Saturday, May 6, 2017


A photoshopped phantasmagoria, no doubt, but still . . .


We walked very slowly down the concrete
slabs near the Olympic Stadium
in Berlin, where the black star
of Jesse Owens had flamed in that prehistoric
time, and the German air
had screamed. I wanted to laugh,
I couldn’t believe you could walk
so slowly in the place he had run so fast;
to walk in one direction, but to look
in another, like the figures in Egyptian
reliefs. And yet we were walking that
way, bound with the light string
of friendship.
Two kinds of death circle about us.
One puts our who group to sleep,
takes all of us, the whole herd.
Later it makes long speeches to substantiate
the sentence. The other kind is wild, illiterate,
it catches us alone, strayed,
we animals, we bodies, we the pain,
we careless and uneducated.
We worship both of them in two religions
broken by schism. That scar
divided us sometimes when I had
forgotten we have two deaths,
but one life.
Don’t look back when you hear
my whisper. In the huge crowd of Greeks,
Egyptians, and Jews, in that fertile
generation turned to ashes, you walk straight
ahead, as then, unhurried,

~ Adam Zagajewski, “The Generation,” to the memory of Helmut Kajzar

For me, that is the poem:

We walked very slowly down the concrete
slabs near the Olympic Stadium
in Berlin, where the black star
of Jesse Owens had flamed in that prehistoric
time, and the German air
had screamed. I wanted to laugh,
I couldn’t believe you could walk
so slowly in the place he had run so fast

~ I don’t really need the rest. 

from Wikipedia:

~ “At the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Owens won international fame with four gold medals: 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, and 4 × 100 meter relay. He was the most successful athlete at the games and, as a black man, was credited with “single-handedly crushing Hitler's myth of Aryan supremacy,” although he “wasn't invited to the White House to shake hands with the President, either.” ~

Jesse Owens on the podium after winning the long jump, 1936

~ “Are you a caring person? What does being a caring person even mean? We all care about some things and not others. How could we do otherwise?

Are you a giving person? We all give and take.

Are you an open person? Of course — open to some things, and closed to others.

We humans have a funny way of turning things we sometimes do into things we should always do. We turn tactics into absolute moral truths, available options into absolute optimums.

Why don’t we live up to Jesus’s standard of universal love? Because it’s impossible. Love as more than mere lip service takes effort which we each have in limited supply. We can’t love everything. Jesus didn’t either, as is obvious when you read his many critical statements.

Why don’t we live up to Buddha’s standard of universal non-attachment? Because it’s impossible. Indeed, it makes a pure virtue out of the opposite of caring or loving. You’re attached to anyone and anything you love.

(Oriana: Nietzsche called such nonsense “hangman’s metaphysics,” designed to keep you guilty)

Let it be a load off your mind that you can’t and needn’t try to live up to these ridiculous moral absolutes. Don’t let yourself be bullied by them. There’s no virtue in treating tactics as truths. In fact, there’s deep vice in it. Nothing breeds hypocrisy quite like pretending to try to live up to morals we couldn’t possibly apply in real life.

The real moral questions are where to care and not care, what to tolerate and not tolerate, what to love and not love, what to be open and closed to, what to attend to and what to ignore.

Indeed, embracing such nonsense moral “truths” stunts growth on addressing such questions. For example, if you think that love is always the answer, you’re not going to get around to the question of what to love and not love. And you’ll mangle the difference between not loving and loving. You’ll fall into doublespeak like “Oh don’t get me wrong I love the things I hate. I love everything, even the stuff I don’t love.”

Divorce this moral nonsense and you’ll quickly start making better decisions and feeling better about the decisions you make.” ~ Jeremy Sherman


I’ve discovered that one has to dismantle religious indoctrination lie by lie, sacred cow by sacred cow, never mind if it's the Sermon on the Mount or anything with the word lotus in it — or else the liberation is not complete. The brainwashing persists and makes us feel guilty and ashamed, forever stuck in self-condemnation. This is one of the most liberating articles I’ve ever read. 

There is of course some important wisdom in both Christianity and Buddhism. But anything becomes harmful when pushed to the extreme. It’s interesting that both of these religions developed the monastic ideal, which tries to deny the erotic side of being human. As Nietzsche said, “Religions are at bottom systems of cruelty.” Taken seriously, pushed to the extreme, they become truly harmful. They promulgate anti-human, anti-life ideals. Exposed to those teachings since childhood, we rarely stop to question them. I feel infinitely grateful to the author of this article — relief!

Religions are threatened by the huge importance of human connections and relationships. They want to present serving god — or the ideal of gaining personal enlightenment — as more important  than the human connections, especially the messy, demanding involvements like marriage and the family. Both the a-sexual Yahweh and Jesus present an anti-marriage ideal, and Mary is revered as a perpetual virgin. Buddha’s having abandoned his wife and infant son for the sake of pursuing enlightenment is not seen as blameworthy, but rather as a noble sacrifice, never mind the suffering he caused.

And that’s just it: the suffering caused by religion when it’s taken seriously needs to be looked at more closely.

Annibale Carracci, Purgatory

Purgatory was actually my best hope during my Catholic years. I was certain I couldn't escape the fire, but with luck it would be centuries of Purgatory rather than eternity of hell. My grandmother, a survivor of Auschwitz, would sigh and say that it would be perhaps ten centuries of suffering in Purgatory for her. To console her, one time I dared suggest that maybe just seven centuries, since she'd already suffered so much . . . She only sighed a very 
heavy sigh.


The Trinity — no attribution was given, but my guess is Italian, the international Gothic style (note the gold background). What interests me here is that the Dove doesn't hover, but seems perched on Christ's shoulder. A small thing, to be sure, but in all other trinity paintings I've seen he hovers. Also, it’s a dove with a halo — again, this is rare.

But then the earliest depictions (this dates back to 350 CE) of the Third Person of the Trinity show simply a man (the one on the right, I assume; God the Father is half-bald).


~ “As you’ll recall, if you watched the movie Titanic, the U.S. had a class of rentiers (rich people who live off property and investments) in the early part of the 20th century who hailed from places like Boston, New York and Philadelphia. They were just as nasty and rapacious as their European counterparts, only there weren’t quite so many of them and their wealth was not quite as concentrated (the Southern rentiers had been wiped out by the Civil War).

The fortunes of these rentiers were not shock-proof: If you remember Hockney, the baddie in James Cameron’s film, he survives the Titanic but not the Great Crash of ’29, when he loses his money and offs himself. The Great Depression got rid of some of the extreme wealth concentration in America, and later the wealthy got hit with substantial tax shocks imposed by the federal government in the 1930s and '40s. The American rentier class wasn’t really vaporized the way it was in Europe, where the effects of the two world wars were much more pronounced, but it took a hit. That opened up the playing field and gave people more of a chance to rise on the rungs of the economic ladder through talent and work.

After the Great Depression, inequality decreased in America, as New Deal investment and education programs, government intervention in wages, the rise of unions, and other factors worked to give many more people a chance for success. Inequality reached its lowest ebb between 1950 and 1980. If you were looking at the U.S. during that time, it seemed like a pretty egalitarian place to be (though blacks, Hispanics, and many women would disagree).

By the time you get to 2010, U.S. inequality, according to Piketty’s data, is quantitavely as extreme as in old Europe in the first decade of the 20th century. He predicts that inherited property is going to start to matter more and more in the U.S. as the supermanagers, the Jamie Dimons and so on, bequeath their gigantic hoards of money to their children.

The wrong-headed policies promoted by libertarians and their ilk, who hate any form of tax on the rich, such as inheritance taxes, have ensured that big fortunes in America are getting bigger, and they will play a much more prominent role in the direction of our society and economy if we continue on the present path.

What we are headed for, after several decades of free market mania, is superinequality, possibly such as the world has never seen. In this world, more and more wealth will be gained off the backs of the 99 percent, and less and less will be earned through hard work.” ~

From another source:

~ “The United States had rich and poor, too, but the wealth was still spread around a bit more widely. In 1910, for example, the one per cent in Europe owned about sixty-five per cent of all wealth; in the United States, the figure was forty-five per cent.

In recent decades, the roles have been reversed. The U.S. monied elite has outstripped its counterpart on the other side of the Atlantic, and wealth has become even more concentrated in the United States than it is in Europe. In 2010, the American one per cent owned about a third of all the wealth: the European one per cent owned about a quarter. Citing figures like these, Piketty warns that “the New World may be on the verge of becoming the Old Europe of the twenty-first century’s globalized economy.”

The twentieth century, far from representing normality, was a historic exception that is unlikely to be repeated, Piketty argues. In the coming decades, he says, the growth rate will most likely fall back below the rate of return, and the “consequences for the long-term dynamics of the wealth distribution are potentially terrifying.”

and from yet another source

~ “Piketty argues that “the past tends to devour the future”—wealth accumulated in the past becomes more dominant and commands more power and attention than wealth being created now. In France, for example, where the inheritance data is best, the wealth of the dead amounts to nearly twice that of the living.

 First, the rosy picture that economists have painted about the nature of inequality has been displaced. The idea that labor’s share of the economy is more or less fixed, an essential element of the mantra that a rising tide lifts all boats, has been dealt a serious, if not fatal, blow. we can no longer take for granted that that growing inequality is a necessary evil for a better economy.

Second, the debate over wealth and taxes is back. Tax policy needs to go beyond raising revenues. Capital argues that high taxes can direct income towards more productive and less economically harmful uses, such as keeping incomes within in a firm rather than enriching super-managers; or inheritance taxes can help direct large fortunes toward use for the public good.” ~

Dali: The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, 1954


It was Reagan who began to reverse the gains of the previous decades. He and Thatcher in England were a disaster. Reagan came up with “trickle-down economics.” Unfortunately, money trickles up, not down. Giving huge tax cuts to the rich only makes them richer. It’s not been shown to create jobs. What creates jobs is consumer demand. But consumers need sufficient income before they feel confident enough to spend. 


“Without tenderness, a man is uninteresting” ~ Marlene Dietrich



~ “The abhorrence we feel when encountering beliefs that contradict our own is so universal and so powerful that it's hard to imagine it's the result of anything other than natural selection, programmed into us by evolution because it gives us some kind of survival advantage. Even if we're able to tolerate beliefs that are different than our own, remaining so creates a tension from which we can never quite become free.

Even if you believe it's going to rain today and I don't, we'll both need to work, however subtly, to tolerate the fact that we have different views. When we start talking about more important beliefs then, like whether or not it's okay to spank children, we really may find ourselves biting our tongues. When we get to politics, anger over any disagreements is typical. And when we talk about religion—well, people kill one another over disagreements about that.

I've long wondered why, even when we posture tolerance on the surface for beliefs different than our own, encountering beliefs that contrast with ours seems to leave us feeling so uncomfortable at a deeper level. We could argue any such difference represents a threat to our ability to believe as we do—and in some cases I'm sure that's true—but our reaction seems to be the same even when we believe as we do with certainty.

Perhaps sometimes we lie to ourselves about how certain we are and the niggling doubt that encountering a contradictory belief stirs up in us is enough to remind us of it and rattle us. But sometimes we really are certain we're right and still find ourselves struggling to reconcile the fact that another person doesn't agree with us. I remember well my interaction with an acquaintance years ago who simply held the most bizarre beliefs (in a non-psychotic person) I'd ever encountered. I found myself having to constantly suppress the urge to correct almost every sentence that came out of his mouth.

 I've since found myself wondering if the strange sense of defilement I felt in having my mind invaded by what seemed to me to be a profoundly deluded thought process explains why so many of us prefer to associate with people who think just like we do, who believe just what we do, and feel simultaneously repelled even from people we profess to love when we discover they hold beliefs radically different from our own.

Our negative reaction is consistent with a response to a threat. Not a threat to our ability to believe as we do, but rather a threat to our very existence. At some level, coming into contact with contradictory beliefs seems almost to trigger our fight-or-flight response, as if the existence of contradictory beliefs might threaten, if not our lives, our personal way of life.

Perhaps because, in fact, this is often the case. We live in the midst of a sea of other people whose beliefs do impact our lives. It does matter what others around us believe. Which is perhaps why contradictory beliefs create such overreactions in people (far too often tragic overreactions).

As a physician, I've learned to tolerate all sorts of bizarre beliefs and cognitive distortions in my patients. I still feel, to this day, in some sense "contaminated" when I encounter significantly distorted views, as if I need to separate myself in some way from the people who hold them. But I now recognize that true tolerance of beliefs different from my own doesn't require me tolerate the different beliefs themselves but the feelings that encountering such beliefs engenders in me. I believe it's intolerance toward those feelings that leads to radical intolerance of the people who believe them and which is therefore responsible for untold horrors—man's inhumanity to man—throughout human history.” ~


This special kind of distress we feel when encountering a presentation of reality that’s radically different from our own may also explain why we feel so uncomfortable around the demented or the mentally ill when they start talking in a delusional manner. We understand that it's the illness, but we still have the automatic stress response. 



~ "People don’t like death. They fear it. They’ll do anything they can to avoid thinking about it.

It’s one of the reasons religion is so powerful. Because you never really die when there’s a wonderful afterlife awaiting you… Religion, in many ways, functions as a defense mechanism against fear of death.

And according to new research published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, the fear of death contributes to distrust of atheists, since we pop that bubble of hope." ~


I’ve been on friendly terms with theists, but never close friends. I need kindred minds who help me carry the questions, especially “How do you deal with mortality?” I have my answer, with help from Epicurus and Rilke, but I'm always curious about other people’s answers. 

Everything has been figured out, except how to live. ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Photo: Adrian Campfield


The “lost painting” by Caravaggio: Matthew and the Angel, 1602. It was rejected as impious (note Matthew's “scandalous” feet) and ended up in Berlin, where it got destroyed in 1945 during a bombing raid. For a while all we had was black-and-white photographs. Now technology makes it possible for us to enjoy it in color.

Funny, the painter's contemporaries rejected what we find endearing, e.g. those un-idealized feet.


Field surgeons seemed to agree [that spaghnum moss makes an excellent wound dressing]. Lieutenant-Colonel E.P. Sewell of the General Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt wrote approvingly that, “It is very absorbent, far more than cotton wool, and has remarkable deodorizing power.” Lab experiments around the same time vindicated his observations: Sphagnum moss can hold up to 22 times its own weight in liquid, making it twice as absorptive as cotton.

This remarkable spongelike quality comes from Sphagnum’s cellular structure, says Robin Kimmerer, professor of ecology at SUNY-Environmental Science and Forestry and the author of Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. “Ninety percent of the cells in a sphagnum plant are dead,” Kimmerer says. “And they’re supposed to be dead. They’re made to be empty so they can be filled with water.” In this case, humans took advantage of that liquid-absorbing capacity to soak up blood, pus and other bodily fluids.

Sphagnum moss also has antiseptic properties. The plant’s cell walls are composed of special sugar molecules that “create an electrochemical halo around all of the cells, and the cell walls end up being negatively charged,” Kimmerer says. “Those negative charges mean that positively charged nutrient ions [like potassium, sodium and calcium] are going to be attracted to the sphagnum.” As the moss soaks up all the negatively charged nutrients in the soil, it releases positively charged ions that make the environment around it acidic.

For bogs, the acidity has remarkable preservative effects—think bog bodies—and keeps the environment limited to highly specialized species that can tolerate such harsh environments. For wounded humans, the result is that sphagnum bandages produce sterile environments by keeping the pH level around the wound low, and inhibiting the growth of bacteria.

As the war raged on, the number of bandages needed skyrocketed, and sphagnum moss provided the raw material for more and more of them. In 1916, the Canadian Red Cross Society in Ontario provided over 1 million dressings, nearly 2 million compresses and 1 million pads for wounded soldiers in Europe, using moss collected from British Columbia, Nova Scotia and other swampy, coastal regions. By 1918, 1 million dressings per month were being sent out of Britain to hospitals on continental Europe, in Egypt and even Mesopotamia.

Communities around the United Kingdom and North America organized outings to collect moss so the demand for bandages could be met. “Moss drives” were announced in local papers, and volunteers included women of all ages and children. One organizer in the United Kingdom instructed volunteers to “fill the sacks only about three-quarter full, drag them to the nearest hard ground, and then dance on them to extract the larger percentage of water.”

At Longshaw Lodge in Derbyshire, England, the nurses who tended convalescing soldiers trooped out to the damp grounds to collect moss for their wounds. And as botanist P.G. Ayres writes, sphagnum was just as popular on the other side of the battle lines. “Germany was more active than any of the Allies in utilizing Sphagnum … the bogs of north-eastern Germany and Bavaria provided seemingly inexhaustible supplies. Civilians and even Allied prisoners of war were conscripted to gather the moss.”

The moss bandages worked. Their absorbency was remarkable. They didn’t mildew. And from the Allies’ perspective, they were a renewable resource that would grow back without much difficulty. “So long as the peat underneath [the living moss] was not disturbed, the peat is going to keep acting like a sponge, so it enables regrowth of Sphagnum,” says Kimmerer. However, “I can imagine if there were bogs that people used very regularly for harvesting there could be a trampling effect.”

So why aren’t we still using moss bandages today? In part, because the immense amount of labor required to collect it, Anderson says (although manufacturers in the U.S. experimented with using the moss for sanitary napkins called Sfag-Na-Kins).

That’s a good thing, because the real value of this plant goes far beyond bandages. Peatlands full of spaghnum and other mosses spend thousands of years accumulating carbon in their underground layers. If they defrost or dry out, we risk that carbon leaking out into the atmosphere. And while humans are no longer picking them for bandages, scientists fear that bogs and swamplands could be drained or negatively impacted by agriculture and industry, or the peat will be used for biofuel.

Besides their role in global climate change, peatlands are rich ecosystems in their own right, boasting rare species like carnivorous plants. “The same things that make sphagnum amazing for bandages are what enable it to be an ecosystem engineer, because it can create bogs,” Kimmerer says. “Sphagnum and peatlands are really important pockets of biodiversity.” Even if we no longer require moss’s assistance with our scrapes and lacerations, we should still respect and preserve the rare habitats it creates.

peat moss, Mer Bleue Conservation Area near Ottawa, Canada
ending on beauty:


Eurydice’s silence and the severed head
of Orpheus uttering
prophecy and song.
Look: as real as a dream,

or as bodies of the wind,
Eurydice and Orpheus,
not lamenting, not grieving,
not stretching shadow arms

to clutch at the emptiness,
but like flowers among flowers,
leaning to each other —
on the bank of Lethe, but not 

drinking of it, still human
through memory and love,
in meadows of immortal
amaranth, they walk

forever now. And they
are holding hands.

~ Oriana


“Who are the muses but the Maenads, repentant, clothed, and in their right minds.” ~ Jane Ellen Harrison

Gustave Moreau: A young Thracian woman carrying the head of Orpheus on his lyre, 1864

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