Sunday, May 21, 2017


Sunset in Queensland


Again workers and schoolchildren
three-deep along the boulevards:
this time it was not
a cosmonaut
nor the Ethiopian emperor —
it was Brezhnev

who stood,
monolithic three-quarters profile,
in a long, open black car,
next to the nervous host —
himself a first secretary,
but how slight!
And Brezhnev an impassive mound.
His eyebrows
underlined his hat.

He stood heavy, rotund,
caped in a black coat.
Now and then his pale
pudgy hand
flopped slowly up and down
like a disturbed mollusk;
he did not bother to smile.

We stomped our feet
in the chill;
at his passage, when signaled,
feebly clapping.

For news and documentaries,
they used a soundtrack
with hurrah applause
and shouts of  long-live.
His huge dark back
took over the screen.

~ Oriana

When Brezhnev came to Warsaw, I was one of the thousands of schoolchildren dragged out to applaud his motorcade. Brezhnev scowled —  he didn’t bother to smile at the unimportant Poles. Good optics were reserved for Americans.

Now we see this in reverse: our pouty POTUS is all smiles for the Russians! Grinning ear to to ear! But someone commented that he looks like someone laughing without understanding the joke. And that Kislyak’s grin is by contrast a sly, mission-accomplished expression of satisfaction. 

 Trump with Russian Ambassador Kislyak; American reporters were not allowed into the Oval Office, but Russian state-agency reporters were. 

 Trump, Kislyak, and Foreign Minister Lavrov

~ “They are of the same cloth, Putin, Lavrov, Trump — people who know what's what and what life is all about, why it’s all about money and power and not all that other crazy ephemeral loser talk about democracy, human rights and all that silly nonsense. Life’s about winning, and everything that’s not winning is losing. They are winners, and everyone else is losers.” ~ M. Iossel (who grew up in Leningrad and lived in Russia until the age of 30)


A minor point next to the lack of ethics, but I want to squeeze it in somewhere. His food addiction is a kind of substitute for alcoholism. I've seen this pattern in families. And sometimes an alcoholic switches to a food addiction.


~ “Me: “This man openly boasted of sexual assault, and gives away state secrets like candy to visitors.”

Them: “Oh yeah? Well, Bill Clinton was a serial adulterer and Hillary gave away secrets of her own.”

Me: “So you agree with me that such things render a person unfit for the office?”

[abrupt change of subject]

Even if we were to grant their point, it would be entirely beside the point. Their response fails to invalidate legitimate charges against the person they're defending, but it never occurs to them that they didn't actually say anything that disproved the charges. They're simply admitting they're willing to live with the flaws of their own guy, and they want to get the attention on to something else instead.

That's changing the subject, which is what you do when you don't have a good response that actually deals with the topic under consideration. You just hope no one notices what you did.” ~ Neil Carter


I did notice that the use of the “Tu Quoque” fallacy is the main tactic of the Trump camp. They don’t defend Trump’s actions. Instead, they say: “But Obama . . . But the Democrats . . . But Clinton . . .” — it’s extremely predictable. Trump fans seem to believe that the best defense if offense. Sometimes they attack you directly, but most often they attack Obama.

The worst strategy is to respond by pointing out that what Obama didn’t do X, or if he did, it was in a totally different context, or wasn’t anywhere as bad, etc. Now they’ve got you: now you are on the defensive, and Trump’s misconduct disappears from the discussion. Being aware of the logical fallacy and quick to point it out prevents being hijacked in this manner. 

I admit I’ve fallen into this “But Obama! But Hillary!” trap a gazillion times. Bring up any blatant wrong-doing by Trump, and you’ll immediately hear that Obama (or Clinton, or the Democrats — even going back to LBJ) did something much worse (often bringing up stuff you never heard of, part of the disinformation spread by Fox News and right-wing Talk Radio). If you “bite” and start talking about Obama or whoever, you’re a goner — a punching bag in what’s about to turn into verbal battery, with yourself being accused of being totally biased and “unwilling to consider the other side.”

(And don’t even think of bringing up right-wing terrorism; you immediately get clobbered with “but Stalin.” This isn’t just “big guns” — this is verbal nuclear warfare. There is no winning against a fallacy, but at least you can be aware and refuse to engage.)

To shift to another fallacy, this is somewhat like the Christian apologists saying, “Prove to me that god doesn’t exist. You can’t, can you? Got you, hah-hah!” That particular logical fallacy is “you don’t prove the negative.” You are not required to prove that an invisible teapot isn’t orbiting the moon, or that pink unicorns don’t exist somewhere in the universe (the universe is so vast, how could you be so arrogant as to assume they not exist somewhere?). The burden of proof is on the apologists. It’s a completely different fallacy than “tu quoque,” but it helps tremendously to know that it IS a fallacy, with a neat Latin name. Logic should be a required class even before college. 

“It is not about the economy, for Trump supporters. It is about the legitimization of their inner darkness.” ~ M. Iossel

I remember one distinct time when Trump himself used the tu quoque fallacy. I think it was Bill O’Reilly interviewing him, hardly an “enemy.” The interviewer brought up Trump’s admiration for Putin, then said, “Putin is a killer.” Trump didn’t make the slightest attempt to deny the “killer” label. Instead, he replied with: “And what about us? Are we so innocent?”

Don’t even think of trying to defend America, or at least America as an ideal. Human rights, democracy — forget it. “Tu quoque” — you too. America is just as bad as Russia! And Putin has disappeared from the discussion, as if exonerated. But a fallacy is a fallacy. It helps tremendously to recognize it as such.

This is not about changing the mind of Trump supporters. They are unreachable (but then very few people — possibly none — are open-minded when it comes to politics). This is strictly about self-defense. 


"You know, our politics have become these pure acts of vindictiveness… People who felt like they were being treated cruelly decided to respond with an act of cruelty themselves. Donald Trump is an act of cruelty." ~ Stephen Colbert


~ "While adult psychopaths constitute only a tiny fraction of the general population, studies suggest that they commit half of all violent crimes. Ignore the problem, says Adrian Raine, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, “and it could be argued we have blood on our hands.”

Researchers believe that two paths can lead to psychopathy: one dominated by nature, the other by nurture. For some children, their environment—growing up in poverty, living with abusive parents, fending for themselves in dangerous neighborhoods—can turn them violent and coldhearted. These kids aren’t born callous and unemotional; many experts suggest that if they’re given a reprieve from their environment, they can be pulled back from psychopathy’s edge.

But other children display callous and unemotional traits even though they are raised by loving parents in safe neighborhoods. Large studies in the United Kingdom and elsewhere have found that this early-onset condition is highly hereditary, hardwired in the brain—and especially difficult to treat. “We’d like to think a mother and father’s love can turn everything around,” Raine says. “But there are times where parents are doing the very best they can, but the kid—even from the get-go—is just a bad kid.”

Still, researchers stress that a callous child—even one who was born that way—is not automatically destined for psychopathy. By some estimates, four out of five children with these traits do not grow up to be psychopaths. The mystery—the one everyone is trying to solve—is why some of these children develop into normal adults while others end up on death row.

A trained eye can spot a callous and unemotional child by age 3 or 4. Whereas normally developing children at that age grow agitated when they see other children cry—and either try to comfort them or bolt the scene—these kids show a chilly detachment. In fact, psychologists may even be able to trace these traits back to infancy. Researchers at King’s College London tested more than 200 five-week-old babies, tracking whether they preferred looking at a person’s face or at a red ball. Those who favored the ball displayed more callous traits two and a half years later.

As a child gets older, more-obvious warning signs appear. Kent Kiehl, a psychologist at the University of New Mexico and the author of The Psychopath Whisperer, says that one scary harbinger occurs when a kid who is 8, 9, or 10 years old commits a transgression or a crime while alone, without the pressure of peers. This reflects an interior impulse toward harm. Criminal versatility—committing different types of crimes in different settings—can also hint at future psychopathy.

But the biggest red flag is early violence. “Most of the psychopaths I meet in prison had been in fights with teachers in elementary school or junior high,” Kiehl says. “When I’d interview them, I’d say, ‘What’s the worst thing you did in school?’ And they’d say, ‘I beat the teacher unconscious.’ You’re like, That really happened? It turns out that’s very common.”

Broadly speaking, Kiehl and others believe that the psychopathic brain has at least two neural abnormalities—and that these same differences likely also occur in the brains of callous children.

The first abnormality appears in the limbic system, the set of brain structures involved in, among other things, processing emotions. In a psychopath’s brain, this area contains less gray matter. “It’s like a weaker muscle,” Kiehl says. A psychopath may understand, intellectually, that what he is doing is wrong, but he doesn’t feel it. “Psychopaths know the words but not the music” is how Kiehl describes it. “They just don’t have the same circuitry.”

In particular, experts point to the amygdala—a part of the limbic system—as a physiological culprit for coldhearted or violent behavior. Someone with an undersize or underactive amygdala may not be able to feel empathy or refrain from violence. For example, many psychopathic adults and callous children do not recognize fear or distress in other people’s faces. Essi Viding, a professor of developmental psychopathology at University College London recalls showing one psychopathic prisoner a series of faces with different expressions. When the prisoner came to a fearful face, he said, “I don’t know what you call this emotion, but it’s what people look like just before you stab them.”

Psychopaths not only fail to recognize distress in others, they may not feel it themselves. The best physiological indicator of which young people will become violent criminals as adults is a low resting heart rate, says Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania. Longitudinal studies that followed thousands of men in Sweden, the U.K., and Brazil all point to this biological anomaly. “We think that low heart rate reflects a lack of fear, and a lack of fear could predispose someone to committing fearless criminal-violence acts,” Raine says.

Or perhaps there is an “optimal level of physiological arousal,” and psychopathic people seek out stimulation to increase their heart rate to normal. “For some kids, one way of getting this arousal jag in life is by shoplifting, or joining a gang, or robbing a store, or getting into a fight.” Indeed, when Daniel Waschbusch, a clinical psychologist at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, gave the most severely callous and unemotional children he worked with a stimulative medication, their behavior improved.

The second hallmark of a psychopathic brain is an overactive reward system especially primed for drugs, sex, or anything else that delivers a ping of excitement. In one study, children played a computer gambling game programmed to allow them to win early on and then slowly begin to lose. Most people will cut their losses at some point, Kent Kiehl notes, “whereas the psychopathic, callous unemotional kids keep going until they lose everything.” Their brakes don’t work, he says.

Faulty brakes may help explain why psychopaths commit brutal crimes: Their brains ignore cues about danger or punishment.

Researchers see this insensitivity to punishment even in some toddlers. “These are the kids that are completely unperturbed by the fact that they’ve been put in time-out,” says Eva Kimonis, who works with callous children and their families at the University of New South Wales, in Australia. “So it’s not surprising that they keep going to time-out, because it’s not effective for them. Whereas reward—they’re very motivated by that.”

This insight is driving a new wave of treatment. What’s a clinician to do if the emotional, empathetic part of a child’s brain is broken but the reward part of the brain is humming along? “You co-opt the system,” Kiehl says. “You work with what’s left.”


Many of the teenagers at Mendota grew up on the streets, without parents, and were beaten up or sexually abused. Violence became a defense mechanism. Caldwell and Van Rybroek recall a group-therapy session a few years ago in which one boy described being strung up by his wrists and hung from the ceiling as his father cut him with a knife and rubbed pepper in the wounds. “Hey,” several other kids said, “that’s like what happened to me.” They called themselves the “piñata club.”

But not everyone at Mendota was “born in hell,” as Van Rybroek puts it. Some of the boys were raised in middle-class homes with parents whose major sin was not abuse but paralysis in the face of their terrifying child. No matter the history, one secret to diverting them from adult psychopathy is to wage an unrelenting war of presence. At Mendota, the staff calls this “decompression.” The idea is to allow a young man who has been living in a state of chaos to slowly rise to the surface and acclimate to the world without resorting to violence.

Caldwell mentions that, two weeks ago, one patient became furious over some perceived slight or injustice; every time the techs checked on him, he would squirt urine or feces through the door. (This is a popular pastime at Mendota.) The techs would dodge it and return 20 minutes later, and he would do it again. “This went on for several days,” Caldwell says. “But part of the concept of decompression is that the kid’s going to get tired at some point. And one of those times you’re going to come there and he’s going to be tired, or he’s just not going to have any urine left to throw at you. And you’re going to have a little moment where you’re going to have a positive connection there.”

Forming attachments with callous kids is important, but it’s not Mendota’s singular insight. The center’s real breakthrough involves deploying the anomalies of the psychopathic brain to one’s advantage—specifically, downplaying punishment and dangling rewards. These boys have been expelled from school, placed in group homes, arrested, and jailed. If punishment were going to rein them in, it would have by now. But their brains do respond, enthusiastically, to rewards. At Mendota, the boys can accumulate points to join ever more prestigious “clubs” (Club 19, Club 23, the VIP Club). As they ascend in status, they earn privileges and treats—candy bars, baseball cards, pizza on Saturdays, the chance to play Xbox or stay up late. Hitting someone, throwing urine, or cussing out the staff costs a boy points—but not for long, since callous and unemotional kids aren’t generally deterred by punishment.

In fact, the program at Mendota has changed the trajectory for many young men, at least in the short term. Caldwell and Van Rybroek have tracked the public records of 248 juvenile delinquents after their release. One hundred forty-seven of them had been in a juvenile-corrections facility, and 101 of them—the harder, more psychopathic cases—had received treatment at Mendota. In the four and a half years since their release, the Mendota boys have been far less likely to reoffend (64 percent versus 97 percent), and far less likely to commit a violent crime (36 percent versus 60 percent). Most striking, the ordinary delinquents have killed 16 people since their release. The boys from Mendota? Not one.

The question they are trying to answer now is this: Can Mendota’s treatment program not only change the behavior of these teens, but measurably reshape their brains as well? Researchers are optimistic, in part because the decision-making part of the brain continues to evolve into one’s mid‑20s. The program is like neural weight lifting, Kent Kiehl, at the University of New Mexico, says. “If you exercise this limbic-related circuitry, it’s going to get better.”

To test this hypothesis, Kiehl and the staff at Mendota are now asking some 300 young men to slide into a mobile brain scanner. The scanner records the shape and size of key areas of the boys’ brains, as well as how their brains react to tests of decision-making ability, impulsivity, and other qualities that go to the core of psychopathy. Each boy’s brain will be scanned before, during, and at the end of their time in the program, offering researchers insights into whether his improved behavior reflects better functioning inside his brain.

No one believes that Mendota graduates will develop true empathy or a heartfelt moral conscience. “They may not go from the Joker in The Dark Knight to Mister Rogers,” Caldwell tells me, laughing. But they can develop a cognitive moral conscience, an intellectual awareness that life will be more rewarding if they play by the rules. “We’re just happy if they stay on this side of the law,” Van Rybroek says. “In our world, that’s huge.” ~


I can imagine B.F. Skinner reading this article with a sense of great satisfaction. Even when brain function is abnormal — whether because of early damage, or for genetic reasons that we don’t really understand — rewards work a lot better than punishment. This is true of normal children as well. Animal training used to very cruel; these days it’s all about rewards.

I think that perhaps the greatest revolution is the history of humanity has been the slow stepping away from punishment, from cruelty. Child abuse? That used to be just the normal way to bring up children: don't spare the rod. Until recently, that was never regarded as wrong. Skinner in particular showed us that rewards are truly more effective. You don’t even have to invoke kindness — it's sheer pragmatism. And to see that this works even with psychopaths, with their lack of empathy and abnormally functioning brains — wow!
The European white stork (believed to bring luck); Stefano Ronchi


~ “It is a mistake to seek purely secular explanations for Mr Trump’s bond with religious conservatives. For one thing, the president’s rhetoric is steeped in time-worn stories about a Christian nation under siege. He is the latest in a long line of politicians to cast believers as a faithful remnant, under attack from the sneering forces of modernity. More specifically, Mr Trump’s language is filled with echoes of a much-mocked but potent American religious movement with millions of followers, known by such labels as “positive thinking” or the “prosperity gospel”.

To historians of religion, like Kate Bowler of Duke University, when Mr Trump speaks of spiritual matters his words fairly ring with the cadences of prosperity preachers. In an address to graduating students at Liberty University on May 13th, Mr Trump promised his audience a “totally brilliant future”, and said that his presidency is “going along very, very well”. He ascribed both happy observations to “major help from God”. Lots of believers credit God for success, but Mr Trump went further. He described an America in which winners make their own dreams come true. He hailed a 98-year-old in the audience whose death by the age of 40 had been predicted by experts. He praised strivers who speak hopes aloud, ignoring doubters, and growled: “Nothing is easier or more pathetic than being a critic.”

That boosterism would sit happily in a sermon by preachers like Joel Osteen, routinely watched by television audiences of 7m, or Creflo Dollar, the Rolls-Royce-owning pastor of an Atlanta megachurch with 30,000 members. This is no accident. As Ms Bowler explained this month at the Faith Angle Forum, a twice-yearly conference about the interplay of politics and religion, as a young man Mr Trump attended a New York church led by Norman Vincent Peale, a “positive thinker” who also officiated at his first marriage. A prosperity preacher, Paula White, spoke at Mr Trump’s inauguration, despite grumbles about her hard-sell techniques, with worshippers prodded to make such “demon-slaying, abundance-bringing” donations as $229, chosen to honour I Chronicles 22:9, with its talk of Solomon earning respite from “enemies on every side”.

Prosperity preachers are often dismissed by mainstream theologians as pompadoured hucksters (think Oral Roberts, a pioneering televangelist) or as near-heretics, for suggesting that believers can achieve God-like powers over their own health and wealth. But they reflect a Trumpian worldview. “Blessed”, a book about the prosperity gospel by Ms Bowler, describes the fine line between telling boastful untruths and “positive confession”, by which a bankrupt might thank God for an imaginary gusher of money, or a deathly ill congregant might insist that she is already cured, in the belief that naming a desire will bring it about. Like the Trump family, megachurch pastors and their immaculately groomed wives and children are held up as models of divine favor: winners who have found the rungs of an invisible ladder to success.

Prosperity ministries revere celebrity—a Los Angeles church gave Jesus his own star, evoking the ones on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. The movement has deep roots, stretching back to 19th-century touring mesmerists and Pentecostal healers, and to the Depression-era pastor whose version of Psalm 23 began: “The Lord is my Banker, My Credit is Good.”

It is a theology for self-made men who scorn the idea of luck. God gives him “confidence”, the president bragged last year. That is a very American creed.

Let me repost from the previous blog:


~ “The roots of what has come to be known as “Social Darwinism” can be traced back to the robber baron era in the latter nineteenth century. The idea that the economy of a successful capitalist society amounts to a cut-throat competitive struggle, much like what was supposed to be the case in the natural world, was inspired by the British social theorist Herbert Spencer. In fact, it was Spencer who coined the term “survival of the fittest,” not Darwin.

With Social Darwinist rhetoric, and policy proposals, being much in evidence these days, we should try to set the record straight about Darwin. In fact, Darwin's Darwinism was radically opposed to an individualistic, “nature, red in tooth and claw” political ideology (as the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson described it), especially in social species like honeybees and humankind. In his treatise on human evolution, The Descent of Man, published twelve years after The Origin of Species, Darwin recognized that humans evolved in interdependent cooperative groups, not as isolated individuals, and that cooperation was the key to our success.

Indeed, Darwin attributed our dominant position in nature and our remarkable cultural attainments to our evolved social, moral, and mental faculties, in combination with our language abilities. Following a discussion in The Descent devoted to the role of social behavior in various species, Darwin dealt at length with the subject of “Man as a Social Animal.” He concluded that our morality is a product of the evolutionary process, and he believed that our “social instincts,”  including even our capacity for “sympathy,” “kindness,” and the desire for social “approbation,” are rooted in human nature. The rudiments of these behaviors, he pointed out, can be found in other social species as well.

Darwin's Darwinism was grounded in a more accurate understanding of human nature, and of the circumscribed role of competition in any society. Social Darwinism represents a perversion of Darwin's views. It is time to consign it to the museum of antiquated ideologies.” ~

Pierre de Clausade (1910-1976): Coastal scene


At the same time we also know that if stress is very high during childhood, with survival at stake (if not physical, then psychological survival, e.g. struggling against bullies and/or an abusive parent), conscience becomes a luxury. It may simply never develop. The person ends up defensively grandiose and self-centered, boasting non-stop and striking out with fury, overreacting to minor or imaginary slights. That, of course, is the pathology of narcissism. The majority of humans are mostly cooperative, and that, as Darwin pointed out, has been the source of humanity’s great achievements.


Even Nietzsche, generally seen as a great individualist, saw that genius is neither rare nor isolated; what makes genius appear rare is that it takes just the right assemblage of “five hundred hands” to produce great achievement. First, Nietzsche asks us to imagine a Raphael born without hands; then, broadening the figure, he reminds us it takes many others to make genius possible. Some of those necessary “helpers” may be dead, and most will be unknown; all we can say with certainty is that nothing is solely the accomplishment of a single individual, but the result of a very complex network of cooperation.


“It takes hard work to attain nothingness. And then what do you have?” ~ 

the Jewish Buddha 


Just talking about your life means “re-writing” it; it rewires the brain, literally changing the neural pathways. And talk about writing about your life as re-writing it — don’t get me started.


(this struck me: “Freud’s picture of the child, Phillips suggests, resembles at times Anti-Semitic perceptions of the Jew, “sensual, voracious, and transgressive, the iconoclast, the saboteur in a world of [adult] law and order.”) (and the last part, about people’s fear of pleasure and its necessity for survival)

“Although he wrote speculative accounts about the lives of Moses, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and Leonardo da Vinci, Sigmund Freud had an intense aversion to biography. “To be a biographer,” he wrote in 1936, “you must tie yourself up in lies, concealments, hypocrisies, false colorings, and even in hiding a lack of understanding, for biographical truth is not to be had, and if it were to be had we could not use it…”

And yet, psychoanalysis, the treatment Freud invented, Adam Phillips points out, was predicated on reconstructions of the past. And on using childhood memories, recouped as knowledge, as resources in the making of an unknowable future.

Phillips celebrates Freud, about whom the most dogmatic thing he can find is his skepticism. And his ambivalence. He includes Freud’s work as part of “great modernist literature,” in which “coherent narratives of and about the past were put into question,” but also deems psychoanalysis to be, in no small measure, evidence of Freud’s resistance to modern culture.

Coming of age between two worlds, he argues, Freud endorsed Enlightenment values against the “superstition” of religion, and made some room for freedom, rationality, and choice, while exposing the irrationality of everything that is human, including the rationality of the Enlightenment.

In Becoming Freud, Phillips, the former Principal Child Psychotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital in London and the general editor of the Penguin Modern Classics translations of Freud’s work, uses the story (or, he would no doubt acknowledge, “a” story) of Freud’s early years to make a fascinating (and compelling) case that psychoanalysis in actually a distinctive form of biography, without a known beginning, middle, and end, in which a useful, personal, and private truth may be discerned through a conversation in which patients, often for the first time, speak about and for themselves, answer back, recover, revise, and re-right foundational life experiences.

He also indicates that psychoanalysis, the invention of a self-proclaimed “godless Jew,” was, among other things, about acculturation. No one, Freud insisted, could ever be fully assimilated or would wholly identify with or invest in his culture; however enabling, civilization was inevitably experienced, starting from infancy, as, in varying degrees, oppressive. Freud’s picture of the child, Phillips suggests, resembles at times Anti-Semitic perceptions of the Jew, “sensual, voracious, and transgressive, the iconoclast, the saboteur in a world of (adult) law and order.”

The whole history of psychoanalysis, Phillips asserts, came out of a simple observation: infants survive because someone looked after them and “something was driving them to be looked after.” Interested in how instinctual desire made itself known, Freud gave analysts a parental role, in which they listened carefully to the child. The psychoanalytic story, Phillips emphasizes, is about a couple, mother and child, soon joined by a father to “make the essential triangle.” In the sessions, which take place again with a couple — “though the world outside the consulting room is an always pressing third party” — the viability of appetite is at stake, as shaped by “news from the past for the future.”

Freud’s therapeutic method – “not quite a technique and not simply a talent; and not, it turned out, quite as effective as he wished” — gets people talking about their lives, their resistance to, fears about, and sabotaging of, pleasure. It induces patients to understand pleasure seeking and its relationship to their suffering and their survival.


One reason I’ve always hated to talk about my life has been the keen realization that everything I say is false — not a deliberate lie, but an unavoidable partial and false version, an enormous oversimplification, biased according to the moment and the context of the telling. Of course that happened also in poems, especially childhood poems: a painful sensation of inescapable lying, only partly redeemed by artistic merit.

We can’t even tell a dream without changing it so it makes more sense. Just telling is is interpretation. Just the way we manage to remember it is, usually leaving out so much, which will then quickly dissipate.

But I’ve grown easier on myself, knowing that “absolute truth” is neither knowable nor desirable, and art has to be selective and simplify. Rather than an accurate life story — aside from the important realization that I am not to blame for all the bad things that happened; circumstances played a huge part — it’s more important to have a life philosophy that serves the present, making it worth living. Besides, I can always treasure-hunt and polish the good things I produced in the past, those “inaccurate” poems and prose memories that I enjoy sharing with others.

from another source:

~ “Freud remarks that the fullness of happiness cannot come from any one thing, at least not within a civilization where man’s instincts cannot be completely fulfilled. This is where Christianity fails, he believes, because it declares that the only source of true, lasting happiness is in God. When the Christian pursuing God does not find his desires met, Freud counts that as a failed path to happiness. The nonreligious man, he says, is then free to pursue another path, but the Christian is left to resign himself to the idea that it must not be God’s will for him to be happy.” ~


Freud was correct, I think, in specifying “love and work” as the most important things in life. Pursuing “god” does not work for most; few are capable of true mysticism, which is an intense relationship with an imaginary being. But human love can certainly be a source of happiness. I think any woman would question Freud’s assertion that all happiness is at bottom sexual; women can get an enormous pleasure just from talking to a supportive friend — and the release of oxytocin can be as much as that during orgasm.

True nature lovers, e.g. those who hike a lot, derive a great deal of pleasure from simply standing on a ridge, taking in the panorama. Music lovers . . . but I don’t have to go on. Freud’s views of pleasure were strangely limited. Of course we must have pleasure in order to flourish, but it’s precisely civilization that made many kinds of pleasure available. 

For me, meaningful work is a primary source of pleasure.


“I told her the world was full of nice people. I'd have hated to try to prove it to her, but I said it, anyway.” ~ Jim Thompson, A Hell of a Woman

 Bette Davis in Dangerous, 1935

Franz Kupka: Portrait of Charles Baudelaire, 1907 (Baudelaire died in 1867, but these are his features, quite recognizably). The cigarette is modern.


Baudelaire drawing. Alas, I don’t know the name of the artist. 


I’m all for exercise, but nothing beats having centenarian genes -- and some of those centenarian women’s only exercise was knitting. But for the rest of us . . .

“People who chose to walk briskly for just 11 minutes per day (75 minutes each week) added 1.8 years to their life, compared to non-exercisers. That’s a nice boost for 11 minutes of walking per day! And it gets better. Those who walked 22 minutes every day (or 150 minutes/week or 30 minutes 5 days a week, following the federal recommendation) gained 3.4 years of life on average.

The people who increased their life span the most walked 43 minutes a day, lengthening their life by an average of 4.2 years. After 43 minutes, the benefits of longevity tended to level off. (Note to runners and other vigorous exercisers: You received the same benefit, but in about half the time.)”

ending on beauty:

This is what I want:
to die in the springtime,
beneath the blossoms —
midway through the Second Month,
when the moon is full.

~ Saigyō, tr Steven Carter

Jardin des Plantes

Saturday, May 13, 2017


The Rock of Cashel, Ireland


My first thought was, he lied in every word,   
  That hoary cripple, with malicious eye   
  Askance to watch the working of his lie   
On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford   
Suppression of the glee, that purs’d and scor’d          
  Its edge, at one more victim gain’d thereby.
. . .

Thus, I had so long suffer’d, in this quest,   
  Heard failure prophesied so oft, been writ   
  So many times among “The Band”—to wit,   
The knights who to the Dark Tower’s search address’d            40
Their steps—that just to fail as they, seem’d best.   
  And all the doubt was now—should I be fit?

So, on I went. I think I never saw           
  Such starv’d ignoble nature; nothing throve:   
  For flowers—as well expect a cedar grove!   
But cockle, spurge, according to their law   
Might propagate their kind, with none to awe,   
  You ’d think; a burr had been a treasure trove.

No! penury, inertness and grimace,   
  In the strange sort, were the land’s portion. “See   
  Or shut your eyes,” said Nature peevishly,   
“It nothing skills: I cannot help my case:   
’T is the Last Judgment’s fire must cure this place,           
  Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free.”

If there pushed any ragged thistle-stalk
Above its mates, the head was chopped; the bents
Were jealous else. What made those holes and rents
In the dock's harsh swarth leaves, bruised as to balk
All hope of greenness? 'tis a brute must walk
Pashing their life out, with a brute's intents.

As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair I
n leprosy; thin dry blades pricked the mud
Which underneath looked kneaded up with blood.
One stiff blind horse, his every bone a-stare,
Stood stupefied, however he came there:
Thrust out past service from the devil's stud!

Alive? He might be dead for aught I know,
With that red gaunt and colloped neck a-strain,
And shut eyes underneath the rusty main;
Seldom went such grotesqueness with such woe; I
 never saw a brute I hated so;
He must be wicked to deserve such pain.
. . .

A sudden little river cross’d my path   
  As unexpected as a serpent comes.                                  110
  No sluggish tide congenial to the glooms;   
This, as it froth’d by, might have been a bath   
For the fiend’s glowing hoof—to see the wrath   
  Of its black eddy bespate with flakes and spumes.   

So petty yet so spiteful All along,                             
  Low scrubby alders kneel’d down over it;   
  Drench’d willows flung them headlong in a fit   
Of mute despair, a suicidal throng:   
The river which had done them all the wrong,   
  Whate’er that was, roll’d by, deterr’d no whit.
. . .

Burningly it came on me all at once,                                    175
  This was the place! those two hills on the right,   
  Couch’d like two bulls lock’d horn in horn in fight,   
While, to the left, a tall scalp’d mountain … Dunce,   
Dotard, a-dozing at the very nonce,   
  After a life spent training for the sight!

What in the midst lay but the Tower itself?
The round squat turret, blind as the fool's heart,
Built of brown stone, without a counterpart
In the whole world. The tempest's mocking elf
Points to the shipman thus the unseen shelf
He strikes on, only when the timbers start.

Not see? because of night perhaps?—Why, day   
  Came back again for that! before it left,   
  The dying sunset kindled through a cleft:   
The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay,           
Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay,—   
  “Now stab and end the creature—to the heft!”   

Not hear? when noise was everywhere! it toll’d   
  Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears   
  Of all the lost adventurers my peers,—           
How such a one was strong, and such was bold,   
And such was fortunate, yet each of old   
  Lost, lost! one moment knell’d the woe of years.   

There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met   
  To view the last of me, a living frame          
  For one more picture! in a sheet of flame   
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet   
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,   
  And blew “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.”

~ Robert Browning, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came (1858)

Childe = an aristocratic young man who has not yet been knighted

colloped = “having ridges or bunches of flesh, like collops”; a collop is a slice of meat; in German, “klops” is a meatball

slug-horn = a nonexistent horn found in the works of Browning

Thomas Moran: Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, 1859

This is a Wasteland-type poem inspired by King Lear.  I never worried about the meaning — just enjoyed the wild language. Did Browning intend to make a statement about meaningless medieval quests and the destructive military code of honor? Was he commenting on the barrenness of modernity, as Eliot later did?

Commentaries have of course been written, but I can’t resist the impression that more than anything, Browning was having a lot of fun with language. He said the poem came to him quickly, and that he didn’t intend any conscious allegory. That’s quite a confession from a poet who tended to be rather didactic!

Note how the poem seems to flow by itself. To me that’s a mark of the best poems — each line, each words, appears inevitable.

“He must be wicked to deserve such pain” — especially spoken of an innocent being, a horse — talk about blaming the victim! So right-wing . . . The honor culture is the ultimate in right-wing ideology. 

The Middle Ages were the era of “honor culture.” Childe Roland felt it would be a dishonor to abandon his quest, in spite of all the evidence he was going to an abysmal place. It’s about proving himself, showing that he’s “fit” (or, in more modern parlance, a “real man”). It’s the opposite of pragmatism, or simply of self-love and self-preservation. It’s also the opposite of caring for others — note that Roland’s quest serves no one but himself, in the sense of his deranged need to prove himself (as part of the deranged culture of knighthood).

Childe Roland does not even rescue any maidens, nor liberate anyone from the predations of a dragon. Nevertheless, he can still be called a “knight-errant.” Here “errant” means “wandering.” Nevertheless, when it comes to Childe Roland, we can easily conclude that his wandering through a wasteland was an error.

We the moderns, that is. In the nineteenth century, “honor” still mattered hugely, including its erroneous, macho, ego-driven interpretations. Dueling was illegal, but it was certainly practiced. War was glorified — that’s how you proved you were a “real man” — if you survived, that is. If not, parents were supposed to feel proud that their son died a hero.

Browning wasn’t really sure what he wanted to say in this poem — he admitted this — but he was still ahead of his time in showing a meaningless, self-destructive quest of a young man 

trying to live up to false ideas of honor. 

 The Knight Errant, John Everett Millais, 1870


“Absolute faith is touted as a virtue. It's actually vile, the surrender of the greatest human gift, the power to reason. It's voluntary self-enslavement.” ~ Jeremy Sherman (author of the article about how nonsensical it is to hold on to the absolutes of Christianity and Buddhism — see my previous blog)


The good thing is that we don't have only one mind, but many — networks of neural pathways constantly compete for dominance. The “reason” network (more developed in some people than in others) does not cease to be active in those who try to junk it in favor of unquestioning faith. It keeps whispering (the so-called “whisper of Satan”) and creating cognitive dissonance. It finds ways of being heard. The bad part is that then the person may get more and more crazy and extreme trying to defend what reason rejects. We don't rise in passionate defense of 2+2 = 4. We get passionate and extreme when we know we’re on shaky ground.

Lightning, Istanbul, the Faith Mosque in the background.

With 80 million sold, the best selling book by an American author ever, is Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. J.D.Salinger's Catcher in the Rye is #2 with 65 million.
Rosslyn Chapel, The Green Man


In recent years a growing body of evidence has shown that our political behavior is governed more by emotions and less by rationality. These findings contradict the way most of us think about political processes and voting. The theory of rational choice, influenced by great philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and Emmanuel Kant, is considered to be the leading school of thought in political science since the second half of the twentieth century. But also outside academia political campaigners and the media primarily employ logical arguments, such as weighing candidates' pros and cons, and analyzing the implications of different policies. James Carville's famous phrase from Bill Clinton's early ’90s campaign, "It's the economy, stupid!" reflects a broad conventional wisdom that voting is primarily about money. But no, voting is primarily about feelings and emotions! This is, to an extent, unfortunate because it means that we sacrifice some of our interests and welfare on the altar of our psychology.

If voting was about influencing the election's outcome, you would have agreed with your next door neighbor who supports the rival party that you both stay home. But no. You want to be there to cast your vote, because voting is more about expression than about consequences. In a research paper that Esteban Klor and I published a few years ago, using data from U.S. state elections, we showed that patterns of state election turnouts are similar to patterns of football match turnouts. You will be more attracted to travel to the stadium and pay for a ticket if the two teams are close competitors and your team has a slightly higher chance of winning. After all, we expect to enjoy the game more when our team wins rather than loses.

Logic and reasoning are universal. We all use the same logic (though some use it more than others), but moral sentiments and emotions are idiosyncratic. They are derived from our personality, which is what makes each of us different. People whose personality tends toward conformity and privacy are more likely to vote Conservative, while those who are drawn toward solidarity and empathy are likely to find Labor to be a more attractive party, and people who reject authority and favor freedom are likely to align themselves with Liberal causes. [note: for the US, translate “Labor” as Democrats and Liberal as Libertarian]

The fact that we continue to debate issues endlessly, and yet never seem to agree, suggests that there is something in ideologies way beyond rationality. This other thing is none other than subjective taste, which, to a large extent, is shaped by our emotional being. "De gustibus non est disputandum," as the Latin idiom goes ("In matters of taste, there can be no disputes"), and, indeed, disputes never help bridge opposing ideologies.

In circumstances where reason is at odds with subjective taste, it is the latter that carries the day. In most cases we tend to pay attention selectively to the evidence that confirms our political orientation while pretending that the conflict between reason and taste does not exist. How many of our friends who regard themselves as right wing will admit that while they are disgusted by the idea of signing an agreement with fanatic ayatollahs, they logically realize that the West would be better off with the Iran agreement? How many of our left-wing friends will concede that while they are emotionally averse to any form of American intervention, the sanctions against Iran [did] seem to work and removing them [is] a dangerous move?

Our craving for ideology also means that we like our politicians to be ideologists. Vittorio Caprara and his associates showed that voters seek to vote for politicians who are similar to them in personality. Ideology is often the means by which politicians convey their personality to us. Politicians who downplay ideology are wrongly tagged by us as opportunists who are into politics for themselves and not for the public.

But our desire for ideologists comes with a price, because it creates the wrong incentives for our policy makers. Politicians are much more rational than we voters. They are governed primarily by their instinct for political survival. Our need for them to follow an ideology means that they will obey it to appease us. They even believe in their ideology to convince us that they will do so. But this is precisely against our interest as a public.

By understanding our craving for ideology there is a chance that one day we'll be able to dispense with it. When that happens we shall all be better off.


So there it is — “what oft was thought, but never so well expressed” — voting is emotional, not rational — just like religion and the stock market, and probably most things. But we need some rational window-dressing so we don’t feel we’re just slaves of passion.

Dali: The Enigma of Hitler, 1939


Dear Miss Arendt!

    I must come see you this evening and speak to your heart.

    Everything should be simple and clear and pure between us. Only then will we be worthy of having been allowed to meet. You are my pupil and I your teacher, but that is only the occasion for what has happened to us.

    I will never be able to call you mine, but from now on you will belong in my life, and it shall grow with you.

    We never know what we can become for others through our Being.

That was the remarkable first love letter from Martin Heidegger to Hannah Arendt, who was 19 and his student. He was 36 and married. The letter was written in February of 1925. Their romance went on for four years.

And here is an excerpt from the letter Arendt sent him on her wedding day:

    Do not forget me, and do not forget how much and how deeply I know that our love has become the blessing of my life. This knowledge cannot be shaken, not even today, when, as a way out of my restlessness, I have found a home and a sense of belonging with someone about whom you might understand it least of all.


    I kiss your brow and your eyes,

    Your Hannah


I love the quote that I used as the title. In youth I had no idea that I had anything to offer to anyone (I'm not exaggerating). The love object was everything — I was nothing. Over the years it slowly dawned on me that I did have this or that to offer — but when people said, “You have so much to offer” I thought that were idealizing me in an unrealistic way. Yet Heidegger is right: even at a young age, simply what we are, are complex humanity, is a gift to anyone who comes into our lives. If we become involved, both lives are changed, enlarged.

Reading about the gift of our being to others reminds me of a greater wonderful shock: the first time I read, in the Desiderata, You are a child of the Universe. You have a right to be here. That too was a granting of value — even if just the acknowledgement that you have a right to live, so you must have some value. We need to value ourselves and treat ourselves not with a whip, but with tenderness. Then kindness toward others will be automatic. 

“We never know what we can become for others through our being” just happens to be a beautiful “communitarian” argument against suicide. And I love it that Heidegger says that we don't know, we never know. In the deluded thinking of depression, we assume we have nothing to give — but we don't know what we can give — that even a casual remark we make can change someone's life.

And it’s precisely the interaction with the lover’s personality — his or her “being” — that makes love such a fascinating experience, full of surprises. “You are more like myself than I am,” someone told me once. But that’s an illusion that doesn’t hold for very long. Soon we discover the differences that remind us that the soul of another is a dark forest. But forests are full of birds and deer and dappled sunlight.

If our being is a gift to others, how opposite that is  from the self-loathing instilled by a toxic theology centered on sinfulness:

~ “I would go [to confession] at LEAST once a week that last year I was Catholic. Lamentably, I was shackled down by the Church’s concept of sin, and what’s sickening to me is that I didn’t realize it till later because I’d grown so numb to that soul-crushing guilt. The Church made me think I was filthy and contemptible in nature and needed to be washed clean, when the dirt was, in fact, imaginary.

I don’t miss being told I was a sheep that needed saving.

I don’t miss being blind to the fact that I was being led to the slaughter, not to salvation.” ~

Mary Magdalene kissing the feet of the crucified Christ, Tolentino Basilica, Italy, 14th century

But this is by far my favorite image: Penitent Mary Magdalene wearing only her hair; Toruń, St John's Cathedral, 14th century


It’s been observed that if a person raised in poverty later gets rich, some of the personality traits and behaviors that we’d see in a poor person remain (think how many times you heard someone say, “My parents grew up during the Depression; they never threw away anything”). And someone raised in wealth but later impoverished may still automatically act like a rich person.

Here is my own observation along those lines that I don’t think anyone else has made. Around the year 2000 or so for a while I was corresponding with transgendered men. I was startled by their self-confidence until I realized the obvious: they grew up as boys, not girls, and usually lived for some years (sometimes many years) as men. I knew better than to say (over and over): “A woman wouldn’t say what you just said. Women generally don’t have that kind of self-confidence (or fearlessness, risk taking, boisterousness, aggressiveness, autonomy, action orientation, etc.)”

The irony was that these individuals repeatedly stated that they used to feel they were women imprisoned in a male body and had a fundamentally female psyche and personality. One boasted, “I feel I’m developing female intuition” (supposedly as a result of the surgery and hormone treatment). They also hoped that the hormone treatment would make them grow really large breasts — not the small buds they ended up with before deciding to get implants.

Those men who imagined that they were women in male bodies — they were downright MACHO. In my eyes,  it was more than self-confidence, it was swagger. Well, there was also some self-pity about how they suffered from being “in the wrong body,” and, post-surgery, some distress at losing muscle strength as result of drop in testosterone). It was quite a leap in awareness for me, that experience, that startling self-confidence and boldness (if as if hadn’t met men before! but these were men who wanted to be women, so gender was a central issue).

I finally understood the notorious “happiness gap” and the statement that men are happier just because they are men, even this arguably pathological bunch who wanted so much to be women (they had a completely unrealistic, mythologized idea of what it was like to be a woman — you’re beautiful and adored). Being in the dominant social group develops certain expectations, especially if you’re tall, handsome, and even somewhat athletic. And testosterone is a superb anti-depressant and energizer. True, these men end up losing much of their testosterone (the adrenal production of testosterone persists and may even increase) — but they grew up with it, and were significantly shaped by it (this extends far beyond stronger muscles and bones).

We’d all agree that putting on a dress does not transform a man into a woman. But it seems that even castration (in adulthood) still does not change a man to a woman. Having grown up male (“with male privilege” as a friend of mine would put it) prevails. And all this starts with the Y chromosome becoming activated during pregnancy, turning on testosterone production that virilizes the body and the brain of the fetus. Recently I said, “Freud was wrong: I never had penis envy; what I have is muscle envy." But more than that, I have self-confidence envy.

Now, I realize that this is not a politically correct piece. Yes, the stereotypes — if they hadn’t made themselves so blatant during that correspondence, this essay would not even exist. Now, of course I'm aware that not all men are happy just because they are men; the pressure to succeed can be brutal, the competition ruthless, and so on — more stereotypes, just from the other side. Of course we should see each person as an individual, eschewing stereotypes and trendy cultural clichés. But I just want to report what for me has been an eye-opening experience.

Oriana: Yes, the liar is ultimately defeated by reality, but . . . the liar doesn't think in terms of "ultimately." He wants to fool some people NOW, and then disappear before being found out.  Also, what we currently see is such a barrage of lies that there is no time to refute them one by one. Even worse, perhaps, is our knowing that millions of people couldn't care less about the truth.

"In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings; with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew." ~ Isaiah 6: 1-3

Seraphim: Petites Heures de Jean de Berry. The text says “above him” but here they are below him, which makes for a better composition. Also, the train of his robe is NOT filling the temple. And what is that misshapen horizontal angel in the upper left?


~ “Mother's Day originated in 1870 as an appeal to women to leave the home for an "earnest day of counsel" in which women would meet together to influence international issues of the day.

The first Mothers Day proclamation began with the words, "Arise, then, women of this day!" It was a call to public action.

The Mother's Day proclamation urged women to take public policy into their own hands. It also asked women to stop supporting men who weren't dedicated to seeking peaceful settlements of international conflict.

"Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause," the proclamation continued.”

Mother's Day was born out of the suffragist movement of the 1850's and 1860's when women joined together to fight slavery and seek the vote. How fascinating that the bold history of Mother's Day has become transformed into a sanctification of women's domestic role.” ~

quartz-filled geode with a cat inclusion


~ “My realization of the yawning fissure separating the socialist idea, which I wholeheartedly embraced, from the “really existing socialism” which I found difficult to swallow, occurred long before Rudolf Bahro coined the latter phrase in 1977 — and well before I was forced to leave Poland in 1968. One of my first publications of the British part of my academic life carried the title Socialism: The Active Utopia, which signaled its main message: the great historical accomplishment of the socialist idea was its acting as a utopia laying bare the social ills endemic in the status quo and spurring into remedial action.

What derived from that message was another belief: that declaring any kind of status quo as the “socialist idea fulfilled” cannot but be a death knell to what was its major, indeed paramount role to be played in history. In the longer run, such a declaration would have inevitably stripped the socialist utopia of that role (just as in the case of another utopia — that of democracy).” ~!

~ Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017) was a Polish sociologist residing in the U.K., renowned for his books on modernity. Bauman “posited that a shift had taken place in modern society in the latter half of the 20th century; it had changed from a society of producers into a society of consumers. According to Bauman, this change reversed Freud's “modern” tradeoff — i.e., security was given up in order to enjoy more freedom, freedom to purchase, consume, and enjoy life.” ~

Some quotations:

~ Like the phoenix, socialism is reborn from every pile of ashes left day in, day out, by burnt-out human dreams and charred hopes.

Why should I be passionate? Because things could be different, they could be made better.

The carrying power of a bridge is not measured by the average strength of the pillars, but by the strength of the weakest pillar. I have always believed that you do not measure the health of a society by GNP, but by the condition of its worst off.

The risk of the Holocaust is not that it will be forgotten, but that it will be embalmed and surrounded by monuments and used to absolve all future sins.

I suspect that one of capitalism’s crucial assets derives from the fact that the imagination of economists, including its critics, lags well behind its own inventiveness, the arbitrariness of its undertakings and the ruthlessness of the way in which it proceeds.

A powerful case for a refurbished, secularized response to individual mortality was constructed and extensively argued by Émile Durkheim, one of the founders of modern sociology. He strove to insert and settle “society” in the place vacated by God and by Nature viewed as God’s creation or embodiment — and thereby to claim for the nascent nation-state that right to articulate, pronounce and enforce moral commandments and command the supreme loyalties of its subjects; the right previously reserved for the Lord of the Universe and His anointed earthly lieutenants.

Marcus Aurelius appoints personal character and conscience the ultimate refuge of happiness-seekers: the only place where dreams of happiness, doomed to die childless and intestate anywhere else, are not bound to be frustrated. ~ Zygmunt Bauman, The Art of Life


To me socialism — in the sense of SOCIAL SAFETY NET, not nationalization of industry — i.e. “social democracy,” not to be confused to Soviet-style “socialism” — is simply the outgrowth of decency, of caring, of knowing that society is a collective, collaborative enterprise.


The roots of what has come to be known as "Social Darwinism" can be traced back to the robber baron era in the latter nineteenth century. The idea that the economy of a successful capitalist society amounts to a cut-throat competitive struggle, much like what was supposed to be the case in the natural world, was inspired by the British social theorist Herbert Spencer. In fact, it was Spencer who coined the term "survival of the fittest," not Darwin.

With Social Darwinist rhetoric, and policy proposals, being much in evidence these days, we should try to set the record straight about Darwin. In fact, Darwin's Darwinism was radically opposed to an individualistic, "nature, red in tooth and claw" political ideology (as the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson described it), especially in social species like honeybees and humankind. In his treatise on human evolution, The Descent of Man, published twelve years after The Origin of Species, Darwin recognized that humans evolved in interdependent cooperative groups, not as isolated individuals, and that cooperation was the key to our success.

Indeed, Darwin attributed our dominant position in nature and our remarkable cultural attainments to our evolved social, moral, and mental faculties, in combination with our language abilities. Following a discussion in The Descent devoted to the role of social behavior in various species, Darwin dealt at length with the subject of "Man as a Social Animal." He concluded that our morality is a product of the evolutionary process, and he believed that our "social instincts," including even our capacity for "sympathy," "kindness," and the desire for social "approbation," are rooted in human nature. The rudiments of these behaviors, he pointed out, can be found in other social species as well.

Darwin's Darwinism was grounded in a more accurate understanding of human nature, and of the circumscribed role of competition in any society. Social Darwinism represents a perversion of Darwin's views. It is time to consign it to the museum of antiquated ideologies.” ~

But great care should be exercised before trying to put any utopian ideas into practice.

Rembrandt: Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, 1630
RELIGIOUS MODERATION IS THE DIRECT RESULT OF TAKING SCRIPTURE LESS AND LESS SERIOUSLY. So why not take it less seriously still? Why not admit the the Bible is merely a collection of imperfect books written by highly fallible human beings? ~ Sam Harris


This is a perfect observation: religious moderation is the result of seeing the “holy” scriptures as less and less holy. The progression is usually from the inerrant word of god to “divinely inspired” to entirely human. Not written or even inspired by a bearded dude in a nightshirt (typed: nightmare) somewhere up there in the clouds, but perhaps the voice of intuition, which is a tad schizophrenic — are own own thoughts being broadcast to us? Why would the voice of guidance, or intuition, be anything but our own? What if it proves fallible, as on occasion it does? .

Above all, we need to see that all “holy” scriptures are entirely human: the work of men bound by their ancient culture, writing with a tribal agenda: our god can beat your god, and later: our god is the only true god; you’re sacrificing lambs to idols, stupid; we’re slaughtering lambs at the only correct altar. What may have made sense thousands of years ago in the Ancient Near East should not have the strangling power of dead hand over us who live in a vastly different world.

~ “Periodically in history man’s conception of God changes as man’s knowledge and moral sense improve, and these epochal transvaluations can upset not only philosophers but also whole nations and eras. We live in such an age, when the revelations of science, of history, and of the ethics of Christ have made it impossible for developed minds to believe in that “grim beard of a god” who frightened our forebears into decency. In this sense it was Christ who killed Jehovah.” ~ Will Durant, “Fallen Leaves”

Will Durant, raised a Catholic, did not believe in a personal god, but admired the ethical teachings of Christ. Ariel Durant, raised in a Jewish family, wrote this in In A Dual Autobiography by Ariel and Will Durant (1977): “We never deserted our faith for any other, but we lost most of it as we rubbed against a harsh and increasingly secular world . . . my Uncle Maurice helped to free me from such nonsense, and awoke in me a desire to read books and enter the world of thought.”

(Freud would probably appreciate the conclusion that Christ killed Yahweh. A son’s task is to kill his father, in a symbolic way.)

Ariel Durant


"When food is heated up to a high temperature, new compounds are created, and some of them are known to be harmful to health," said Raj Bhopal, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, who led the research. "This is not to do with frying. ... it's more to do with the cooking process, with the temperature.”

When foods are cooked at high temperatures, they release chemicals known as neo-formed contaminants, or NFCs. This group includes trans-fatty acids -- or trans fats -- that are known to increase the risk of heart disease. "When the temperature is high, (trans fats) are produced at a very high rate," Bhopal said.

The researchers believe cuisines that typically involve cooking food in hot oils at high temperatures may explain why higher rates of heart disease are seen in certain populations, such as among people of South Asian descent.

South Asians -- including residents of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka -- have a four times greater risk of heart disease than the general population.

Bhopal's own research has investigated this rise in risk among people living in Scotland.

"In Scotland, the highest rates of heart attack are in the Pakistani population," he said, referring to one of his earlier studies. "The next group are Indians.”

At the bottom of the list were the Chinese.

"(They) were way down at the bottom," Bhopal said, adding that he was surprised, as all three communities had long been settled in Scotland and lived reasonably similar lifestyles. "The explanation had to be around food.”

"In the Chinese snacks, there are virtually no trans-fatty acids, less than 1% (in some cases)," Bhopal said. "In the Indian snacks, there's a vast amount." The Indian treat jalebi -- fried batter soaked in sugar syrup -- was found to average 17% trans fats and samosas 3.3%.

Bhopal believes the difference comes down to Chinese meals including more boiled foods, lightly fried items and stir-fries, whereas Indian cooking entails longer, deeper frying of foods and the use of pressure cookers. "The emphasis is on the temperature," he stressed.

Even more accurately, the emphasis is on the temperature of your oils.

"This study shows that by heating and frying, you can change what appear to be perfectly healthy oils and make them unhealthy," said Michael Miller, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center, who was not involved in the research. By unhealthy, he means the creation of these chemical byproducts, such as trans fats. "Heart disease can manifest if you (then) reuse oils that have been boiled," Miller added.

The group also looked at other byproducts of heating oils to high temperatures, called advanced glycogen end-products. These are also known to increase the likelihood of heart disease.

Bhopal used the example of cooking a chicken to highlight the vast differences in how much of these byproducts are produced. When a chicken is boiled, this cooking process releases an average of 1,000 glycogen end-products, whereas roasting and frying produce 4,000 and 9,000, respectively. "Different forms of cooking are leading to vastly different results," he said.

"It makes sense to avoid snacks that are cooked in high-temperature oils," said Bhopal, who himself has now switched to cooking olive oil. "Olive oil does not heat up to a very high temperature," he said.

Miller agreed. "Try not to boil oils ... and it's best to avoid fried foods," he said.

“What is of genuine importance is eternal vitality, not eternal life.” ~ Nietzsche

Not the boredom of the feeble Christian heaven, but “living dangerously.” This instantly reminded me of Blake’s “Energy is eternal delight.” And somehow that energy finds a venue for itself, the ideas and new areas of growth. It goes both ways: when a goal seizes the imagination, the energy will be found; and when energy is abundant, a goal will be found. Like a mountain river, the eternal vitality rushes on.

I also like the idea that self-esteem is related to the person’s “degree of animation.” Now, there can be excess — we don’t want manic energy. I want vitality, not over-excitement — steady, quiet energy rather than “wild” energy. But I’ll take any kind of energy over apathy. En marche!

ending on beauty

The everlasting universe of things
Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
Now dark—now glittering—now reflecting gloom—
Now lending splendor . . .
Where waterfalls around it leap for ever,
Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river
Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.

~ Shelley, Mont Blanc

  The River Arve at Chamonix