Saturday, June 23, 2018


Caspar Friedrich: (2 men) Evening Landscape with Two Men, 1830-1835
~ To my granddaughters who visited the Holocaust
Museum on the day of the burial of Yitzhak Rabin ~

Now you know the worst
we humans have to know
about ourselves, and I am sorry,

for I know that you will be afraid.
To those of our bodies given
without pity to be burned, I know

there is no answer
but loving one another,
even our enemies, and this is hard.

But remember:
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he gives a light, divine

though it is also human.
When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.

You do not have to walk in darkness.
If you will have the courage for love,
you may walk in light.  It will be

the light of those who have suffered
for peace. It will be
your light.

~ Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir


~ “Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society.

Personally, I’m happy to pay an extra 4.3 percent for my fast food burger if it means the person making it for me can afford to feed their own family. If you aren’t willing to fork over an extra 17 cents for a Big Mac, you’re a fundamentally different person than I am.

I’m perfectly content to pay taxes that go toward public schools, even though I’m childless and intend to stay that way, because all children deserve a quality, free education. If this seems unfair or unreasonable to you, we are never going to see eye to eye.

If I have to pay a little more with each paycheck to ensure my fellow Americans can access health care? SIGN ME UP. Poverty should not be a death sentence in the richest country in the world. If you’re okay with thousands of people dying of treatable diseases just so the wealthiest among us can hoard still more wealth, there is a divide between our worldviews that can never be bridged.

I don’t know how to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy. I cannot have one more conversation with someone who is content to see millions of people suffer needlessly in exchange for a tax cut that statistically they’ll never see.

I cannot have political debates with these people. Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.

The “I’ve got mine, so screw you,” attitude has been oozing from the American right wing for decades, but this gleeful exuberance in pushing legislation that will immediately hurt the most vulnerable among us is chilling.

Perhaps it was always like this. I’m (relatively) young, so maybe I’m just waking up to this unimaginable callousness. Maybe the emergence of social media has just made this heinous tendency more visible; seeing hundreds of accounts spring to the defense of policies that will almost certainly make their lives more difficult is incredible to behold.

I don’t know what’s changed ― or indeed, if anything has ― and I don’t have any easy answers. But I do know I’m done trying to convince these hordes of selfish, cruel people to look beyond themselves.” ~ Kayla Chadwick


Ultimately there is no iron-clad reason why you should care about people outside of your family and your in-group (e.g. white evangelicals, other Mormons, etc). You either are the kind of person who cares if other human beings suffer, or you aren’t. It’s not based on logic (though “enlightened self-interest” often applies) — it’s based on empathy. People who have empathy suffer when they see others suffer.

I remember when Bush invaded Iraq, and one of the arguments was that this would keep gas prices lower. I remember being in an inexpensive Thai restaurant in Oceanside; a young Marine sat at another table. I was having a conversation with someone who asked me,
Would you be willing to pay $10 more at the gas pump? Without hesitation I said yes, I would — that it would be blood money if this young Marine got killed just so I could pay less for gas. And looking at that innocent young face — I know innocence is a projection, but, you know, a young kid — I felt genuinely shaken he he was perhaps just weeks from being killed or having a limb blown off.

It also reminds me of an article in Psychology Today that lamented poor access to mental health care and too short hospital stays. A commentator challenged the author: “You seem to assume that everyone has the right to treatment.” She said yes, that’s how society works: we take care of those who need help. She suggested that a time may come when he, the commentator, may find himself in need of help. Unmoved, he kept arguing for his every-man-for-himself stance. This is individualism gone mad, and a bizarre denial of the fact that society is a collective, collaborative project.

The “lone hero” is is not an uncommon adolescent male fantasy, even if the “heroism” doesn’t do anything except, with luck, gain 15 minutes of fame. Thus those who attempt to sail around the world alone, bicycle across the Sahara, and the like pointless projects that often end up in expensive rescue. A mature person knows that fruitful achievement comes from cooperation. No one is just a single, isolated person. We are all part of a greater whole — humanity. Every vile act anywhere diminishes me; every act of kindness and courage empowers me.


Besides the myth of the “lone hero,” there is the misguided perception of the “alpha male” as nothing but a bully. Here is a great video by the primatologist Frans de Waal, correcting this false image. I was particularly struck by the peace-keeping function and how it includes standing up for the underdog. Another function is being a “consoler-in-chief,” with displays of empathy and generosity. Nor does the alpha get to the top all by himself — he forms alliances and makes “we stand together” displays.


~ “Academic historians often portray Hitler as a cipher, a nobody. Kershaw has called him a “man without qualities.” Volker Ullrich, a German author and journalist long associated with the weekly Die Zeit, felt the need for a biography that paid more heed to Hitler’s private life. The first volume, “Hitler: Ascent 1889–1939,” was published by Knopf in 2016. Ullrich’s Hitler is no tyrant-sorcerer who leads an innocent Germany astray; he is a chameleon, acutely conscious of the image he projects.

The putative void was part of Hitler’s persona, a means of concealing his personal life and presenting himself as a politician who completely identified with his role as leader,” Ullrich writes. Hitler could pose as a cultured gentleman at Munich salons, as a pistol-waving thug at the beer hall, and as a bohemian in the company of singers and actors. He had an exceptional memory that allowed him to assume an air of superficial mastery. His certitude faltered, however, in the presence of women: Ullrich depicts Hitler’s love life as a series of largely unfulfilled fixations. It goes without saying that he was an extreme narcissist lacking in empathy. Much has been made of his love of dogs, but he was cruel to them.

From adolescence onward, Hitler was a dreamer and a loner. Averse to joining groups, much less leading them, he immersed himself in books, music, and art. His ambition to become a painter was hampered by a limited technique and by a telling want of feeling for human figures. When he moved to Vienna, in 1908, he slipped toward the social margins, residing briefly in a homeless shelter and then in a men’s home. In Munich, where he moved in 1913, he eked out a living as an artist and otherwise spent his days in museums and his nights at the opera. He was steeped in Wagner, though he had little apparent grasp of the composer’s psychological intricacies and ambiguities.

A sharp portrait of the young Hitler can be found in Thomas Mann’s startling essay “Bruder Hitler,” the English version of which appeared in Esquire in 1939, under the title “That Man Is My Brother.” Aligning Hitler’s experience with his own, Mann wrote of a “basic arrogance, the basic feeling of being too good for any reasonable, honorable activity—based on what? A vague notion of being reserved for something else, something quite indeterminate, which, if it were named, would cause people to break out laughing.”

The claims of “Mein Kampf” notwithstanding, there is no clear evidence that Hitler harbored strongly anti-Semitic views in his youth or in early adulthood. Indeed, he seems to have had friendly relations with several Jews in Vienna and Munich. This does not mean that he was free of commonplace anti-Jewish prejudice. Certainly, he was a fervent German nationalist. When the First World War commenced, in 1914, he volunteered for the German Army, and acquitted himself well as a soldier. For most of the war, he served as a dispatch runner for his regiment’s commanders. The first trace of a swing to the right comes in a letter from 1915, in which Hitler expressed the hope that the war would bring an end to Germany’s “inner internationalism.” [Yet] as late as his thirtieth birthday, in April, 1919, there was no sign of the Führer-to-be.

The day after Germany ratified the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler began attending Army propaganda classes aimed at repressing revolutionary tendencies. These infused him with hard-core anti-capitalist and anti-Semitic ideas. The officer in charge of the program was a tragic figure named Karl Mayr, who later forsook the right wing for the left; he died in Buchenwald, in 1945. Mayr described Hitler as a “tired stray dog looking for a master.” Having noticed Hitler’s gift for public speaking, Mayr installed him as a lecturer and sent him out to observe political activities in Munich. In September, 1919, Hitler came across the German Workers’ Party, a tiny fringe faction. He spoke up at one of its meetings and joined its ranks. Within a few months, he had become the leading orator of the group, which was renamed the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

Peter Longerich’s “Hitler: Biographie,” a thirteen-hundred-page tome that appeared in Germany in 2015, gives a potent picture of Hitler’s skills as a speaker, organizer, and propagandist. Even those who found his words repulsive were mesmerized by him. He would begin quietly, almost haltingly, testing out his audience and creating suspense. He amused the crowd with sardonic asides and actorly impersonations. The musical structure was one of crescendo toward triumphant rage. Longerich writes, “It was this eccentric style, almost pitiable, unhinged, obviously not well trained, at the same time ecstatically over-the-top, that evidently conveyed to his audience the idea of uniqueness and authenticity.”
Above all, Hitler knew how to project himself through the mass media, honing his messages so that they would penetrate the white noise of politics. He fostered the production of catchy graphics, posters, and slogans; in time, he mastered radio and film. Meanwhile, squads of Brown Shirts brutalized and murdered opponents, heightening the very disorder that Hitler had proposed to cure. His most adroit feat came after the failed Beer Hall Putsch, in 1923, which should have ended his political career. At the trial that followed, Hitler polished his personal narrative, that of a simple soldier who had heard the call of destiny. In prison, he wrote the first part of “Mein Kampf,” in which he completed the construction of his world view.

To many liberal-minded Germans of the twenties, Hitler was a scary but ludicrous figure who did not seem to represent a serious threat. The Weimar Republic stabilized somewhat in the middle of the decade, and the Nazi share of the vote languished in the low single-digit figures. The economic misery of the late twenties and early thirties provided another opportunity, which Hitler seized. 

Benjamin Carter Hett deftly summarizes this dismal period in “The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic” (Henry Holt). Conservatives made the gargantuan mistake of seeing Hitler as a useful tool for rousing the populace. They also undermined parliamentary democracy, flouted regional governments, and otherwise set the stage for the Nazi state. The left, meanwhile, was divided against itself. At Stalin’s urging, many Communists viewed the Social Democrats, not the Nazis, as the real enemy—the “social fascists.” The media got caught up in pop-culture distractions; traditional liberal newspapers were losing circulation.


What set Hitler apart from most authoritarian figures in history was his conception of himself as an artist-genius who used politics as his métier. It is a mistake to call him a failed artist; for him, politics and war were a continuation of art by other means. This is the focus of Wolfram Pyta’s “Hitler: Der Künstler als Politiker und Feldherr” (“The Artist as Politician and Commander”), one of the most striking recent additions to the literature. Although the aestheticizing of politics is hardly a new topic—Walter Benjamin discussed it in the nineteen-thirties, as did Mann—Pyta pursues the theme at magisterial length, showing how Hitler debased the Romantic cult of genius to incarnate himself as a transcendent leader hovering above the fray. Goebbels’s propaganda harped on this motif; his diaries imply that he believed it. “Adolf Hitler, I love you because you are both great and simple,” he wrote.

The true artist does not compromise. Defying skeptics and mockers, he imagines the impossible. Such is the tenor of Hitler’s infamous “prophecy” of the destruction of the European Jews, in 1939: “I have often been a prophet, and have generally been laughed at.  . . .  I believe that the formerly resounding laughter of Jewry in Germany has now choked up in its throat. Today, I want to be a prophet again—if the international Jewish financiers inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”

Scholars have long debated when the decision to carry out the Final Solution was made. Most now believe that the Holocaust was an escalating series of actions, driven by pressure both from above and from below. Yet no order was really necessary. Hitler’s “prophecy” was itself an oblique command.

Hitler in a museum



Yes this blog is dark, and that darkness felt more acutely in our present political and cultural situation. The quoted articles point out the connections between our own history and the development and path taken by Nazi Germany. The  US genocide, consciously and openly admitted as a necessity for the Manifest Destiny of white property owning Male citizens of European descent, was carried out successfully enough to reduce the Native population to a mere fragment of its former size. The US history of slavery and racism, and the criminal acts of eugenicism were admired as models by Hitler and his cohort . . . echoed in the desire for Lebensraum and the vast and efficient system of mass murder in the death factories of the concentration camps.

It is always a mistake to paint things in black and white, in terms of the innocence of some and absolute evil of others. Not because this is unjust, but because it is incorrect, and leaves us vulnerable to the same evils present in our own country and our own current situation.



~ “Milton Mayer’s 1955 classic They Thought They Were Free, recently republished with an afterword by the Cambridge historian Richard J. Evans, was one of the first accounts of ordinary life under Nazism.

In They Thought They Were Free, Mayer decided to focus on ten people, different in many respects but with one characteristic in common: they had all been members of the Nazi Party. Eventually they agreed to talk, accepting his explanation that he hoped to enable the people of his nation to have a better understanding of Germany. Mayer was truthful about that and about nearly everything else. But he did not tell them that he was a Jew.

In the late 1930s—the period that most interested Mayer—his subjects were working as a janitor, a soldier, a cabinetmaker, an office manager, a baker, a bill collector, an inspector, a high school teacher, and a police officer. One had been a high school student. All were male. None of them occupied positions of leadership or influence. All of them referred to themselves as “wir kleine Leute, we little people.” They lived in Marburg, a university town on the river Lahn, not far from Frankfurt.

Speaking of the views of ordinary people under Hitler, one of them asked:

    Opposition? How would anybody know? How would anybody know what somebody else opposes or doesn’t oppose? That a man says he opposes or doesn’t oppose depends upon the circumstances, where, and when, and to whom, and just how he says it. And then you must still guess why he says what he says.

When Mayer returned home, he was afraid for his own country. He felt “that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man,and that under the right conditions, he could well have turned out as his German friends did. He learned that Nazism took over Germany not “by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler.” Many Germans “wanted it; they got it; and they liked it.”

Mayer’s most stunning conclusion is that with one partial exception (the teacher), none of his subjects “saw Nazism as we—you and I—saw it in any respect.” Where most of us understand Nazism as a form of tyranny, Mayer’s subjects “did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now.” Seven years after the war, they looked back on the period from 1933 to 1939 as the best time of their lives.

Mayer suggests that even when tyrannical governments do horrific things, outsiders tend to exaggerate their effects on the actual experiences of most citizens, who focus on their own lives and “the sights which meet them in their daily rounds.” Nazism made things better for the people Mayer interviewed, not (as many think) because it restored some lost national pride but because it improved daily life. Germans had jobs and better housing. They were able to vacation in Norway or Spain through the “Strength Through Joy” program. Fewer people were hungry or cold, and the sick were more likely to receive treatment. The blessings of the New Order, as it was called, seemed to be enjoyed by “everybody.”

Even in retrospect Mayer’s subjects liked and admired Hitler. They saw him as someone who had “a feeling for masses of people” and spoke directly in opposition to the Versailles Treaty, to unemployment—to all aspects of the existing order. They applauded Hitler for his rejection of “the whole pack”—“all the parliamentary politicians and all the parliamentary parties”—and for his “cleanup of moral degenerates.” The bank clerk described Hitler as “a spellbinder, a natural orator. I think he was carried away from truth, even from truth, by his passion. Even so, he always believed what he said.”

Mayer did not bring up the topic of anti-Semitism with any of his subjects, but after a few meetings, each of them did so on his own, and they returned to it constantly. When the local synagogue was burned in 1938, most of the community was under only one obligation: “not to interfere.” Eventually Mayer showed his subjects the local newspaper from November 11, 1938, which contained a report: “In the interest of their own security, a number of male Jews were taken into custody yesterday. This morning they were sent away from the city.” None of them remembered seeing it, or indeed anything like it.

The killing of six million Jews? Fake news. Four of Mayer’s subjects insisted that the only Jews taken to concentration camps were traitors to Germany, and that the rest were permitted to leave with their property or its fair market value. The bill collector agreed that the killing of the Jews “was wrong, unless they committed treason in wartime. And of course they did.” He added that “some say it happened and some say it didn’t,” and that you “can show me pictures of skulls…but that doesn’t prove it.” In any case, “Hitler had nothing to do with it.” The tailor spoke similarly: “If it happened, it was wrong. But I don’t believe it happened.”

With evident fatigue, the baker reported, “One had no time to think. There was so much going on.” His account was similar to that of one of Mayer’s colleagues, a German philologist in the country at the time, who emphasized the devastatingly incremental nature of the descent into tyranny and said that “we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.” The philologist pointed to a regime bent on diverting its people through endless dramas (often involving real or imagined enemies), and “the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise.”  

In his account, “each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’” that people could no more see it “developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.” ~


I offer this brief passage as my sole commentary:

When Mayer returned home, he was afraid for his own country. He felt “that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man.”

American Nazis in Georgia, April 2018 


It is impossible for me to believe the majority of German citizens just didn't know the Holocaust was happening. It may have been a protective mental barrier that allowed them to ignore and deny the price paid for a better economic situation for themselves was described, less unemployment, less hunger, etc. but that's not enough of an explanation.

First, if no one was aware of what was happening, how and why did a Resistance develop, and how did so many quietly and bravely risk their lives to shelter or otherwise help those targeted by the Nazis? This was a group small in number, but if they knew they were acting to save people from death, everyone knew those people were marked for extermination, and the extermination was happening there and then.

And when interviewed these people repeat something more or less like . . . it didn't happen, and even if it did these people were traitors and they deserved it.

Sounds a lot like “Fake News” doesn't it? And the racial hatred is expressed the same way: the targeted group are “vermin,” an “infestation” of evil “criminals” who will destroy our country — it's all there in the language.

And in the rhetoric itself, which expresses, if not logic and truth,  an ecstatic and "triumphant rage." There can be no empathy here, all that exists is the narcissism of the psychopath, the rage of the thwarted infant against any denial of what he wants and thinks he “deserves.”

What is ultimately the most frightening is how quickly a democratic, civilized culture, imperfect as it may be, can devolve into despotism. As we had Hitler, Stalin, now there is Putin and Trump. With a population that feels cut out of the game, ignored and unrewarded, that "triumphant rage" and even the urge toward "total retaliation," can come onto the stage, ready to burn.


Hannah Arendt attributed it all to the refusal to think — just yielding to brainwashing and repeating the lies you’ve been fed. But an intellectual like her might not quite had the feel for the power of propaganda over an average mind, especially through stirring up fear. Techniques like publicizing a handful of actual Jewish criminals in order to then smear all Jews as criminals — absurd on the face of it — proved amazingly effective.

I remember telling a German friend — not right away, but at some point when we were quite comfortable in the friendship, and when the right context arose — that my grandparents were Auschwitz survivors. Her face turned white — she was obviously quite stressed. Then she stammered out, “What did they do?” I said, “Nothing, of course.”

But right then I understood that she didn’t really grasp the Nazi horror. She had the assumption, reasonable in other contexts, that people were put in those camps because they did, in fact, commit a crime — and not on the basis of ethnic identity or as retaliation for an act of resistance committed by the Underground (in my grandparents’ case it was a retaliation for the Warsaw Uprising — they happened to live in a district of Warsaw where all inhabitants were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz).

I guess sure, she must have heard of the Holocaust and maybe even other wartime crimes against humanity, but it is indeed a stressful subject. When Marlene Dietrich went to Germany after the war and sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” — in German, of course — it was felt as a confrontation, an opening of wounds. That song, which is really a universal anti-war song, had such an impact. Millions of dead, including young German men. No, no, don’t make us look at those corpses. 

Meanwhile another, more distant German friend whose parents had been dedicated Nazis would come back from a visit with them, announcing that they still believe that Hitler was a genius. That’s what powerful, relentless propaganda can do. And the point is not to dig into the German guilt versus denial, but to study the propaganda ploys — which we see being used again. You need to find the right scapegoat, destroy the credibility of the press, blame the other side for everything you yourself are accused of, lie big and non-stop, use massive retaliation against opponents, create a cult-like worship of the leader, and so on.

But essentially you manipulate through appeal to fear — that’s the most basic tool. Still, we need to study the details. And yes, it can happen here — just as we see the resurgence of dictatorships in various countries all over the world. As you say, this is the most frightening: “how quickly a democratic, civilized culture, imperfect as it may be, can devolve into despotism.”



“Communism didn’t fail. It wasn’t and can’t be tried. Like all radical ideologies, it’s too easily co-opted by dictatorships.” ~ Jeremy Sherman
Sherman continues:

~ “Even with the best intentions and justifications, radical ideologies get co-opted by totalitarian dictatorships. A common pattern I think fits both the Russian and French Revolution:

1. Ideological radicals win enough support from desperate masses take over the government.

2. Radicals overwhelmed and facing backlash from rivals welcome the psychopaths to assist.

3. Psychopaths take over.

Stalin definitely, the psychopath Lenin brought in. Robespierre didn't have to outsource psychopathy so much as become a sociopath. The problem with all grand ideologies is that when tried they degenerate into a clusterfuck of unintended consequences.” ~

Maximilien Robespierre


~ “Even as far back as some ten years ago, during the last couple of my annual return visits to St. Petersburg, Russia, a number of old friends of mine there were telling me, much in the same words and with the same confounded air about them, that they had no idea how and when it happened that the situation in the country, over the relatively short course of Putin's rule, had deteriorated quite so quickly, and so badly and with so much seemingly ironclad irreversibility, in the old Soviet direction of airless authoritarianism. 

“How did he do it, so inconspicuously?” they wondered. “One day, you're still living basically in a reasonably democratic country — and then, just like that, one unlovely morning you wake up in an unfree one . . .  He seemed so harmless, Putin did, so bland, so more or less decent for a former *kagebeshnik* [KGB agent], and Russia clearly had by then already been taken beyond the point of no return toward being a normal-like, democratic country…”

There was nothing I could say in response, and they didn't expect me to say anything, either. There would've been no point in me telling them something that had been obvious to me from the outset
but not to them, oddly enough, a few years prior, when something still could have been done by electoral means to stop or at least slow down Putin inexorable rise to unchecked despotic power to wit, that there cannot be such an animal as a ‘former kagebeshnik’, especially in a country where his direct and proudly unrepentant Soviet-era predecessors had exterminated tens of millions of innocent people . . . ” ~ M. Iossel

Kremlin, the Golden Doors

~ “After following the motorcycle guys around for months, Thompson concluded that the most striking thing about them was not their hedonism but their “ethic of total retaliation” against a technologically advanced and economically changing America in which they felt they’d been counted out and left behind. Thompson saw the appeal of that retaliatory ethic. He claimed that a small part of every human being longs to burn it all down, especially when faced with great and impersonal powers that seem hostile to your very existence. In the United States, a place of ever greater and more impersonal powers, the ethic of total retaliation was likely to catch on.

What made that outcome almost certain, Thompson thought, was the obliviousness of Berkeley, California, types who, from the safety of their cocktail parties, imagined that they understood and represented the downtrodden. The Berkeley types, Thompson thought, were not going to realize how presumptuous they had been until the downtrodden broke into one of those cocktail parties and embarked on a campaign of rape, pillage, and slaughter. For Thompson, the Angels were the advance guard for a new kind of right-wing politics. As Thompson presciently wrote in the Nation piece he later expanded on in Hell’s Angels, that kind of politics is “nearly impossible to deal with” using reason or empathy or awareness-raising or any of the other favorite tools of the left.

Though Thompson’s depiction of an alienated, white, masculine working-class culture—one that is fundamentally misunderstood by intellectuals—is not the only one out there, it was the first. And in some ways, it is still the best psychological study of those Americans often dismissed as “white trash” or “deplorables.”

Thompson’s Angels were mostly working-class white men who felt, not incorrectly, that they had been relegated to the sewer of American society. Their unswerving loyalty to the nation— the Angels had started as a World War II veterans group—had not paid them any rewards or won them any enduring public respect. The manual-labor skills that they had learned and cultivated were in declining demand. Though most had made it through high school, they did not have the more advanced levels of training that might lead to economic or professional security. “Their lack of education,” Thompson wrote, “rendered them completely useless in a highly technical economy.” Looking at the American future, they saw no place for themselves in it.

Even the racism that was on full display in Trump’s campaign should be understood at least in part in retaliatory terms, as directed at the political elite rather than at struggling minority groups. The Hells Angels, Thompson wrote, did things like get tattoos of swastikas mostly because it visibly scared the members of polite society. The Angels were perfectly happy to hang out at bars with men of different races, especially if those men drove motorcycles, and several insisted to Thompson that the racism was only for show.

At the end of Hell’s Angels, having spent months with the motorcycle guys, Thompson finally gets stomped by them. For some offense he doesn’t understand (and which he probably didn’t commit), Thompson gets punched, bloodied, kicked in the face and in the ribs, spat at and pissed on. He limps off to a hospital in the dead of night, alone and afraid. Only in that moment does Thompson realize that as a journalist (and therefore a member of the elite), he could not possibly be a true friend of the Angels. Wear leather and ride a motorcycle though he might, Thompson stood on the side of intellectual and cultural authority. And that finally made him, despite his months of good-timing with the Angels, subject to their retaliatory impulses. The ethic of retaliation is total, Thompson comes to realize. There is nothing partial about it. It ends with violence.” ~


~ “Imagine the adolescent brain as the bridge from Star Trek's USS Enterprise, host to a constant tug of war between the impulsive Captain Kirk (limbic system) and the reasonable Mr. Spock (prefrontal cortex).

Changes in the brain that lead to the famously bad choices of adolescence don't start at 16 or 17 years old. They start around 11 or 12 and the beginning of puberty.

This is the dirty little secret of adolescence: The cloudy judgment and risky behavior may not last a year or two. Try a decade.

To understand why, let's start with an experiment. At Temple University, psychology professor Laurence Steinberg and his team put a bunch of adolescents into an FMRI machine — a brain scanner — and asked them to play a driving game.

"Your perspective is that of a person behind the wheel," Steinberg says, describing the set-up. "And you come to a series of intersections, and the lights turn yellow. And you have to decide whether to put the brakes on or not."

Now, what do you think the adolescents did in this situation?


They did not blow through the yellow every time.

"When adolescents are playing this game by themselves, they don't take any more chances than adults do when they're playing it by themselves," Steinberg says.

And that's a big deal. Because the adolescent brain gets a bad rep for being consistently impulsive. Steinberg hopes his latest book, Age of Opportunity, will help set the record straight: Being 12 (or 17) doesn't mean a kid's hard-wired to always make bad choices.

Why, then, do adolescents still make so many bad choices? To find out, Steinberg added a twist to his experiment.

He gave his subjects an adolescent crowd.

"This doubles the number of chances that adolescents take," Steinberg says, "but has no effect on the number of chances adults take."

In short, an adolescent's weakness is other adolescents. And we're not just talking about peer pressure. The mere presence of peers makes them less cautious.
One reason, says B.J. Casey, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College, is that "the brain is being marinated in gonadal hormones" during adolescence. Another big reason: The prefrontal cortex is still a work-in-progress. And it serves a vital role in our decision-making.

The prefrontal cortex "helps to link past experiences to the current situation," Casey says, "and, at the same time, consider what the future consequences are of choices and actions that are made."

The prefrontal cortex is our voice of reason. Steinberg calls it the brain's CEO. Casey likens it to Mr. Spock from Star Trek, coldly calculating a life's worth of cost-benefit analyses.

Casey's analogy doesn't stop there. To her, Captain Kirk is the limbic system — the emotional center of the brain that's always on the lookout for threats and rewards. When it spots either, it sends a message to the prefrontal cortex. Because the limbic system can't make sense of these things on its own. It needs the prefrontal cortex.

Kirk needs Spock.

Here's the problem. For kids in adolescence, the prefrontal cortex is still developing, and it can't keep up with the limbic system as it goes into reward-seeking warp speed.
"It's as if these emotional regions hijack the prefrontal systems," Casey says, "and it leads to a choice that they make that's a bad one. And they even know it's a bad one."

Which brings us full-circle to Steinberg's driving experiment. The limbic system doesn't just flag rewards in things like alcohol and sex. A 12-year-old gets a kind of high simply by being around other adolescents. They're wired to seek each other out and develop the skills they'll need to leave their parents, feed and protect themselves, and raise children.

In the short-term, that means cloudy judgment and risky behavior.

But adolescence is all about the long view.” ~



~ “Babies born vaginally developed bacterial cultures similar to those in their mothers’ vagina, which were predominantly Lactobacillus whereas those who were born by C-section developed bacterial cultures similar to those on their mothers’ skin, which were predominantly Staphylococcus. The Lactobacillus strains help to protect the baby from many pathogens, including the Staphylococcus aureus strains that are resistant to all penicillins, commonly known as MRSA. The skin cultures do not offer these same benefits.

Other studies have shown that children born by C-section are more likely to develop asthma and allergies than those born vaginally and that giving C-section-born infants probiotics containing Lactobacillus from birth to 6 months of age reduces the risk of allergy at 5 years of age; however, probiotics made no difference in the vaginally-born children’s allergy risk.

Breast Milk

We know that human breast milk is beneficial for babies because it contains an ideal nutrient balance. New research shows it may also help newborns by nourishing specific beneficial intestinal bacteria unique to infants.

Human breast milk contains complex sugars known as human milk oligosaccharides (HMO). Although these comprise 21% of human milk, babies cannot digest them, and this has been baffling researchers for years, particularly since this milk composition is unique to humans.

A study published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that HMO is the perfect food (prebiotic) for a subspecies of Bifidobacterium longum bacteria to thrive, allowing it to grow strong and coat the baby’s intestinal wall, protecting it from harmful pathogens and helping the baby develop an efficient digestive system. This bacterium has an excessive number of genes associated with HMO metabolism, comprising 8% of its genome, making it the perfect bacteria to live in a breastfed human infant.

Dietary Habits

A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that dietary habits play a significant role in a child’s development of gut bacteria. Researchers analyzed and compared bacteria found in the stools of children 1-6 years of age from a developed European city and children from a rural African village. The diet of the African children was predominantly vegetarian, very high in fiber, and consisted mostly of cereals, legumes, and vegetables. The European children ate a typical Western diet containing little fiber and lots of animal protein, sugar, starch, and fat.

The results showed that the African children had beneficial gut bacteria that helped them break down fibers better, allowing them to extract more nutrition from fiber than could the European children. Beneficial bacteria in children who consumed a lot of fiber also seemed to help prevent the establishment of pathogens that can cause diarrhea, such as Shigella and Escheria. Bacteria present in the European children were less beneficial, setting them up for a higher likelihood of obesity later in life, and doing little to protect them from harmful pathogens.
The researchers suggest that this poor gut bacteria population results from insufficient fiber intake combined with little exposure to environmental bacteria, due to the excessive use of sanitation in the industrial world. Lack of beneficial gut bacteria could lead to a much higher risk of developing allergies, autoimmune disorders, and inflammatory bowel disease.

ending on beauty:

You must be the dark snakes of
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between
The leaves,
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from.

~ John Moffitt, To Look at Any Thing

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