Saturday, August 25, 2018


Jan Gossaert: Portrait of a Merchant c. 1530. But is he loved? (see the discussion after the poem)



No, I have never found
The place where I could say
This is my proper ground,
Here I shall stay;
Nor met that special one
Who has an instant claim
On everything I own
Down to my name;

To find such seems to prove
You want no choice in where
To build, or whom to love;
You ask them to bear
You off irrevocably,
So that it's not your fault
Should the town turn dreary,
The girl a dolt.

Yet, having missed them, you're
Bound, none the less, to act
As if what you settled for
Mashed you, in fact;
And wiser to keep away
From thinking you still might trace
Uncalled-for to this day
Your person, your place.

~ Philip Larkin (1954)

I think Kurt Vonnegut put it more concisely: “You finally come to understand that you love whoever is there to be loved.”

(I'm quoting this from memory, so there may be a word off here and there, and I know I remembered the gist of it: You don’t waste your life waiting for The One, but love whoever is available to be loved.)

And the same goes for some ideal place where you completely “belong.” Now, if you have a dream about living in New York, by all means at least visit — you’ll find the visit interesting, but it will also give you enough taste of the city to make you know if this is your kind of place. Some cities you have to spend some time in before you get a feel for them — but when it comes to New York, you’ll know right away.

Another problem with cities, however, is something that Larkin alludes to: they change. Los Angeles used to be enchanting — I'm not kidding. Santa Monica was my special favorite, but Beverly Hills was great to drive through, or Sunset Blvd from downtown all the way to the ocean — I just loved that ride. Hollywood was tacky, but interesting. Now Los Angeles has become a hopeless traffic jungle, practically unlivable — and I watched it become less and less livable.

People change too, but because we change as well, and because a long-term relationship is such a great journey and adventure, I would not try to discourage anyone from a serious commitment (except when two people are so poorly matched that everyone can see it from a mile except for the besotted pair — usually that’s not a problem if marriage is delayed until somewhat older age, when you presumably “found yourself”).

Or not “besotted.” Not long ago I had an opportunity to witness the tension between a rich older man and his much younger, beautiful wife — I’d say she was at least 25 years younger. It was a classic gold-digger marriage, except that in those we tend to think of the woman as completely cold-hearted and calculating, while the man may be genuinely in love and wanting to spoil his young darling with pretty jewelry, fancy cars, and so on. Here there was only hostility in the spectacularly elegant mansion, reminding me, again, that it’s better to be utterly poor and in love than rich and loveless.

Look again at Gossaert’s portrait of the merchant. Wonderful cheekbones! He’s prosperous. But is he loved? Thinking again about the couple I recently visited: he was putting her down while she was milking him for money, making him buy her more jewelry (she was already bejeweled). She’d break into Spanish now and then — “And she’s been here already ten years!” he exclaimed. She broke down and started crying — very quietly, which somehow made it all the more heart-rending. And I wonder — can you call yourself a success unless you are loved?

(Or at least receiving nourishing affection and emotional support from several sources, e.g. good friends? Or loving your work, with positive human contact coming to you now and then from those who appreciate your work? (Ideally, all of the above, but life is about dealing with the real, not the ideal.)

Fine, you say. But how does that fit with Vonnegut’s idea that you love whoever is there to be loved? If for whatever reason (e.g. a strong belief that a child needs a two-parent home) you decide to stay in an unsatisfying marriage, you can consider this idea: love is not a feeling; it’s a behavior. It’s how lovingly you act toward your partner. It’s how you wish for what is best for him or her rather than following your own agenda, thinking only of what you want.

Frankly, I'm guessing here. My model is what happened after I realized that depression was not a feeling, but a behavior — and a behavior can be changed. I did change my behavior, and my life changed dramatically. I realize that this becomes more tricky when it’s not just you and what you do, but also another person, complex and unpredictable, their soul a proverbial dark forest. But you can also try something unexpected: instead of cursing him or her, you can bless the person.


“EMOTIONAL HUNGER IS NOT LOVE. It is a strong emotional need caused by deprivation in childhood.

People who are emotionally hungry act compulsively in relation to others in much the same manner as an addict. Their exaggerated attention and involvement have an ongoing negative impact on the person they think they love.” ~ Robert Firestone (paraphrased)


I don’t think I ever met anyone who had zero emotional hunger, some degree of abuse of childhood. But experience has taught me that if you meet someone who had a truly horrible childhood, run for your life — if that person has not had therapy in some form, which need not be conventional. Otherwise, sooner or later you’ll be on the receiving end of displaced rage.

If you did experience abuse, if you recognize that emotional hunger in you, are you doomed to behave like an addict? This is where the idea (never mind whether it’s 100% accurate) of love as a behavior rather than a feeling can be very useful — because a behavior can be changed. We can learn to perform small acts of kindness — be it just a smile or a supportive comment. Or just that light of attention and gratitude in your eyes. Your very presence.

“You always have something to give” may be a platitude, but it’s one of the wisest platitudes I know. It’s there with “That too shall pass”; “You are suffering because you WANT something from that person”; and the blessing “May the best outcome manifest itself.”

I'm tempted to add the recently learned: “Seek to be useful rather than happy.” In contrast to the sixties motto: “Don’t just do something; sit there,” I am a strong advocate of doing something, particularly something useful and/or beautiful (though to me beauty IS useful; it nourishes the soul).


~ The text for Holden’s behavior is his insistence on absolute primitive Christianity: “Jesus never sent old Judas to Hell. . . . I think any one of the Disciples would’ve sent him to Hell and all—and fast, too—but I’ll bet anything Jesus didn’t do it.” ~

~ Holden isn’t unhappy because he sees that people are phonies; he sees that people are phonies because he is unhappy. What makes his view of other people so cutting and his disappointment so unappeasable is the same thing that makes Hamlet’s feelings so cutting and unappeasable: his grief. Holden is meant, it’s true, to be a kind of intuitive moral genius. (So, presumably, is Hamlet.) But his sense that everything is worthless is just the normal feeling people have when someone they love dies. Life starts to seem a pathetically transparent attempt to trick them into forgetting about death; they lose their taste for it. ~

Harold Bloom: ~ Holden is seventeen in the novel, but appears not to have matured beyond thirteen, his age when Allie died. Where Holden’s distrust of adult language originates, Salinger cannot quite tell us, but the distrust is both noble and self-destructive. . . Faulkner remarked that Holden’s dilemma was his inability to find and accept an authentic mentor, a teacher or guide who could arouse his trust. The dilemma, being spiritual, hurts many among us, and is profoundly American. Holden speaks for our skepticism, and for our need. That is a large burden for so fragile a literary character, and will turn out eventually to be either aesthetic salvation for The Catcher in the Rye, or a prime cause for its dwindling down to the status of a period piece. ~

William Faulkner: ~ To me, his tragedy was not that he was, as he perhaps thought, not tough enough or brave enough or deserving enough to be accepted into humanity. His tragedy was that when he attempted to enter the human race, there was no human race there. ~

~ His younger brother whom he has idolized for his innocence — the way he now does his sister Phoebe — has died. And he ruminates on this – on going to his grave and being caught in a downpour and thinking of leaving his brother there underground in this terrible day. And later, he himself is walking along the street in New York. And it should be festive. It’s around Christmastime. The shoppers are out. And he is broken into a sweat. Every time he steps off the curb, he thinks I’m going to go down and down forever. No one will ever see me again. This kind of calls up that image of his brother in his grave. And he starts praying to his brother — Allie, don’t let me disappear. Don’t let me disappear. There’s such terror there. The humor that has sustained so much of this novel begins to unravel at the end and you’re left with this naked soul in pain and in conflict. Finally, you see not with the world but with himself. ~

~ Holden talks like a teenager, and this makes it natural to assume that he thinks like a teenager as well. But like all the wise boys and girls in Salinger’s fiction—like Esmé and Teddy and the many brilliant Glasses—Holden thinks like an adult. No teen-ager (and very few grownups, for that matter) sees through other human beings as quickly, as clearly, or as unforgivingly as he does. Holden is a demon of verbal incision. . . .

”You had to feel sort of sorry for her, in a way.” The secret to Holden’s authority as a narrator is that he never lets anything stand by itself. He always tells you what to think. He has everyone pegged. That’s why he’s so funny. But The New Yorker’s editors were right: Holden isn’t an ordinary teenager—he’s a prodigy. He seems (and this is why his character can be so addictive) to have something that few people ever consistently attain: an attitude toward life. ~


“Holden isn’t unhappy because he sees that people are phonies; he sees that people are phonies because he is unhappy.” ~ Louis Menand, in “Holden Caulfield at Fifty.” For me that speaks so loud that I don’t need anything else.

But I also like the insight that there is a religious angle to the book, and that Caulfield can be seen as a Christ-like figure — at least now and then. The text for Holden’s behavior is his insistence on absolute primitive Christianity: “Jesus never sent old Judas to Hell. . . . I think any one of the Disciples would’ve sent him to Hell and all—and fast, too—but I’ll bet anything Jesus didn’t do it.” ~ Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner, in The Fiction of J. D. Salinger


~ “In a forthcoming book titled How Fascism Works, the Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley makes an intriguing claim. “Corruption, to the fascist politician,” he suggests, “is really about the corruption of purity rather than of the law. Officially, the fascist politician’s denunciations of corruption sound like a denunciation of political corruption. But such talk is intended to evoke corruption in the sense of the usurpation of the traditional order.

Fox’s decision to focus on the Iowa murder rather than Cohen’s guilty plea illustrates Stanley’s point. In the eyes of many Fox viewers, I suspect, the network isn’t ignoring corruption so much as highlighting the kind that really matters. When Trump instructed Cohen to pay off women with whom he’d had affairs, he may have been violating the law. But he was upholding traditional gender and class hierarchies. Since time immemorial, powerful men have been cheating on their wives and using their power to evade the consequences.

The Iowa murder, by contrast, signifies the inversion—the corruption—of that “traditional order.” Throughout American history, few notions have been as sacrosanct as the belief that white women must be protected from nonwhite men. By allegedly murdering Tibbetts, Rivera did not merely violate the law. He did something more subversive: He violated America’s traditional racial and sexual norms.

Once you grasp that for Trump and many of his supporters, corruption means less the violation of law than the violation of established hierarchies, their behavior makes more sense. Since 2014, Trump has employed the phrase rule of law nine times in tweets. Seven of them refer to illegal immigration.

Why were Trump’s supporters so convinced that Clinton was the more corrupt candidate even as reporters uncovered far more damning evidence about Trump’s foundation than they did about Clinton’s? Likely because Clinton’s candidacy threatened traditional gender roles. For many Americans, female ambition—especially in service of a feminist agenda—in and of itself represents a form of corruption. “When female politicians were described as power-seeking,” noted the Yale researchers Victoria Brescoll and Tyler Okimoto in a 2010 study, “participants experienced feelings of moral outrage (i.e., contempt, anger, and/or disgust).”

Cohen’s admission makes it harder for Republicans to claim that Trump didn’t violate the law. But it doesn’t really matter. For many Republicans, Trump remains uncorrupt—indeed, anticorrupt—because what they fear most isn’t the corruption of American law; it’s the corruption of America’s traditional identity.” ~


After reading this article online, several people have commented “Now I understand!” It’s a different meaning of corruption that is crucial here: not legal corruption, not laundering of the Russian mafia money — much less hush money paid to porn stars — but “corruption” of the traditional hierarchies of white supremacy and male supremacy. For a long time I too was at a loss as to what conservatives were trying to “conserve.” In a word, it’s is their privilege. 


I also found the Atlantic article on why Trump’s supporters do not see him as corrupt to be very enlightening. They are not worried about his racism, misogyny, fascistic tendencies, love of dictators, lack of intelligence, boorishness, narcissism, etc. They are worried about threats to their own privilege, and loss of the “traditional order” where equality, freedom, diversity, inclusiveness and equal rights for all are not only not valued, they are seen as evil, threatening, and to be avoided, thwarted and suppressed at any cost.

The two most important things about this are first, that what the liberal, democratic, humanistic mind sees as ethical, good and desirable, as just and necessary changes, the defenders of the Traditional see as evil, even demonic. Women, minorities, immigrants struggling for freedom and equality are actually the enemy — “uppity” folks who have “forgotten their place.” If you hear the voice of the slaveholder here, you are not mistaken. The fear is that these uppity folks will upend the order of the world, and unseat the “rightful” owners.

The second is that in defending their privilege (to wealth and power and undisputed ownership), nothing, truly nothing, is out of bounds. Those who are threats deserve what they get, up to and including torture and death. So we have people shot, beaten, lynched, burned, bombed. Children taken from parents and put in cages. Parents taken from children and deported.  All fueled by hatred and rage . . . deep and seemingly limitless. And completely unembarrassed.

Again I feel we must remember we’ve seen this all before, and there’s nothing, Nothing that makes it impossible for this to go to the same monstrous conclusion.

On that dark note, sorry. I am not really a complete pessimist — but sometimes it’s hard to see past the mess to a better time.


Yes, you are so right to remind us that “we’ve seen all this before.” There are photographs of lynching mobs — and in them none of the participants seem anything but self-satisfied. They are not hiding their faces. I suddenly feel just a grain of appreciation for the KKK for at least hiding their faces.

Ford Madox Brown: The Last of England, 1855. Remember when T asked, "Why can't we have more immigrants from places like Norway?"


~ “In the wake of Nikita Khrushchev's "secret" report to the 20th Party Congress, in February of 1956
  one denouncing and effectively desanctifying Stalin, three years after the latter's death, as a mass-murderer of innocent people, rather than the greatest and wisest human being ever to walk the earth there was registered across the country a rash of suicides among the mid- to high-ranking Party members, unable to reconcile themselves to the reality of their having wasted their lives worshiping a false idol and veritable antichrist of Marxist-Leninist theory, the wicked perverter and debaucher of the beautiful pan-human idea of the deathless future Kingdom of Communism.” ~ M. Iossel


There was also a wave of suicides in Germany after Hitler’s death in 1945 — and I don’t mean just those high-ranking Nazis who feared reprisal for their war crimes. Some “ordinary Nazis” simply could not bear the reality of defeat and the collapse of the Utopia to which they dedicated their lives. Some killed their families and then themselves.


Stalin and Lenin in the Red Square Mausoleum. Stalin’s body was later removed.


~ “Teleological thinking involves ascribing intentions and purposes to features of the world that may not have any consciousness or desires at all. One example Dieguez gave is the thought that the sun rises to provide us light — when in reality the sun appears to rise in the sky because of the Earth's rotation in the solar system.

These patterns of thought are "part of children’s earliest intuitions about the world," the authors, led by Pascal Wagner-Egger, note in the paper.

"This type of thinking is anathema to scientific reasoning, and especially to evolutionary theory, and was famously mocked by Voltaire, whose character Pangloss believed that 'noses were made to wear spectacles.'" said Dieguez. "Yet it is very resilient in human cognition, and we show that it is linked not only to creationism, but also to conspiracism.”

One way to detect teleological thinking in individuals if to find that they subscribe to views such as, "Nothing happens by accident" or "Everything happens for a reason” [“reason” in the sense of “purpose”]. The researchers found that these types of views correspond closely with a propensity to believe conspiracy theories.

But this kind of thinking also bears a striking resemblance to creationism — the view that Darwinian evolution by natural selection didn't occur and that life on Earth was specifically designed (by God, it is usually assumed) with the diversity of species that we see today.

It's worth noting that this view itself may carry with it the corresponding belief that evolutionary views are themselves the result of a conspiracy to deceive the public about the origins of life.

In a series of surveys, Dieguez and other researchers found that teleological thinking, conspiracy theories, and creationism were correlated — albeit sometimes only "modestly" — with one another.

"By drawing attention to the analogy between creationism and conspiracism, we hope to highlight one of the major flaws of conspiracy theories and therefore help people detect it, namely that they rely on teleological reasoning by ascribing a final cause and overriding purpose to world events," Dieguez says. "We think the message that conspiracism is a type of creationism that deals with the social world can help clarify some of the most baffling features of our so-called 'post-truth era.’"

Understanding how these beliefs propagate and why they are so compelling to people — even when, as in the case of Q Anon, they are so obviously nonsense — is critically important to find a way to prevent their spread. The researchers hope their work can help educators and communicators better refute and undermine false theories and beliefs.” ~

A reader's comment: If you believe in souls, heaven, gods or god, ghosts, astrology, Q, psychics, creationism, etc. you are still thinking like a child.

Teleological thinking is explored in depth in Jesse Bering’s brilliant book, The Belief Instinct. The book also presents findings on other cognitive errors underlying religion. Humans are averse to randomness and apparent lack of meaning. They are story tellers, and seek a coherent narrative.  

Reasoning in terms of purpose is especially prevalent among young children, Bering showed. “Mountains exist so that animals can climb to higher places.” Rocks? “So that animals have something to scratch their backs against.” For children, things exist for some purpose rather than because of this or that cause (not that we’d expect a child — or an uneducated adult, for that matter — to know about volcanoes or tectonic upthrust).

Evolution, too, is a narrative — but we must not forget that there is no overriding purpose underlying it (or at least we have found no evidence of such purpose), and that devolution can take place too. As Jeremy Sherman said: “We didn’t fall from grace. We are rising from slime.” But even that rise is not without setbacks and unintended consequences. Downright errors and inefficiencies argue against “intelligent design.”
Amborella trichopoda — the earliest known flowering plant


“Moralizing is way more prevalent than morality. Rationalizing is way more prevalent than rationality.” ~ Jeremy Sherman



~ “In 1911 a congressional special committee convened to investigate the impact of new business practices on the lives of workers. Of particular interest to the committee was something called scientific management, a technique that sought to measure and improve worker productivity. The system’s most vocal proponent, a mechanical engineer named Frederick Winslow Taylor, had just published his magnum opus, The Principles of Scientific Management. Taylor’s work would become an inspirational touchstone for the management profession. Indeed, his influence continues today. Articles profiling management pioneers often begin with him, lauding his efforts to apply precise metrics to even basic processes.

However, when Taylor and others were called to testify in 1911, the tone was far from inspirational. And scientific management’s critics gestured to a very different point of reference—slavery. An experienced iron worker from the Watertown Arsenal in Massachusetts told the committee that scientific management felt to him “as if it is getting down to slavery.” Managers, he said, exerted extreme control, “following you when you are at your job . . . and with a stop watch stand over you while you bend down to pick up a few rods. . . . This is too much for a man to stand.” The head of a machinists’ union argued that the system had “reduced the men to virtual slavery, low wages,” and that it had “engendered such an air of suspicion among the men that each man regards every other man as a possible traitor or spy.” At the close of the hearings, though the committee took little action, it agreed that elements of the system acted “the same as a slave driver’s whip on the negro, as it keeps him in a constant state of agitation.”

One associate of Taylor’s, Scudder Klyce, argued that scientific management was simply a system of “Cooperation or democracy,” but Klyce’s definition of democracy was decidedly undemocratic: he describes it as a system that “consists of the able person’s taking the lead in giving ‘orders’ in the cases where he is of superior ability, and the others’ submitting: it is the relationship of master and slave, regardless of how otherwise it may be named.” From the manager’s perspective, control was the essential characteristic of scientific management. The relations of control could change over time: “At any time a lathe hand may be able to show the superintendent a better way.” But from the perspective of workers, fleeting reversals offered little benefit. When they showed the superintendent a better way, they gave up their own power. They rendered themselves replaceable.

The most striking parallel between slavery and scientific management can be found in the “task idea,” which Taylor described as “the most prominent single element in modern scientific management.” The task system is closely identified with Henry Laurence Gantt, who is well known today for the Gantt chart, a scheduling tool, which still bears his name. During the heyday of scientific management, Gantt developed a “task and bonus system,” which paired a flat task and a time wage with bonuses for overwork. Workers would be paid a base wage plus an additional piece rate for production above a certain minimum. By combining an achievable (rather than a maximal) task with bonuses, workers would enjoy the security of a minimum payment but also be encouraged to strive beyond it.

Yet while they introduced some novel details, neither Gantt nor Taylor created the task system. It has a much longer history and was one of the principal methods of organizing labor under slavery. Under the task system, an enslaved person would be assigned a set “task” or quota that he or she was expected to complete by the end of the day; this was in contrast to the gang system, where enslaved people labored under constant supervision for a set period of time. In some cases, slavers who used the task system even gave monetary bonuses for achievement above set targets. They “dangled the carrot” in a way that resembles not just Gantt’s methods but those of the gig economy today. Indeed, except for the base payment and the critically important ability for workers to quit, Gantt’s new system was in nearly every respect the same as the system used by some slaveholders, a fact that Gantt made no attempt to hide. Rather, he acknowledged that the word “task” was “disliked by many men” because of its connection to slavery, and he regarded this negative connotation as its “principal disadvantage.”

Gantt’s father, Virgil Gantt, owned more than sixty men, women, and children. As Gantt wrote, “The term ‘task master’ is an old one in our language; it symbolizes the time, now happily passing away, when men were compelled to work, not for their own interests, but for those of some one else.” Gantt’s goal was not to abolish this old system but to adapt it to modern needs.

In a sense, scientific management replicated slavery’s extractive techniques while jettisoning the institution itself. Gantt’s rhetoric was not necessarily of distance but of progress; he purportedly liked to say that “scientific management marked a great step forward from slave labor.” James Mapes Dodge, a Philadelphia manufacturer and early supporter of Taylor, explained in 1913 that “we cannot tell who first liberated the germ idea of Scientific Management, as it was born to the world in the first cry of anguish that escaped the lips of the lashed slave.” Dodge’s reference was metaphorical, to a vague and distant past where slavery prevailed, not to the slave South. But he understood that “the present generation” had inherited “from the past the relationship of master and slave” and saw it as the job of scientific management to move beyond it.

In 1911, during the many months of congressional hearings on scientific management, Taylor attempted to distance his system from that of slavery by describing it as a school for workers who did not know how to work: this “is not nigger driving; this is kindness; this is teaching; this is doing what I would like mighty well to have done to me if I were a boy trying to learn how to do something. This is not a case of cracking a whip over a man and saying, ‘Damn you, get there.’”

Half a century after Phillips, Keith Aufhauser again described the extent to which the theory and practice of the slaveholders conformed to Taylor’s system of scientific management. During a decade of heated debate over the nature of southern slavery, Aufhauser argued that there were deep parallels not just between planters’ tools and those advocated by scientific managers, but also about the power relations they reflected.

He wrote, “As far as discipline at the workplace goes, . . . the master-slave relationship is quite similar to the capitalist-wage-laborer relationship in scientifically managed enterprises.” Two decades after Aufhauser, historian Mark Smith would again describe aspects of plantation management that looked strikingly like scientific management. Smith focused on the role of time discipline on the plantation, pointing to the widespread use of clocks to assess how much labor the enslaved could perform.

When Harvard Business Review marked its ninetieth anniversary in 2012, Taylor made it into all three featured essays, offering an inspirational point of reference for the ability of managers to transform the broader economy. The business history of plantation slavery offers a very different point of reference—a cautionary tale that warns us what profit-seeking can look like when everything, including lives, is up for sale. The heritage of U.S. business includes both stories of innovation and those of extreme violence. Often the two are deeply intertwined. This was true in specific ways for scientific management, and it was undeniable for plantation slavery. Reckoning with these uncomfortable histories can help us to see the deep connections between capitalism and control and, perhaps, even to find a more humane way forward.” ~


Taylorism, as “scientific management” also came to be known, was deeply admired by Stalin. “Work pioneers,” those who exceeded the production quotas, were celebrated as Soviet heroes and given various rewards and privileges. 


Quicksand-bagging: relentless accusations that sink the opponent no matter how they respond, e.g. “You’re being defensive.” ~ Jeremy Sherman


An excellent observation. It reminded me that one way to counterattack is to shift the focus of attention on your attacker. Go off-topic. For instance, you can suddenly say, “Where did you get that shirt?” Or, as I learned from Father Kidney, you can also exclaim, “God bless you!” and move on in some manner.

Yet another behavior that’s been suggested in this situation is broken-record agreeing with whatever is being said, with little prefaces like “That’s a brilliant insight.”



~ “Materialists such as Spinoza and Diderot argued that if matter itself was dynamic there was no need to posit a transcendence beyond its borders. The radical Enlightenment took its cue from the pantheistic determinism of Spinoza, probably the most reviled philosopher of eighteenth-century Europe. If Nature and Spirit were one, there was no need to imagine an all-powerful will lording it over the material world. Pantheism [in the era of the Enlightenment] was linked arms with political radicalism.” ~ Terry Templeton, “Culture and the Death of God”


One reason Spinoza is so dear is that he didn't hold a double standard promoted by certain Enlightenment writers: philosophy for the elite, and the “consoling lies” of religion for the uneducated masses. Spinoza didn't believe in dispensing consoling or noble lies to anyone. The task of the philosopher was to educate; Spinoza held all human beings to be educable.

The odd thing is that today we still have people arguing that atheism or agnosticism or a metaphoric understanding of religion is fine for you and me, but what about Joe Six-Pack? Doesn’t he need traditional religion? Isn’t he going to fall apart if we tell him that he won’t see his dog in heaven, or watch Sunday football there? (I suspect he’d rather watch football than be reunited with a long line of ancestors, most of whom probably speak a different language anyway.)

My view is that Joe is not that fragile, and his private view may very well be that religion is fairy tales, just as he suspected when first told of Eve being made from Adam’s rib or about Jonah and the Whale.

But let’s forget about Joe for a while, whether psychologically fragile or not, requiring a blissful afterlife or adjusted to the thought that life is only temporary. It’s not every day that one comes across the statement, “If Nature and Spirit were one, there was no need to imagine an all-powerful will lording it over the material world.” If there is no need for a king of kings, the ruler of the universe, then perhaps there is no need for earthly kings either? After millennia of kingship, this is all shockingly new thinking, we must admit . . . 

Those he commands move only in command,
Nothing in love. Now does he feel his title
Hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe
Upon a dwarfish thief.

~ Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene 2

~ “It was, Charles Darwin wrote in 1879, "an abominable mystery". Elsewhere he described it as "a most perplexing phenomenon". Twenty years after the publication of his seminal work The Origin of Species, there were still aspects of evolution that bothered the father of evolutionary biology. Chief among these was the flower problem.

The roughly 350,000 known species of flowering plants make up about 90% of all living plant species. Without them, we would have none of our major crops including those used to feed livestock, and one of the most important carbon sinks that mop up our carbon dioxide emissions would be missing. How and where did they originate? And, perhaps more importantly, why did they become so spectacularly successful?

Darwin was painfully aware that there were apparent exceptions to his slow and steady rule [of how evolution works]. The angiosperms were a particular source of frustration. Angiosperms simply didn't exist for most of Earth's history. Early forests were populated by bizarre primitive tree-like plants closely related to the club mosses and horsetails that are a very minor part of today's plant communities. Later a group called the gymnosperms – plants with unenclosed seeds such as the conifers – took over. And then came the angiosperms.

Darwin did suggest a solution, however. Angiosperms, he said, may have evolved gradually in a remote region of the world as yet unexplored by scientists. By the middle of the Cretaceous, something caused them to spill out of their homeland and rapidly spread across the world. This, reasoned Darwin, would give the misleading impression to researchers working in Europe and North America that a wide variety of flowering plant species had all evolved at the same time. Aware of the lack of evidence to back up his theory, Darwin described it as “wretchedly poor”.

In fact, his speculation has since proved to be partly correct. Angiosperms that predate the middle Cretaceous specimens by tens of millions of years have begun to turn up in rocks from China. But Darwin didn't get the details entirely right because very rare early angiosperms have been found in Europe and the US too.Palaeobotanists may not yet agree on precisely where and when flowering plants first evolved, but their appearance in the fossil record much earlier than was previously known means they are no longer a problem for Darwin's theory of gradual evolution. Other debates about them, especially concerning their spectacular diversity, remain active, however.

Clues to the ultimate origins of flowering plants are to be found on New Caledonia, a small island about 1,600 kilometers east of Australia. Here, around the time that Darwin was agonizing over his angiosperm problem, botanists discovered a plant called Amborella. Careful study over the last century has shown it to be the sole survivor of one of the very earliest branches of the angiosperm evolutionary tree. This means its relationship to all living flowers is bit like that of the duck-billed platypus to all living mammals: it might look unassuming, but Amborella can tell us more than even the most elaborate orchid about how the angiosperms first evolved.

Today's plant scientists understandably have a better handle on the origins of flowering plants than Darwin did, but they are still struggling to explain the group's diversity, and why despite this it has failed to become dominant in some parts of the world.” ~

Mary Delany (1700-1788), a botanical collage. Delany began producing her astonishingly accurate and beautiful cutouts at the age of 72, after becoming a widow.


“The story of Barabbas the criminal, whom Pilate offers to kill instead of Jesus, is predicated on the supposed Jewish custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover . . . BUT THERE WAS NO SUCH JEWISH CUSTOM. In fact, it flies in the face of deeply held Jewish (and, for that matter, Roman) beliefs about justice.” ~ Joel M. Hoffman, The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor
“The custom of releasing prisoners in Jerusalem at Passover is known as the Paschal Pardon, but this custom (whether at Passover or any other time) is not recorded in any historical document other than the gospels, leading some scholars to question its historicity.” ~ Wiki

A further puzzling detail: the meaning of the name “Barabbas”

“Barabbas' name appears as bar-Abbas in the Greek texts of the gospels. It is derived ultimately from the Aramaic בר-אבא, Bar-abbâ, "son of the father". Some ancient manuscripts of Matthew 27:16–17 have the full name of Barabbas as "Jesus Barabbas" and this was probably the name as originally written in the text. Early church father Origen was troubled by the fact that his copies of the gospels gave Barabbas' name as "Jesus Barabbas" and declared that since it was impossible he could have had such a holy name, "Jesus" must have been added to Barabbas' name by a heretic. It is possible that later scribes, copying the passage, removed the name "Jesus" from "Jesus Barabbas" to avoid dishonor to the name of Jesus the Messiah.” ~ Wiki



After realizing that the Judeo-Christian god, like all the other gods, had been invented by humans and did not exist outside of the believers’ minds, I had no trouble seeing it all as mythology — both the stories of the Old Testament and events like the Virgin Birth and Resurrection. It was only natural to conclude the virgin birth was absurd, the resurrection never happened, and Jesus is never coming back.

Likewise, it was terribly unlikely that a Jew would tell anyone to drink his blood, given the huge taboo . . . so the Last Supper with its symbolic cannibalism never happened. Nor did Jesus die for anyone's sins like a sacrificial animal. That was just disgusting, and blatantly archaic.

When it comes to those big inventions, my attitude was soon, “How could I have ever believed this nonsense?” And I have to remind myself that it’s easy to brainwash a child, with her immature brain. You just repeat certain things, no matter how impossible they sound.

The shock was the small things. Scholars like Bart Ehrman publicized the historical findings that there was no census requiring anyone to go to the town of one’s birth (a bizarre idea; that’s not how census is done), no slaughter of the innocents, no flight into Egypt, no reading of a non-actual (conflated) passage of scripture at the synagogue in Nazareth (there was no synagogue in Nazareth, which wasn’t a functional town in the first century). Nazareth may have been a Greek mistranslation of Nazarene, which referred to men so consecrated to piety that they were not allowed to cut their hair. Oddly enough, it’s those relatively minor confabulations that shocked me at first — not the “big stuff.”

No resurrection, no second coming — that was easy. But — the slaughter of the innocents never happened? — I was in a state of shock for hours. What a web of lies had to be invented.

Bart Ehrman also made sense of the apocalyptic preaching, gradually de-emphasized in the later gospels — there were many apocalyptic preachers during that era. Ehrman assumes that there was a historical Jesus and he was one of those end-of-the-world nuts. (If there was a historical Jesus, he meant the end days literally, clouds of glory and all. Later I was able to see this metaphorically, as applying to the last decades of a human life — there just isn’t time for a lot of things that may have been fine in youth.)


ending on beauty:

At my bedside, a tincture of passion flower
to add to the wine,
but not in case of passion.
The greatest seduction is sleep,
that velvet drowning
in innocence again,
the only Eden left of childhood.

~ Oriana, Passionflower 

Mary Delany, Passiflora laurifolia

Saturday, August 18, 2018


New York Street with Moon; Georgia O’Keeffe, 1925


Lord let me suffer much
and then die

Let me walk through silence
and leave nothing behind not even fear

Make the world continue
let the ocean kiss the sand just as before

Let the grass stay green
so that the frogs can hide in it

so that someone can bury his face in it
and sob out his love

Make the day rise brightly
as if there were no more pain

And let my poem stand clear as a windowpane
bumped by a bumblebee's head

~ Anna Kamienska, tr Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanaugh

In case you’re wondering about that first line, well, that’s old-time Catholicism: “suffering is good for you.” She was obviously brought up in the Catholic cult of suffering, and since this is a prayer poem, here it is. Even so, for a first line, that is startling — even to me, familiar as I am with the weird logic that suffering earns us quicker entry into heaven (because of less time in Purgatory: you “pre-suffer”).

True, it could be argued that most people suffer much before dying — whether in the immediate sense of the final illness, or throughout lifetime. No one is spared suffering, no one. So perhaps the poet means the universal condition — yes, this prayer will granted.

But some lucky people die a sudden death, or at least a quick one — not like years and years of cancer.

Now we don’t think that kind of suffering has any special meaning or merit, and there is a lot more interest in effective pain relief for the dying (addiction is not an issue).

One could argue that the first lines don’t stem from Catholicism, but are simply ironic: yes, a prayer requesting suffering will be answered for sure. Based on other poems I've read, Kamienska seems a believer, but in her own way. Not a hellfire sort of person. Love-oriented.

 One can also read a bit of cynicism in the last line — though at least it's not a bird painfully smashing into a clear pane. But maybe the bumblebee illustrates the concept of humans as almost hopelessly stubborn and blind -- yes, we keep on bumping our heads against the same obstacles over and over (I just dealt with a government agency — many hours for the sake of very uncertain benefits).


But most of the poem is not about suffering (well, somewhat) or irony — it’s about the world continuing after the speaker is gone. For some reason that continuity important to us, according to studies: we want humanity to continue, the world to continue. Borges argued that the continuation of humanity is our only immortality.

Another strong theme is the side-by-side coexistence of pleasure and pain. And the lines are excellent:

Make the world continue
let the ocean kiss the sand just as before

Let the grass stay green
so that the frogs can hide in it

so that someone can bury his face in it
and sob out his love

Make the day rise brightly
as if there were no more pain

And let my poem stand clear as a windowpane
bumped by a bumblebee's head


Ocean Beach Pier


~ “There is research linking falling fertility to rising populism.

In the world’s largest cities, where populations are densely concentrated and growing, economies are generally thriving and cosmopolitanism is embraced. Where populations are sparse or shrinking, usually in rural places and small cities, economies are often stagnant, and populism sells.
Why does it hold such appeal in these places? Nativist, nationalist rhetoric—“Make America (or Whatever Other Country) Great Again” — appeals because it promises to restore the rightful economic and cultural stature of “common people” . . . Where populations decline, populists arise— more often than not, promising to reverse history and restore past glory if not demographic dominance.
That vague sense of “unease” seems to be the crux of nationalist and populist sentiment. Rather than being predominantly motivated by racism — though it often is that — populism seems like a wide-ranging desire to return to the glory days, before things changed so much. In a 2011 academic article, Anna Sofia Lundgren and Karin Ljuslinder describe how populism and an aging population might be related. Populist rhetoric requires an enemy that is meant to be defeated, they write, and in this case, that enemy is a lack of native births — a trend that’s portrayed as unnatural:

‘What is central to populism is not just the constitution of an enemy, but also the location of that enemy outside of the system. In the studied case this meant setting aside the possibility that the processes of population aging are inherent to modern societies. For example, modern aspects such as improved and increasingly technology-intensive equipment, more expensive medical care, better living conditions, norms of ‘‘finding oneself’’ before starting a family, increased demands for higher education and so on, all contribute to higher average age rates and lower fertility rates. These are all things that most people find central to an individualized democratic modern lifestyle and which they do not wish to change. By ignoring how our way of living and thinking contribute to a situation of population aging, populist discourse produces population aging as not only a threatening enemy, but also as an external enemy that is conceptualized as inexorable.’

A study from 2016 in Belgium underscored how the powerlessness, the rapid demographic change, and the xenophobia all fuel a kind of anarchic and bleak perspective on the country’s future. It found that “populist attitudes are grounded in a deep discontent, not only with politics but also with societal life in general.” People who feel more vulnerable in various ways, that study suggests, are drawn toward populism as a sort of coping strategy.

This is where I could see falling birth rates playing a role in populism. Seeing your small town vanish, watching your friends grow old and die and not leave anyone behind — it can make you feel kind of, well, vulnerable. Places don’t tend to feel complete without young people. The desire to avoid that absence is natural, but left unchecked, it can be xenophobic, too. In the most extreme cases, it might make you drawn to the promise that your kind of people will rise again.” ~


The article above uses the term “populism” to mean right-wing populism. And currently populism is mostly right-wing. But its definition doesn’t specify right-wing attitudes.

from Wiki: “In politics, populism refers to a range of approaches which emphasize the role of "the people" and often juxtapose this group against "the elite". There is no single definition of the term, which developed in the 19th century and has been used to mean various different things since that time.

A common framework for interpreting populism is known as the ideational approach: this defines populism as an ideology which posits "the people" as a morally good force against "the elite", who are perceived as corrupt. Populists differ in how "the people" are defined, but it can be based along class, ethnic, or national lines. Populists typically present "the elite" as comprising the political, economic, cultural, and media establishment, all of which are depicted as a homogenous entity and accused of placing the interests of other groups—such as foreign countries or immigrants—above the interests of "the people". According to this approach, populism is a thin-ideology which is combined with other, more substantial thick ideologies such as nationalism, liberalism, or socialism. Thus, populists can be found at different locations along the left–right political spectrum and there is both left-wing populism and right-wing populism.

Populist leaders typically portray themselves as outsiders who are separate from the "elite". Female populist leaders sometimes reference their gender as setting them apart from the dominant "old boys' club", while in Latin America a number of populists, such as Evo Morales and Alberto Fujimori, emphasized their non-white ethnic background to set them apart from the white-dominated elite. In instances where wealthy business figures promote populist sentiments, such as Ross Perot, Thaksin Shinawatra, or Silvio Berlusconi, it can be difficult to present themselves as being outside the elite; however this is achieved by portraying themselves as being apart from the political, if not the economic elite, and portraying themselves as reluctant politicians.”

Natasha Kissell: Omen I, 2016

“I have no unifying theory of things. To me, situations and people are always specific, always of themselves. That is why one travels and writes: to find out. To work in the other way would be to know the answers before one knew the problems; that is a recognized way of working, I know, especially if one is a political or religious or racial missionary. But I would have found it hard.” ~ V. S. Naipaul in his 1990 lecture at the Manhattan Institute, “Our Universal Civilization”


That specificity of true writers, their unwillingness to be missionaries (i.e. propagandists), is why authoritarian regimes persecute writers. Specific situations tend to reveal the complex humanity of individuals and the lies of the official propaganda.

Let’s detox ourselves with the beauty of rocks: 

Namibia, Lower Ugab Valley


~ On the car plowing into people and why he thinks someone would do that

I think ultimately people become extremists not necessarily because of the ideology. I think that the ideology is simply a vehicle to be violent. I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they're searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose.

If underneath that fundamental search is something that's broken — I call them potholes — is there abuse or trauma or mental illness or addiction? In my case, many years ago, it was abandonment. I felt abandoned, and that led me to this community. But what happens is, because there are so many marginalized young people, so many disenfranchised young people today with not a lot to believe in, with not a lot of hope, they tend to search for very simple black-and-white answers.

Because of the Internet, we now have this propaganda machine that is flooding the Internet with conspiracy theory propaganda from the far right — disinformation — and when a young person who feels disenchanted, or disaffected, goes online, where most of them live, they're able to find that identity online.

They're able to find that community, and they're able to find that purpose that's being fed to them by savvy recruiters who understand how to target vulnerable young people. And they go for this solution because, frankly, it promises paradise. And it requires very little work except for dedicating your life to that purpose.

But I can say that they're all being fooled, because the people at the very top have an agenda. And it's a broken ideology that can never work, that in fact, is destroying people's lives more than the promise that they were given of helping the world or saving the white race.

On Charlottesville as a turning point for this country politically and philosophically

I believe that the world has now seen what we have been sweeping under the rug for many many years — thinking we were in a post-racial societ . . . I think that this catalyst shows the world, 1: that it's a problem, a real problem, that exists in our country; 2: that white extremism should be classified as terrorism, and now that we attached the terrorism word to it, it will get more resources. It will be at the top of people's minds.

What people need to understand is that since Sept. 11, more Americans have been killed on U.S. soil by white supremacists than by any other foreign or domestic group combined by a factor of two. Yet we don't really talk about that, nor do we even call these instances, of the shooting at Charleston, S.C., or what happened at Oak Creek, Wis., at the Sikh temple or even what happened in Charlottesville that weekend — as terrorism.” ~ Christian Picciolini


The idea of ideology as simply a vehicle for violence seems to apply easily to what we see in instances like Charlottesville and other acts of terrorism. But the violence itself is coming from a tremendous reservoir of rage — just look at the faces in the photos — twisted into masks of fury — faces we've seen before — in photos taken during the civil rights movement and the struggle for school integration — unforgettable faces full of rage and hate. Why this great surge of fury? I think it is rooted in fear, in the perceived threat to those who feel they are or will be cheated out of their due, their rightful (traditional) place in a world where power lies in the hands of wealthy white men.

But these are not the wealthy — these are the marginalized, the disenfranchised, who want to cling to, or reinstate,  that old American dream — any man can achieve the promise of a better life. They feel not only do they have the most to lose, but they will lose everything, the last shred of that old dream, in a world of diversity, equality, and democracy. Everything a black man, a woman, an immigrant, a refugee, obtains or earns, every step they take forward, is something stolen from these angry men, one more possibility refused them  They don’t want to be part of a crowd, and becoming a minority is the threat of annihilation for them, for that old America they mourn — that lopsided, repellent dream they remember with such nostalgia . . . the kind of nostalgia for a romanticized ugly history portrayed in Gone With the Wind, and all those statues of Confederate generals recently being removed from public spaces.

This hatred and rage of course has other dimensions as well: social, psychological, economic, cultural. But I believe for us the keystone is this country's history of slavery — a foundation that has shaped our world to this day. The past is not past. If the Arab world hasn't gotten over the Crusades, ours has not gotten over the Civil War. To think we live in a “post-racial
world is now demonstrated as the utmost foolishness.

You are so right, Mary: we’ve seen those screaming, hate-twisted faces before. These are the white people yelling at the little black girl being escorted to a public school by US marshals. These are the crazy church ladies stating with unshakable certainty that god will forgive murder and adultery, but will not forgive racial integration.

“We will not be replaced!” the neo-Nazis chanted in Charlottesville. At the time I didn’t understand what that was about. Articles about demographics — how the whites are on their way to become a minority — passed me by since I live in a majority Latino city (the South San Diego County has been that way forever, it seems) and I'm completely used to it and don’t find it the least threatening. On the contrary, I find Mexican immigrants especially worthy of admiration for the hard work they do — work for which there are no other takers. Not only are they not a threat — they make a huge contribution to the country.

There are now more articles about slavery and the Civil War than ever before, it seems. That was THE war, and in a way it never got resolved. The South immediately started twisting defeat into false history that glorified their side and the “noble cause” of white supremacy. The astonishing number of monuments to Confederate “heroes,” the streets and schools named after them — that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The history of slavery is indeed foundational.

But since you mentioned “Gone with the Wind” — that book, which I read still in Warsaw, but in English, astounded me with the phrase “white trash.” The poor whites were apparently just a step above the black slaves. Scarlett blames her mother’s death on the contagion spread by these inferior whites. How dare they live in such wretched, crowded housing, subsisting on unhealthy food? The hatred of the poor, including poor whites, is strangely intertwined with the history of slavery. The past is indeed not even the past.


Let me detox by looking at my favorite president and favorite member of his cabinet, Frances Perkins.
83 years ago, on August 14, 1935, FDR signed the Social Security Act into law — and it was in large part thanks to a remarkable woman from Massachusetts: Frances Perkins. Coming out of the Great Depression, Frances Perkins was FDR’s Secretary of Labor — the first woman in US history to hold a cabinet position, and a chief architect of the New Deal.



~ “To understand the neoclassical revolution in economics and its connection with white supremacy, it is worth extending the history of the nineteenth century that Nancy MacLean recounts to include Reconstruction and the circumstances under which it ended.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the era of the “Second Party System,” the national debate about economic policy was over the federal provision of public goods, or “internal improvements.” At the time, South Carolina statesman (and two-time vice-president) John C. Calhoun espoused the philosophy that the only political right that matters is the right to own property. Anything that interfered with that right, according to Calhoun, is ipso facto illegitimate, and in order to preserve it, property-owners should have veto power over government policy to guard against tyranny of the propertyless majority.

But the only property that Calhoun was concerned with was the property of slaveowners, and he wanted to prevent the government overreach of any accretion of federal power for “internal improvements” that might bolster the power of that property to someday overturn the system of their subjugation. As Richard Hofstadter put it, Calhoun was “The Marx of the Master Class.” He despised democracy because he saw it as a threat to capitalist white supremacy, and he despised public goods because he discerned the threat they posed to antidemocratic social and racial hierarchy.

But Calhoun and the antebellum proslavery political interest is not the most apt historical precedent for Buchanan and Public Choice, even if it is the most obvious. The better antecedent is rather the political movement that overthrew Reconstruction in the 1870s and reinstalled former slaveowners, the so-called “Redeemers,” in positions of supreme power across the South. Like Buchanan’s Public Choice theory during and after the civil rights movement, this strategy married reactionary southern white supremacy with a not-explicitly-racist free market economic and political agenda. MacLean does not mention this history but she should have. She includes in her conclusion only a passing reference to late-nineteenth-century America as the model end-state for Buchanan’s and his heirs’ political advocacy.

In order to regain the power they had lost to the new black electorate under Reconstruction, the Redeemers forged a de facto alliance with a class of elite northerners, what in her book The Reconstruction of American Liberalism (2002) the historian Nancy Cohen calls “liberal reformers.” Following the Panic of 1873, class conflict came to dominate the national political debate. The lynchpin of the Redeemer strategy was activating the first wave of American-style “free market” economics to galvanize northern elite opinion. While initially the liberal reformers were careful not to adopt explicit racism in their appeals, race-coded rhetoric increasingly crept into northern publications such as the Nation. The American Social Science Association, for instance, which was formed after the Civil War to organize professional and quasi-professional research and “reform” movements, took on an increasingly partisan and ideological tone, crystalizing an elitist, reactionary political interest that sought to withdraw government from “interference” in the market, particularly in the South.

The two chief ideas that linked the liberal reformers and Redeemer interests were, first, that black people would not supply their compliant labor in the way that white supervisors, planters, and would-be industrialists needed in order for the southern economy to prosper; and second, that instead of working, freedmen displayed a talent and predilection for politics as an alternative means of supporting themselves as sponges off of the state. Frequently these two ideas were combined, for example in the notion that as newly autonomous workers, freed blacks had not yet acquired the civic understanding necessary to fully participate in government, and hence could not be trusted to wield power — because they were doing so in ways that impeded economic development, which in turn required their subservience as a quiescent labor force. As Cohen writes, “The freedmen’s alleged failure as an economic man and his propensity and talent for politics opened a window for the old proslavery theory of the childlike African to reenter in new-fashioned Darwinian dress.”

Crucially, this is exactly the same critique that Buchanan and his ilk later mounted against the civil rights movement: empowering labor, especially black labor, was dangerous to economic development. Moreover, state fiscal policies borne of popular democracy and characterized as redistributive—for example, public goods such as an integrated public school system—constituted an illegitimate perversion and subordination of government to “statist,” “rent-seeking” special interests.

Academic economists of the Gilded Age also espoused the view that inequality, whether between groups or individuals, was driven by innate characteristics and heredity. The more historically stable and wider those disparities, the stronger the evidence that they could not be overcome through so-called “class legislation.” The northern intelligentsia soon advocated both that Reconstruction be abandoned in the South and that Jim Crow–style policy be adopted in the North, namely the criminalization of unemployment and austerity in the face of economic contraction. As Cohen summarizes, “The doctrine of laissez-faire could become pretext, principle, and rationalization for the calls to remove federal protection from Reconstruction governments—for the reformers’ antidemocratic program to confine the genie of universal suffrage.”


If public education had to be integrated, and the federal government was not going to back down in the face of state resistance, why not just eliminate public education altogether? It was a means to buy off moderate white opinion while keeping the racial hierarchy intact and thwarting the federal government’s “interference” in Virginian affairs. While the rest of the state balked, the Prince Edward County school system took that radical step, staying closed for five years rather than integrate and instead handing out private school vouchers.

Public Choice theory evolved to explain what happened when, for the first time in a long time, black people won the vote. It reinterprets the outcome of the struggle for civil rights as the capture of government largesse for the benefit of social leaches who would otherwise “fail” in a fully free market. If the insight that Public Choice has to offer is just that governments are sometimes inefficient, democratic politics may not always serve the public interest (however defined), and special interests vie for power, then it is not a very original theory. What is original about it is also what is antidemocratic about it: the reinterpretation of social movements with political aims as inherently illegitimate and prone to “interfere” in “natural,” and also optimal, economic outcomes.

Among economists, Buchanan certainly led the way on the civil rights backlash. But he was not alone. The year after Brown v. Board was decided, Milton Friedman independently proposed an idea of school vouchers that mirrored Buchanan’s: rather than integrate public education, why not just end it? The theory of human capital — the idea that what workers earn in the labor market is a result of an individual’s education and marketable skills — also arose in this era to direct scholarly attention away from systemic discrimination and employers’ power over workers as explanations for wage inequality. And the new field of New Household Economics tried to rationalize gender inequality as arising from choices by women and men to undertake different roles in the household versus the labor market. New Household Economics could even be further interpreted as a means to cast doubt on the idea that involuntary unemployment is a social ill, or even that it is possible, if the “real” explanation for not having a job is the worker’s own “choice” to instead work in the household.

MacLean contends that the intellectual-political machine that started with Buchanan and has continued to this day with right-wing billionaires is unlike anything that has ever happened in American history. This is because the Buchanan–Koch nexus does not seek to simply sway public opinion, but rather to subvert and overthrow it.

As this review has made clear, I am in sympathy with MacLean’s characterization of the Virginia School as profoundly antidemocratic and anti-academic, but it is very hard to sustain any argument that says that something going on in the present is fundamentally different than anything which came before it. After all, the political movement based on a combination of right-wing economic policy and overt white supremacy has existed throughout this country’s history, and it achieved great success at controlling economic policy in the Gilded Age—the very era that Buchanan and his circle point to as their ideal. 

MacLean clearly fears and suspects the latter, and provides good reason, showing how the right-wing economic and social agenda adapted its tactics and rhetoric since the years of massive resistance. While the closest it previously came to seizing national power was installing Calhoun as vice-president and Roger Taney as chief justice of the Supreme Court, it can be argued that in 2016, it succeeded in electing a president, and in 2017, it ushered in white supremacist street violence at the university where Buchanan did his most influential work.

John Calhoun, 1849


“When July’s heatwave swept through the Canadian province of Quebec, killing more than 90 people in little over a week, the unrelenting sunshine threw the disparities between rich and poor into sharp relief. It was the poor and isolated who quietly suffered the most in the heat – a situation echoed in overheated cities across the world. In the US, immigrant workers are three times more likely to die from heat exposure than American citizens. In India, where 24 cities are expected to reach average summertime highs of at least 35C (95F) by 2050, it is the slum dwellers who are most vulnerable. And as the global risk of prolonged exposure to deadly heat steadily rises, so do the associated risks of human catastrophe.

Last year, Hawaiian researchers projected that the share of the world’s population exposed to deadly heat for at least 20 days a year will increase from 30% now to 74% by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are allowed to grow. (It will rise to 48% with “drastic reductions”.) They concluded that “an increasing threat to human life from excess heat now seems almost inevitable”.

Urban areas are reaching these killer temperatures faster than those that are less populated. Cities absorb, create and radiate heat. Asphalt, brick, concrete and dark roofs act like sponges for heat during the day and emit warmth at night. Air conditioning is a lifesaver for those who can afford it, but it makes the streets even hotter for those who can’t.

The World Health Organization says that 60% of people will live in cities by 2030, and the more densely populated they become, the hotter they’ll get. Considering that recent predictions warn temperatures in South Asia will exceed the limits of human survival by the end of the century, every degree counts. Even this year, 65 people have perished from nearly 44C (111F) heat in Karachi, Pakistan – a city used to extreme heat.

But the impact is not evenly distributed. For example, there is a strong correlation between an area’s green spaces and its wealth; when shade from tree canopies can lower surfaces’ peak temperature by 11–25°C, “landscape is a predictor for morbidity in heatwaves”, says Tarik Benmarhnia, public health researcher at University of California San Diego. A review paper he recently co-authored found that people living in less vegetated areas had a 5% higher risk of death from heat-related causes.

Air pollution is more deadly in these areas, too, as nitrous oxides generate ozone when heated by the sun, inflaming airways and increasing mortality risk. “These problems are worse,” says Benmarhnia, “for vulnerable or low-income populations living near traffic in poor housing with no air conditioning.”

But air conditioning will remain out of reach for many, even as it increasingly becomes a necessity. In 2014, Public Health England raised concerns that “the distribution of cooling systems may reflect socioeconomic inequalities unless they are heavily subsidized,” adding that rising fuel costs could further exacerbate this. And when we need to use less energy and cool the planet, not just our homes and offices, relying upon air conditioning is not a viable long-term plan – and certainly not for everyone.

Most of the research into heatwaves and public health has focused on western countries; Benmarhnia says more studies have been done on the city of Phoenix, Arizona, than the entire continent of Africa. But the problem is global, and especially pronounced across urban slums such as the ashwiyyat in Cairo, where temperatures during the city’s five-month-long summers have peaked at 46C (115F).

Traditionally Egyptians built low buildings close together, forming dense networks of shaded alleyways where people could keep cool during summer. But the rapid construction of high-rises and decreasing green spaces have made one of the fastest-growing cities in the world increasingly stifling. Subsidy cuts have brought about a rise of 18-42% in electricity costs, affecting many poor residents’ options for cooling down.

Compounding the threat posed by the changing climate is the refugee crisis. The two are intimately linked, with extreme weather events often a factor in social, political and economic instability. A paper published in the journal Science in December found that if greenhouse gas emissions were not meaningfully reduced global asylum applications would increase by almost 200% by the end of the century.

In at least one of the world’s hottest countries, steps are starting to be taken. India recently announced that a series of common-sense public health interventions have led to an enormous reduction in heat-related deaths – from 2,040 in 2015, to a little over 200 in 2017. Successful measures included unlocking the gates to public parks during the day, distributing free water, and painting the roofs of slum communities white, knocking 5C off internal temperatures.

Montreal first implemented a similar heat action plan in 2004, reducing mortality on hot days by 2.52 deaths per day, but as the heat waves intensify, it is likely that this will need to be reassessed. Nadler says the devastating impacts of global warming are only just beginning to dawn on everyone. “Cities will have to rethink how we prepare for these emergencies and what we’re able to offer to all of our citizens – from the most affluent, to the most vulnerable.”


Measures like painting surfaces white and creating shade (landscaping + construction) can mean a life-saving 10 degrees difference. It all sounds like a band-aid, I know. Yet building a covered patio that shades the eastern side of my house has arguably been the best investment of my life.

Shade-providing roofs could also be covered with solar panels. There are many solutions, but the will to act needs to be there, and the focus — instead of pointlessly bombing the Middle East.


~ “The sun's pockmarked surface is always shifting. Sunspots and solar flares rise and fall every 11 years, a cycle associated with regular reversal of the star's magnetic field. Huge quantities of plasma—known as coronal mass ejections—fly into space, which can disrupt satellites and other electronic signals if they reach Earth. More solar activity during the cycle also amplifies auroras and warms Earth's temperatures slightly. Yet careful study has shown that longer periodicities exist, too. The Gleissberg cycle, first identified in 1862, strengthens and weakens the 11-year cycle over the course of a century (88 years on the average). One paper posits that the Gleissberg pattern is caused by a slow swaying of the sun's magnetic pole. The Suess-DeVries cycle lasts about 200 years, whereas the Hallstatt cycle runs on the order of 2,400 years. Still, the sun can also be erratic, making it tricky for physicists to predict future sunspots, says Alexei Pevtsov, an astronomer at the National Solar Observatory in Boulder, Colo.: “There's an element of randomness.”

Dust or clouds dim the sun enough that large sun spots are visible to the naked eye. Arabic, European, Chinese and Maya astronomers all noted them. The first known drawing of sun spots dates to 1128 C.E.” ~

Sunspots, the Space Station, and the Moon during the solar eclipse, August 2017



~ “High up in the clear blue noontime sky, the sun appears to be much the same day-in, day-out, year after year.

But astronomers have long known that this is not true. The sun does change. Properly-filtered telescopes reveal a fiery disk often speckled with dark sunspots. Sunspots are strongly magnetized, and they crackle with solar flares—magnetic explosions that illuminate Earth with flashes of X-rays and extreme ultraviolet radiation. The sun is a seething mass of activity.

Until it’s not. Every 11 years or so, sunspots fade away, bringing a period of relative calm.

“This is called solar minimum,” says Dean Pesnell of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. “And it’s a regular part of the sunspot cycle.”

The sun is heading toward solar minimum now. Sunspot counts were relatively high in 2014, and now they are sliding toward a low point expected in 2019-2020.

While intense activity such as sunspots and solar flares subside during solar minimum, that doesn’t mean the sun becomes dull. Solar activity simply changes form.

For instance, says Pesnell, “during solar minimum we can see the development of long-lived coronal holes.”

Coronal holes are vast regions in the sun’s atmosphere where the sun’s magnetic field opens up and allows streams of solar particles to escape the sun as the fast solar wind.
Pesnell says “We see these holes throughout the solar cycle, but during solar minimum, they can last for a long time - six months or more.” Streams of solar wind flowing from coronal holes can cause space weather effects near Earth when they hit Earth’s magnetic field. These effects can include temporary disturbances of the Earth’s magnetosphere, called geomagnetic storms, auroras, and disruptions to communications and navigation systems.

During solar minimum, the effects of Earth’s upper atmosphere on satellites in low Earth orbit changes too.

Normally Earth’s upper atmosphere is heated and puffed up by ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Satellites in low Earth orbit experience friction as they skim through the outskirts of our atmosphere. This friction creates drag, causing satellites to lose speed over time and eventually fall back to Earth. Drag is a good thing for space junk — natural and man-made particles floating in orbit around Earth. Drag helps keep low Earth orbit clear of debris.

But during solar minimum, this natural heating mechanism subsides. Earth’s upper atmosphere cools and, to some degree, can collapse. Without a normal amount of drag, space junk tends to hang around.

There are unique space weather effects that get stronger during solar minimum. For example, the number of galactic cosmic rays that reach Earth’s upper atmosphere increases during solar minimum. Galactic cosmic rays are high energy particles accelerated toward the solar system by distant supernova explosions and other violent events in the galaxy.

Pesnell says that “During solar minimum, the sun’s magnetic field weakens and provides less shielding from these cosmic rays. This can pose an increased threat to astronauts traveling through space.”

 A visible light image of the sun and an X-ray image



~ “Did Aristotle lie to us when he said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence”?

I think we have to look at that quote from a different angle. Because when you read it, you think that happiness is the main goal. And that’s kind of what the quote says as well.

But here’s the thing: How do you achieve happiness?

Happiness can’t be a goal in itself. Therefore, it’s not something that’s achievable.

I believe that happiness is merely a byproduct of usefulness.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to go on holiday, or go shopping sometimes. But to be honest, it’s not what gives meaning to life.

What really makes me happy is when I’m useful. When I create something that others can use. Or even when I create something I can use.

For the longest time I found it difficult to explain the concept of usefulness and happiness. But when I recently ran into a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the dots connected.

Emerson says: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

You don’t have to change the world or anything. Just make it a little bit better than you were born.

When you do little useful things every day, it adds up to a life that is well lived. A life that mattered.

The last thing I want is to be on my deathbed and realize there’s zero evidence that I ever existed.

Being useful is a mindset. And like with any mindset, it starts with a decision. One day I woke up and thought to myself: What am I doing for this world? The answer was nothing.

And that same day I started writing. For you it can be painting, creating a product, helping elderly, or anything you feel like doing.

Don’t take it too seriously. Don’t overthink it. Just DO something that’s useful. Anything.” ~


Darius is not an exciting stylist. He uses simple words in trite combinations (a skillful writer is after simple words in unusual, novel combinations). The only reason I’ve decided to include this is that the underlying idea is so clear and powerful: forget about the pursuit of happiness. Try to be useful instead.

This change of focus is revolutionary. It’s like deciding to provide the best value instead of trying to make money and more money. Usually the money will follow, but not as a result of a direct focus. First, try to provide the best value. Concentrate on that.

Why does something as simple as holding the door open for a mother struggling with a stroller make us happy? My best guess is that as social animals — and this goes back millions of years into our primate past — we evolved to feel good when we help someone else. Usually such an interaction also  involves some degree of affection: smiling, a soft tone of voice, receiving thanks and good wishes — and affection, even from a stranger, is rewarding in itself.

But even without that pleasant bonus, there is power to the idea, here reduced to its essence:

“The purpose of life not to be happy. It is to be useful.”

This is not some transcendent “purpose of life,” designated from above. It’s what seems to work for most people to create a sense of having a purpose in life — which in turn makes us feel good. It’s about being able we touch the lives of others in a positive way, however small. Everyone does it in a different way, since we are unique, with different skills.

The Victorians used to put it in a stern manner: “We are not here to feel good. We are here to do good.”

And Dickinson put it in verse:

If I can stop one Heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one Life the Aching,
Or cool one Pain,

Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again,
I shall not live in Vain.

~ Dickinson, 919, 1864

But that can be intimidating — is it in our power to stop one heart from breaking, or lessen someone’s pain? And what if we must cause some degree of suffering to accomplish what we perceive as a greater good, as in dismissing an undesirable employee or a disruptive student? What kind of good are we supposed to do?

The answer is obvious for a surgeon — or a comedian, a chef, a solar-panel installer — but many of us are at a far remove from being able to render that kind of highly skilled service. Fortunately small things are enough. St. Therese the Little Flower realized she could not be a great mystic — so she settled on her “Little Way” of performing small deeds of kindness — be it merely chatting with a crotchety old nun that everyone detested and no one talked with. 

Some people have children mainly in order to feel useful to someone. Others acquire pets for the same reason. Even having plants to take care of has been shown to improve the health of the elderly. 

And now and then we don’t even have to do anything — just be there. Just our uniqueness is enough — just being there for another, with our unique presence. The greatest gift we can give another is simply our being, Heidegger once wrote to Hannah Arendt. Even when it seems that we have nothing to give, it turns out that we always have something to give: just our being there.

Horses appear to be happy just standing in a pasture next to another horse, but in that criss-cross pattern. When horses love each other, that's the quiet way they show it. Perhaps it’s about being in the other horse’s electromagnetic field. We don’t know. But I have noticed that someone quietly sitting in the same room with you also contributes. Unless we are attending a lecture, it’s not about who does the most talking.


“I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It's amazing how it cheers one up to shred orange and scrub the floor.” ~ DH Lawrence


Who knew that DH, while not shocking his readers writing about sex, did things like make orange marmalade? Which is not exactly easy . . . But anything beats brooding. “Do something useful” is immortal advice — even if it's useful just to ourselves, e.g. we prepare our lunch (never mind it’s rather early for lunch — just do your mental and physical health a favor and add an item, like mushrooms with onions). Hence, I suspect, the enormous popularity of cooking and gardening. Aside from certain specific pleasures, these are activities, and doing things is an effective anti-depressant. So if you're into home-made pasta, hop to it. The answer, take it from me as a seasoned brooder, does *not* lie within. It lies “without” (outside) — in external-focus activities. And if those activities are useful, so much the better.


~ “We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament.” ~ Rudolph Bultmann (German Lutheran theologian known for wanting to de-mythologize the gospels, author of Religion without Myth (coauthored with Karl Jaspers, 1954)

This is so in line with Milosz's statement that what makes religion so out of kilter with the modern world is primarily technology. While many give all credit to science and especially the theory of evolution, I think Milosz is right about technology. Most people have a poor grasp of science, and evolution in particular is quite complicated; by contrast, you don’t have to understand how an iPhone works in order to use it. Technology is “real magic” that mostly works versus imaginary magic such as prayer that mostly doesn't work (and that’s after learning to pray only for plausible outcomes — not for something like regrowing an amputated limb).

The ancient world was one of magic and superstition; the bible was written by men who had no idea “where the sun went during the night” (it doesn’t go anywhere; it’s the earth that rotates; now think of the question of where consciousness [“the soul”] goes after death). But more than that, they didn't know about bacteria and other pathogens (Jesus, alas, wasn’t enthusiastic about hand washing), so there was a lot of mortality of the sort that today is prevented thanks to public hygiene. Travel was slow and dangerous, and information scarce. “Unclean spirits” were all around, making mischief . . . all kinds of invisible beings were milling around, apparently controlling what humans couldn't control except through “lucky charms” and animal sacrifice and other means that today strike us as bizarre. We can't get back to that mentality. May its most negative remnants perish soon (and we do indeed see some decline: while the belief in angels holds steady, the belief in hell and the devil has plummeted)

The gist Milosz’s argument, however, was that technology gives people a greater sense of control over their lives. Thanks to technology and modern medicine, we have much less fear of premature death: we assume the average woman will survive childbirth and the average child will survive infancy and early childhood. We can also get to distant places with astonishing (by the standards of the past) speed and safety. We can communicate with both our loved ones and with people trained to help us in emergency.

Religion thrives on lack of that sense of control. When we feel helpless, prayer seems better than nothing, and belief, even if forced, takes the appearance of insurance “just in case” that an Invisible Someone Up There might take offense at non-belief (and that Someone might also, just might, violate the laws of nature in order to help us). In the main, however, Bultman states what should be obvious but still isn’t (maybe because of the long-lasting effect of childhood indoctrination): the mostly effective magic of technology outcompetes the mostly ineffective magic of religion.

The problem is that Bultman appeals to logic, and logic and religion never met. Nevertheless, when the gap becomes outrageously wide, change can gradually creep in. Or, some claim, it can happen pretty suddenly, in one generation.


“William James opined at the turn of the twentieth century (1902): “Today a deity who should require bleeding sacrifices to placate him would be too sanguinary to take seriously.” But a century later, few would agree publicly with Thomas Nagel when he candidly says he would not want such a god to exist. . . . If pressed, many people insist that the anthropomorphic languages used to describe god is metaphorical, not literal. One might suppose, then, that the curious adjective “God-fearing” would have faded into disuse over the years, a fossil trace of a rather embarrassingly juvenile period in our religious past, but far from it. People want a god who can be loved and feared the way you love or fear another person. 

Religion, in short, is a monumental chapter in the history of human egotism. The gods believed in — whether by crude savages or by men disciplined intellectually — agree with each other in recognizing personal calls,” James observed. “Today, quite as much as at any previous age, the religious individual tells you that the divine meets him on the basis of his personal concerns.~ Daniel Dennett, “Breaking the Spell”

“Today a deity who should require bleeding sacrifices to placate him would be too sanguinary to take seriously,” according to William James, writing in 1902. And yet not long ago on NPR I heard a fundamentalist minister argue that in order for the Second Coming to be complete, the Jews need to rebuild the Jerusalem temple and reinstate the ritual of animal sacrifice there. “There’s been no sacrifice since 70 AD!” the minister exclaimed, indignant at such a terrible religious lapse.

Obviously not everyone has the modern mentality that’s repelled by the killing of a lamb — or any other living thing — as a form of worship. That’s the power of severe early indoctrination: the archaic mentality is sanctified since it produced the bible. Of course the worship of other deities also prominently featured animal sacrifice, but fundamentalists aren’t put off by these similarities — if they are even aware of them. If something was practiced in the biblical times, it must have been good. 

(For me, however, the very fact that the worship of Yahweh consisted chiefly of animal sacrifice was one more piece of strong evidence that he was like Zeus or Baal: another fictitious deity, similar to the others, mostly cruel and capricious, demanding blood. As for “Without blood there is no forgiveness” of the Epistle to the Hebrews, what a barbarous regression! And yet that barbarity is the very foundation of Christianity.)

Re: sola scriptura: 

so what about that waitress who works on the Sabbath? Think of the countless people who should be stoned to death if we take the "holy" scripture literally. But even the supposed literalists developed countless tricks of selectivity and interpretation, so as not to be inconvenienced or confronted too boldly with sheer absurdity. But the awkwardness of Yahweh’s apparent craving for spilled blood remains, and we can’t allow concepts such as cultural evolution or any kind of evolution that makes deities superfluous, relics of the ignorant and more cruel past.


Sundays I worship at my favorite library, which requires that I drive on the freeway. But what’s this on the overpass where I'm used to seeing a big white truck with a billboard that says JESUS SAVES? A small yellow truck with the sign: GOLDEN BOY BAIL BONDS.

No, not “Golden State.” Golden Boy — perhaps implying that gold jewelry will be accepted as collateral. And not as good as “Discount Bankruptcy.” I am all for the separation of church and freeway, but this did not feel like an improvement. But the worst still lay ahead. Soon I was following a pickup truck with a bumper sticker that said NUKE AFGHANISTAN UNTIL IT GLOWS.

So it goes.



~ “To figure out how to shift your pelvis into a healthier position, Sherer says to imagine for a minute you have a tail. If we were designed like dogs, the tail would be right at the base of your spine.

"When you sit with a C shape in your spine, you're sitting on this tail," Sherer says. "It's kind of like a dog with its tail between its legs, who is scared and frightened."

To straighten out the C shape, Sherer says, "we need to position the pelvis in a way that this tail could wag."

In other words, we need to untuck our tails. To do that, Sherer says, you need to bend over properly when you go to sit down.

"Bend over?" I ask. "Do I bend when I sit down?"

"Yes!" Sherer exclaims. "Every time you sit down, you bend somewhere."

And where you bend determines how you will sit.

If you bend at the waist, which many Americans do, then you will likely sit with a C or cashew shape.

If you bend at the hips, you're more likely to sit correctly with your tail untucked.

A weaver in India, sitting with his “tail untucked” and a straight spine
"Bending at the hips can be hard for many people to figure out," Sherer says. "It's a bit counterintuitive."

But she has a trick to help people learn.

"Stand up and spread your heels about 12 inches apart," she says. Now, put your hand on your pubic bone — like a fig leaf covering up Adam in the Bible, she explains.

"When you bend over, you want to let this fig leaf — your pubic bone — move through your legs," she says. "This creates a crease between your pelvis and legs.” ~

Left: hip-hinging, table-top back versus the C shape that comes from bending at the waist (panning for gold on Madagascar)


It's definitely not easy at first. You have to remember to push out your buttocks to the back of the chair. Doing deep hip-hinging squats helps acquire the new habit.



(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

~ Mary Oliver


Night by Greta Hällfors-Sipilä, 1931