Saturday, April 22, 2017



I have a life that did not become,
that turned aside and stopped,
I hold it in me like a pregnancy or
as on my lap a child
not to grow old but dwell on

it is to his grave I most
frequently return and return
to ask what is wrong, what was
wrong, to see it all by
the light of a different necessity
but the grave will not heal
and the child,
stirring, must share my grave
with me, an old man having
gotten by on what was left

when I go back to my home country in these
fresh far-away days, it’s convenient to visit
everybody, aunts and uncles, those who used to say,
look how he’s shooting up, and the
trinket aunts who always had a little
something in their pocketbooks, cinnamon bark
or a penny or nickel, and uncles who
were the rumored fathers of cousins
who whispered of them as of great, if
troubled, presences, and school

teachers, just about everybody older
(and some younger) collected in one place
waiting, particularly, but not for
me, mother and father there, too, and others
close, close as burrowing
under skin, all in the graveyard
assembled, done for, the world they
used to wield, have trouble and joy
in, gone

the child in me that could not become
was not ready for others to go,
to go on into change, blessings and
horrors, but stands there by the road
where the mishap occurred, crying out for
help, come and fix this or we
can’t get by, but the great ones who
were to return, they could not or did
not hear and went on in a flurry and
now, I say in the graveyard, here
lies the flurry, now it can’t come
back with help or helpful asides, now
we all buy the bitter
incompletions, pick up the knots of
horror, silently raving, and go on
crashing into empty ends not
completions, not rondures the fullness
has come into and spent itself from

I stand on the stump
of a child, whether myself
or my little brother who died, and
yell as far as I can, I cannot leave this place, for
for me it is the dearest and the worst,
it is life nearest to life which is
life lost: it is my place where
I must stand and fail,
calling attention with tears
to the branches not lofting
boughs into space, to the barren
air that holds the world that was my world

though the incompletions
(& completions) burn out
standing in the flash high-burn
momentary structure of ash, still it
is a picture-book, letter-perfect
Easter morning: I have been for a
walk: the wind is tranquil: the brook
works without flashing in an abundant
tranquility: the birds are lively with
voice: I saw something I had
never seen before: two great birds,
maybe eagles, blackwinged, whitenecked
and headed, came from the south oaring
the great wings steadily; they went
directly over me, high up, and kept on
due north: but then one bird,
the one behind, veered a little to the
left and the other bird kept on seeming
not to notice for a minute: the first
began to circle as if looking for
something, coasting, resting its wings
on the down side of some of the circles:
the other bird came back and they both
circled, looking perhaps for a draft;
they turned a few more times, possibly
rising at least, clearly resting
then flew on falling into distance till
they broke across the local bush and
trees: it was a sight of bountiful
majesty and integrity: the having
patterns and routes, breaking
from them to explore other patterns or
better ways to routes, and then the
return: a dance sacred as the sap in
the trees, permanent in its descriptions
as the ripples round the brooks
ripplestone: fresh as this particular
flood of burn breaking across us now
from the sun.

~ A. R. Ammons, A Coast of Trees

Can nature console us for our losses and “incompletions”? Some say we must have religion or art; nature is not enough to reconcile us to reality. But Ammons is more like Wordsworth: nature never disappoints him.

This is one of his best-loved poems. Note that he’s in the graveyard, and this is another “elegy in a country graveyard,” but with a powerful difference in the last section.

The first stanza is superb:

I have a life that did not become,
that turned aside and stopped,
I hold it in me like a pregnancy or
as on my lap a child
not to grow old but dwell on

I suspect that all of us have a “a life that did not become.” For me it’s the life I would have had if I’d stayed in Poland, or if I’d decided to have a child. Ammons, however, is alluding to the life of his brother who died at only 18 months:

it is to his grave I most
frequently return and return
to ask what is wrong, what was
wrong, to see it all by
the light of a different necessity
but the grave will not heal
and the child,
stirring, must share my grave
with me, an old man having
gotten by on what was left

The loss of the brother stubbornly remains — there is no explaining or healing it. Ammons was secular and would certainly never say that his brother waits for him “in a better place.” And yet the brother “lives” within the speaker — that too is a mode of existence.

Then we learn that the poet’s mother and father are buried in that cemetery, and his relatives and schoolteachers. (I love the “trinket aunts.”) There they are, 

all in the graveyard
assembled, done for, the world they
used to wield, have trouble and joy
in, gone

And the mourning gets more bitter than that. The adults, so god-like to a child, could not help keep the little brother alive. In fact, they were themselves doomed to “incompletion.” In fact here the poem comes close to rage over mortality as the ruthless law of life:

I stand on the stump
of a child, whether myself
or my little brother who died, and
yell as far as I can, I cannot leave this place, for
for me it is the dearest and the worst,
it is life nearest to life which is
life lost: it is my place where
I must stand and fail,
calling attention with tears
to the branches not lofting
boughs into space, to the barren
air that holds the world that was my world

The poem could end here and be yet another “elegy in a country graveyard,” finely written but not giving us any new insight. But something surprising now takes place: the poem makes a turn toward — dare we say it? — finding something good, even wonderful. He approaches it gradually, through small consolations of the “perfect” Easter morning:

        . . . still it
is a picture-book, letter-perfect
Easter morning: I have been for a
walk: the wind is tranquil: the brook
works without flashing in an abundant
tranquility: the birds are lively with

~ and now comes something extraordinary:

I saw something I had
never seen before: two great birds,
maybe eagles, blackwinged, whitenecked
and headed, came from the south oaring
the great wings steadily; they went
directly over me, high up, and kept on
due north:

Again, the poem could end right here. But Ammons is such a lover of nature, and is so dedicated to honest detail, that he extends the scene. One of the eagles starts circling, gliding to rest its wings, and its mate comes back and they both keep circling for a while, before they resume their previous course. This, Ammons tells us, is

a dance sacred as the sap in
the trees, permanent in its descriptions
as the ripples round the brooks
ripplestone: fresh as this particular
flood of burn breaking across us now
from the sun.

The speaker doesn’t need to delude himself with the prospect of a “better place” in order to have a sense of the sacred. Watching the “sacred dance” of the two great birds is his Easter worship and, I am tempted to say, his emotional resurrection.

The aerial dance is both ancient and new as sunlight just arriving – the “flood of burn” that makes life on earth possible.

Thus, turning to nature can provide consolation for mortality, but not by giving us identity or meaning. What nature can give us is beauty and serenity when we see the persistence of ancient patterns that continue in serenity, untroubled.

It is only a partial consolation. For more emotional reassurance, we need others who are still alive and help us carry the questions. We are social animals — there is no escaping that — and we need the human community. But that’s going beyond the poem. Ammons stays with what nature can offer: its beauty, majesty, and, in the flight of an eagle, serenity.

(One of my peak nature experiences happened while I was hiking on Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park in Washington. An American eagle glided past me just an arm’s length away. The bird’s eye passed by me, showing a complete lack of fear. The sense of serenity that this gliding flight conveyed is beyond words.)


Finally, since the title of the poem is “Easter Morning,” evoking resurrection, we need to ask if this is relevant to the poem. I think so. Now, it’s possible that in real life the speaker did go to visit his home-town cemetery precisely on Easter morning. But it’s also possible that the speaker made it Easter morning (rather than, say, a November afternoon) because he wanted to portray a resurrection — one through a communion with nature.

The setting is a cemetery. We stand in midst of graves, most likely facing the one of the speaker’s little brother, and contemplate the lost lives, the lost worlds — what Ammons brilliantly calls “incompletions”:

I stand on the stump
of a child, whether myself
or my little brother who died . . .
calling attention with tears . . .
to the barren
air that holds the world that was my world

The past is gone, unresolved, unjust: not the rich and fulfilled “rondure" but an incompletion. Tragic, meaningless, absurd; when a person dies, his or her unique, unrepeatable world is abruptly lost:

all in the graveyard
assembled, done for, the world they
used to wield, have trouble and joy
in, gone


But somehow the speaker stops staring down at the graves and looks up — and is seized with awe: two eagles come flying and perform the “sacred dance” that reveals their powerful bond

two great birds,
maybe eagles, blackwinged, whitenecked
and headed, came from the south oaring
the great wings steadily; they went
directly over me, high up, and kept on
due north: but then one bird,
the one behind, veered a little

~ and the “sacred dance” begins because one of them apparently needs to rest a bit.

We speak of “pair bonding” because we dare not apply the word “love” to animals. I say let’s be more daring: it’s an encounter with beauty and love that’s the emotional resurrection here. The speaker’s depression-inducing introspection ends as soon as he “gazes at the world.” And out there he sees something amazing: two great birds, their beauty and the love between them, and the implied promise of a new life. Or it might be a continuation of the same life, but seen with new eyes — after the sacred moment of watching the two eagles. 


Sometimes an otherwise forgettable movie delivers a moment or two of vivid connection. In this one, both were delivered by the punk photographer, superbly played by Greta Gerwig. She says to the adolescent protagonist and narrator: “No matter how you imagine your future life, it will be nothing like it.” Life takes us by surprise. And no matter how many times we’ve been through this “Surprise!” experience, there is always more of it. That’s why Oscar Wilde said that a novel can’t be like life, or it would be too unbelievable.

Another scene that stays with me is the first time the photographer and the handyman make love. She asks him that he touch her as by accident and then say, “I'm sorry.” At first he’s put off by this request: why should he says he’s sorry when he isn’t? He’s done nothing to apologize for. But the woman’s obvious woundedness finally persuades him — she needs to hear those words. So he brushes down the strap of her tank down her shoulder, then says, “I'm sorry.” After a silence, he starts saying “I'm sorry” again and again, with increasing compassion and tenderness. He touches and gently kisses her, saying “I'm sorry.”

He’s not apologizing for himself; he’s empathizing with the suffering she’s gone through, the unfair deal life has given her (she’s a cancer survivor, among other things). In a way, he empathizes with all suffering. In a movie in which a lot centers on “trying to be cool” and detached, this is a moment of true connection. 

Yet another way to understand this moment is to see the woman’s longing to hear “I'm sorry” as her desire to have god apologize to her for her life. Where she expected protection and kindness, she got abandonment, trauma, hardship. There are people who try to imagine what they’d say to god if they see him after they die. They rarely, if ever, wonder what god might say to them. But wouldn’t it be magnificent if god said, “I'm sorry”?

One solution would be to imagine a female god, the Holy Mother, who is a goddess of mercy. She’s totally non-punitive. Bad things happen, but that’s governed by forces over which she has no control. Her function is to show sympathy. Perhaps that’s why there are so many statues of Mary (and Quan-Yin, the Goddess of Mercy). The greatest cathedrals are all Mary, as are the small grottoes. She’s the one that people see in apparitions. I think the difference is that she never  punishes. 


~ “April 22. The man who ought to never have been born — whose name was borne with revulsion by the city of my life, whom as a child I was told I was supposed to love more than my own parents, who was proclaimed by millions of visual propaganda items on every street corner to be more alive even in his death than all the rest of us the living, for whom thousands of hosannas were sung day and night on the radio, in whose honor on a certain number of Saturdays per year the whole vast country was engaged in some meaningless menial activity, and who lay immobile and sallow-faced with hollow eye sockets and all waxen in his black suit and extremely dead inside the eerily bright glass cube guarded by heavily armed soldiers with inscrutably cruel features in the dark while the horrified five year-old me with my hand in my old-Bolshevik grandfather's large palm was moving past that awful glass cube in otherworldly silence — that man would turn 147 today.” ~ Mikhail Iossel (who grew up in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg)


And Hitler’s birthday is April 20 — openly celebrated by the newly empowered Neo-Nazis.

Let's detox from this with art.

Rembrandt: Self-portrait with Saskia, 1636. Rembrandt portrays himself as the Prodigal Son in a tavern.

And here is Rembrandt’s drawing of himself and Saskia (1636) that I like even more

And here, by contrast, is the essence of tacky


So let us detox from that: April bloom at Joshua Tree; Patricia Galindo

And since we need even more detox, here is Georgia O'Keeffe's Shell, 1938


~ “What is the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism? The answer could be summarized this way: Anti-Semitism needs actual Jews to persecute; anti-Judaism can flourish perfectly well without them, since its target is not a group of people but an idea.

Nirenberg’s thesis is that this idea of Judaism, which bears only a passing resemblance to Judaism as practiced and lived by Jews, has been at the very center of Western civilization since the beginning. From Ptolemaic Egypt to early Christianity, from the Catholic Middle Ages to the Protestant Reformation, from the Enlightenment to fascism, whenever the West has wanted to define everything it is not—when it wants to put a name to its deepest fears and aversions—Judaism has been the name that came most easily to hand.

The main reason why Judaism, and therefore anti-Judaism, have been so central to Western culture is, of course, Christianity. But Nirenberg’s first chapter shows that some persistent anti-Jewish tropes predate Jesus by hundreds of years. The Greek historian Hecataeus of Abdera, writing around 320 BCE, recorded an Egyptian tradition that inverts the familiar Exodus story. In this version, the Hebrews did not escape from Egypt but were expelled as an undesirable element, “strangers dwelling in their midst and practicing different rites.” These exiles settled in Judea under the leadership of Moses, who instituted for them “an unsocial and intolerant mode of life.” Already, Nirenberg observes, we can detect “what would become a fundamental concept of anti-Judaism—Jewish misanthropy.”

With his chapters on Saint Paul and the early church, Nirenberg begins to navigate the headwaters of European anti-Judaism. Paul, whose epistles instructed small Christian communities in the Near East on points of behavior and doctrine, was writing at a time when Christianity was still primarily a Jewish movement. In his desire to emphasize the newness of his faith, and the rupture with Judaism that Jesus Christ represented, he cast the two religions as a series of oppositions. Where Jews read scripture according to the “letter,” the literal meaning, Christians read it according to the “spirit,” as an allegory predicting the coming of Christ. Likewise, where Jews obeyed traditional laws, Christians were liberated from them by faith in Christ—which explained why Gentile converts to Christianity did not need to follow Jewish practices like circumcision. 

To “Judaize,” to use a word Paul coined, meant to be a prisoner of this world, to believe in the visible rather than the invisible, the superficial appearance rather than the true meaning, law rather than love. More than a theological error, Judaism was an error in perception and cognition, a fundamentally wrong way of being in the world.

The problem, as Nirenberg argues in the richest sections of his book, is that this is an error to which Christians themselves are highly prone. Paul and the early Christians lived in the expectation of the imminent end of the world, the return of Christ, and the establishment of the new Jerusalem. As the end kept on not coming, it became necessary to construct a Christian way of living in this world. But this meant that Christians would have need of law and letter, too, that they would need to “Judaize” to some degree.

That is why the theological debates in the early church, leading up to Saint Augustine, were often cast as arguments about Judaizing. Marcion, a 2nd-century-CE heretic, followed Paul’s denigration of “the letter” to the point of discarding the entire Old Testament (as the Hebrew Bible was now known); to keep reading Jewish scriptures was to miss the point of Christ’s radical newness. On the other hand, Justin Martyr, Marcion’s orthodox opponent, believed that this reduction of the Old Testament to its merely literal content was itself a way of repeating a “Jewish” error.

In other words, both Marcion and Justin each accused the other of Judaizing, of reading and thinking like a Jew. This, too, would become a pattern for subsequent Christian (and post-Christian) history: If Judaism was an error, every error could potentially be thought of as Jewish. “This struggle to control the power of ‘Judaism,’ ” Nirenberg writes, “will turn out to be one of the most persistent and explosive themes of Christian political theology, from the Middle Ages to Modernity.”

When Martin Luther rebelled against Catholicism, he attacked the church’s “legalistic understanding of God’s justice” as Jewish: “In this sense the Roman church had become more ‘Jewish’ than the Jews.” When the Puritan revolutionaries in the English Civil War thought about the ideal constitution for the state, they looked to the ancient Israelite commonwealth as described in Judges and Kings.

Surprisingly, Nirenberg shows, the decline of religion in Europe and the rise of the Enlightenment did little to change the rhetoric of anti-Judaism. Voltaire, Kant, and Hegel all used Judaism as a figure for what they wanted to overcome—superstition, legalistic morality, the dead past. Finally, in a brief concluding chapter on the 19th century and after, Nirenberg shows how Marx recapitulated ancient anti-Jewish tropes when he conceived of communist revolution as “the emancipation of mankind from Judaism”—that is, from money and commerce and social alienation. And this is not to mention some of Nirenberg’s most striking chapters, including one on the role of Judaism in early Islam and one devoted to a close reading of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

For all the progress the world has made since the Holocaust in thinking rationally about Jews and Judaism, the story Nirenberg has to tell is not over.

Rembrandt: Old Jew, 1654


What fascinates me most is Luther accusing the Catholic church of having become “more Jewish than the Jews.” And then of course Marx, the descendant of famous rabbis, who sees communism as a liberation from Judaism (which Marx sees as “money, commerce, and social alienation”). And how Christian theologians would accuse one another of “thinking like a Jew.”

And while Paul’s role in setting the opposition between Judaism and Christianity looms very large indeed, we must not forget the gospels themselves — and the criticism of the Pharisees and their legalistic observance. Christians tend to be ignorant of modern Reform Judaism. For them, the ancient Pharisees are still the face of Judaism.

And the way anti-Judaism is also a hidden anti-intellectualism is another interesting facet of this phenomenon.

St. Paul, mosaic in Rome. Oddly enough, "paulus" means "small"

More on the subject from the New York Review of Books


~ “In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, published in 1790, Edmund Burke compared what was going on in France to previous revolutions (like England’s in 1688) that were led by noblemen “of great civil, and great military talents.” By contrast, he wrote, the revolutionary government in Paris is led by “Jew brokers contending with each other who could best remedy with fraudulent circulation and depreciated paper the wretchedness and ruin brought on their country by their degenerate councils.”

Burke certainly knew that Danton, Robespierre, Saint-Just, and their friends and enemies among the revolutionaries were, all of them, Catholics and lapsed Catholics (plus a few Protestants). They were only figurative Jews, imaginary Jews, who came to Burke’s mind, and to many other minds, “because the revolution forced him…to confront basic questions about the ways in which humans relate to one another in society. These were questions that two millennia of pedagogy had taught Europe to ask in terms of “Judaism,” and Burke had learnt the lesson well.”

A certain view of Judaism—mainly negative—gets established early on, chiefly in Christian polemics, and then becomes a common tool in many different intellectual efforts to understand the world and to denounce opposing understandings. Marx may have thought himself insightful and his announcement original: the “worldly God” of the Jews was “money”! But the identification of Judaism with materialism, with the things of this world, predates the appearance of capitalism in Europe by at least 1,500 years.

What is being explained is the social world; the explanatory tools are certain supposed features of Judaism; and the enemies are mostly not Jews but “Judaizing” non-Jews who take on these features and are denounced for doing so. I will deal with only a few of Judaism’s negative characteristics: its hyperintellectualism; its predilection for tyranny; its equal and opposite predilection for subversive radicalism; and its this-worldly materialism.

It begins in the Gospels, with the earliest attacks on the Judaism of the Pharisees. Christian supersessionist arguments—i.e., arguments about what aspects of Judaism had been superseded by Christianity—were based on a set of oppositions: law superseded by love, the letter by the spirit, the flesh (the material world, the commandments of the Torah, the literal text) by the soul. “I bless you father…,” writes Luke, “for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children.” [But] the Christians very quickly produced immensely learned, clever, and disputatious theologians of their own, who were then accused, and who accused each other, of Judaizing—thinking or acting like Jews.

Kantianism, Hegel claimed, was simply a new version of “the Jewish principle of opposing thought to reality, reason to sense; this principle involves the rending of life and a lifeless connection between God and the world.” According to Hegel, Abraham had made a fateful choice: his rejection of the world in favor of a sublime God had alienated the Jews forever from the beauty of nature and made them the prisoners of law, incapable of love. (Needless to say, Schopenhauer, in the next generation, thought that the academic Hegelians of his time were “Jews” and followers of “the Jewish God.”

The populist anti-Semitism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (what August Bebel called “the socialism of fools”) has a long history. One very early example is Saint Ambrose’s response to the emperor Maximus, who punished the leaders of a Christian mob that burned a synagogue in the Mesopotamian city of Callinicum: “That king,” Ambrose said, “has become a Jew.” What made Maximus a “Jew” was not that he defended the Callinicum Jews but that he ranked enforcement of the law over the demands of the spirit (and the religious enthusiasm of the mob).

Among modern revolutionaries, the Puritans actually were Judaizers (focused far more on the Old than the New Testament), though with their own supersessionist theology. The use of the tropes of philo- and anti-Judaism during the English civil war made some sense, even though there were no Jews in England in the 1640s. The French revolutionaries were neither Jews nor Judaizers, though Burke and others understood them by invoking the “old ideas and fears.” But it was the Bolsheviks who, more than any other group of rebels, were widely understood as “Jewish.” It is true that many of them were Jews, though of the sort that Isaac Deutscher called “non-Jewish Jews.” Judaism had nothing at all to do with Bolshevism and yet, if Nirenberg is right, the Bolsheviks would have been explained in the language of anti-Judaism even if there had never been a Trotsky, a Kamenev, or a Radek among them.

His argument is that a certain view of Judaism lies deep in the structure of Western civilization and has helped its intellectuals and polemicists explain Christian heresies, political tyrannies, medieval plagues, capitalist crises, and revolutionary movements. Anti-Judaism is and has long been one of the most powerful theoretical systems “for making sense of the world.” No doubt, Jews sometimes act out the roles that anti-Judaism assigns them—but so do the members of all the other national and religious groups, and in much greater numbers. The theory does not depend on the behavior of “real” Jews.

Nirenberg’s history of anti-Judaism is powerful and persuasive, but it is also unfinished. It never gets to the United States, for example, where anti-Judaism seems to have been less prevalent and less useful (less used in making sense of society and economy) than it was and is in the Old World—and where philo-Judaism seems to have a much larger presence. The modern state of Israel also makes no appearance in Nirenberg’s book, except for one sentence on the next-to-last page:

We live in an age in which millions of people are exposed daily to some variant of the argument that the challenges of the world they live in are best explained in terms of “Israel.”

So we have a partial discontinuity (the US) and an unexplored continuity (contemporary Israel) with Nirenberg’s history. There is still work to be done. But here, in this book, anti-Judaism has at last found its radical critic.” ~


In a speech in 1889, Anthony noted that women had always been taught that their purpose was to serve men, but “Now, after 40 years of agitation, the idea is beginning to prevail that women were created for themselves, for their own happiness, and for the welfare of the world.” Anthony was sure that women's suffrage would be achieved, but she also feared that people would forget how difficult it was to achieve it, as they were already forgetting the ordeals of the recent past.
The tomb of Susan B. Anthony in Rochester, NY

I know this may be hard to believe, but I once met a man *of my [boomer] generation and on a college campus* who believed that the purpose of women was to serve men, and was willing to voice it. Upon hearing that I was married (I was in grad school then), he said, in class and out loud for everyone to hear, “At least you are fulfilling your function: serving a man.”

I think the ideal is mutual nurturing. Men and women should cooperate and give one another more strength. Now that would be heaven.



Saying they found "a darker link between religion and the evolution of modern hierarchical societies" than has been previously suggested, a group of scientists say ritual human sacrifice promoted stratified social systems – and helped to sustain inherited class systems once they were established.

After comparing dozens of societies, the researchers found that ritualized human sacrifice was far more common in highly stratified societies than it was in egalitarian societies. Noting the high level of overlap between religious and political sectors in the societies, the scientists write, "human sacrifice may have been co-opted by elites as a divinely sanctioned means of social control."

Acknowledging that their findings might be "unpalatable," the scientists say, "our results suggest that ritual killing helped humans transition from the small egalitarian groups of our ancestors, to the large stratified societies we live in today.”

For the study, researchers looked at 93 traditional Austronesian cultures – societies that share a family of languages and span from Madagascar to Easter Island and from Taiwan to New Zealand. For each one, they noted how segmented the society was — designating them egalitarian or either moderate or highly stratified — as well as the presence of human sacrifice in their rituals.

"Common occasions for human sacrifice in these societies included the breach of taboo or custom, the funeral of an important chief, and the consecration of a newly built house or boat. Ethnographic descriptions highlight that the sacrificial victims were typically of low social status, such as slaves, and the instigators were of high social status, such as priests and chiefs.”

The study is the latest modern attempt to understand the cultural role played by human sacrifices – rituals in which people were killed in the name of a supernatural entity. As the researchers note, such practices are known to have taken place "in early Germanic, Arab, Turkic, Inuit, American, Austronesian, African, Chinese and Japanese cultures.”

Hierarchies notwithstanding, I have a warm spot in my heart for the former Pope Benedict (and before then Grand Inquisitor Ratzinger) for having said that heaven and hell are not actual places but states of mind, and that Genesis is a mishmash of pagan fables. It went practically unnoticed, I know, but not by me!

“DO WHAT YOU FEAR” (Jung's boyhood fainting fits)

[In his early teens, Jung began having fainting fits.] He knew that his fainting fits were related to his fear and distaste for school. He embarked on a radical course of action. Resolving not to “give in” any longer to the paralyzing attacks, he grabbed the nearest textbook — and promptly suffered “the finest of fainting fits.” But he grimly resumed his reading as soon as he came to, and persisted in his purpose in the face of two further attacks. After an hour or two of this, he felt that his baffling illness — which he later diagnosed as a neurosis — had been defeated, and in fact, from then on, the spells abated and gradually disappeared.
~ Paul J. Stern, C.G. Jung —The Haunted Prophet

Stern states that this early experience had a profound influence on Jung, one that Stern deplores. Not only that, but Jung returned to school and got top grades “by dint of hard work.” Imagine, so old-fashioned . . . smacking of “will-power,” or, in any case, of the effectiveness of conscious intent, at least in some circumstances.

This reminded me not only of my decision not to be depressed — I don’t mean to belabor this in post after post — but also of the time when, as a result of a car accident, I developed a phobia of driving on the freeway. Because I lived in Los Angeles, this kind of phobia was seriously debilitating. I tried to use the method of “desensitization.” I’d imagine driving on the freeway and try to counter the feeling of terror with its opposite, feeling relaxed. To my surprise, the phobia got worse: I’d start having a panic attack if I merely saw a freeway overpass in the distance.

To make a long story short, in the end I forced myself to enter the freeway just for one exit, so I didn’t even have to merge into the traffic. Adrenaline flowed, my heart raced, my hands got so wet they kept sliding off the steering wheel — but very soon I was on the offramp. That first time was 90% of the recovery. I repeated that short stretch a few times, then tried a longer distance. I was still nervous, still dripping with sweat . . . but able to drive on freeways.

As any driver knows, if you drive enough, it becomes easy and natural. I drive less than the average person, but now I know: I don’t let a week go by without some driving on the freeway. I'm still somewhat nervous, but — I get places.

I suffered from that freeway phobia for a whole year, taking surface streets even if it took two hours, and relying on rides from friends, who, perhaps out of politeness, did not say the obvious: “Do what fear.” And only much later I read an article that warned that after an accident you need to get back to driving as soon as you can, and in fact try to drive a lot.

Jung’s fainting spells were of course a more severe symptom then mine, and I'm very impressed that he persisted. Today he’d have been put on anti-depressants and other drugs, needing higher and higher doses over time. I'm not on an anti-drug crusade, but I confess that I love to hear the stories of those (a few of whom I’ve known in person) who recovered because they decided to recover. The decision itself did most of the work.


“The brain in love experiences a drop in serotonin. Serotonin provides a sense of being in control; it guards against the anxiety of uncertainty and instability. When it drops, our sense of control decreases and we become obsessively fixated on things that rattle our certainty and stability cages—and since love is by definition unpredictable, it’s a prime target for obsession. This is also why the term "crazy in love" isn't too far off the truth.”

Odysseus and Penelope, Francesco Primaticcio

ending on beauty

No stars before the dawn of resurrection.
The night sky all white shroud.
Only Jupiter shines
through a window in luminous clouds.

Planet of luck! The “Great Benefic.”
I was told that in my chart
it ruled the house of wealth: a cruel
joke back in my pauper years.

Yet even then how rich I was
in words, in music, in horizons;
rich in mind and rich in time,
in solitude to create myself.

I think of the looters in Iraq,
how in their national museum
they unscrewed even the light bulbs —
“Greed is the failure to choose.”

True wealth possesses planets.
It watches Venus lay a path of light
on black dolphin waves.
I look away from youth’s

crucifixion. My hands in the dark
open to receive lilies.

~ Oriana


Sunday, April 16, 2017


Elizabeth Brockway, after Piero della Francesca. Resurrection is what we make of it. Here is to the hope that we can take the country back from nationalist "Christians"


When it’s green after winter rains,

I imagine you straining away
from roots that seek to pierce

your chest, nail down your hands.
You shape yourself back,
Adam from the earth;

the skin stitches itself,
regathers loose fibers.
And I, on the other shore

of the river of breath,

read the bronze plaque
as if I couldn’t understand 

that you are now a dash
between the two dates.
The hills shimmer so green,

I almost reach to pull you up —
and for brief silence the sky
stops. Then wind brings the sharp

tang of eucalyptus leaves,
the traffic’s hum and drone,
its prayer to move on, move on.

I straighten and walk away,
down the mowed slopes
toward the cold city.

~ Oriana

This is one of my many poems about a young man I once loved, who ended up committing suicide. A suicide often produces a storm of conflicting emotions. But they eventually calm down to a resignation in the face of the finality of death.

Ruins of the Church of the Holy Cross, Warsaw 1946


~ “Here's my question: If God raised Jesus from the dead, why not make it public so everyone could see and believe? If the empty tomb is a deal breaker — all that gnashing of teeth and eternal damnation — why be so secretive? What kind of God plays games like that?

If Jesus wanted everyone in the world to know that he resurrected from the tomb, why didn't he make at least a one public appearance for history's sake? Why only to a handful of biased believers who didn't even know how to read or write?

Why not appear to the people who killed him — like say, Pontius Pilate, or Judas Iscariot, or the Sanhedrin Council who'd been plotting his death for years? If all these were too scary, then why not at least show up for Pilate's wife who, according to the bible, told her husband to leave the poor guy alone! That's honorable mention stuff right there.

Or better yet, why not go back to the vulgar crowds in Jerusalem — the fickle folks who supposedly threw palms at his feet before they turned against him? These were the people who needed convincing, for crying out loud, not his mom and his best friends.

So now we've got a problem. All these lack of appearances in town mean that no legitimate historian, and not even a disinterested bystander, could ever report that they saw Jesus — even from a distance — after he was dead and buried.

Lets face it: Since the future of the world depended on it — not to mention the billions of people about to go to hell for lack of even a shred of evidence or logic — we're looking at a totally unfair and unjust religious belief system. This makes no sense. None. Nada. Zip. Zero.

We could argue that, “Jesus wanted to reward his disciples for their faithfulness, so that's why he didn’t let anyone else see him.”

But that means he put the whole burden on his disciples to go forth and convince the world. That makes no sense because they had no credibility — people knew they were already believers. And besides, they were not only illiterate, but they'd likely be dead before anyone else started to write about the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth.

In fact, it would be 40 more years before the anonymous “Mark” wrote about the death of Jesus, and guess what? Mark never mentioned a single sighting of Jesus, or the name of anyone who claimed he or she had ever SEEN Jesus after he died.

And then there's this: The tomb of Jesus was located at the thriving city of Jerusalem — the historic and religious center of the whole Jewish religion. Wait. Weren't these the same Jewish people whom Jesus said he came to save? So why did Jesus not at least go into Jerusalem after the resurrection, and shake a few hands?

Why would God not want the Jews of Jerusalem to see and hear for themselves that Jesus was alive and well? This makes absolutely no sense.

UNLESS . . . there was no resurrection. Unless Jesus was actually a Jewish rabbi — and a revolutionary who turned the tables on the status quo. In that case, it all makes sense. The mission of Jesus was to bust down the doors of the encrusted, established religion of the day — and bust the whole crowd of rich, religious hypocrites for the ways in which they oppressed the poor and the outcast. His mission was to call them out for their lack of love, compassion, grace, and basic decency. He busted them for failing to be human.

Their privilege had corrupted their humanity, and they didn't like being exposed and busted.

In that case, there was no need for a resurrection. Only a crucifixion." ~ Noah Einstein

The Dead Sea at sunset; photo: Rachel Heimowitz (The shores of the Dead Sea are the lowest land elevation on earth)

I was always puzzled by the scattered and seemingly pointless appearances of Jesus after the alleged resurrection. There is something anti-climactic about them. The powerful narrative we might expect — e.g. another triumphant entry into Jerusalem, even if just to say “I told you so” — is no more.

As Noah points out, the Jews of Jerusalem are cheated of their salvation. Pontius Pilate gets no second visit, about which he’d no doubt write in a long letter to the Emperor, possibly changing the history of the world. If a visit would be too tall an order — you can’t just drop in on a Roman governor, not even with the news that you just rose from the dead — how about a dream? The ancient world ran on dreams and prophecies. Pilate’s sympathetic wife certainly deserved at least a second dream.

But Noah already said it all: what kind of god would play those secrecy games? It’s shocking how the invisible looks just like the non-existent . . .

(Neil Carter’s comment is interesting: “If the resurrection of Jesus really happened, we wouldn’t be still debating its historicity today. The present-day evidence for the other claims of the Christian faith would be overwhelming, and all around us. They would leave little room for doubt. The very fact that we are still dissecting these ancient stories, looking for clues to determine whether or not they really happened says enough, don’t you think?”

(Michael Shermer has argued that if compelling evidence of the resurrection existed, surely a few scholars outside of Christianity would have noticed? Yet belief in the resurrection appears to be a 100% Christian phenomenon.) (And it turns out that not even all Christians believe in the resurrection — see the “Survey” post that follows.)

(Why go over this stuff? For several reasons, one of which is simply thinking things through  after a childhood and early youth of not being allowed to think. Independent thinking was the “whispers of Satan.” Why did Jesus curse the poor fig tree whose “season was not yet”? Why did he mock the custom of washing one’s hands before eating — surely an omniscient god would know about bacteria and would encourage his followers to observe hygiene? No, such thoughts were to be suppressed. Doubt itself was not a sin, the priest explained, but not struggling against the doubt was a sin. And I struggled.)



Here is something real: the manicured gardens of the Baha’i Temple in Haifa, Israel. It seems the best thing about this religion (originated in Iran and persecuted there) is that it promotes gardening. I wish all religions promoted gardening and planting trees.
Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too? ~ Douglas Adams


BBC News has a story describing an interesting survey. Several particular results stand out: Half of the respondents reported that they do not believe that the Resurrection happened. But of these, many also identified as Christians. About one-fourth of respondents who identified as Christians reported that they do not believe that the Resurrection occurred.

According to the BBC story, it is also true that 9% of people identifying as non-religious reported believing that the Resurrection did occur [don’t ask].

Vegreville Pisanka (decorated Easter egg), Alberta, Canada


It’s getting harder and harder to believe in the supernatural. Now that the Virgin Birth is an “optional belief” in Catholicism, isn’t Resurrection next? We can always supply a metaphorical interpretation in terms of Christ Consciousness inspiring the disciples.

Of course no metaphorical interpretation was allowed back when I was the daughter of the church. We had to believe that Jesus was raised on the cross exactly at high noon on Friday and died exactly at 3 pm. Then he walked out of the tomb exactly at the crack of dawn on Easter Sunday. The dates kept changing because Easter is not a fixed holiday (it can be as early as March 22 or as late as April 25), but that wasn’t questioned (nothing was questioned). He died on a Friday at exactly 3 pm — this was not an optional belief. No belief was optional back then.

Did the rainbow exist before Noah’s Flood? You didn’t even dare think about it.

  A rainbow in the Carpathians; Piotr Krzaczkowski

 ~ “Rainbows are more than half circles. They’re really whole circles. You’ll never see a circle rainbow from Earth’s surface because your horizon gets in the way. But, up high, people in airplanes sometimes do see them.” ~ (EarthSky) Colin Leonhardt took this photo from a helicopter near Perth, Australia.


Civilization began the first time an angry person cast a word instead of a rock. ~ Sigmund Freud

~ “You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.” ~ Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

from the series: Samuel Beckett Motivational Cat Posters

It’s been pointed out, by the Mythicists who don’t believe that Jesus actually existed, but not only by them, that deities that die and are then resurrected are by no means rare in various religions. The powerful story of Inanna’s Descent into the realm of Death may be the earliest recorded example. The way she’s stripped at each gate still makes me shudder — that’s what aging does to us. And yet she revives and ascends again.

Then there were of course the Eleusinian Mysteries and the dismemberment and resurrection of Dionysus. Persephone’s yearly return from the Underworld is perhaps not exactly the same as a resurrection, but it resembles it. And we have also the ancient myth of the Phoenix reborn from his ashes.

We need those stories of death and rebirth because of the First Noble Truth: “shit happens.” We need to be told that most suffering is survivable.

Life consists of countless deaths and resurrections. We manage to survive — until we don’t.

But until that time, life can have any meaning we manage to endow it with. We both find meaning and create it — each person through his or her uniqueness in the now. No invisible persons in the sky are needed for this. But real people — yes, they are necessary for us to have a meaning, since we are a part of the greater human story.


 I have something to say to the religionist who feels atheists never say anything positive: You are an intelligent human being. Your life is valuable for its own sake. You are not second-class in the universe, deriving meaning and purpose from some other mind. You are not inherently evil — you are inherently human, possessing the positive rational potential to help make this a world of morality, peace and joy. Trust yourself. ~ Dan Barker

 “You are not inherently evil -- you are inherently human” and “trust yourself” — ah, if only such messages were around me when I was growing up . . .  Unfortunately, what I heard was the opposite, i.e. I was inherently evil BECAUSE I was human. The voice of reason was the “whispers of Satan.” It’s astonishing to ponder the enormity of the hatred of humanity, of life, of this beautiful earth that is the foundation of all major religions.


The old are kind.
The young are hot.
Love may be blind.
Desire is not.

~ Leonard Cohen

The first two lines strike me as wisdom. I sometimes mention the "cruelty of youth." Empathy deepens with age, experience, and the growing knowledge that we all suffer and will die; we get to see that it's more meaningful to hold hands than to have sex.

Raphael, Lady with a Unicorn, 1505. Apparently a miniature variety, a lap unicorn.
The unicorn was probably chosen as a symbol of virginity. But there is also a peculiar “madonna and child” quality about the painting. Virginity, however, is #1 here. The unicorn was a symbol of purity; it would come only to a virgin; its horn was supposed to have the power to purify water of poison or pollution.

This may be the only representation of a lap unicorn in art. And this brings us to the problem of belief and reality. Theists think it’s perfectly legitimate to say, “Prove to me that god doesn’t exist. You can’t, can you?” And they think they’ve scored a triumph.

Actually they’ve just made an error in logic. One of the principles of logic is “you can’t prove a negative.” If someone says, “There’s a teapot orbiting the Moon,” the burden of proof is on them. 
If the statement about the invisible teapot is challenged, the teapot believers can’t legitimately respond with “Then prove to me that a teapot is NOT orbiting the moon. You can’t, can you?” That makes nonsense of the rules of evidence.

(I know, it completely shocks theists if you say that the burden of proof is on THEM.They are making the outrageous assertion that an invisible man in the sky exists, and now they are supposed to PROVE it? Well, “it’s in the book.”)

Of course poets can write unicorn sonnets and painters can paint unicorns. Scotland can adopt the unicorn as its national animal (by the way, the national flower of Scotland is the thistle). But here comes high tech — infrared photography, UV, X-rays — and now we are told that Raphael did not paint the unicorn. Nor did he paint the lapdog that underlies the image. Other artists added those — and the lap unicorn stayed. It does look somewhat “off” — but I don’t think anyone would vote to have it removed because we want authenticity. No: we want romance.

(Shockingly, a small but vocal group is seeking to remove the unicorn as Scotland’s national animal. They claim it should be replaced with Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. “How many people visit Scotland hoping to see a unicorn?” they ask.)

 Unicorn purifying water, 15th century medical manuscript

But isn’t a unicorn’s horn, ahem, a phallic symbol? Well, humans have a fantastic ability to twist anything around . . . so the unicorn came to be regarded as a symbol of Christ, just as a pomegranate became a symbol of Christ’s passion. Don’t ask.

(A shameless digression: Ah, purity! It’s one of the primary conservative values. The Christian pastor who recently killed his wife and an 8-year-old child in a San Bernardino schoolroom posted about her in February, effusively praising her purity.)


~ “I was sitting at the table. We had finished dinner. We're now having dessert. And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it. And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded, what do you do? And we made a determination to do it, so the missiles were on the way. And I said, Mr. President, let me explain something to you. This was during dessert.

We've just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing. ... It's so incredible. It's brilliant. It's genius. Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five. I mean look, we have, in terms of technology, nobody can even come close to competing. Now we're going to start getting it, because, you know, the military has been cut back and depleted so badly by the past administration and by the war in Iraq, which was another disaster. So what happens is I said *we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq* and I wanted you to know this. And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.

 [Fox Business News Maria] BARTIROMO: Heading to Syria?

TRUMP: Yes. Heading toward Syria. In other words, we've just launched 59 missiles heading toward Syria. And I want you to know that, because I didn't want him to go home. We were almost finished. It was a full day in Palm Beach. We're almost finished and I — what does he do, finish his dessert and go home and then they say, you know, the guy you just had dinner with just attacked a country?

BARTIROMO: How did he react?

TRUMP: So he paused for 10 seconds and then he asked the interpreter to please say it again. I didn't think that was a good sign. And he said to me, anybody that uses gases — you could almost say or anything else — but anybody that was so brutal and uses gases to do that young children and babies, it's OK.” ~

from Robert Reich’s Facebook page. The transcript of the whole interview is fairly long, but for those interested:


Washington Post commented: “Trump seems dazzled by being able to bomb Syria over dessert.” Indeed, who could doubt that it was “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake you’ve ever seen”?


The obscenity of the US’s legally questionable power projection is that it wins no battles and gains no territory. Western armies are clearly exhausted by fruitless ground wars in distant parts of the world. As a result, drones, cruise missiles and Moabs are forced to bear the burden of “something must be done”.  ~ Simon Jenkins, The Guardian


Might have damaged myself beyond repair last night in the bathroom,” Beckett writes at the age of 69 to his life-long mistress Barbara Bray in 1975. “Had got out of the bath & was drying myself with my back to it when my feet slipped and I fell in backward.” Two years later he writes, “I slipped and fell in the street yesterday, but could pick myself up and go on cursing God and man.”

In three separate letters, Beckett discusses his remorse about not going to work for the Guinness beer company in Dublin just as his middle-class father had repeatedly suggested. It’s a detail that many unfulfilled workers should ponder: A life as a successful musician, or All-Pro quarterback, or even as a Nobel Prize-winning writer for that matter, does not exempt one from the pangs of occupational regret. You can be brilliant; you can write Waiting for Godot, you can have an apartment in Paris and a house in the French countryside, and still wonder if you’d be happier being a 9-to-5 drone in a Dublin office cubicle.

The joy of Bellow’s letters—in contrast to Beckett’s straightforward correspondence—is that they often combine geriatric insight with his customary literary flare. In a 1997 letter where he mentions a recent ICU stint, he adds, “Then there is the stamp of old age on the face, head, hands, and ankles. These blue-cheese ankles—what a punishment for narcissists!”—a perfect image of how the human body changes and how this process agonizes the ego. And then, astutely describing the sense of both violation and intimacy one feels toward aging, he writes two years later, “I often feel these days that death is a derelict or what Americans nowadays call a street person who has moved into the house with me and whom I can find no way to get rid of.”


“One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be ‘happy’ is not included in the plan of ‘Creation’. What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree, and it is by its nature only possible as an episodic phenomenon. When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things. Goethe indeed warns us that ‘nothing is harder to bear than a succession of fair days.’ But this may be an exaggeration.” ~ Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

Come to think of it, Goethe lived for a while in Italy. But nothing like Southern California if you want to discover how much you love clouds and rain. By the way, Freud really makes a good point about happiness. The most intense kind is based on contrast. Fortunately there is also contentment (“mild contentment” is fine with me) and a sense of well-being. 

Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley

Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers. ~ Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

As the Home Owners' Association keeps saying in the heading of their threatening letters, "A FRIENDLY REMINDER"

 Sebastian Bianek, 2014


Some anonymous wise person once observed that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. But Wolfgang Streeck, a 70-year-old German sociologist and director emeritus of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, thinks capitalism’s end is inevitable and fast approaching. He has no idea what, if anything, will replace it.

This is the premise of his latest book, How Will Capitalism End?, which goes well beyond Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. Piketty thinks capitalism is getting back into the saddle after being ruined in two world wars. Streeck thinks capitalism is its own worst enemy and has effectively cut itself off from all hope of rescue by destroying all its potential rescuers.

According to Streeck, salvation doesn’t lie in going back to Marx, or social democracy, or any other system, because there is no salvation at all. “What comes after capitalism in its final crisis, now under way, is, I suggest, not socialism or some other defined social order, but a lasting interregnum — no new world system equilibrium... but a prolonged period of social entropy or disorder.

Bob Boldt

If we need a historical parallel, the interregnum between the fall of Rome and the rise of feudalism might serve. The slave economy of Rome ended in a chaos of warlords, walled towns and fortress-estates, and enclaves ruled by migrant barbarians. That went on for centuries, with warlords calling themselves “Caesar” and pretending the Empire hadn’t fallen. Streeck sees the interregnum emerging from five developments, each aggravating the others: “stagnation, oligarchic redistribution, the plundering of the public domain, corruption, and global anarchy.”

All these problems and more have grown through “three crises: the global inflation of the 1970s, the explosion of public debt in the 1980s, and rapidly rising private indebtedness in the subsequent decade, resulting in the collapse of financial markets in 2008.” Anyone of a certain age in  British Columbia has vivid personal recollections of these crises and the hurt they caused. The strikes and inflation of the 1970s preceded the “restraint” era, and now we mortgage our lives for a foothold in the housing market. Streeck reminds us that it was nothing personal, just business. We weren’t just coping with one damn thing after another; given his perspective, we can see how it all fit together with an awful inevitability.

When the bubble pops

And it continues to fit together. Temporary foreign workers and other immigrants make unions’ jobs harder. “Recovery” amounts to replacing unemployment with underemployment. Education is an expensive holding tank to keep young people off the labor market. Women are encouraged to work so they can be taxed. But middle-class families need two incomes anyway to maintain their status, so they import underpaid immigrant women as nannies.

Marx thought communism would see the withering-away of the state. Instead, capitalism has reduced the state until its chief functions are protecting the rich and policing the poor.

But in the process, capitalism has killed off its rescuers. Who’s going to save the banks in the next collapse? Who’s going to bail out the masters of the financial universe when artificial intelligence takes their jobs? And who’s going to police the poor when taxpayers can’t pay for the cops and the rich are hiring cops for their own gated communities? Wolfgang Streeck sees neither a single cause of capitalism’s collapse nor any obvious successor regime.

The European Union may break up. Climate change may drown south Florida, including Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. Refugees will keep coming north; they will eventually overwhelm the fences and guards and create new enclaves in Europe and the U.S.A. and Canada.

New pandemics will sweep unchallenged around the world. No coherent political communities will be there to respond to such disasters. Such communities may arise centuries from now, but if Streeck is right, capitalism has ensured that we and our children will never live in them.

a bit more on the subject:

~ “Why should the new oligarchs be interested in their countries’ future productive capacities and present democratic stability if, apparently, they can be rich without it, processing back and forth the synthetic money produced for them at no cost by a central bank for which the sky is the limit, at each stage diverting from it hefty fees and unprecedented salaries, bonuses, and profits as long as it is forthcoming – and then leave their country to its remaining devices and withdraw to some privately owned island?” ~ Wolfgang Streeck

This summer, Britons mutinied against their government, their experts and the EU – and consigned themselves to a poorer, angrier future. Such frenzies of collective self-harm were explained by Streeck in the 2012 lectures later collected in Buying Time:

    ~ Citizens too can “panic” and react “irrationally”, just like financial investors … even though they have no banknotes as arguments but only words and (who knows?) paving stones. ~

 In its deepest crises, he says, modern capitalism has relied on its enemies to wade in with the lifebelt of reform. During the Great Depression of the 30s, it was FDR’s Democrats who rolled out the New Deal, while Britain’s trade unionists allied with Keynes.

Compare that with now. Over 40 years, neoliberal capitalism has destroyed its opposition. When Margaret Thatcher was asked to give her greatest achievement, she nominated “Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds.”

Public discontent is fitful and fragmented, ready to fall into Trump’s tiny hands. Meanwhile, capitalism – unrestrained and unreformed – will die.

This isn’t the violent overthrow envisaged by Marx and Engels. In The Communist Manifesto, they argued that capitalism’s “gravediggers” would be the proletariat. Nearly 170 years later, Streeck is predicting that the capitalists will be their own gravediggers, through having destroyed the workers and the dissidents they needed to maintain the system. What comes next is not some better replacement but is more akin to the centuries-long rotting away of the Roman empire.

“I spent a long time in my life exploring the possibilities for an intelligent social democratic solution of the class conflict,” he explains over lunch. “The idea that we could modify capitalism towards equality and social justice. That we could tame the beast. Now I think those are more or less utopian ideals.”

The great disillusionment came upon returning to Germany in 1995, after years teaching industrial relations in the US. It was the era of Germany being labelled “the sick man of Europe”, when one in five east German workers were unemployed. Through the metalworkers’ trade union, Streeck was invited to join a committee of trade unions, employers and government. Called the Alliance for Jobs (Bündnis für Arbeit), its task was to reform labour laws. Streeck believed this was “the last call for trade unions and social democracy”: the final chance to get more people into work without stripping workers of their rights.

“We came up with a good model, but everything we proposed was blocked – not just by the employers but by the unions, too.”

But doesn’t he want something better than a new dark ages for his grandchildren? “If I am honest, now I am thankful for every passing year that is good and peaceful. And I hope for another one. Very short-term, I know, but those are my horizons.”

Oriana: But for the moment at least, we still have a bit nature left . . . 

  Great Gray Owl here. I'm putting down my landing gear.


As director of the newly-minted Institute of Cytology and Genetics, Belyaev was curious as to how dogs first became domesticated. He decided that to fully understand the process, he must attempt to replicate the early days of domestication. He picked foxes for the experiment because of their close family ties with dogs (both are canids). His research team visited fur farms across the Soviet Union and purchased the tamest foxes on hand. They figured using the most docile of the wild foxes for their breeding program would hasten the pace of domestication, relative to the thousands of years it took to breed dogs.

Unfortunately, Belyaev died before seeing the final results. But today, 58 years after the start of the program, there is now a large, sustainable population of domesticated foxes. These animals have no fear of humans, and actively seek out human companionship. The most friendly are known as “elite” foxes.

“By the tenth generation, 18 percent of fox pups were elite; by the 20th, the figure had reached 35 percent,” Lyudmilla Trut, one of the lead researchers at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics, wrote in a paper describing the experiment in 1999. “Today elite foxes make up 70 to 80 percent of our experimentally selected population.”

One of the lab’s most interesting findings is that the friendly foxes exhibit physical traits not seen in the wild, such as spots in their fur and curled tails. Their ears show weird traits, too.

Like puppies, young foxes have floppy ears. But the ears of domesticated foxes stay floppier for a longer time after birth,
said Jennifer Johnson, a biologist who has worked with Kukekova since the early 2000s.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the domesticated fox experiment fell on hard times as public funding for the project evaporated. The researchers realized quickly that keeping more than 300 foxes is an expensive enterprise. In the 1990s, the lab switched to selling some of the foxes as fur pelts to sustain the breeding program.

ending on beauty: 

Climb up with me, American love.
Kiss me with the secret stones.
The torrential silver of the Urubamba
strews pollen to the yellow cup.

And the sanguinary shadow of the condor
crosses the clock like a black ship.

~ Pablo Neruda, The Heights of Macchu Picchu

The Andes in Peru — reminds me of my teenage dream of starting at the tip of Tierra del Fuego and slowly traveling up the Ring of Fire, all the way to the tip of Alaska. But mainly I wanted to see the Andes.