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

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