Saturday, June 30, 2018


Looking at the camel reminded me of the saying that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Imagine if the logo of Christianity happened to be not the cross, an instrument of torture used to kill a poor carpenter, but rather a camel and the eye of a needle . . .



The air shuddered with the beat
of a punch-press fed
metal sheets, throwing back
hollow molds. The crushing knell

of the punctual machine
never stopped; we thought,
what if that worker’s hands just once
not fast enough —

We filed from one post to the next,
like doing Stations of the Cross,
under the hot metal roof
breathing the hot metal dust —

and looked at the men and women,
who never looked at us,
bent over presses and drills,
their bodies flashing lurid white,

yellow and blue
in flares of acetylene —
the proletariat we wrote about
on history exams.

The tour was over;
we stood in the concrete yard,
startled by the free sky.
Our faces were tinged with gray,

soldered with needles
of piercing light.
the pounding pounded inside us —
those people with motionless eyes

in robot rhythm
below the trinity
portraits of Lenin, Engels, Marx,
never looking up.

~ Oriana

The similarity between religions and what might be called “grand ideologies” is striking, especially in the realm of heavy propaganda. Part of the political propaganda I grew up with was school trips to factories. We enjoyed the steel mill and the glass factory, but the motorcycle factory was brutal, and I think this one turned out to be subversive. We (mostly the children of Warsaw professional elites) got a glimpse of how brutal the life of the much-glorified “proletariat” can be — and it sickened us. The big chart of accident rate on the same wall as the portraits didn’t help much, nor the director’s speech about the apparent improvement: fewer accidents this month than last.

“Workers’ paradise” was never as ironic as inside that factory. In fact I think Bosch would have found it inspiring as a model of hell.

I'm all for the use of robots to do this kind of dangerous industrial work. Humans should work at jobs that require qualities that only humans have: we could use more staffing and more quality and empathy in health care and education, for instance. Or, for people who love creating with their hands, more arts-and-crafts jobs would fit the bill.

Nor would it be so terrible if mothers who really want to stay home with their children did so. We could perhaps invent a robot that can change diapers, but only a mother can do it with love.


“Due to the lack of experienced trumpeters, the end of the world has been postponed.” ~ Matt Flumerfelt 


~ “Hitler and Goebbels were the first relativizers of the Holocaust, the first purveyors of false equivalence. “Concentration camps were not invented in Germany,” Hitler said in 1941. “It is the English who are their inventors, using this institution to gradually break the backs of other nations.” The British had operated camps in South Africa, the Nazis pointed out. Party propagandists similarly highlighted the sufferings of Native Americans and Stalin’s slaughter in the Soviet Union. In 1943, Goebbels triumphantly broadcast news of the Katyn Forest massacre, in the course of which the Soviet secret police killed more than twenty thousand Poles.

The magnitude of the abomination almost forbids that it be mentioned in the same breath as any other horror. Yet the Holocaust has unavoidable international dimensions—lines of influence, circles of complicity, moments of congruence. Hitler’s “scientific anti-Semitism,” as he called it, echoed the French racial theorist Arthur de Gobineau and anti-Semitic intellectuals who normalized venomous language during the Dreyfus Affair. The British Empire was Hitler’s ideal image of a master race in dominant repose. “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a Russian forgery from around 1900, fuelled the Nazis’ paranoia. The Armenian genocide of 1915-16 encouraged the belief that the world community would care little about the fate of the Jews. Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Hitler spoke of the planned mass murder of Poles and asked, “Who, after all, is today speaking about the destruction of the Armenians?”

The Nazis found collaborators in almost every country that they invaded. In one Lithuanian town, a crowd cheered while a local man clubbed dozens of Jewish people to death. He then stood atop the corpses and played the Lithuanian anthem on an accordion. German soldiers looked on, taking photographs.

The mass killings by Stalin and Hitler existed in an almost symbiotic relationship, the one giving license to the other, in remorseless cycles of revenge. Large-scale deportations of Jews from the countries of the Third Reich followed upon Stalin’s deportation of the Volga Germans. Reinhard Heydrich, one of the chief planners of the Holocaust, thought that, once the Soviet Union had been defeated, the Jews of Europe could be left to die in the Gulag. The most dangerous claim made by right-wing historians was that Nazi terror was a response to Bolshevik terror, and was therefore to some degree excusable. One can, however, keep the entire monstrous landscape in view without minimizing the culpability of perpetrators on either side. This was the achievement of Timothy Snyder’s profoundly disturbing 2010 book, “Bloodlands,” which seems to fix cameras in spots across Eastern Europe, recording wave upon wave of slaughter.

The Nazis were not wrong to cite American precedents. Enslavement of African-Americans was written into the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Jefferson spoke of the need to “eliminate” or “extirpate” Native Americans. In 1856, an Oregonian settler wrote, “Extermination, however unchristianlike it may appear, seems to be the only resort left for the protection of life and property.” General Philip Sheridan spoke of “annihilation, obliteration, and complete destruction.”

America’s knack for maintaining an air of robust innocence in the wake of mass death struck Hitler as an example to be emulated. He made frequent mention of the American West in the early months of the Soviet invasion. The Volga would be “our Mississippi,” he said. “Europe—and not America—will be the land of unlimited possibilities.” Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine would be populated by pioneer farmer-soldier families. Autobahns would cut through fields of grain. The present occupants of those lands—tens of millions of them—would be starved to death. At the same time, and with no sense of contradiction, the Nazis partook of a long-standing German romanticization of Native Americans. One of Goebbels’s less propitious schemes was to confer honorary Aryan status on Native American tribes, in the hope that they would rise up against their oppressors.

Jim Crow laws in the American South served as a precedent in a stricter legal sense. Scholars have long been aware that Hitler’s regime expressed admiration for American race law, but they have tended to see this as a public-relations strategy—an “everybody does it” justification for Nazi policies. Whitman, however, points out that if these comparisons had been intended solely for a foreign audience they would not have been buried in hefty tomes in Fraktur type. “Race Law in the United States,” a 1936 study by the German lawyer Heinrich Krieger, attempts to sort out inconsistencies in the legal status of nonwhite Americans. Krieger concludes that the entire apparatus is hopelessly opaque, concealing racist aims behind contorted justifications. Why not simply say what one means? This was a major difference between American and German racism.

American eugenicists made no secret of their racist objectives, and their views were prevalent enough that F. Scott Fitzgerald featured them in “The Great Gatsby.” (The cloddish Tom Buchanan, having evidently read Lothrop Stoddard’s 1920 tract “The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy,” says, “The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be—will be utterly submerged.”) California’s sterilization program directly inspired the Nazi sterilization law of 1934.

There are also sinister, if mostly coincidental, similarities between American and German technologies of death. In 1924, the first execution by gas chamber took place, in Nevada. In a history of the American gas chamber, Scott Christianson states that the fumigating agent Zyklon-B, which was licensed to American Cyanamid by the German company I. G. Farben, was considered as a lethal agent but found to be impractical. Zyklon-B was, however, used to disinfect immigrants as they crossed the border at El Paso—a practice that did not go unnoticed by Gerhard Peters, the chemist who supplied a modified version of Zyklon-B to Auschwitz. Later, American gas chambers were outfitted with a chute down which poison pellets were dropped. Earl Liston, the inventor of the device, explained, “Pulling a lever to kill a man is hard work. Pouring acid down a tube is easier on the nerves, more like watering flowers.” Much the same method was introduced at Auschwitz, to relieve stress on S.S. guards.

When Hitler praised American restrictions on naturalization, he had in mind the Immigration Act of 1924, which imposed national quotas and barred most Asian people altogether. For Nazi observers, this was evidence that America was evolving in the right direction, despite its specious rhetoric about equality. The Immigration Act, too, played a facilitating role in the Holocaust, because the quotas prevented thousands of Jews, including Anne Frank and her family, from reaching America. In 1938, President Roosevelt called for an international conference on the plight of European refugees; this was held in Évian-les-Bains, France, but no substantive change resulted. The German Foreign Office, in a sardonic reply, found it “astounding” that other countries would decry Germany’s treatment of Jews and then decline to admit them.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans died fighting Nazi Germany. Still, bigotry toward Jews persisted, even toward Holocaust survivors. General George Patton criticized do-gooders who “believe that the Displaced person is a human being, which he is not, and this applies particularly to the Jews who are lower than animals.”

Leading Nazi scientists had it better. Brian Crim’s “Our Germans: Project Paperclip and the National Security State” (Johns Hopkins) reviews the shady history of Wernher von Braun and his colleagues from the V-2 program. When Braun was captured, in 1945, he realized that the Soviets would become the next archenemy of the American military-industrial complex, and cannily promoted the idea of a high-tech weapons program to ward off the Bolshevik menace. He was able to reconstitute most of his operation Stateside, minus the slave labor. Records were airbrushed; de-Nazification procedures were bypassed (they were considered “demoralizing”); immigration was expedited. J. Edgar Hoover became concerned that Jewish obstructionists in the State Department were asking too many questions about the scientists’ backgrounds. Senator Styles Bridges proposed that the State Department needed a “first-class cyanide fumigating job.”

What is worth pondering is how a demagogue of Hitler’s malign skill might more effectively exploit flaws in American democracy. He would certainly have at his disposal craven right-wing politicians who are worthy heirs to Hindenburg, Brüning, Papen, and Schleicher. He would also have millions of citizens who acquiesce in inconceivably potent networks of corporate surveillance and control.


The artist-politician of the future will not bask in the antique aura of Wagner and Nietzsche. He is more likely to take inspiration from the newly minted myths of popular culture. The archetype of the ordinary kid who discovers that he has extraordinary powers is a familiar one from comic books and superhero movies, which play on the adolescent feeling that something is profoundly wrong with the world and that a magic weapon might banish the spell. With one stroke, the inconspicuous outsider assumes a position of supremacy, on a battlefield of pure good against pure evil. For most people, such stories remain fantasy, a means of embellishing everyday life. One day, though, a ruthless dreamer, a loner who has a “vague notion of being reserved for something else,” may attempt to turn metaphor into reality. He might be out there now, cloaked by the blue light of a computer screen, ready, waiting.” ~

It may be hard for us to believe, but Hitler used to be called "Beautiful Adolf." What about Eva Braun? "Beautiful Adolf and Sweet Evi" (source: my mother)



~ “Along the viciousness of much of German politics in the Weimar years was an incongruous innocence: few people could imagine the worst possibilities. A civilized nation could not possibly vote for Hitler, some had thought. When he became chancellor nonetheless, millions expected his time in office to be short and ineffectual. Germany was a notoriously law-abiding as well as a cultured land. How could a German government systematically brutalize its own people? German Jews were highly assimilated and patriotic. Many refused to leave their homeland even as things got worse and worse.

Few Germans in 1933 could imagine Treblinka or Auschwitz, the mass shootings of Babi Yar or the death marches of the last months of the Second World War. It is hard to blame them for not foreseeing the unthinkable. Yet their innocence failed them, and they were catastrophically wrong about their future. We who come later have one advantage over  them: we have their example before us.” ~ Benjamin Carter Hett, The Death of Democracy


~ “What I find especially sobering is to consider HOW RATIONAL THE TWO WORLD WARS SEEMED TO SO MANY PEOPLE AT THE TIME. It is easy for us, with so much hindsight, to look back upon those conflicts and see frothing, irrational, bloodthirsty lunatics who — we tell ourselves — would never find an audience among us "enlightened" moderns. What we tend to forget, therefore, is how rational the arguments made by belligerents back then seemed to people. What we see now as blatant chauvinistic nationalism seemed back then like a natural, rational response to harms done to one's nation by others. Now, we see that dynamic playing out again, as irrational, destructive motives are spun so that they seem totally reasonable.” ~ Peter Johnson


“By hating Hitler and trying to fight back, Jews are only increasing the severity of his policies against them. If Jews throughout the world try to instill into the minds of Hitler and his supporters recognition of the ideals for which the race stands, and if Jews appeal to the German sense of justice and the German national conscience, I am sure the problem will be solved more effectively and earlier than otherwise.” ~  Professor Cadbury, 1934

“Always stay open-minded and receptive, 'cause like maybe Hitler was right.” ~ Jeremy Sherman


Let’s detox with beauty:

“We’re not our skin of grime, we're not our dread bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we're all beautiful golden sunflowers inside.” ~ Allen Ginsberg, The Sunflower Sutra 


~ “The researchers, Sandra Langeslag from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Jan van Strien from Erasmus University Rotterdam, examined 40 participants in what was “the very first study” of its kind, according to Langeslag. Each participant came armed with 30 photos of his or her current or former partner — half of the participants were in a relationship, while half had recently been through a breakup — and were instructed to try to regulate their love feelings by using the technique of “reappraisal” — viewing a slideshow of the images and focusing each time on a positive aspect of their beloved for “up-regulation,” or a negative aspect for “down-regulation.”

The results? Well, participants did indeed feel more love after up-regulation and less love after down-regulation. What’s more, brainwave measurements showed this wasn’t just an illusion: The Late Positive Potential brainwave, which “indicates how emotionally salient a stimulus is for you,” was diminished after down-regulation and somewhat enhanced after up-regulation, says Langeslag.

The idea that we can regulate love makes a lot of sense, because we can regulate every other emotion,” says Dr. Holly Parker, a lecturer in psychology at Harvard University, where she teaches a course on the Psychology of Close Relationships. There is plenty of evidence, she says, that “we can dramatically change how we see something, how we see someone, based on how we frame our perspective.” Indeed, James Gross, a professor at Stanford University, is one of the pioneers in the field of emotion regulation, which has shown that despite feeling that emotions “arise unbidden and it’s hard to do much about them,” people can actually modify their own emotions when they see fit.

This is not a new concept — psychologists stretching all the way back to Freud have thought that our mind may be able to control certain emotions. So it’s a little surprising that more research like this hasn’t already happened. The field of emotion regulation research, says Gross, has tended to concentrate on strategies to regulate negative emotions, such as anger and anxiety, without much prior research on how to regulate positive emotions like love. Besides which, the members of Foreigner are not the only ones unsure of what love is. Many psychologists refer to love not so much as an emotion itself, but instead a motivational state to a variety of emotions such as happiness or perhaps jealousy. Love is not obviously a “pure” or “basic” emotion, says Gross. “I think we can be pretty confident that there’s something moving around,” he says, “but we can’t yet be sure that it’s really love.” ~

Couple in the street in moonlight; André Poffé (1911-1990)



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

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

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

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


Another point where I disagree with the worship of the inner child is creativity. The element of playfulness in creative work should not blind us to the fact that Michelangelo sculpting the Pietà is not like a child playing in a sandbox, and Yeats writing 56 drafts of “Sailing to Byzantium” is not like a babbling four-year-old who’s having fun with words. A culture that disvalues the “adult” may be admitting that typical adulthood is not very rewarding, and creative jobs are scarce. This is where basic personal income might prove a boon, but if a society is primarily punitive rather than nurturing toward its adult population (and arguably even toward its children, once they are past the cute stage of being the “little ones”), that would take an enormous shift in attitude.

And if we picked up the motto “Respect your Inner Adult,” who knows where it might lead. Toward more maturity and self-nurturing? Standing up to the abusive “parent” boss? Demanding that politicians care for the common good? That Christian churches don’t see the congregation as a “flock of sheep” but as thinking adults? 

A whole less fearful, more “adult” world might emerge . . . 

~ “Men who shirk employment and women who lack the appropriate amount of shame for their illegitimate children populate the world of Hillbilly Elegy. Instead of attending church, the people of Hillbilly Elegy worship material desires beyond their means and use welfare fraud in the service of their doomed pursuits.

“This is the reality of our community,” Vance writes. “Our homes are a chaotic mess. We scream and yell at each other like we are spectators at a football game. At least one member of the family uses drugs—sometimes the father, sometimes the mother, sometimes both.”

Vance’s use of the word “we” transforms the personal reality of his difficult childhood into a universal experience. The broadest point made by Hillbilly Elegy on the basis of this experience is that “public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us. These problems were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else. We created them, only we can fix them.”

The argument that corporations did not help create the problems of Appalachia is stunningly ahistorical—while coal is no longer a significant employment sector in Appalachia, we are still dealing with the industry’s economic exploitation and extractive logic—but it is not even the most problematic claim Vance makes.

As the National Review, which employed Vance as an occasional contributor, asserted in its gleeful review of the book, Hillbilly Elegy had at long last proved that white Appalachians have “followed the black underclass and Native Americans not just into family disintegration, addiction, and other pathologies, but also perhaps into the most important self-sabotage of all, the crippling delusion that they cannot improve their lot by their own effort.”

For many conservatives, the beauty of Hillbilly Elegy was not just what it said about the lot of poor white Americans, but what it implied about black Americans as well. Conservatives believed that Hillbilly Elegy would make their intellectual platforming about the moral failures of the poor colorblind in a way that would retroactively vindicate them for viciously deploying the same stereotypes against nonwhite people for decades.

The lives of poor white people, especially those with the additional burdens of addiction or legal issues, become the empirical proof for conservatives that we have based our attention to racism on fractured logic. The irony, of course, is that even as we become the ambassadors of this colorblind worldview, poor white people can’t escape the generic moralizing of their betters, who got a head start honing their brand of arrogant tough love and hard truths on black communities.

The second manifestation of this belief is more complicated and requires us to go back in time to discover how white Appalachians were transformed, in some intellectual circles, as a race or “stock” unto their own and the consequences that followed. Vance didn’t invent this particular fiction; he simply exploits it to provide his narrative with a cohesiveness and cultural weight that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

Why does that matter? It turns out that if you create and sell a version of Appalachia as a place filled with defective people, eugenicists—yes, eugenicists—start paying attention to your work. And the esteem, as you’ll learn, isn’t unilateral.

Vance cited Murray’s Coming Apart approvingly in Hillbilly Elegy, and Murray, who also claims Scots-Irish ancestry, apparently found Hillbilly Elegy riveting as well.

At a talk at the American Enterprise Institute in October 2016, the pair showed off their camaraderie, laughing and joking on stage together. They discussed their “pretty clean Scots-Irish blood” while getting to the heart of what “hillbilly culture” actually is.

“There’s something to be said for the fact that Scots-Irish culture is both unique and regionally distinct, but it’s also spread pretty far and wide,” Vance offered. Murray, who in the darkest corners of his brain still likes to believe he’s a social scientist, nodded and smiled at this conflicting package of attributes that wouldn’t pass a freshman essay—regionally distinct but spread far and wide!—as if it was the truest fact he’d ever heard.

He was then quick to point out, “and our leading characteristics though, which I learned long before I read Hillbilly Elegy, is being drunk and violent.

More laughs.

It is not possible, in my view, to separate Hillbilly Elegy from the public persona crafted by Vance and on display at events like these. It is one of overperformed humility.

And it is not immaterial to me that individuals with power and capital still subject us, in our pain, to the sense of entitlement that allows even the most ambiguous of outcomes to be presented as a concise narrative, richly rewarding, satisfying to everyone but us.

Entitlement. It is, I think, the perfect word to bear in mind as the next chapter unfolds. Elegy is another. In a former life, I used to be a translator, which allowed me to spend several years reading poetry. While reading Greek poetry, my professors warned us to be careful of the double meaning of elegies; they were, it seems, often written as political propaganda.” ~

West Virginia Mine Entrance, 1908

~ “In many ways Appalachia functions as a domestic colony—valuable only for the land’s resources. Its people have been treated as a disposable means to an end . . .  The people of Appalachia are still often considered second-class citizens in America, routinely referred to as “trailer trash,” “hillbillies,” “rednecks,” “weedsuckers,” “stumphoppers,” and worse. 

The most recent addition to the false accounts of Appalachian life is the widely read book Hillbilly Elegy, the author of which grew up in the decaying Rust Belt town of Middletown, Ohio. Nevertheless, he blames his personal difficulties on the culture of Appalachia.

The ongoing dismissal of Appalachians as “lazy, dangerous, and dumb,” is the same method of denying humanity that has been applied to African Americans, Indigenous Americans, and wave upon wave of immigrant to this country.” ~ Chris Offutt


That glorious photo of the camel had me thinking about the distance between the words of Jesus as found in the gospels and the ideas of evangelical Christians. And as well, a recent article in our local paper, advice from a woman about how to ensure you aren't giving money to the undeserving homeless. Not all the poor are deserving of your charity, so be on your guard, they may be lying or scamming you into supporting their shiftless, lazy lifestyles. She was particularly outraged by a man whose cardboard sign said "why lie, I need beer." (I've seen this guy myself . . . and seen motorists wave him over and hand him a few bills) She said she saw a car stop and actually hand him a beer. The whole gist of her article was scornful and judgmental: here are people stubbornly choosing poverty and life on the streets the way sinners choose sin — and charity only encourages their fecklessness.

Like this self-righteous woman, the evangelical Christian Right seems to take positions diametrically in opposition to the values and teachings of the Christ of the gospels. He kicked the moneylenders out of the temple, called the poor and the meek blessed, advised against casting stones, harming children, (“the least of these”), amassing wealth (that camel and the needle's eye), and passing judgment on others' worthiness.

Our evangelicals think wealth a sign of grace, poverty a mark of sin. They live for profit and power — most obviously in those TV preachers focused on getting more and more money out of their audience/faithful, and of course, the occasional private luxury jet. The suffering of others, of children, of the poor, of the powerless and the subjugated is meaningless and inconsequential. Their thinking is founded not in the values of freedom, equality, justice, compassion, generosity and humanity, but in racism, sexism, authoritarianism, self aggrandizement, the maintaining of privilege for their own race, class and sex. They admire despots. Their God is more Jehovah than Jesus, and even more totally — Mammon.

These folks are in the ascendancy now with Trump, his cohorts and admirers. So we have children removed from their parents and stored in cages for "choosing" to enter the US illegally. Immigrants and refugees are depicted as criminals, animals, vermin, invading our country with the intent to destroy it. The steps from this to full-fledged pogroms, ethnic cleansing, another genocide, totalitarianism, are frighteningly few and short. It's obvious in the language itself — what do we do with vermin? We eradicate it.

All hope is with resistance,  in the numbers of people refusing to accept the sabotaging of democracy and betrayal of humanity, the unraveling of what has been achieved in protecting the environment, in the cooperation of nations, in  upholding the rights of all persons, whatever their sex, their color, their ethnicity, their identity, their poverty, their lack of power.

So much is at stake. And not only for us, for all peoples, all nations.

 This is Idaho rather than Appalachia, but I think this is most people's stereotype of "hillbillies."

I'm especially worried about the use of terms such as vermin and infestation. As you say, the next logical term is extermination. No one doubts that extremists are already pondering the best methods. The Nazis were efficiency experts on this.

You’d think Jesus would be a huge thorn in the side of the Evangelicals. You have to suppress crucial teachings. But that can certainly be done — simply never mention “Blessed are the poor” or indeed the camel and the eye of a needle. If the minister says that the poor are poor because they are sinners, we have a whole different gospel.

As one right-winger explained to me on Facebook, “we have here multi-generational sin.” And the context indicated that he meant sex.

Coal company houses, Jenkins Kentucky, 1935



~ “The Verge spoke with Edward Tenner about how the efficiency paradox happens, its costs, and how to balance intuition and technology.

Q: You define efficiency in the book’s preface as being able to produce goods or providing service with a minimum of waste. Then you talk about “continuous-process efficiency” versus “platform efficiency.” What’s the difference between these two?

~ People in the Elizabethan times and even in the Middle Ages didn’t have the concept of efficiency we do today. That really depended on the rise of thermodynamics in the 19th century and the need to get as much power as possible from water turbines and from steam engines. That efficiency of the 19th century is what I call “continuous-process efficiency,” and it’s when things that were made piece by piece could now be made in a stream. For example, when paper was made in the 18th century, it was always in sheets. In the 19th century, entrepreneurs found a way to have paper coming off a mill continuously, and that is what made possible mass literacy, newspapers, inexpensive books. It was in its way as important as the Gutenberg revolution of the 15th century had been.

Now, platform efficiency is really a whole other type. It’s something that’s really in the cloud, and it’s about bringing buyers and sellers together with a minimum cost and extremely rapidly. So it’s things like getting a ride or buying a ticket or paying rent or banking.

Platform efficiency is wonderful, and I’m not at all condemning it, but one of the unfortunate consequences is that it has tended to attract investment capital away from much harder things. It’s much easier to make a small fortune with a platform-based startup than it is, for example, to develop a more efficient battery. I came to believe that because these physical and chemical enterprises take so much longer, are so much more expensive, are so much messier, and so they’re less attractive to investors. That’s one negative side of platform efficiency.

Q: Was there a time in American culture when we didn’t care as much about efficiency?

~ One of the interesting things about American culture is that even the subcultures that pretended to disdain efficiency — like Southern planters — ran on the principle of trying to squeeze as much profit as possible from enslaved labor and from the soil. So, there was this industrial regimentation in the South as well as in the factories of the North.

America, I think, has always been a pioneer of efficiency. They were admired by Europeans for their rigorous efficiency in doing everything, and the criticism of Americans was that they were so concerned with making money and with efficiency that they were losing out on the finer things in life. On the other hand, European observers were always coming over here and trying to copy American methods!

The huge Soviet-era industrial complexes were based on the Gary, Indiana, steel mills, and Lenin and the other Soviet leaders greatly admired Henry Ford.

Q: Let’s talk about some of the examples of the downsides of efficiency. In one of the chapters, you talk about the effects on arts and culture.

~ By removing so much trial and error and productive mistakes, platform efficiency can lock us into existing patterns. For example, publishers or film producers can analyze data to see what genres have been most popular, what will attract viewers of a certain demographic, and this could indeed make publishing more predictable or producing more profitable.

But so many of the big hits have been real surprises that have broken so many of the rules. AI is really great at finding hidden rules and applying them and optimizing everything according to hidden rules, but it’s really the rule-breaking events that have made life exciting for us.

Q: I'm also interested in a study you mention about how popularity works and the cost of getting rid of gatekeepers of popular culture.

~ People have presented gatekeepers as a drag. They’re one level between the consumers and the producers. So, if you don’t have them, you are reducing transaction costs and making things more efficient. You can just find things yourself. In the mid-‘90s, Bill Gates and his co-authors wrote The Road Ahead about the friction-free economy of the future, where there wouldn’t be these middlemen.

But these gatekeepers did have a useful role. They could recognize talent that was not quite ready to go mainstream, but had something interesting and exciting there that was worthwhile to develop. If you eliminate the gatekeepers, it’s a little like sports without coaches.

For example, there was a study from Princeton that showed that when you statistically study what people — ordinary consumers, not an elite panel of critics — think of the quality of various works offered on the web, the ones that become very popular have only a small advantage in quality. It’s not really random, but it’s small. When you look at patterns of popularity on the web, there’s a small core interest that snowballs quickly. Without gatekeepers, so much of popularity depends on what happens to become popular first.

Q: In your chapter on education, you talk about the “value of the inefficient medium,” like paper, for example. What are some examples where inefficiency makes us learn better?

~ I’ve read studies of reading and comprehension that psychologists have done over the years. Electronic reading and paper reading each have their own advantage. The electronic medium is better for recognizing details, but that reading on paper gives you a better, holistic sense of what an author is trying to say. That’s a trade-off.

This is similar to what I say in my chapter on geography. The paper map is awkward in a lot of circumstances and inferior to the electronic map, which I use all the time. But on the other hand, the paper map gives you a sense of the broader terrain, and it’s very helpful in orienting yourself.

Q: Medicine is an area with a lot of hope for AI and big data: precision medicine, AI diagnosis. What are some of the drawbacks here?

~ In medicine, there are warning signs, and these warnings, in turn, have to be addressed or ruled out by further tests. As more diagnostics develop, there’s a high possibility of false positives that make people go through more tests — and some of the further tests may actually have side effects of their own.

Recently, in The New York Times, there was a review of the new book by Barbara Ehrenreich, who is swearing off the medical system altogether. On the other hand, there are people who pay large amounts of money for so-called concierge medicine with doctors that are always monitoring them. There are different styles, and I’m not belittling the project of life extension, but I think quite a few critics of medicine have pointed out the advantage of a holistic approach to people’s health and the kind of understanding that the best old-fashioned doctors had.

Q: The last chapter of your book talks about strategies for balancing algorithms and common sense. How did you come up with these strategies?

~ I tried to see which of the ideas applied across the chapters. For example, people are familiar with the idea of serendipity, and so that didn’t need a lot of introduction. The point about serendipity is just that if you eliminate mistakes then, you’re going to be too dependent on immediate and recent experience and not open enough to productive surprises. But the concept of “desirable difficulty,” on the other hand — where we can learn better if things are more difficult — is less familiar to people because it occurs in studies, for example, of reading comprehension that show that something less legible might actually encourage people to concentrate more.

Q: What else are we missing?

~ There are two factors that are underestimated by people and that are serious issues in the application of efficient technology. One of them is what’s called “local knowledge.” All of us know that there’s some route that might look really great on a map, but we know it’s a problem because we’ve traveled over it.

The other is tacit knowledge. The idea is that no matter how much information you feed into an intelligent system, there are many, many things that are tacit, meaning that they are not explicitly stated anywhere. You can’t find that information in an encyclopedia.

One example is how little children can understand the meaning of a proverb — like “a stitch in time saves nine” or “a rolling stone gathers no moss” — in a way that a computer can’t. There are many things that even little children can appreciate that the most advanced technologies of machine learning can’t, and I think that to me is one of the most exciting things about the mind and about being human.


When I am dead, I hope it may be said,
“His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.”

~ Hilaire Belloc, author of Cautionary Tales for Children


Let me paraphrase it this way: a true writer would hardly mind being a scarlet sinner (excluding major stuff like murder) as long as their books are read. Poets are particularly, ridiculously eager for readers. 

“Religions should be neither tax-exempt nor contempt-exempt.” ~ Jeremy Sherman

“If [God] is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him? If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future? If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers? . . .  If he is immovable, by what right do we pretend to make him change his decrees? If he is inconceivable, why occupy ourselves with him? IF he has spoken, why is the universe not convinced?” ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism (1811)

~ “White matter (WM) consists of myelinated axons that enable different regions of the brain to communicate with one another. A fatty sheath called "myelin" gives white matter its color. Gray matter (GM) represents the neural volume of brain tissue in specific regions.

The latest ENIGMA white matter study was led by a team of researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) who unearthed that poorly myelinated white matter was present throughout the brains of people with schizophrenia. This discovery of white matter abnormalities throughout the entire brain debunks the long-held hypothesis that schizophrenia is correlated with white matter abnormalities only within the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobes.

Interestingly, the most glaring WM abnormalities were found in the corpus callosum (which facilitates communication between the left and right cerebral hemispheres) and in the frontal portion of the corona radiata, which is central to information processing.
In a recent statement about the ENIGMA study, Kelly said: "The issue is that frayed 'ethernet cords' are present everywhere. We can definitively say for the first time that schizophrenia is a disorder where white matter wiring is frayed throughout the brain. These findings could lead to the identification of biomarkers that enable researchers to test patients' response to schizophrenia treatment." Adding, "Our study will help improve the understanding of the mechanisms behind schizophrenia.”

What we are showing now has been hypothesized for some time: Schizophrenia is a disorder related to brain dysconnectivity. We are seeing that it is not one or two connections that are affected, but the entire communication network of the brain — from large regions to small regions. These affects are not noticeable when we try to compare a few patients to a few controls. However, they are seen when we can combine efforts across countries and continents. We now know this effect in the entire brain is seen around the world, and this is extremely important if we want to develop ways of helping patients everywhere.

Neda Jahanshad concludes, "Rather than looking for genes that affect a certain 'stretch of wiring,' scientists will now look for genes that affect the brain's entire communication infrastructure. We're showing that just studying a single brain region to try to find out what causes schizophrenia is not a good approach. The effect is global.”


I remember that when schizophrenia first started being discussed as a brain disease, a howl of protest rose from psychologists: everybody knew it was due to bad mothering! The "schizophrenogenic mother"! As recently as the early nineteen nineties, there were still attempts to squelch the biological approach. Not that childhood trauma doesn't play a role, but then the majority of children who undergo various kinds of trauma, even of the severe sort, do not become schizophrenic (though they will be scarred in various ways). Eventually enough research has accumulated (e.g. showing similarities between schizophrenia and Alzheimer's, tracing inflammation etc) to have made inroads.


ending on beauty:

Not without its charms is this terrible world,
not without its mornings
worth our waking.

~ Wislawa Szymborska

Saturday, June 23, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Hitler in a museum



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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I offer this brief passage as my sole commentary:

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

American Nazis in Georgia, April 2018 


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

3. Psychopaths take over.

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

Maximilien Robespierre


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

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

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

Kremlin, the Golden Doors

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


They did not blow through the yellow every time.

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

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

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

He gave his subjects an adolescent crowd.

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

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

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

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

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

Kirk needs Spock.

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

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

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

But adolescence is all about the long view.” ~



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

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

Breast Milk

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

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

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

Dietary Habits

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

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

ending on beauty:

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

~ John Moffitt, To Look at Any Thing