Saturday, March 3, 2018


Paul Klee: The Approximate Man, 1931. For whatever reason, I was reminded of the right-wing politician who had the sign "A former fetus" under his name on the door of his office.

Late at night the Web is a dangerous swamp
of voyeuristic self-scrutiny and addictive impersonation,
the ego testifying for and against itself, seeking evidence
of triumph and complicity, sanction without malice,
pretext or God. Who is this man obsessively looking up
all his persona narrators, feeling like a hodgepodge,
trapped somewhere between Heaven and earth,
spitting against the wind? Is it because he knows
he’s getting closer to the end, will soon vanish
and become nothing? Is this why he’s studying
everyone who answers to his name, because
one may have invented time or sympathy or God
and will love him, even momentarily, for who he is?

~ Philip Schultz, Googling Ourselves

It’s been years since I last googled myself, an unsettling experience — meeting that fragmentary and vaguely “false” self that resides online. “Vaguely” or in fact extremely false? But then is there a “true” self? And does it matter?

(I remember that I used to be quite annoyed whenever people called me “sweet.” My ambition was to be a great poet and a powerful intellect, and instead I was constantly coming up against the feminine ideal of “sweetness.” It took me many years to change my hierarchy of values — not that creativity or intellect had to be diminished.)

OK, you may say, how about a more “complete” online self? But that would require lots of time to read about, and are people all that interested in a sprawling bio or a detailed profile? Is anyone going to pursue the subtle clues about your ever-shifting personality? Of course everything will feel false in some way — but so what?

I am all for fragments and ruins. All we can have is different perspectives and partial narratives. As in art, you have to select (or the Internet selects for you). From the point of view of art, selection is actually a virtue. A “narrow slice” is what makes a narrative poem work — and not just a poem.

“We manage best when we manage small,” Linda Gregg writes. Think small. That will simplify the task, but won’t necessarily make things so simple as to provoke the charge of “simplistic.” On the contrary, dealing with fewer details invites a greater depth. A small but interesting incident, a couple of irresistible specifics — explore those in depth and you’ll be surprised by the discoveries as a whole world opens up (Nietzsche was right — there is no escaping infinity).

Who we “really” are can’t be defined. Fortunately, it’s not all that important. What we are loved for is not as critical as that we are loved at all. That’s a sufficient miracle. 

Nikifor Krynicki was a Polish “naïf” painter. Like Andy Warhol, he was of Lemko ancestry, related to the Ukrainian culture. As with Andy, did it matter? It made him more of an outsider, I suppose, even less likely to end up in art school, but neither he nor Andy represent “Lemko art” (the very statement sounds ridiculous), and that's fine. 


“The practice of poetry enables us to posit the Other as an equal” ~ Michel Leiris

Oriana: ~ and not just humans. You can’t really write a good animal poem from the point of view “I'm human and therefore superior.” That’s why effective poetry touches our heart and expands empathy — it makes see others, in the broadest sense, as our equals, endowed with feelings, personality, intelligence. It can deal with their flaws too. The point is that we get to perceive a unique being. 

There are people who'll never grant you equality. They have a great need to feel superior: whether by virtue of being male, rich, white, tall, adult vs a child, living in New York vs elsewhere -- whatever it may be, they are just not open to how interesting another person (or animal) may be and what gifts they have to offer when treated with kindness. Non-egalitarian behavior usually stems from insecurity; the other is seen as a threat rather than a bringer of gifts (the greatest of which is simply their unique being). Growing up in a hierarchical culture reinforces this unwillingness to grant equality (or call it respect) to another.

Michel Leiris by Francis Bacon, 1976

“Maybe the problem is movies but less their violence than their invincible heroes. Blockbusters keep us on the edge of our seats but we always know how they’ll end, never with the hero failing, always with them victorious to swelling music in the end.” ~ Jeremy Sherman



~ “One of the speakers at the conference, Alana Karran, an executive coach who led a guided meditation that retraced the steps of a typical NDE, pointed out its similarity to the hero’s journey, or quest narrative, the structure that the American writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell identified and named the “monomyth” in 1949.

The quest underlies just about every form of storytelling, from religious myth to Greek epic to Hollywood blockbuster to personal memoir. In this structure, a protagonist is shaken out of his normal way of life by some disturbance and—often reluctantly at first, but at the urging of some kind of mentor or wise figure—strikes out on a journey to an unfamiliar realm. There he faces tests, battles enemies, questions the loyalty of friends and allies, withstands a climactic ordeal, teeters on the brink of failure or death, and ultimately returns to where he began, victorious but in some way transformed.

This is key to what makes near-death experiences so powerful, and why people cling so strongly to them regardless of the scientific evidence. Whether you actually saw a divine being or your brain was merely pumping out chemicals like never before, the experience is so intense and new that it forces you to rethink your place on Earth. If the NDE happened during a tragedy, it provides a way to make sense of that tragedy and rebuild your life. If your life has been a struggle with illness or doubt, an NDE sets you in a different direction: you nearly died, so something has to change.

The mind doesn’t “go” anywhere [when the brain flat-lines], any more than the image from a slide projector goes somewhere when you switch the projector off. Rather, the mind and consciousness are emergent properties of the brain, knitted together somehow by all the physical and chemical processes in our nervous system.
But if so, then how does that knitting occur? This is the crucial question for consciousness studies. George A. Mashour, one of the co-authors of the University of Michigan study on rats, is firmly in the materialist camp. He notes that if it’s hard to explain how a healthy brain produces consciousness, it’s even harder to explain how an impaired brain near death produces such vivid, “hyper-real” sensations. “Whether there can be a scientific explanation for NDEs is a critical flash point for the science of consciousness,” he told me.

Let’s say experiments are done, and there is finally a comprehensive, scientifically rigorous, and materialist account of what causes an NDE. What then? Does it mean that all the stories people tell of seeing angels and meeting their deceased relatives are just fairy tales to be ignored?

I would say no. What I saw at the conference—even at its most bizarre—showed me that even a hard-core materialist can learn a great deal from NDEs about how people make sense of the things that happen to them—and above all, about the central role that the stories we tell play in shaping our sense of who we are.

Lukasz Huculak, Blue City


~ “He also discovered that just as we have a “panic button”, we also have a “CALM BUTTON.” “The only time locus ceruleus (a cluster of nerve cells on each side of the brainstem that can cause the brain to be completely flooded with adrenaline during high stress) is completely silent is during REM consciousness. Switching to REM is the most powerful brake on the locus ceruleus. There is a dreamy state with no feeling of terror.”

What happens to a patient who has a near-death experience?

If blood flow to the brain is threatened in some way one of the brain's crisis reactions has to do with a consciousness switch. The brain has only three states of consciousness from which it can choose. It can be awake, in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep or in non-REM sleep. What we found in subjects who've had near-death experience is that instead of moving smoothly from waking to REM consciousness, their brain switch is more likely to blend these two conscious states together. We feel that blending has taken place during fainting or cardiac arrest and this blending of REM consciousness and waking consciousness gives near-death experience many of its important qualities.

What about out-of-body experiences?

Olaf Blanke in Switzerland showed quite convincingly that when the temporal parietal areas, a region of the brain just above your ears, are disrupted then an out-of-body experience can be triggered. In fact if you have a trickle of electrical current, you can, with a flip of a switch, make someone feel they're out of their body. That brain region is important for the integration of many sensations, particularly motion and our knowledge of where we are. REM consciousness turns that region off, so that is a ready mechanism for triggering out-of-body experiences.

Why do they often take on religious significance?\

People draw on their life experience and memories while having these episodes. If you ask yourself what you are going to be thinking about if you feel you are in the last moments of your life, most people will reflect on their past and concentrate on things that are very important to them.

Could drugs induce such intense feelings?

We have the ability right now to understand the molecular basis of a very important spiritual experience, and that's a mystical sense of oneness. People have of course known for ages that drugs such as psilocybin mushrooms and mescaline can induce these states, but only recently have we known the chemistry behind that and it seems to involve a portion of the serotonin neurochemistry. A segment of that chemical system seems to be very important in producing mystical experiences. As we understand the neurochemistry better and where and how it acts on the brain, we will be able to refine chemicals that will have a profound, mystical effect. How we use those chemicals is another matter.” ~


I love the idea of having the CALM button, not just the “panic button.” I suspect meditation is an attempt to activate the “calm button.” What seems to work for me, at least in terms of reducing relaxation quickly, is the “rag doll” command.

As for the vividness of purely subjective experiences:  A few years ago I had an extremely vivid experience of false memory. It took unshakable evidence to convince me that what I remembered happened did not actually happen — my brain really did make it up, while simultaneously convincing me that this was the truth of the matter. I'm not saying that NDEs are simply false memory — but the incident was yet another time I realized, to my shock, that the brain could do the most amazing things and come up with those elaborate and compelling narratives with no basis in reality. And I’ve experienced some hallucinations too, and read Oliver Sacks on the normalcy of such experiences — which feel absolutely real in the moment.


Both the poem about Googling on the internet and the discussion of NDE’s have in common our tendency, actually our insistence, on making stories, creating a narrative that orders and makes sense out of our lives, giving experience a plot line, so that we see a story there, and not a simple string of unrelated events. These stories of ours are acts of invention, something we do automatically and pretty much universally, because we need them. We need meaning, need to believe there is meaning to our lives, that things add up to something, that our stories are real and our journey is not pointless—we are going somewhere, not just in circles, but to a destination.

The wild things people do on the internet are often made in a frenzy of self-invention—creating avatars, personae with different names, and setting them loose to play different parts, different voices and attitudes, like an electronic masquerade of shadows, fractional identities engaging in a kind of shadow dance, elaborate and often free from the usual restraints and courtesies of interaction by persons in the real, physical world. Such fun! And danger as well—these invented characters and scripts may seem free of consequence, but are not. It is easier to become your worst self here, to follow your meanest impulses—think of trolls, of cyber bullies and stalkers, whose imaginary games can have severe consequences in the world outside.


We certainly need stories, patterns, meaning. Problems arise when we confuse fantasy and reality — insofar as we can approximate reality. The imaginary animals of the Middle Ages — it seems that people did believe in them, and in “here be monsters” warnings on medieval maps. Much, perhaps even most, of what people believed to be true just a century ago has turned out not to be true on closer investigation. And no doubt we still believe a lot of “facts” that are yet to be debunked, with new falsehoods being manufactured all the time.

It’s interesting that in our “scientific age,” the problem of telling reality from fantasy is facing us with renewed urgency. New information technology can spread both accurate information and total lies with equal speed — and with possible deadly consequences (e.g. a rumor that someone has desecrated the Koran).

Our need for story and meaning is obvious in the telling of dreams — our conscious mind doesn’t like the chaos that a typical dream is, so when we recount a dream — even review it ourselves — we simplify it and make the narrative a lot coherent, omitting details that don’t fit. When it comes to NDEs, again I suspect there is heavy “editing.”


As for the idea that NDEs confirm that the soul goes somewhere after death, I think Dr. Nelson makes it obvious that there is a neurological explanation for everything described by those who’ve recounted NDEs. What we don’t know is whether the majority of humanity is finally ready to go a step further in its cultural evolution and accept an absence of a personal afterlife. The problem is the concept of the soul as a thing that “goes somewhere” after death — reminiscent of the question that troubled humans for millennia: where does the sun go for the night?

The question: “where do we go after we die?” is a false one — as false as the question “where does the sun go for the night?” The knowledge that the sun doesn’t go anywhere — it’s the earth that rotates — is relatively recent. I don’t blame the writers of the bible and various other “holy” books for having no idea that it was the earth’s rotation that causes night and day. And given our still vague understanding of how the brain works, I am not totally surprised that so many people still believe in some kind of little ghost inhabiting our body — a ghost that leaves at the moment of death and travels to — ?? here it’s not terribly clear. In any case, sooner or later there is judgment — sometimes more than just one, depending on the religion.

The fallacy that persists in practically all religions (including New Age) is precisely this: the soul is a thing, an entity, and it “goes somewhere” after death.

But the soul, loosely translated as the mind, both conscious and unconscious, is not a thing. It’s a process. When a movie ends, we don’t ask, “Where did the movie go?” When the projection (or whatever the current correct term is) ends, the images cease to appear on the screen. The signals that were translated into the images no longer reach the screen. They didn’t “go” anywhere; they can be activated or stopped.

A candle flame is another analogy. A flame is not a thing — it’s a continual production of light and heat as long as there is both fuel (the candle wax via the wick) and oxygen. When wax becomes depleted, the flame ceases. The flame doesn’t go anywhere — it simply ceases to be.

If we knew that the “soul” is a process with the same certitude that we know about the rotation of the earth, there would be no bizarre obsession with the question of which souls go to heaven and which to hell. Alas, self-righteous answers to this false question have caused to end of grief over the centuries. 

(Once I fully understood that the fallacy of soul-as-thing is the foundation of all theistic religions, I almost decided to stop writing about religion — we need to outgrow this twaddle. But then again, aside from the pernicious nonsense, religions have given us some fascinating mythology — stories that it would be a pity to lose forever, and that are an important part of our heritage.)
blue city of Chefchaouen, Morocco

~ “It has long been presumed that America is more Christian than Europe. But it’s a myth. The Donald Trump phenomenon reveals what several intelligent Christian observers have been saying for some time: that a great many Americans don’t really believe in God. They just believe in America — which they often take to be the same thing.

God was hacked by the American dream some time ago. “The evangelical church in America has, to a large extent, been co-opted by an American, religious version of the kingdom of the world. We have come to trust the power of the sword more than the power of the cross,” writes Gregory Boyd in The Myth of a Christian Nation.

Trump doesn’t even begin to model Christ in his life. On the poor, on appealing to fear, on telling the truth, on sexual ethics, on (not) loving his enemies, on making greed his God, Trump models the anti-Christ.

But none of this makes much of a difference to Republican voters who have long been linked with evangelical Christianity. Trump waves his Bible around — though he is apparently unable to name a single verse from it when asked — and talks a lot about making America great again and the threat from Islam. And that speaks volumes about what sort of faith it is that Republican believers actually believe in. Little wonder, as Professor Stanley Hauerwas says, that America doesn’t produce interesting atheists: they don’t have a God interesting enough to deny.

America itself has long been its own civil religion. When the Pilgrim Fathers got in their little boats and sailed to the new world, they took with them a narrative that had begun to build in England, that the protestant English were actually the chosen people. America, then, was to be the new Israel. The pilgrims had landed safe on Cannan’s side, the promised land. The original 13 colonies in North America “were nothing other than a regeneration of the twelve tribes of Israel” as one American newspaper put it in 1864.

In other words, America became its own church and eventually its own god. Which is why the only real atheism in America is to call into question the American dream — a dream often indistinguishable from capitalism and the celebration of winners. This is the god Trump worships. He is its great high priest. And this is why evangelicals vote for him. But the God of Jesus Christ it is not. The death of God comes in many diverse and peculiar forms. In America, it is the flag and not the cross that takes pride of place in the sanctuary.” ~


The fusion of religion and nationalism shouldn’t surprise me: religion has always been used to legitimize and support the regime in power. And yet it does surprise me because god is supposed to be, well, international. He is an Israeli import, and some people may indeed privately think that god is Jewish, but in public no one would ascribe a nationality to god. No one? I think the kind of Americans who voted for Trump have no doubt that god is an American (a white American male, of course, armed with an assault rifle). They may not say so out loud, but does anyone doubt that this is what they think?

Let’s ponder the final insight: “The death of God comes in many diverse and peculiar forms. In America, it is the flag and not the cross that takes pride of place in the sanctuary.” I noticed this right away: the prominent display of the American flag in that church in Milwaukee I attended a few times because I didn’t want to risk offending my hosts. The second thing I noticed is that I couldn’t spot anyone in the church who seemed genuinely pious.

Almost everyone who attended went to communion. But as for any real communion with the divine, insofar as I could perceive it (for instance, there is a certain delicate beauty that radiates from the face of a person deep in prayer) — no one.

Now, let me quickly add that in Polish churches the majority of church goers seemed just as superficial as here, eager for the whole business to be over so they could get out into daylight and fresh air. But there were always those individuals who seemed genuinely sunk in prayer. They were in a different mental space, and it showed. I constantly wondered how many people (including priests and nuns) truly believed in god — but when it came to the handful of the pious, there was no doubt.

But then I left the church when it still had Latin. With that melodious murmur in the background and without the commands to rise, kneel, sit etc, it was possible to travel to that other mental realm, that meditative space (sometimes a personal reverie rather than anything “pious,” but for now let’s keep it simple). Vatican 2 imposed a collective worship that simply didn’t allow the privacy for an individual experience. Many statues of the Madonna and saints were removed; with them went the image of people kneeling before the statue, praying — often with an obvious intensity.

And the American nuns and priests struck me as a cheerful lot. They did not have that tormented look that so many Polish priests and nuns had. It didn’t take long before it dawned on me that the American “faithful” believed they were all going to heaven. They also seemed to believe that their prayers would be answered, had a miracle story or two to tell (often involving angels), and said things like, “My grandmother in heaven must have been praying for me.” 

Sin? Hell? Who wants such negativity? Forgiveness? As Trump put it, he doesn’t need forgiveness, and I think most Americans share that sentiment — they don’t need forgiveness. The level of threat is low, as a former minister I knew would put it.

But something needs to fill the vacuum when god the father ceases to be scary and Jesus is no longer the startling radical, the champion of the poor. The idolatry of nationalism, with its own sacred images and songs, was really there from the start — it merely expanded.

(Let me clarify: In Poland during the time I was growing up there was already considerable fusion between Catholicism and nationalism, but I was still able to separate out Jesus as a distinctly non-Polish, supra-national figure — and one with a radical message, though I was confused between the humanitarian and the punitive aspects — the threat of the Last Judgment, an eternity in hell for most of humanity. Yahweh was an alien, scary Jewish god — but Jesus, a more accepting figure, was invoked much more often. But it was indeed in the US where I first saw the national flag prominently displayed in churches; the fusion with nationalism seemed complete.)


I too lamented the loss of Latin, there was so much beauty there, in the language and the music. The argument that people didn’t know what it all meant was patently false—our missals, and every child had one, had the Latin and the English translation on facing pages. We knew what the words meant. The priest facing away from the congregation had his concentration directed toward the altar, toward god, as the congregants’ also was, and should have been.

Ditching Latin they replaced those beautiful words and prayers with mundane and uninspiring translations, and prosaic new hymns. We had the “folk mass” with guitars, and the priest faced the congregation, now an “audience” — and all solemnity and mystery was replaced by a sort of social interaction, the congregants giving each other the peace handshake, all the focus between the people and each other, not between each individual and his god.

In my view religion in the US is a pretty secular affair, like belonging to a social club, where all the members believe in a very secular, and particularly materialistic dogma. The righteous and deserving are wealthy, white, and nominally Christian—“Americans.” And then there’s everyone else. The Unchosen.


The “Unchosen” is a charitable term. The traditional idiom was the Elect versus the Damned, i.e. the great majority of those marked for eternal damnation, though their main “trespass” (?) was not being born to Christian parents.

Even as a child, I thought this was particularly unfair to the Chinese — don’t ask, but my special sympathy regarding eternal damnation went to the Chinese, for some reason.

Since you remember Latin, you probably also remember when only Catholics were going to enter heaven (though again, just a minority of them). Everyone else was going to fry in hell forever — that was the official doctrine relayed to little children by the saintly nuns. Then there was more and more relaxation of the doctrine.

But relaxation is not enough. As I’ve explained in the commentary after the posts about NDE’s, it’s high time to stop believing that the soul is a little ghost that “goes” somewhere after death. Once the absence of a personal afterlife is accepted by most people, we will lose the unhealthy obsession with who goes where after death — who is “chosen” versus “unchosen.” 

And you are so right: there is a secular quality to religion in America (I’ve sampled Protestant services as well, so my impression is not based strictly on post-Vatican 2 Catholicism). I’ve tried different terms for it: shallow, lacking in piety, observance-only. But you, Mary, hit on the best term: secular. As you say, “religion in the US is a pretty secular affair, like belonging to a social club.” And yes, we know who the “chosen” are.


A minor note about the mundane translations that replaced the Latin: I don’t think that the Church attracts the fine minds it used to (I'm not saying that most priests were especially bright, but some of the best and brightest were recruited already in their teens by the Jesuits, and given a rigorous education). Then, starting in the sixties, the brighter clergy (including some Jesuits) began to leave. Soon it was a mass exodus. And the younger artists and intellectuals are likely to be secular, and thus their gifts are not available for tasks such as creating beautiful translations. 

Finally, the popular culture has also arguably outcompeted religion. 

Jesus faces stiff competition from the superheroes of the popular culture. Most American little boys grow up adoring Superman and Batman a lot more than Jesus.

~ “The President eats dirt and excrement for his daily meals, likes it, and tries to force it on The States.”

“The cushions of the Presidency are nothing but filth and blood. The pavements of Congress are also bloody.”

Walt Whitman on Pierce, Fillmore, and Buchanan:

They showed “that the villainy and shallowness of rulers...are just as eligible to these States as to any foreign despotism, kingdom, or empire—there is not a bit of difference.”

According to a recent survey of political historians, Trump displaced Buchanan as “the worst president in American history.” ~


~ “[Alexander Dugin’s] “Foundations of Geopolitics” engages with obscure strains in 20th-century fascism, relying heavily, for example, on theorist Julius Evola, who advised Mussolini and the SS and promoted extreme misogyny as well as racism for use by the Russian elite. All sex for Evola is rape and a woman outside the home “a monkey.” He and Dugin both sneer that modern men—not to mention gays, lesbians, and transsexuals—are “feminized.” In the Evola-Dugin playbook, sexual and racist anxieties lie at the root of today’s Russian fascism. And with but slight qualification, one can see Rob Porter, Steve Bannon (an Evola fan), Roy Moore, and Donald Trump as decadent facsimiles.

The chief aim of Foundations is to revive Evola’s fascist idea of traditionalism, which calls for the eradication of any trace of modern, polyethnic, egalitarian, feminist, and democratic cultures— “American globalism” — in favor of a vast, Eurasian, authoritarian empire of racially pure regimes in which women are confined to the home and breeding. That empire would unite regimes across Europe and extend to the United States and Latin America.

Beginning in the late 19th century, geopolitics has been the study — in the United States, Germany, and now Russia — of how to forge vast empires. In 1997, during an imperial low in 1997 for then collapsed Russia, Dugin first urged the creation of “Eurasian” influence. He thought of this largely as a matter of covert operations and information wars rather than, as in Crimea, naked Russian aggression. Urging murderous conquest of Donetsk, however, Dugin egged on the invaders to “kill, kill, and kill!” Such bloodthirstiness was enough to put Dugin temporarily out of favor even with Putin.

Dugin and Putin are not always on the same page. For instance, Putin has tried twice to join NATO to cooperate in Europe and has thus not always been set on fascist expansion. Nonetheless, in revenge for a disintegrated Russian sphere of influence, Dugin speaks for a wide elite audience, often including Putin, about breaking the power of “soulless,” “cosmopolitan” American “Globalism.”

Twenty years ago, Dugin wrote presciently about creating a Trump-like presidency: “At the global level, for the construction of a planetary New Empire the chief ‘scapegoat’ will namely be the USA — the undermining of whose power which (up to the complete destruction of its geopolitical constructs) will be realized systematically and uncompromisingly by the participants of the New Empire. The Eurasian Project presupposes in this its relationship of Eurasian expansion in South and Central America to remove its output from under the control of the North (here, the Hispanic factor could be used as a traditional alternative to the Anglo-Saxon) and also to provoke every kind of destabilization and separatism within the borders of the USA (it might be possible to lean on the political forces of the African-American racists). The ancient Roman formula of ‘Carthage must be destroyed,’ will become the absolute motto of the Eurasian Empire, because it itself will absorb the essence of all geopolitical planetary strategy awakening to its continental mission.” (Chapter 4 “The Re-division of the World,” p. 248)

Like many in Russia’s military elite, Dugin advocates a “White” Russian Orthodox empire against Chechen rebels and other Muslims. He also aims to sow division in the United States, offering as a depraved “White” racist, an ugly projection: “lean on the political forces of the African American racists,” by which he presumably means Black Lives Matter.

Stirring racist violence among his followers is the most profound form of “destabilization,” though Dugin’s advocacy of sowing “chaos and disruption” also applies to Trump’s threat in November 2016 to denounce a “rigged” election, as well as Trump’s obsequious embrace of Putin in Vietnam in November 2017, excoriating “hack leaders” of the CIA and FBI.

Were Russia not a “White” power, furthering violent attacks on black and Latin people and on the wellbeing of most ordinary Americans, as well as the ugly empire Dugin projected in 1997 in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the U.S., one might see its stand against American aggression as morally justified. Instead, as Dugin’s schooling of Russian officers underlines, Russia seeks to create a rival empire with even more horrific aims.

At a strategic February 2016 “InfoForum” in Moscow, Andrey Krutskikh, a senior Kremlin adviser, menacingly announced that Russia was planning an information assault on the November election which would be equivalent to the first Soviet nuclear explosion: “You think we are living in 2016. No, we are living in 1948. And do you know why? Because in 1949, the Soviet Union had its first atomic bomb test. And if until that moment, the Soviet Union was trying to reach agreement with [President] Truman to ban nuclear weapons, and the Americans were not taking us seriously, in 1949 everything changed and they started talking to us on an equal footing.

“I’m warning you: We are at the verge of having ‘something’ in the information arena, which will allow us to talk to the Americans as equals.”

Dugin’s account of geopolitics is also fundamentally dishonest. While Foundations extols Nazi advocates of Lebensraum in the East, he often “forgets” Hitler’s genocidal assault on Russia. And fascinatingly, Dugin‘s Foundations ignores the American historian Frederick Jackson Turner, who argued for an ever shifting westward “frontier” wiping out indigenous people. German imperialists, notably Hitler, saw the genocidal American “Wild West” as a model for the “Wild East” of Poland and Russia. Turner worked closely with Friedrich Ratzel, a German geopolitician, who coined the term “Lebensraum”: vast continental “living spaces” to be settled by those who murdered or enslaved indigenous inhabitants. Ratzel’s student Karl Haushofer taught the term to Hitler and agitated widely for conquest of the “Wild East” during the Nazi regime.

But Dugin bizarrely denies Haushofer’s role in invading Russia. Like the violent American Right, Dugin wants to recreate an imaginary Russia not as the defeater of Nazism in World War II—his book does not once name “the Great Patriotic War,” as Russians refer to the conflict—but as a now White Fascist Sun for orbiting racist autocrats.

Yet in addition to using bots targeting likely Republican voters, the Russians tampered with voter registrations and perhaps even the machines to elect Trump. This systematic cyberwarfare is the most successful act of aggression inside the United States ever achieved by a foreign power. Though others executed the tactics, Alexander Dugin was the architect.


~ “The official state motto of the Soviet Union was "Proletarians of all countries unite!"
The unofficial state motto of Putin's Russia could well be "Corrupt politicians of all countries unite!”

If Western democracy stands in the way of Putin's mafia's business interests, Western democracy must be destroyed.

In Trump, Putin has found his kindred spirit. It was love at first sight — on Trump's part. This forever will remain the greatest success of Russian intelligence: a former two-bit KGB functionary was able to install his personal asset in the White House.” ~ M. Iossel


Funny, my recent labors cleaning the carpet combined with watching a video on Dante made me realize why his Paradiso is so abhorrent to me. It’s not the lack of dramatic tension, as I previously hypothesized; it’s the lack of accomplishment.

No work, no accomplishment; no challenge, no tears, no triumph.

And of course nothing ever happens.

Emily Brontë’s didn’t just walk on the moors and write. She spent her remaining time brushing the carpet in the parlor. I perfectly understand her. The carpet gets cleaner: instant gratification.


Below: Notre-Dame of Laon. It occurred to me that part of the reason I like churches when they are empty is simply the large space -- just as I like large living spaces, with at least the living room and the master bedroom having a certain "sweep" — and why I visually prefer the West coast, which offers such spectacular stretches of nothing.

~ “But what do people do when actually subjected to sexual harassment? To find out, the researchers placed advertisements in newspapers and posted fliers around campus advertising a position as a research assistant in a psychology lab. They recruited 25 women to come in for what appeared to be a job interview. The researchers trained a male actor to pose as the interviewer and to subject each woman to the sexually harassing questions. The researchers covertly videotaped the interactions.

What happened when the interviewer asked the harassing questions? Not a single woman walked out of the interview. The videos showed that the women, smiling uncomfortably, answered the harassing questions, without challenging the interviewer. At most, they tried to pivot after responding, to refocus the interview on substance. A few (nine, or 36 percent) asked the interviewer why he had asked such personal questions, yet all but two of these women waited until the end to do so, when they were invited to raise any questions they had. Tellingly, not a single person filed a complaint or reported the interviewer. Over the course of the study, the actor sexually harassed 25 women in an identical manner. He was never reported.

The researchers found that the women who contemplated the situation hypothetically imagined they would feel angry, but women who were put through the experience reported feeling afraid. Their fear prevented them from confronting the harassment.
Psychologists have a term for this disconnect: an “affective forecasting error.” We have immense trouble knowing how we will feel in response to a stressful situation. As a result, we misjudge what behavior would be a normal response. In particular, we imagine people will be more assertive and confrontational than they typically are.

What are the consequences of this prediction error in cases of sexual harassment or assault? Many victims blame themselves for not having “the wherewithal to get up and leave.” It seems that our affective forecasting errors lead us to blame victims for failing to exit harassing situations, because we incorrectly believe that if it happened to us, we would have marched straight to HR.

This psychological bias also leads us to doubt the veracity of victims’ claims. When Anita Hill testified that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her as her supervisor at the Department of Education, many who heard Hill’s story thought, “If what she says is true, surely she would have reported Thomas immediately, as any sane person would have. Surely, she would not have followed him to her next job. She must be lying, because her behavior is not consistent with how a normal person would react to harassment.” Yet her behavior is perfectly consistent with how normal people react to harassment. The Boston College study confirms this.

As social animals, we are strongly motivated to maintain group ties and preserve social harmony. We hate to stand out, violate social scripts, break face, or risk embarrassment. Yet at the same time, the power of these unwritten social rules remains invisible.

The problem is, in our culture that idealizes individualistic autonomy, we tend to think that people shouldn’t care about creating awkward situations or disrupting social norms. We expect people to disobey immoral orders, refuse unreasonable requests, and break away from their peers when the group is doing something wrong. We think people should be confrontational when the situation calls for it.

Yet these expectations defy our social psychology; they ignore our fundamental need to belong to our community.
(Some research shows that people from less individualistic cultures are less prone to these social prediction errors, possibly because they recognize that community members are motivated to act in ways that promote social harmony.)

The silence of sexual harassment victims can be understood as a particularly gendered manifestation of this broader social psychological phenomenon. There is a large disconnect between what people think they would do in idealized versions of their individualistic selves and what people actually do—as they are embedded in social relationships and communities and affected by cultural norms that prescribe roles and dictate appropriate social behaviors.

This disconnect is generally ignored by our laws, which entrench the problem. Our legal system frequently asks jurors to apply their ordinary sensibilities to determine what a “reasonable person” in their community would do in response to a given situation. This standard invites them to rely on their faulty assumptions about social behavior to pass judgment on others, such as complainants who wait years to report sexual harassment or assault.

In one case, a waitress who waited 17 days to report her supervisor’s serial sexual harassment was deemed to have acted “unreasonably” in waiting so long.

The reasonable-person standard pervades the law yet ignores the gulf between what uninvolved parties think is normal and what actually is. We must recognize this gulf and treat victims with the sympathy, patience, and understanding they deserve.” ~


One of the members of my MFA committee was harassing me. Well, I wanted to get that degree without undue delay. So I persuaded myself that the harassment was "mild," even though it involved attempts to kiss me. Also, I knew the prof would deny it — though another MFA student told me she'd have nothing to do with that particular man because he was "way too touchy-feely." And I can think of other times when I stayed silent — in one case, it was assault — because it was simply either the easiest way, or in my self-perceived best interest (especially since stories circulated of how women were treated if they went to 

the police). 


As to why women wait so long and remain silent about sexual harassment — I see no mystery there. The consequences of raising your voice to complain have always been clear, and negative. High risk and minimal or no gain. Speaking up required either great courage or an overwhelming anger overcoming caution and self preservation. Remember what they did to Anita Hill.


~ “[Ezekiel] hears the voice of God more often (93 times) than any other prophet, and the way God addresses him as ‘son of man’ or ‘mortal’ is also unique. Ezekiel experiences a variety of other auditory phenomena, including command hallucinations which are not described in any other prophet, 3:3 ‘He said to me; mortal eat this scroll that I give to you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.’
Even the rabbis thought it was strange that Ezekiel actually ate the scroll and they explained it by saying he was ingesting the wisdom of the Torah (law). Other examples of command hallucinations which are carried out are the shaving of Ezekiel’s head (5:1) which would have gone against priestly prohibitions to shave.

[from another source: Ezekiel heard a voice commanding him to lie on the right side of his body for 390 days then switch to his left side for 40 more days. A voice also told him to eat food cooked with human excrement.]

. . . Ezekiel also hears people gossiping about him by the walls, 33:30 ‘As for you mortal your people who talk about you by the walls and at the doors of the house say to one another each to a neighbor “Come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord”.’ Ezekiel hears the conversations God was having with others, 9:5’ To others he said within my hearing “pass through the city and kill, your eyes shall not spare”.’ Sometimes this voice can be loud, 9:1 ‘Then he cried within my hearing with a loud voice saying “draw near your executioners of the city”.’ 

Like many individuals with schizophrenia, Ezekiel does his best not to listen to these malign voices, 8:18 ‘and though they cry within my hearing with a loud voice, I will not listen to them.’ In his visions he also sometimes hears voices, as for example in the ‘Chariot Vision’, 12:5 ‘And there came a voice from above the dome of their heads’. Also in these visions, as well as voices Ezekiel hears non-verbal auditory phenomena, 1:33 ‘each of the creatures had two wings covering its body. When I heard the sound of the wings like the sound of mighty waters like the thunder of the almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army’. No other prophet hears command hallucinations, conversations with third parties about himself, hears voices in their visions, or has non-verbal auditory experiences. All these auditory phenomena are said to be characteristic of schizophrenia.” ~


But at least we got some art and poetry out of these hallucinations (and some bad horror movies). Below is Gustav Doré’s “Valley of Dry Bones.” Remember that the bones have to put on flesh and be re-animated with the “breath of life.” Hence the whole awkward idea of resurrection in flesh, which made sense to the ancient Israeli’s with their emphasis on life = breath, but not really to those ancient Greeks who were mystically inclined and tended to favor the spiritual realm (possibly an Egyptian influence).

And rather than in heaven, the resurrected dead would be on the new perfected earth, apparently tending the new Garden of Eden — completing the cycle. Or they might be in the New Jerusalem, receiving the tributes of foreign nations. Oh well — time to take rest from unreality.

And here is a painting of the same subject: The Valley of Dry Bones by Quentin Metsys the Younger, c. 1589. (“Shall these bones live?”) The strategic placement of the skeleton's hand (lower left) actually calls tremendous attention to itself. 


~ Warren Davis, Morristown: “I had a client that had been significantly overweight for many years. He was active. As a matter of fact he was a mail carrier and walked many miles every day delivering mail. One day he came to my office and had lost a lot of weight and was quite thin.

He had decided to put himself on a restrictive diet consisting of only canned peas, mayonnaise, and half sour pickles. (I swear this is true.) I asked him where he came up with this diet and he confessed that he made it up himself. I warned him that he probably wasn’t getting a balanced diet so he started taking vitamins and he’s been doing very well on it for quite a long time.

I know it seems crazy but I’m starting to believe after all the back and forth we’re being given with nutritional advice from the “experts” and all the crazy fad diets (paleo, blood type, hi fat, low fat, low carb, hi styrofoam, hi protein, low polyester, hi blubber) it’s becoming harder and harder to find fault with anything and I’m starting to believe that nobody really knows anything.

I spent my whole childhood eating trans fat because we were told how horrible butter was. Now I can’t get enough.” ~

This comment was a lot more interesting than the article. Anyway, the mailman probably never felt like seconds. His diet sounds low-glycemic, and the pickles also nourished his good bacteria. This reminds me of another guy — he didn’t know how to cook, but he knew how to boil an eggs, so he ate exclusively hard-boiled eggs — no obesity there either.

Let’s not forget Nathan Pritikin, who drew a practical conclusion from the observation that there was no heart disease in the concentration camps — and set about reversing heart disease in his clinic in Santa Monica, California, where he charged thousands of dollars for keeping his patients on a diet whose main staple was steamed broccoli. “You need never go hungry,” Pritikin allegedly said. “You can eat all the steamed broccoli you want.”

I'm not saying that people who eat extremely restricted diets are role models. But I do suspect that extremely restricted diets work best. Which also reminds me: just as bread sales dropped dramatically because of the popularity of the Atkins diet, there was a study in which all the subjects ate nothing but white bread. And they too lost weight — probably because how much bread can you force yourself to eat?

People usually reject extreme diets by saying that no one could remain on such a diet for a long time. But the man who ate exclusively hard-boiled eggs, and the mailman with his three-item diet show that it’s not an impossible feat. And I know another man who lives by himself and also eats what seems like a strange and restricted diet (lots of kale smoothies in lieu of meals), and he prides himself on his health and fitness.

Again, I am not saying that these are role models. But the facts that they are thriving undercuts all kinds of beliefs about a “healthy diet.” I’ve met people who were convinced that you MUST eat fruit — you’ll die if you don’t. But Dr. Gundry relates that the summer he and his wife decided not to eat fruit, each lost five pounds without any other changes in the diet.

You are what you eat? Perhaps you might claim with equal validity, “You are what you don’t eat.” 

ending on beauty (bleak, but still beauty)

For Elie Wiesel

It is cold and late — only you walk
street after empty street

Each yellow leaf is a smoldering star:
torn from a million jackets,
not one could be extinguished

~ Charles Fishman, In Black Rain

(Photo: Haley Hyatt)

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