Sunday, March 19, 2017


Washington National Cathedral, March 14

True! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses — not destroyed — not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture --a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees — very gradually — I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

[the narrator kills the old man, dismembers his body, and buries it under the floor planks]

I took my visitors [three policemen] all over the house. I bade them search — search well. I led them, at length, to his [the dead man’s] chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct: — It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness — until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears. No doubt I now grew very pale; — but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased — and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound — much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath — and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly — more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men — but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed — I raved — I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder — louder — louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! — no, no! They heard! — they suspected! — they knew! — they were making a mockery of my horror! — this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now — again! — hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!

"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! here, here! — It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

Edvard Munch: The Murderer, 1910


I have no doubt The Tell-Tale Heart influenced Dostoyevski, who knew and admired Poe’s work. The idea of the murderer’s guilty conscience driving him to confess may not have originated with Poe, but he presented it with wonderful imaginative force.

. . . Dostoevsky’s notice of 1861, in which he praises Poe’s “marvelous acumen and amazing realism” in the depiction of “inner states.” (It is interesting that this piece, published in Dostoevsky’s magazine Wremia five years before Crime and Punishment, stood as introduction to three stories by Poe, two of which—“The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat”—are accounts of murder, conscience, and confession.)

Poe by David Levine

The insanity of Poe’s narrator reminds me of having read, long ago, an account of a man who shot his neighbor because, as he told the police, “for twenty-five years, he’s been steadily getting on my nerves.”

Sooner or later we all experience a neighbor so annoying that a fantasy of homicide crosses our mind. Of course the sane person rejects the impulse. But sanity is built on sufficient contentment with life; the sum of the pleasures needs to outweigh all the petty and not-so-petty annoyances so that life appears to be worth living, and putting up with some nastiness is not such a huge matter. Then there is of course the restraint of morality, and the matter of penalties, such as life in prison. And even if we don’t get caught, masters like Poe and Dostoyevski remind us that the torments of a guilty conscience would be unendurable.

So why does murder happen at all? There are all kinds of reasons. What has stayed in my mind, though, is an article I can no longer find (apologies), one that stated that in the vast majority of cases the perpetrator regarded himself as a victim — the injured party who was only “seeking justice” (aka revenge; people say “justice,” but they mean “revenge”). And here we may ponder Dostoyevski’s statement that there are no bad men, only wretched ones — aside from outright psychopaths and other cases of abnormal brain function. No naturally evil sinners, only badly damaged human beings.


 Monet: Snow at Argenteil


And even wetter snow: Monet, Snow Effect at Limetz, 1886



1. Slogan ~ From "slua," meaning "crowd" (or "sluag," for "army"), and "gairm," meaning "call." "Slua" is pronounced "slew," which may be why we say "a whole slew of things" too.

2. Galore ~ From "go leor," which basically means "until many." Makes sense, right?

3. Hooligan ~ This one is less of a translation and more of a pejorative origin derived from stereotypical depictions of the Irish as rowdy drunken brawlers. See also: "paddy wagon," which is so named either because the Irish were stereotypically cops or because they were stereotypically getting arrested for being drunk and violent.

4. Smithereens ~ This literally means "little pieces," a combination of "smiodar" for "debris" and "ín," a common Irish suffix for "small" that has been Anglicized to "een." See also: "Colleen," which means "little cailín," or simply "a girl.”

5. Clan ~ From, uhh, well, "clann," which means "family."

6. Swanky ~ from "sócmhainní," which means "assets," or "somhaoineach" for "profitable." (And yes, the spelling looks strange, but it actually makes a lot of sense once you figure out all the different combinations of open vowel sounds.)

7. Whiskey ~ from "uisce beatha," which means "water of life." Yup.

8. Kibosh ~ Even I was under the impression that this was a Yiddish word. But it turns out it was likely derived from "caipin," or "cap," and "bháis," or death — literally "death cap," and the Irish name for a candle-snuffer. Judges also wore an chaip bháis when announcing their sentences.

So basically, when you "put the kibosh" on something, you're actually killing it. Yay?

9. Phony ~ This one's kind of complicated, but also really cool. It probably comes from "fáinne," an Irish word for a ring, and refers to a confidence scheme called a "Fawney Rig," which involves "accidentally" dropping a fake ring of value in front of a victim and then selling it to them for way more than it's actually worth.

10. Keening ~ to cry or wail, usually for the dead, and it's just a differently spelled (but similarly pronounced) version of the Irish word "caoineadh," which means the same.

The Irish language might be struggling to survive, but it's not dead yet. In fact, it's one of the oldest living languages in the world, as well as the first national language of the Republic of Ireland, which means that all government documents are written in Irish and English and that children study the language in school.

That being said, less than 2% of the population actually speaks the native tongue on a daily basis, and only 41% claim to speak it at all, even after years of schooling.


"Members of the British Conservative Party have been nicknamed Tories since the early 1800s. There is absolutely nothing satirical whatsoever to be said about the fact that it ultimately derives from tóraidhe, an old Irish word for an outlaw or a plunderer of stolen cash."


~ “Proust’s genius, like that of his compatriot Cartier-Bresson (who called himself “an accidental Buddhist”), is to register every detail of the surface and yet never get caught up in the superficial. Here is the rare master who saw that surface was merely the way depth often expressed itself, the trifle in which truth was hidden thanks to mischievous circumstance (or, others would say, the logic of the universe).

Proust, to his credit, spent too much time with snobby hostesses, lost his heart to pretty girls and boys, wryly registered all the small print of social climbing—and saw that the easy ways in which we separate the “trivial” from the “essential” are themselves part of our delusion. The most frivolous passing stranger can bring deep feelings to our surface, he notes, as even a great work of art (or great man) can seldom do. The most trifling thing — this is in part what the madeleine is about — can open up a universe.

The Buddha, as I understand it, ultimately devoted himself to the simple exercise of sitting still and resolving not to get up until he had looked beyond his many delusions and projections to the truth of what he was (or wasn’t) and how to make his peace with that.

Am I the only one who thinks that this sounds very much like someone in a cork-lined room, almost alone for years on end and turning a fierce and uncompromising light on all his experiences and memories so as to see how much of them might be wishful thinking, and what they owe to illusion and the falsifications of the mind?

Marcel Proust never formally meditated, so far as I know, and he never officially quit his gilded palace to wander around the world, practicing extremes of austerity and cross-questioning wise men. But if I want to understand the tricks the mind plays upon itself — the ways we substitute our notions of reality for the way things are and need to dismantle the suffering false thoughts can create—I can’t think of a better guide and friend than the author of À la recherche.

Every night, the narrator writes, descending into his second home, the subconscious, “we’re initiated into the mystery of extinction and resurrection,” travel into a different, parallel self and then back into the one we recognize, as if reborn.


Proust had the sense to belabor us with little theology, academic philosophy or overt epistemology; yet nearly every sentence in his epic work takes us into the complications, the false fronts, the self-betrayals of the heart and mind and so becomes what could almost be called an anatomy of the soul. I’m not sure sitting under a tree in Asia 2,500 years ago would have produced anything different.” ~


Or, as Nietzsche put it, as soon as we investigate anything in sufficient depth, an infinity opens itself. And that should keep us humble when it comes to any claims to knowing the truth.

Another parallel that comes to my mind is Sherlock Holmes, who examines the most trifling details — and that’s how he discovers the vital clues.

As for the nightly extinction and morning resurrection, I have often pondered this phenomenon. Without consciousness, during dreamless sleep, we essentially cease to exist — insofar as we can sense existing. Time ceases — we may wake up thinking it’s already morning, and be surprised to discover it’s only just past midnight.

You’d think that this nightly experience of sinking into nothingness would be enough to make people disbelieve in the afterlife — but the power of wishful thinking overcomes mere facts. It’s surprising that humanity ever developed science, or writers such as Proust, ruthless in the pursuit of the truth. But in some of us the voice of the intellect will not be still. As Dostoyevski said about Ivan Karamazov, “He doesn’t want a million rubles, but an answer to his questions.” 

Morpho butterfly and labradorite


~ “Islam ensnares every moment of a Muslim's life. How you eat, how you go to the bathroom, how you put on shoes, how you have sex. Every single aspect of your life is mapped out so that there is minimal opportunity to think. You are trained to just follow. Do as you're told. Don't ask why. Get in line with the rest of the ummah (community of Muslims). Like a school of fish; it is instinctual.

That's the way it is. That's the way the brainwashing goes. Like a soldier trained to take orders and react. Thinking is deadly. Questioning is punished.

This is much more true for women than it is for men. Under Islam, a woman's sense of agency is nonexistent. Her individuality is completely erased, or rather, never given an opportunity to flourish in the first place. Sometimes, like it was for me, this statement is both literal as well as figurative.

My entire being was dampened by a black shroud. Covered from head to toe, without even my eyes connecting with the outside world, I'd float around other humans almost like a ghost. I could see them, but they couldn't see me. I was invisible. My humanity was completely eradicated. I wasn't Yasmine. I was a faceless figure shrouded in black. My wants, needs, interests, desires, preferences, were never even considered — least of all by me. I didn't know that there was such thing as choice. I'd never made a decision. I just did as I was told.

I was miserable. But my misery also made me feel guilty. Why couldn't I move along with the other fish? Why did I yearn to escape their hold? Wasn't this the path to heaven? Any other direction was hell. Why wasn't I strong enough to fight the devil luring me to imagine a life where I could swim in different waters?

Islam is ingenious in its hold. Aspects of its tactics can be found in Mormonism, with Scientologists and Jehovah's Witnesses, but Islam is the only religion that combines all the different ensnaring elements into one, and then turns up the intensity tenfold.

Islam's hold on your body, mind, and spirit is such that almost 15 years after denouncing the religion, I'm still discovering and suffering from remnant conditioning of my mind.

I don't think I'll ever be truly free. I was only able to free my body. But I have not failed. My daughters are free. My daughters will never be able to relate to or understand any of this world. They will listen wide-eyed, unable to fathom that existence. And so, even if I have to take this indoctrination with me to the grave. I don't mind. I'm happy to take it with me 6 feet under, far away from my daughters. Where it can't hurt anyone else from my bloodline. They'll all be free to swim in any direction they choose.” ~

(source: Faisal Saeed Al Mutar)


I realize that someone may accuse me of Islamophobia . . . so be it. My intent is to arouse compassion -- and no, it won't do to say that we have sexism also in the West, and that Christianity too is patriarchal, and all such stuff. It won’t do to say, “But look, we have domestic violence too, we have rape, no Catholic women priests, and so on.” True. But what we have is 1; they have 10.

The power of this image (produced by Anthony Freda Studio) truly touched me.

As for Yasmine’s story: it confirms that with any repressive religion, recovery is a lifetime journey. 


The punishment for blasphemy should be left up to the imaginary deity who's offended. Let them deal with it in the imaginary afterlife. ~ Nick Rose

THE DEVIL’S CHESSBOARD: A joint biography of John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles, who led the United States into an unseen war that decisively shaped today's world


~ “During the 1950s, when the Cold War was at its peak, two immensely powerful brothers led the United States into a series of foreign adventures whose effects are still shaking the world.

John Foster Dulles was secretary of state while his brother, Allen Dulles, was director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In this book, Stephen Kinzer places their extraordinary lives against the background of American culture and history. He uses the framework of biography to ask: Why does the United States behave as it does in the world?

The Brothers explores hidden forces that shape the national psyche, from religious piety to Western movies―many of which are about a noble gunman who cleans up a lawless town by killing bad guys. This is how the Dulles brothers saw themselves, and how many Americans still see their country's role in the world.

Propelled by a quintessentially American set of fears and delusions, the Dulles brothers launched violent campaigns against foreign leaders they saw as threats to the United States. These campaigns helped push countries from Guatemala to the Congo into long spirals of violence, led the United States into the Vietnam War, and laid the foundation for decades of hostility between the United States and countries from Cuba to Iran.

The story of the Dulles brothers is the story of America. It illuminates and helps explain the modern history of the United States and the world.

~ “Some passages of The Devil’s Chessboard have a plaintive tone, a kind of lament about the irreparable harm the fanaticism of fighting the Cold War against Soviet Russia (and its alleged proxies all over the world) had on shaping a set of unaccountable secret institutions that have both distorted our politics and undermined the “democratic” principles for which the U.S. supposedly stands.

Secret CIA activities in the 1950s under Dulles’s watch included horrifying experiments in “de-patterning” and “mind control” involving LSD and hypnosis (often on unwitting subjects) to try to develop the means to “turn” Soviet agents (MKULTRA). Subsequently, Dulles led the CIA in its first experiments in “regime change” with the coups in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954. It was Dulles’s CIA that played a key role in killing the nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in 1960, and setting up the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961.

Dulles, who was by far the most influential director the CIA ever had, Talbot shows, was for decades at the center of a secret American foreign policy. The author clearly understands power and he knows the extremes to which America’s “intelligence community” was willing to go to “save” the country from the communist hordes.

While serving as a young Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operative in Europe, Dulles participated in “Operation Sunshine” whereby any former Nazi who was either deemed a “gentleman” (meaning wealthy) or had any information or skills that might be useful to U.S. intelligence in the new Cold War against its former ally, the Soviet Union, could by whisked to safety far away from those pesky Nuremberg trials.

One disturbing revelation in The Devil’s Chessboard is Dulles’s willingness to use his expertise in spy craft and his intelligence connections (including hidden sources of money) to influence U.S. domestic politics as early as the 1952 elections. Back in 1948, unbeknownst to the Italian (and American) people, the CIA used laundered cash and secret intelligence assets in Italy to block electoral gains by communist and socialist candidates. This rigging of the 1948 Italian elections was seen as an intelligence triumph at the time and emboldened the CIA to intervene in the internal affairs of other nations.

The CIA threw a lot of laundered money around and bribed Iranian officials (as it had done with the Italian elections in ‘48), but added new tricks to its repertoire such as extortion, radio jamming, false flag operations, espionage, hit lists, kidnapping, and arming pro-Shah street gangs to achieve its aims in “Operation Ajax.” The coup d’état in Iran in August 1953 that toppled the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossedegh and installed Shah Reza Pahlavi (who ruled until 1979) was heralded as a bold and daring U.S. triumph in the Cold War. (Today, given the antagonism between Iran and the U.S. it can be seen as a sort of “original sin” of failed U.S. policies in the Middle East.)

The CIA’s role in the coup in Guatemala in 1954 that overthrew the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz (who Talbot likens to John F. Kennedy) also reveals the new operational capabilities of the CIA in manipulating the press:

“The agency’s disinformation campaign began immediately after Arbenz’s downfall,” Talbot writes, “with a stream of stories planted in the press - particularly in Latin America - alleging that he was a pawn of Moscow, that he was guilty of the wholesale butchery of political foes, that he had raided his impoverished country’s treasury, that he was sexually captivated by the man who was the leader of the Guatemalan Communist Party. None of it was true.” (p. 253)

Talbot’s retelling of many of the now well-known facts about the CIA’s role in the coups in Iran and Guatemala is cogent and alarming since many of the CIA’s assets and operatives who participated in “Operation Success” (the coup in Guatemala) resurfaced later as persons of interest in the Kennedy assassination: E. Howard Hunt, David Atlee Phillips, and David Morales. (p. 261) The CIA had a “disposal list” of fifty-eight key Guatemalan leaders at the time of the coup marked for assassination and even wrote a manual describing in detail how to go about doing it (which was made public in 1997).

The CIA under Dulles never bothered to tell President Kennedy about Lumumba’s murder (even though Dulles briefed the new president on January 26, 1961 about the situation in the Congo). President Kennedy had to hear the news second hand from his United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson. (p. 387) Hence, from the start of the Kennedy Administration Dulles kept secrets from his new boss.

Talbot’s take on this well-known story about the CIA’s ill-fated attempt to topple Castro is fresh and engaging. He uncovers convincing evidence that Dulles and his top aides set up the Bay of Pigs to fail in order to force the young president’s hand in bombing the island and sending in the Marines. Surprising Dulles and other national security holdovers from the Eisenhower Administration was President Kennedy’s resolve to stand by his earlier warnings to them that there would be no direct U.S. air strikes and no Marines landing in Cuba. “They were sure I’d give into them,” Kennedy later told Dave Powers. “They couldn’t believe that a new president like me wouldn’t panic and try to save his own face. Well they had me figured all wrong.”

Indeed, they had “figured” JFK wrong because the President then fired Dulles, Bissell, and Cabell after their botching of the Bay of Pigs, which they had assured him would unfold in a similar fashion as the successful Guatemalan coup of 1954. But as Talbot points out later in the book, President Kennedy’s purge of the top echelon of the CIA had not gone far enough. He cites a letter to President Kennedy from W. Averell Harriman (who had been FDR’s Ambassador to Moscow and a veteran of Washington infighting), which refers to the CIA’s undermining Kennedy’s neutrality policies in Laos and Vietnam.

Dulles’s role in the official government whitewash of the Kennedy assassination cannot be overstated. He was so important in directing the aims and outcomes of the Warren Commission’s “investigation” into the killing of John F. Kennedy that it should be more correctly called the “Dulles Commission.”

Since President Kennedy’s alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was himself murdered in the basement of the Dallas police building on November 24, 1963, there would be no trial. In its stead the nation was given a non-adversarial process of a presidential commission that runs counter to the norms of American jurisprudence, and which clearly had drawn the preordained conclusion that Oswald had “acted alone” before the first witness was ever called. 

One of the many questions that Talbot answers in this book is the curious phenomenon of a right-wing Republican, Allen Dulles, whose professional and personal connections exclusively consisted of wealthy Wall Street bankers and lawyers, spies and spooks (like James Jesus Angleton), and foreign policy elites tied to the Rockefellers and the white shoe law firm Sullivan and Cromwell — who President Kennedy fired after he sensed Dulles lied to him and could not be trusted — would find himself heading the commission charged with “investigating” the murder of a president that Dulles neither liked nor respected. 

Kennedy in Dublin, 1963
There were no Kennedy allies on the Warren Commission. Only Republicans and Southern Democrats. J. Edgar Hoover controlled the physical evidence in the case and Dulles was in the pivotal spot to guide the inquiries or witnesses away from any fingerprints of intelligence agencies in concocting Oswald’s “legend” or in the events in Dallas. Serious students of the Kennedy assassination, regardless of their views of the Warren Commission’s “findings,” must read The Devil’s Chessboard if for no other reason than to flesh out Allen Dulles’s role in guiding the public’s perception of the crime of the century.

To young people the Kennedy assassination isn’t a primordial childhood event that shaped their worldview like it is for the boomers. It’s far more remote, like Lincoln’s assassination, something that happened long ago with little direct relevance to their lives. Hence, young people today don’t see what the big deal is in contemplating the idea that elements that arose out of the same corrupt and morally bankrupt secret government that helped Nazis escape prosecution, brought down foreign democracies, or experimented with mind altering drugs on unwitting subjects, might not see any clear limits to their crusade to save the world from what they believed was an existential threat by turning their violent capabilities inward.

When I was in college President Ronald Reagan was still scaring the hell out of the country with lurid tales of communists attacking the United States from their safe havens in Cuba, Nicaragua, or even from the rural areas of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The Nicaraguan “contras,” along with the Afghan mujahideen, Reagan called “freedom fighters.” Reagan’s Defense Department officials, such as T.K. Jones, spoke loosely about surviving an all-out nuclear war with the Russians. And Reagan authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to prepare a host of new “civil defense” measures. With respect to elite attitudes toward nuclear war, the 1980s weren’t all that different from the 1950s: “Duck and Cover!”

What made Reagan’s first term all the more frightening was his administration’s thinking out loud about the “unthinkable” at a time when the United States was deploying Pershing II nuclear missiles and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to West Germany, bulking up and modernizing its B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers, and launching new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) systems, such as the M-X “Peace Keeper” missiles, the new D-9 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and a high-tech space-based anti-ballistic missile system (called the Strategic Defense Initiative).

Those days of nuclear brinkmanship and alarmism against the Soviets and the widely disseminated propaganda that farm workers from El Salvador were going to spread communism into south Texas are as remote to today’s college students as Prohibition was to the baby boomers.

Thankfully, students today don’t possess the knee-jerk attitude of their parents and grandparents toward looking at the guilt or innocence of Lee Harvey Oswald. “Millennials” have no problem contextualizing the Kennedy assassination inside the rabid anti-communism of a by-gone era. They can also Google in a minute more information than I could acquire in a week when I was an undergraduate concerning the history of the unchecked power of the CIA and the national security state.” ~


This is a very long excerpt, I know. In fact it’s almost the entire review. I was riveted by the material, and I'm still trying to digest this information. I’ll refrain from commenting — I don’t feel competent enough — except to say I always had the suspicion that Ruby’s shooting of Oswald was a ploy to silence Oswald forever — Ruby’s “cover story” about wishing to avenge Jackie Kennedy was pretty ridiculous. Yes, you shoot the assassin — just as Khrushchev made sure that Beria was dead, or else he might blab about the poisoning of Stalin, who was still, in the first years after his death, officially worshipped as a secular god, his mummy on display next to Lenin’s.

Of related interest:

~ “As Talbot sees it, New Deal liberalism, which stands as the apotheosis of 20th century American democracy, was gradually eclipsed by men highly placed in government who saw democracy “as an impediment to the smooth functioning of the corporate state.

That Allen Dulles exercised enormous power and abused that power in myriad ways; that he ordered assassinations of undesirables abroad; that his CIA destabilized foreign governments in the Third World based on grossly exaggerated assessments of Soviet subversion; that he integrated high-level Nazi intelligence agents into CIA and West German intelligence networks—all these allegations are clearly borne out by the facts presented here, and confirmed by the work of many other investigators.

[But] contrary to Talbot’s claims, JFK’s policies, foreign or domestic, simply did not pose a dire threat to “deep power” interests.

Still, one would be hard pressed to find a book that is better at evoking the strange and apocalyptic atmospherics of the early Cold War years in America, and the cast of characters that made the era what it was. One of the singular pleasures of reading The Devil’s Chessboard are the wry, closely observed character sketches that punctuate the narrative. John Foster Dulles “brought the gloom of a doomsday obsessed vicar to his job, with frequent sermons on Communist perfidy and his constant threats of nuclear annihilation.” Richard Nixon “may have suffered from a tortured psyche, but it made him acutely sensitive to the nuances of power. He had a Machiavellian brilliance for reading the chessboard and calculating the next series of moves to his advantage.”

And here is a thought-provoking video — arguably not an accurate portrayal of an immensely complex reality, but fascinating nevertheless:

“I hate a liar more than a thief. A thief merely steals your money; a liar steals your reality.
~ Anonymous


Re: the press is the “enemy of the people” — did 45 learn that phrase from Bannon, the self-named “Leninist”?

~ “I wish this pathetic, dim-witted excuse for a human being had lived in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Then, in a momentary, final glimmer of helpless illumination, he would know the meaning of that phrase, "enemy of the people," as he would be led, sobbing and slobbering, on gelatinous legs, to his execution, having been unloaded from the back of a covered truck at the edge of the city, along with thousands of others slotted to be shot in the back of their heads on a daily basis. He would know then, with utmost clarity, what it felt like, to have been branded an enemy of the people.” ~ M. Iossel


Aliens shall stand and feed your flocks,
foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers;
but you shall be called the priests of the Lord,
men shall speak of you as the ministers of our God,
you shall eat the wealth of the nations,
and in their riches you shall glory (Isa. 61:5-6)

Of courses Isaiah means the future glory of Israel, but anyone who lives in California will immediately think of Hispanic farm workers. And it could certainly be argued that America has been eating the wealth of nations.

Ah, that’s because America is the real Promised Land, some believers may say. But the part about being “priests of the Lord” applies neither to Americans nor to the citizens of modern Israel. Jews are the most secular ethnic group in the US. Israel is a secular state, and no one perceives its citizens as a priestly class, with foreigners doing non-priestly work, especially in agriculture — in Isaiah’s time, nothing was as important as agriculture, which was also brutal hard labor.

Isaiah softens his visions of the servitude of foreigners by saying that if they accept the Jewish law and don’t profane the Sabbath, they too will be allowed to make “burnt offerings and sacrifices” on Yahweh’s altar.

A really big offering was not a lamb but a bullock. An adult bull would presumably be even more impressive, but is not quite as easy to slaughter, and the huge carcass would be a mess. Still, one way or another, the altars were supposed to flow with blood. And this was a major prophet’s vision of the ideal world.

Some earlier verses specify which nations in particular will offer their wealth, including slaves, to the future Israel:

Thus says the Lord:
“The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Ethiopia,
and the Sabeans, men of stature,
shall come over to you and be yours,
they shall follow you;
they shall come over in chains and bow down to you.” (Isa. 45:14)

This was par for the times, and I don’t hold it against the prophet that he conceived glory according to what glory meant when he was alive. Still, to come face to face with how different the world was then can be unnerving.

Isaiah probably never traveled very far; his world was tiny by our modern standards. For him there was no question as to which nation “shall eat the wealth of [other] nations.”

I read the bible only in adulthood, and was completely startled by the archaic character of it. My religion classes were very selective and the nuns and priests tried hard to present the stories in a way that would make some sense in the modern world. The actual text was a shock.

Raphael: Isaiah, 1512

"I cannot believe that any religion has been revealed to Man by God. Because a revealed religion would be perfect, but no known religion is perfect; and because history and science show us that known religions have not been revealed but have been evolved from other traditions." ~ Robert Blatchford, writer, journalist, and freethinker in God and My Neighbor (1903)


To say that no religion is perfect is such an understatement . . . But it's fascinating to see the way each religion contains tons of borrowings from all over. I guess there was no notion of plagiarism in religious matters. It was precisely seeing the similarities between various mythologies that led me to conclude that Judeo-Christianity was simply another mythology, collected from all over.

To me it's nothing short of astonishing that an adult can dismiss Zeus, Wotan, Santa Claus, the fairies, the little people, Ganesha, etc as mythology, but claim that HIS god is not mythical but the one and only true deity in the universe.

The statement that religions have evolved earlier religions reminds me of Nietzsche’s statement that it’s no longer necessary to ask if god exists; it’s enough to to trace the way the concept of god has evolved. Now this evolution proceeds at a more rapid pace. What used to take centuries now takes decades. What used to be unsayable just 30 years ago is now commonly stated — first generally by comedians, it seems, our new sages. 

Photo: Edward Byrne

Brian Wansink and his grad students had planned to dump Wheat Thins and M&M's into large Ziploc bags, but by mistake they also brought some tiny, snack-sized ones. Since there weren't enough large bags to go around, some moviegoers got four small ones instead.

Something surprising happened: Most people who received the four small bags finished only one or two. In a follow-up questionnaire, Wansink asked the participants how much more they would pay for snacks that came in lots of small packages instead of one big one. A majority said they'd spend 20 percent more.

In the snack food aisle of a local supermarket, Wansink stops in front of the chips to tell me about a recent study he did with cans of Pringles. At intervals of either 7 or 14 chips (it didn't matter much which), his team inserted a Pringle dyed with red food coloring. Lab subjects who got these subtle reminders consumed 50 percent fewer chips on average than control snackers who got regular Pringles.

Outside the boundaries of the lab, Wansink did take on one major private client: McDonald's. In 2008, he'd independently funded a study on Happy Meals, spending three weeks watching kids dine. He found that it didn't matter much what McDonald's put in the meal. Kids mainly cared about the toy—in fact, most stopped eating once they'd unwrapped it. Three years later, McDonald's hired Wansink to determine whether some changes it had made to Happy Meals—ditching the caramel sauce that accompanied the apple slices and promoting milk instead of soda—had actually prompted kids to eat more nutritious food at its restaurants. (Wansink found that they had.) "What makes Happy Meals happy and fun is not the food, it's the atmosphere and the toys," he says. "McDonald's wins because parents feel less guilty about taking their kids there.”

Many parents won't be surprised to learn that Wansink found children to be exquisitely sensitive about food presentation. One of his studies, in 2011, determined that serving fruit in colorful bowls instead of metal trays more than doubled fruit consumption at school. In another, from 2013, he found that schools that switched from whole to sliced apples saw 48 percent fewer apples wasted and a 73 percent increase in students eating more than half of their apples. It also turned out that giving vegetables fun names—like "X-Ray-Vision Carrots" or "Silly Dilly Green Beans"—persuaded kids to eat 35 percent more veggies.

So far, some 17,000 schools have used the Smarter Lunchrooms training. Many report success. Jessica Shelly, director of food services for Cincinnati's public schools, implemented a few simple changes, such as placing the plain milk before the flavored milk in the line, changing food names, and adding a toppings station. "It's so awesome to see a student who went over to the salad bar to put some cumin on their chicken soft taco also end up adding some red pepper strips and broccoli florets to their plate," Shelly told me via email. Lunch attendance increased, and her once-struggling program climbed out of the red. In 2013, it turned a $2.7 million profit.

 He tells me about a study he did with Birds Eye on how to get people to eat more frozen vegetables. Two sets of participants were told different versions of a story about a woman named Valerie. In the first one, she has a busy day, and when she gets home she serves her family a dinner of pasta, warmed-up leftover chicken, bread, and green beans from the freezer. The second version is exactly the same—minus the green beans.

When the researchers then asked study participants to describe Valerie, they were shocked at the difference in the responses. "People will rate Valerie when she uses beans as, 'Oh, she's a good mother, she is stressed out, but you can see that she cares for her family; she's really a good cook,'" Wansink says. "If you don't have the beans, people are like, 'Oh my God, this lazy excuse for a woman. What is she doing? It's all about herself; she is so self-centered.’”


His book about using smaller plates, smaller packages of snacks etc was a NY Times bestseller ten years ago. But in spite of what Wansink says, the type of food also seems to affect how much we eat. I first noticed it with salmon, which is particularly rich in protein and the good omega-3 fats -- I could hardly ever manage to finish a standard portion. This more or less goes for all protein-rich foods, but salmon is the most dramatic example. But give me pasta, and I turn into an eating machine. Whole beans, green apples -- I have no trouble stopping at a "small portion." But make it some kind of mash, like refried beans or a fruit smoothie, and again I become an eating machine. Some types of food send a STOP signal to the brain, and others apparently don't.

In addition, it’s well-known that people will eat more of the food they find tasty. Thus, whole-grain pasta, which is not good-tasting, has never made me eat more than enough just to satisfy hunger. Fortunately I don’t have a sweet-tooth, so I find most desserts cloying, but I’ve seen people eat a large bowl of ice-cream or a thick slab of cheesecake (sugar-fat combinations are especially fattening) right after a large main meal. 

ending on beauty

A girl sleeps as if
she were in someone’s dream;
a woman sleeps as if
tomorrow a war will begin;
an old woman sleeps as if
it were enough to feign being dead,
hoping death will pass her by
on the far outskirts of sleep.

~ Vera Pavlova, tr Steven Seymour

Picasso: Sleeping Woman, 1931

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