy report was the most compelling piece of evidence. High blood pressure can lead to a stroke, but not to massive bleeding throughout the body and vomiting blood. So: it does seem that Stalin was killed with rat poison (a powerful anti-coagulant)
— perhaps in order to prevent him from starting World War III. 

And that’s the chilling part: not how he died, but that the madman was probably planning a nuclear war. That fits the long-term pattern of his deluded ambition to rule, if not the whole world, then at least all of Europe, so that the Soviet empire would stretch from the Pacific in the east to the Atlantic in the west.


Does it matter if Stalin’s death was hastened if he was already ailing, and was headed for a major stroke sooner or later? I think it does. In his reign of terror, every day mattered. And for all we know, his “assisted” death may have saved the world. And if not that, it spared who know how many thousands from literal death or the living death of hard labor in Siberia or Kazakhstan. It seems he was planning another great wave of deportations and executions.

Was Stalin clinically insane? Not in the sense of paranoid schizophrenia. The word “paranoid” still fits him, however. And he certainly didn’t “mellow” with age; he grew even more paranoid (his brain function probably deteriorated due to atherosclerosis and small strokes). He didn’t trust anyone and saw plots and conspiracies everywhere. At the same time, he seemed to understand that only terror could keep a system like Soviet communism going. He saw other high-ranking officials as not ruthless enough, and predicted that they would let the empire fall.

Beria and Khrushchev were hardly the good guys, but next to Stalin, they were relatively minor mass murderers. Relatively. 

Stalin and Lenin, while they still lay side by side (1953-1961)

Stalin’s victims numbered in the millions. I’ve chosen to present a photo of just one of those “enemies of the people.” What could have this poor woman have done to deserve her fate? Nothing, of course. As Anna Akhmatova once remarked, “We must stop asking, ‘What did he do?’ Nothing. People get arrested and killed for nothing.” The state had become a killing machine.
 Marfa Ryazantzeva, Stalin's victim during the Great Terror (1934-1940), executed 1937

~ “It’s one of my favorite Darwin quotes—"He who understands baboon would do more toward metaphysics than Locke"—scribbled furtively in a notebook between visits to the London Zoo in the summer of 1838. Twenty-one years would pass before On the Origin of Species would shock the world, but Darwin already knew: If man wanted to comprehend his mind, he’d need to train an unflustered gaze into the deep caverns of his animal past.” ~ Oren Harman

The man who probably understands baboons better than anyone is Robert Sapolsky, a primatologist who spent a lot of time studying one particular troop (from Wikipedia: After initial year-and-a-half field study in Africa, [Sapolsky] returned every summer for another twenty-five years to observe the same group of baboons, from the late 70s to the early 90s. He spent 8 to 10 hours a day for approximately four months each year recording the behaviors of these primates].

The story is that of a “tragedy”: the alpha males, the bullies of the troop, all died after eating TB-infected meat. What happened later is what makes me want to cheer: without the bullies, the health and well-being of the troop markedly improved. The levels of cortisol went down, and with them high blood pressure and other markers of stress and inflammation. Secure from aggression and harassment, the surviving animals were thriving. But the most striking result of this stress reduction was a “cultural” change toward cooperation and affection. Occasionally a male from another troop would join, and after a while adopt the non-aggressive ways.

Remove the bullies, and everyone benefits. In human cultures, this should start with zero tolerance for child abuse and the abuse of women. Safe from abuse, a mother can provide more and better nurturing for her children. Stroking, grooming, speaking in a soft voice. Good mental and physical health starts right there.

The title of this post was inspired by Shelley’s “The great secret of morals is love.” But for love to flourish — and by love I don’t mean the storms of romantic passion but mutual nurturing — there has to be sufficient freedom from stress. Under heavy stress, the goal is sheer survival. Love — or call it nurturing, or tenderness, or affection — grows and blossoms when stress is down to manageable levels.

“I don't believe in the little people . . . but they're there for those who do.” ~ an Irish grandmother, quoted on Facebook

In Polish folklore, it’s the Little Red People (krasnoludki)



~ “The great majority of us believe that happiness declines with age, falling more and more with every decade until we reach that point at which our lives are characterized by sadness and loss. Thus, we may be surprised to learn what research conclusively confirms—that many of us could not be farther from the truth when we conclude that our finest years are long behind us. Older people are actually happier and more satisfied with their lives than younger people; they experience more positive emotions and fewer negative ones, and their emotional experience is more stable and less sensitive to the vicissitudes of daily negativity and stress.

Although exactly when the well-being peak takes place is still unclear, what is very clear is that youth and emerging adulthood are not the sunniest times of life. Older people are actually happier and more satisfied with their lives than younger people; they experience more positive emotions and fewer negative ones, and their emotional experience is more stable and less sensitive to the vicissitudes of daily negativity and stress.

Why is this? When we begin to recognize that our years are limited, we fundamentally change our perspective about life. The shorter time horizon motivates us to become more present-oriented and to invest our (relatively limited) time and effort into the things in life that really matter. So, for example, as we age, our most meaningful relationships become much more of a priority than meeting new people or taking risks; we invest more in these relationships and discard those that are not very supportive. In a sense, we become emotionally wiser as we age.” ~


I remember a Jungian lecturer who said, “The first forty years of your life you’re just working off your karma — that’s why it’s so hard.” The audience sighed. I don’t believe in karma, but there are certainly reasons “why it’s so hard.” Much of it has to do with “learning experiences.” The first half of life is indeed the “school of hard knocks.”

“The first marriage — that’s a learning experience,” a friend once said. “Then you’re ready to marry a nurturing partner. Your second marriage is your reward for having learned what’s important.” Sometimes it’s the third marriage — but eventually people do learn that love means mutual nurturing.

It comes only with age and experience: knowing what is most important to us. That, and “the shorter time horizon.” Having fewer years in which to be happy, we make much better use of time.

The funny thing is, now even housework gives me pleasure. The simplest tasks. Anything can be done with love and usually there is a relaxed way to do it. Just existence is transcendent. Alas, we seem to learn this only when there isn’t that much time left. Though we say that “life begins at forty,” forty is not yet the age of wisdom. Wisdom comes later. “The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.” 


~ “The Guardian interviewed Caroline Lodge, co-author of the book The New Age of Ageing: How Society Needs to Change, which followed more than 50 people age 50 to 90.

 “Most of our interviewees are amazed by the fact that they are enjoying life and that they feel young and normal, sometimes into their 90s,” Lodge told The Guardian.

Much of this joie de vivre seems to come from something that many of us have enjoyed as we’ve grown older: A sense of self-confidence based on our years of experience.
“It’s the loss of angst about what people think of you: the size of your bum or whether others are judging you correctly. It’s not an arrogance, but you know who you are when you’re older and all those roles you played to fit in when you were younger are irrelevant,” said 69-year-old Monica Hartwell in The Guardian. “That makes one more courageous.”

People who perceive themselves as lifelong learners often are “superagers,” or people who remain vital and cognitively resilient through very old age.

“I do things now that I wouldn’t have dared to do when younger, for fear of being crap at them,” added Hartwell in The Guardian. “Now I try my hand at whatever I fancy and if I’m not as good as others, I don’t care, I’m still learning.” ~


I’ve come to believe that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to the management of expectations. Some say “expect the best and the best will happen” while others counsel “expect the worst; that way you will never be disappointed, and most of the time you will be pleasantly surprised.” As for having no expectations whatever, a wonderful Zen blankness, that would seem wisest — but our busy and not quite controllable brain doesn’t work that way.

Now, the easy part: the best doesn’t happen just because you expect it, and the probability of the worst happening instead is not affected by positive thinking. Trust me, I’ve watched someone die of leukemia while persistently doing the “expect the best” affirmations. In less dramatic circumstances, the crash of disappointment can be pretty devastating. Unless you have realistic reasons for your expectations — like perfect weather for a garden party in California in June — I strongly advise against “expecting the best.”

Still, there is a school of thought that says, Enjoy the fantasy of wish fulfillment — but know it’s just a fantasy, like a movie. That way you get the benefits of positive emotions without becoming attached to the outcome. This works with fantasies of an imaginary lover, for instance. But here we are talking about fantasies rather than expectations. Positive fantasies are not the same thing as “expecting the best.” They are more like enjoying a movie, fully realizing it's a work of fiction.


There are times when expecting the worst can work very well. It works in situations with low odds of success — submitting your manuscript to poetry contests is an example. It prevents being stuck in bitterness. And it works when the worst outcome is highly probable — if we can do something to prepare and perhaps lessen the impact.

And there are times when imagining the worst-case scenario can be paradoxically motivating — so this is the worst that can happen if I do X? Let’s do it! But expecting the worst across the board, having a catastrophic imagination, can be quite a downer. You don’t want to be reviewing the worst-case scenario before a major surgery if you absolutely have to have that surgery. 


I'm still in a quandary when I consider my coming to the US — naturally, with great expectations, because otherwise who’d take that leap into the unknown? What if someone had said to me, while there was still time, “What lies ahead of you is enormous suffering”? Would a realistic statement like that have penetrated the armor of ignorance? But perhaps that’s not the right issue to raise.

The right issue might be the how incomplete any such answer would be, whether positive or negative. What lay ahead was not only great suffering, but also a great, unpredictable adventure.  Perhaps the chief problem with expectations is that they are too simple and one-sided. What actually happens is a complex mix of good and bad.

So, if a young person asked me what to expect of adulthood — they don’t ask that, but let’s perform the thought experiment — I’d answer: “A great deal of suffering. It’s just a matter of time. When it does hit, remember that I was the only adult who told you the truth.” But then I’d quickly add, “But it’s also going to be a great adventure. Nothing will turn out the way you expect it. And many things that are so important to you now will mean nothing ten-twenty years from now.”


Statisticians point out that in virtually all cases, neither the best nor the worst are likely to happen. If we must expect an outcome — and it’s hard to be completely detached — we should bet on the average. This works nicely against becoming too attached to the outcome. Complete detachment would be ideal — just focus on the task ahead of you. But if thoughts of the outcome intrude, remind yourself of the wisdom of statistics. Besides, nothing is all good or all bad, but a complex mix of both. 

Another thing: whatever happens, life is interesting. “Whatever happens will be interesting” is an adaptive attitude that I call the “writer’s attitude.” A writer needs interesting material. “For a writer, even the bad is is good” — if it’s interesting. And usually it is.


This formula makes sense on the face of it, but there is a catch to it. The worst that happens, if it does happens, tends to be a different bad thing than the bad thing we’d prepared for.

The solution, I’ve decided after many years of thrashing around in the mire of this problem, is simply to trust that you can cope somehow no matter what happens. “Somehow” doesn’t mean brilliantly; you improvise, you learn by making mistakes; you act by sheer instinct, or you do nothing for a while, waiting for clarity. But you cope. Somehow, against the odds and not always with grace under pressure. Not trying to be a lone hero. Asking for help as needed.

The Keltic Tree of Life


~ “Of course we need the concept of hell. Do you really think that someone who murders someone should get away with it? If there is no hell, then they’re never going to get punished if they don’t get caught, and even if they do get caught, they may not get punished enough. Is that justice?”

It’s an amazingly vindictive attitude that we have here in the United States. Many Americans don’t really seem to care if the prisoners will get better. They care about whether the prisoners are punished.

The response I usually give to that common Christian argument is that, for most Christians, what you DO doesn’t really matter. What matters is what you BELIEVE. In the world of Christianity, you can be a Jeffrey Dahmer or even a Ted Bundy . . . and if you ask God for forgiveness before you die, you’ll spend eternity in bliss.

Why? Because the most awesome person who ever existed got punished instead. Right. OK. And you’re lecturing me on justice? What kind of justice is that? Honestly? That’s outrageous. I mean, if you start out saying hell is necessary for justice and then turn around and say that your own moral system depends on an innocent man suffering for the very worst evils of the worst people in history so they could go to eternity in heaven…um, you’re a bit off, to put it mildly.

Instead of thinking that prisoners deserve whatever punishment they get, and anything they don’t get is undue grace, maybe we can think about the importance of deterring certain crimes, so that the focus is more on prevention than on punishment. Doing so may require turning away from a conservative Christian thinking that sin deserves infinite punishment and anything less than that is grace. It may require us to forget about punishment and the murky concept of what people deserve and think about deterrence. How can we effectively deter crime — not punish criminals.

The justice of hell is not interested in deterrence as much as punishment — if we do away with punishment and try to focus on deterrence, we may find that — surprise — we actually have less crime, especially if we see that prisons and detention centers that we currently have are conditions that encourage crime. And trying to deter crime will also make us concerned about how prisoners are treated, perhaps — not as if they are being punished, so much as if we actually want them to go out and succeed in society.

People may say, “But that will cost money!” Yes. Yes it will. But prisons are pretty expensive. I mean, they’re so expensive that the state of Utah has found it less expensive to give the homeless housing and a caseworker than to put homeless people in jail (note that Utah was the only one of the top ten religious states that wasn’t high on the incarceration rate list). The average prison cost per inmate is about $31,000 a year — for often terrible conditions. Imagine spending that money helping the people, instead, getting on their feet?

Getting there [to helping instead of punishing] will require us to get rid of the concept that people deserve eternal punishment for any wrong they do, and that anything less than that is grace from the justice system; getting rid of the concept that it is just to punish retributively instead of seeing if a kinder, more respectful approach that recognizes dignity in those who break the law, especially if the latter approach is more effective at reducing harm inside and outside prisons; and being critical of those who enforce the law — making sure they are making society better for all involved instead of seeing those who do wrong as “choosing” whatever fate they assign them.

And that starts with pulling out of the American psyche the linchpin that so many are taught from childhood, especially in states in which the incarceration rate is highest — the concept of the Christian hell. We need to stop believing it, stop preaching it, and stop teaching it to the next generation. It’s not the last step, but it seems a needed first step for us to stop incarcerating America.” ~


First, with the recent setbacks in the slow progress toward a more enlightened society, the article made me think, What luxury, to ponder the penal system in relation to metaphysics . . . 


“...the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” ~ Thomas Jefferson, The Adams-Jefferson Letters (594)

I see that day in my mind’s eye. Probably not in my lifetime, but perhaps before the end of this century (if humanity makes it until then). The mythological view is simply bound to become widespread, the literal view being patently too absurd. And then we'll find those tales quite fascinating, and wonder why people were willing to kill in their name. Nobody killed for Zeus (except when we consider animal sacrifice) — one superiority of polytheism. And all those interesting goddesses!

To return to Jefferson for a moment, the day he speaks of has partly arrived. The Virgin Birth is no longer an official dogma — it got demoted to an “optional belief.” But the real revolution would be permitting a metaphorical understanding of the Resurrection. At this point, insofar as I know, you are required under the penalty of hell to believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead, and this resuscitated corpse walked and talked among the living, and then blasted off into heaven (I don’t think the Ascension is an optional belief as yet).

Athenian coin with the owl of Athena

~ “Some cancer biologists feel that while mutations are nearly ubiquitous in cancer, they may not always be the driving force for disease. Cancer, they suggest, might actually be as much a disorder of altered energy production as it is genetic damage.

This idea traces back to the work of German physician Otto Warburg who, in the 1920s, reported that rather than generating energy using the oxygen-based process of respiration as healthy cells do, cancer cells prefer the anaerobic, or oxygen-free, process of fermentation.
Boston College biology professor Dr. Thomas Seyfried is a leading proponent of the metabolic theory of cancer. He proselytizes Warburg's findings and in 2012 published an academic book called Cancer as a Metabolic Disease that lays out the evidence behind his beliefs.

He specifically implicates mitochondria, our energy-producing organelles, in spurring on malignancy.

This belief is in part based on work from the '70s and '80s showing that if the cytoplasm (the buoyant cellular goo that contains the mitochondria) is transferred from a normal cells to a tumorigenic cell (one with the potential to develop into a cancer) the tendency toward cancer is suppressed. Conversely, animal research has shown that transferring the nucleus of a malignant cell into the cytoplasm of a normal cell inhibits the tumor potential of that initially malignant cell, implying, according to Seyfried, that whatever is causing the cancer lies in the cytoplasm, not the nucleus.

“If you look at the data, you could say that there is clear evidence that cancer is a genetic disease since we can inherit mutations associated with increased cancer risk," says Seyfried, "but many of these mutations disturb cellular respiration. And many non-inherited causes of cancer like radiation impair mitochondrial function.”

Seyfried's colleague Dominic D'Agostino, a biology professor at the University of South Florida, also subscribes to the idea that the primary driver of cancer is mitochondrial dysfunction, which can be induced by any number of carcinogens — genetic predilections, radiation, chemical exposures and diet among them.

Not only do many mutations and pathways associated with cancer impair mitochondrial function and cell metabolism, he says, but injured mitochondria also produce volatile compounds called "reactive oxygen species" that can damage DNA. "This can explain why most cancers have mutations," he speculates, "in many cases they're secondary to mitochondrial damage.”

[Mayo’s Thompson] believes a coalescence of pernicious influences is required for a cancer to develop. “One of these processes is probably altered metabolic activity," he says. "But cancers also must acquire mutations, change the way they interact with neighboring cells and learn to evade the immune system. Every single one of these processes is probably essential to cancer development.”

Matthew Vander Heiden, a biologist at MIT and oncologist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, also says many factors are necessary to induce cancer, including what could be considered the other major theory on the origin of malignancies, that they result from the impairment of signaling pathways that control cell division. “My guess is it's probably metabolic, and it's probably genetic and it's probably cell signaling. I'm not sure you can separate these out since they all appear to be so interrelated,” he explains.

Seyfried is skeptical that medicines alone will cure cancer. Instead he and many of his colleagues — including Dr. Eugene Fine from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Maroon — are focusing on the potential of dietary approaches to contain the disease.

There's particular interest in the ketogenic diet, similar to the low-carb Atkins diet that is low in sugar and high in fat. It's intended to starve cancer cells of the glucose they use for fermentation.

The idea of fighting cancer by changing what patients eat has obvious appeal, but it also raises worries. "I get a little scared when people start talking about diet for cancer since you can quickly get into pseudoscience here," Mayo's Thompson counters. He points out that data supporting the ketogenic diet in cancer are limited — and further that rigorous dietary studies are incredibly hard to pull off. “The drug companies aren't going to fund these types of trials,” he says. “They can't make money marketing a diet.” ~


I remember how struck I was by the statement that there is no cancer of the heart — its constant activity somehow prevents cancer. Drugs that raise the metabolic rate — caffeine, amphetamines — also show anti-cancer potential. Higher level of thyroid, resulting in a higher metabolic rate, likewise reduce the risk. And then there is fasting, which induces ketosis, shifting metabolism from glucose to ketone bodies.

Ending on beauty:

"Gaudi can be a bit gaudy (personally I find there's a limit as to how much I can take) but Sagrada Familia is other-worldly. At times you feel like you're an ant walking at the base of flowers..." writes M. Kasprzyk, who took this photo.

No comments:

Post a Comment