Saturday, May 26, 2018


Mother Jones shared this view from its NYC bureau. Mountains too look more spectacular against a stormy sky — you see details and colors that get washed out and bleached by sunshine. I'm thinking of one particular drive toward Whitney Portal when all I could think and say was Wow. Wow.



From this pinnacle of years
distance resolves all
in fog and shadow —
indistinct, unremarkable
triumph and defeat
blurred and softened
no longer sharp enough
to cut or carry pride
to wound or stir up
wild intoxication —
So quiet now, so kind
this dawning light
still dim and rosy
comforts without argument
and tastes like sweet relief —
all my dark sins fading
into the rising bright

~ Mary McCarthy

Let’s ponder the opening again:

From this pinnacle of years
distance resolves all
in fog and shadow —
indistinct, unremarkable
triumph and defeat
blurred and softened
no longer sharp enough
to cut or carry pride

“From the pinnacle of years” it all becomes more comprehensible, and usually more “only human” and excusable — nothing to get upset about anymore. Or to be proud about — now that we know we couldn’t have gotten there without a hefty dose of good luck and the help of others (who were part of our good luck, and whom we perhaps failed to thank, and now it’s too late since they are dead).

But pardon this darker note. The poem is the opposite of dark: it’s a joyful reconciliation. And note that it takes place not in the evening, symbolic of endings, but at dawn, a new beginning. Don’t be afraid of the “Big 0” birthdays. Each decade is a new stage of life, with its own blessings. And the amazing thing is that new softness. We stop punishing ourselves.
That’s perhaps the most important factor: we stop punishing ourselves. In a parallel development, we stop slave-driving ourselves for more achievement. We realize that neither our “sins” nor our accomplishments are as big and important as we used to think when we were younger. Nor will anyone remember them after we are gone — or if so, then not for very long.

Trees are more beneficial. Cats are more graceful and athletic. Dogs are more affectionate and forgiving, perhaps the only real “Christians” in this world.

Affection. If we stopped babbling about love and concentrate on affection, which is less about feelings and more about actions — if we stopped being stingy with affection, even toward strangers, it would be heaven — heaven being a place where everyone is kind. And I’ve seen people become more relaxed, generous, and kind as they grow older. Perhaps their thinking is, “What do I have to lose?” Yes, there are some frightfully bitter old people who will soon die for lack of love. The angry old man, the bitter old woman still waging war against her husband and children. But there are also some incredibly sweet old people — sweeter by far than the pouting young and the
harried middle-aged adults.

Affectionate child rearing is a great start, its benefits (such as good physical and mental health) lifelong. But even people who had nurturing, supportive parents don't have entirely smooth sailing, because the culture as such tends to be an abusive parent (how come we call life “the school of hard knocks”?) So finally we need to be loving to ourselves even if we never experienced being completely loved — it's a gift we learn to give to ourselves.

We become more forgiving, starting with ourselves. At long last, we can become the perfect parents to ourselves — the kind of parents no one has ever had. Yes, this is our final chance to have a happy childhood.

Or simply to be happy — because we finally know what is really important, and what makes us happy. To know what is important, and what is small stuff, and not sweating over the small stuff — that is the great achievement — and not publications or awards or luxury cruises. 


With so many memories, we can be happy because we develop selective amnesia. We stop going over and over bad memories as if ironing endless shirts (one of the bad memories may in fact be ironing shirts). It’s too late in life for that. Instead we reach into our library of joyful memories. That’s part of rewarding ourselves rather than punishing ourselves.

We learn that some ancient verities really are . . . surprise! — true. “Some things are better unsaid” — just because something is true, it doesn’t mean that it has to be said. We learn to think in terms of consequences, not “self-expression.” Kindness comes first.

On the other hand, other things need to be said — again, after thinking through the consequences. It may help others to know how you survived the unspeakable. Age often gives us the freedom to speak the truth.

As one wise woman said, “You can die having told the truth, or you can die having never told the truth. Either way, you are going to die anyway, so choose.” There is a tremendous satisfaction in finally daring to tell the truth. It’s empowering, enlarging. And what a tremendous adventure.

But, again, we need to consider the consequences. No point being Goody Two-Shoes. But no point being “brutally honest” either. Usually, though, if one goes into anything in depth, the potential brutality yields to more softness and understanding.

Cruelty, brutality — I think of these as more typical of youth: late childhood and early adulthood, before the brain has matured and life experience taught us that everyone suffers and intelligent compassion is the best response.
In Mary’s poem, the “dawn of old age” is presented as a stage of life governed by gentler emotions. 


Not that age guarantees wisdom. It’s enough to contemplate one of the stock characters of comedy, going back to antiquity: SENEX IRATUS, “angry old man.” I think it’s very striking that it’s the angry old man who is the stock comic character, and not the proverbial “angry young man.” Maybe it’s because we expect young men to be foolish, but the old are supposed to show wisdom — a “wise old woman” is also a stock literary character.

The speaker in Mary’s poem is a wise old woman.

(Senex iratus can also be a tragic character — King Lear is that. It’s been remarked that King Lear rather than Hamlet is the play for our era. Note that both plays are extremely dark.)


Milosz said that the secret of poetry is distance. That’s the secret of literature and art in general, and — dare we say — of life, for the most part. You can’t be over-involved and controlling: you need to let a flower unfold on its own, and the same goes for a child — or a spouse. You need to let a man do “guy things” just as you need to let a cat do cat things like perch on high and survey the world.

But what’s really striking that you can’t be too controlling even with your own creative work. You learn to allow it to rise spontaneously like thoughts and dreams — there’ll always be a chance later to “caress the details” (that’s also a chance to ruin things by over-caressing, but we learn that in the end). You learn to trust your own unconscious. Let the brain do its thing — just as you learn that you need to let a dog be a dog, and a cat a cat.

The idea of non-striving goes against the Western culture. And yet the the idea that the harder you work, the better the results simply doesn’t apply to many activities. To my knowledge there is only one religion, or rather philosophy of life, that fully acknowledges this: Taoism. Perhaps the wisdom of aging is that we become Taoists without even trying. Mary’s poem expresses this wisdom in a lyrical way:

So quiet now, so kind
this dawning light
still dim and rosy (. . .)
all my dark sins fading
into the rising bright


photo: Cheri Edwards



(Oriana: I emailed Mary: “You will like the opening poem.”)


I do indeed like that opening poem, and am honored that you chose to put it there! Even more, your analysis gets at the heart of it, that with age comes new freedom, the possibility for a new kind of generosity toward yourself, your past, and all the others you have known and will come to know.

As time grows short it also enlarges. Without the pressure of a future, the present becomes more interesting, full of discoveries and joys we may have been too busy for. I often thought, even when quite young, how much I would like being an old lady, free of the rigors of making something out of myself, and the requirements of acceptability and success. I could be as eccentric as I pleased, or as sedate, I could fill my time with what I loved, and my mind with interesting thoughts. I would love to be a wise old woman, but one who laughs easily and often, and sees the world with more charity than fear. Still clear-eyed . . . not “fond and foolish,” deluded by any sense of my own unique importance. That, when finally punctured by reality, can bind you to Lear's agony on that “wheel of fire.” Take the long view, and learn humility, and kindness, and forgiveness.


I really have to exercise a lot of self-forgiveness when I think that I’ve gone through a particularly long and nasty depressive episode after having told myself that “my future was stolen from me.” It’s so liberating to think about it in a radically opposite way: the pressure of the future was finally gone. 

Amazing: the idea of the future ultimately became the most oppressive thing in my life. “Future” as ego and ambition — and now the freedom from the rigors of making something out of myself, and the requirements of acceptability and success.” Thank you Mary for that wisdom. 

The folly of Lear (perhaps the ultimate Senex iratus) was clinging to his ego — trying to be king when he was no longer king. Aging divests us of various powers, and also of various vain hopes and delusions — but if we submit to the process, if we let go, a new generosity toward self and others is indeed born, and oh, that new wealth.

Leonora Carrington (Anglo-Mexican, 1917-2011). I don’t know the title of this sculpture, but for me it’s “Wise Woman-Avia.”

(By the way, I don’t mean to say that men have a monopoly on becoming old fools while women become wise crones. The foolishness of old age tends to manifest itself in women in a different way: it’s trying to cling to being beautiful. Thus certain women become caricatures through repeated plastic surgery and excess make-up. It’s the notorious “beauty trap” noted already in Snow White’s step-mother.)



I love the Avia sculpture—open strength and beauty. Grace.


This is a wonderful bronze. 


You'd think this would be famous image, up there with certain paintings by Frida Kahlo. Oh well, the vagaries of fame.



~ “One time, I was having a conversation with Philip Roth about lane swimming, a thing it turned out we both liked to do, although he could swim much farther and much faster. He asked me, “What do you think about as you do each length?” I told him the dull truth. “I think, first length, first length, first length, and then second length, second length, second length. And so on.” That made him laugh. “You wanna know what I think about?” I did. “I choose a year. Say, 1953. Then I think about what happened in my life or within my little circle in that year. Then I move on to thinking about what happened in Newark, or New York. Then in America. And then if I’m going the distance I might start thinking about Europe, too. And so on.”

That made me laugh. The energy, the reach, the precision, the breadth, the curiosity, the will, the intelligence. Roth in the swimming pool was no different than Roth at his standing desk. He was a writer all the way down. It was not diluted with other things as it is—mercifully!—for the rest of us. He was writing taken neat, and everything he did was at the service of writing.

At an unusually tender age, he learned not to write to make people think well of him, nor to display to others, through fiction, the right sort of ideas, so they could think him the right sort of person. “Literature isn’t a moral beauty contest,” he once said. For Roth, literature was not a tool of any description. It was the venerated thing in itself. He loved fiction and (unlike so many half or three-quarter writers) was never ashamed of it. He loved it in its irresponsibility, in its comedy, in its vulgarity, and its divine independence. He never confused it with other things made of words, like statements of social justice or personal rectitude, journalism or political speeches, all of which are vital and necessary for lives we live outside of fiction, but none of which are fiction, which is a medium that must always allow itself, as those other forms often can’t, the possibility of expressing intimate and inconvenient truths.

Roth always told the truth—his own, subjective truth—through language and through lies, the twin engines at the embarrassing heart of literature. Embarrassing to others, never to Roth. Second selves, fake selves, fantasy selves, replacement selves, horrifying selves, hilarious, mortifying selves—he welcomed them all. Like all writers, there were things and ideas that lay beyond his ken or conception; he had blind spots, prejudices, selves he could imagine only partially, or selves he mistook or mislaid.

By the time I met Roth, he wasn’t writing anymore; he was reading. Almost exclusively American history, and the subject that seemed to concern him above all was slavery. His coffee table was piled high with books on the subject—canonical, specialist, and obscure—and many slave narratives, some famous and known to me, others I’d never come across before, and which I sometimes borrowed, to bring back a month or two later and discuss. Whenever I mentioned this scholarly reading jag of Roth’s to anybody, they always seemed amazed, but to me it was all of a piece with the man and his work.

Roth was an unusually patriotic writer, but his love for his country never outweighed or obscured his curiosity about it. He always wanted to know America, in its beauty and its utter brutality, and to see it in the round: the noble ideals, the bloody reality. A thing did not have to be perfect to engage him, and that went double for people, which, in Roth’s world, always really meant characters. The mixture of the admirable and the perverse that exists in people, the ideal and the absurd, the beautiful and the ugly, is what he knew and understood and always forgave, even if the people he so recorded did not always forgive him for noticing. 

It would probably drive him nuts to be told there was something ancient and rabbinical in this attraction to paradox and imperfection, but I’m going to say it anyway. Sheer energy—Roth’s central gift and the quality he shared with America itself—is his legacy to literature, and it will always be there, ready to be siphoned off or mixed with some new element by somebody new. That Rothian spirit—so full of people and stories and laughter and history and sex and fury—will be a source of energy as long as there is literature. My first thought when he died was that he was one of the most alive, the most conscious, people I ever met, right to the end. The idea that consciousness like that could ever stop being conscious! And yet there it is preserved, in book after book, thank goodness.” ~ Zadie Smith


“The only obsession everyone wants: 'love'. People think that in falling in love they make themselves whole? The Platonic union of souls? I think otherwise. I think you're whole before you begin. And the love fractures you. You're whole, and then you're cracked open.” ~ Philip Roth, The Dying Animal

The cry 'Watch out for the goyim!' at times seems more the expression of an unconscious wish than of a warning: Oh that they were out there, so that we could be together here! A rumor of persecution, a taste of exile, might even bring with it the old world of feelings and habits—something to replace the new world of social accessibility and moral indifference, the world which tempts all our promiscuous instincts, and where one cannot always figure out what a Jew is that a Christian is not.” ~ Philip Roth (December 1963). Writing About Jews, Commentary

~ “At no point in any of his novels or stories would he for a single moment allow the reader to start suspecting she or he might actually be smarter than the writer. That, counterintuitively, is a very rare quality in a literary text. He combined the ferocious intelligence of Saul Bellow with the Proustian fluidity of sentences. ~ M. Iossel



 To my amazement, I fell in love with “The Dying Animal.” The narrator and his young lover, a student — and his older lover, an elegant faculty woman — felt so authentic. And the intelligence, yes.

“He combined the ferocious intelligence of Saul Bellow with the Proustian fluidity of sentences” — without the Proustian clutter of excess detail. That’s why I think Tolstoy is a better parallel. His language is so natural you forget that this is literature.

But here is Roth’s warning about over-estimating intelligence:

“You put too much stock in human intelligence, it doesn't annihilate human nature.” ~ Philip Roth, American Pastoral

“. . . nor had I understood till then how the shameless vanity of utter fools can so strongly determine the fate of others.” ~ The Plot Against America

~ “Just how imaginary, however, is the world recorded in Roth’s Plot Against America? A Lindbergh presidency may be imaginary, but the anti-Semitism of the real Lindbergh was not. And Lindbergh was not alone. He gave voice to a native anti-Semitism with a long prehistory in Catholic and Protestant Christianity, fostered in numbers of European immigrant communities, and drawing strength from the anti-black bigotry with which it was, by the irrational logic of racism, entwined (of all the “historic undesirables” in America, says Roth, the blacks and the Jews could not be more unalike). A volatile and fickle voting public captivated by surface rather than substance—Tocqueville foresaw the danger long ago—might in 1940 as easily have gone for the aviator hero with the simple message as for the incumbent with the proven record. In this sense, the fantasy of a Lindbergh presidency is only a concretization, a realization for poetic ends, of a certain potential in American political life.” ~ J.M. Coetzee, “What Philip Knew,” November 18, 2004, The New York Book Review

~ “Critic Joan Acocella, writing in 2004 about "The Plot Against America" for the New Yorker, reported that Roth had said in earlier interviews he never felt the sting of anti-Semitism directly, yet he was "surrounded from birth" with the notion of Jews "as an object of ridicule, disgust, scorn, contempt, derision, of every heinous form of persecution and brutality." Those conflicting senses of safety and persecution would come to define many of his characters, and the specter of anti-Semitism — the revelations of the Holocaust came during his formative years — courses through his novels.” ~ Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2018


Milosz also observed that in retrospect there is a tendency to see everything that happened (e.g. WW1 and WW2) as inevitable. This is an error, Milosz claimed: just because something happened doesn't mean that it was inevitable. We try to rationalize the irrational. 


~ “Though Roth “was bored out of his mind when he had to attend Hebrew school as a boy,” he was happy to be Jewish, Bailey said.

“He liked Jews as human beings. He liked their warmth, he liked his male friends’ filial piety, which he made a lot of fun of too, in ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ especially,” Bailey said, referencing Roth’s 1969 novel that depicts the therapy sessions of a sexually frustrated Jewish man.

In 1998 he won the Jewish Book Council’s Lifetime Literary Achievement Award and in 2014, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Conservative Judaism’s flagship educational institution, bestowed him with an honorary doctorate.

“I welcomed the honor,” Roth told a friend after the ceremony, suggesting that for all his aversion to religion he still felt a strong Jewish bond. “Who takes Jews more seriously than the J.T.S., and what writer takes Jews more seriously than I do?” ~


Roth will be buried at the Bard College Cemetery, where Hannah Arendt is also buried. It's interesting to remember that Arendt too was once villified as anti-Semitic.



~ “Arguably the most important revolution in modernity has been away from seeing people as evil sinners who need punishment rather than as wounded human beings who need healing.” ~ B.F. Skinner

William Leslie shared this anecdote: A friend was once walking with a Tibetan monk into an auditorium where the Dalai Lama was about to speak. A fire-and-brimstone preacher was up on a soapbox haranguing people. “You!” He yelled and pointed at the monk “are going to burn in Hell!” After walking a little further the monk turned to my friend and said “that poor man, he's so full of anger.”

Do we have the right to punish people? Billions would reply “Yes” without hesitation. Parents certainly think they have the right to punish children. “Justice” is just a nicer word for revenge. Of course it sounds better to say, “We want justice” than “We want revenge. We want the “bad guy” to suffer enormously. Yes, even forever. Payback!!

And yet I think that at least in terms of the “creeping enlightenment” I’ve observed over the decades, there has been a movement away from cruelty. It is not as legitimate as it used to be.

It’s not just corporal punishment that’s increasingly in disfavor. Flogging was once a standard practice; now it appalls. Bullying and emotional and sexual harassment are behaviors we struggle to eliminate, not accept as part of life. Rather than yell at a child and hit him, a parent is more likely to try to explain why certain behavior is bad, and invoke the Golden Rule. Respect for children is one of the frontiers in the battle against the “might makes right” mentality. It’s been said that we are entering the “dignitarian era” marked by respect for the humanity of another rather than desire for revenge.

Note the word “entering.” The right wing is fighting back for their “right” to punish whoever they want to, including whole countries (“Let’s bomb them back to the Stone Age”) — but it’s a death rattle. Nevertheless, though the overall trend is toward reward rather than punishment (especially when it comes to child rearing and animal training), we are mere beginners when it comes to addressing problems in non-punitive ways, and certainly make mistakes such as overdoing the “gold stars” in school.

B.F. Skinner, an atheist psychologist appalled by the concept of hell, was one of the under-recognized founding fathers of the anti-punishment movement. He recognized that harsh punishment creates life-long scars and mental and even physical health problems. He was a strong advocates of using rewards instead. Animal training changed radically due to Skinner’s influence. Eventually children benefited as well, though his name is rarely mentioned in connection with more humane child-reading practices. Of course plenty of other psychologists emphasized the importance of affection and the harm caused by the punitive approach.


John Guzlowski:

Toxic God?

The nuns I had in the mid-1950s used the possibility of nuclear holocaust to frighten us from sin. They told us of a ruined world, swirling nuclear winds, poisoned air, radioactive boils on our bodies, our parents left dead somewhere behind us — all because we weren't praying enough for the death of communism and keeping ourselves pure and sin-free.



Thank you for sharing your experience of Catholic intimidation. Younger people may not realize just how negative Catholicism used to be. My main image of God was an “eye in the sky” (yes, enclosed in a triangle, as in a popular image) spying on me to record every sin, including of course every sinful thought that ever crossed my mind.

Leaving the church was only the first step of liberating myself from this toxicity. As I said elsewhere, it was the single most courageous act in my life. I was 14.

Some may question that statement, and suggest that my leaving Poland and coming to America by myself at 17 was more courageous than my leaving the church. Not so. When I left Poland, I simply didn't realize what I was doing. My notion of America had almost nothing to do with reality. This is not a hyperbole. As for what it’s like to be an immigrant, I knew exactly zero.

When I left the church, I knew that if I happened to be wrong, I would end up “frying in hell” for eternity (think of Pascal’s Wager). But I also saw that an unspeakably cruel deity who sentences people to fry in hell forever was not worthy of worship. Besides, I could no longer worship this “toxic god” even if I tried to. So, if the worst came to worst, I was resigned to eternal damnation.

It's been very, very hard to shake off this kind of indoctrination, since it was burned into your brain before you had any defenses. The constant repetition of the message that you are a miserable sinner and deserve to go to hell takes its toll. This is the kind of emotional child abuse for which the church has never been sued, but if you think about it, it was universal in the bad old days.


“Our Communist Party was the Catholic Church” ~ John Banville, an Irish writer.

Hey, finally someone who saw this just as I saw it — regarding Poland, of course.

The official Communists were pathetic amateurs next to the real masters of mind control, the emotional terrorists bar none. The Big Brother, the Eye in the Sky — not living in a mono-Catholic country, Orwell missed the obvious.




It’s not as clear-cut as that. Those who primarily want to know, even if the facts are uncomfortable, prefer to believe in at least some contexts — it’s not always possible to fact-check, and in any case it’s laborious and we just want to live without worrying about some certainties, however ultimately unfounded. But those whose primary need is to believe — no facts can ever penetrate their armor against reality. Reason? It’s the voice of Satan.

One of my saddest discoveries has been that those who want to know, who have a kind of “drive for truth” that's most obvious in scientists, are a small minority. Historically, the truth seekers were regarded as dangerous and not infrequently ended up being burned at the stake.  

~ “Your intelligence, your creativity, your tastes in culture or romantic partners, the degree to which the world has mistreated you: the chances are they’re much less quirky or extreme than you think, especially since we’ve each got strong ulterior motives to believe otherwise. Or to put it another way: thinking you’re special is just one more way in which you’re normal. This is the famous Lake Wobegon phenomenon known as “illusory superiority”, which explains why most people think they’re above average at driving, at being unbiased, and various other things. Though it works the other way, too: imposter syndrome is a classic case of thinking you’re special, but in a negative way.

The trouble is that both the positive and negative forms of thinking you’re less normal than you are lead to misery – either by convincing you you’re unusually bad, or by turning life into an isolating, adversarial exercise in maintaining your sense of being unusually good. The latter also means that any aspect of your life or experience that’s just ordinary – which, by definition, is going to be most of them – feels like an affront to your identity. “Never forget that every mind is shaped by the most ordinary experiences,” wrote the French poet Paul Valéry. “To say that something is ordinary is to say it is of the kind that has made the biggest contribution to the formation of your most basic ideas.” To disdain the normal means disdaining most of what happens. Doing that is pretty normal, too, to be honest. But it’s a recipe for a joyless life.” ~


That’s another thing we learn as we grow older: we’re not “separate, different, and superior.” We’re ordinary, though in some ways we’re unique — only we have this particular set of genes and only we have had this particular set of life experiences. And perhaps we’ve learned to excel at something — that’s a huge blessing. Having a partner who’s reliably there for us is another blessing. But there are millions of others who also excel at something, and millions also blessed with a reliable partner (or sometimes a caring daughter or son).

That’s just one of life’s paradoxes: we’re unique, but we’re pretty ordinary: more normal than not. We’re human. 

Rubens, detail


~ “From Dr. Park Dietz’s mouth to God’s ear: “When we engage in an obsessive questioning of why a shooter did it, we are granting their [sic] exact wish.”  Dr. Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist and researcher, has personally evaluated many mass murderers and has provided expert testimony in numerous criminal trials.  His conclusion (and here I quote from Hamlet rather than Dietz):  “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”

What Dietz has found is that there is a common motive behind these mass shootings. The details vary in each case, but these shooters obsessively blame others for their problems and fantasize about the attention and historic notoriety that their savage act will provoke. The key to ending, or at least minimizing, the plague of mass killings, is to deprive the shooters of what they crave most: Fame.

This is precisely what The New York Times gets wrong (along with most other news media) – and don’t think they don’t understand the risk. We’ve been on this merry-go-round of violence long enough for anyone with a lick of sense to realize that publicizing slaughter begets copycat slaughter.

Don’t put the killer’s face on the landing page of The New York Times’ website. Don’t analyze and interpret his scribbling, social media posts, clothing, or graphic symbols. After John Wilkes Booth’s accomplices in the Lincoln assassination plot were executed, one Washington newspaper wrote, “we wish to know their names no more.” Exactly – that’s the posture we need our news media to adopt. Of course, this stands in opposition to the media quest for ever more clicks and eyeballs.

In conclusion, here’s Dr. Dietz again: “I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media, if you don’t want to propagate more mass murders, don’t start the story with sirens blaring. Don’t have photographs of the killer. Don’t make this 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero. Do localize the story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible in every other market. Because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two more within a week.” ~


So — the ultimate result of the desire “to be famous” — apparently the unfortunate goal of far too many. Not the ambition to achieve excellence in any way, simply to be “noticed” in as big a way as possible. What a shabby, ugly dream. Then of course the narcissism, the resentment, the toxic masculinity and desire for revenge. Mix in our cultural worship of guns and violence — undeniable — just listen to the soundtrack of any “action film.” All so alike — shooting, fighting (grunts and groans and thudding) explosions, collisions, squealing tires and screaming sirens. And there you have it, the screenplay.


Agree with everything. Denying fame to the shooter makes sense and it might turn out to be part of the solution — but the whole gun culture and easy access are part of huge psycho-cultural pathology. Will we live long enough to see something done, or will things only get worse? It’s unnerving not to know. Meanwhile the body count keeps mounting.


~ “Geoff Farrar, 69, grey-haired, lanky, and boisterous, was a mentor to many young climbers, and was well known in the cliff-scaling Carderock community, where steep rocks rise above the Potomac River just outside Washington, D.C. As a climber in this area myself, I was acquainted with both men. Farrar had taken DiPaolo under his wing as a teenager and taught him to climb nearly 20 years earlier. They’d stayed close, maintaining a bond between mentor and protégé, until that shocking day when DiPaolo killed Farrar with a claw hammer at the foot of the cliffs they’d climbed together so many times.

“I didn’t know it was going to happen,” DiPaolo told police in a written statement after he was arrested.

How, then, did it happen?

We often dismiss such disturbing murders as the result mental illness, or rather comfortably conclude that an otherwise normal person “snapped,” or became momentarily deranged. Self-delusion may be easier than accepting the alternative. “I think anyone is capable of it,” University of Alaska forensic psychologist Bruno Kappes told me when I asked how we can comprehend someone suddenly snapping in a violent murderous rage.

The fact is, rage can explode without warning. Overpowering judgment, compassion, fear, and pain, the fiery emotion serves one purpose — violence, both in words and actions. It may help explain why homicide is responsible for nearly 16,000 deaths in this country every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it may definitely help explain why people are far more likely to be murdered by a friend or acquaintance than by a stranger.

It’s important to acknowledge that powerful emotions like rage and fear can lend us power in a crisis. They can give a petite woman the strength to move a car and free a trapped child or drive a soldier against normal instinct to run into a hail of bullets to save a comrade in jeopardy. Such rapid-response brain circuitry undoubtedly played a role when U.S. Air Force Staff Sargent Spencer Stone and two friends subdued a fellow train passenger — a terrorist armed with an AK-47 and a knife — in France last summer. “I really wasn’t thinking,” Stone told me. “It wasn’t a conscious decision — I just went. It was automated.” Stone and fellow Americans Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos, were all recognized for heroism in that case. But sometimes this automatic lifesaving response can misfire and lead to a story of unexpected tragedy rather than heroism.

Impulsive violence has long been studied by neuroscientists. For many years, researchers postulated that this kind of aggression was based in a region of the brain called the amygdala, which is associated with fear, and with a subdued level of activity in the prefrontal cortex, known for its cognitive functions and role in rational behavior. Research has shown, for instance, that aggressive boys tend to have a high level of activity in the amygdala and a correspondingly low level of activity in the prefrontal cortex.

But more recently, neuroscience has taken a more critical look at the so-called “lizard brain” concept of the amygdala and limbic system driving people to commit beastly acts. A new generation of research points instead to distinct neural circuits in the hypothalamus — associated with drives such as thirst, hunger and sex — which appear to respond with saber-rattling speed to different types of threats and provocations.

These circuits of aggression are part of the brain’s threat detection mechanism embedded deep in hypothalamus. In experiments, when this tiny knot of neurons (technically, the ventromedial hypothalamus) is stimulated by an electrode, an animal will launch into a violent attack and kill another animal in its cage. If the region is inactivated, aggression abruptly decreases.

And there is an evolutionary context to such biological influences. Sudden aggression — sometimes referred to as the fight-or-flight response — is vital to our survival, but engaging in violence simultaneously puts our survival at risk. For this reason, only a few specific triggers will activate the brain’s rage circuits for sudden aggression; but once tripped, the reaction can be overwhelmingly strong.

The roots of violence and the neural circuitry that lies behind such responses, run deep. In a social species, an individual’s success and access to resources depend upon one’s rank within society. Aggression, especially among males, is often how dominance in the animal world is established. Human beings have language, and verbal head butting can quickly escalate into explosive violence. “Police are searching for a motive…” we always hear, but it is a search in vain. Such violence is not driven by reason. It is driven by rage.

What is missing from the baffling news reports of someone suddenly snapping violently is the backstory of chronic stresses on the individual that lower the threshold for triggering these circuits of violence. Prior to the homicide, DiPaolo had become something of an outcast, increasingly shunned for recklessness and his slovenly, drug-head manners and attitudes. His former climbing partner, Matt Kull, told Outside magazine that he’d severed the relationship because of DiPaolo’s drug use while climbing and his growing disregard for the safety of himself and other climbers. This was reinforced by the many interviews I did as well.

But recognizing the importance of biology in our behaviors — even learning from them — holds only some of the answers we need in the face of tragedy.” ~


I think the crucial statement here comes toward the end: there is the
backstory of chronic stresses on the individual that lower the threshold for triggering these circuits of violence.” And often there is the backstory of domestic violence, or prior violence in general. This points to the way toward possible prevention.

I've seen a few women explode in a verbal rage out of proportion to the "insult." In one case it was a close friend of mine and I happened to know she was going through a romantic break-up and the rage was really against her boyfriend and not against the co-worker whom she verbally abused on very little provocation (a mild teasing remark). That's of course nothing compared to homicide, but it also seems to be the doing of the hypothalamic “lizard brain” — yes, even crazy verbal outbursts are rage, though you'd think that speech is strictly “cortical.” But it's not. It turns out that swear-words are indeed subcortical. Thus the stories of Alzheimer's patients who've lost all speech — except for swearing. That's the priest who can say only one word: the F word.

Aggression is primeval,
reptilian, hypothalamic, and it’s not always bad — as the article points out, acts of heroism can also result, depending on the context. And this is not a sufficient explanation of premeditated murder. Even in those cases, we can trace a history of cumulative stress — but that’s usually in retrospect, and too late.

Suicide presents a similar puzzle. It’s regarded as mostly impulsive, but the victim often goes through elaborate preparation, and is strangely fussy about the manner of dying: this particular location on the bridge, and no other; this drug and no other — even though more efficient methods exist. 

Manet: The Suicide, 1881


Thinking about punishment, revenge and rage — all so full of anger like the anger of a frustrated infant . . . powerless. small, weak, dependent, ignored by the bigger, powerful, and sometimes cruel others in his life. That statement, “Anger is the emotion of a victim” speaks so truly to those impulsive outbreaks of rage coming after a long history of insult and abuse, those murderous rages that occur in families or between friends. Even the seemingly random attacks on strangers do not come out of a void, but a long history of actual or perceived abuse or neglect. Somehow, these actors feel they are avenging all the wrongs they have suffered, forcing the world to see them, to See Them, and to feel their power.


Yes, that’s the ultimate irony of it all: murderers very often see themselves as the real victims. And to some extent they are, but nothing excuses the kind of revenge they seek to exact, often in the guise of “justice.” The act of violence may indeed be impulsive and due to the “lizard brain” — but the “backstory” of stress, anger, and resentment is the essence here.



~ “Anger, and particularly rage, strengthens correspondence bias, that is, the tendency to attribute observed behaviors to dispositional or personality-related factors rather than to situational factors. For instance, if I forgot to do the dishes, I am under the impression that this is because I suddenly felt very tired (situational factor), whereas if Emma forgot to do the dishes, I am under the impression that this is because she is useless (dispositional factor). More fundamentally, anger reinforces the illusion that people exercise a high degree of free will, whereas in actual fact most of a person's actions and the neurological activity that they correspond to are determined by past events and the cumulative effects of those past events on that person's patterns of thinking.” ~ Neel Burton


When it comes to our own actions, we usually see the importance of situational factors, but when it's someone else, we don't “grant them innocence” — they did something because of their personality — they are mean or lazy. To me the most interesting part is the idea that we accept the illusion that the other person had a high degree of free will, and deliberately chose to do something that annoys us. It takes "enlightenment" to see that it was more the circumstances, past and presence.

Anger happens not only because of something in the present; it’s often based on past wounds. As I reworked my life philosophy, I was nourished by the idea of living not from one's wounds, but from one's greatness. In addition, it really helps to see that people do not exercise all that much "free will"; we are the victims of victims, as Louise Hay says. Not to be angry, but to understand. The power of intelligence.

Once when doing a writing workshop in prison I casually tossed a remark, “Anger is the emotion of a victim.” There was one inmate who was just thunder-struck by that statement, as if in that very moment he chose to move beyond being a victim. We never really know how much the right words at the right time can accomplish — I wasn't trying to change anyone's life.

(Later the inmates who took the workshop filled out an evaluation form. One question was: “What’s the most important thing you learned from this class?” One person wrote: “Anger is the emotion of a victim.” I have an idea about who that was.)

(By the way, a neurotic person tends to blame herself for virtually everything, seemingly unaware that it was mostly the circumstances. This often happens as a result of having received a lot of criticism from a harsh parent, or a harsh “collective parent,” including both school and church in a culture that uses shame and blame as a chief means to manipulate the young into submission.)


~ “At the beginning of the age of the automobile, nobody said, All right: 30,000 people a year are going to die. Is that a decision we want to make? What did happen is a very intense discussion about whether a car should be allowed on the road and who should be at fault when a car drives over a four-year-old in the street.

In the 1930s, we ended up as a society deciding that four-year-olds should be the one to blame. We began to train people even before they began to speak about how to cross the street and how to avoid getting run over in the street. We redesigned our world to be safe for automobiles and dangerous for children.

It’s not that the Amish view technology as inherently evil. No rules prohibit them from using new inventions. But they carefully consider how each one will change their culture before embracing it. And the best clue as to what will happen comes from watching their neighbors.

The Amish use us as an experiment. They watch what happens when we adopt new technology, and then decide whether that’s something they want to adopt themselves. I asked one Amish person why they didn’t use automobiles. He simply smiled and turned to me and said, “Look what they did to your society.” And I asked what do you mean? “Well, do you know your neighbor? Do you know the names of your neighbors?” And, at the time, I had to admit to the fact that I didn’t.

And he pointed out that my ability to simply bypass them with the windows closed meant I didn’t have to talk to them. And as a result, I didn’t.

One thing it’s taken me awhile to understand is that I don’t think the Amish believe in progress. I don’t think the Amish believe there is a perfect world in the future. I think that is something that drives a lot of our society: the idea there must be progress and there is a place we need to get to.

[As for us], I think we’re willing to do a lot more experimentation and have a lot more failure, to be fair. It’s pretty crazy if you stop to think about it to realize that car travel is so important to us, that were willing to sacrifice 30,000 to 40,000 lives a year for it.” ~

~ “In 2006, researchers at the Scripps Research Institute found that THC inhibits the formation of amyloid plaques by blocking the enzyme in the brain that produces them, and now Schubert and his team have demonstrated that it can also eliminate a dangerous inflammatory response from the nerve cells, ensuring their survival.

“Inflammation within the brain is a major component of the damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but it has always been assumed that this response was coming from immune-like cells in the brain, not the nerve cells themselves,” says one of the team, Antonio Currais.

“When we were able to identify the molecular basis of the inflammatory response to amyloid beta, it became clear that THC-like compounds that the nerve cells make themselves may be involved in protecting the cells from dying.”

~ “Additionally, low doses of THC can enhance mitochondrial function and does not inhibit melatonin's enhancement of mitochondrial function. These sets of data strongly suggest that THC could be a potential therapeutic treatment option for Alzheimer's disease through multiple functions and pathways.” ~


Much research remains to be done — to determine dosage range, for instance. This research should have been done decades ago, but was stifled by the criminalization of marijuana. Who knows how much human tragedy might have been prevented — and could potentially be prevented in the future. The diseases of aging in general, and prevention of brain diseases in particular, should be top priority, with thousands of labs around the world working on this and sharing information. But, as the saying goes, “That would make too much sense.”

The neuroprotective effects of marijuana are only a part of its health benefits, but again, since such research is marginal at best, it will be decades before we have mainstream applications — if ever. For now, the rough idea is that the effective doses for the older set are actually quite low. 


ending on beauty:

Look at me, I'm shameless like
the wounds of Christ.
No one thought we could bend dark
nights into black roses
and become rare and beautiful
like a unicorn. Feel me,
put your fingers on my scar
and trace the history of the earth.
I'm pure water coming out from
the mouth of God. Drink.

~ Romeo Oriogun, Most of the time . . .

Saturday, May 19, 2018


Van Gogh: The painter on the road to Tarascon (a print; a preliminary sketch also exists). The original was destroyed in a WW2 air raid. Altogether six of Van Gogh's paintings are missing and presumed destroyed.


We were bred on castles and knights,
reading in the pregnant dark — not quite fantasy —
but a past that loomed like a feverish dream.
Sick with nostalgia, our parents passed it on to us.
And now I set my feet below this castle’s stunted knob,
each day to walk to work or lull my child to sleep
in the park, at its feet. Will this pilgrimage give us peace?
Last summer, on a distant beach, we stacked wet sand
on more wet sand and topped our confection
with sea-weed. Then we watched the waves
level our glory to a blank. More armies have razed
this capital than Rome, Jerusalem, and Troy.
Napoleon wanted to carry Saint Anne’s church
back to France on the palm of his hand. Instead,
they found the bones of his soldiers buried here
while replacing a cracked Red Army base
with shiny flats, smartly down the road from a mall.
And every day, my son and I walk through grey husks
of Soviet fantasies on our way to the baroque and medieval
hive nestled next to the castle hill on which a duke
once dreamed a howling, iron wolf. I heard its call
even huddled under New World firs, watching quaking
aspen leaves, learning the robin’s song. I tracked raccoons
along the Mohawk River as it poured itself
into the Hudson’s history, to be subsumed.
There has been a great transmigration of souls.
And here we are. A nation born again. The Neris
flows swiftly by my eyes while I feel the thunder
of Atlantic waves washing our castles down.
Seagulls squawk like souls unmoored in dreams.
The sand is fine and glitters. The Kennedy Compound
glows in late light like a vanitas. Saint Andrew’s-by-the-Sea
sits atop its salient — a castle that feeds on our final hope:
that this not be the last goodbye, not for this boy
at my feet, nor this song I sing to him for sleep, our speech.

~ Rimas Uzgiris (this is not a translation; Uzgiris writes in English)

Insofar as I understand this poem, the speaker, who identifies as Lithuanian but has lived for many years in the US (he has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers-Newark University, and is well published in many American journals), has returned for an extended visit to Vilnius (the write-up also says that he teaches “translation” at the Vilnius University). He seems to have become a hybrid, “fused” kind of person, just as this poem fuses Vilnius and the New World — “the New World” seems to be the right old phrase here.

Every day, my son and I walk through grey husks
of Soviet fantasies on our way to the baroque and medieval
hive nestled next to the castle hill on which a duke
once dreamed a howling, iron wolf. I heard its call
even huddled under New World firs, watching quaking
aspen leaves, learning the robin’s song. I tracked raccoons
along the Mohawk River as it poured itself
into the Hudson’s history, to be subsumed.
There has been a great transmigration of souls.

Note that he infuses Vilnius with his memories of the US — just as before he infused the US with the images and legends of Lithuania. His parents were constantly reminded of Lithuania; he, now in Lithuania but having grown up in America, is constantly reminded of places in America that formed his first landscapes, his own reality as opposed to that of his parents consumed with nostalgia for the places of their own growing up.

I don’t think I could possibly understand this if not for my personal experience and some of my own “fused” poems that came from it. My poem “Homeland” is built on this overlap:

Twenty years later under desert sky,
I remember the stencil
of drizzle in Warsaw (etc)

And “This Is How I Want to Survive” used to begin

Purple meadows stubbled with seaweed,
Pacific lapis-blue and green —
but I think of the Baltic, where my life began:
shallow bays sheeting with silver,
notched with meticulous waves (etc)

For a while I stay with the Baltic imagery, then return to the Pacific coast. Friends warned me that this is confusing, and I removed the first two lines and details that were too specific for either the Baltic or the Pacific. Yet what happens when you change countries is that kind of fusion (and confusion). The early landscape remains the “real” landscape. For Uzgiris, I suspect that it’s the landscape of the East Coast.

I don’t think he’s correct about “more armies” razing Vilnius than Jerusalem, say, but that’s the kind of patriotic exaggeration that’s common in immigrant families from countries that have known a lot of oppression. Again, if not for my own experience, I wouldn’t be able to understand this. Nor would I understand why Milosz thought of Vilnius (“Wilno” in Polish) as the real Poland (I’ve met other old Poles like that: “real Poland” was Lithuania or Ukraine), and kept disdaining Warsaw — not a word in Milosz’s poetry or essays about the beauty of either Warsaw or Krakow! He settled in Krakow because, he said, the architecture reminded him of Vilnius (Vilnius would no longer do because he wanted to hear Polish spoken around him).

Speaking of Jerusalem, I remember an American-Jewish acquaintance telling me that when he first traveled to Israel he imagined that he’d feel that this was his real homeland. “And instead, it was a foreign country!” he exclaimed, still astonished. For one thing, for him Hebrew was strictly the language of prayer, so it seemed to him that the Hebrew speakers around him were praying (I'm not making this up).

These matters become pretty complicated. Nor is it a voluntary matter: you can’t say, “I’ll just take the best aspects of each culture.” Like thoughts, memories have a way of arising spontaneously; I don’t think the speaker in any way wanted to think about the Kennedy Compound while in Vilnius. And yet it happened.

Perhaps that’s one reason it’s said that “immigration is not something you do for yourself; you do it for your children.” If I’d known it at the right time (but would I have believed it?), I would have never left. Call me selfish, but the idea of children and a “better life for your children” meant absolutely nothing to me, just as “God and fatherland” meant nothing to me at the time of leaving. Only later (but rather soon), fatherland, changed to homeland, did acquire a huge meaning. After decades, the meaning of the word is different once more.

For me, aside from the fusion, these lines also carry a lot of meaning:

Last summer, on a distant beach, we stacked wet sand
on more wet sand and topped our confection
with sea-weed. Then we watched the waves
level our glory to a blank.

Note also the title. Yes, the impermanence. You say “forever,” and already a year later, not to mention ten years later, where is that ridiculous “forever”? Heraclitus was right: the only certainty is change. And for those of us who changed countries, the only peace (rather than the resentment and bitterness felt by so many immigrants) lies in accepting both countries — and letting the fusion happen as it will.

And in the end, aren’t we all immigrants to some degree? Each stage of life is almost like a different country, and we are immigrants from the past, learning new words, getting past the shock, adjusting . . .  And after many decades, aren’t all memories fused, confused, intertwined, false, imaginary? Again, it’s a question of degree.

A back street in Vilnius. Photo: M. Iossel



I've not had any of these immigrant experiences, but the “fusion” experienced here seems to come to me now in moments usually when drifting off to sleep or just waking, where I'm not sure where I am — this house in Florida or my old one in Pennsylvania, or some conglomerate of both, as well as a sense of the past and present inhabiting the same space. Which of course they do, in my mind and memory.


I am fascinated by the discussion of immigrating from one’s own country, then how that country is remembered, forgotten, or fused with other memories and experiences from the new country, and what happens if you return to your country, and it is at once familiar and completely changed. Yes, as you say, we are all immigrants from our past, and know how even these personal memories stray and are reshaped over time, never remaining “true” or “accurate” to the original experience. It is enough to compare memories with someone else who was there—a sibling, a friend —and you will be astonished at the differences between them. As one of my sisters said “It’s like we grew up in different houses!”

Of course the unifying factor is the individual self, the memories and consciousness that are unique to you, your lived experience, your emotions, fears, hopes, and desires, whatever griefs, losses and traumas you have suffered—all like the fractured lens in the kaleidoscope, determining the kinds of changing patterns you will see.

I find this is also true, for me at least, in the landscape of my dreams. I will find the same or similar places in many dreams over many many years. Usually “fusions” of places I have lived or known, scrambled and re-shaped, but recognizable, the particular geography of my own unconscious mind. “Home” will always be the first place you remember, the first language you spoke, foods you ate, culture that surrounded and supported you. Those are the “real” places, real words, real foods, real customs.

And, sadly, we never can get back to that home, only to its shadows, echoes, remnants—because as we have grown and changed, so has the world, and at an increasingly accelerated pace. Think of the enormous transformations that have occurred since WWII. Not simply changes in style, but in substance, in how we live, work, and play, in how we think of and connect with others alone, a huge change, as technology has almost eliminated geographical distance as a significant obstacle to connection. Ironic that as we get closer in our always connected world “Home” gets stranger and farther away, perhaps increasing our nostalgia and dissatisfaction, maybe even a factor in the threatening rise of Nationalism, with all its desire for isolation and retreat into an idealized fantasy of a golden, unchanging past.


The golden and unchanging past is presumably what the conservatives want to “conserve” — just as they want to conserve religion as obedience to an imaginary, invisible dictator in the sky who seems to have proclaimed the subjugation of women, for instance, by cursing Eve in quite specific terms. It’s a complete disregard for reality — even if we grant that we can’t have an accurate fix on reality. There are still degrees of how much complexity a person can process, and how resistant he or she is to seeing things as all bad or all good.

Too bad that “Fifty Shades of Gray” is about sex. It would make a wonderful title for a book of life philosophy.

So wonderful that you mentioned dreams — talk about fusion! I love the way dreams scramble locations and narratives, and time travel, and can make us into someone else — once I once a Greek tutor to an ancient Roman family! And that wasn’t the only time I was definitely male in a dream.

We can’t step into the same story twice. Fundamentally, there is no story: the past as we remember it is fragmentary and fused, always changing according to our present understanding, and more complex than we could ever comprehend — the good and the bad completely intertwined. 


Like me at seventeen, a Polish bison apparently wants to “see the world”; Irek Smerszczynski
“You start writing in a foreign language in order to become a foreigner to your own past, so as to see it clearer and understand it better by having fewer words to account for it.” ~ M. Iossel


You become a “foreigner to your own past” even if you don’t change languages. But there are degrees of that “foreignness.” You do gain much more distance if you step out of your native language.

Milosz said that the secret of poetry is distance. But the secret of ALL good writing is distance.

I love the idea of becoming “a foreigner to your own past.” It hurts too much to think of your past in your native language. That’s the language in which you were a helpless child, easily humiliated and abused — by other children, I’d like to emphasize, perhaps even more so than by those bossy, powerful adults. The native language as the language of humiliation — I know we don’t normally think of it in those terms. But if you’re bilingual, just recall the first insults hurled at you — even something as primitive as “stupid” — and feel, just for a moment, those earliest emotional wounds start bleeding again.

True, the native language makes the joy more vivid too, but if your past contained a lot of pain, it’s much easier to deal with it in a foreign language (and in the third person [don’t say “I”; say “he”] — allegedly that’s the most healing method — but that trick is just for the few. Dickens writing about abused children — would it be bearable for him to write, and for us to read about it in the first person?).

But I don’t think it’s a matter of having fewer words. English has a richer vocabulary than any other language, and it’s possible for a writer to amass a huge vocabulary — even if the writer is not a native speaker. It’s rather that those words don’t carry the emotional conditioning that the native words acquired in childhood. It’s those words that decades later can still make you blush or choke up; they can frighten you or caress you. But writing demands distance. You won’t get much writing done if you are weeping.


“To grow old means to be rid of anxieties about the past.” ~ Stefan Zweig (Oriana: this reminds me of Frost’s “hope for the past”

Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right.

~ David Ray)

More Zweig:

“Unhappiness makes people vulnerable, incessant suffering unjust. Those whom fate has dealt hard knocks remain vulnerable for ever afterwards.” (Oriana: I’ve seen suffering destroy people rather than make them strong. And suffering leaves scars, and often some degree of PTSD — even if it’s “only” shaking hands, hypervigilance, and a crazy startle response to the slightest noise, and other symptoms of an overactive sympathetic system, harbingers of shortened life expectancy.)

All the pale horses of the apocalypse have stormed through my life — revolution, starvation, devaluation of currency and terror, epidemics, emigration; I have seen the great ideologies of the masses grow and spread out before my eyes. Fascism in Italy, National Socialism in Germany, Bolshevism in Russia, and, above all, that archpestilence, nationalism, which poisoned our flourishing European culture.

“Supreme achievement and outstanding capacity are only rendered possible by mental concentration, by a sublime monomania that verges on lunacy.”

“It is never until one realizes that one means something to others that one feels there is any point or purpose in one’s own existence.”

“No envy is more mean than that of small-minded beings when they see a neighbor lifted, as though borne aloft by angels, out of the dull drudgery of their common existence; petty spirits are more ready to forgive a prince the most fabulous wealth than a fellow-sufferer beneath the same yoke the smallest degree of freedom.”

 “The sight of a wedding always has a disturbing effect on young girls; at such moments a mysterious sense of solidarity with their own sex takes possession of them.”

“In the straitjacket of a uniform, even though fully aware of their absurdity, an officer will carry out his instructions like a sleep-walker, unresistingly and almost unconsciously.”

“Fear is a distorting mirror in which anything can appear as a caricature of itself, stretched to terrible proportions; once inflamed, the imagination pursues the craziest and most unlikely possibilities. What is most absurd suddenly seems the most probable.”


“Those whom fate has dealt hard knocks remain vulnerable for ever afterwards.” This strikes me as very true. PTSD is not just a military phenomenon.

Research has shown that "childhood adversity" means worse health and lower earnings for the rest of one's life. And even something like being in a car accident (at any point in one's life) increases the chances of becoming seriously ill, losing one's job, etc.

Note that Zweig includes emigration with starvation and epidemics. He was aware that changing countries is hugely traumatic. You don’t just (ahem) lose your homeland; you lose part of yourself and are forced to become a hybrid kind of person. If you change countries as an adult, you can never become fully fluent in the new culture; you are always limping, so to speak, while the native-born are dancing circles around you.

Is limping the metaphor I really want? No, that’s already a defensive euphemism. Let me be honest for once: that first year, and on occasion way beyond then (let’s face it: forever), you feel like a moron.


~ “75 years after his death, Élisabeth Roudinesco reminds us, Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, continues to “disturb Western consciousness” with his myths; his interpretation of dreams; his explanation of the id, the ego, and the superego; his accounts of Leonardo da Vinci, the Oedipus Complex, and Moses and monotheism; and his analysis of civilization’s discontents.

Roudinesco, the head of research in history at the University of Paris Diderot (Paris 7), provides an insightful, balanced, and sympathetic portrait of Freud. As she assesses Freud’s revolutionary ideas about rationality, sexuality, and the unconscious, Roudinesco demonstrates that Freud was less a scientific thinker who uncovered universal truths than a product of his time: a genius, to be sure, but very much a bourgeois shaped by society, family, and politics in the late 19th century.

Roudinesco is, of course, scarcely the first person to identify flaws in the core precepts of Freudian psychoanalytic theory. But her critique has an especially persuasive force because it is grounded not only in an analysis of Freud’s books, diaries, and letters but from accounts of his sessions with patients. Roudinesco points out that Freud, a product of the Enlightenment and German Romanticism, who strove to bring to light and confront the powerful subterranean forces motivating human beings, claimed that psychoanalysis was suitable for people who were intelligent, sophisticated, relatively young, aware of their condition and committed to improving it, and not for anyone suffering from psychosis, hysteria, melancholia, narcissistic neurosis, the death drive or destructive impulses; but didn’t always abide by these strictures.

Although she does not lay out criteria for measuring success and failure, Roudinesco notes that many patients felt Freud had cured them. “Sometimes the dramatic effect is absolutely shattering,” one of them declared. “You feel dreadful things happening inside you, can’t make out what they might be,” until, following a series of questions, “the whole truth dawns upon you, the Professor rises, crosses the room to the electric bell, and shows you out the door.” On the other hand, Roudinesco notes, twenty of the 170 people treated by Freud drew no benefit at all from the sessions and another ten “ended up hating the therapist.”

Predicated on a traditional understanding of the roles assigned to each member of the nuclear family (“happy motherhood, accomplished fatherhood”) and a “psychologizing of psychic life,” Roudinesco writes, his therapeutic approach “initially represented an authentic innovation but would end up subject to ridicule.” And Freud “spent a good deal of time contradicting and combatting himself.”

At times, for example, he behaved like an “old-style paternal marriage arranger, blending the couch and conjugal counseling.” He told some patients that society forgave adultery more readily than divorce and with others favored “a good separation,” providing it was followed by another marriage. The sexuality of girls, according to Freud, “is organized around phallicism (“they want to be boys”) and an awareness that the clitoris in an inferior substitute for the penis.

And yet, even as she situates Freud in the milieu of bourgeois, fin de siècle Vienna, and the traditional cultural and scientific norms of the nineteenth century, Roudinesco does not lose sight of the immense dimensions of the revolution he wrought. In the literary masterpieces he wrote, in the transatlantic psychoanalytical movement he founded, and in his professional practice, Freud identified a new, flawed, yet immensely valuable way of understanding human sexuality, defining it as “a universal psychic disposition and the very essence of human activity.” And he gave us, she writes, a cluster of concepts to represent sexuality: the drive, the source of unconscious psychic functioning; the ego, superego, and id; the libido; bi-sexuality; and “desire, a tendency, an accomplishment, an infinite quest, an ambivalent relation to others.” ~


Freud’s abandonment of the incest theory (i.e. sexual abuse of children led to pathology later) in favor of “blaming the victim” — i.e. it’s the children who lust after parents (or other adults), and then present this fantasy as what really happened — remains a big stain on Freud’s legacy. This is where his Victorian conservatism asserted itself in the most negative manner. 

Nevertheless, this lapse — this turning away from the truth in favor of Victorian proprieties and blaming the victim — should not blind us to Freud’s real accomplishments. 

Stefan Zweig paid this tribute to Freud:

~ In a letter dated 8 September 1926, [Zweig] wrote to Freud, "Psychology is the great business of my life". He went on explaining that Freud had considerable influence on a number of writers such as Marcel Proust, D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce, giving them a lesson of "courage" and helping them overcome their inhibitions, "Thanks to you, we see many things. Thanks to you we say many things which otherwise we would not have seen nor said." Autobiography, in particular, had become "more clear-sighted and audacious.” ~ (Wiki)

Freud at 16 with his mother, Amalia


~ “For Del Ficke, protecting the soil means, first of all, no more tilling the ground, breaking it up with plows and discs. "Tillage is the most destructive thing in agriculture," he says.

That's not even controversial anymore. Many farmers have adopted "no-till" farming, recognizing its environmental benefits. But Ficke goes way beyond that. After he harvests his corn or soybeans, he plants something else on those fields right away — often a mixture of grasses and legumes like cowpeas. On some of that land, he keeps those "cover crops" growing right on through the next summer, instead of conventional crops like corn. His cattle graze on those fields the way bison once grazed on the prairie.

The roots of these cover crops, decaying in undisturbed soil, enrich the soil. So do manure and urine from his grazing cattle. With time, the soil grows darker, more fertile — chock-full of microbes and fungi.

Soil that's full of decaying roots and microbes is like a sponge; it soaks up water and is better able to handle floods and droughts. It's also full of plant nutrients, so Irlbeck won't have to spend as much money on fertilizer.

"I think there is a movement, and I believe that farmers want to be part of that movement," he says. "It's just figuring out how to do it and stay economically viable.”

That's the catch. Planting those additional soil-building cover crops costs money up-front, Irlbeck says, and it takes years to see the benefits. This is the main reason why only 5 or 10 percent of farmers in Iowa are really doing it.

In fact, until recently, a lot of his neighbors thought he was a little crazy. Now, they're asking him lots of curious questions.

Farmers are now hearing about the virtues of healthy soil from some of the biggest, most powerful names in American agriculture.

These include Monsanto, the seed and chemical company; food giants like General Mills and Walmart; also environmental organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Nature Conservancy. They're all talking about healthy soil as a way the farmers can help the environment.

It's driven in part by concern over global warming. Tilling and draining soil have released enormous amounts of carbon dioxide over the years. Regenerative farming puts some of that carbon back in the ground, slowing global warming.

A coalition of food companies and environmental organizations has set up a new organization, the Soil Health Partnership, which in turn has signed up a hundred participating farmers.

Del Ficke, the soil health pioneer, has mixed emotions about this partnership. He's in favor of anything that persuades more farmers to reduce tillage or plant cover crops, but he doesn't entirely trust the companies' new-found enthusiasm for soil health.

"Are they feeling it their heart? Is it a marketing deal? What is it?" he says.

There may, in fact, be a marketing angle to soil health. Some food companies have been talking about a new label for food that's grown using methods that improve the soil. On the supermarket shelf, it might take its place beside packages labeled as organic, non-GMO, or Fair Trade. This one might be called “regenerative."

Proponents of such a label say it could encourage farmers to join the movement, paying them to help the soil. But Matthew Dillon, director of agriculture for Clif Bar & Company, doesn't think it's a good idea, at least not yet.

There's a lot of uncertainty about what farming practices really are best for the soil in different regions, he says, so it's too soon to starting using such labels. In an interview with the news site Food Navigator, Dillon said that the labels "may be "good for marketers, but they may not necessarily be good for consumers or for farmers if we're not all clear what the terms mean," he says.” ~


~ “Flat-Earthers are not the first group to be skeptical of existing power structures and their tight grasps on knowledge. This viewpoint is somewhat typified by the work of Michel Foucault, a famous and heavily influential 20th century philosopher who made a career of studying those on the fringes of society to understand what they could tell us about everyday life.

He is well known, among many other things, for looking at the close relationship between power and knowledge. He suggested that knowledge is created and used in a way that reinforces the claims to legitimacy of those in power. At the same time, those in power control what is considered to be correct and incorrect knowledge. According to Foucault, there is therefore an intimate and interlinked relationship between power and knowledge.

At the time Foucault was writing on the topic, the control of power and knowledge had moved away from religious institutions, who previously held a very singular hold over knowledge and morality, and was instead beginning to move towards a network of scientific institutions, media monopolies, legal courts, and bureaucratized governments. Foucault argued that these institutions work to maintain their claims to legitimacy by controlling knowledge.

In the 21st century, we are witnessing another important shift in both power and knowledge due to factors that include the increased public platforms afforded by social media. Knowledge is no longer centrally controlled and—as has been pointed out in the wake of Brexit—the age of the expert may be passing. Now, everybody has the power to create and share content. When Michael Gove, a leading proponent of Brexit, proclaimed: “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts,” it would seem that he, in many ways, meant it.

It is also clear that we’re seeing increased polarization in society, as we continue to drift away from agreed singular narratives and move into camps around shared interests. Recent Pew research suggests, for example, that 80 percent of voters who backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election—and 81 percent of Trump voters—believe the two sides are unable to agree on basic facts.

Despite early claims that a worldwide shared resource of knowledge such as the internet would create peace, harmony, and a common interpretation of reality (this idea comes from as far back as HG Well’s “world brain” essays in 1936), it appears that quite the opposite has happened. With the increased voice afforded by social media, knowledge has been increasingly decentralized, and competing narratives have emerged.

This was something of a reoccurring theme throughout the weekend, and was especially apparent when four flat-Earthers debated three physics PhD students. A particular point of contention occurred when one of the physicists pleaded with the audience to avoid trusting YouTube and bloggers. The audience and the panel of flat-Earthers took exception to this, noting that “now we’ve got the Internet and mass communication … we’re not reliant on what the mainstream are telling us in newspapers, we can decide for ourselves.” It was readily apparent that the flat-Earthers were keen to separate knowledge from scientific institutions.

Again, this theme occurred throughout the weekend. Flat-Earthers were encouraged to trust “poetry, freedom, passion, vividness, creativity, and yearning” over the more clinical regurgitation of established theories and facts. Attendees were told that “hope changes everything,” and warned against blindly trusting what they were told. This is a narrative echoed by some of the celebrities who have used their power to back flat-Earth beliefs, such as the musician B.O.B, who tweeted: “Don’t believe what I say, research what I say.”

In many ways, a public meeting of flat-Earthers is a product and sign of our time; a reflection of our increasing distrust in scientific institutions, and the moves by power-holding institutions towards populism and emotions. In much the same way that Foucault reflected on what social outcasts could reveal about our social systems, there is a lot flat-Earthers can reveal to us about the current changing relationship between power and knowledge. And judging by the success of this UK event—and the large conventions planned in Canada and America this year—it seems the flat-Earth is going to be around for a while yet.” ~


Angela, listen, I may be a power-mad homicidal dictator and mafia boss and mega-thief bent on the destruction or the West, but I'm also a romantic at heart, and every time I see you in springtime, something stirs inside me like a flock of baby buzzards… ~ M. Iossel




This dichotomy has consequences for liberals on either side.

For the liberal in North America, Islam is the faith of a small minority of Muslims who are often discriminated against and whose rights must be protected, as with any minority group.

But for the liberal in a Muslim-majority country, Islam is a tool the government uses to justify censorship, oppression, and other illiberal values, like forcing women to wear the hijab, persecuting homosexuals, and publicly lashing bloggers.

The same holy book that Muslims in the United States and elsewhere revere as divine and peaceful is used by the governments of Muslim-majority countries to endorse everything from domestic violence to the execution of apostates.
The hijab—worn proudly by Muslim-American women who choose it as a symbol of their identity—is forced on women in many Muslim-majority countries by their governments, imams, or husbands.

And many criticisms of Islamic doctrine made by liberal reformers and dissidents in Muslim-majority countries are labeled 'Islamophobic' when voiced here.

It’s easy to see how this can get very confusing very fast. In their well-intentioned effort to protect what they see as a targeted minority, Western liberals unwittingly find themselves fighting to guard and protect the same backward values that their counterparts in Muslim-majority countries are fighting against.” ~ (excerpt from The Atheist Muslim, p. 133)

from Amazon:

~ In much of the Muslim world, religion is the central foundation upon which family, community, morality, and identity are built. The inextricable embedding of religion in Muslim culture has forced a new generation of non-believing Muslims to face the heavy costs of abandoning their parents’ religion: disowned by their families, marginalized from their communities, imprisoned, or even sentenced to death by their governments.

Struggling to reconcile the Muslim society he was living in as a scientist and physician and the religion he was being raised in, Ali A. Rizvi eventually loses his faith. Discovering that he is not alone, he moves to North America and promises to use his new freedom of speech to represent the voices that are usually quashed before reaching the mainstream media―the Atheist Muslim.

In The Atheist Muslim, we follow Rizvi as he finds himself caught between two narrative voices he cannot relate to: extreme Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry in a post-9/11 world. The Atheist Muslim recounts the journey that allows Rizvi to criticize Islam―as one should be able to criticize any set of ideas―without demonizing his entire people. Emotionally and intellectually compelling, his personal story outlines the challenges of modern Islam and the factors that could help lead it toward a substantive, progressive reformation. ~

Some quotations:

To start with, religion doesn’t provide answers; it makes them up.

Cultures are dynamic by nature, continuously evolving. Religion dogmatizes them. It cements them in their place, freezes them in time, and prevents them from moving forward. By locking culture up into a time warp, religion makes it look like the bad guy, absolving itself of blame. Cultures carry potential for change. Religionizing them effectively kills off that potential.

The word Salafi comes from salaf, meaning “ancestor”—and refers specifically to the earliest generations of Muslims, from the time of Muhammad himself. Salafism is a rigid doctrine prescribing the revival of this early Islam, believed by its adherents to be the religion’s purest form.

Herein lies the problem: if there were a book that talked about Muslims the way the Quran talks about disbelievers, heads would roll. Literally.

I found endorsement for almost all of the Saudis’ actions in the Quran. The beheading of nonbelievers was right there in verses 8:12–13; the amputation of hands for theft in verse 5:38; domestic violence in 4:34; the killing of polytheists in 9:5; and so on.

#ExMuslimBecause Misogyny, homophobia, stoning people to death, and killing apostates don’t suddenly become “respectable” when put in a holy book. —@LibMuslim (a tweet quoted by Ali Rizvi)

It’s not “radicalization.” It’s increased faith. Faith is not a virtue. Faith means to believe outlandish things without any evidence, simply because someone centuries ago told us to. It fetters the intellect and taints the conscience.

You know deep down that your faith is really just an accident of birth.
The notion that this life on Earth is secondary to the afterlife—a fundamental tenet of many religious faiths—is deadly when it is genuinely and sincerely believed from the heart. I also believe this to be true of many other elements of religious belief.



The “Atheist Muslim” is a much needed statement about the mistake of allowing no criticism of an Islamic fundamentalism under the proposition it would be unjust “Islamophobia.” But the unjust and repellant tenets voiced in the Koran and embodied in Islamic fundamentalism cannot be simply ignored or denied. Hatred and misogyny are right there in the text. Can the subjugation of women be any more obvious than the chador, the veil? The repulsive vision of a paradise involving an endless supply of virgins to be raped?

Islam is no more a religion of love and kindness than the similarly brutal Old Testament. Tiptoeing around these issues is like defending female genital mutilation and child marriage as part of “culture” and “tradition” that must be respected. All culture and tradition is not intrinsically good simply because it is culture and tradition… most of which is traceable to the most primitive, early, superstitious, tribally organized societies—where there is little or no individual freedom, especially for women, and little or no separation between civic and religious law. We can, and must, do better than that.

I guess that might upset some, but there you have it. By refusing any objective criticism we actually obstruct the most progressive members of this very large and diverse group of peoples, as they struggle to move forward into a future only possible through change.


Jeremy Sherman, a writer whose wit and wisdom I’ve come to quote in practically every blog now, said that no religion should be tax-exempt or contempt-exempt.

We can point to this or that verse in some man-made text elevated to being the “Word of God,” and say Look: here it says Don’t kill, and here it says “Don’t steal.” Oddly enough that never stopped invaders from killing or stealing land — the “holy scripture” ever on their lips, their massacres and other crimes allegedly the will of an invisible “heavenly king.” The conquered people had to be killed or enslaved because they worshiped a different fictional deity! An abomination!

I want to highlight what strikes me as very important, yet is rarely said, precisely for fear of giving offense to the most reactionary, least educated members of a given society:

All culture and tradition is not intrinsically good simply because it is culture and tradition… most of which is traceable to the most primitive, early, superstitious, tribally organized societies—where there is little or no individual freedom, especially for women, and little or no separation between civic and religious law. We can, and must, do better than that.

Strange: religion sometimes starts as a step forward. For instance, early Christianity gave women a new standing, even allowing them to lead services. Christianity was supremely popular with women and slaves at first. But as the church solidified, the predominantly reactionary nature of religion asserted itself, priesthood became exclusively male, and soon enough greed and violence followed. 

Religion may start as a concern with justice and mercy, but then it typically aligns itself with the rich and powerful, and legitimizes the preservation of oppression. It is a huge roadblock to every kind of progress social, scientific, philosophical all the time claiming to provide "consolation" to the poor and the outcast, who are supposedly so weak they'd find life unendurable without religion.

There are two basic truths about religion that need to be universally recognized: 1) every religion is totally man-made and culture-bound; thus, there can be no “one true religion” 2) religion is primarily a tool of social control, wielded in concert by the religious leaders and the ruling class. When control starts slipping, new “interpretations” of the old lies emerge. The dreadful thing is childhood indoctrination. It’s very hard to “de-program” emotional conditioning. Hard, but not impossible. It’s now a good ten years since I had my last nightmare about hell. (With all the talk about the “consolations” of religion, where is the discussion of its outrageous emotional terrorism?)

~ “Those who believe in an authoritarian God represent 32 percent of America. They believe God is very angry and willing to punish anyone who is unfaithful or who acts in an ungodly way. They may even believe that God causes earthquakes and human disasters as a wake-up call about the sinful behavior of people.

Another 16 percent of Americans believe that God is critical but will neither punish nor comfort his flock. This God has an unfavorable view of society. He does not intervene with the world, but he will cast judgment on people in the afterlife.

The second largest group, comprising 24 percent of the American population, sees God as distant and uninvolved. He does not hold opinions about the world or about personal behavior; thus we are left to our own free will to decide what is right and wrong. This God is less of a person and more like a cosmic force that set the laws of nature into motion.

Those who perceive God as distant have higher levels of income and education than any other group. Approximately a third of all Catholics, Protestants, and Jews believe in a distant God, yet this group is more open-minded when it comes to gay rights, abortion, and premarital sex. Within this group, many people question the existence of God.

In contrast to 72 percent of Americans who believe in an authoritarian, critical, or distant God, only 23 percent see God as gentle, forgiving, and less likely to respond with wrath. Like those who believe in an authoritarian God, believers in a benevolent God think he is very active in their lives. He listens, responds to prayers, and cares deeply about the suffering of others, but he sometimes causes suffering and pain.

Only a quarter of Catholics, mainstream Protestants and evangelicals embrace a loving God, whereas less than 14 percent of black Protestants and Jews see God as a benevolent force.
Envisioning an authoritarian or critical entity — be it another person or God — will activate the limbic areas of the brain that generate fear and anger. However, when you perceive God as a benevolent force, a different part of the brain is stimulated: the anterior cingulate. The God of the limbic system is a frightening God, but the God of the anterior cingulate is loving.

Our Survey of Spiritual Experiences illuminated a fifth personality of God that we think the Baylor study missed. When we asked our survey participants to described their spiritual experiences, many talked about God as an emotional presence, using words like peace, energy, tranquility, or bliss. God was not a separate entity, but rather a force that permeated everything. God didn’t create the universe, God WAS the universe, a radiance that extended throughout time and space. God was light, God was freedom, and for many people God was consciousness itself.

Based upon national surveys conducted by the Barna Group, 11 percent of Americans believe that God is “a state of higher consciousness that a person may reach.” Eight percent define God as “the total realization of personal, human potential,” and 3 percent believe that each person is God.

Something happened in the brains of our ancestors that gave us the power to tame the authoritarian God. No one knows exactly when or how it happened, but the neural structures that evolved enhanced our ability to cooperate with others. They gave us the ability to construct language and to consciously think in logical and reasonable ways. Our research shows that they are the same structures stimulated when we meditate and pray, which is what allows us to consciously envision a loving and compassionate God.

We can’t get rid of our old limbic God, which means that anger and fear will always be a part of our neural and spiritual personality. However, we can train the newer structures of our brain to suppress our biological tendency to react with anger and fear.

Along with the Unitarians, Unity Churches, and Quakers, the Church of Religious Science developed philosophies of greater open-mindedness by proclaiming the inner divinity of the human being and extending kindness to every person regardless of their religious orientation. In these churches, God, consciousness, morality, and science are melded into a universal HUMAN spirit that is simultaneously mystical and materialistically pragmatic. In many ways these modern churches reflect the same deist philosophy that had captured the imagination of the eighteenth-century leaders of the Enlightenment. God had fallen out of heaven and taken up residence in the mind.” ~

Source: the section “THE FOUR GODS OF AMERICA,” in “How God Changes Your Brain” by Andrew Newberg and Mark R. Waldman, 2009. The authors quote the results of a survey conducted by Baylor University.

Andrea Del Castagno Our Lady of the Assumption


Alas, if during your formative years you were brainwashed to believe in a punitive god, you can’t suddenly start believing in a loving god just because that would be so comforting. There may have been a few cases of that happening due to a mystical experience or a powerful insight (e.g. Luther stopped worrying about getting into heaven once he decided that faith alone was the admission ticket). But even after a mystical experience, I wonder how complete the turnaround may turn out to be. Limbic brainwashing may be alleviated, but can it ever be removed completely?

It’s sad to ponder that the more liberal congregations — those who try to present god as all-accepting rather than punitive — are the ones in greatest decline. But there may be some consolation in the growing popularity of the Universal Unitarian fellowships. Perhaps a church needs to become as secular as possible to meet the needs of those who want the family feeling that can come with church membership but don’t want to have to swallow absurd beliefs.

It’s also striking that those who believe in the indifferent deist god (or no god at all) tend to have higher income and more education.



I remember when a friend, who also happens to be a therapist, commented on my love for animals: “That's also typical of autistics.” It didn't make me conclude that I must be autistic — millions of people love animals to the point of preferring them to other humans, and you do meet mothers more affectionate toward a pet than toward their children (and guess who gets better quality nutrition: the pet or the children?)

What’s more to the point is the ability to handle abstractions, deal with lots of detail without getting overwhelmed, and the need for solitude. The standard explanation used to be: Sure, you love being alone, you love demanding, solitary work, you hate noise — because you are an introvert. It’s biological: you have different neurochemistry and a different arousal threshold. Gentle stimulation works well; strong stimulation overwhelms and distresses. When I once commented that a lot of movies are
visual rape,” I was surprised by the amount of agreement.

Introversion IS biological. Introverts do have different neurochemistry. But aside from that, now there is an interesting theory that introversion is on the autism spectrum.

Fellow introverts, please don't be shocked and read the whole article, which definitely doesn't equate introverts with autistics. Another interesting speculation which immediately struck me as true to my experience is that“highly sensitive persons”, as Elaine Aron calls them in her excellent book, are easily overwhelmed by strong stimuli, and that's along the scale of openness to experience (not the best label, in my opinion).

~ “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 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 full-blown 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?” ~


The opposite of autism is, in some ways, schizophrenia. In high-functioning autism it’s all about the outside world, which is endlessly fascinating. In schizophrenia, everything is about you: everything you see and hear carries a secret meaning you alone understand.

Yes, both introverts and autistics prefer solitude, and both can focus deeply. But a typical introvert is highly capable of introspection, and also has empathy for others — though perhaps not quite as much as his or her empathy for animals. Still, put an introvert in a room full of other introverts who share his or her intellectual interests, and you’ll see intense interaction and long in-depth conversations, often delving into quite intimate areas. Extraverts talk about sports and the weather; in my experience, it’s introverts who don’t seem too shy to discuss sex and other quite personal experiences. Introverts enjoy depth, and what’s depth without getting personal?

Still, even if Jung got introversion and extraversion wrong (and I'm not saying he did, or we would have a lot more male than female introverts; true autism has a tremendous male prevalence), we still owe him gratitude for having voiced the view that there is nothing wrong with being an introvert, and that introverts have a lot to contribute.

And I'm grateful to Elaine Aron as well. True, greater sensitivity to stimulation may life on a different spectrum, but a typical introvert is also a “highly sensitive person,” easily unpleasantly overaroused by crowds, noise, and bright lights (due to a lower arousal threshold, which also makes it easy to be perfectly content in solitude, entertained by one’s own thoughts). Her book is a valuable guide to how to make the best of this sensitivity.

dog tooth calcite and hematite



~ “The researchers, from the University of Manchester, first latched onto an old immunosuppressive drug, cyclosporine A, used since the 1980s to prevent transplant organ rejection and reduce symptoms of autoimmune disease.
The scientists found that the drug reduced the activity of a protein called SFRP1, a key growth regulator that affects many tissues including hair follicles.

But because of its side effects, CsA was unsuitable as a baldness treatment.

The team went on to look for another agent that targeted SFRP1 and found that WAY-316606 was even better at suppressing the protein.

The drug was originally intended to treat osteoporosis.
” ~


Just as Viagra was originally intended to treat heart disease.

My grandmother used to say, “Whoever finds the cure for baldness will become the richest man in the world.”

It doesn’t surprise me that immunosuppressive drugs would be the ones with the potential to become the much coveted cure for baldness. As we age, our immune system increasingly turns against us. If those drugs didn’t have serious side effects, baldness would have been “conquered” decades ago. 

Rather than present a photo of a bald man, I’d rather post this striking image of the ridiculously misnamed “bald eagle.”

ending on beauty:

Because the bird flew before
there was a word
for flight

years from now
there will be a name
for what you and I are doing.

~ Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

saguaro in bloom; Lana Dejong