Saturday, November 4, 2017


Diego Rivera: Day of the Dead, 1944


Years of drought I’ve waited for this
horizontal rain —
strands of raindrops shining in the dark
like Ariadne’s thread,

winding me back to the years
when everything lay ahead —
trembling droplets about to slide
from drenched delicious leaves.

But by midlife I noticed I was deep
in a labyrinth, and whether I’d be
a hero was uncertain, wonders
or monsters I would meet.

Mountains I haven’t climbed
I would no longer climb.
The arson of passion
lay smoldering behind me.

These have been the tools
of my survival: tenderness
born of exile, in silence
groping for the thread.

It shines, the dark before the flowers, 
my eyes stitched with horizontal rain.
In the wake of my youth I see them
again: my mother and her mother,

and the mothers before them —
who one after another
handed me the skein
so I could remember the journey.

~ Oriana



I love your Ariadne poem, especially that chain from mother to mother to mother. It is our mother who hands us that guideline as we move out from the harbor of her body and the harbor of her love into the world and into the future — from her we have our earliest words, hear our first stories, learn how to be human. Those without mothers or mother love have such a disadvantage, flounder and are lost so often, without a thread to follow. My mother is with me always, an internal voice, a touchstone, the beginning and foundation of all I have become, even if my path and my choices are very different from her own.


Your words are such a beautiful tribute to mothers. A mother’s influence continues as long as we live . . . 

~ “It will be easy for us once we receive the ball of yarn from Ariadne (love) and then go through all the mazes of the labyrinth (life) and kill the monster. But how many are there who plunge into life (the labyrinth) without taking that precaution?” ~ Kierkegaard

Oriana: I suspect that by “monster” Kierkegaard means despair. For me personally, one’s vocation is the kind of love that can guide and protect. That has been my “Ariadne’s thread.” And look at the word “yarn” — could a writer ask for anything more symbolic?

But the love in the sense of affection that we give and receive also guides and protects. We are not limited to just one kind of “yarn.” And the stage of life plays a role as well. As our priorities change, so whatever is our best guide may change as well.

As for those who plunge into the labyrinth of life without the security of love, do they have a choice? Plunge we must, ready or not — having received enough love to feel secure, or, alas, having been made to feel worthless, ashamed of oneself, a sinner.

Developing writing skills helped immensely: there was at least one thing I could do at the level of excellence. In the realm of affection and acceptance, Desiderata helped me — the statement: “You are a child of the Universe. You have a right to be here.” And later, something said by Christopher Reed (I think): “This is what ‘family values’ means to me — it means we are all family and we all have value.” 

Theseus and the Minotaur, a Roman mosaic


Totally agree that we are all family . . .  But after I read the Stalin post, later on in this blog, I felt glad that not all of us are close relatives.  


I understand why you say that. Who'd want to claim kinship with a monster like Stalin? And yet, and yet . . . even he is part of the human family, and it's our task to try to understand and prevent potential future Stalins . . . 


“Things aren't so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered.” ~ Rilke

Yes! I think the main use of words is to “domesticate” experiences so we feel more in control.

That's why lovers have to have enough moments of silence. Too many words prevent love from happening.

Many have warned us about the danger of labeling the unsayable. Amiri Baraka: “To name something is to wait for it in the place you think it will pass.”

Still, where would we be without naming? We must treasure words — just remember their limitations.


~ “Today, if you wanted to talk about something that’s clear, you’d say that it has clarity. But if you were around in 1890, you would almost certainly have talked about its clearness.

Joshua Plotkin first noticed this linguistic change while playing with Google’s Ngram Viewer, a search engine that charts the frequencies of words across millions of books. The viewer shows that a century ago, clearness dominated clarity. Now the opposite is true, which is strange because clarity isn’t even a regular form. If you wanted to create a noun from clear, clearness would be a more obvious choice. “Why would there be this big upswing in clarity?,” Plotkin wondered. “Is there a force promoting clarity in writing?”

It wasn’t clear. But as an evolutionary biologist, Plotkin knew how to find out.

Natural selection is just one force of evolutionary change. Under its influence, genes become more (or less) common because their owners are more (or less) likely to survive and reproduce. But genes can also change in frequency for completely random reasons that have nothing to do with their owner’s health or strength — and everything to do with pure, dumb luck. That process is known as drift, and it took decades for evolutionary biologists to recognize that it’s just as important for evolution as natural selection.

Linguists are still behind. It’s easy to see how languages can change through drift, as people randomly pick up the words and constructions that they overhear. But when Darwin wrote about evolving tongues, he said, “The better, the shorter, the easier forms are constantly gaining the upper hand, and they owe their success to their own inherent virtue.” That’s a view based purely on natural selection, and it persists. “For the most part, linguists today have a strict Darwinian outlook,” Plotkin says. “When they see a change, they think there must be a directional force behind it. But I propose that language change, maybe lots of it, is driven by random chance—by drift.”

To see whether that was true, he and his colleagues developed statistical tests that could distinguish between the influence of drift and natural selection. They then applied these to several online repositories, such the Corpus of Historical American English—a digital collection of 400 million words, pulled out of 100,000 texts published over the past 200 years.

The team focused first on the past-tense forms of verbs, and found at least six cases where natural selection is clearly in effect. In some cases, the verbs were regularized, losing weird past forms in favor of more-predictable ones that end in –ed. Wove, for example, gave way to weaved, while smelt lost ground to smelled. That’s not surprising: Many linguists have suggested that verbs tend to become more regular over time, perhaps because, like Darwin theorized, these forms are just easier to learn.

But Plotkin found just as many instances where selection drove verbs toward irregularity: Dived gave way to dove, lighted to lit, waked to woke, and sneaked to snuck. Why? Perhaps because we like it when words sound alike, and we change our language to accommodate such rhymes. For example, dove began to replace dived at the same time that cars became popular, and drive/drove became common parts of English. Similarly, the move from quitted to quit coincided with the rise of split, which became much more widely used when it acquired a new meaning—to leave or depart. In both cases, changes in one irregular verb—drive or split—may have irregularized others. “We can’t definitively say that’s the reason, but it’s coincident,” Plotkin says.

That is, if anything is favored at all. The team found that changes that have befallen the vast majority of our verbs are entirely consistent with drift. You don’t need to invoke natural selection to explain why we say spilled instead of spilt, burned instead of burnt, and knit instead of knitted.

In other cases, drift and selection work together to shape languages. For example, Plotkin’s team also looked at the rapid rise of do in the 16th century, when phrases like “You say not” quickly changed into “You do not say.” They concluded that at first, the word randomly drifted its way into questions, so that “Say you?” gradually became “Do you say?” Once it became common, natural selection started pushing it into new contexts like declarative sentences, perhaps because it was easier for people to use it consistently.

The team also analyzed a third and more obscure grammatical change called Jespersen’s Cycle. In Old English, spoken before the Norman Conquest, speakers would negate a verb by putting a not in front of it. In Middle English, spoken between the 11th and 15th centuries, the negatives would surround the verb as they do in modern French (“Je ne dis pas”). And in Early Modern English, spoken between the 15th and 17th centuries, the negative followed the verb—the Shakespearean “I say not.” Now, we’ve come full circle, back to “I don’t say.”

Jespersen’s Cycle exists in many unrelated languages. In French, for example, the formal “Je ne dis pas” is giving way to the colloquial “Je dis pas.”

Natural selection still explains Jespersen’s Cycle far better than drift does, according to Plotkin's analysis. Perhaps it’s due to emphasis, he says. If one form is common, speakers could emphasize their disagreement by adding or subtracting words (“I don’t say that at all,” versus “I don’t say that”). As the emphatic forms become more common, they lose their sting, and are themselves replaced.

These results are part of a wider trend where linguists are starting to use these massive online corpora to address long-standing puzzles in language change. “This is an excellent trend,” says Jennifer Culbertson, from the University of Edinburgh. “Linguists have uncovered many really fascinating cases of language change, but the explanations on offer sometimes read like just-so stories. Random processes are simply under-appreciated, because we want to come up with interesting explanations.” But by considering drift, too, linguists could “focus our energies on providing interesting explanations where they are really warranted.” ~


I’ve never encountered “weaved” — except in the sense of moving in and out, as in “he weaved between traffic lanes.” But Penelope clearly “wove” her tapestry. And it makes sense that drive-drove” helped establish the pattern.

It’s fascinating to realize that both natural section and random drift operate in the evolution of language.


I love “jargogle.” Our Supreme Leader has been jargogling us on an unprecedented (“unpresidented”) scale. Give us this day our daily jargogle. The rhetoric of absurdity has never been so acute. 

And we've been in twitter-light for quite some times now. 

But this is an opportunity for a shameless digression. America isn't defined by its government, however fascist and moronic it may be at the moment. It's defined more by the vitality of its great cities: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles. I would also add its great museums, the best of its universities and research institutes. Bad things have been happening to those, setbacks — I know. But let's celebrate what still can be celebrated.

Hyacinth: I esp like "overmorrow."

Oriana: A lovely and useful word. That's the one I'd like to restore. 


“Eroticism is mystique; that is, the aura of emotion and imagination around sex. It cannot be ‘fixed’ by codes of social or moral convenience, whether from the political left or right. For nature’s fascism is greater than that of any society. There is a daemonic instability in sexual relations that we may have to accept.” ~ Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

Oriana: As Yves Montand sings about falling in love: “Now the storm begins.” There is no denying the stormy element. “Nature’s fascism” is a very striking phrase. 

Blake: Dante: Canto V, The Carnal: Francesca da Rimini

~ “There is an ancient philosophical tradition that associates feeling with the body and reasoning with the mind. At least since René Descartes, there has been a tendency to separate mind from body, to regard human and animal bodies merely as superior machines, the mind as the thing that is uniquely apart, uniquely human. Cartesian philosophy begins by imagining a disembodied mind (the cogito — “I think therefore I am”); the body and the material world become the thing thought about (res cogitans).

Case after case analyzed by Damasio in both Descartes' Error and his next book, The Feeling of What Happens, has confirmed him in the view that things traditionally kept apart by philosophers (such as rational decision-making and emotional mood) actually happen together in the brain and, further, that the brain functions by mapping the body. The Cartesian thought-experiment of a disembodied mind is a contradiction in terms, since the mind only exists in conjunction with the body. Damasio has always trusted an instinct of William James's: that every time we have a thought about our emotions we bring with that thought an accompanying body state.

In his new book, Damasio finds another, more surprising precedent for his vision: the 17th-century Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, for whom “the human mind is the idea of the human body.” Damasio considers, for instance, Spinoza's proposition that “love is nothing but a pleasurable state, joy, accompanied by the idea of an external cause.” Whereas Descartes always seemed to begin from an idea, Spinoza begins here from a body-state: when we are in love the feeling suffuses our entire body. The mental process of assigning a cause comes second.

By beginning from the body Spinoza proved himself a proto-biological thinker. Two centuries before Darwinian evolution and the work of Ernst Haeckel, father of scientific ecology, Spinoza proposed that the starting-point for our thinking about the nature of humankind should be physiology and the process of life-regulation.

As Darwin and Dawkins have discovered, when you start thinking about humankind in biological terms you will swiftly run into trouble with religion. The great advantage of the Cartesian elevation of mind over world was that it could be reconciled with St Paul's distinction between the eternal soul and the mortal body.

For Spinoza, everything was body, nature, materiality. His system left no room for transcendence; his God was wholly immanent, in some sense synonymous with nature. He was excommunicated for his pains and for a century his influence went largely underground (it has recently been unearthed in Jonathan Israel's magisterial book, Radical Enlightenment). It resurfaced with the romantic worship of nature - Coleridge was a passionate Spinozist - and remained a force to be reckoned with in the world-pictures of both Freud and Einstein.

Damasio's book offers a curious mixture of cutting-edge neuroscience and reverential footstepping of Spinoza. Fellow-scientists may not see the point of dredging up a 300-year-old intellectual system: why not just stick with the hard evidence of MRI and PET scans? Philosophers and historians of ideas will complain about the crudity of Damasio's broad-brush account of such complex texts as Spinoza's Ethics and Tractatus Politicus Religiosus. Religious fundamentalists will bristle at the idea of reducing such sensations as spiritual wellbeing to neural electricity. But anybody prepared to cross disciplinary boundaries in their inquiry into what it means to be human should take serious notice: some pretty important maps are in the process of being redrawn.

Spinoza's ideas were considered dangerous for political as well as religious reasons. To begin from the body and the principle of physical wellbeing was to reject the idea of a natural hierarchy in which some men inherited comfort by divine right while other men (and all women) had a more lowly status. At the same time, biologism - the survival of the fittest - is also a threat to liberal ideas (witness the sorry history that led from "social Darwinism" to the Nazi party). Spinoza's quest was to develop an ethical system that was both cognizant of the force of biology and true to what we would now call the "enlightenment" principles of liberty and justice. He has a lot to teach us about ethics in the age of genetic engineering.

And what of the political consequences of Damasio's neurological Spinozism? Again and again in this book's account of how emotions, “played out in the theatre of the body,” precede the work of the mind, I was reminded of the first work of one of my heroes: William Hazlitt's little-known philosophical pamphlet, "An Essay on the Principles of Human Action". Like Spinoza and Damasio, Hazlitt begins with the body. Imagine a child putting a hand in a flame. The bodily sensation of pain teaches the brain about danger. "I will not touch fire again or it will hurt," thinks the child. But wait a minute, says Hazlitt: when the child learns the lesson, it is imagining a being that does not yet exist: its own future self.

To adopt Damasio's terms, the brain is mapping a body that is still only imaginary. From feeling comes the capacity for imagination and hence for empathy. If we can imagine our future self, we can also imagine other selves. The human mind thus has a natural capacity not only for self-interest, as Hobbes had proposed, but also for disinterest (in the proper sense of the word). For Hazlitt, this insight was the starting-point for a lifetime's commitment to both liberal politics and the empathetic power of the arts. I have a hunch that he would have considered Damasio's findings a cause for joy, not despair." ~


The mind/body division seems to me easily refuted when we consider altered states. Delusion, confusion, delirium, hallucination, visions, ecstasies, depression, manias — all produced by physical and chemical changes in the body, from the rigors and starvation of vision quests to the deliriums of fever,  from the hallucinations induced by drugs to the manias and depressions accompanying changes in brain chemistry, there is no separation between the physical and mental, body and mind. We no longer treat mental illness with exorcism — instead we try to adjust brain chemistry. Our answers are biological and neurological, not spiritual. And this is not reductive by any means, it opens up a universe of real possibilities to explore and understand.


And we also understand that even words can have a profound neurological impact. The right words can produce insight — which changes the way the brain is wired. And words can certainly do harm — that’s why I don’t hold honesty to be a supreme value, above kindness. There are indeed “words that kill, words that heal.” Yes, this translates into chemistry and electricity, but that does nothing to diminish the power of either the internal or external events.

How strange it feels to realize that the Catholic church has not repudiated exorcism — it’s still performed! Speaking of which, I am still stunned by reading the opening three chapters of Mark a month ago or so — it’s precisely the “unclean spirits” that proclaim Jesus the “Son of God” — in terms of PR, a high-risk move. But it made me realize how differently the world used to be perceived for most of history — a demon-ridden place.

And even now, people with a scientific viewpoint are still a minority . . .

~ “During the period of collective leadership that followed Lenin’s death, one group allied with Stalin to oust Trotsky; the next allied with Stalin to oust the first group. And so on. There could indeed have been another path for the Bolshevik Revolution: the very naïveté, idealism, and lack of guile demonstrated by so many of the Old Bolsheviks remains a testament to their decency. Stephen Kotkin [Stalin’s latest biographer] proposes a series of interlocking arguments to explain the Stalinist outcome: the conspiratorial rigidity of Bolshevism; the state’s total domination of life in the absence of private property; the peculiar personality of Stalin; and the pressures of geopolitics. An attempt by very determined people to carry out radical change in a huge country was never going to be without bloodshed. And the worldwide financial crisis and the instability in Europe were going to make for a difficult decade, no matter what. But nothing foreordained the extent of the violence.

As Kotkin argued in the first volume, the October Revolution was actually two separate revolutions. One was the revolution in the cities, the storming of the Winter Palace, the fight for the Kremlin. The other, wider revolution took place in the countryside. There peasants who had for hundreds of years been subjugated and brutalized by the landed gentry rose up and chased them off their lands. They then reapportioned the land among themselves and got to work farming it. During the civil war, the Bolsheviks had staged periodic raids on the countryside to extract grain for the cities and the war effort—leading, eventually, to an immense famine in 1921 that killed millions—but, in the aftermath of the war, Lenin performed one of his patented strategic reversals and declared a New Economic Policy, or NEP, which partially legalized private enterprise and eased up considerably on the peasants. As a result, ten years after the October Revolution most of the land in the Soviet Union was in private hands.

For Stalin, this could not stand. He believed that another European war was coming, and that, in order to survive it, backward Russia would have to industrialize. “We are fifty to a hundred years behind the advanced countries,” he declared in 1931. “We must make good this gap in ten years. Either we do it, or they will crush us.” Rapid industrialization would require that peasants deliver grain to the state on a set schedule; it would also require that many peasants become industrial workers. The U.S.S.R. needed large, mechanized farms, like those in the United States. And the independent, landowning peasantry was a threat. “Either we destroy the kulaks as a class,” Stalin said in 1929, using the term for rich or greedy (“fist-like”) peasants, “or the kulaks will grow as a class of capitalists and liquidate the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

The tragedy of Stalin’s agricultural collectivization unfolded in stages. In the summer of 1929, more than twenty-five thousand “politically literate” young Bolsheviks fanned out from Moscow to the nation’s rural areas, charged with setting up the new collectives. In the villages, they encountered fierce resistance. Most peasants had no wish to give up their livestock and be herded to giant farms; they began, en masse, to slaughter their livestock and eat it. When Bolsheviks came to demand their grain, the peasants shot them—more than a thousand were killed in 1930 alone. In some ways, this resembled the back-to-the-people movement of the nineteenth century, in which young progressives had been sent to the countryside to be with “the people,” and the people had rejected them.

But this time the progressives returned with machine guns. The so-called kulaks were arrested and exiled, and sometimes shot. Their property was confiscated. Then the definition of “kulak” expanded. There were not two million well-off farmers in the impoverished U.S.S.R. in the late twenties. And yet that’s how many were arrested for being such. By the end of collectivization, five million people had been “dekulakized.”

The slaughter of livestock, the mass arrests, and the requisition of vast quantities of grain led, inevitably, to shortages. A cold spring and a dry summer in 1931 meant disaster. Local and regional bosses pleaded with Stalin to relax the grain-requisitioning quotas, but he was stinting about it; he believed that the peasants were holding out on him. Long after all the grain had been beaten and tortured from them, Stalin still thought that they had hidden reserves. 

People began to starve. When they tried to leave their villages and head for the cities, where the grain that had been taken from them was turned into bread, they were blocked by armed detachments; when they tried to break into the government silos where their requisitioned grain was kept, they were shot. Parents ate their children. Before it was over, between five and seven million people would die of starvation and disease. Nearly four million of those deaths were in Ukraine, where the famine was accompanied by arrests and executions of the nationalist intelligentsia; more than a million were in sparsely populated Kazakhstan, whose traditionally nomadic farmers were annihilated. 

Given the destruction in Kazakhstan, Kotkin rejects out of hand the argument that the famine was specifically Ukrainian. “The famine was Soviet,” he writes. But he does not underestimate the catastrophe. The huge loss of life, during peacetime, destabilized the country, and the Party. For the first time, there was serious criticism of Stalin in the Party ranks, and talk of removing him. By then, it was too late.
Meanwhile, as the Western world was gripped by the Great Depression, the Soviet Union was industrializing at a rapid pace. The five-year plans laying out the targets for the Soviet economy were full of exaggerations and fantasies, but the Soviets really did build a steel industry and an auto industry; they constructed canals and railroads; they mined nickel in the Arctic and gold in the Far East and coal in the Donbass. Some of this work was done by Gulag slave labor; the rest was done by poorly paid workers living in tents and makeshift dormitories. It was done with tremendous inefficiency and loss of life. But it was done. The Soviet Union started making trucks and tanks and airplanes. When the time came, these turned the tide of the war.

Stalin [had critics within the party] because he was not Lenin. He had not almost single-handedly built a revolutionary party and then led it to power in the world’s largest country. And he made mistakes. He urged the Red Army to capture Lwów in 1920, contributing to the loss of Poland; he urged the Chinese Communists to ally with the Nationalists, resulting in thousands dead; most fatefully, he refused to allow European Communist parties to ally with social democrats—a decision that helped propel Adolf Hitler to power. As Kotkin points out, “In no free and fair election did the Nazis ever win more votes than the Communists and Social Democrats combined.”

On top of all these failures was the sheer, maddening difficulty of governing such a huge country. Kotkin’s Stalin is obsessed with statecraft. He continues to read Lenin, arguing with him in his mind. He is the ruler of a vast, nominally socialist empire, but none of the socialist sages have much advice for him—none had thought beyond the revolution. How is he to make sure that he is obeyed? How to make sure that his subjects are loyal? How to keep the state from being taken over (as Trotsky said had happened) by an entrenched, self-seeking bureaucracy?

Like collectivization, the Terror proceeded in stages. The first victims were the Party higher-ups who had supported the Trotskyist opposition, or failed to support collectivization. They were accused of plotting to assassinate Stalin, or of being foreign spies.

 The Terror soon dramatically expanded, however. One of the genuine shocks in the archives was the discovery of N.K.V.D. order No. 00447, from July 1937, “On the operation for the repression of former kulaks, criminals, and other anti-Soviet elements.” In three neat columns, the order set quotas for executions and imprisonments by region (the third column gave the total). Four thousand to be shot in the Sverdlovsk region, six thousand to be sent to prison or to the Gulag. One thousand to be shot and thirty-five hundred imprisoned in the Odessa region. Local authorities could and did ask that these numbers be increased; the original order set executions at seventy-five thousand nine hundred and fifty, but this was eventually increased to three hundred and fifty-six thousand one hundred and five. In fact, the number shot under the order was closer to four hundred thousand. 

 Marfa Ryazantzeva, one of the victims of the Great Purge

That same summer of 1937, the N.K.V.D. issued a series of orders against ethnic communities in the U.S.S.R. that were thought to be vulnerable to entreaties from the country’s enemies. Ethnic Germans and Poles bore the brunt of this, again in the hundreds of thousands. These two “operations”—targeting anti-kulak/anti-Soviet persons and the “nationalities”—made up the bulk of the million and a half arrests and nearly seven hundred thousand executions carried out in 1937 and 1938.

Here is a typical telegram from Stalin to one of his associates, from July, 1937:

    J.V. Stalin to A.A. Andreev in Saratov

    The Central Committee agrees with your proposal to bring to court and shoot the former workers of the Machine Tractor Stations.


The officer corps of the Army was devastated. Five hundred of the top seven hundred and sixty-seven commanders were arrested or executed; thirteen of the top fifteen generals. “What great power has ever executed 90 percent of its top military officers?” Kotkin asks. “What regime, in doing so, could expect to survive?” Yet this one did.

Stalin set harvest quotas that the farmers couldn’t meet; later, during the Terror, he set execution quotas that officials exceeded.

The suspiciousness of the regime was a murderous projection of its own self-criticism. The more tyrannical Stalin became, the more people had cause to doubt him, and the more likely it became that they would abandon him. Stalin had to keep the killing going because otherwise he would never be secure.” ~

from another source:

~ “One of Stalin’s colleagues recalled the dictator reviewing an arrest list (really, a death list) and muttering to himself: “Who’s going to remember all this riffraff in ten or twenty years’ time? No one. … Who remembers the names now of the boyars Ivan the Terrible got rid of? No one. … The people had to know he was getting rid of all his enemies. In the end, they all got what they deserved.” ~


There is still a core mystery — though inevitable given the circumstances and Stalin's paranoia, did the atrocities really have to get THAT horrific just to preserve Stalin's hold on power? But once the killing starts, it generates more killing.


On violence, today [the day after the Texas church shooting] I can only feel grief and exhaustion — and bafflement that these mass murders have not prompted any real attempt to stop them. Obviously thoughts and prayers are useless — no, worse than useless, because they foster the illusion of efficacy — though how anyone can be convinced of their worth at this point, in this age of genocides and state-sanctioned murders.

Sometimes it seems madness will overwhelm us after all.


Humanity has survived Hitler, Stalin, Mao, two horrific world wars . . . and this is actually the most peaceful period we have yet had, when the average person’s chance of dying a violent death is the lowest it has ever been. We keep hoping because hope we must. Yet there is indeed no guarantee that madness will not win . . .  A deranged dictator who commands nuclear weapons could bring about the Apocalypse that some so devoutly and eagerly await. There is reason to think that Stalin was planning a nuclear strike. His death was hastened in the last moment. We’ve had a few close escapes since. Will humanity’s luck continue?  

“Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” ~ Reinhold Niebuhr


~ "I began my morning as Catholic monastics do with a recitation of the 95th psalm. Every day, I chanted these words, “For the Lord is a great God, and a great king above all gods” (Psalm 95:3) without noticing that this statement stood in conflict with my monotheistic vision.

The majority of the Old Testament is macho posturing. It is about one deity striving to demonstrate that he is greater than the other gods by bringing about the military defeat of the worshipers of other deities. It is a usurpation of the role of chief god among the pantheon of gods.

Throughout the Biblical text YHWH seeks to demonstrate his superiority of the gods of the nation. YHWH sends plagues to Egypt because “on all of the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments” (Exodus 12:12). One does not judge things that don’t exist.
Over time, Israel decides that it is not enough for YHWH to have Jacob as his portion. The other gods are ineffective and they have to go.

Thus, God calls a divine council:
God has taken his place in the divine council;
    in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
    and show partiality to the wicked?
 Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
    maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
I say, “You are gods,
    children of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
    and fall like any prince” (Psalm 82:1-4, 6-7). (NRSV)

By the first century, Judaism was a solidly monotheistic religion; thus in the Gospel of John, we find Jesus interpreting the “You” are human beings.

The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled—can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?  (John 10:33-36).

And that is the story of how God, who was many, became one, and then became three." ~


I've known about the polytheistic origins for decades, but here it's the specific psalms that are eye-opening. I also love the insight about “macho posturing.” Scholars accept that Israel began as a polytheistic nation, then moved to “henotheism” — one god (who is of course “our god”) is greater than all the other gods.

The first time a Jewish professor told me, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” does not mean “Thou shalt have no gods AFTER me,” I literally burst out laughing. Oh ignorance! He wasn’t joking but pointing out a fact, as I discovered both upon reflection and some reading. I wish this became common knowledge.

Chagall: Moses


~ “Want to stimulate brain cell regrowth while you’re having lunch? Add some freshly steamed broccoli to your plate!

Science has added a substance called sulforaphane, found in sulfur-rich vegetables such as broccoli, to the growing list of neuritogenic substances that have been documented to stimulate nerve growth in the brain.

The study, published in the journal Genesis, reveals that sulforaphane, in addition to stimulating new nerve growth, has demonstrated significant healing properties as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, as well as preventing disease and death of healthy neurons.

Adding to the excitement surrounding these findings, researchers observed the beneficial effect on neural stem cells that results in their differentiation to specific, useful types of neurons, lending powerful support to the hypothesis that sulforaphane stimulates brain repair.

Vegetables containing sulforaphane include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard leaves, radish, turnips, watercress, and bok choy. For therapeutic benefit, try to consume at least 3 cups per day, raw or cooked.” ~

ending on beauty:


Refusing worldly worries,
I stroll among the village strollers.

Pine winds sing, the evening village
smells of grass, autumn in the air.

A lone bird roams down the sky.
Clouds roll across the river.

You want to know my name?
A hill. A tree. An empty drifting boat.

~ Hsu Hsuan (916-991), tr Sam Hamill

No comments:

Post a Comment