Sunday, March 19, 2017


Washington National Cathedral, March 14

True! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses — not destroyed — not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture --a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees — very gradually — I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

[the narrator kills the old man, dismembers his body, and buries it under the floor planks]

I took my visitors [three policemen] all over the house. I bade them search — search well. I led them, at length, to his [the dead man’s] chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct: — It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness — until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears. No doubt I now grew very pale; — but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased — and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound — much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath — and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly — more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men — but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed — I raved — I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder — louder — louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! — no, no! They heard! — they suspected! — they knew! — they were making a mockery of my horror! — this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now — again! — hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!

"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! here, here! — It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

Edvard Munch: The Murderer, 1910


I have no doubt The Tell-Tale Heart influenced Dostoyevski, who knew and admired Poe’s work. The idea of the murderer’s guilty conscience driving him to confess may not have originated with Poe, but he presented it with wonderful imaginative force.

. . . Dostoevsky’s notice of 1861, in which he praises Poe’s “marvelous acumen and amazing realism” in the depiction of “inner states.” (It is interesting that this piece, published in Dostoevsky’s magazine Wremia five years before Crime and Punishment, stood as introduction to three stories by Poe, two of which—“The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat”—are accounts of murder, conscience, and confession.)

Poe by David Levine

The insanity of Poe’s narrator reminds me of having read, long ago, an account of a man who shot his neighbor because, as he told the police, “for twenty-five years, he’s been steadily getting on my nerves.”

Sooner or later we all experience a neighbor so annoying that a fantasy of homicide crosses our mind. Of course the sane person rejects the impulse. But sanity is built on sufficient contentment with life; the sum of the pleasures needs to outweigh all the petty and not-so-petty annoyances so that life appears to be worth living, and putting up with some nastiness is not such a huge matter. Then there is of course the restraint of morality, and the matter of penalties, such as life in prison. And even if we don’t get caught, masters like Poe and Dostoyevski remind us that the torments of a guilty conscience would be unendurable.

So why does murder happen at all? There are all kinds of reasons. What has stayed in my mind, though, is an article I can no longer find (apologies), one that stated that in the vast majority of cases the perpetrator regarded himself as a victim — the injured party who was only “seeking justice” (aka revenge; people say “justice,” but they mean “revenge”). And here we may ponder Dostoyevski’s statement that there are no bad men, only wretched ones — aside from outright psychopaths and other cases of abnormal brain function. No naturally evil sinners, only badly damaged human beings.


 Monet: Snow at Argenteil


And even wetter snow: Monet, Snow Effect at Limetz, 1886



1. Slogan ~ From "slua," meaning "crowd" (or "sluag," for "army"), and "gairm," meaning "call." "Slua" is pronounced "slew," which may be why we say "a whole slew of things" too.

2. Galore ~ From "go leor," which basically means "until many." Makes sense, right?

3. Hooligan ~ This one is less of a translation and more of a pejorative origin derived from stereotypical depictions of the Irish as rowdy drunken brawlers. See also: "paddy wagon," which is so named either because the Irish were stereotypically cops or because they were stereotypically getting arrested for being drunk and violent.

4. Smithereens ~ This literally means "little pieces," a combination of "smiodar" for "debris" and "ín," a common Irish suffix for "small" that has been Anglicized to "een." See also: "Colleen," which means "little cailín," or simply "a girl.”

5. Clan ~ From, uhh, well, "clann," which means "family."

6. Swanky ~ from "sócmhainní," which means "assets," or "somhaoineach" for "profitable." (And yes, the spelling looks strange, but it actually makes a lot of sense once you figure out all the different combinations of open vowel sounds.)

7. Whiskey ~ from "uisce beatha," which means "water of life." Yup.

8. Kibosh ~ Even I was under the impression that this was a Yiddish word. But it turns out it was likely derived from "caipin," or "cap," and "bháis," or death — literally "death cap," and the Irish name for a candle-snuffer. Judges also wore an chaip bháis when announcing their sentences.

So basically, when you "put the kibosh" on something, you're actually killing it. Yay?

9. Phony ~ This one's kind of complicated, but also really cool. It probably comes from "fáinne," an Irish word for a ring, and refers to a confidence scheme called a "Fawney Rig," which involves "accidentally" dropping a fake ring of value in front of a victim and then selling it to them for way more than it's actually worth.

10. Keening ~ to cry or wail, usually for the dead, and it's just a differently spelled (but similarly pronounced) version of the Irish word "caoineadh," which means the same.

The Irish language might be struggling to survive, but it's not dead yet. In fact, it's one of the oldest living languages in the world, as well as the first national language of the Republic of Ireland, which means that all government documents are written in Irish and English and that children study the language in school.

That being said, less than 2% of the population actually speaks the native tongue on a daily basis, and only 41% claim to speak it at all, even after years of schooling.


"Members of the British Conservative Party have been nicknamed Tories since the early 1800s. There is absolutely nothing satirical whatsoever to be said about the fact that it ultimately derives from tóraidhe, an old Irish word for an outlaw or a plunderer of stolen cash."


~ “Proust’s genius, like that of his compatriot Cartier-Bresson (who called himself “an accidental Buddhist”), is to register every detail of the surface and yet never get caught up in the superficial. Here is the rare master who saw that surface was merely the way depth often expressed itself, the trifle in which truth was hidden thanks to mischievous circumstance (or, others would say, the logic of the universe).

Proust, to his credit, spent too much time with snobby hostesses, lost his heart to pretty girls and boys, wryly registered all the small print of social climbing—and saw that the easy ways in which we separate the “trivial” from the “essential” are themselves part of our delusion. The most frivolous passing stranger can bring deep feelings to our surface, he notes, as even a great work of art (or great man) can seldom do. The most trifling thing — this is in part what the madeleine is about — can open up a universe.

The Buddha, as I understand it, ultimately devoted himself to the simple exercise of sitting still and resolving not to get up until he had looked beyond his many delusions and projections to the truth of what he was (or wasn’t) and how to make his peace with that.

Am I the only one who thinks that this sounds very much like someone in a cork-lined room, almost alone for years on end and turning a fierce and uncompromising light on all his experiences and memories so as to see how much of them might be wishful thinking, and what they owe to illusion and the falsifications of the mind?

Marcel Proust never formally meditated, so far as I know, and he never officially quit his gilded palace to wander around the world, practicing extremes of austerity and cross-questioning wise men. But if I want to understand the tricks the mind plays upon itself — the ways we substitute our notions of reality for the way things are and need to dismantle the suffering false thoughts can create—I can’t think of a better guide and friend than the author of À la recherche.

Every night, the narrator writes, descending into his second home, the subconscious, “we’re initiated into the mystery of extinction and resurrection,” travel into a different, parallel self and then back into the one we recognize, as if reborn.


Proust had the sense to belabor us with little theology, academic philosophy or overt epistemology; yet nearly every sentence in his epic work takes us into the complications, the false fronts, the self-betrayals of the heart and mind and so becomes what could almost be called an anatomy of the soul. I’m not sure sitting under a tree in Asia 2,500 years ago would have produced anything different.” ~


Or, as Nietzsche put it, as soon as we investigate anything in sufficient depth, an infinity opens itself. And that should keep us humble when it comes to any claims to knowing the truth.

Another parallel that comes to my mind is Sherlock Holmes, who examines the most trifling details — and that’s how he discovers the vital clues.

As for the nightly extinction and morning resurrection, I have often pondered this phenomenon. Without consciousness, during dreamless sleep, we essentially cease to exist — insofar as we can sense existing. Time ceases — we may wake up thinking it’s already morning, and be surprised to discover it’s only just past midnight.

You’d think that this nightly experience of sinking into nothingness would be enough to make people disbelieve in the afterlife — but the power of wishful thinking overcomes mere facts. It’s surprising that humanity ever developed science, or writers such as Proust, ruthless in the pursuit of the truth. But in some of us the voice of the intellect will not be still. As Dostoyevski said about Ivan Karamazov, “He doesn’t want a million rubles, but an answer to his questions.” 

Morpho butterfly and labradorite


~ “Islam ensnares every moment of a Muslim's life. How you eat, how you go to the bathroom, how you put on shoes, how you have sex. Every single aspect of your life is mapped out so that there is minimal opportunity to think. You are trained to just follow. Do as you're told. Don't ask why. Get in line with the rest of the ummah (community of Muslims). Like a school of fish; it is instinctual.

That's the way it is. That's the way the brainwashing goes. Like a soldier trained to take orders and react. Thinking is deadly. Questioning is punished.

This is much more true for women than it is for men. Under Islam, a woman's sense of agency is nonexistent. Her individuality is completely erased, or rather, never given an opportunity to flourish in the first place. Sometimes, like it was for me, this statement is both literal as well as figurative.

My entire being was dampened by a black shroud. Covered from head to toe, without even my eyes connecting with the outside world, I'd float around other humans almost like a ghost. I could see them, but they couldn't see me. I was invisible. My humanity was completely eradicated. I wasn't Yasmine. I was a faceless figure shrouded in black. My wants, needs, interests, desires, preferences, were never even considered — least of all by me. I didn't know that there was such thing as choice. I'd never made a decision. I just did as I was told.

I was miserable. But my misery also made me feel guilty. Why couldn't I move along with the other fish? Why did I yearn to escape their hold? Wasn't this the path to heaven? Any other direction was hell. Why wasn't I strong enough to fight the devil luring me to imagine a life where I could swim in different waters?

Islam is ingenious in its hold. Aspects of its tactics can be found in Mormonism, with Scientologists and Jehovah's Witnesses, but Islam is the only religion that combines all the different ensnaring elements into one, and then turns up the intensity tenfold.
Islam's hold on your body, mind, and spirit is such that almost 15 years after denouncing the religion, I'm still discovering and suffering from remnant conditioning of my mind.

I don't think I'll ever be truly free. I was only able to free my body. But I have not failed. My daughters are free. My daughters will never be able to relate to or understand any of this world. They will listen wide-eyed, unable to fathom that existence. And so, even if I have to take this indoctrination with me to the grave. I don't mind. I'm happy to take it with me 6 feet under, far away from my daughters. Where it can't hurt anyone else from my bloodline. They'll all be free to swim in any direction they choose.” ~

(source: Faisal Saeed Al Mutar)


I realize that someone may accuse me of Islamophobia . . . so be it. My intent is to arouse compassion -- and no, it won't do to say that we have sexism also in the West, and that Christianity too is patriarchal, and all such stuff. It won’t do to say, “But look, we have domestic violence too, we have rape, no Catholic women priests, and so on.” True. But what we have is 1; they have 10.

The power of this image (produced by Anthony Freda Studio) truly touched me.

As for Yasmine’s story: it confirms that with any repressive religion, recovery is a lifetime journey. 


The punishment for blasphemy should be left up to the imaginary deity who's offended. Let them deal with it in the imaginary afterlife. ~ Nick Rose

THE DEVIL’S CHESSBOARD: A joint biography of John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles, who led the United States into an unseen war that decisively shaped today's world


~ “During the 1950s, when the Cold War was at its peak, two immensely powerful brothers led the United States into a series of foreign adventures whose effects are still shaking the world.

John Foster Dulles was secretary of state while his brother, Allen Dulles, was director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In this book, Stephen Kinzer places their extraordinary lives against the background of American culture and history. He uses the framework of biography to ask: Why does the United States behave as it does in the world?

The Brothers explores hidden forces that shape the national psyche, from religious piety to Western movies―many of which are about a noble gunman who cleans up a lawless town by killing bad guys. This is how the Dulles brothers saw themselves, and how many Americans still see their country's role in the world.

Propelled by a quintessentially American set of fears and delusions, the Dulles brothers launched violent campaigns against foreign leaders they saw as threats to the United States. These campaigns helped push countries from Guatemala to the Congo into long spirals of violence, led the United States into the Vietnam War, and laid the foundation for decades of hostility between the United States and countries from Cuba to Iran.

The story of the Dulles brothers is the story of America. It illuminates and helps explain the modern history of the United States and the world.

~ “Some passages of The Devil’s Chessboard have a plaintive tone, a kind of lament about the irreparable harm the fanaticism of fighting the Cold War against Soviet Russia (and its alleged proxies all over the world) had on shaping a set of unaccountable secret institutions that have both distorted our politics and undermined the “democratic” principles for which the U.S. supposedly stands.

Secret CIA activities in the 1950s under Dulles’s watch included horrifying experiments in “de-patterning” and “mind control” involving LSD and hypnosis (often on unwitting subjects) to try to develop the means to “turn” Soviet agents (MKULTRA). Subsequently, Dulles led the CIA in its first experiments in “regime change” with the coups in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954. It was Dulles’s CIA that played a key role in killing the nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in 1960, and setting up the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961.

Dulles, who was by far the most influential director the CIA ever had, Talbot shows, was for decades at the center of a secret American foreign policy. The author clearly understands power and he knows the extremes to which America’s “intelligence community” was willing to go to “save” the country from the communist hordes.

While serving as a young Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operative in Europe, Dulles participated in “Operation Sunshine” whereby any former Nazi who was either deemed a “gentleman” (meaning wealthy) or had any information or skills that might be useful to U.S. intelligence in the new Cold War against its former ally, the Soviet Union, could by whisked to safety far away from those pesky Nuremberg trials.

One disturbing revelation in The Devil’s Chessboard is Dulles’s willingness to use his expertise in spy craft and his intelligence connections (including hidden sources of money) to influence U.S. domestic politics as early as the 1952 elections. Back in 1948, unbeknownst to the Italian (and American) people, the CIA used laundered cash and secret intelligence assets in Italy to block electoral gains by communist and socialist candidates. This rigging of the 1948 Italian elections was seen as an intelligence triumph at the time and emboldened the CIA to intervene in the internal affairs of other nations.

The CIA threw a lot of laundered money around and bribed Iranian officials (as it had done with the Italian elections in ‘48), but added new tricks to its repertoire such as extortion, radio jamming, false flag operations, espionage, hit lists, kidnapping, and arming pro-Shah street gangs to achieve its aims in “Operation Ajax.” The coup d’état in Iran in August 1953 that toppled the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossedegh and installed Shah Reza Pahlavi (who ruled until 1979) was heralded as a bold and daring U.S. triumph in the Cold War. (Today, given the antagonism between Iran and the U.S. it can be seen as a sort of “original sin” of failed U.S. policies in the Middle East.)

The CIA’s role in the coup in Guatemala in 1954 that overthrew the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz (who Talbot likens to John F. Kennedy) also reveals the new operational capabilities of the CIA in manipulating the press:

“The agency’s disinformation campaign began immediately after Arbenz’s downfall,” Talbot writes, “with a stream of stories planted in the press - particularly in Latin America - alleging that he was a pawn of Moscow, that he was guilty of the wholesale butchery of political foes, that he had raided his impoverished country’s treasury, that he was sexually captivated by the man who was the leader of the Guatemalan Communist Party. None of it was true.” (p. 253)

Talbot’s retelling of many of the now well-known facts about the CIA’s role in the coups in Iran and Guatemala is cogent and alarming since many of the CIA’s assets and operatives who participated in “Operation Success” (the coup in Guatemala) resurfaced later as persons of interest in the Kennedy assassination: E. Howard Hunt, David Atlee Phillips, and David Morales. (p. 261) The CIA had a “disposal list” of fifty-eight key Guatemalan leaders at the time of the coup marked for assassination and even wrote a manual describing in detail how to go about doing it (which was made public in 1997).

The CIA under Dulles never bothered to tell President Kennedy about Lumumba’s murder (even though Dulles briefed the new president on January 26, 1961 about the situation in the Congo). President Kennedy had to hear the news second hand from his United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson. (p. 387) Hence, from the start of the Kennedy Administration Dulles kept secrets from his new boss.

Talbot’s take on this well-known story about the CIA’s ill-fated attempt to topple Castro is fresh and engaging. He uncovers convincing evidence that Dulles and his top aides set up the Bay of Pigs to fail in order to force the young president’s hand in bombing the island and sending in the Marines. Surprising Dulles and other national security holdovers from the Eisenhower Administration was President Kennedy’s resolve to stand by his earlier warnings to them that there would be no direct U.S. air strikes and no Marines landing in Cuba. “They were sure I’d give into them,” Kennedy later told Dave Powers. “They couldn’t believe that a new president like me wouldn’t panic and try to save his own face. Well they had me figured all wrong.”

Indeed, they had “figured” JFK wrong because the President then fired Dulles, Bissell, and Cabell after their botching of the Bay of Pigs, which they had assured him would unfold in a similar fashion as the successful Guatemalan coup of 1954. But as Talbot points out later in the book, President Kennedy’s purge of the top echelon of the CIA had not gone far enough. He cites a letter to President Kennedy from W. Averell Harriman (who had been FDR’s Ambassador to Moscow and a veteran of Washington infighting), which refers to the CIA’s undermining Kennedy’s neutrality policies in Laos and Vietnam.

Dulles’s role in the official government whitewash of the Kennedy assassination cannot be overstated. He was so important in directing the aims and outcomes of the Warren Commission’s “investigation” into the killing of John F. Kennedy that it should be more correctly called the “Dulles Commission.”

Since President Kennedy’s alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was himself murdered in the basement of the Dallas police building on November 24, 1963, there would be no trial. In its stead the nation was given a non-adversarial process of a presidential commission that runs counter to the norms of American jurisprudence, and which clearly had drawn the preordained conclusion that Oswald had “acted alone” before the first witness was ever called. 

One of the many questions that Talbot answers in this book is the curious phenomenon of a right-wing Republican, Allen Dulles, whose professional and personal connections exclusively consisted of wealthy Wall Street bankers and lawyers, spies and spooks (like James Jesus Angleton), and foreign policy elites tied to the Rockefellers and the white shoe law firm Sullivan and Cromwell — who President Kennedy fired after he sensed Dulles lied to him and could not be trusted — would find himself heading the commission charged with “investigating” the murder of a president that Dulles neither liked nor respected. 

Kennedy in Dublin, 1963
There were no Kennedy allies on the Warren Commission. Only Republicans and Southern Democrats. J. Edgar Hoover controlled the physical evidence in the case and Dulles was in the pivotal spot to guide the inquiries or witnesses away from any fingerprints of intelligence agencies in concocting Oswald’s “legend” or in the events in Dallas. Serious students of the Kennedy assassination, regardless of their views of the Warren Commission’s “findings,” must read The Devil’s Chessboard if for no other reason than to flesh out Allen Dulles’s role in guiding the public’s perception of the crime of the century.

To young people the Kennedy assassination isn’t a primordial childhood event that shaped their worldview like it is for the boomers. It’s far more remote, like Lincoln’s assassination, something that happened long ago with little direct relevance to their lives. Hence, young people today don’t see what the big deal is in contemplating the idea that elements that arose out of the same corrupt and morally bankrupt secret government that helped Nazis escape prosecution, brought down foreign democracies, or experimented with mind altering drugs on unwitting subjects, might not see any clear limits to their crusade to save the world from what they believed was an existential threat by turning their violent capabilities inward.

When I was in college President Ronald Reagan was still scaring the hell out of the country with lurid tales of communists attacking the United States from their safe havens in Cuba, Nicaragua, or even from the rural areas of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The Nicaraguan “contras,” along with the Afghan mujahideen, Reagan called “freedom fighters.” Reagan’s Defense Department officials, such as T.K. Jones, spoke loosely about surviving an all-out nuclear war with the Russians. And Reagan authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to prepare a host of new “civil defense” measures. With respect to elite attitudes toward nuclear war, the 1980s weren’t all that different from the 1950s: “Duck and Cover!”

What made Reagan’s first term all the more frightening was his administration’s thinking out loud about the “unthinkable” at a time when the United States was deploying Pershing II nuclear missiles and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to West Germany, bulking up and modernizing its B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers, and launching new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) systems, such as the M-X “Peace Keeper” missiles, the new D-9 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and a high-tech space-based anti-ballistic missile system (called the Strategic Defense Initiative).

Those days of nuclear brinkmanship and alarmism against the Soviets and the widely disseminated propaganda that farm workers from El Salvador were going to spread communism into south Texas are as remote to today’s college students as Prohibition was to the baby boomers.

Thankfully, students today don’t possess the knee-jerk attitude of their parents and grandparents toward looking at the guilt or innocence of Lee Harvey Oswald. “Millennials” have no problem contextualizing the Kennedy assassination inside the rabid anti-communism of a by-gone era. They can also Google in a minute more information than I could acquire in a week when I was an undergraduate concerning the history of the unchecked power of the CIA and the national security state.” ~


This is a very long excerpt, I know. In fact it’s almost the entire review. I was riveted by the material, and I'm still trying to digest this information. I’ll refrain from commenting — I don’t feel competent enough — except to say I always had the suspicion that Ruby’s shooting of Oswald was a ploy to silence Oswald forever — Ruby’s “cover story” about wishing to avenge Jackie Kennedy was pretty ridiculous. Yes, you shoot the assassin — just as Khrushchev made sure that Beria was dead, or else he might blab about the poisoning of Stalin, who was still, in the first years after his death, officially worshipped as a secular god, his mummy on display next to Lenin’s.

Of related interest:

~ “As Talbot sees it, New Deal liberalism, which stands as the apotheosis of 20th century American democracy, was gradually eclipsed by men highly placed in government who saw democracy “as an impediment to the smooth functioning of the corporate state.

That Allen Dulles exercised enormous power and abused that power in myriad ways; that he ordered assassinations of undesirables abroad; that his CIA destabilized foreign governments in the Third World based on grossly exaggerated assessments of Soviet subversion; that he integrated high-level Nazi intelligence agents into CIA and West German intelligence networks—all these allegations are clearly borne out by the facts presented here, and confirmed by the work of many other investigators.

[But] contrary to Talbot’s claims, JFK’s policies, foreign or domestic, simply did not pose a dire threat to “deep power” interests.

Still, one would be hard pressed to find a book that is better at evoking the strange and apocalyptic atmospherics of the early Cold War years in America, and the cast of characters that made the era what it was. One of the singular pleasures of reading The Devil’s Chessboard are the wry, closely observed character sketches that punctuate the narrative. John Foster Dulles “brought the gloom of a doomsday obsessed vicar to his job, with frequent sermons on Communist perfidy and his constant threats of nuclear annihilation.” Richard Nixon “may have suffered from a tortured psyche, but it made him acutely sensitive to the nuances of power. He had a Machiavellian brilliance for reading the chessboard and calculating the next series of moves to his advantage.”

And here is a thought-provoking video — arguably not an accurate portrayal of an immensely complex reality, but fascinating nevertheless:

“I hate a liar more than a thief. A thief merely steals your money; a liar steals your reality.
~ Anonymous


Re: the press is the “enemy of the people” — did 45 learn that phrase from Bannon, the self-named “Leninist”?

~ “I wish this pathetic, dim-witted excuse for a human being had lived in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Then, in a momentary, final glimmer of helpless illumination, he would know the meaning of that phrase, "enemy of the people," as he would be led, sobbing and slobbering, on gelatinous legs, to his execution, having been unloaded from the back of a covered truck at the edge of the city, along with thousands of others slotted to be shot in the back of their heads on a daily basis. He would know then, with utmost clarity, what it felt like, to have been branded an enemy of the people.” ~ M. Iossel


Aliens shall stand and feed your flocks,
foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers;
but you shall be called the priests of the Lord,
men shall speak of you as the ministers of our God,
you shall eat the wealth of the nations,
and in their riches you shall glory (Isa. 61:5-6)

Of courses Isaiah means the future glory of Israel, but anyone who lives in California will immediately think of Hispanic farm workers. And it could certainly be argued that America has been eating the wealth of nations.

Ah, that’s because America is the real Promised Land, some believers may say. But the part about being “priests of the Lord” applies neither to Americans nor to the citizens of modern Israel. Jews are the most secular ethnic group in the US. Israel is a secular state, and no one perceives its citizens as a priestly class, with foreigners doing non-priestly work, especially in agriculture — in Isaiah’s time, nothing was as important as agriculture, which was also brutal hard labor.

Isaiah softens his visions of the servitude of foreigners by saying that if they accept the Jewish law and don’t profane the Sabbath, they too will be allowed to make “burnt offerings and sacrifices” on Yahweh’s altar.

A really big offering was not a lamb but a bullock. An adult bull would presumably be even more impressive, but is not quite as easy to slaughter, and the huge carcass would be a mess. Still, one way or another, the altars were supposed to flow with blood. And this was a major prophet’s vision of the ideal world.

Some earlier verses specify which nations in particular will offer their wealth, including slaves, to the future Israel:

Thus says the Lord:
“The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Ethiopia,
and the Sabeans, men of stature,
shall come over to you and be yours,
they shall follow you;
they shall come over in chains and bow down to you.” (Isa. 45:14)

This was par for the times, and I don’t hold it against the prophet that he conceived glory according to what glory meant when he was alive. Still, to come face to face with how different the world was then can be unnerving.

Isaiah probably never traveled very far; his world was tiny by our modern standards. For him there was no question as to which nation “shall eat the wealth of [other] nations.”

I read the bible only in adulthood, and was completely startled by the archaic character of it. My religion classes were very selective and the nuns and priests tried hard to present the stories in a way that would make some sense in the modern world. The actual text was a shock.

Raphael: Isaiah, 1512

"I cannot believe that any religion has been revealed to Man by God. Because a revealed religion would be perfect, but no known religion is perfect; and because history and science show us that known religions have not been revealed but have been evolved from other traditions." ~ Robert Blatchford, writer, journalist, and freethinker in God and My Neighbor (1903)


To say that no religion is perfect is such an understatement . . . But it's fascinating to see the way each religion contains tons of borrowings from all over. I guess there was no notion of plagiarism in religious matters. It was precisely seeing the similarities between various mythologies that led me to conclude that Judeo-Christianity was simply another mythology, collected from all over.

To me it's nothing short of astonishing that an adult can dismiss Zeus, Wotan, Santa Claus, the fairies, the little people, Ganesha, etc as mythology, but claim that HIS god is not mythical but the one and only true deity in the universe.

The statement that religions have evolved earlier religions reminds me of Nietzsche’s statement that it’s no longer necessary to ask if god exists; it’s enough to to trace the way the concept of god has evolved. Now this evolution proceeds at a more rapid pace. What used to take centuries now takes decades. What used to be unsayable just 30 years ago is now commonly stated — first generally by comedians, it seems, our new sages. 

Photo: Edward Byrne

Brian Wansink and his grad students had planned to dump Wheat Thins and M&M's into large Ziploc bags, but by mistake they also brought some tiny, snack-sized ones. Since there weren't enough large bags to go around, some moviegoers got four small ones instead.

Something surprising happened: Most people who received the four small bags finished only one or two. In a follow-up questionnaire, Wansink asked the participants how much more they would pay for snacks that came in lots of small packages instead of one big one. A majority said they'd spend 20 percent more.

In the snack food aisle of a local supermarket, Wansink stops in front of the chips to tell me about a recent study he did with cans of Pringles. At intervals of either 7 or 14 chips (it didn't matter much which), his team inserted a Pringle dyed with red food coloring. Lab subjects who got these subtle reminders consumed 50 percent fewer chips on average than control snackers who got regular Pringles.

Outside the boundaries of the lab, Wansink did take on one major private client: McDonald's. In 2008, he'd independently funded a study on Happy Meals, spending three weeks watching kids dine. He found that it didn't matter much what McDonald's put in the meal. Kids mainly cared about the toy—in fact, most stopped eating once they'd unwrapped it. Three years later, McDonald's hired Wansink to determine whether some changes it had made to Happy Meals—ditching the caramel sauce that accompanied the apple slices and promoting milk instead of soda—had actually prompted kids to eat more nutritious food at its restaurants. (Wansink found that they had.) "What makes Happy Meals happy and fun is not the food, it's the atmosphere and the toys," he says. "McDonald's wins because parents feel less guilty about taking their kids there.”

Many parents won't be surprised to learn that Wansink found children to be exquisitely sensitive about food presentation. One of his studies, in 2011, determined that serving fruit in colorful bowls instead of metal trays more than doubled fruit consumption at school. In another, from 2013, he found that schools that switched from whole to sliced apples saw 48 percent fewer apples wasted and a 73 percent increase in students eating more than half of their apples. It also turned out that giving vegetables fun names—like "X-Ray-Vision Carrots" or "Silly Dilly Green Beans"—persuaded kids to eat 35 percent more veggies.

So far, some 17,000 schools have used the Smarter Lunchrooms training. Many report success. Jessica Shelly, director of food services for Cincinnati's public schools, implemented a few simple changes, such as placing the plain milk before the flavored milk in the line, changing food names, and adding a toppings station. "It's so awesome to see a student who went over to the salad bar to put some cumin on their chicken soft taco also end up adding some red pepper strips and broccoli florets to their plate," Shelly told me via email. Lunch attendance increased, and her once-struggling program climbed out of the red. In 2013, it turned a $2.7 million profit.

 He tells me about a study he did with Birds Eye on how to get people to eat more frozen vegetables. Two sets of participants were told different versions of a story about a woman named Valerie. In the first one, she has a busy day, and when she gets home she serves her family a dinner of pasta, warmed-up leftover chicken, bread, and green beans from the freezer. The second version is exactly the same—minus the green beans.

When the researchers then asked study participants to describe Valerie, they were shocked at the difference in the responses. "People will rate Valerie when she uses beans as, 'Oh, she's a good mother, she is stressed out, but you can see that she cares for her family; she's really a good cook,'" Wansink says. "If you don't have the beans, people are like, 'Oh my God, this lazy excuse for a woman. What is she doing? It's all about herself; she is so self-centered.’”


His book about using smaller plates, smaller packages of snacks etc was a NY Times bestseller ten years ago. But in spite of what Wansink says, the type of food also seems to affect how much we eat. I first noticed it with salmon, which is particularly rich in protein and the good omega-3 fats -- I could hardly ever manage to finish a standard portion. This more or less goes for all protein-rich foods, but salmon is the most dramatic example. But give me pasta, and I turn into an eating machine. Whole beans, green apples -- I have no trouble stopping at a "small portion." But make it some kind of mash, like refried beans or a fruit smoothie, and again I become an eating machine. Some types of food send a STOP signal to the brain, and others apparently don't.

In addition, it’s well-known that people will eat more of the food they find tasty. Thus, whole-grain pasta, which is not good-tasting, has never made me eat more than enough just to satisfy hunger. Fortunately I don’t have a sweet-tooth, so I find most desserts cloying, but I’ve seen people eat a large bowl of ice-cream or a thick slab of cheesecake (sugar-fat combinations are especially fattening) right after a large main meal. 

ending on beauty

A girl sleeps as if
she were in someone’s dream;
a woman sleeps as if
tomorrow a war will begin;
an old woman sleeps as if
it were enough to feign being dead,
hoping death will pass her by
on the far outskirts of sleep.

~ Vera Pavlova, tr Steven Seymour

Picasso: Sleeping Woman, 1931

Sunday, March 12, 2017



Stalin was still alive.
My parents mentioned “Mr. S.”
Never repeat what you hear at home.
I spoke when spoken to:
Children and fish have no voice.

Santa Claus was banned at the preschool. 
The Christmas tree was decorated
with cardboard numerals six,
to celebrate the Six-Year Plan.
On the wall hung a large portrait
of Mr. S. with a marvelous mustache,
arms around smiling children.

Then Mr. S. died. Newspapers showed
“the masses” weeping at his funeral.
After the weeping stopped,
streets changed names.
Portraits of the mustache
were taken off the walls.

New leaders gave speeches admitting
“past errors and deviations.”
My uncle’s double death sentence,
commuted to life in prison,
had been one of those deviations.
A hero of the wartime Underground,
he was released, given treatment
for problems caused by torture,
a sum of money.
After eight years in prison pajamas,
he could now afford the best suits.

Red banners still flapped like laundry
from official balconies.
In shop windows instead of goods,
pictures of Karl Marx, Engels, Lenin.
In city parks, begonias were planted to read:

Conversation remained
a goulash of politics and rumors
about where to get butter and meat.
Favorite joke: How come
in Poland no one sleeps?
— Because the Party keeps vigil
and the enemy never sleeps
Aunt Lola was offended by the slogan,
We are the manure
for future generations.

Radio Free Europe
crackled through the static.
Propaganda posters rotted in the rain.
at a New Year’s Eve party,
a Hungarian scientist whispered,
Nothing’s going to change
for a thousand years.

~ Oriana

But the only thing we can be sure of is change itself. It includes the fall of empires and the death of tyrants.

~ “According to his daughter Svetlana, who was at the bedside, at 9.50 pm on the 5th [of March, 1953] Stalin’s eyes opened with ‘a terrible look – either mad or angry and full of the fear of death’. He raised his left hand, pointing upwards, perhaps threateningly, and then death took him. It was announced on the radio the next day, with appeals for calm, and the funeral was held in Red Square on March 9th in the presence of a huge crowd — so large that some were crushed to death. Stalin’s veteran colleague Vyacheslav Molotov, whose wife was in a prison camp where she was known as Object Number Twelve, spoke in praise of the dead tyrant. So did Malenkov and Beria, but in private Beria made no secret of his relief at the dictator’s passing. Stalin’s body was embalmed and was presently put on display with Lenin’s corpse in the renamed Lenin-Stalin Mausoleum.” ~

(Molotov’s wife, Polina, was arrested in 1948, charged with Zionism, and sentenced to five years in a labor camp. She was released by Beria within days of Stalin’s death.)

~ “The guards slept late the morning [of March 1], and so, it seemed, did Stalin. Twelve o'clock, one, two o'clock came and no Stalin.

The guards began to get worried, but no one dared to go into his rooms. They had no right to disturb Stalin unless invited into his presence personally.

At 6.30 [p.m.] a light came on in Stalin's rooms, and the [security] guards relaxed a little. But by the time 10 o'clock had chimed they were petrified. Lozgachev [one of the guards] was finally sent in to check on Stalin.

“I hurried up to him and said 'Comrade Stalin, what's wrong?' He'd, you know, wet himself while he was lying there. He made some incoherent noise, like "Dz dz". His pocketwatch and copy of Pravda were lying on the floor. The watch showed 6.30. That's when it [cerebral hemorrhage] must have happened to him.”

The guards rushed to call Stalin's drinking companions, the Politburo. It was their tardiness in responding and calling for medical help that put questions of doubt in [Russian historian Edvard] Radzinski's mind.

Did they already know too much and so did not need to hurry to the "old man's" side?

Mr Radzinski says Yes. He asserts that Stalin was injected with poison by the guard Khrustalev, under the orders of his master, KGB chief Lavrenty Beria. And what was the reason Stalin was killed?

"All the people who surrounded Stalin understood that Stalin wanted war — the future World War III — and he decided to prepare the country for this war," Radzinski says.

 "He said: we have the opportunity to create a communist Europe but we have to hurry. But Beria, Khrushchev, Malenkov and every normal person understood it was terrible to begin a war against America because the country [Russia] had no economy.

"It wasn't a poor but a super-poor country which was destroyed by the German invasion, a country which had no resources but only nuclear weapons.

"It was the reason for his anti-Semitic campaign, it was a provocation. He wanted an answer from America. And Beria knew Stalin had planned on 5 March to begin the deportation of Jewish people from Moscow.”

At 9.50pm on 5 March Stalin died. By the next day his body was lying in state in the Hall of Columns, a few streets from Red Square. It is estimated that several millions came to see him one final time. Several hundred were rumored to have died in the crush.” ~

From the New York Times:

~ “Relying on a previously secret account by doctors of Stalin's final days, the authors [of “Stalin’s Last Crime”] suggest that he may have been poisoned with warfarin, a tasteless and colorless blood thinner also used as a rat killer, during a final dinner with four members of his Politburo.

They base that theory in part on early drafts of the report, which show that Stalin suffered extensive stomach hemorrhaging during his death throes. The authors state that significant references to stomach bleeding were excised from the 20-page official medical record, which was not issued until June 1953, more than three months after his death on March 5 that year.

Four Politburo members were at that dinner: Lavrenti P. Beria, then chief of the secret police; Georgi M. Malenkov, Stalin's immediate successor; Nikita S. Khrushchev, who eventually rose to the top spot; and Nikolai Bulganin.

The authors, Vladimir P. Naumov, a Russian historian, and Jonathan Brent, a Yale University Soviet scholar, suggest that the most likely suspect, if Stalin was poisoned, is Beria, for 15 years his despised minister of internal security.

Beria supposedly boasted of killing Stalin on May Day, two months after his death. ''I did him in! I saved all of you,'' he was quoted as telling Vyacheslav M. Molotov, another Politburo member, in Molotov’s memoirs, “Molotov Remembers” (published in 1992).

''Some doctors are skeptical that if an autopsy were performed, that a conclusive answer to the question of whether he was poisoned could be found,'' Brent said. ''I personally believe that Stalin's death was not fortuitous. There are just too many arrows pointing in the other direction.’'

Mr. Brent and Mr. Naumov, the secretary of a Russian government commission to rehabilitate victims of repression, have spent years in the archives of the K.G.B. and other Soviet organizations.

Russian officials granted them access to some documents for their latest work, which primarily traces the fabulous course of the Doctors' Plot, a supposed collusion in the late 1940's by Kremlin doctors to kill top Communist leaders.

The collusion was in fact a fabrication by Kremlin officials, acting largely on Stalin's orders. By the time Stalin disclosed the plot to a stunned Soviet populace in January 1953, he had spun it into a vast conspiracy, led by Jews under the United States' secret direction, to kill him and destroy the Soviet Union itself.

That February, the Kremlin ordered the construction of four giant prison camps in Kazakhstan, Siberia and the Arctic north, apparently in preparation for a second great terror -- this time directed at the millions of Soviet citizens of Jewish descent.

But the terror never unfolded. On March 1, 1953, two weeks after the camps were ordered built and two weeks before the accused doctors were to go on trial, Stalin collapsed at Blizhnaya [his “nearer” country house in Kuntsevo], a north Moscow dacha, after the all-night dinner with his four Politburo comrades.

After four days, Stalin died, at age 73. Death was laid to a hemorrhage on the left side of his brain.

Less than a month later, the doctors previously accused of trying to kill him were abruptly exonerated and the case against them was deemed an invention of the secret police. No Jews were deported east. By year's end, Beria faced a firing squad, and Khrushchev had tempered Soviet hostility toward the United States.

In their book, Mr. Naumov and Mr. Brent cite wildly varying accounts of Stalin's last hours as evidence that — at the least — Stalin's Politburo colleagues denied him medical help in the first hours of his illness, when it might have been effective.

The authors state that a cerebral hemorrhage is still the most straightforward explanation for Stalin's death, and that poisoning remains for now a matter of speculation. But Western physicians who examined the Soviet doctors' official account of Stalin's last days said similar physical effects could have been produced by a 5-to-10-day dose of warfarin, which had been patented in 1950 and was being aggressively marketed worldwide at the time.

Why Stalin might have been killed is a less difficult question. Politburo members lived in fear of Stalin; beyond that, the book cites a previously secret report as evidence that Stalin was preparing to add a new dimension to the alleged American conspiracy known as the Doctors' Plot.

That report — an interrogation of a supposed American agent named Ivan I. Varfolomeyev, in 1951 — indicated that the Kremlin was preparing to accuse the United States of a plot to destroy much of Moscow with a new nuclear weapon, then to launch an invasion of Soviet territory along the Chinese border.

Mr. Varfolomeyev's fantastic plot was known in Soviet documents as ''the plan of the internal blow.'' Stalin, the book states, had assigned the Varfolomeyev case highest priority, and was preparing to proceed with a public trial despite his underlings' fears that the charges were so unbelievable that they would make the Kremlin a global laughingstock.

Mr. Naumov said in an interview today that that plan, combined with other Soviet military preparations in the Russian Far East at the time, strongly suggest that Stalin was preparing for a war along the United States' Pacific Coast. What remains unclear, he said, is whether he planned a first strike or whether the mushrooming conspiracy unfolding in Moscow was to serve as a provocation that would lead both sides to a flash point.

Mr. Brent said he believes that fear of a nuclear holocaust could have led Beria and perhaps others at that final dinner to assent to Stalin's death.

''No question — they were afraid,'' he said. ''But they knew that the direction Stalin was going in was one of fiercer and fiercer conflict with the U.S. This is what Khrushchev saw, and it is what Beria saw. And it scared them to death.''

The authors say that Stalin knew of his comrades' fears, citing as proof remarks at a December 1952 meeting of top Communist leaders in which Stalin began laying out the scope of the Doctors' Plot and the American threat to Soviet power.

''Here, look at you — blind men, kittens,'' the minutes record Stalin as saying. ''You don't see the enemy. What will you do without me?’” ~


Though this may seem like a confused and speculative account, let me emphasize that according to  Molotov’s memoirs Lavrentiy Beria, Security Chief and deputy Prime Minister, allegedly boasted that he killed Stalin. Beria’s own struggle for power ended in June 1953, when Khrushchev and Molotov turned against him, and he was arrested. In December, on Khrushchev’s orders, he was executed. His remains were buried in a forest near Moscow.


But here is my “Exhibit A”: the summary of Stalin’s autopsy:

~ “Post-mortem examination disclosed a large hemorrhage in the sphere of the subcortical nodes of the left hemisphere of the brain. This hemorrhage destroyed important areas of the brain and caused irreversible disorders of respiration and blood circulation. Besides the brain hemorrhage there were established substantial enlargement of the left ventricle of the heart, numerous hemorrhages in the cardiac muscle and in the lining of the stomach and intestine, and arteriosclerotic changes in the blood vessels, expressed especially strongly in the arteries of the brain. These processes were the result of high blood pressure.” [O: emphasis mine]

While prudently citing hypertension as the culprit, the good doctors left behind enough traces of pathological evidence in their brief report to let posterity know they fulfilled their professional duties, as best they could, without compromising their careers or their lives with the new masters at the Kremlin.

High blood pressure, per se, commonly results in hypertensive cerebral hemorrhage and stroke but does not usually produce concomitant hematemesis (vomiting blood), as we see here in the clinical case of Stalin [he was vomiting blood on March 4], and a further bleeding diathesis affecting the heart muscle, scantily as it is supported by the positive autopsy findings.

As I have written elsewhere, we now possess clinical and forensic evidence supporting the long-held suspicion that Stalin was indeed poisoned by members of his own inner circle, most likely Lavrenti Beria, and perhaps even Khrushchev, all of whom feared for their lives.” ~

(the article from which this excerpt is taken was published in Surgical Neurology International in 2011)

For me, the autopsy report was the most compelling piece of evidence. High blood pressure can lead to a stroke, but not to massive bleeding throughout the body and vomiting blood. So: it does seem that Stalin was killed with rat poison (a powerful anti-coagulant)
— perhaps in order to prevent him from starting World War III. 

And that’s the chilling part: not how he died, but that the madman was probably planning a nuclear war. That fits the long-term pattern of his deluded ambition to rule, if not the whole world, then at least all of Europe, so that the Soviet empire would stretch from the Pacific in the east to the Atlantic in the west.


Does it matter if Stalin’s death was hastened if he was already ailing, and was headed for a major stroke sooner or later? I think it does. In his reign of terror, every day mattered. And for all we know, his “assisted” death may have saved the world. And if not that, it spared who know how many thousands from literal death or the living death of hard labor in Siberia or Kazakhstan. It seems he was planning another great wave of deportations and executions.

Was Stalin clinically insane? Not in the sense of paranoid schizophrenia. The word “paranoid” still fits him, however. And he certainly didn’t “mellow” with age; he grew even more paranoid (his brain function probably deteriorated due to atherosclerosis and small strokes). He didn’t trust anyone and saw plots and conspiracies everywhere. At the same time, he seemed to understand that only terror could keep a system like Soviet communism going. He saw other high-ranking officials as not ruthless enough, and predicted that they would let the empire fall.

Beria and Khrushchev were hardly the good guys, but next to Stalin, they were relatively minor mass murderers. Relatively. 

Stalin and Lenin, while they still lay side by side (1953-1961)

Stalin’s victims numbered in the millions. I’ve chosen to present a photo of just one of those “enemies of the people.” What could have this poor woman have done to deserve her fate? Nothing, of course. As Anna Akhmatova once remarked, “We must stop asking, ‘What did he do?’ Nothing. People get arrested and killed for nothing.” The state had become a killing machine.
 Marfa Ryazantzeva, Stalin's victim during the Great Terror (1934-1940), executed 1937

~ “It’s one of my favorite Darwin quotes—"He who understands baboon would do more toward metaphysics than Locke"—scribbled furtively in a notebook between visits to the London Zoo in the summer of 1838. Twenty-one years would pass before On the Origin of Species would shock the world, but Darwin already knew: If man wanted to comprehend his mind, he’d need to train an unflustered gaze into the deep caverns of his animal past.” ~ Oren Harman

The man who probably understands baboons better than anyone is Robert Sapolsky, a primatologist who spent a lot of time studying one particular troop (from Wikipedia: After initial year-and-a-half field study in Africa, [Sapolsky] returned every summer for another twenty-five years to observe the same group of baboons, from the late 70s to the early 90s. He spent 8 to 10 hours a day for approximately four months each year recording the behaviors of these primates].

The story is that of a “tragedy”: the alpha males, the bullies of the troop, all died after eating TB-infected meat. What happened later is what makes me want to cheer: without the bullies, the health and well-being of the troop markedly improved. The levels of cortisol went down, and with them high blood pressure and other markers of stress and inflammation. Secure from aggression and harassment, the surviving animals were thriving. But the most striking result of this stress reduction was a “cultural” change toward cooperation and affection. Occasionally a male from another troop would join, and after a while adopt the non-aggressive ways.

Remove the bullies, and everyone benefits. In human cultures, this should start with zero tolerance for child abuse and the abuse of women. Safe from abuse, a mother can provide more and better nurturing for her children. Stroking, grooming, speaking in a soft voice. Good mental and physical health starts right there.

The title of this post was inspired by Shelley’s “The great secret of morals is love.” But for love to flourish — and by love I don’t mean the storms of romantic passion but mutual nurturing — there has to be sufficient freedom from stress. Under heavy stress, the goal is sheer survival. Love — or call it nurturing, or tenderness, or affection — grows and blossoms when stress is down to manageable levels.

“I don't believe in the little people . . . but they're there for those who do.” ~ an Irish grandmother, quoted on Facebook

In Polish folklore, it’s the Little Red People (krasnoludki)



~ “The great majority of us believe that happiness declines with age, falling more and more with every decade until we reach that point at which our lives are characterized by sadness and loss. Thus, we may be surprised to learn what research conclusively confirms—that many of us could not be farther from the truth when we conclude that our finest years are long behind us. Older people are actually happier and more satisfied with their lives than younger people; they experience more positive emotions and fewer negative ones, and their emotional experience is more stable and less sensitive to the vicissitudes of daily negativity and stress.

Although exactly when the well-being peak takes place is still unclear, what is very clear is that youth and emerging adulthood are not the sunniest times of life. Older people are actually happier and more satisfied with their lives than younger people; they experience more positive emotions and fewer negative ones, and their emotional experience is more stable and less sensitive to the vicissitudes of daily negativity and stress.

Why is this? When we begin to recognize that our years are limited, we fundamentally change our perspective about life. The shorter time horizon motivates us to become more present-oriented and to invest our (relatively limited) time and effort into the things in life that really matter. So, for example, as we age, our most meaningful relationships become much more of a priority than meeting new people or taking risks; we invest more in these relationships and discard those that are not very supportive. In a sense, we become emotionally wiser as we age.” ~


I remember a Jungian lecturer who said, “The first forty years of your life you’re just working off your karma — that’s why it’s so hard.” The audience sighed. I don’t believe in karma, but there are certainly reasons “why it’s so hard.” Much of it has to do with “learning experiences.” The first half of life is indeed the “school of hard knocks.”

“The first marriage — that’s a learning experience,” a friend once said. “Then you’re ready to marry a nurturing partner. Your second marriage is your reward for having learned what’s important.” Sometimes it’s the third marriage — but eventually people do learn that love means mutual nurturing.

It comes only with age and experience: knowing what is most important to us. That, and “the shorter time horizon.” Having fewer years in which to be happy, we make much better use of time.

The funny thing is, now even housework gives me pleasure. The simplest tasks. Anything can be done with love and usually there is a relaxed way to do it. Just existence is transcendent. Alas, we seem to learn this only when there isn’t that much time left. Though we say that “life begins at forty,” forty is not yet the age of wisdom. Wisdom comes later. “The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.” 


~ “The Guardian interviewed Caroline Lodge, co-author of the book The New Age of Ageing: How Society Needs to Change, which followed more than 50 people age 50 to 90.

 “Most of our interviewees are amazed by the fact that they are enjoying life and that they feel young and normal, sometimes into their 90s,” Lodge told The Guardian.

Much of this joie de vivre seems to come from something that many of us have enjoyed as we’ve grown older: A sense of self-confidence based on our years of experience.
“It’s the loss of angst about what people think of you: the size of your bum or whether others are judging you correctly. It’s not an arrogance, but you know who you are when you’re older and all those roles you played to fit in when you were younger are irrelevant,” said 69-year-old Monica Hartwell in The Guardian. “That makes one more courageous.”

People who perceive themselves as lifelong learners often are “superagers,” or people who remain vital and cognitively resilient through very old age.

“I do things now that I wouldn’t have dared to do when younger, for fear of being crap at them,” added Hartwell in The Guardian. “Now I try my hand at whatever I fancy and if I’m not as good as others, I don’t care, I’m still learning.” ~


I’ve come to believe that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to the management of expectations. Some say “expect the best and the best will happen” while others counsel “expect the worst; that way you will never be disappointed, and most of the time you will be pleasantly surprised.” As for having no expectations whatever, a wonderful Zen blankness, that would seem wisest — but our busy and not quite controllable brain doesn’t work that way.

Now, the easy part: the best doesn’t happen just because you expect it, and the probability of the worst happening instead is not affected by positive thinking. Trust me, I’ve watched someone die of leukemia while persistently doing the “expect the best” affirmations. In less dramatic circumstances, the crash of disappointment can be pretty devastating. Unless you have realistic reasons for your expectations — like perfect weather for a garden party in California in June — I strongly advise against “expecting the best.”

Still, there is a school of thought that says, Enjoy the fantasy of wish fulfillment — but know it’s just a fantasy, like a movie. That way you get the benefits of positive emotions without becoming attached to the outcome. This works with fantasies of an imaginary lover, for instance. But here we are talking about fantasies rather than expectations. Positive fantasies are not the same thing as “expecting the best.” They are more like enjoying a movie, fully realizing it's a work of fiction.


There are times when expecting the worst can work very well. It works in situations with low odds of success — submitting your manuscript to poetry contests is an example. It prevents being stuck in bitterness. And it works when the worst outcome is highly probable — if we can do something to prepare and perhaps lessen the impact.

And there are times when imagining the worst-case scenario can be paradoxically motivating — so this is the worst that can happen if I do X? Let’s do it! But expecting the worst across the board, having a catastrophic imagination, can be quite a downer. You don’t want to be reviewing the worst-case scenario before a major surgery if you absolutely have to have that surgery. 


I'm still in a quandary when I consider my coming to the US — naturally, with great expectations, because otherwise who’d take that leap into the unknown? What if someone had said to me, while there was still time, “What lies ahead of you is enormous suffering”? Would a realistic statement like that have penetrated the armor of ignorance? But perhaps that’s not the right issue to raise.

The right issue might be the how incomplete any such answer would be, whether positive or negative. What lay ahead was not only great suffering, but also a great, unpredictable adventure.  Perhaps the chief problem with expectations is that they are too simple and one-sided. What actually happens is a complex mix of good and bad.

So, if a young person asked me what to expect of adulthood — they don’t ask that, but let’s perform the thought experiment — I’d answer: “A great deal of suffering. It’s just a matter of time. When it does hit, remember that I was the only adult who told you the truth.” But then I’d quickly add, “But it’s also going to be a great adventure. Nothing will turn out the way you expect it. And many things that are so important to you now will mean nothing ten-twenty years from now.”


Statisticians point out that in virtually all cases, neither the best nor the worst are likely to happen. If we must expect an outcome — and it’s hard to be completely detached — we should bet on the average. This works nicely against becoming too attached to the outcome. Complete detachment would be ideal — just focus on the task ahead of you. But if thoughts of the outcome intrude, remind yourself of the wisdom of statistics. Besides, nothing is all good or all bad, but a complex mix of both. 

Another thing: whatever happens, life is interesting. “Whatever happens will be interesting” is an adaptive attitude that I call the “writer’s attitude.” A writer needs interesting material. “For a writer, even the bad is is good” — if it’s interesting. And usually it is.


This formula makes sense on the face of it, but there is a catch to it. The worst that happens, if it does happens, tends to be a different bad thing than the bad thing we’d prepared for.

The solution, I’ve decided after many years of thrashing around in the mire of this problem, is simply to trust that you can cope somehow no matter what happens. “Somehow” doesn’t mean brilliantly; you improvise, you learn by making mistakes; you act by sheer instinct, or you do nothing for a while, waiting for clarity. But you cope. Somehow, against the odds and not always with grace under pressure. Not trying to be a lone hero. Asking for help as needed.

The Keltic Tree of Life


~ “Of course we need the concept of hell. Do you really think that someone who murders someone should get away with it? If there is no hell, then they’re never going to get punished if they don’t get caught, and even if they do get caught, they may not get punished enough. Is that justice?”

It’s an amazingly vindictive attitude that we have here in the United States. Many Americans don’t really seem to care if the prisoners will get better. They care about whether the prisoners are punished.

The response I usually give to that common Christian argument is that, for most Christians, what you DO doesn’t really matter. What matters is what you BELIEVE. In the world of Christianity, you can be a Jeffrey Dahmer or even a Ted Bundy . . . and if you ask God for forgiveness before you die, you’ll spend eternity in bliss.

Why? Because the most awesome person who ever existed got punished instead. Right. OK. And you’re lecturing me on justice? What kind of justice is that? Honestly? That’s outrageous. I mean, if you start out saying hell is necessary for justice and then turn around and say that your own moral system depends on an innocent man suffering for the very worst evils of the worst people in history so they could go to eternity in heaven…um, you’re a bit off, to put it mildly.

Instead of thinking that prisoners deserve whatever punishment they get, and anything they don’t get is undue grace, maybe we can think about the importance of deterring certain crimes, so that the focus is more on prevention than on punishment. Doing so may require turning away from a conservative Christian thinking that sin deserves infinite punishment and anything less than that is grace. It may require us to forget about punishment and the murky concept of what people deserve and think about deterrence. How can we effectively deter crime — not punish criminals.

The justice of hell is not interested in deterrence as much as punishment — if we do away with punishment and try to focus on deterrence, we may find that — surprise — we actually have less crime, especially if we see that prisons and detention centers that we currently have are conditions that encourage crime. And trying to deter crime will also make us concerned about how prisoners are treated, perhaps — not as if they are being punished, so much as if we actually want them to go out and succeed in society.

People may say, “But that will cost money!” Yes. Yes it will. But prisons are pretty expensive. I mean, they’re so expensive that the state of Utah has found it less expensive to give the homeless housing and a caseworker than to put homeless people in jail (note that Utah was the only one of the top ten religious states that wasn’t high on the incarceration rate list). The average prison cost per inmate is about $31,000 a year — for often terrible conditions. Imagine spending that money helping the people, instead, getting on their feet?

Getting there [to helping instead of punishing] will require us to get rid of the concept that people deserve eternal punishment for any wrong they do, and that anything less than that is grace from the justice system; getting rid of the concept that it is just to punish retributively instead of seeing if a kinder, more respectful approach that recognizes dignity in those who break the law, especially if the latter approach is more effective at reducing harm inside and outside prisons; and being critical of those who enforce the law — making sure they are making society better for all involved instead of seeing those who do wrong as “choosing” whatever fate they assign them.

And that starts with pulling out of the American psyche the linchpin that so many are taught from childhood, especially in states in which the incarceration rate is highest — the concept of the Christian hell. We need to stop believing it, stop preaching it, and stop teaching it to the next generation. It’s not the last step, but it seems a needed first step for us to stop incarcerating America.” ~


First, with the recent setbacks in the slow progress toward a more enlightened society, the article made me think, What luxury, to ponder the penal system in relation to metaphysics . . . 


“...the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” ~ Thomas Jefferson, The Adams-Jefferson Letters (594)

I see that day in my mind’s eye. Probably not in my lifetime, but perhaps before the end of this century (if humanity makes it until then). The mythological view is simply bound to become widespread, the literal view being patently too absurd. And then we'll find those tales quite fascinating, and wonder why people were willing to kill in their name. Nobody killed for Zeus (except when we consider animal sacrifice) — one superiority of polytheism. And all those interesting goddesses!

To return to Jefferson for a moment, the day he speaks of has partly arrived. The Virgin Birth is no longer an official dogma — it got demoted to an “optional belief.” But the real revolution would be permitting a metaphorical understanding of the Resurrection. At this point, insofar as I know, you are required under the penalty of hell to believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead, and this resuscitated corpse walked and talked among the living, and then blasted off into heaven (I don’t think the Ascension is an optional belief as yet).

Athenian coin with the owl of Athena

~ “Some cancer biologists feel that while mutations are nearly ubiquitous in cancer, they may not always be the driving force for disease. Cancer, they suggest, might actually be as much a disorder of altered energy production as it is genetic damage.

This idea traces back to the work of German physician Otto Warburg who, in the 1920s, reported that rather than generating energy using the oxygen-based process of respiration as healthy cells do, cancer cells prefer the anaerobic, or oxygen-free, process of fermentation.
Boston College biology professor Dr. Thomas Seyfried is a leading proponent of the metabolic theory of cancer. He proselytizes Warburg's findings and in 2012 published an academic book called Cancer as a Metabolic Disease that lays out the evidence behind his beliefs.

He specifically implicates mitochondria, our energy-producing organelles, in spurring on malignancy.

This belief is in part based on work from the '70s and '80s showing that if the cytoplasm (the buoyant cellular goo that contains the mitochondria) is transferred from a normal cells to a tumorigenic cell (one with the potential to develop into a cancer) the tendency toward cancer is suppressed. Conversely, animal research has shown that transferring the nucleus of a malignant cell into the cytoplasm of a normal cell inhibits the tumor potential of that initially malignant cell, implying, according to Seyfried, that whatever is causing the cancer lies in the cytoplasm, not the nucleus.

“If you look at the data, you could say that there is clear evidence that cancer is a genetic disease since we can inherit mutations associated with increased cancer risk," says Seyfried, "but many of these mutations disturb cellular respiration. And many non-inherited causes of cancer like radiation impair mitochondrial function.”

Seyfried's colleague Dominic D'Agostino, a biology professor at the University of South Florida, also subscribes to the idea that the primary driver of cancer is mitochondrial dysfunction, which can be induced by any number of carcinogens — genetic predilections, radiation, chemical exposures and diet among them.

Not only do many mutations and pathways associated with cancer impair mitochondrial function and cell metabolism, he says, but injured mitochondria also produce volatile compounds called "reactive oxygen species" that can damage DNA. "This can explain why most cancers have mutations," he speculates, "in many cases they're secondary to mitochondrial damage.”

[Mayo’s Thompson] believes a coalescence of pernicious influences is required for a cancer to develop. “One of these processes is probably altered metabolic activity," he says. "But cancers also must acquire mutations, change the way they interact with neighboring cells and learn to evade the immune system. Every single one of these processes is probably essential to cancer development.”

Matthew Vander Heiden, a biologist at MIT and oncologist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, also says many factors are necessary to induce cancer, including what could be considered the other major theory on the origin of malignancies, that they result from the impairment of signaling pathways that control cell division. “My guess is it's probably metabolic, and it's probably genetic and it's probably cell signaling. I'm not sure you can separate these out since they all appear to be so interrelated,” he explains.

Seyfried is skeptical that medicines alone will cure cancer. Instead he and many of his colleagues — including Dr. Eugene Fine from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Maroon — are focusing on the potential of dietary approaches to contain the disease.

There's particular interest in the ketogenic diet, similar to the low-carb Atkins diet that is low in sugar and high in fat. It's intended to starve cancer cells of the glucose they use for fermentation.

The idea of fighting cancer by changing what patients eat has obvious appeal, but it also raises worries. "I get a little scared when people start talking about diet for cancer since you can quickly get into pseudoscience here," Mayo's Thompson counters. He points out that data supporting the ketogenic diet in cancer are limited — and further that rigorous dietary studies are incredibly hard to pull off. “The drug companies aren't going to fund these types of trials,” he says. “They can't make money marketing a diet.” ~


I remember how struck I was by the statement that there is no cancer of the heart — its constant activity somehow prevents cancer. Drugs that raise the metabolic rate — caffeine, amphetamines — also show anti-cancer potential. Higher level of thyroid, resulting in a higher metabolic rate, likewise reduce the risk. And then there is fasting, which induces ketosis, shifting metabolism from glucose to ketone bodies.

Ending on beauty:

"Gaudi can be a bit gaudy (personally I find there's a limit as to how much I can take) but Sagrada Familia is other-worldly. At times you feel like you're an ant walking at the base of flowers..." writes M. Kasprzyk, who took this photo.