Saturday, July 20, 2019

WARREN BUFFETT: THE TWO-LETTER WORD PASSWORD TO SUCCESS; PUSH-UPS PREDICT LONGEVITY; RAPAMYCIN AGAINST AGING?; WHAT HEMINGWAY CUT FROM FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS; IS MARX STILL RELEVANT?

Rooftop cat organizer (by Avantgardens)

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I’M ALWAYS ASKED
WHERE I AM FROM

After the hundredth time I knew
I’d hear that question

for the rest of my life.
I cried myself to sleep.

Many times. Many times.

Then I woke up and asked,
Where am I from?

Whose words do you speak,
my Old Church Slavonic mouth?

Who do you long for,
my Sephardic thigh?

Feet, did you walk
all the way from Ur?

Arms, did you build
the pyramids?

Hands, did you glean
in foreign fields?

Whom did you give birth to,
hips, licked by tongues of

firelight, steep bent shadows
kneeling down? Where

are we from? Let us ask
our mother, the Great She-Bear,

our father, the wolf.

~ Oriana



Relevant? Yes — because: Where are we from? especially if we keep on going farther and farther back? The multiplicity of “home” is staggering. 

Catrin Welz-Stein

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WHAT HEMINGWAY CUT FROM FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS


During the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), Spain became a battleground in the fight between freedom and fascism. Fascism prevailed. To gain a powerful and palpable impression of the civil war in Spain you can do no better than to read Ernest Hemingway’s masterpiece, For Whom the Bell Tolls. It is a story about a young American volunteer in the International Brigades, named Robert Jordan, who is attached to an anti-fascist guerrilla unit in the mountains of Spain. All of life—hope, fear, and love—plays out in three days of intense action. Though entirely a work of fiction, it transports you to that time and place so that you feel as though you have experienced it yourself. For Whom the Bell Tolls is Hemingway’s longest and, for many readers, finest novel and his most in-depth treatment of war. It is also simply a great story.


An ardent lover of Spain since his first visit there, when he was twenty-four, to see the bullfights at Pamplona in 1923, Hemingway followed the Spanish conflict from its inception. At the onset of the war he supported the Loyalist cause as the chairman of the Ambulance Committee for the Medical Bureau of the American Friends of Spanish Democracy and through his own personal contributions to buy ambulances, a form of support sanctioned by the U.S. government, which was not yet involved in the conflict. Having volunteered as an ambulance driver in Italy during World War I, Hemingway knew from firsthand experience the critical value of medical aid in wartime. He also supported the Spanish Republic when, in 1937, together with Jörg Ivens, he produced the movie The Spanish Earth, which was for him a new kind of writing endeavor.


In his speech to the American Writers Congress at Carnegie Hall on June 4, 1937, Hemingway discusses how a writer needs to write truly in order to create “in such a way that it becomes part of the experience of the person who reads it,” how dangerous it is to write the truth in war, and how no good writer can do his job working in a fascist state, which is built on lies. It received a standing ovation and remains to this day a powerful commentary on the importance of a writer’s accurate record of war and its atrocities.


Myths about Ernest Hemingway—the hard-living, hard-drinking, celebrity he-man—have proliferated almost to the same extent as his literary fame and have inevitably clouded opinions of his work, especially for those who have not read it or read it closely. Even a writer as fine as Orhan Pamuk has misjudged Hemingway’s literature, referring to “his war-loving heroes” since war is the focus of so much of his writing. Such an assessment of Robert Jordan, Hemingway’s greatest literary war hero, would be totally inaccurate. To be sure, Hemingway appreciated the deep bonds forged in wartime among its fellow combatants, but he viewed war itself as a crime against humanity. He explained to F. Scott Fitzgerald why he thought war made such a good subject for writing: “. . . war is the best subject of all. It groups the maximum of material and speeds up the action and brings out all sorts of stuff that normally you have to wait a lifetime to get.” The complexities of war and its many contradictions can make it very difficult to write about, but Hemingway succeeds beautifully in For Whom the Bell Tolls, one of the greatest war novels of all time.

His regimen was to begin writing at eight-thirty in the morning and continue until two or three in the afternoon, the same practice he had established with A Farewell to Arms. He frequently recorded the number of words he wrote each day, which ranged from about three hundred to over a thousand (see Figure 7). On the fourth of April he wrote to his friend Tommy Shevlin: “It is the most important thing that I’ve done and it is the place in my career as a writer where I have to write a real one.” Later that month, Martha Gellhorn, his new love, joined him in Cuba and found Finca Vigía (“Lookout Farm”) in San Francisco di Paula outside of Havana. Hemingway soon moved in with her and continued to work on the book there until late August 1939. By May 23, 1939, he had completed 199 pages of the manuscript, and by July 10, 352 pages.

By April 20, 1940, he told Max Perkins that he had thirty-two chapters completed. That month he decided on a title. As he had done in the past, he turned to the Bible and Shakespeare for inspiration, and after considering some twenty-five possibilities he settled on The Undiscovered Country. But he was not completely satisfied with it. Persevering, he looked to the Oxford Book of English Verse where he found a quote from John Donne, which expressed the interconnectedness of humanity that matched the aspirations of his work. On April 21 he wired Max Perkins that he had decided on the title For Whom the Bell Tolls. By the beginning of July he was working on the last chapter and contemplating how to end it. He considered having an epilogue, which he sent to Max Perkins, who describes it in some detail. However, he ultimately decided against it. On August 26 Hemingway wrote Perkins:

~ You see that the epilogue only shows that good generals suffer after an unsuccessful attack (which isn’t new); that they get over it (that’s a little newer) Golz haveing killed so much that day is forgiving of Marty because he has that kindliness you get sometimes. I can and do make Karkov see how it will all go. But that seems to me to date it. The part about Andres at the end is very good and very pitiful and very fine.

But it really stops where Jordan is feeling his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.

 
You see every damn word and action in this book depends on every other word and action. You see he’s laying there on the pine needles at the start and that is where he is at the end. He has had his problem and all his life before him at the start and he has all his life in those days and, at the end there is only death there for him and he truly isn’t afraid of it at all because he has the chance to finish his mission. ~ 


There are many cases where Hemingway expands on passages from the first draft to make them more poignant, such as the lovemaking scenes between Robert Jordan and Maria or El Sordo reflecting on life during his last stand on the hilltop (Appendix III, n. 25). The manuscript shows how Hemingway grappled with trying to translate certain words in the Spanish language. He was also very familiar with the danger of censorship and its impact on book sales, having dealt with these issues in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms. In For Whom the Bell Tolls he tried to avoid such problems as much as possible at the outset while still conveying the realism that was central to his storytelling. His editor, Max Perkins, and publisher, Charles Scribner, had very few criticisms of the manuscript text. Scribner objected to the graphic wording of the scene in chapter 31 where Robert Jordan masturbates the night before battle. Hemingway cut the offending sentence, “There is no need to spill that on the pine needles now,” and wrote instead, “There are no pine needles that need that now as I will need it tomorrow.”


In response to Scribner’s objection, Hemingway also changed at the galley stage Robert Jordan’s status as a card-carrying member of the Communist Party to someone working under communist discipline. However, while Perkins and Scribner were both concerned by Pilar’s discussion of the stench of death and suggested removing it, Hemingway insisted that it was important and left it as he wrote it originally.


Francisco Goya’s Disasters of War (1810–1820), his graphic etchings of the Spanish struggle against Napoleon’s army, were well known to my grandfather, who owned a set that was made from the original plates during the Spanish Civil War. Goya’s images of executions, such as the etching entitled “Y no hai remedio” (“And there is nothing to be done”), are a visual pretext for some of the more powerful scenes in the novel, like the brutal execution of citizens described by Pilar in chapter 10. In a passage cut from this very chapter of the novel, Hemingway wrote that “You heard about it; you heard the shots. You saw the bodies but no Goya yet had made the pictures.”

For Whom the Bell Tolls was an immediate success. Hemingway wrote to his first wife, Hadley, that it was “selling like frozen daiquiris in hell.” It has had tremendous impact and has been valued for its accurate depiction of guerrilla warfare. Fidel Castro famously said that he had used it as a kind of training manual for his military insurrection that began in December of 1956 and played out in the southern mountains of Cuba until his reverberant guerrilla triumph over the government of Cuba in 1959. When I visited Cuba in early November of 2002 as part of a delegation to preserve my grandfather’s papers at Finca Vigía, I had the opportunity to meet Castro. I asked him what parts of the book were especially instructive for him and he recalled that the passage about machine-gun placement in the mountains was perhaps the most instructive.


In their recent documentary on the Vietnam War, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick interviewed a Vietnamese woman, the writer Le Minh Khue, who as a youth volunteer working on the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War carried with her a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Le Minh Khue greatly admired Robert Jordan and learned a great deal from his character about how to endure war. These are but two testaments to the realism of the book in its many parts. 


Hemingway, in his own words, believed that “A writer’s job is to tell the truth. His standard of fidelity to the truth should be so high that his invention, out of his experience, should produce a truer account than anything factual can be. For facts can be observed badly; but when a goodwriter is creating something, he has time and scope to make it of an absolute truth.” As Graham Greene wrote in his review of the book, For Whom the Bell Tolls is “a record more truthfu
l than history.” ~ Sean Hemingway, one of Hemingway’s grandsons


https://lithub.com/what-hemingway-cut-from-for-whom-the-bell-tolls/?fbclid=IwAR341vMwzFGzjjv4nTP90SAN1LEMeqz0sdxDqB2p1Vq6Lb9hJQ1FATy8QrY

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“Run fast, stand still. This, the lesson from lizards. For all writers. . . What can we writers learn from lizards, lift from birds? In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.” ~ Ray Bradbury



WARREN BUFFET: THE TWO-LETTER WORD THAT CAN MAKE YOU A TOP ACHIEVER

~ “Billionaire Warren Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is in his late eighties and still capturing the world's attention as the second richest person on the planet (as of this writing).

So, how has he done it? Actually, it's not so much about what he has done as it is what he hasn't done. With all the demands on him every day, Buffett learned a long time ago that the greatest commodity of all is time. He simply mastered the art and practice of setting boundaries for himself.

That's why this Buffett quote remains a powerful life lesson. The mega-mogul said:

"The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything."


Whether he meant saying no in the investment sense is not so important; what is important is that his advice, in whatever context, can apply to anyone arriving at the crossroads of daily decision-making. 


We have to know what to shoot for to simplify our lives. It means saying no over and over again to the unimportant things flying in our direction every day and remaining focused on saying yes to the few things that truly matter.

Steve Jobs agreed. It’s about focus. Jobs prophetically supported this notion of saying no at an Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 1997. Here's what he said:

"People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things."

Like Jobs and Buffett, it's hushing that loud voice in your head when it tempts you with yet another sexy proposition that might steer you off course. You say a resounding NO! when it asks, "Should I take this opportunity? It may never come around again." Sometimes, the best course of action is not taking any action.

Jim Collins, famous author of the mega-bestseller Good to Great, once suggested that instead of to-do lists, we should make "stop-doing" lists. Because in obsessing over to-do lists full of things that don't really matter, we spend less time saying yes to the things that do." ~

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/warren-buffett-says-this-1-simple-habit-separates-successful-people-from-everyone-else?utm_source=pocket-newtab
 

Oriana:

And let's not forget to give credit to the Bauhaus architect Luis Mies van der Rohe who said LESS IS MORE.

I know I'm preaching to myself. My natural tendency is to run to excess, so I need keep remembering this.  

Also, as I must have quoted this a gazillion times: "We manage best when we manage small." ~ Linda Gregg

"Cultivate one garden, and you'll birth worlds." ~ Kate Braverman

"Too many plants" ~ José, commenting on my gardening

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WE NEED BOTH FANTASY AND THE RETURN TICKET TO REALITY

~ “I’ve been saying there’s nothing wrong with escapism except when people pretend it’s real for an extra rush. I’ve been acting like it’s a simple choice to remember that you’re embracing myths while still getting the rush and motivation you need from them.
It’s possible but not easy to visit fantasy but keep the return ticket to reality in your pocket.
Setting aside the enormous difficulty in distinguishing real from fantasy, our fantasies are guidance, our impetus for focusing our willpower power. We often need to treat our fantasies as real. We’re not just indulging in pretending they’re reality for extra buzz. Soldiers need to feel they’re fulfilling their true patriotic duty. Those suffering enormous hardship in this life often need to believe in a mythical afterlife just to keep on keeping on.” ~ Jeremy Sherman

Four Bishops Fountain, Saint Sulpice, Paris (I'm in love with that lion)

Oriana:


We need the myth of Paris as much as we need the real city. Of course we are more likely to donate toward the restoration of Notre Dame than to various other causes that logically are perhaps more pressing — but don’t have the myth and the beauty to inspire us.

Sure, it’s easy to go to a movie like Star Wars and thoroughly enjoy what we know is “not real.” And yet, even so, those characters deeply enter  our psyche because the ground is ready. Yoda, with his calm voice and unflappable manners of a sage, has become a guru to millions. Princess Leia, for all the toughness she shows as one of the leaders of the Resistance, wears a long dress and a strange hairdo (a crown substitute?) because she has to fulfill the archetype of a princess, which we are far from successfully updating — note any bridal outfit, the virgin-white dress and veil. So even when we are aware that something is fantasy, the myth can affect us more than our mundane reality. And when we are not even aware, as may happen with political ideologies — all false, all doomed — we need an enormous drive for truth, an unflinching skepticism, to keep from falling for it.


And we can’t expect unflinching skepticism from the young. They needs ideals, and role models to look up to. We need to remind them that nobody’s perfect — but gently, gently.
On the other hand, I’ve been through severe hardship (OK, not combat) without needing the myth of the afterlife or some protective Big Daddy in the Sky. Some things, once you stop believing in them, nothing can make you believe in them again — once you see, you can’t unsee it — but then I speak only for myself and for some people I know, who said, “No, I wasn’t praying — I was too busy just suffering.” As Anne Sexton put it, “Need is not quite belief.” 


Or, as Orwell shows in 1984, it takes torture to make you believe that 2+2=5. Or severe early indoctrination. You could say that 2+2=5 is religion. Once you leave it, it's very very hard to suspend your thinking and rejoin the stuff you outgrew — no matter how bad the heartbreak (or chronic physical pain).

Mary:

Yes . . . no matter how much you want the comfort of belief, it's simply impossible.

 
Oriana: THE KIND OF COMFORT AVAILABLE TO NON-BELIEVERS

In spite of the way I was brought up, eventually I’ve learned total self-acceptance and the principle of never criticizing yourself, of being completely supportive of yourself. I’ve learned the the technique of baby steps. I’ve learned that not falling apart and “bravely soldiering on” was actually easiest. But even with life wisdom, you need to remain on guard against ideas that are basically magical thinking, or air-headed New Age delusions. Yes, as Jeremy says, it’s not easy to always keep the return ticket to reality in your pocket. 


In part I blame Plato, who set out to make us think that what’s in front of our eyes is inferior: shadows in a cave, meager distortion from the ideal. He may not have invented the myth of the Missing Half, but he popularized it — though now we use terms such as Soulmate or Twin Flame. But Missing Half is best and easiest to debunk. As James Hollis points out, we are not spheres — we are complex polyhedrons. We are lucky to meet people (it won’t be just one person) who align along certain facets, but don’t ever expect a perfect fit. And without that expectation, and knowing that “nobody’s perfect,” we becoming more accepting of others in general, including potential mates.


Yet without the myth of the Missing Half, would we see similarities in a potential love object quite as readily? Thank goodness we don’t apply such fantasy standards of compatibility to friends. “Friendship is more important than love,” my mother used to say — but not when I was going through my first loves. I understood it only when I was ripe for that piece of wisdom.


Vogelherd Horse, 35,000 years old, carved in mammoth ivory

Mary:


Just looking at that horse I know what it would feel like in my hand.

 
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“Human beings are by nature actors, who cannot become something until they have first pretended to be it.” ~ W.H. Auden



ONLY THE INNER CHILD “GETS RESPECT”

The concept surfaced in 1963 as part of Transactional Analysis. It’s part of the “three selves” theory: Child-Parent-Adult. The child stands mainly for feelings, the parent for collective rules, and the adult is the thinker who can make wise, “autonomous” decisions. The adult is not on automatic, simply repeating behaviors from childhood or copied from parents. The adult questions the rules, but doesn’t assume that if you just let the inner child finger paint and play with the food, all will be well.

Whatever the usefulness of this model may be, what interests me is that only the “inner child” gained popularity. The phrase has entered the language. Thus we are urged to take good care of our “inner child.” That’s the self (or sub-personality) that’s valued most. “Take good care of your adult” would be met with incomprehension. It’s assumed that the best and most “fun” part of ourselves is the inner child. 


I don’t know if this has to do with the broader culture: little children are adored, but as they grow older they are seen in less positive light and meet with harsher treatment. They enter the winner/loser system. The frequency of stress-related illnesses and depression should probably make us pause and ask some questions about values and priorities. Do we perhaps have “adult abuse” -- bad work environments, for instance, inadequate pay, abusive bosses, etc.? Is it OK to expect a new mother to know how to take care of an infant with no help? Or, if a parent develops Alzheimer’s, it’s OK to expect the daughter to assume the burden of care? 


I was very grateful to the hospice workers for helping me when my mother was dying. I was extremely grateful that someone came every day, and that I could call 24/7 if I had a question. Such beautiful care when a person is dying . . . I began to wonder if this kind of care would be possible before then, when the person is not dying but simply under severe stress. The invariable answer was that it would cost too much to have such programs. Hospice actually saves money (it’s very expensive to die in a hospital), so it took off. Other helping programs would be in the “humanitarian” category, and thus get very low priority — if any.


Another point where I disagree with the worship of the inner child is creativity. The element of playfulness in creative work should not blind us to the fact that Michelangelo sculpting the Pietà is not like a child playing in a sandbox, and Yeats writing 56 drafts of “Sailing to Byzantium” is not like a babbling four-year-old who’s having fun with words. A culture that disvalues the “adult” may be admitting that typical adulthood is not very rewarding and creative venues are scarce.

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IS THE STEREOTYPE OF MASCULINITY STIFLING BOYS’ FEELINGS?

 
~ “While society is chipping away at giving girls broader access to life’s possibilities, it isn’t presenting boys with a full continuum of how they can be in the world. To carve out a masculine identity requires whittling away everything that falls outside the norms of boyhood. At the earliest ages, it’s about external signifiers like favorite colors, TV shows, and clothes. But later, the paring knife cuts away intimate friendships, emotional range, and open communication.

 There’s research connecting this shedding process to the development, in some adolescent boys, of depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation. In her 2014 documentary The Mask You Live In, the filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom features the voices of dozens of teen boys describing their progression from childhoods rich with friendships to teen years defined by posturing and pressure to prove their manhood. Some of the boys, who present tough exteriors, admit to having suicidal thoughts. The film flashes news clips from the most notable mass shootings of that time—Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook—each committed by a young man. 

“Whether it’s homicidal violence or suicidal violence, people resort to such desperate behavior only when they are feeling shamed and humiliated, or feel they would be, if they didn’t prove that they were real men,” the psychiatrist James Gilligan, who directed Harvard’s Center for the Study of Violence, says in the film.

There are so few positive variations on what a “real man” can look like, that when the youngest generations show signs of reshaping masculinity, the only word that exists for them is nonconforming. The term highlights that nobody knows what to call these variations on maleness. Instead of understanding that children can resist or challenge traditional masculinity from within the bounds of boyhood, it’s assumed that they’re in a phase, that they need guidance, or that they don’t want to be boys.

According to the San Jose State University sociologist Elizabeth Sweet, who studies gender in children’s toys throughout the 20th century, American gender categories are more rigid now than at any time in history, at least when it comes to consumer culture. There may be greater recognition in the abstract that gender exists along a spectrum, but for young children (and their parents), consumer products have a huge influence over identity development and presentation. “Toymakers are saying, well, we can sell each family one toy, or if we make separate versions according to gender, we can sell more toys and make families buy multiples for each gender,” Sweet told me. The same holds true for clothes, baby gear, school supplies, even snack food. And parents begin gender-coding their children’s worlds before those children are even born, sometimes kicked off by “gender reveal” parties, a sort of new version of the baby shower, in which parents-to-be discover the sex of their baby alongside family and friends through a dramatic, colorful display.

“Most nonconforming adult men, when they talk about their upbringing, say their first bully was their dad,” reports Matt Duron, whose wife, Lori Duron, wrote the book Raising My Rainbow, about their gender-creative son. Matt, who had a 20-year career as a police officer in Orange County, California, has been a vocal supporter of his son, though in their conservative region, his stance has been attacked. The Durons’ son, now 11, gave up dresses years ago, but he still loves makeup and wears his hair long. Classmates bully him, but he finds support from his family, and lately at Sephora in his local mall, where male employees demonstrate a different way to be grown men in the world.

There’s a word for what’s happening here: misogyny. When school officials and parents send a message to children that “boyish” girls are badass but “girlish” boys are embarrassing, they are telling kids that society values and rewards masculinity, but not femininity. They are not just keeping individual boys from free self-expression, but they are keeping women down too.

It is lopsided to approach gender equality by focusing only on girls’ empowerment. If society is to find its way to a post-#MeToo future, parents, teachers, and community members need to build a culture of boyhood that fosters empathy, communication, caretaking, and cooperation. But how? Could there be a space or an organization for boys where they’re encouraged to challenge what’s expected of them socially, emotionally, and physically? What would the activities be? What would the corresponding catchwords be to the girls’ “brave” and “strong” other than “cowardly” and “weak”?  

It’s a societal loss that so many men grow up believing that showing aggression and stifling emotion are the ways to signal manhood. And it’s a personal loss to countless little boys who, at best, develop mechanisms for compartmentalizing certain aspects of who they are and, at worst, deny those aspects out of existence.

More than a century ago, in the October 1902 edition of London’s Cornhill Magazine, the writer and poet May Byron wrote a piece called “The Little Boy,” in which she talked, among other things, about boys’ evolving mode of dress as they move through childhood. She tied it then, as I do now, to a mildly tragic departure from a boy’s richest relationship with himself:

“Petticoated or kilted, in little sailor suits, and linen smocks, and velvet coats, and miniature reefers, he marches blindly on his destiny,” Byron writes. “Soon he will run his dear little head against that blank wall of foregone conclusions which shuts out fairyland from a workaday world.”
~

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/today-s-masculinity-is-stifling?utm_source=pocket-newtab


Bleeding heart — not to be confused with "love lies bleeding”

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IS MARX STILL RELEVANT TODAY?

~ “On August 24 1857 the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company failed. Within months, more than 1,400 banks had collapsed across America and the shockwave spread outwards to Liverpool and London. By the end of the year it had reached continental Europe, Latin America, South Africa, Australia and Asia. In London, where the suspension of the Bank Charter Act of 1844 had freed the Bank of England to take whatever emergency action was necessary, an obscure German exile was fired into intellectual action. He set himself to diagnosing a new phenomenon, a global economic crisis. Over the previous millennium the world had been swept by religious movements, political upheavals, plagues and famines. 1857 was the first worldwide convulsion in the system of production, credit and exchange. From the efforts of this lonely scholar, known then only to a narrow circle, would emerge an intellectual tradition that would find its place alongside that of Darwin as one of the great legacies of the Victorian age. It would inspire a political movement that spanned the world.

Reading Friedrich Engels’s reportage on The Condition of the Working-Class in England, Marx glimpsed a new reality. He did not use the term capitalism — that would be later coined by his students — but there was no denying the massive dynamic resulting from the combination of competitive capital accumulation and technological change.

Marx and Engels were far from alone in their criticism of the effects of the industrial revolution. But whereas many of their contemporaries reacted by opting out, seeking salvation in utopian communities, the two Germans remained true to their upbringing in Hegel’s philosophy: there was no escape from history and its logic. The two men wagered that the revolutionary transformation of capitalism would come not from without, but from within. For all its terrible side effects, the enormous dynamic of industrial development could not be suppressed or sidestepped. It would have to be transcended.

The real drama of world history was the epic of capitalist development. In particular, Marx was fascinated by the spectacle of America’s relentless expansion. The really decisive event in 1848 was the conquest of California and the ensuing gold rush that promised to reorient not just the American but the world economy towards the Pacific. It was both dazzlingly dynamic and terrifyingly unstable. Nine years later, the crisis of 1857 revealed how connected the world had become. News of a financial failure in the Missouri river valley sent markets in Britain crashing. Would this be the “big one”, the crisis that threw open the door to the new type of revolution? Marx would surely have insisted on the need to stare the full drama of our current situation in the face.

Despite Marx’s feverish activity in the reading room of the British Museum, the pace of events outran him. By 1858 the rebound was already in full swing. His effort to grasp in real time the first crisis of global capitalism resulted in a mass of notes later known to aficionados as the Grundrisse or “Groundwork”, but no finished analysis. Marx knew that he would have to dig deeper. As revolutionary ardor dampened and in the 1860s, the world entered the age of Bismarck, blood and iron and realpolitik, Marx set himself to the analysis of capitalism’s inner workings, concocting a unique synthesis of economic theory, empirical data drawn from factory inspector reports and economic history all mixed with Hegel’s dialectical logic. The result was not economics as we know it, so much as an analysis of how capitalist production and exchange, down to the commodity form itself, gave rise to a world of appearances that conventional economics then sought more or less naively to explain.

The safest thing is to consign Marx to the 19th century. He was the acorn and nothing more. Others take a gloomier view. The seed was blighted from the start. The dismal end was foreseeable. It was not by coincidence that Marx could not finish Das Kapital. It was riddled with contradictions. His personal frustration anticipated that of the Soviet Union.
Sven-Eric Liedman’s A World to Win narrative is pitched in a more upbeat key. His Marx is not a historical relic, nor is he the harbinger of a 20th-century shipwreck. He is the initiator and inspirer of a live intellectual tradition and a model of the kind of capacious thought that is necessary to grasp contemporary modernity. Liedman’s strength is as a political philosopher and he is superbly well-equipped to take us on a tour of Marx’s intellectual workshop. Rather than harping on the incomplete nature of much of Marx’s work, he exposes the richness to be found perhaps particularly in such unfinished works as Grundrisse and the early “Paris manuscripts” of 1844.

What makes returning to the original Marx worthwhile for Liedman is the conceit that with the passing of the 20th-century era of welfare states and Soviet communism, the world of globalized free-market capitalism we inhabit today has much in common with the world about which Marx wrote in the mid-19th century. “It is the Marx of the 19th century,” he tells us, “who can attract the people of the twenty-first”.

Women welders at Lincoln Motor Company, 1918 — don't they look like aliens in a SF movie? Alien slaves . . . This photo makes me grateful for manufacturing robots.

What speaks to us today is the true Marx of the mid-Victorian period, not the traduced Marx of the 20th-century state ideologies. This historical ellipse from the first, Victorian age of globalization to the present is seductive, but it ignores the uncomfortable reality of the 20th century, whose legacies include not only the failure of Soviet communism, but also China’s formidable state capitalism, American hyperpower and the existential threat of climate change. It hardly seems likely that Marx would have approved of such a historical sleight of hand. Rather than relying on casual historical analogies, Marx would surely have insisted on the need to stare the full drama of our current situation in the face and in doing so we can indeed take inspiration from his pioneering effort to make sense of both the political failure of 1848 and the economic crisis of 1857.

In 2013, in the wake of another global crisis of capitalism, another European economist published a comprehensive account of recent economic history. Thomas Piketty named his book Capital too. If you read Piketty and Marx back to back, you will not be surprised that generation after generation of readers have been drawn back to Marx. Even the best 21st-century social science pales beside the complexity and richness of Marx’s protean, 19th-century thought, to which Liedman’s readable biography provides a comprehensive and reliable guide.

https://www.ft.com/content/cf6532dc-4c67-11e8-97e4-13afc22d86d4


Marx traffic lights in Trier, Marx’s hometown in Germany

from another source:

~ “Marx was the first great critic of capitalism,” says Richard Wolff, a visiting professor at the New School in New York and one of the few Marxian economists in American academia. “And nothing has for certain guaranteed the presence and future of Marxism than the existence of capitalism, of which it is, you might say, the critical shadow.”

A central thesis of Marxism is that capitalism has given rise to two hostile classes: the workers, who in order to survive must exchange their labor for wages; and the bourgeoisie, who own the businesses that pay the workers. The bourgeoisie generate profit by paying their workers less than the entire value of the goods that they produce, keeping the rest for themselves.


This extraction of “surplus value” from workers, say Marxists, produces a fundamental contradiction. Employers must maximize profits by keeping wages as low as possible, but they must also continue to sell products, which becomes increasingly difficult as workers’ buying power is limited by low wages. From a employer’s revenue standpoint, the ideal would be to have poorly paid workers and highly paid customers, but that ideal becomes unattainable when pursued by everyone. The system, according to Marxist theory, inevitably feeds upon itself.


“Capital is chasing all over the globe for the cheapest possible labor that it can find, working it as long and as hard and as cheaply as it can,” says Wendy Brown, a political theorist at University of California, Berkeley. “Marx could have explained that to you 200 years ago.”

“The regimes that used his name,” says Professor Sperber, “don’t have a whole lot to do with Marx’s ideas. They were very centralized and bureaucratic. And Marx deeply, deeply hated bureaucrats.”

But even if Marxist regimes failed to implement his ideas, those ideas nonetheless spread. “Marxism in one form or another has penetrated into the history and culture of every country in the face of the Earth,” says Professor Wolff. “It has intermingled with every language, culture, level of historical development, and set of economic conditions and circumstances.”


Seven decades after those first shots were fired in Petrograd, the Bolsheviks’ grand and bloody experiment came to an abrupt halt with economic collapse and dissolution. To many observers, communism’s collapse in 1989 signaled the end of Marxism’s relevance.
But something unexpected happened along the way to what should have been capitalism’s triumph. In late 2007, the global economy imploded in a spectacularly Marxian fashion, leaving the banks themselves suddenly beggared and in need of a public bailout. The central myth of neoliberal capitalism, that market economies are inherently self-regulating, had been punctured, observers say.


“The crash opened up, in the very upset of conventional ways of thinking, a willingness to re-examine old issues that had never been resolved,” says Wolff.

To Professor Brown, the question of Marxism’s contemporary relevance has two answers: yes and no.


“He has tremendous relevance for our time. And I think there are limitations that have to do with his 19th-century context,” she says, noting that Marx never predicted the central role financial institutions would play in industrial economies.
Yet the critical tradition that Marx spawned, which extends across the humanities and social sciences, makes it impossible to contain Marxism entirely in a 19th-century context.” ~


https://www.csmonitor.com/Books/2018/0504/Karl-Marx-turns-200-Are-his-ideas-still-relevant


Marx’s statue in Chemnitz, Germany. I guess this is brutalist sculpture.

*


“Only poetry is optimistic in the twentieth century, through its sensual avidity, its premonitions of change, its prophecies with many meanings. Even if we leave no immortal works behind us, the discipline itself is worthy of praise.” ~ Milosz, Selected Essays (“Tiger”)
 
*

“People who do unspeakable things are often haunted by them for the rest of their lives. The rest of us, it seems to me, are more likely to be haunted by what we’ve left undone.” ~ Richard Russo
 
Oriana:

Here I'm reminded of Hollis’s criterion for decided whether or not to do something: Will doing it make you feel like a larger or a smaller person? Nevertheless, Buffett's advice about paring down your focus and saying no to most things is also relevant. "We manage best when we manage small."

*
PROUST: THE ABSENCE OF RELIGIOSITY

“Though I think of Proust as belonging more to the late 19th century, his minute psychological and philosophical explorations of memory were secular. Memory was the only afterlife, the only resurrection.” ~ Edmund White, quoted in the New York Times

~ Marcel Proust was the son of a Christian father and a Jewish mother. He himself was baptized (on August 5, 1871, at the church of Saint-Louis d'Antin) and later confirmed as a Catholic, but he never practiced that faith and as an adult could best be described as a mystical atheist, someone imbued with spirituality who nonetheless did not believe in a personal God, much less in a savior.

Oriana: A “mystical atheist”! — this is how I first tried to describe myself, honoring my sense of the mysterious and the sacred. Then I realized that “mysterious” was enough, and that my worldview was basically scientific, including the awe at the grandeur of the universe. As for “mystical experiences,” they were created by the brain with the same ease with which the brain created the cinema of dreams and fantasies. Even hallucinations were a perfectly normal neural phenomenon. There was no need to invoke mysticism.

from a blog on Proust: “. . . the notable absence of religiosity in the Narrator's grandmother's death bed scene.

Sure there is a perfunctory priest praying in the corner, but he serves a function not unlike a piece of furniture: he is there simply because he is supposed to be there. We read as the Narrator grapples with many things -- his changeable emotions; the shock he feels when he witnesses what his grandmother has become ("a beast that had put on her hair and crouched among her bedclothes... panting, whimpering, making the blankets heave with its convulsions" (ML, 458)); the "long, joyous song" that she makes as she nears the end; the improprieties of visitors and servants; and so on. But nobody in the chapter appears to grapple with thoughts of the afterlife, God's divine will, etc. Thankfully, there is no talk of how all of this is according to an unknown, but nevertheless perfect, Plan.

It strikes me that this may be a good time to review some of the indications that Proust has given us, so far in our reading, as to his relationship with religion. Here are four few passages that I have underlined along the way:

1. While clinging to a hope that he might rekindle his relationship with Gilberte in the new year, the Narrator comments:

    “For all that I might dedicate this new year to Gilberte, and, as one superimposes a religion on the blind laws of nature, endeavor to stamp New Year's Day with the particular image that I had formed of it, it was in vain... [I]t was passing in a wintry dusk.. the eternal common substance, the familiar moisture, the unheeding fluidity of old days and years” (WBG, 82).

(In the margin I scrawled: “Yes! atheist!”)

2. While discussing (once again) the unique experience of awakening from sleep, the Narrator off-handedly speculates:

    “What is it that guides us, when there has been a real interruption — whether it be that our unconsciousness has been complete or our dreams entirely different from ourselves? There has indeed been a death... No doubt the room... awakens memories to which other, older memories cling ... And perhaps the resurrection of the soul after death is to be conceived as a phenomenon of memory” (GW, 111).

(Here I wrote in the margin: “Not likely.” After all, I ask you, if we ascribe the “resurrection of the soul” to a “phenomenon of memory,” doesn't this make absurd the claims of an afterlife? This, it seems to me, is a refutation of religion cleverly disguised as a concession.)

3. When the Narrator first recognizes that his grandmother has suffered a stroke, and is therefore that much closer to death, the Narrator finds that he cannot take her conversation at face value anymore. Her words, he remarks, "assumed a baseless, adventitious, fantastical air, because they sprang from this same being who tomorrow perhaps would have ceased to exist, for whom they would no longer have any meaning, from the non-being -- incapable of conceiving them -- which my grandmother would shortly be" (GW, 425).

(Here, the way I read it anyway, I think Proust is revealing, almost inadvertently, his true estimation of what happens at the expiration of life: i.e., "non-being".)

4. Last one. After recovering from his grandmother's death, the Narrator gladly goes back "into society." One evening, while commenting the unthinking grace and nobility that Saint-Loup brings to everything he does, the Narrator reflects:

    "An artist has no need to express his thought directly in his work for the latter to reflect its quality; it has even been said that the highest praise for God consists in the denial of him by the atheist who finds creation so perfect that he can dispense with the creator" (GW, 568).

(This comment strikes me as intended to be a witty one — not a serious argument against the atheist viewpoint. Note that he does not assume it as his own; he introduces it with the phrase "it has even been said.”)

(alas, I’ve lost the link to the article)
*


Steve Davidson:

Man created god in his own image. It's in the book of Genesis. The translators just got the words turned around.


Oriana:

I started suspecting that early on. Then as I learned about mythology, it became increasingly obvious that as the image of man kept evolving, the image of god(s) kept changing too. One fascinating thing is that the Yahweh of Genesis definitely had a body, just like the Greek gods, and wasn't all powerful or the sole deity.

Bill Knight:

The turtle that holds the world up was run over by God in his pickup truck.


Oriana:

I'm so glad that finally someone modernized this “chariot” business! Of course these days it's a pick-up truck.

Yahweh in a chariot — nice wheels!

*

Since we already spoke about mTOR and longevity, this is a further elucidation.

RAPAMYCIN FOR LIFE EXTENSION?

 
~ “In the 1990s, pharmacologist Dave Sharp of the University of Texas’s Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies in San Antonio was studying mice with pituitary dwarfism—a condition in which the pituitary gland fails to make enough growth hormone for normal development. The puzzle, Sharp explains, was that research had shown that these hormone-deficient dwarf mice lived longer than normal mice. “I wondered, why is being small connected with longer life?” he says.

Yeast research led by molecular biologist Michael Hall at the University of Basel in Switzerland was to provide Sharp with an unexpected lead. In 1996, a team led by Hall (who would go on to win a Lasker award in 2017 for the work) revealed a new intracellular signaling pathway, mediated by the protein targets of a compound called rapamycin. Using this drug to block the “target of rapamycin” (TOR) proteins in yeast had the same effect as starvation did: treated yeast cells were smaller, but longer-lived than normal cells (Cell, 7:25-42, 1996). For Sharp, it sparked an idea. “Maybe TOR is a nutrient response system, connecting diet restriction and growth-factor restriction,” he recalls thinking. “I proposed that if you fed mice rapamycin, they would live a long time.”

Back then, the hypothesis was unconventional. Rapamycin, a compound first identified in the 1970s in a soil sample from Easter Island, has been used for decades to suppress the immune system in transplant patients; it seemed counterintuitive that it could prolong life, Sharp notes. “Nobody would read my proposals,” he says. “They’d just laugh. You know, ‘An immunosuppressant extending lifespan?’”

But research since then has lent support to Sharp’s theory. Studies in the early 2000s showed that the drug could make nematodes and fruit flies live longer, while research by Sharp and others suggested that TOR signaling is downregulated in long-lived dwarf mice. And a collaboration between Sharp and the Barshop Institute’s Randy Strong, the principal investigator for the National Institute on Aging’s Interventions Testing Program, led to a landmark mouse study that identified rapamycin as the first drug to extend lifespan in mammals (Nature, 460:392-95, 2009). By fine-tuning dosage and delivery systems over the next five years, the pair increased longevity in male mice by 23 percent and in females by 26 percent, compared to control animals (Aging Cell, 13:468–77, 2014).

Researchers have now expanded the study of rapamycin’s lifespan-extending effects to other animal species. For example, an ongoing collaboration between the University of Washington and Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine is studying the effects of rapamycin in companion dogs. Although it’s too early to say whether the drug does indeed extend the healthy lifespan, or healthspan, of the animals, “we found significant improvement in cardiac function after just 10 weeks,” says Texas A&M’s Kate Creevy. As part of her group’s efforts to move the drug towards regulatory approval for use as a pet medicine, the researchers initiated a Phase 2 clinical trial with the animals earlier this year. And because companion dogs, like humans, are more genetically diverse than laboratory animals, the studies represent a step toward better understanding how rapamycin performs in people.

Inhibiting TOR with rapamycin limits cell proliferation, for instance, but also has other, systemic side-effects in humans that are not fully understood. One possible explanation for the longevity connection is that, via the TOR pathway, rapamycin helps to prevent age-related disease. In the 2000s, the drug was shown by multiple groups to have antitumor properties in human cell lines and mice. It also seems to reduce some traits associated with later-age cognitive impairment. A few years ago, for example, the Barshop Institute team discovered that rapamycin improved later-life memory and learning, and reduced the development of amyloid plaques—a key feature of Alzheimer’s disease—in mouse brains (PLOS ONE, 5:e9979, 2010; Aging Cell, 11:326-35, 2012).

There are also more-recent hints that some of rapamycin’s effects could be mediated by the microbiome, which has multiple effects on immune system function. A couple of years ago, a team at the University of Washington got a clue from mouse droppings. “We noticed the feces of rapamycin-treated mice were a lot smaller than those of control mice,” says University of Washington postdoc Alessandro Bitto. “We sent samples to microbiome researchers in Missouri, and they found that gut microorganisms differed significantly between the two groups.” The rapamycin-treated mice in that study not only lived longer on average, but performed better on tests of physical skill and endurance (eLife, 5:e16351, 2016).

Extending such findings to humans is no easy task: decades-long studies are rarely attractive to investors, making human clinical trials on longevity difficult to fund. But studies on the health benefits of rapamycin for humans are gaining traction. A 2014 Novartis study suggested that rapamycin counterintuitively boosted the immune response in elderly humans—last year, the company announced a Phase 2 trial to study the drug’s impact on diseases affecting older people, and on “age-related decline.” And the National Institutes of Health is currently funding a study, led by Dean Kellogg of the Barshop Institute, on rapamycin’s effects on muscle strength, cognition, and immune function in healthy seniors. Meanwhile, the last decade has seen the development of several rapamycin derivatives for the treatment of cancer. For example, the FDA approved the derivative everolimus in 2009 for the treatment of renal cell carcinoma and for multiple other cancer types since.

Researchers such as Sharp have come to see such broad—and sometimes apparently conflicting—applications as an inherent feature of rapamycin biology. “Here’s a drug that could treat cancer and suppress the immune system, which is supposed to be the system that helps you not get cancer,” Sharp says. “So there’s always been a paradox with it.”

Strong sees it differently. “I think there are some gaps in our knowledge,” he says. “That’s why these things are, to us, paradoxical. When we finally figure it out, they won’t be so paradoxical anymore.” ~

https://www.the-scientist.com/notebook/could-rapamycin-help-humans-live-longer-30021

from Wiki:

~ “Rapamycin is produced by the bacterium Streptomyces hygroscopicus and was isolated for the first time in 1972 by Surendra Nath Sehgal and colleagues from samples of Streptomyces hygroscopicus found on Easter Island. The compound was originally named rapamycin after the native name of the island, Rapa Nui. Rapamycin was initially developed as an antifungal agent. However, this use was abandoned when it was discovered to have potent immunosuppressive and antiproliferative properties due to its ability to inhibit mTOR. It was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in September 1999 and is marketed under the trade name Rapamune by Pfizer (formerly by Wyeth).

Rapamycin has complex effects on the immune system—while IL-12 goes up and IL-10 decreases, which suggests an immunostimulatory response, TNF and IL-6 are decreased, which suggests an immunosuppressive response.
LUPUS: As of 2016 studies in cells, animals, and humans have suggested that mTOR activation as process underlying systemic lupus erythematosus and that inhibiting mTOR with rapamycin may be a disease-modifying treatment. As of 2016 rapamycin had been tested in small clinical trials in people with lupus.” ~

Oriana:

Doses used for immunosuppression after kidney transplant are high and produce side effects. The doses that would be effective for lifespan expansion would presumably be much smaller. The administration might also not be continuous but rather seasonal (based on the idea that winter used to be a season of lower-calorie intake).

Alas, all this is speculative at best. Longevity drugs (including metformin, which helps diabetics live longer than non-diabetics) don’t seem to interest Big Pharma. Fortunately, there are ways to suppress the mTOR signaling pathway through diet, especially the restriction of animal protein. But while certain aminoacids, especially leucine, stimulate mTOR (the acronym stands for “mammalian target of rapamycin”), other aminoacids, including lysine, inhibit mTOR signaling.

Green tea, onions, grapes, strawberries, and cruciferous vegetables (the cabbage family) also inhibit mTOR.


In summary: mTOR is wonderful in childhood when rapid growth is a sign of health. At an older age, however, the activation of mTOR appears to accelerate aging.
Broccoli sprouts, here we come!
 
*
PUSH-UPS PREDICT LONGEVITY

~ “Stefanos Kales, a professor at Harvard Medical School, noticed that the leading cause of death of firefighters on duty was not smoke inhalation, burns, or trauma, but sudden cardiac death. This is usually caused by coronary-artery disease. Even in this high-risk profession, people are most likely to die of the same thing as everyone else.

Still, the profession needed effective screening tests to define fitness for duty. Since firefighters are generally physically fit people, Kales’s lab looked at push-ups. He found that they were an even better predictor of cardiovascular disease than a submaximal treadmill test. “The results show a strong association between push-up capacity and decreased risk of subsequent cardiovascular disease,” Kales says.

Usually when studies like these come out, pockets of experts talk about how they should “incorporate it into clinical care” or otherwise take these new metrics seriously to cut down medical costs and to monitor health in ways that are better than body weight. Then the novelty fades, and the system keeps relying on body weight. But Kales contends that metrics beyond BMI and age have to be taken seriously. This is driven in part by the Americans With Disabilities Act, which mandates that people not be discriminated against in occupational settings based on BMI or age.

“Before the ADA, a fire or police department might have a BMI standard where they won’t accept you,” Kales says. “Now they want functional standards.” That is, they want to know whether you can do the job—not if you’re fat.

The push-up study could reasonably extend beyond firefighters. “Push-ups are another marker in a consistent story about whole-body exercise capacity and mortality,” says Michael Joyner, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic whose work focuses on the limits of human performance. “Any form of whole-body engagement becomes predictive of mortality if the population is large enough.”

That is to say: Health is not simply about push-ups. There’s also nothing magic about grip strength or walking speed. But these abilities tend to tell us a lot. Firefighters with higher push-up capacity were more likely to have low blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar, and not to smoke. People with the lowest grip strengths were more likely to smoke and have higher waist circumference and body-fat percentage, watch more TV, and eat fewer fruits and vegetables.

Granted, Joyner and other experts I heard from estimated that the number of Americans who can do a single push-up is likely only about 20 or 30 percent. But that’s an issue of practice more than destiny. “Most people could get to the point of doing 30 or 40—unless they have a shoulder problem or are really obese,” Joyner says.

Doing things that produce tangible, short-term results can lead to a domino effect of health behaviors. “If someone reads this article and starts doing push-ups, it would be a statement about their general conscientiousness and motivation,” says Joyner, “and that speaks to so many other health behaviors. People who follow guidelines, eat well, get their kids vaccinated—they tend to engage in other healthy behaviors.”

This “conscientious” type of behavior, Joyner notes, “is about as predictive of mortality as fitness itself.” And unlike BMI, push-ups and the like tend to encourage people to be conscious of what the body can achieve, not body image itself. Conscientiousness, Joyner says, means seeing a connection between how you live and what happens later, and behaving accordingly.

This sort of metric could equip us to cope with a treatment-based health-care system that teaches people that we can do what we like and then be healed with a pill or procedure. The marketing and sale of medical services tears down conscientiousness. Functional metrics of health could help build it back up.” ~ 




 https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/06/push-ups-body-weight-bmi/592834/?utm_source=pocket-newtab


ending on beauty:

WE GREW UP IN PLACES THAT ARE GONE

Why do we look
for sutures and siblings

in all the wrong places,
when Google gives us

22,950,000,000 results
for the word home?

~ Jennifer Robertson

*

New Hampshire by Alex Kanevsky, 2013













Saturday, July 6, 2019

LIFE’S MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION; WHY PLANTS THRIVE AROUND CHERNOBYL; WHAT THE SUICIDAL PILOT OF EGYPT-AIR 990 KEPT REPEATING; ARENDT ON AMERICAN VERSUS FRENCH REVOLUTION; THE ANTI-AGING BENEFITS OF AUTOPHAGY (“SELF-EATING”)

This sentiment, once the very essence of America as an ideal, would now be regarded as dangerously radical. 

*
CASTLE ANGER 

Like a legend the river flows
under willow leaves,
past a castle called
Anger, Gniew

In the flooded meadow, 
willows’ silver-green,
where the souls from Anger
might have climbed into peace.

And those who are now 
root and wood and leaf,
did they ever think 
it would be forgotten 

who lost and who won —
The natives of these 
Pomeranian hills 
disappeared long ago

into a forest of spike-helmet 
shadows. Only a fragment 
of their name survives,
rustling like a sudden wind.

Legend, you are too kind.
Oh willow, willow,
the dead in your arms,
their souls’ wet torn silks.


~ Oriana

Gniew Castle


RYSZARD KAPUŚCIŃSKI ON BORDERS

“European landscape: fortifications, defense walls, forts, fortresses, watchtowers, bunkers, military roads, barriers, checkpoints, borders. We see limes [Latin for boundary, e.g. limes Imperii Romani; cf “limits”] being built everywhere, made stronger, guarded ever more diligently, dividing the continent since the beginning of time.  

We won’t find anything like it in the history of Africa, or in its landscape. The space is open, free, nondelineated, undefended, unrestricted.” ~ Lapidarium IV, tr by Oriana 

Hadrian’s Wall, begun in 
122 c.e.

Mary:

Like the castle walls in the poem, the walls left by old, long fallen empires like Rome and China have managed to defend nothing, to preserve nothing but memories "rustling like a sudden wind," ghosts, and fragments of old old names. Perhaps we should be taking down these walls — physical and mental, that stand between cultures, nations, tribes, and all the splintered groups we sort ourselves into. They haven't served us well. 

Building new ones, designed to keep some out and others in, some down and others set over them, is probably the worst possible thing we could be doing. Short memories, fears of threats posed by those seen as “Others”— clinging to primitive, tribal ways of thinking, can only bring catastrophe. Again. A lesson it seems difficult to learn, and difficult to remember.

*


Defensive walls at Avila, Spain

WHAT PAIN DO YOU WANT IN YOUR LIFE?

~ “If I ask you, “What do you want out of life?” and you say something like, “I want to be happy and have a great family and a job I like,” it’s so ubiquitous that it doesn’t even mean anything.

A more interesting question, a question that perhaps you’ve never considered before, is what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.

Everybody wants to have an amazing job and financial independence — but not everyone wants to suffer through 60-hour work weeks, long commutes, obnoxious paperwork, to navigate arbitrary corporate hierarchies and the blasé confines of an infinite cubicle hell. People want to be rich without the risk, without the sacrifice, without the delayed gratification necessary to accumulate wealth.

Everybody wants to have great sex and an awesome relationship — but not everyone is willing to go through the tough conversations, the awkward silences, the hurt feelings and the emotional psychodrama to get there.

 happiness requires struggle. The positive is the side effect of handling the negative. You can only avoid negative experiences for so long before they come roaring back to life.

At the core of all human behavior, our needs are more or less similar. Positive experience is easy to handle. It’s negative experience that we all, by definition, struggle with. Therefore, what we get out of life is not determined by the good feelings we desire but by what bad feelings we’re willing and able to sustain to get us to those good feelings.

 People want to start their own business or become financially independent. But you don’t end up a successful entrepreneur unless you find a way to appreciate the risk, the uncertainty, the repeated failures, and working insane hours on something you have no idea whether will be successful or not.

People want a partner, a spouse. But you don’t end up attracting someone amazing without appreciating the emotional turbulence that comes with weathering rejections, building the sexual tension that never gets released, and staring blankly at a phone that never rings. It’s part of the game of love. You can’t win if you don’t play.

What determines your success isn’t “What do you want to enjoy?” The question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?” The quality of your life is not determined by the quality of your positive experiences but the quality of your negative experiences. And to get good at dealing with negative experiences is to get good at dealing with life. 

Sometimes I ask people, “How do you choose to suffer?” These people tilt their heads and look at me like I have twelve noses. But I ask because that tells me far more about you than your desires and fantasies. Because you have to choose something. You can’t have a pain-free life. It can’t all be roses and unicorns. And ultimately that’s the hard question that matters. Pleasure is an easy question. And pretty much all of us have similar answers. The more interesting question is the pain. What is the pain that you want to sustain? 

That answer will actually get you somewhere. It’s the question that can change your life. It’s what makes me me and you you. It’s what defines us and separates us and ultimately brings us together.

For most of my adolescence and young adulthood, I fantasized about being a musician — a rock star, in particular. Any badass guitar song I heard, I would always close my eyes and envision myself up on stage playing it to the screams of the crowd, people absolutely losing their minds to my sweet finger-noodling. This fantasy could keep me occupied for hours on end. The fantasizing continued up through college, even after I dropped out of music school and stopped playing seriously. But even then it was never a question of if I’d ever be up playing in front of screaming crowds, but when. I was biding my time before I could invest the proper amount of time and effort into getting out there and making it work. First, I needed to finish school. Then, I needed to make money. Then, I needed to find the time. Then… and then nothing.

Despite fantasizing about this for over half of my life, the reality never came. And it took me a long time and a lot of negative experiences to finally figure out why: I didn’t actually want it. 

I was in love with the result — the image of me on stage, people cheering, me rocking out, pouring my heart into what I’m playing — but I wasn’t in love with the process. And because of that, I failed at it. Repeatedly. Hell, I didn’t even try hard enough to fail at it. I hardly tried at all.

The daily drudgery of practicing, the logistics of finding a group and rehearsing, the pain of finding gigs and actually getting people to show up and give a shit. The broken strings, the blown tube amp, hauling 40 pounds of gear to and from rehearsals with no car. It’s a mountain of a dream and a mile-high climb to the top. And what it took me a long time to discover is that I didn’t like to climb much. I just liked to imagine the top. 

I wanted the reward and not the struggle. I wanted the result and not the process. I was in love not with the fight but only the victory. And life doesn’t work that way. 

Who you are is defined by the values you are willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who get in good shape. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who move up it. 

This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes. So choose your struggles wisely, my friend.” ~ 

Oriana: 

I agree that you have to enjoy the process — and the process, whether it is the so-called “creative process” or working out at the gym, is by no means 100% joy. There are always plenty of headaches and difficulties. Any teacher can talk for hours about the troubles you encounter while teaching — and yet outstanding teachers take such joy in teaching that they literally live for it. Or take any scientist who has spent years exploring a theory that ultimately had to be abandoned. 

Examples can be multiplied, but only the details differ. Ultimately, you either enjoy the process and are willing to put up with the negative aspects of it — or you are too preoccupied with the outcome to make an honest effort. I agree: we are defined by the struggle, by the pain we are willing to endure. 


“Willing to endure,” however, does not quite equal to “want.” I realize that the author wanted a provocative title. But it’s our unconscious that decides. Funny, recently I had a dream in which someone said, “You don’t plan to become a father; you become a father and plan from there.” Somehow I finished this statement with “You don’t plan to buy a house; you buy a house and plan from there.” 


I'm not saying that these are absolute truths, but intuitively they make some sense. No one would have a child based on logical reasoning. Likewise, if you start thinking about the huge expense of buying a house, you may become paralyzed. But your unconscious will push you one way or another. To go against that deep urge would mean a lifelong misery. 

Van Gogh: Houses at Auvers, June 1890

*
INTROVERSION AND EXTRAVERSION: NOT OPPOSITES?

~ "Jennifer Grimes posits that introversion is not the opposite of extroversion, but that they are two different traits altogether. And she proposes something that has come up here from time to time: That introversion actually is on the autism scale.

Grimes' thesis explains that if you take each of the factors this new model proposes and follow it along a continuum to their most extreme expressions, they correlate with the widely used Baron-Cohen Autism Spectrum Quotient.

Depending on how much we have of each factor (and how they interact with other personality traits), we can be simply introverted or, moving along the continuum, have Asperger's syndrome or, moving further yet, have autism.

Consider, for example, that many of us tend to think slowly and are not quick at communicating. At the introvert level, no big deal. Take that communication difficulty and move it along the scale Grimes proposes and you get to Asperger's and then autism.

Same with our tendency to focus deeply: At the healthy end of the scale that can be perseverance. Take it further, and you hit perseveration, which is not so good.

Grimes suspects Aron's sensitivity theory is outside of introversion. "That sounds like it belongs more in openness, the tendency to become frazzled and overwhelmed coupled with physical sensitivity is its own thing."

If introversion requires its own scale, it follows that extroversion does too. And if autism is on one far end of the introversion scale, what's on the far end of an extroversion scale? Narcissism? Exhibitionism? Lady Gaga?” ~


Oriana: 

I still think the essence of the difference between extraverts and introverts lies in different sensitivity to stimulation and different degrees of resting arousal. It’s about the reduction versus augmentation of incoming stimuli, first suggested by A. Petrie in 1967. Introverts are augmenters, and are easily overstimulated by loud sounds, bright lights, excess speed, chaos (aka “bedlam”), too many people talking at once. Extraverts are reducers, chronically under-stimulated and easily bored; they crave stimulation. 



Eysenck stated this in terms of “arousal.” Introverts have a higher baseline level of arousal.

~ “Eysenck believed that the difference between extroverts and introverts was their level of arousal. This means how stimulated and responsive they become to their surroundings.

He proposed that the level of arousal for extroverts is tremendously lower, so they must seek more stimulating activities to be at the normal state of arousal. This is why they seek adventure and the company of others.

On the other hand, introverts have a higher level of arousal, so it doesn’t take as much to raise it to the normal state. This is why the adventure extroverts pursue may be overwhelming for them, so they would rather be alone.” ~



Others have commented that introverts get their energy from being alone. They also like to think, to analyze everything. Contrary to stereotype, some introverts become charismatic public speakers or performers (based on my experience, feeling in control is the key). 

I’ve met introverts who have excellent social skills and deep empathy, so I am not sure that I’d want to go near autism here. Sure, introverts can concentrate in depth on small details, and work for hours in solitude — in fact that’s their preferred mode, the way they “pursue their bliss” — and that’s a similarity, at least on the surface. 

Likewise, both introverts and autistics tend to love animals and tend to prefer routine to novelty and risk-taking. But again, this may relate to sensitivity to stimulation and to how easily a person is overwhelmed by strong stimulation. Thus, introverts can enjoy company for a while, especially if it’s intellectually stimulating — but then have to be alone to recuperate. Too much stimulation exhausts them, and that includes social stimulation. I agree with Aron that to be happy, an introvert needs to avoid overstimulation. 

It’s also been suggested that introversion belongs more on the spectrum of imagination and creativity, of having a richer inner life. 

Mary:

I agree that introversion has more to do with sensitivity to stimulation than with any relation to autism. With autism there is no connection to others in terms of understanding and empathy...eye contact is avoided, and there doesn’t seem to be an understanding that the other is also a self in the same way you are a self. 

Yes, autism brings great difficulty with overstimulation, so that even mild stimulation can be overwhelming and intolerable, and the introvert may also find that their sensitivity can make overstimulation unpleasant. But the introvert may simply move back, withdraw for a respite, not become so overwhelmed they are not able to function. It's a matter of levels and degrees, and of beginning from very different bases. 

The autistic can’t connect and refuses connection, while the introvert may connect so powerfully that it becomes exhausting and they need some respite. They don’t shut things out but are maybe so wide open, so without defensive walls and filters, they get “bowled over” by the intensity of their sensations. The autistic can’t get over the wall; the introvert may need a kind of levee or floodgate to regulate, not stop, sensation.

*

“The concentration camps, by making death itself anonymous (making it impossible to find out whether a prisoner is dead or alive), robbed death of its meaning as the end of a fulfilled life. In a sense they took away the individual’s own death, proving that henceforth nothing belonged to him and he belonged to no one. His death merely set a seal on the fact that he had never existed.” ~ Hannah Arendt

Oriana: 

What struck me here was the phrase "death as the end of a fulfilled life." So much depends on what a person has managed to contribute. And I'm reminded here of the almost-commandment: “You always have something to give.” 

*

“Give, share, lose—lest we die unbloomed.” ~ Allen Ginsberg


WHY PLANTS THRIVE AROUND CHERNOBYL

~ “Chernobyl has become a byword for catastrophe. The 1986 nuclear disaster, recently brought back into the public eye by the hugely popular TV show of the same name, caused thousands of cancers, turned a once populous area into a ghost city, and resulted in the setting up of an exclusion zone 2600km² in size.

But Chernobyl’s exclusion zone isn’t devoid of life. Wolves, boars and bears have returned to the lush forests surrounding the old nuclear plant. And when it comes to vegetation, all but the most vulnerable and exposed plant life never died in the first place, and even in the most radioactive areas of the zone, vegetation was recovering within three years.

Humans and other mammals and birds would have been killed many times over by the radiation that plants in the most contaminated areas received. So why is plant life so resilient to radiation and nuclear disaster?

In animals [cell damage by radiation] is often fatal, because their cells and systems are highly specialized and inflexible. Think of animal biology as an intricate machine in which each cell and organ has a place and purpose, and all parts must work and cooperate for the individual to survive. A human cannot manage without a brain, heart or lungs.

Plants, however, develop in a much more flexible and organic way. Because they can’t move, they have no choice but to adapt to the circumstances in which they find themselves. Rather than having a defined structure as an animal does, plants make it up as they go along. Whether they grow deeper roots or a taller stem depends on the balance of chemical signals from other parts of the plant and the “wood wide web”, as well as light, temperature, water and nutrient conditions.

Critically, unlike animal cells, almost all plant cells are able to create new cells of whatever type the plant needs. This is why a gardener can grow new plants from cuttings, with roots sprouting from what was once a stem or leaf.

All of this means that plants can replace dead cells or tissues much more easily than animals, whether the damage is due to being attacked by an animal or to radiation.

And while radiation and other types of DNA damage can cause tumors in plants, mutated cells are generally not able to spread from one part of the plant to another as cancers do, thanks to the rigid, interconnecting walls surrounding plant cells. Nor are such tumors fatal in the vast majority of cases, because the plant can find ways to work around the malfunctioning tissue.

Interestingly, in addition to this innate resilience to radiation, some plants in the Chernobyl exclusion zone seem to be using extra mechanisms to protect their DNA, changing its chemistry to make it more resistant to damage, and turning on systems to repair it if this doesn’t work. Levels of natural radiation on the Earth’s surface were much higher in the distant past when early plants were evolving, so plants in the exclusion zone may be drawing upon adaptations dating back to this time in order to survive.

Life is now thriving around Chernobyl. Populations of many plant and animal species are actually greater than they were before the disaster.

Given the tragic loss and shortening of human lives associated with Chernobyl, this resurgence of nature may surprise you. Radiation does have demonstrably harmful effects on plant life, and may shorten the lives of individual plants and animals. But if life-sustaining resources are in abundant enough supply and burdens are not fatal, then life will flourish.

Crucially, the burden brought by radiation at Chernobyl is less severe than the benefits reaped from humans leaving the area. Now essentially one of Europe’s largest nature preserves, the ecosystem supports more life than before, even if each individual cycle of that life lasts a little less.

In a way, the Chernobyl disaster reveals the true extent of our environmental impact on the planet. Harmful as it was, the nuclear accident was far less destructive to the local ecosystem than we were. In driving ourselves away from the area, we have created space for nature to return.


Mary:

And what a lesson Chernobyl gives us!! That the pressure we put on all other life is greater and more destructive than all the poisons released by a nuclear disaster! Gone, we won't be mourned or missed, and the world will flourish.

*

“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied . . . but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.” ~ John Berger, Keeping a Rendezvous


Odysseus disguised as a beggar


HANNAH ARENDT’S AMAZING INSIGHTS INTO THE AMERICAN VERSUS FRENCH REVOLUTION

~ “The fact that the word “revolution” originally meant restoration is more than a mere oddity of semantics. Even the 18th-century revolutions cannot be understood without realizing that revolutions first broke out when restoration had been their aim, and that the content of such restoration was freedom. In America, in the words of John Adams, the men of the revolution had been “called without expectation and compelled without previous inclination”; the same is true for France where, in Tocqueville’s words, “one might have believed the aim of the coming revolution was the restoration of the ancien régime rather than its overthrow.” And in the course of both revolutions, when the actors became aware that they were embarking upon an entirely new enterprise rather than revolving back to anything preceding it, when the word “revolution” consequently was acquiring its new meaning, it was Thomas Paine, of all people, who, still true to the spirit of the bygone age, proposed in all seriousness to call the American and French revolutions “counter-revolutions.” He wanted to save the extraordinary events from the suspicion that an entirely new beginning had been made, and from the odium of violence with which these events were inevitably linked.

Hence, what actually happened at the end of the 18th century was that an attempt at restoration and recovery of old rights and privileges resulted in its exact opposite: a progressing development and the opening up of a future which defied all further attempts at acting or thinking in terms of a circular or revolving motion. And while the term “revolution” was radically transformed in the revolutionary process, something similar, but infinitely more complex, happened to the word “freedom.” As long as nothing more was meant by it than freedom “by God’s blessing restored,” it remained a matter of those rights and liberties we today associate with constitutional government, which properly are called civil rights. What was not included in them was the political right to participate in public affairs. None of those other rights, including the right to be represented for purposes of taxation, were either in theory or practice the result of revolution. Not “life, liberty, and property,” but the claim that they were inalienable rights of all human creatures, no matter where they lived or what kind of government they enjoyed, was revolutionary. And even in this new and revolutionary extension to all mankind, liberty meant no more than freedom from unjustifiable restraint, that is, something essentially negative.

No revolution, no matter how wide it opened its gates to the masses and the downtrodden—les malheureux, les misérables, les damnés de la terre, as we know them from the grand rhetoric of the French Revolution—was ever started by them. And no revolution was ever the result of conspiracies, secret societies, or openly revolutionary parties. Speaking generally, no revolution is even possible where the authority of the body politic is intact, which, under modern conditions, means where the armed forces can be trusted to obey the civil authorities. Revolutions are not necessary but possible answers to the devolution of a regime, not the cause but the consequence of the downfall of political authority. Wherever these disintegrative processes have been allowed to develop unchecked, usually over a prolonged period, revolutions may occur under the condition that a sufficient number of the populace exists which is prepared for a regime’s collapse and is willing to assume power. Revolutions always appear to succeed with amazing ease in their initial stages, and the reason is that those who supposedly “make” revolutions do not “seize power” but rather pick it up where it lies in the streets.



If the men of the American and French revolutions had anything in common prior to the events which were to determine their lives, shape their convictions, and eventually draw them apart, it was a passionate longing to participate in public affairs, and a no less passionate disgust with the hypocrisy and foolishness of “good society”—to which must be added a restlessness and more or less outspoken contempt for the pettiness of merely private affairs. In the sense of the formation of this very special mentality, John Adams was entirely right when he said that “the revolution was effected before the war commenced,” not because of a specifically revolutionary or rebellious spirit, but because the inhabitants  of the colonies were “formed by law into corporations, or bodies politic” with the “right to assemble . . . in their own town halls, there to deliberate upon public affairs,” for it was indeed “in these assemblies of towns or districts that the sentiments of the people were formed in the first place.”

*

To understand the role of antiquity in the history of revolutions we would have to recall the enthusiasm for “ancient prudence” with which Harrington and Milton greeted Cromwell’s dictatorship, and how this enthusiasm had been revived in the 18th century by Montesquieu’s Considerations on the Causes of the Grandeur and the Decadence of the Romans. Without the classical example of what politics could be and participation in public affairs could mean for the happiness of man, none of the men of the revolutions would have possessed the courage for what would appear as unprecedented action. Historically speaking, it was as if the Renaissance’s revival of antiquity was suddenly granted a new lease on life, as if the republican fervor of the short-lived Italian city-states, foredoomed by the advent of the nation-state, had only lain dormant, so to speak, to give the nations of Europe the time to grow up under the tutelage of absolute princes and enlightened despots.

No doubt, it is obvious and of great consequence that this passion for freedom for its own sake awoke in and was nourished by men of leisure, by the hommes de lettres who had no masters and were not always busy making a living. In other words, they enjoyed the privileges of Athenian and Roman citizens without taking part in those affairs of state that so occupied the freemen of antiquity. Needless to add, where men live in truly miserable conditions this passion for freedom is unknown. And if we need additional proof of the absence of such conditions in the colonies, the “lovely equality” in America where, as Jefferson put it, “the most conspicuously wretched individual” was better off than 19 out of the 20 million inhabitants of France, we need only remember that John Adams ascribed this love of freedom to “poor and rich, high and low, ignorant and learned.” It is the chief, perhaps the only reason, why the principles that inspired the men of the first revolutions were triumphantly victorious in America and failed tragically in France. Seen with American eyes, a republican government in France was “as unnatural, irrational, and impracticable as it would be over elephants, lions, tigers, panthers, wolves, and bears in the royal menagerie at Versailles” (John Adams). The reason why the attempt was made nevertheless is that those who made it, les hommes de lettres, were not much different from their American colleagues; it was only in the course of the French Revolution that they learned they were acting under radically different circumstances.

The circumstances differed in political as well as social respects. Even the rule of King and Parliament in England was “mild government” in comparison with French absolutism. Under its auspices, England developed an intricate and well-functioning regime of self-government, which needed only the explicit foundation of a republic to confirm its existence. Still, these political differences, though important enough, were negligible compared with the formidable obstacle to the constitution of freedom inherent in the social conditions of Europe. The men of the first revolutions, though they knew well enough that liberation had to precede freedom, were still unaware of the fact that such liberation means more than political liberation from absolute and despotic power; that to be free for freedom meant first of all to be free not only from fear but also from want. And the condition of desperate poverty of the masses of the people, those who for the first time burst into the open when they streamed into the streets of Paris, could not be overcome with political means; the mighty power of the constraint under which they labored did not crumble before the onslaught of the revolution as did the royal power of the king.

The American Revolution was fortunate that it did not have to face this obstacle to freedom and, in fact, owed a good measure of its success to the absence of desperate poverty among the freemen, and to the invisibility of slaves, in the colonies of the New World. To be sure, there was poverty and misery in America, which was comparable to the conditions of the European “laboring poor.” If, in William Penn’s words, “America was a good poor Man’s country” and remained the dream of a promised land for Europe’s impoverished up to the beginning of the 20th century, it is no less true that this goodness depended to a considerable degree on black misery. In the middle of the 18th century, there lived roughly 400,000 blacks along with approximately 1,850,00 whites in America, and, despite the absence of reliable statistical information, it may be doubted that at the time the percentage of complete destitution was higher in the countries of the Old World (though it would become considerably higher during the 19th century). The difference, then, was that the American Revolution—because of the institution of slavery and the belief that slaves belonged to a different “race”—overlooked the existence of the miserable, and with it the formidable task of liberating those who were not so much constrained by political oppression as the sheer necessities of life. Les malheureux, the wretched, who play such a tremendous role in the course of the French Revolution, which identified them with le peuple, either did not exist or remained in complete obscurity in America.

One of the principal consequences of the revolution in France was, for the first time in history, to bring le peuple into the streets and make them visible. When this happened it turned out that not just freedom but the freedom to be free had always been the privilege of the few. By the same token, however, the American Revolution has remained without much consequence for the historical understanding of revolutions, while the French Revolution, which ended in resounding failure, has determined and is still determining what now we call the revolutionary tradition.” ~ 


Storming of the Bastille, July 14, 1789


Oriana:

Lots of insight here. If you ponder that the word "revolution" is related to "revolve," you can see that "restoration" can be inferred — and not moving into a new territory.

The insight about the different economical situation in the American colonies especially caught my attention.

Mary:

I was struck by the difference pointed out between the governments rebelled against, Great Britain and France.

Oriana:

Funny how rarely (if ever) this is mentioned. England was a constitutional monarchy (think of the Magna Carta) while France was an absolutist monarchy, the equivalent of dictatorship.

*

JEFFERSON’S LAST LETTER 

Jefferson was ill and had to excuse himself from attending July 4 celebrations. The closing paragraph is especially vivid: “all eyes are opened, or opening to the rights of man. the general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born, with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of god. these are grounds of hope for others. for ourselves let the annual return of this day, for ever refresh our recollections of these rights and an undiminished devotion to them.”

It went down in history as the last letter Jefferson ever wrote. As most Americans know, Jefferson died shortly after noon that July 4 [1826]. A few hours later, his lifelong friend and sometime rival John Adams also died, with Jefferson’s name on his lips.

The almost unbelievable timing of their deaths resounded as an exclamation mark on the Revolutionary period, hailed by Daniel Webster and others as evidence of divine providence at the root of the nation.

Jefferson’s words in the letter to the mayor of Washington were reprinted far and wide, even emblazoned on silk scarves, as a reminder of what unites us beyond the divisions of the moment." from The Washington Post, 2017


EGYPT AIR 990: WHAT THE PILOT KEPT REPEATING

~ “One of the world's really important divides lies between nations that react well to accidents and nations that do not. This is as true for a confined and technical event like the crash of a single flight as it is for political or military disasters. The first requirement is a matter of national will, and never a sure thing: it is the intention to get the story right, wherever the blame may lie. The second requirement follows immediately upon the first, and is probably easier to achieve: it is the need for people in the aftermath to maintain even tempers and open minds. The path they follow may not be simple, but it can provide for at least the possibility of effective resolutions.

The en-route controller working the flight was a woman named Ann Brennan, a private pilot with eight years on the job. She had the swagger of a good controller, a real pro. Later she characterized the air traffic that night as slow, which it was—during the critical hour she had handled only three other flights. The offshore military-exercise zones, known as warning areas, were inactive. The sky was sleeping.

At 1:47 Brennan said, "EgyptAir Nine-ninety, change to my frequency one-two-five-point-niner-two."

EgyptAir acknowledged the request with a friendly "Good day," and after a pause checked in on the new frequency: "New York, EgyptAir Nine-nine-zero heavy, good morning."

Brennan answered, "EgyptAir Nine-ninety, roger."

That was the last exchange. Brennan noticed that the flight still had about fifteen minutes to go before leaving her sector. Wearing her headset, she stood up and walked six feet away to sort some paperwork. In total she spent maybe six minutes away from her station, a reasonable interval on such a night. It was just unlucky that while her back was turned Flight 990 went down.

A computer captured what she would have seen—a strangely abstract death no more dramatic than a video game. About two minutes after the final radio call, at 1:49:53 in the morning, the radar swept across EgyptAir's transponder at 33,000 feet. Afterward, at successive twelve-second intervals, the radar read 31,500, 25,400, and 18,300 feet—a descent rate so great that the air-traffic-control computers interpreted the information as false, and showed "XXXX" for the altitude on Brennan's display. With the next sweep the radar lost the transponder entirely, and picked up only an unenhanced "primary" blip, a return from the airplane's metal mass. The surprise is that the radar continued to receive such returns (which show only location, and not altitude) for nearly another minute and a half, indicating that the dive must have dramatically slowed or stopped, and that the 767 remained airborne, however tenuously, during that interval. A minute and a half is a long time. As the Boeing simulations later showed, it must have been a strange and dreamlike period for the pilots, hurtling through the night with no chance of awakening.

The U.S. Navy was given the job of salvage, and it in turn hired a contractor named Oceaneering, which arrived with a ship and grapples and remote-controlled submarines. Nine days after the accident the flight-data recorder—the "black box" that records flight and systems data—was retrieved and sent to the NTSB laboratory in Washington. the second black box, the cockpit voice recorder, had been salvaged the night before and was sent on Sunday to the NTSB. The tape was cleaned and processed, and a small group that included a translator (who was not Egyptian) gathered in a listening room at L'Enfant Plaza to hear it through. 

"I Rely on God"

Listening to cockpit recordings is a tough and voyeuristic duty, restricted to the principal investigators and people with specific knowledge of the airplane or the pilots, who might help to prepare an accurate transcript. Experienced investigators grow accustomed to the job, but I talked to several who had heard the EgyptAir tape, and they admitted that they had been taken aback. Black boxes are such pitiless, unblinking devices. When the information they contained from Flight 990 was combined with the radar profile and the first, sketchy information on the crew, this was the story it seemed to tell:

The flight lasted thirty-one minutes. During the departure from New York it was captained, as required, by the aircraft commander, a portly senior pilot named Ahmad al-Habashi, fifty-seven, who had flown thirty-six years for the airline. Habashi of course sat in the left seat. In the right seat was the most junior member of the crew, a thirty-six-year-old co-pilot who was progressing well in his career and looking forward to getting married. Before takeoff the co-pilot advised the flight attendants by saying, in Arabic, "In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate. Cabin crew takeoff position." This was not unusual.

After takeoff the autopilot did the flying. Habashi and the co-pilot kept watch, talked to air-traffic control, and gossiped about their work. The cockpit door was unlocked, which was fairly standard on EgyptAir flights. Various flight attendants came in and left; for a while the chief pilot, the man who was deadheading back to Cairo, stopped by the cockpit to chat. Then, twenty minutes into the flight, the "cruise" co-pilot, Gameel al-Batouti, arrived. Batouti was a big, friendly guy with a reputation for telling jokes and enjoying life. Three months short of sixty, and mandatory retirement, he was unusually old for a co-pilot. He had joined the airline in his mid-forties, after a career as a flight instructor for the air force, and had rejected several opportunities for command. His lack of ambition was odd but not unheard of: his English was poor and might have given him trouble on the necessary exams; moreover, as the company's senior 767 co-pilot, he made adequate money and had his pick of long-distance flights. Now he used his seniority to urge the junior co-pilot to cede the right seat ahead of the scheduled crew change. When the junior man resisted, Batouti said, "You mean you're not going to get up? You will get up. Go and get some rest and come back." The junior co-pilot stayed in his seat a bit longer and then left the cockpit. Batouti took the seat and buckled in.

Batouti was married and had five children. Four of them were grown and doing well. His fifth child was a girl, age ten, who was sick with lupus but responding to treatment that he had arranged for her to receive in Los Angeles. Batouti had a nice house in Cairo. He had a vacation house on the beach. He did not drink heavily. He was moderately religious. He had his retirement planned. He had acquired an automobile tire in New Jersey the day before, and was bringing it home in the cargo hold. He had also picked up some free samples of Viagra, to distribute as gifts.

At 1:47 A.M. the last calls came in from air-traffic control, from Ann Brennan, far off in the night at her display. Captain Habashi handled the calls. He said, "New York, EgyptAir Nine-nine-zero heavy, good morning," and she answered with her final "EgyptAir Nine-ninety, roger.”

At 1:48 Batouti found the junior co-pilot's pen and handed it across to Habashi. He said, "Look, here's the new first officer's pen. Give it to him, please. God spare you." He added, "To make sure it doesn't get lost."

Habashi said, "Excuse me, Jimmy, while I take a quick trip to the toilet." He ran his electric seat back with a whir. There was the sound of the cockpit door moving.

Batouti said, "Go ahead, please."

Habashi said, "Before it gets crowded. While they are eating. And I'll be back to you."

Again the cockpit door moved. There was a clunk. There was a clink. It seems that Batouti was now alone in the cockpit. The 767 was at 33,000 feet, cruising peacefully eastward at .79 Mach.

At 1:48:30 a strange, wordlike sound was uttered, three syllables with emphasis on the second, perhaps more English than Arabic, and variously heard on the tape as "control it," "hydraulic," or something unintelligible. The NTSB ran extensive speech and sound-spectrum studies on it, and was never able to assign it conclusively to Batouti or to anyone else. But what is clear is that Batouti then softly said, "Tawakkalt ala Allah," which proved difficult to translate, and was at first rendered incorrectly, but essentially means "I rely on God." An electric seat whirred. The autopilot disengaged, and the airplane sailed on as before for another four seconds. Again Batouti said, "I rely on God." Then two things happened almost simultaneously, according to the flight-data recorder: the throttles in the cockpit moved back fast to minimum idle, and a second later, back at the tail, the airplane's massive elevators (the pitch-control surfaces) dropped to a three-degrees-down position. When the elevators drop, the tail goes up; and when the tail goes up, the nose points down. Apparently Batouti had chopped the power and pushed the control yoke forward.

The effect was dramatic. The airplane began to dive steeply, dropping its nose so quickly that the environment inside plunged to nearly zero gs, the weightless condition of space. Six times in quick succession Batouti repeated, "I rely on God." His tone was calm. There was a loud thump. As the nose continued to pitch downward, the airplane went into the negative-g range, nudging loose objects against the ceiling. The elevators moved even farther down. Batouti said, "I rely on God."


Gameel al-Batouti

Somehow, in the midst of this, now sixteen seconds into the dive, Captain Habashi made his way back from the toilet. He yelled, "What's happening? What's happening?"

Batouti said, "I rely on God.”

The wind outside was roaring. The airplane was dropping through 30,800 feet, and accelerating beyond its maximum operating speed of .86 Mach. In the cockpit the altimeters were spinning like cartoon clocks. Warning horns were sounding, warning lights were flashing—low oil pressure on the left engine, and then on the right. The master alarm went off, a loud high-to-low warble.

For the last time Batouti said, "I rely on God."

Again Habashi shouted, "What's happening?" By then he must have reached the left control yoke. The negative gs ended as he countered the pitch-over, slowing the rate at which the nose was dropping. But the 767 was still angled down steeply, 40 degrees below the horizon, and it was accelerating. The rate of descent hit 39,000 feet a minute.

"What's happening, Gameel? What's happening?"

Habashi was clearly pulling very hard on his control yoke, trying desperately to raise the nose. Even so, thirty seconds into the dive, at 22,200 feet, the airplane hit the speed of sound, at which it was certainly not meant to fly. Many things happened in quick succession in the cockpit. Batouti reached over and shut off the fuel, killing both engines. Habashi screamed, "What is this? What is this? Did you shut the engines?" The throttles were pushed full forward—for no obvious reason, since the engines were dead. The speed-brake handle was then pulled, deploying drag devices on the wings.

At the same time, there was an unusual occurrence back at the tail: the right-side and left-side elevators, which normally move together to control the airplane's pitch, began to "split," or move in opposite directions. Specifically: the elevator on the right remained down, while the left-side elevator moved up to a healthy recovery position. That this could happen at all was the result of a design feature meant to allow either pilot to overpower a mechanical jam and control the airplane with only one elevator. The details are complex, but the essence in this case seemed to be that the right elevator was being pushed down by Batouti while the left elevator was being pulled up by the captain. The NTSB concluded that a "force fight" had broken out in the cockpit.

Words were failing Habashi. He yelled, "Get away in the engines!" And then, incredulously, "... shut the engines!"

Batouti said calmly, "It's shut."

Habashi did not have time to make sense of the happenings. He probably did not have time to get into his seat and slide it forward. He must have been standing in the cockpit, leaning over the seatback and hauling on the controls. The commotion was horrendous. He was reacting instinctively as a pilot, yelling, "Pull!" and then, "Pull with me! Pull with me! Pull with me!"

It was the last instant captured by the on-board flight recorders. The elevators were split, with the one on the right side, Batouti's side, still pushed into a nose-down position. The ailerons on both wings had assumed a strange upswept position, normally never seen on an airplane. The 767 was at 16,416 feet, doing 527 miles an hour, and pulling a moderately heavy 2.4 gs, indicating that the nose, though still below the horizon, was rising fast, and that Habashi's efforts on the left side were having an effect. A belated recovery was under way. At that point, because the engines had been cut, all nonessential electrical devices were lost, blacking out not only the recorders, which rely on primary power, but also most of the instrument displays and lights. The pilots were left to the darkness of the sky, whether to work together or to fight. I've often wondered what happened between those two men during the 114 seconds that remained of their lives. We'll never know. Radar reconstruction showed that the 767 recovered from the dive at 16,000 feet and, like a great wounded glider, soared steeply back to 24,000 feet, turned to the southeast while beginning to break apart, and shed its useless left engine and some of its skin before giving up for good and diving to its death at high speed.

When this evidence emerged at the NTSB, the American investigators were shocked but also relieved by the obvious conclusion. There was no bomb here. Despite initial fears, there was nothing wrong with the airplane. The apparent cause was pilot error at its extreme: Batouti had gone haywire. Every detail that emerged from the two flight recorders fit that scenario: the sequence of the switches and controls that were moved, the responses of the airplane, and the words that were spoken, however cryptic and incomplete. Batouti had waited to be alone in the cockpit, and had intentionally pushed the airplane to its death. He had even fought the captain's valiant attempt at recovery. 

While the Egyptians were proposing theory after theory to absolve Batouti, the FBI was conducting a criminal investigation, collecting evidence that provided for his possible motive. Mostly through interviews with employees of the Pennsylvania Hotel, the FBI found that Batouti had a reputation for sexual impropriety—and not merely by the prudish standards of America. It was reported that on multiple occasions over the previous two years he had been suspected of exposing himself to teenage girls, masturbating in public, following female guests to their rooms, and listening at their doors. Some of the maids, it was said, were afraid of him, and the hotel security guards had once brought him in for questioning and a warning. Apparently the hotel had considered banning him. The FBI learned that EgyptAir was aware of these problems and had warned Batouti to control his behavior. He was not considered to be a dangerous man—and certainly he was more sad than bad. In fact, there was a good side to Batouti that came out in these interviews as well. He was very human. Many people were fond of him, even at the hotel.

But a story soon surfaced that an altercation may have occurred during the New York layover before the fatal departure. The FBI was told that there had been trouble, and possibly an argument with the chief pilot, who was also staying at the hotel. It was hypothesized that the chief pilot might have threatened disciplinary action upon arrival back in Cairo—despite the public humiliation that would entail. Was that perhaps Batouti's motive? Did the killing of 217 people result from a simple act of vengeance against one man? 

*

I went downtown, to an old coffeehouse near the Nile, and spent a few hours with Hani Shukrallah, a columnist and one of the more thoughtful observers of the Egyptian scene. Shukrallah is a small, nervous man, and a heavy smoker. He said, "I know that as far as the Egyptian government was concerned, the point that this was not pilot error, and that the Egyptian pilot did not bring it down—this was decided before the investigation began. It had to do with Egypt's image in the outside world ... The government would have viewed this exactly as it would, for example, an Islamic terrorist act in Luxor—something that we should cover up. So it got politicized immediately. And this became an official line: You are out there to prove that EgyptAir is not responsible. It became a national duty. It was us versus the West. And all the history played into it, from Bonaparte's campaign until now.”

So what was wrong with Batouti? The simplest explanation is that he was trying to crash the airplane. But if he wasn't, if the Egyptians were right that he couldn't recover from a dual actuator failure, what was wrong with him as an aviator? 

I posed the question to Jim Walters, the airline pilot who remained sympathetic to the Egyptians' position. He had a ready answer. He called Batouti "the world's worst airline pilot."

Bernard Loeb would have none of it. He said, "Sure. In the end they were willing to sell him down the river. They said, 'He panicked!' Bottom line is, if the actuator drops the nose, you can pull it up. They know that. They admit it. Pulling the nose up is the most intuitive, reflexive thing you can do in an airplane. So when you start hearing arguments like that, you know people are blowing smoke.”

"Look, first we sit through this cockpit voice recording in which ... " He shook his head. "How many cockpit voice recordings have I heard? Hundreds? Thousands? When someone has a problem with an airplane, you know it. One of our investigators used to say to me, 'These damned pilots, they don't tell us what's happening. Why don't they say, "It's the rudder!"' They don't do that. But I'll tell you what they do say. They make clear as hell that there's something really wrong. 'What the hell's going on? What is that?' Every single one of them. When there's a control problem of some sort, it is so crystal clear that they are trying desperately to diagnose what is going on. Right to when the recorder quits. They are fighting for their lives.

"But this guy is sitting there saying the same thing in a slow, measured way, indicating no stress. The captain comes in and asks what's going on, and he doesn't answer! That's what you start with. Now you take the dual actuator failure that doesn't match the flight profile, and is also fully recoverable. Where do you want to go after that?"

*

I knew that at the start of the investigation the Egyptian delegation had included a man named Mamdouh Heshmat, a high official in civil aviation. When the cockpit voice recording first arrived at L'Enfant Plaza, Heshmat was there, and he heard it through with a headset on. According to several investigators who listened alongside him, he came out of the room looking badly shaken, and made it clear he knew that Batouti had done something wrong. He may have called Cairo with that news. The next day he flew home, never to reappear in Washington. When NTSB investigators went to Cairo, they could not find him, though it was said that he was still working for the government.” ~


Oriana:

What I left out from this lengthy article was Egypt’s increasingly convoluted way of trying to cover up Batouti’s sexual misbehavior and the allegation of a confrontation between Batouti and the senior airline pilot who threatened Batouti with disciplinary action and told him it would be his last flight on the US-Cairo route. Basically, Egypt tried to exclude any possibility that it really was suicide and not a mechanical failure. 

That a suicidal person would seem calm is in line with other accounts of suicidal acts. One explanation is that all stress is over — within a short time, all problems will be over. It’s a permanent solution to any humiliation or any other wounds and heavy difficulties. No more stress! 

But what about . . . the afterlife? Isn’t suicide a dreadful sin? I have to speculate here, but I suppose that in the suicidal state of mind, it’s god’s mercy that is being counted on. “I rely on God,” Batouti kept repeating, his mantra for staying calm. Allah would accept him. In the worst-case scenario, yes, there would be a stay in hell, but in Islam hell is not permanent. A faithful Muslim would eventually get to paradise. All is well that ends well. 

(By the way, even the buying of gifts does not eliminate the possibility of a suicidal state of mind. It’s perhaps a strange dissociation, as if two kinds of consciousness existed side by side, as may happen in the course of schizophrenia. Based on my personal experience, it wouldn’t surprise me if Batouti had made a few phone calls to friends to cheerfully announce that he had some naughty gifts for them.) 

*

DID GOD REALLY MEAN THAT?

~ “LIBERAL CHRISTIANS ARE ALWAYS TELLING ME THAT GOD DIDN’T REALLY MEAN THIS OR THAT JESUS DIDN’T REALLY MEAN THAT. Those parts of the Bible are metaphors and only atheists and the small minority of about 48% of Christians take that part literally. Real Christians of course understand the Truth and that is that the entire Bible is to be taken metaphorically except for the existence of God, some of Jesus’s magic tricks, his resurrection, and anything else liberal Christians want to believe really happened.

Maybe we should take this whole “metaphorical” thing one step further and just admit that maybe, possibly, probably, almost certainly, God is a metaphor too. Maybe the whole thing is fictional and each of the unknown number of anonymous authors had their own agendas and metaphors they were trying to convey and there wasn’t a single narrative at all.

Maybe Jesus was a metaphor too. When this is brought up, everyone always appeals to authority and claims that all the historians agree that there was a man named Jesus. But when asked to produce evidence of this character, nothing of consequence has been presented. In fact, there were similar stories about a man named Simon who was resurrected by the angel Gabriel after three days of being dead. Those stories pre-date Jesus and were circulated in that area. But who cares, it’s just a metaphor.

Let’s say that you are an atheist and believe that the Bible is 100% metaphor. That is to say that it is complete and utter fiction but that for some odd reason, you are able to pretend that all the horrible stuff in the Bible isn’t there and that the good parts are what counts. You value the Bible purely as a metaphor for the Human condition. Are you still a Christian?

I think that many Christians today are pretty close to this position except that they do accept God and Jesus as literal. At some point it really just becomes a matter of degrees. Everyone takes some part of the Bible metaphorically, so why can’t someone claim to be a Christian and take the whole of the Bible metaphorically — God and all.” ~ 


Oriana: 

I like metaphorical interpretations, but here I hit a blank: what is god a metaphor for? If god is not “the invisible old man with a white beard sitting on a throne in the sky — you can’t take it so literally” — then can we have another definition? Here the most common answer I’ve received is “the ground of being” — but no one has been able to explain to me what that means, except through the analogy of a fish not being aware of water (can we be sure? perhaps fish are exquisitely attuned to various qualities of water, and those that jump above surface would also realize the difference between water and air).

Titian: God the Father (detail of Assumption of the Virgin)

I like Titian's god the father (when I was a child in Poland, we'd say Mr. God). It's presumably windy up there, so the beard and hair billow in a pleasant way. Note that god's nose is large, thick, and not straight; unlike Jesus in so many paintings, Titian's Yahweh does not have idealized features. Still, for someone whose main occupation seemed to be smiting, he looks pretty nice. A bit wistful, perhaps. Not wearing a complicated crown helps, and the warm colors.

Actually a disheveled and, by our standard, a hippie-esque kind of Yahweh. Refreshing, but it would be deeply disturbing to the religious right wing.

(Btw, I've noticed that the Evangelicals who believe in imminent Second Coming sometimes spell “prophets” as “profits.” It’s almost too good.)

*

THE TWELVE THRONES

“I tell you solemnly in the New World, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of splendor, you who have been with me will be seated on twelve thrones, to judge the Twelve Tribes of Israel.” ~ Matthew 19:28

Note that the only concern here is with Israel (the Ten Lost Tribes have somehow been found) — not with the rest of the world. What did the average inhabitant of Ancient Israel care about the “rest of the world”? What did Jesus? Only Israel counted.

The Twelve Thrones, Bampton, Oxfordshire, end of 13th century
*

THE BENEFITS OF AUTOPHAGY (“SELF-EATING”)

~ “Autophagy is a natural regeneration process that occurs at a cellular level in the body, reducing the likelihood of contracting some diseases as well as prolonging lifespan.

In 2016, Japanese scientist Yoshinori Ohsumi won the Nobel Prize for his discoveries into the mechanisms of autophagy. These have led to a better understanding of diseases such as Parkinson's and dementia.

Since then, drug companies and academics have raced to find drugs that will stimulate the process, and diet and wellness experts are jumping on the bandwagon claiming that the process can be induced naturally by fasting, high-intensity exercise and restricting carbohydrates. 

Autophagy was first discovered in the 1960s, but its fundamental importance was only recognized after Yoshinori Ohsumi's research in the 1990s. It protects against diseases like Parkinson's, Huntington's and certain forms of dementia. It also seems to be beneficial in the context of infection control, as well as protecting against excessive inflammation.” ~ 


from another source:

~ “Stimulating autophagy does several things: it clears out old, unwanted cellular materials and proteins, and it also stimulates the production of growth hormone, which regenerates fresh cellular material and fuels up cell renewal. If your body has recently had an infection, autophagy may be able to destroy lingering bacteria or viruses.

While drug companies are working on creating a pharmaceutical panacea to stimulate autophagy, and some diet and fitness bloggers claim that certain supplements can cause autophagy, there is really only one proven way to trigger it: through fasting. Nutrient deprivation triggers autophagy.

Autophagy signaling in the body involves two key pathways when the body’s nutrients become depleted:

mTOR, or mammalian target of rapamycin, regulates the nutrients that affects cellular growth, protein synthesis, and anabolism. It is linked to the activation of insulin receptors and new tissue creation.

AMPK or AMP-activated protein kinase helps to maintain energy homeostasis and activate the body’s backup fuel mechanisms.

mTOR and AMPK both are attuned to the presence of nutrients in your body. These two pathways help your body decide if it will activate a growth response — mTor — or go into autophagy — AMPK.

Autophagy also works in concert with two key hormones: glucagon and insulin. People with diabetes or hypoglycemia have trouble regulating, or are overly sensitive to insulin. When insulin goes up, glucagon goes down and vice versa. When you fast, you drop insulin and increase glucagon, which stimulates autophagy.” ~ 



Oriana:

For those of us who can’t do serious fasting, there is hope that the right diet — the kind that doesn’t stimulate much insulin release — and the consumption of extra-virgin olive oil and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) (MCTs are abundant in coconut oil) can stimulate autophagy. 

If right away you think about the traditional Atkins diet, you are correct — in part. What Atkins didn’t realize was that excess protein gets turned into glucose and thus stimulates insulin release — and it actives the mTOR pathway. So, alas, protein also has to be restricted. 

MCT (derived from coconut oil) seems especially promising because it has a way of eliminating or greatly reducing hunger. You don’t need to eat as much to feel full. 

On the other hand, olive oil has been used for millennia. Higher consumption has been associated with less cancer and a longer life expectancy, among numerous other benefits 

Avocado oil may provide similar benefits, but until we have more research, the best strategy might be eating one avocado a day, and using both extra virgin olive oil and MCT (or coconut oil; I recommend the extra-virgin coconut oil, available online)

*

ending on beauty:

GDAŃSK BAY

The soft Baltic wind
confesses to the pines
the secret of that glow
at night on the Gdańsk Bay:

it’s ancient Kashub fishermen
ladled out on the dark
water that was home.

They row in the endless
trembling wake of the moon
and do not complain.

~ Oriana