Saturday, April 21, 2018


Eagle Dance, Emil Bisttram (American, 1895-1976), 1934



Permitted by the Nazis: 

eight hours of schools a week.
The children were to learn
enough German to understand commands,
and to count to one hundred.
Felicja was the village schoolmistress.

She arranged “afternoon handicrafts.”
While the girls stitched,
the boys chipped blocks of wood,
she lectured the forbidden
subject: history.
Above the bent heads of children,
she read poems.
On graduation day,
they covered windows with black cloth
and sang the national anthem.

She did fear arrest.
People noticed her religious care
never to touch,
never to rest her hand
on the small and much-folded pages
of the underground newspaper,
“Poland Lives.”

Thus, if interrogated, she could say
“I have never
held it in my hand,”
and speak the truth,

Jesuitical and absolute:
would raise her eyes and see,
dazed by the bare light bulb,
not the spiders of the swastikas,
the black uniforms, the death’s-heads,
but the commandment

shining above,
taking her in like a daughter.

~ Oriana

I wonder if I’ve written about even ten percent of the family wartime stories. Many are simply too overwhelming to write about, too filled with horror and close escapes (not everyone managed to escape; these were the stories of survivors who learned to recount the more bearable parts). This one was told to me by my mother, who happened to be mostly amused by it. But for me it was a revelation: I knew Felicja mainly as the hostess of an annual garden party and family reunion. She did a lot of home pickling: mushrooms, tomatoes. Until my mother, chuckling, told me the story, I had no idea about this “ordinary” woman’s wartime courage.

The black uniforms and the death’s-heads indicate the SS, notorious for the use of torture during interrogation.

Removing the Nazi Eagle, Berlin, 1945


An eye-opening article contrasts the West’s generosity toward Poland in 1989 with its vengeful attitude toward Russia, reminiscent of the attitude toward Germany after WWI.

~ “As William Faulkner remarked, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." WW1 and the fall of the Wall continue to shape our most urgent realities today. The wars in Syria and Iraq are the legacy of the closure of WW1, and dramatic events in Ukraine are unfolding in the long shadow of 1989.

In 1919, at the end of WW1, the great British economist John Maynard Keynes taught us invaluable and lasting lessons about such hinge moments, how decisions of victors impact the economies of the vanquished, and how missteps by the powerful can set the course of future wars.

With uncanny insight, prescience, and literary flair, Keynes's 1919 The Economic Consequences of the Peace predicted that the cynicism and shortsightedness at the core of the Versailles Treaty, especially the imposition of punitive war reparations on Germany, and the lack of solutions to the roiling financial crises of the debtor countries, would condemn the European economies to continuing crisis, and would in fact invite the rise of another vengeful tyrant in the coming generation.

One morning, in September 1989, I appealed to the US Government for $1bn for Poland's currency stabilization. By evening, the White House confirmed the money. No kidding, an eight-hour turnaround time from request to result. Convincing the White House to support a sharp cancellation of Poland's debts took a bit longer, with high-level negotiations stretching out for about a year, but those too proved to be successful.

The rest, as they say, is history. Poland undertook very strong reform measures, based in part on recommendations that I had helped to design. The US and Europe supported those measures with timely and generous aid. Poland's economy began to restructure and grow, and 15 years later it became a full-fledged member of the European Union.

The story of the end of the Cold War is not only one of Western successes, as in Poland, but also one of great Western failure vis-a-vis Russia. While American and European generosity and the long view prevailed in Poland, American and European actions vis-a-vis post-Soviet Russia looks were much more like the horrendous blunders of Versailles. And we are paying the consequences to this day.

Where Poland had been granted debt relief, Russia instead faced harsh demands by the US and Europe to keep paying its debts in full. Where Poland had been granted rapid and generous financial aid, Russia received study groups from the IMF but no money. I [the author of the article, Jeffrey Sachs, an eminent economist] begged and beseeched the US to do more. I pleaded the lessons of Poland, but all to no avail. The US government would not budge.

The West had helped Poland financially and diplomatically because Poland would become the Eastern ramparts of an expanding Nato. Poland was the West, and was therefore worthy of help. Russia, by contrast, was viewed by US leaders roughly the same way that Lloyd George and Clemenceau had viewed Germany at Versailles — as a defeated enemy worthy to be crushed, not helped.

"The Cold War ended," said Putin, "but it did not end with the signing of a peace treaty with clear and transparent agreements on respecting existing rules or creating new rules and standards. This created the impression that the so-called 'victors' in the Cold War had decided to pressure events and reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests.”

We live in history. In Ukraine, we face a Russia embittered over the spread of Nato and by US bullying since 1991. In the Middle East, we face the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, destroyed by WW1, and replaced by the cynicism of European colonial rule and US imperial pretensions.

We face, most importantly, choices for our time. Will we use power cynically and to dominate, believing that territory, Nato's long reach, oil reserves, and other booty are the rewards of power? Or will we exercise power responsibly, knowing that generosity and beneficence builds trust, prosperity, and the groundwork for peace? In each generation, the choice must be made anew.” ~ Jeffrey Sachs


John Maynard Keynes “joined the Treasury during WW1, and in the wake of the 1919 Versailles peace treaty, published The Economic Consequences of the Peace, criticizing exorbitant war reparations demanded from Germany, claiming they would harm the country's economy and foster a desire for revenge” (the BBC)

John Maynard Keynes


Indeed "We live in history" and the past is never over. It's not enough, either, to cast a small net — we are still feeling the consequences of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the bad decisions of Versailles. It is not enough to consider the last 50 years, or the last century, wisdom and clarity demand the long view, or we will come far short of understanding the forces at work today, and will make more disastrous decisions.

The Crusades, for instance, have neither been forgotten nor forgiven, and the hatred generated by those long ago events is today alive and well in the inheritors of those ravages and defeats.  We needn't even look that far — consider the still active results of our own Civil War, the mythologies still at work regarding that war's causes and results, the long shadow of slavery persisting, the long struggle for civil rights still far from won, the entrenchment of racism in our social and economic structure. This past that is not past at all.

The results of either generosity or vengeance are also evident. From the training of animals, through the raising of children and the treatment of criminals, it has been well documented that generosity, kindness, and reward are infinitely more effective in producing a positive outcome than reprisal, punishment and vengeance.

In fact, punishment reinforces and guarantees continued negative results — misbehavior, recidivism, war. Unfortunately, we have been able to effect changes in childrearing and animal training, but not in our treatment of criminals or national "enemy states." Maybe we will learn, even if it is a long slow haul..if not, more wars, more wasted lives, more of the same, but with better technology, better weapons, and greater potential for cataclysmic damage.


So utterly true . . . Funny how animal training has been the greatest showcase for the power of reward as opposed to the typically negative results of punishment. Generosity versus revenge — as individuals, we tend to understand which works better — but, as you point out, when it comes to both criminals and countries, revenge rules (disguised as “justice”). 

“Destiny” is a delusion, but it’s easy to understand why we cling to it. Why we cling to revenge is harder to understand, seeing that we’ve had endless lessons regarding its harm to both sides, and have coined sayings — “Revenge doesn’t pay” — and proverbs — “He who takes revenge digs two graves: one for his enemy, another for himself.” 

When will we ever learn? Eventually, eventually . . . I think. Moral progress is slow and full of setbacks, but the point is that it does happen. It may take a thousand more examples and a hundred more years to show that revenge doesn’t pay while generosity does, but in the end enough people “get it” and change the culture. I suspect that the primary factor is less abusive child rearing. Children raised in a loving way are less likely to become vengeful humans.



In a speech in 1889, Susan B. Anthony noted that women had always been taught that their purpose was to serve men, but “Now, after 40 years of agitation, the idea is beginning to prevail that women were created for themselves, for their own happiness, and for the welfare of the world.” Anthony was sure that women's suffrage would be achieved, but she also feared that people would forget how difficult it was to achieve it, as they were already forgetting the ordeals of the recent past.

Why am I posting this? Because most women I’ve known continue to behave as if their own needs and interests do not count — they are always sacrificing for their families. No, they have not absorbed the message that “women were created for themselves, for their own happiness, and for the welfare of the world.” I realize that this may finally be changing, at least in parts of the world.

(Here I am reminded of yet another family story: a Red Army soldier tried to rape my Aunt Lola, but she managed to resist. He called after her, “If you don’t want to [have sex], then what are you for?”)

“Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” ~ Douglas Adams, writer, environmentalist, atheist; he created the counter fine-tuning argument of “a sentient puddle who wakes up one morning and thinks, “This is an interesting world I find myself in—an interesting hole I find myself in—fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!”

This is a lynx. The forest suits his needs so well that who can doubt it was created especially for him?


~ “John Bew’s biography of Clement Attlee . . . is a study in actual radical accomplishment with minimal radical afflatus—a story of how real social change can be achieved, providing previously unimaginable benefits to working people, entirely within an embrace of parliamentary principles as absolute and as heroic as any in the annals of democracy.

Attlee was an unprepossessing man. “A modest man with much to be modest about,” Winston Churchill said of him once. Yet what emerges from this biography is a figure fully as admirable in his way—and, in some significant ways, more so—as the much-portrayed Churchill, who, teasing aside, came to admire Attlee as much as Attlee admired him. (Attlee actually fought at Gallipoli during the First World War, following Churchill’s maligned strategic initiative there—one that Attlee, though he saw it fail firsthand, always thought sound and daring, and undermined by its execution.)

After the war, Attlee went to work as what would now be called a community organizer in the London slum of Stepney, which remained his spiritual home for the rest of his life. Bew, a professor of history and foreign policy at King’s College, London, reminds us that Attlee came of age at a time when Marx was seen as only one, and not the most important, of the fathers of the socialist ideal. Attlee, who saw through and rejected the Soviet totalitarian model early, schooled himself on the British alternatives—on the works of William Morris and Edward Bellamy, who dreamed of rebelling against the regimentation that was implicit in the industrialized system rather than of simply switching around the hands that controlled it. William Blake was one of the names that Attlee most often cited. (It was he, as much as anyone, who made Blake’s mystic poem “Jerusalem” the anthem of the Labour Party.)

It was in the darkest days of 1940, though, that Attlee’s heroism and acuity came most to note. Attlee’s Labour Party had entered into a coalition government with Churchill’s Conservative Party when the Second World War broke out. Then, in late May of 1940, when the Conservative grandee Lord Halifax challenged Churchill, insisting that it was still possible to negotiate a deal with Hitler, through the good offices of Mussolini, it was the steadfast anti-Nazism of Attlee and his Labour colleagues that saved the day—a vital truth badly under-dramatized in the current Churchill-centric film, “Darkest Hour,” as it has been in many a history book. (There were many, perhaps even a majority, on the Tory right more interested in preserving the peace and the British Empire than in opposing Hitler.) Had Labour been narrower in outlook, or implicitly pro-Soviet—at a time when Stalin was still tightly allied with Hitler—as were so many on the French left, the history of European civilization would be very different.

Attlee remained Churchill’s chief ally throughout the war, but he was far from a complaisant one. When Churchill and Roosevelt were considering their declaration of the Atlantic Charter, it was Attlee, acting with a celerity and a clarity of purpose that belied his reputation for caution, who insisted on including “freedom from want” as one of its aims, making economic rights and, with them, a decent life for all, one of the official aims of the war. He was a mumbler, but he was no ditherer.

In 1945, he led Labour to a stunning victory over Churchill, not ceasing for a moment in his admiration for his wartime role, nor ceding for a moment to what he perceived as his partner’s reactionary vision. (Churchill had the very bad idea in the campaign of attacking Labour as a quasi-totalitarian party, which everyone knew was nonsense.) The achievements of the first Labour government are still rightly legendary: a government that actually contained as ministers seven men who had begun their adult lives as working coal miners, brought in national health insurance, made the provision of housing central to its ends, and fought and mostly won the battle against unemployment.

Imperfect as its accomplishments were—the virtues of nationalization proved less absolute than the ideologues imagined—it nonetheless empowered the working classes and, Bew writes, “set the ethical terms on which Britain’s new social contract was founded.” It is still a social contract in many ways intact, and was the background for the extraordinary cultural renaissance of working-class Britain in the nineteen-sixties and beyond. The Beatles begin here.

Of course, Attlee, like any leader in a democracy, was far from perfect. He was as baffled about what to do in the Middle East as everyone else, but his eventual insistence on a parliamentary model in an independent India did mean that India, with all its vagaries and ups and downs, emerged into modernity with a stable polity and what are, by historical standards, minimal civil violence, at least since the war of partition that was part of its birth—certainly compared to the massacres and imposed famines of the Chinese experiment.

After reading Bew’s book, one can’t help but think about the number of T-shirts sold here over the years bearing an image of Che (innumerable), compared with those bearing an image of Clem (presumably zero.) Yet one was a fanatic who helped make an already desperately violent and impoverished region still more violent and impoverished—and who believed in “hatred as an element of struggle”—and the other a quiet man who helped make a genuine revolution, achieving almost everything that Marx had dreamed of for the British working classes without a single violent civil act intervening.

Attlee’s example reminds us that it is possible to hold to moral absolutes—there was no peace possible with Hitler, and it was better to go down fighting than to try to make one—alongside an appetite for conciliation so abundant as to be more prolific, in William Blake’s positive sense, than merely pragmatic. This might be a good year to start selling T-shirts with a picture of this modest man, and the word “Clem!” upon them.


~ “To Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher, a 20th century statistician and geneticist who devoted much time to the proper design of experiments, the human tendency to spot spurious connections was a central problem even in research – to be flagged, noted, and avoided. “The ‘one chance in a million’ will undoubtedly occur,” he wrote in his 1935 book, “The Design of Experiments,” “with no less and no more than its appropriate frequency, however surprised we may be that it should occur to us.” With millions upon millions of people currently alive, one chance in a million becomes fairly high fairly quickly.

And yet, while we know this theoretically, while all of us are capable of reading and understanding Fisher’s logic, when it does happen to us, the counter-urge — to see deeper meaning rather than coincidence, to see, as Counter did, the hand of fate — can be overwhelming. We simply cannot accept that things just happen, and that their “just happening” can just happen without any good reason. We especially cannot accept it, as psychologist Ruma Falk pointed out over a decade of research, when it happens to us, in our own lives — particularly when the coincidence seems to be, somehow, a meaningful one, confirming some large force that we just know exists. True love, fate, karma, whatever we call it: when it happens to others, we are capable of rational skepticism; when it happens to us, wishful thinking often wins out. For isn’t it far more pleasant than the cold rationality of that shudder-inducing word, “statistics”?

Still, in 1989, Persi Diaconis and Frederick Mosteller, Harvard University mathematicians both, formulated a theory of coincidence based on just such chilly math, methodically investigating the question of what “chance” really means. As an example, when we meet a group of people, we can, and inevitably will, experience a number of coincidences. Jobs, names, birthdates, hometowns, hobbies, and the like. The chance of such coincidences, it turns out, is remarkably high. For instance, for the famous birthday problem — the chance that two people will share the same birthday — you need a mere 23 individuals for the chance to hit 50-50. If you have a group of 48, your likelihood of success jumps to 95 percent. For a triple-hit, the magic number is still quite low, at 88. Quadruple: 187. And if you want birthdays that are within a day — something many of us will still see as quite the coincidence, all you need is 14 people. Even as low as seven, you have a 50-50 chance of hitting a within-a-week match.

Humanity is a large enough number — and even subsets of it, say, the residents of a state or city are large enough numbers — that almost anything becomes possible, and some things are harder to dismiss than a shared birthday. Diaconis and Mosteller point to a then-recent headline in the New York Times: a “1 in 17 trillion” long shot of a woman who won the New Jersey lottery not once, but twice. It’s a coincidence so seemingly incredible that one almost can’t help but see the hovering hand of fate.

“With a large enough sample,” Diaconis and Mosteller write, “any outrageous thing is likely to happen.”

Someone will seem telepathic. Someone will win the lottery twice. Someone will find a dream lover online. “In a culture like ours based heavily on determinism and causation, we tend to look for causes, and we ask, ‘What is the synchronous force creating all of these coincidences?’” Diaconis and Mosteller conclude. “We could equally well be looking for the stimuli that are driving so many people to look for the synchronous force. The coincidences are what drive us. And the world’s activity and our labeling of events generates the coincidences.”

Which means that even though all of this rational explanation may make perfect intellectual sense, we struggle to embrace that statistical certainty, even with those wonderfully convincing numbers staring us in the face. No, we yet counter. It’s the golden touch of luck. It’s fate. It couldn’t have happened by chance. It’s kismet. It would seem we are fated to believe in fate — and that’s a faith that will provide endless fuel to the con artists among us.


Now, everything happens due to a cause — or rather, multiple causes working together. Nothing happens for a “reason.” The words cause and reason are often used interchangeably, but there is an important distinction. “Reason” implies some mysterious destiny, whether the divine plan or something along of the lines of New-Age understanding of the Universe.

No signs and wonders, no destiny, nothing supernatural — oh how that depresses some people . . .  They like to think that things are fated — perhaps even down to choosing this apple over that apple at the supermarket. I can understand this preference: less responsibility for your actions, less stress.


“When children are asked why, say, lions exist, they prefer teleo-functional explanations — “to go in the zoo.” ~ Jesse Bering, The Belief Instinct


The idea of “intelligent design” will probably be one of the last cognitive errors to go. You don’t have to posit a divine creator. Many of my friends believe in “something out there” and a purpose-ruled universe. Some believe that before conception each person (apparently already pre-existent) chooses some special task that only he or she can perform “on the earthly plane.” Oddly enough, all memory of this task is erased before birth, so all we have is some scattered clues — “Perhaps my love of animals indicates that I was born to be an animal-rights activist.”

It would be simpler to say, “I became an animal-rights activist because I love animals” — but that doesn’t satisfy our longing for a predestined purpose. According to Bering, even Sartre, who famously said that existence precedes essence (essence being some god-given purpose), confided in Simone de Beauvoir that at moments he couldn’t bring himself to believe that his existence was due to chance rather than predestined.

Here is more from Jesse Bering on the subject of “destiny”:

~ “In our heads, not only are we here for a reason, but also we (we, you, the lady next door, the clerk behind the counter, and every single of the billions of individuals on this planet) are each here for an even subtler she of the overall purpose.

To see how fantastically odd this highly focused degree of teleo-functional reasoning actually is, imagine yourself on a nice sunny farm. See that horsefly over there, the one hovering about the rump of that Arabian mare? Good. Now compare its unique purpose in life to, say, that other horsefly over there, the one behind the barn, waltzing around the pond algae. And don’t forget about the hundreds of larvae pupating under that damp log — each of which also needs you to assign it a special, unique purpose in life.

It’s hard enough to come up with a teleo-functional purpose for horseflies as a whole, such as saying that horseflies exist to annoy equestrians or to make the rear ends of equines shiver in anticipation of being stung. Just as Ogden Nash famously penned, “God in His wisdom made the fly / And then forgot to tell us why.” But to suggest that each individual  horsefly is here for a special, unique reason — one different from that of every other horsefly that has ever lived or will live — by using our theory of mind to reflect on God’s intention in crafting each its own destiny, may get us institutionalized.

Yet this is precisely what we do when it comes to reasoning about individual members of our own species; and, curiously, the concept of destiny doesn’t strike most of us as being ridiculous, or conceptually flawed at all.

This doesn’t imply that we are ‘accidents’, because even that term requires a mind, albeit one that created by mistake. Rather, we simply are.” ~


Re: “destiny,” or seeing “reasons” instead of “causes” in things. It is our tendency to think this way, to see agency and intent instead of chance, and it is hard to resist the temptation to see meaning and purpose where there is none. It is part of our desire to create meaning, to tell stories, to give life a plot, experience a meaningful shape. It is part of how we think and how we understand.

However, take this tendency to see agency and reason behind events to an extreme, and you have psychosis — everything has not only meaning, but particular meaning for and about you. There are messages everywhere, signals at every turn, voices in every random noise, all focused on you with sinister intent. There is no comfort here, as there might be at a lesser extreme. Here you are not the hero of the story, but a persecuted victim in a terrifying world.


Taken to the extreme, that’s the apophenia of psychosis: everything has a hidden meaning, and yes, it’s all about the psychotic person and his/her secret “destiny” (e.g. to save the world from Satan or the aliens). But the tendency to see a pattern where there is none is universal. Tough, we evolved that way because a sound in the brush might mean a predator. Alas, because of our complicated brains, that means that some will come up with conspiracy theories while others watch for signs that the world is coming to an end (and there are always such signs).

But speaking of accidents:

“Somewhere there's a typo more profound than anything ever intentionally written.” ~ Matt Flumerfelt

Oriana: That’s entirely possible. As a writer, I can attest to mistakes I’ve kept because I found more interesting than what I originally intended.


“There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.” ~ Josh Billings


~ “When Arthur Miller met Marilyn Monroe, she was crying. Or at least that’s the story he always told her, the one she repeats in footage used in the new documentary Arthur Miller: Writer: “As he describes it, I was crying when he met me.” As he describes it.

They met on the set of the 1951 movie As Young As You Feel. At the time Marilyn was broken up over the recent death of her agent and paramour Johnny Hyde, and she was also casually involved with Miller’s friend Elia Kazan. When he first shook Monroe’s hand that day, Miller later wrote, “the shock of her body’s motion sped through me.” Having watched a few of her takes, he told her he thought she should act on the stage. “People around heard him say it,” Marilyn recalled, “and they laughed.” But she suddenly felt she could tune them out: Here was someone seeing a side of her she had always wanted to be seen, a woman not just with luminous beauty but a potential to become a serious artist when her other powers inevitably diminished. She wrote about their encounter in her diary: “Met a man tonight … It was, bam! It was like running into a tree. You know, like a cool drink when you’ve had a fever.”

Though their fates would soon reverse, in 1951 Arthur Miller was more famous than Marilyn Monroe. He’d just won a Pulitzer Prize for Death of a Salesman and was enjoying a celebrity most writers can only, well, write about; Monroe was still a star on the rise, best known for scene-stealing supporting roles in All About Eve and The Asphalt Jungle. They parted ways for several years—Marilyn weathered a rocky union with Joe DiMaggio, Miller tried to work on his failing marriage with his first wife, Mary Slattery—but eventually they began an affair while Miller was still married. In 1956, Miller established residence in Reno, Nevada, long enough to be granted a divorce—as you did in those days. Not long after, in a no-frills civil ceremony, he and Monroe married.

At a glance, it’s one of the oddest celebrity marriages in 20th-century American history. The press called them “the Hourglass and the Egghead,” and one magazine dubbed their union “the most unlikely marriage since the Owl and the Pussycat.” Even today, after their deaths, their five-year union continues to baffle. “She was a sex symbol and he was an aloof intellectual,” the Daily Mail wrote with characteristic tact in 2008. “Why did Marilyn Monroe marry a misfit?”

It’s easier to understand from Miller’s perspective: What hot-blooded heterosexual American man of the 1950s wouldn’t have married Marilyn Monroe? But the more you know about Monroe—her brooding, contemplative nature; her often-fetishized love of reading—the more her attraction to Miller starts to make a poignant kind of sense. He saw not only her artistic potential, but a kind of brokenness about her that most men found convenient to ignore. In the documentary, an elderly Miller recalls something he said to Marilyn many years before their marriage: “I said, ‘You’re the saddest girl I’ve ever met.’ A smile touched her lips as she discovered the compliment I had intended. ‘You’re the only one who ever said that to me.’”


Karina Longworth points out that Monroe had endometriosis and that she was first prescribed the pills that would eventually kill her to manage severe menstrual pain. She acknowledges the history of molestation that many of Monroe’s early biographers cruelly doubted and makes a stunning observation about the dark side of Monroe’s charismatic sexuality: “At that point, nobody was able to see that so many of the things that made Marilyn ‘Marilyn’—the actual or implied easiness, the childlike voice and perspective, the lifelong search for male protectors—all of these things were, in fact, textbook long-term symptoms of child abuse.”


“What makes you so sad?” Clark Gable asks from beneath the brim of a cowboy hat. “I think you’re the saddest girl I ever met.”

“You’re the first man that’s ever said that,” a morose Monroe says in this scene from The Misfits, the final film both she and Gable would ever make. Like so many things in the movies, it’s a comforting lie. The actual first man that ever said that to her, Arthur Miller, wrote the script.

“I just thought it would be a terrific gift for her,” he says in Arthur Miller: Writer, “because she’d never had a part in which she was supposed to be taken seriously. And she really wanted to do that.” For reasons beyond just its melancholy script, The Misfits has got to be one of the saddest Hollywood movies ever made: Its three leads, Monroe, Gable, and Montgomery Clift, would all be dead within years of its release, each from their respective physical failures to live up to the impossibilities of their screen personas. Clift committed what has famously been called “the longest suicide in Hollywood history” by drinking insatiably, partially because of the pressure of hiding his romantic relationships with men; his face in The Misfits isn’t quite as expressive as it had been earlier in his career, since it had been disfigured in a 1956 car accident. Fifty-nine-year-old Gable had a fatal heart attack just days after The Misfits wrapped, and some blame his macho insistence on doing his own stunts in the film, especially during a harrowing sequence that involved roping wild mustangs.

But there’s something particularly poignant about Monroe’s performance in The Misfits: Here is (at least in Miller’s estimation) the kind of dramatic role she always wanted, and yet she was too dependent on pills and booze at this point to pull it off with confidence. She was chronically late to set, delayed shooting by endlessly running lines with her acting coach Paula Strasberg, and forced the production into a two-week hiatus when she had to go to rehab (although some contest that the cause of this delay was director John Huston’s out-of-control gambling debts; Marilyn was always an easy scapegoat). Miller’s only film script that was actually produced, The Misfits is a fascinating pop-culture time capsule. It’s an elegy not just to Miller and Monroe’s marriage (they split up during production), but to Monroe herself. She died the year after it was released and never completed another film.

Monroe was devastated when she came across some notes Miller was taking about their own relationship while writing The Misfits, as well as a journal entry of Miller’s in which he confessed to being “disappointed” with his wife and “embarrassed” by her in front of his intellectual friends. “I guess I have always been deeply terrified to really be someone’s wife,” she wrote in her own diary around that time, “since I know from life one cannot love another, ever, really … starting tomorrow I will take care of myself for that’s all I really have and as I see it now have ever had.”

There’s something endearing, revealing, and ultimately tragic about the fact that, at the height of her powers, Marilyn Monroe married a Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright and the world still refused to take her seriously.” ~

 Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable in Misfits

“You have to be very fond of men. Very, very fond. You have to be very fond of them to love them. Otherwise they're simply unbearable.” ~ Marguerite Duras 

But I suppose men say the same thing about women.

Somerset Maugham at an official dinner, New York, 1941; John Phillips


~ “It turns out that countries with lots of immigration have historically relied more on nonverbal communication. Thus, people there might smile more.

For a study published in 2015, an international group of researchers looked at the number of “source countries” that have fed into various nations since the year 1500. Places like Canada and the United States are very diverse, with 63 and 83 source countries, respectively, while countries like China and Zimbabwe are fairly homogenous, with just a few nationalities represented in their populations.

After polling people from 32 countries to learn how much they felt various feelings should be expressed openly, the authors found that emotional expressiveness was correlated with diversity. In other words, when there are a lot of immigrants around, you might have to smile more to build trust and cooperation, since you don’t all speak the same language.

People in the more diverse countries also smiled for a different reason than the people in the more homogeneous nations. In the countries with more immigrants, people smiled in order to bond socially. Compared to the less-diverse nations, they were more likely to say smiles were a sign someone “wants to be a close friend of yours.” But in the countries that are more uniform, people were more likely to smile to show they were superior to one another. That might be, the authors speculate, because countries without significant influxes of outsiders tend to be more hierarchical, and nonverbal communication helps maintain these delicate power structures.

So Americans smile a lot because our Swedish forefathers wanted to befriend their Italian neighbors, but they couldn’t figure out how to pronounce buongiorno. Seems plausible. But there’s also something very  w i d e  about the classic American grin. Why is it that Americans smile with such fervor?

This could be because Americans value high-energy, happy feelings more than some other countries. For a study published last year, researchers compared the official photos of American and Chinese business and government leaders. After coding them according to their levels of “facial muscle movement,” they found that American leaders in all contexts were both more likely to smile and showed more “excited” smiles than the Chinese leaders did.

Later, they asked college students from 10 different countries how often they would ideally like to experience certain emotions—from happiness to calmness to hostility—in a given week.

Then, they looked at photos of legislators from those 10 countries. They found that the more a country’s college students valued happy, high-energy emotions, like excitement and enthusiasm, the more excited-looking the government officials looked in their photos. (The correlation held after controlling for economic indicators like GDP.) Interestingly, the amount that people in those countries actually felt happy didn’t matter. The leaders’ excitement appeared to reflect the ideal emotional states of their constituents, not their actual ones.

Like so many other daily practices, in other words, the American smile is a product of our culture. And it can be similarly difficult to export.


“You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.” ~ Franz Kafka
Audrey Hepburn 1959; Richard Avedon

“If you seek tranquility, do less.” ~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


“Since the rise of the novel to be our most popular literary form, we seem to have taken secular humanism for granted. Jane Austen’s characters are all of them Anglicans; but the world they inhabit has already become completely secular.” ~ Don Cuppit, Sea of Faith

Jane Austen's writing table


~ “British fine wine, not so long ago an oxymoron, is now a thing. Coffee farmers in Indonesia, Ethiopia and Peru are venturing uphill. Across the Atlantic and the North Sea, U.K. trawlers see less cod and haddock for the nation’s fish and chips, and more squid and anchovies. The nation is importing its cod from Iceland, China and Norway.

“The very cold-water fish that our grandparents used to catch have moved further north, which means that we now import most of the fish that we eat,” said Dr. Stephen Simpson, an associate professor in marine biology and global change at Britain’s University of Exeter. “When we go on holiday in Spain, we often eat the U.K. fish.”

It’s not gloom for everyone, with mostly colder northern areas benefiting so far.

“The areas where foods are grown the most efficiently are shifting,” said Jason Clay, a senior vice president at the World Wildlife Fund, who has more than four decades of expertise on farming and fishing issues. The U.S. corn belt stretching from Ohio to the Dakotas is edging toward the border with Canada, which is already growing more crops than it used to in some parts of the country, he said.

Russia is enjoying bumper harvests of wheat, the world’s most widely grown crop, partly as record temperatures boost yields. That’s adding to the global glut of grains, pushing down prices. In the U.S., North Dakota now has a longer growing season, while some California farmers are planting coffee.

Off the coast of Maine, lobstermen have been catching more of the delicacy than ever before. While further temperature increases may go too far and erode lobster populations in coming decades, for now crustaceans are still breeding in great profusion.

English sparkling wine is winning international awards as the climate in some areas of the country begins to resemble France’s Champagne region, while Poland is growing chardonnay and finicky pinot noir varieties.

But for many, the changes are bad news.

Warmer temperatures are encouraging pests and fungus to develop. Growers in the U.S. and Canada have suffered increased levels of poisonous mycotoxins from fungi in their crops because of drought and humidity. Coffee farmers face rising threats from pests including berry-borer beetles, while disease epidemics such as leaf rust have hit Central America, and Colombia to the south.

Extreme weather events from floods to droughts have taken their toll. In France, fickle weather has been a disaster for the vineyards of Bordeaux, with spring frosts damaging vines, and summer storms leading to grape rot in Champagne. The country’s production of wine overall hasn’t been this low in 60 years.

In California, wine country was ravaged by wildfires last year. Droughts swept across Africa, demolishing corn harvests from Ethiopia to South Africa two years ago. Brazil, the top coffee grower, has also been battling drought in the past few years that curbed crops. Researchers warn that the suitable area for the beans will shrink as temperatures rise.

“When extreme events occur, you’re in trouble,” said Lorenzo Giovanni Bellu at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. “For sure, climatologists see increasing occurrence of extreme events, which is the worst for agriculture.”

Less immediately catastrophic is the effect on quality and flavor.
Arabica coffee beans, favored by cafe baristas, are the most sensitive to shifts in rainfall and temperature. Trees are usually grown at high altitude, where cooler temperatures allow the fruit to ripen slowly and develop more complex flavors of acidity and sweetness.

“When temperatures rise, as has slowly been happening in many coffee producing countries for years, the warmth causes the coffee to ripen too quickly, which means less flavorful beans.” said Jamal Gawi, a climate-change consultant in Jakarta. Java coffee is among those affected, he said.

For wheat, while some regions have benefited from larger harvests, parts of Europe and the U.S. have recently seen reduced protein in their grain (important for keeping bread airy) thanks to sudden downpours.

Even rising carbon dioxide that helps plants grow can flush out essential nutrients such as zinc and iron.

Whether through crop failures or price impact, changes in climate have serious implications for nations concentrated in equatorial and tropical regions, whose economies and people rely on agriculture more than others.

Natural disasters have cost farmers in poorer countries billions of dollars a year in lost crops and livestock, and it’s getting worse thanks to climate change. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are dependent on single crops—Ethiopia relies on coffee for a third of its export earnings and Malawi gets about half from tobacco.

Nations reliant on food imports, many also in the Middle East and Africa, are vulnerable to supply upsets thousands of miles away that ripple through global markets to push up the cost of household staples. Drought in the biggest growers, from the U.S. and Russia to Brazil, can have dramatic effects on international prices and in some cases threaten political and social unrest among exposed populations. As Europe is discovering, such desperate people can’t be contained by borders.

There will be some winners, but I think there are going to be far more losers and many of them, if not most, are going to be in the tropics,” said Clay at the WWF. “The bigger issue is that everybody is going to have to adjust, and the question is how fast.” ~

~ “We know that CBD (the anti-inflammatory compound in marijuana that does not produce a “buzz”) binds to receptors in the brain but not on neurons. It binds to receptors on something called MICROGLIAL CELLS which are the cells that wrap around neurons and are responsible for some of the neuron's structure, holding them together. But they also have an immune function. They're sort of THE BRAIN'S IMMUNE CELLS. ... CBD also binds to cells in the immune system, so CBD receptors are fairly common in lymph nodes and also in areas of the body where there's a lot of immune activity like the [gastrointestinal] tract.” ~


It follows that cannabidiol (CBD) might help prevent brain diseases — which are just beginning to be recognized as autoimmune. But establishing effective dosage range will take time.

The new trend is microdosing — under 10 milligrams of THC and CBD (some edibles offer a mix). The purpose is medicinal, not recreational. And older brains in particular may benefit from microdosing.


[Karen] Parker also makes sure to regularly step outside her lab and glean insights from parents of children with autism. “I’ve had a lot of parents come up and tell me things like, ‘I got a dog and my kid has dramatically improved,’ or ‘my kid has done equine therapy and they’ve dramatically improved.’” She knows, of course, that these are anecdotal observations, but she uses them to seed new studies. Perhaps, she muses, playing with a dog or interacting with a horse might cause autistic kids to produce more oxytocin or vasopressin.

Revisiting her work on hormones that influence social functioning, Parker began to investigate whether oxytocin played a role in autism. She discovered that on average, people with and without autism had the same blood oxytocin levels. But in the subset of people with autism and very low oxytocin levels, administering oxytocin improved their social functioning. She’s now looking at vasopressin, a hormone similar to oxytocin but one that’s more important to male social functioning (boys are nearly five times more likely than girls to have autism).

An associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the director of Stanford’s Social Neurosciences Research Program, Parker published findings last year that indicate that autistic children with low levels of blood oxytocin show improved social functioning when they receive additional oxytocin in the form of a medication. The study was limited to just 32 participants, but her conclusions suggest that children with low oxytocin levels stand to benefit the most from oxytocin treatment, and point the way toward a more personalized approach to treating social deficits in children with autism.

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

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