Saturday, March 30, 2019


Photo: E. Byrne


When, at the end, the children wanted
to add glitter to their valentines, I said no.

I said nope, no, no glitter, and then,
when they started to fuss, I found myself

saying something my brother’s football coach
used to bark from the sidelines when one

of his players showed signs of being
human: oh come on now, suck it up.

That’s what I said to my children.
Suck what up? my daughter asked,

and, because she is so young, I told her
I didn’t know and never mind, and she took

that for an answer. My children are so young
when I turn off the radio as the news turns

to counting the dead or naming the act,
they aren’t even suspicious. My children

are so young they cannot imagine a world
like the one they live in. Their God is still

a real God, a whole God, a God made wholly
of actions. And I think they think I work

for that God. And I know they will someday soon
see everything and they will know about

everything and they will no longer take
never mind for an answer. The valentines

would’ve been better with glitter, and my son
hurt himself on an envelope, and then, much

later, when we were eating dinner, my daughter
realized she’d forgotten one of the three

Henrys in her class. How can there be three Henrys
in one class? I said, and she said, Because there are.

And so, before bed we took everything out
again—paper and pens and stamps and scissors—

and she sat at the table with her freshly washed hair
parted smartly down the middle and wrote

WILL YOU BE MINE, HENRY T.? and she did it
so carefully, I could hardly stand to watch.

~ Carrie Fountain


My children are so young
when I turn off the radio as the news turns

to counting the dead or naming the act,
they aren’t even suspicious. My children

are so young they cannot imagine a world
like the one they live in.

~ This is an utterly serious and even tragic poem in the guise of a sweet little domestic scene. The children are too young to grasp mass shootings, and the mother sensibly doesn’t push such traumatizing subjects on them. At the same time, because they are so young, they can show brilliant common sense:

How can there be three Henrys
in one class? I said, and she said, Because there are.

But the seriousness starts sooner, quite soon after the “innocent” opening about glitter:

. . . I found myself

saying something my brother’s football coach
used to bark from the sidelines when one

of his players showed signs of being
human: oh come on now, suck it up.

That’s what I said to my children.
Suck what up? my daughter asked,

and, because she is so young, I told her
I didn’t know and never mind, and she took

that for an answer.

How we treat children often depends on the role models we’ve had and how they treated children. Thus, the speaker’s brother had a coach who didn’t tolerate “signs of being human” among his players. We don’t tolerate feelings — they can be trouble. Boys don’t cry, and increasingly girls are supposed to be more like boys and be tough and brave. Never mind the spiel about nurturing and empathy.

There is even theology here: to a young child, god is a kind of Superman in the Sky; He’s real and he does things (presumably good things; he cares; he helps people). Mommy works for this kind god:

Their God is still

a real God, a whole God, a God made wholly
of actions. And I think they think I work

for that God.

(I’m so envious. The talk of hell started early in my religion lessons, so I could never see god as good. But then perhaps I assume too much here: the poem doesn’t explicitly state that the children’s god is all-good.)

And then we’re back to making valentines — and the daughter’s earnestness is such that it’s difficult for the mother to watch. The parent knows that this trust in the world will pass away, this ability to accept anything at face value, without doubt and skepticism. A child's valentine is in a way like the wagging of a dog's tail
— it doesn't lie.  

Though we are told to be like little children in order to enter heaven, we know we can never be — we’ve known too much evil, especially of the random and undeserved kind, to ever have that kind of faith. And what is even more shattering, we learn not just that bad things happen, and that people, even those we love, can hurt us — we learn that we too can hurt people, even those who love us. Life itself is the Forbidden Fruit.

Now, I am not saying that childhood is wonderful and it’s downhill from there. Absolutely not. The point is that we must reach for the Forbidden Fruit — there is no avoiding it. We must learn about good and evil, and all the shades in between. Churches encourage us to be like little children, but the point is to become truly adult, capable of dealing with complexity and ambiguity. 

Our reward is that we learn to find something good even in an apparent misfortune, and to appreciate whatever delights life truly provides. Even though, as Tony Hoagland remarks, “We mainly learn not to be so clever,” we know that it’s more interesting to be clever (without becoming overconfident) and learn as much about reality as we can — then we will never be bored.


On a minor note, I guess the speaker thought glitter would be too messy. In the hands of young children, though, anything gets messy, and you live with it — though glitter, as Mary observed, is pretty much forever. And the speaker admits that the valentines would be better with glitter — that symbol of illusion. 


~ “Each poem is addressed to an ideal reader. You are reaching out to tell someone some­thing you passionately believe in and there is something religious about it, something sacred. In a sense you want to tell the truth. These are all very big words but I’m tired of crap, of imprecision, of dehumanization. I want to simplify; I want to return to and communicate some basic hu­man content.

All poets are guardians of the language—Pound said something like that. They keep certain channels of communication open. If there were no poets, how would the unconscious be articulated?

I feel poetry is, ultimately, optimistic. Despite the fact that I may write a series of very gloomy, dark poems, the gesture itself is a positive one. One celebrates—even living in despair. In some curious way that gesture is anonymous. There’s a level on which we wish to further ourselves, our own egos—but there are moments in which we feel very lucid, simply disarmed, where that gesture is so much greater than our destiny. You realize the greatness of poetry. We make the gesture then in the name of everyone who has ever lived. It is a selfless act.

The source of faith in the continuing possibilities of poetry comes from that long tradition. To read a poet who, let’s say, wrote 500 years ago, 1,000 years ago, and to feel how contemporary he still it well, an astonishing experience. The great gesture, the selfless poetic act, is timeless, a moment outside history. With poetry we are still back in the cave, we still understand very little about the universe, we’re wondering, we’re astonished at the stars, everything is new everything is beautiful, complicated, myster­ious.

The poet wishes secretly to be a philosopher—in other words, to understand the universe fully. But poetry differs from traditional philosophy in that it realizes that ideas have to be tested in daily existence, in simple ordinary human experiences. You sit one evening and string together a series of beautiful statements about life and go to bed kind of sublime, moved. Next morning one wakes up and, usually forgetting all that, goes his very grumpy way through simple daily tasks. Later on in the day, one remembers the ideas he had before and somehow . . . there’s some great gap. We don’t know how to incorporate it into our daily existence.

Let’s put it this way: philosophy is an intellectual activity, poetry an activity of the emotions. The ultimate aim of the emotions is to digest ideas. To take a great idea, a great proposition about the universe and feel what it means in relation to life on earth—well, that’s quite another matter.

The problem with philosophy is that it generalizes about everything including feelings, but poetry has no choice. It has to particularize. Actually, its magic comes from that faith in the concrete.

It seems to me that if you cut the man in half, if you throw a part of him out the window, pretty soon that other half is going to rebel and assert itself and you are going to have a lot of problems. But I think poetry is aware of that lace of balance and so it searches for the whole man.” ~


Simic makes some wonderful remarks here. I was especially struck by poetry as optimism — since so much poetry is actually melancholy. But melancholy doesn't mean devoid of faith in the human spirit.

If a poem achieves true poetry, that undefinable but felt magic, then by the very fact of being poetry it lifts up our hearts. Sursum corda.

A bit on a tangent: I was struck by the statement that the aim of emotions is to digest ideas. One could as easily argue that the aim of ideas is to digest emotions, to tame them, control them. The two are intertwined in a complex and inseparable way. 
PS. Simic's Serbian name is Dušan (pronounced “Dooshahn”). “Dusha” is a Slavic word for “soul,” so his name could be roughly translated as “soulful.”

PPS. Charon's Cosmology (1977) was the first collection of his that I've read, and it's still my


“Happiness was never important. The problem is that we don't know what we really want. What makes us happy is not to get what we want. But to dream about it.” ~ Slavoj Žižek

“Pleasure disappoints, possibility never.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

Van Gogh, Orchard in Bloom with Poplars, 1889; note the reflections


Wasp used to be waps; bird used to be brid and horse used to be hros. Remember this when the next time you hear someone complaining about aks for ask or nucular for nuclear, or even perscription. It's called metathesis, and it's a very common, perfectly natural process.

Thunder used to be "thuner", and empty "emty". You can see the same process happening now with words like hamster, which often gets pronounced with an intruding "p". This is a type of epenthesis.

The "l" in folk, talk and walk used to be pronounced. Now almost everyone uses a "w" instead- we effectively say fowk, tawk and wawk. This process is called velarisation.

What the folk?

In Norwegian, "sk" is pronounced "sh". So early English-speaking adopters of skiing actually went shiing. Once the rest of us started reading about it in magazines we just said it how it looked. Influenced by spelling, some Americans are apparently starting to pronounce the "l" in words like balm and psalm (something which actually reflects a much earlier pronunciation).

(~ this is from The Guardian, but I accidentally lost the link — maybe because I was thinking of shiing in Norway.)

It would be logical to post an image of a hros, but Norway is so gorgeous, even if you don't shii . . .

It was learning other languages, as well as reading Shakespeare and other "old masters," that liberated me from the idea that there is just one correct way. There is the "accepted usage" — but it changes over time. And it's simply fun to know that "horse" used to be "hros" — how Norse that sounds, harking back to Beowulf.

Norway, hoar frost (no hros). Photo: Phoebe Nilsen


~ “Young gorgeousness: Nothing so seemingly eternal nor so temporary. It's the most in-your-face, mind-splitting experience of the human condition, what psychologist Ernest Becker described as being like "Gods with anuses"

Through language, humans can imagine possessing eternity. But through language, we can also foresee our own deaths. We recognize reluctantly that we're still physical, still subject to entropy. We're in a bind: How do you throw all in knowing you'll be thrown out?

Becker argues that we find "immortality projects" ways to identify with some eternal something, a kind of disassociation from our ephemerality. Religion is a popular immortality project.

I skipped out on religion pretty early. A big one for me was young gorgeousness. I prayed at its altar, convinced of its absolute permanence even while knowing it fades.

Love songs helped. I still love, sing, and play them but I wonder about their effect on the young. It's perilous to send them out in the world besotted by the romantic norm. It's a little like giving booze to a 10-year-old.” ~ Jeremy Sherman


Freud spoke about why men strive for achievement: “for fame and the love of beautiful women.” Fame is of course an immortality project.

Portraits and eventually photographs were also “immortality projects”: the dominant idea of photography as a “passage to immortality” that “meant the medium was predisposed to seriousness over the ephemeral”; and that Victorian and Edwardian culture itself took a dim view of smiling, supported by a survey of smiling in portraits conducted by Nicholas Jeeves at the Public Domain Review that “came to the conclusion that there was a centuries-long history of viewing smiling as something only buffoons did.” (source: Open Culture)

One theory about why Americans smile so much is that immigrants tend to smile more to ingratiate themselves with the native-born. It's a quick way to show friendliness, and sometimes also to cover up not understanding something that was said. Another theory is that the smile started as a sales technique.


“Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe.” ~ Adrienne Rich
Tasmania: Mount Rugby. How did I get from Adrienne Rich to Tasmania? Rich reminded me of Dickinson, who was perhaps the only American poet to mention Tasmania in a poem, though Dickinson used an archaic term, Van Damien's Land. If you doubt my explanation, you are correct: I found the image first, and only later found a way to connect it with poetry. Just to demonstrate through an innocent example that language is often used to rationalize and mislead. 

“No nostalgia is felt as keenly as nostalgia for things that never existed.” ~ Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman

But isn’t this the essence of all nostalgia? True, there are degrees to which to idealize and distort certain periods of life, certain places. I'm already nostalgic for the years when I was an active poet — but it’s not such a remote past that I can forget how utterly miserably I was during those years, marked by some severe emotional shocks and a lot of suffering, both emotional and physical (horrible migraines, for one thing). 

 Warsaw: dear old Palace of Culture

“My own view is that Jewish humor will continue as long as the reigning note behind Jewish jokes continues to be the belief, everywhere confirmed, that out of the crooked timber of humanity nothing entirely straight can be made, that human nature in all its nuttiness does not change, and that the greatest fool of all — he could be mayor of Chelm, that legendary Jewish town of fools — is he who thinks it can.” ~ Joseph Epstein, Jews and Their Jokes

Chelm: City Hall. Chelm is close to Lublin and the Ukrainian border


This has been said many times before, but not as lucidly as here. (Source: Neuroscience News and Research, a reader’s comment)

John Guzlowski:

I did my PhD dissertation on RD Laing (a Scot psychologist) and contemporary fiction. His central book was called The Divided Self. In it he argues that the self is not one fixed self but a self that consists of what we assume is our self, what others assume is our self, and what we and others may assume is not our self but may be our self. He had some interesting ideas about how self-imagining destroys the deep self and the need to get back to essential experience with a full sense of how we as humans are addicted to self-imagining. The True Self is hard to pin down and always shifting. The bottom line is that we aren't who we say we are and will never be that self. To know the self we need to recognize this tendency to embrace our "false self." 


It always fascinated me how various people bring out different aspects of what we call the self for lack of a better term. Thus, a lover may make us feel “like a new self.” I view “self” as a verb — it's a process, emerging and constantly shifting under a gazillion influences. Except for some individuals who deliberately cultivate a false self as sales technique (or for whatever purpose), we just "behave" according to habit, context, who we are with, are we teaching or in class as students etc — and stage of life, degree of stress, and other factors too numerous to be ever analyzed completely. At this point I have zero interest in "personality tests" — never mind what my personality "is" — rather, in what little time remains, what can I still accomplish, how can I contribute.

As for R.D. Laing, I know only summaries of his work. The good part was that he brought respect and compassion to the treatment of schizophrenia. The bad part was that he was one of the fathers of the anti-psychiatry movement, in an era with very little understanding of brain function and dysfunction.

And I’ve found a fascinating article based in part on an interview with his son, Adrian:


~ “The question of what it was like to be the child of one of the 20th century's most influential psychotherapists has been playing on Adrian's mind of late. 'It was ironic that my father became well-known as a family psychiatrist,' he says, 'when, in the meantime, he had nothing to do with his own family.’

'From the moment of birth [...],' Laing wrote in 1967, 'the baby is subjected to these forces of violence, called love, as its mother and father have been, and their parents and their parents before them. These forces are mainly concerned with destroying most of its potentialities. This enterprise is on the whole successful.’

Laing theorized that insanity could be understood as a reaction to the divided self. Instead of arising as a purely medical disease, schizophrenia was thus the result of wrestling with two identities: the identity defined for us by our families and our authentic identity, as we experience ourselves to be. When the two are fundamentally different, it triggers an internal fracturing of the self.

His theories overturned the prevailing orthodoxy of the day that mental illness was, as the German psychiatrist Karl Jaspers had put it, 'un-understandable'. He became a countercultural guru in the Sixties and Seventies, attracting a large anti-establishment following who admired his anarchic and individualist philosophies. Laing believed that mental illness was a sane response to an insane world and that a psychiatrist had a duty to communicate empathetically with patients. Once, when faced with a naked schizophrenic woman rocking silently to and fro in a padded cell, Laing took off his own clothes and sat next to her, rocking to the same rhythm until she spoke for the first time in months.

As a psychiatrist, both brilliant and unconventional, RD Laing pioneered the humane treatment of the mentally ill. But as a father, clinically depressed and alcoholic, he bequeathed his 10 children and his two wives a more checkered legacy.

This was partly a blighted genetic inheritance - Laing died, as did [his eldest son with his second wife] Adam, of a heart attack while playing tennis at the age of 61 [Adam died after a night of drinking]. He, too, struggled with drink and drugs, experimenting with LSD in his later years after being influenced by the work of the psychedelic drug pioneer Timothy Leary. But mostly, it was the result of an absorption in his work so total that he could be guilty of breath-taking callousness and seeming hypocrisy towards his own children. Adrian, 50, Laing's second eldest son, sees it like this: 'Anyone who has become deliberately well-known, inevitably they've done that at the expense of their family. They've gone their own way. They can't do both.’

According to his friends, colleagues and relatives, Laing was frequently unable to extend the compassion he felt for his patients to his own family. His children were left to grapple with their demons. For all his professional benevolence, Laing was a flawed parent. He, too, was capable of unleashing 'these forces of violence called love’.

Ronald Laing was five when his parents told him Santa Claus did not exist. He never forgave them, claiming in later years that the realization they had been lying to him triggered his first existential crisis. For the rest of his life, his childhood memories were bleak. He told interviewers of an emotionally deprived upbringing in the Govanhill area of Glasgow, with a disciplinarian mother who broke his favorite toys when he became too attached to them.

His background left Laing with an abiding antipathy towards the nuclear family. By the time of his death he had fathered six sons and four daughters with four women over a period of 36 years. 'I think his reputation took some blows in terms of the way he died, leaving behind 10 children and looking like an irresponsible father,' says Adrian, the youngest of five children Laing had with his first wife, Anne. 'There was an enormous backlash then from families who thought he was blaming them for their children's mental illness.’

His own family was the first casualty of Laing's increasing celebrity. The reissuing in 1965 of his most famous work, The Divided Self, led to frequent television and radio appearances. In many ways his existentialist approach - he believed that social 'sanity' was fabricated by mutual consent; that the mentally ill were as fully human as the medics who were classifying them - captured the countercultural zeitgeist of the 1960s. His radical rejection of convention ensured he became the most famous cult psychiatrist in the country. 

Charismatic, darkly handsome and possessed of an innate sharpness of mind, he soon embarked on several extra-marital affairs, spending weeks and months away from the family home in northwest London. Anne was left behind, treading water in the wake of his success. The marriage finally came to a juddering halt in 1967, by which time, says Adrian, 'my mother had totally lost it. She found it so humiliating because he was becoming so well-known but he wasn't living with us.'

Laing had already started an affair with Jutta Werner, a German graphic designer who would become his second wife. Despite his burgeoning career, he paid only the legal minimum in child maintenance to his first family. 'He adopted an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality,' says Adrian, who started taking odd jobs aged 13 to contribute to the family income. 'In my mind, he confused liberalism with neglect. My mother was furious about it. She had an unfathomable amount of resentment. Her expression for him was "the square root of nothing”.'

Laing would disappear for months on end, forgetting birthdays before turning up in a blizzard of misdirected anger. In a 1994 biography he wrote of his father, Adrian recounts one of Laing's rare visits to their new home in Glasgow when, having argued with Jutta, he took out his anger by beating his daughter, Karen.

He was an unpredictable, occasionally frenzied, father figure who acted with little regard for the consequences. When, in 1975, his second eldest child, Susan, was diagnosed with terminal monoblastic leukaemia, a row broke out between her parents. Anne felt it would be kinder not to tell Susan the diagnosis. Laing disagreed. In the face of fierce opposition from Anne, Susan's fiancé and her doctors, he insisted on traveling to the hospital to inform her that, in all likelihood, she would not live beyond her 21st birthday.

'That was the worst thing,' says Adrian. 'My mother just went potty. She said he was going to rot in hell for that. Then, after he told Susie, he went back to London and left us to deal with it. My mother was spitting blood.'

Susie died, aged 21, in March 1976. 'My father was riddled with guilt about it. He would have been aware of the statistics that demonstrate there is a higher chance of dying from that particular disease if you are from a broken family.'

A year later, Laing's eldest child, Fiona, had a nervous breakdown and was taken to Gartnavel Mental Hospital, Glasgow. Anxious that she should not be subjected to the brutal electric shock treatment and impersonal medical examinations that Laing so detested, Adrian called on his father for advice.

I was really upset. I asked, "What the fuck are you going to do about it?"' Adrian pauses. A curious smile curls at the corner of his lips. 'At the time we were living in a house called Ruskin Place, and his response was: "Gartnavel or Ruskin Place, what's the fucking difference?" It was a double-bind, you see. Either he had nothing to do with it [Fiona's breakdown] and his theories were shit, or he had everything to do with it and he was shit.’

Later Adrian tells a revealing story about Susan being interviewed in 1974 by a journalist writing a feature on the children of famous people. The piece ended with a memorable quote from her: 'He can solve everybody else's problems but not our own.'

The Hungarian psychiatrist Thomas Szasz puts it a different way. Laing, he wrote in 2004, displayed 'an avoidance of responsibility for his first family, indefensible since his line had been that the breakdown of children could be attributed to parents and families.’

But Laing seemed to mellow with the passing of the years. To his second family with Jutta, and to his two youngest children with different women, he proved a more kindly father. Adrian was gradually reconciled with him over the years, coming to stay with his half-siblings when he studied for his bar exams in London. 'Ronnie was clear, kind, warm-hearted and sagacious,' says Theodor Itten, who knew him in this later period. 'He was very gentle with his family. Once he told me that in his first family he had hit his children because he didn't know any better. I was surprised because I always thought Ronnie had been the Ronnie I knew, very playful and comforting as a father.’

But in his later years, as he became more dependent on alcohol and drugs, his judgment was blunted. When he was drunk Laing could exploit the fault-lines in someone's personality with a vicious cruelty. One of his students, Francis Huxley, once said that Laing's words could act like 'a psychic fist hitting the navel of insincerity'.

'My father was deeply intuitive and could make you feel you were talking rubbish just by looking at you,' says Adrian. 'It was very unnerving. He could pick up every nuance of your gestures and body language. When he was drunk he would rant and rave and it felt quite dangerous. He could be emotionally vicious. If he thought I was talking rubbish, his favorite expressions would be "psychotic" or "offensive", and I would say "Why don't you just say you disagree with me, Dad?" It was just so tiring. He was such a heavy drinker and I watched his second marriage disintegrate. Jutta would plead with him and say, "Where are you going to be in five years?”'

In 1987 Laing was forced to withdraw his name from the General Medical Council's medical register after a patient accused him of drunkenness and physical assault (the complaint was later withdrawn). He began to hold 'rebirthing' sessions and took spiritual pilgrimages to Sri Lanka and India. Much of his later work was erratic, crude in tone and increasingly discredited by mainstream psychiatry. 'The general view of Laing's theories within psychiatry is that they are the product of a wild, utopian, romantic imagination — or interesting as museum artifacts but of no contemporary relevance,' says Daniel Burston, author of The Wing of Madness: The Life and Work of RD Laing. 'The view outside psychiatry is more complex.’

Adrian says he has now made his peace with the infamous RD Laing, especially since becoming a parent himself (he has five children). In his biography of his father, Adrian drily notes that his relationship with him 'has improved greatly since his death'. 'I'm very relaxed about him now,' he says. 'I had enough occasions before he died to let him have it. We were friends.’

For all his inconsistencies, there is little doubt that Laing loved his children, in spite of the flawed manner in which he expressed it. In one of his later works, The Facts of Life, Laing wrote: 'Whether life is worth living depends for me on whether there is love in life.’ 



Another example of how having a horrible childhood can cause lasting damage. To Laing’s credit, though, he “mellowed” and was a better father to his younger children. Still, what a story: arguably the most famous psychiatrist in the world, a counter-culture era celebrity, turns out to be  an alcoholic and an abusive father toward the children of his first marriage.

Jung and Freud were no saints, but this is far beyond that, and I mean far beyond.

So, here we have the a kind of unpleasant paradox of a man who could overflow with empathy toward patients — the patients whom the authoritarian medical staff treated as subhuman — but who couldn’t deal with his demons and unloaded his huge displaced anger on his first family. Loving toward the patients, abusive toward his children. True, he had a cruel, disciplinarian mother, but you’d expect him (of all people) to understand the damage and seek to heal it and counteract it.

I loved another example of his manner with patients, quoted in another source. He was visiting an American psychiatric hospital and interacted with a woman patient who’d been mute for a long time. Laing offered to buy her pizza, and asked what kind of topping she wanted. Ending her mutism, she answered “Pepperoni.”

So, no matter what his flaws as both a father and a theoretician, one has to grant Laing one wonderful thing: he knew the revolutionary power of treating a mental patient as a person.

The idea that schizophrenia is caused by bad parenting has been discredited — though it may be a contributing factor in susceptible individuals. The current theorizing leans toward an interaction between a set of genes and high stress levels and early traumatic events. One gene in particular has been singled out by research — it may cause inappropriate synaptic pruning during adolescence (the brains of schizophrenics show less gray matter, a similarity shared with the brain of Alzheimer’s patients). But the immune system also seems to be involved, and the microbiome (the gut bacteria), and possible pathogens . . .  Just the biological part of it is quite complex, before we even consider the interaction with emotional and social factors.

It’s interesting to note that some people assume the theory of bad parenting causing schizophrenia started with Freud. However, Freud believed that schizophrenia probably had a biological origin and refused to analyze schizophrenics. Some of his followers, however, developed “psychoanalytic” theories of schizophrenia.

Still, when we read the biographies of high achievers in any fields, we are struck by the frequency of unhappy childhood and some degree of psychopathology (but also by phenomena such as at least one relative or teacher loving mentoring the child). Various forms of mental illness seem to be more common in the families of highly creative individuals. We are just barely beginning to perceive the broader pictures.

Brilliant work, a monster at home — this reminds me of the not-so-rare phenomenon in the arts: we love the work but detest the artist. Genius and dedication to creative work don’t automatically lead to this split: Dostoyevski was a devoted husband and father in his second marriage (his first one was remarkably incompatible), and would stay up nights with sick children. Dickens wasn’t a good husband (to put it mildly), but he adored playing with his children.

So Laing was paradoxically able to make a brilliant use of the lack of family love he experienced as a child by showing high empathy for the patients and (I am tempted to say) being the kind of loving parent to them that they perhaps never had. At home, at least until he “mellowed” in his later years, things were very different.

Studies found in for recovery from grief (e.g. after 9-11), dogs outperformed human “grief counselors.” There is no mystery here: dogs have empathy and give unconditional affection. 



I remember Laing in the heyday of his radical fame, and he did force that one basic and essential principle into the arena: the mentally ill are persons, deserving of respect, not subhumans to be warehoused and forgotten. He also took things farther: he romanticized “madness” — valuing it in the way it might be seen in more primitive societies, where the "mad" could be seen as “holy” and in some way connected with a deeper, more authentic reality than that prosaic world of the “sane.”

That leaves out all the suffering. And it doesn't help much with solving the basic problems of day to day living for any of us, mad or sane. Things like cognitive therapy are basically so much more useful. Practical, pragmatic tools for solving problems of thought (like excessive worry or overthinking or self blame) and behavior — giving real room for choice and change.

The whole business of the growth of recognized psychiatric disorders is I think at least partly due to the capitalist mentality of continual growth. More and more diagnoses means more and more patients, more and more customers. In our society everything becomes a growth industry. Physical medical diagnoses are growing as well. Now skimpy eyelashes are a “condition” one “suffers” that can be “relieved” by a prescription medication. In pharmaceuticals as well as in all other products, the drive is proliferation — more and more products, more and more choices — even if they become increasingly ridiculous, interchangeable, only nominally “new and different.” All very exhausting, an endless cascade of meaningless choices.


Yes. Laing had both a great good effect — treating mental patients with dignity — and a terribly bad effect, being one of the founders of the “anti-psychiatry movement.” The mentally ill, even those badly in need of treatment, were suddenly perceived as having something like a shamanic experience that was going to enlighten them. It was society that was insane — the schizophrenics or bipolar people in the depths of either depression or mania were holy sages working their way toward true sanity.

I think Laing was strongly influenced by the drug culture of his era. He took drugs himself, and allegedly had some patients take LSD.

I have known four mentally ill persons sufficiently “up close” to know there is nothing romantic about mental illness — and there is indeed a lot of suffering, both for the patients and the people close to them — parents, spouses, close friends. It’s very draining to deal with someone even partly out of touch with reality. Likewise with the elderly who suffer from dementia — and yes, sure enough, I did come across an article admiring the childlike innocence of Alzheimer’s! Those people are so “in the moment”! Fortunately that’s an exception.

On the other hand, I heard from a friend about a demented patient who managed to convince a visitor that he was illegally incarcerated in a care facility — the visitor got him a lawyer, who got the man out of the place, with resulting chaos, endangerment, much expense, and more suffering of the family.

That’s an instance of the unfortunate legacy of those like Laing who started the anti-psychiatry movement: some patients get released who should be receiving further treatment. 


~ “Are you weary of "new year, new you" positive thinking exercises? Tired of trying to feel Tiggerish in the cold, dark, midwinter mornings? Why not try this quick experiment to redress the balance. All you have to do is imagine that something great has happened in your life: maybe you've run into an old friend; perhaps you've been promoted at work; or you're about to head off on holiday. Now ask yourself what could go wrong. In what awful ways could it all fall apart? What disastrous chain of events might unfold? Don't think solutions, think problems. Open the worry floodgates and allow yourself to be swept away.
When we worry, we become preoccupied with an aspect of our lives, desperately trying to anticipate what might go wrong and what might happen if it does. Although we might believe worry is constructive, actually all it usually does is lower our mood. And when we start worrying it can be difficult to stop.

The number of officially recognized psychiatric disorders has mushroomed in recent years, and now stands at around three hundred. That giant total has attracted a lot of criticism – and with some justification – but in fact many of these conditions are pretty similar. It is better to think instead of three main groupings of disorders: internalizing (most commonly, depression and anxiety); externalizing (addiction, for instance, or anti-social behavior problems); and psychosis (with its characteristic symptoms often bracketed under the label of schizophrenia). However, even these three broad groupings share many of their causes, which has led some researchers to speculate that underlying and unifying all mental illness may be a single cause: the so-called "p factor of psychopathology”.

At the social level, we know that poverty, isolation, and negative life events all elevate the risk of mental health problems. But when it comes to the psychological p factor, there is increasing evidence that it may be excessive worry. When worry gets out of hand, it now appears, a very wide range of mental health problems can follow in its wake.

This kind of “trans-diagnostic" approach represents a major shift in the way we think about worry. Traditionally, problematic worrying has been demarcated as a specific condition: generalized anxiety disorder. And in that box it has remained. (The exception to this rule is depression, for which persistent worry about the past is a recognized symptom. But it's not called worry: it's called "rumination". "Worry" is defined as anxious thinking about the future.)

Yet real life seems to show a lamentable lack of respect for systems of psychiatric classification. Rather than being a separate disorder, excessive worry has been shown to play a significant role in the development and persistence of paranoid thinking, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and drug dependence and insomnia. It has also been linked to the incidence of eating disorders.

If persistent worry is potentially so damaging to our mental health, what can be done to combat it? Interestingly, we tend to worry less as we grow older. People aged 65-85, for example, report fewer worries than those aged 16-29. But besides simply waiting for the years to pass, the evidence is strongest for an adapted form of cognitive behavioral therapy. This relatively brief, one-to-one treatment is based on a detailed model showing how problematic worry is caused, maintained and overcome. Patients are helped to notice when they're worrying, to interrupt this habitual thinking style, and then try alternative ways of reacting to life's problems.

CBT also teaches us to confine our worrying to a regular set period of 15 minutes or so each day. When worrying thoughts arise at other times, the trick is to save them for later and let them go. "Expressive writing" can be effective too: you describe your worries in as much detail as you can, focusing on what it feels like, and resisting the temptation to analyze what's causing your thoughts. And don't underestimate the power of distraction: work out when you're most likely to worry and plan a pleasurable, absorbing activity you can do instead.


I see “positive thinking” as developing an expectation, often entirely unrealistic — e.g. “A lot of people will come to my poetry reading.” But positive fantasies that are enjoyed strictly as fantasies, without the New Age idea that your thoughts cause events, can be a source of pleasure.

If it were enough to think “I am rich” to become rich, wouldn’t most people catch on and become  millionaires? But I guess the worst of this trend is already over. Interestingly, the ineffectiveness of prayer has not had much effect on those who pray. As for the large study that showed those cardiac patients who were prayed for and knew it actually had worse (though not dramatically worse) outcomes than those who weren’t prayed for, true believers will always find some way to discredit such findings.

I had a friend who had never experienced a lasting love relationship and once expressed some sadness over it. Then almost instantly she added, with triumph: “But my love fantasies have always been positive” — and she smiled in that special way she had, in spite of her numerous problems — the happiest, most radiant smile you can imagine. 

What I like best about this brief article is the opening experiment: "imagine something great has happened in your life." Somewhat to my surprise, I can think of numerous options! And talk about an instant happy mood! 
Indulging in happy fantasies qua fantasies (I emphasize that this has nothing to do with cultivating expectations) can easily be dismissed as escapism. I'm not suggesting that happy fantasies should take the place of productive activities. But they are a quick way to lift one’s mood. A happy brain is a heathy brain, and a healthy brain has implication for overall health.

You can learn how to induce a feeling of bliss — and why not?

But I am more interested in the therapeutic use of external focus. If you concentrate on yourself (we are not talking in terms of deliberately having a happy fantasy), you are likely to start worrying — or you may remember something unpleasant that happened in the past. While it would be unrealistic to strive for a total absence of introspection, there is something to be said for keeping an external focus — on work, on learning a new skill (learning to play a musical instrument is said to be the most effective), on satisfying activities such as gardening or cooking or tending to a pet (depending on the individual).

Socializing has been found to have a lot of health benefits, including a lower risk of dementia. It doesn’t mean you have to join a church or some special club like the Lions. Walking a dog has been shown to result in multiple positive social interactions. But even the much-maligned social media can create a form of socializing that is definitely better than nothing, especially for those who are housebound or live in isolated places.

Now, I don’t know if I would define worry as THE underlying factor in all mental disorders. For myself, I find it more productive to think in terms of internal versus external focus. Intense external focus has been my own miracle. And it doesn’t even have to be work. Recently I happened to make the happy discovery that simply reading my old poems, without any attempt to  revise them, is enough to shift my focus. True, just reading print typically has a calming effect on the brain, but reading my own poems from long ago has a greater intensity, which leads to more pleasure. Pleasure therapy! If I were to become a therapist, I’d be a “pleasure therapist” — ah, another fantasy I can indulge in now and then.

Tasmania: Three Capes National Park


~ “There was a real sense of prophetic mission among a lot of people who answered this call for Crusade. You can’t have a normal war for Jerusalem. That seems to me as true today as it would have been in the 11th century. Jerusalem, from the medieval Christian perspective, was both a city on earth and a city of heaven, and these two places were linked. The idea that the Jerusalem on earth was being dominated by an unbelieving, infidel — in their terminology “pagan” — group was unacceptable.

The rhetoric that was associated with the people holding Jerusalem is pretty shocking: Christian men are being circumcised in baptismal fonts, and the blood is being collected! They’re yanking people’s innards out by their belly buttons! This is not normal talk. Hatreds and passions were stirred up. The heart of it, and why it was so successful, was that the call to Jerusalem was felt so strongly.

On why the slaughter stood out, even for medieval times:

Warfare on this scale, with this level of brutality, with the end of cleansing the streets of Jerusalem with the bodies of the people you have killed — that’s not typical of the medieval experience. What I’ve tried to bring to the table is the apocalyptic element of thought: the idea that we are entering into the battle of the Last Days here, we’re moving in prophetic times. …

[F]rom the perspective not just of medieval Christians but even of a lot of the modern evangelical Christians I grew up around, the end of the world is something you look to with hope and excitement — maybe even more so in the Middle Ages, because the end of the world was going to be a military event, and soldiers were going to be involved in it. You’re recruiting people to fight in the grandest epic of all time. That sort of sense of apocalyptic, history-making, epoch-ending excitement is what’s missing from the other [academic] explanations [of the crusades].

What the Crusade introduced into medieval thought was the notion that war was not just a necessary evil, it was a positive good. Not only did it not count against you, it was actually a moral good to massacre the enemy.

And finally, on what the Crusades helped unleash:

[On] the Islamic side, the notion of jihad was dying out [before the Crusade]. Holy war was something that had happened in the past, and there had been this steady state reached in the Middle East. I’m not sure that the Turks saw what they were doing when they were engaging the Byzantines as engaging in jihad. After the First Crusade, within 10 years of it, you get Islamic voices like Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami … saying we need to revive jihad. He says: The Franks [a catch-all name for the Crusading forces] have been waging jihad against us; now we have to get the jihad going back up again.

It also seems to me that the new model of jihad borrowed from what the Crusaders brought. You get the idea of martyrdom — the idea that if you died you would go straight to heaven. You get mythical holy figures appearing in battles that Muslims were fighting against Christians. You get a more poisonous relationship between religion and warfare than existed before.

Mind-boggling: Almost a millennium later, we’re still dealing with the fallout.” ~

from The Crusader Bible at the Morgan Library


The first crusade also included a preview of the Holocaust: the first massacres of the Jews who lived along the Rhine.


The discussion of the Crusades reminds me again that we tend to think in terms of relatively recent times, and ignore the events of deep time — sort of a "oh that's all ancient history" attitude, that leads us to ignore the heritage of that ancient history still very active and powerful today. Oh those backward radical Islamists, still stuck on ancient history, going on about crusaders and medieval wars!!! They should be over it! It's the twenty-first century!! That perspective will never allow us to understand the dynamic operating today, what powers the forces of ISIS, of terrorists and jihadists. In that world the crusades are not over — they are as alive and relevant as yesterday's headlines.

As pointed out, the crusades were seen as an apocalyptic struggle, a religious struggle, a war against the forces of evil, and brutal slaughter, genocide itself, ruthless massacres, were seen by the crusaders as morally imperative, holy acts. Remembering that, it is easier to see these same ideas alive and well and fueling the continuing conflict as it occurs today. Long memories may prolong conflict and destruction through centuries, but short memories give no sense of origin or endings, and leave us baffled, with inadequate and ineffective strategies.


So true. For the Jihadists, the medieval Crusades were only yesterday. Even worse, they see the West as continuing to wage a crusade against them (W. Bush even used the term “crusade” in a very unfortunate way). As long as terrorism and all kinds of atrocities are seen as piety and a ticket to paradise, what are the chances of ending the conflict? Those who seem to know best have pointed out that the military solution is not enough — you have to grapple with the apocalyptic ideology and keep presenting the information that counters the recruiting propaganda. 



~ “Cucumber helps regulate blood pressure and plays a role in the structure of connective tissue within the body, including the muscles.

Seeded Watermelon, excellent because of its high water content.

Avocados are high in potassium and healthy fat. This creamy fruit contains antioxidants that will do wonders for your skin. Essential antioxidants make avocados a powerful, nutrient-dense food.

Spinach is not only easy to buy and use, but it is also delicious. This incredibly alkaline leafy green is high in vitamins K, A, C, as well as iron, potassium, and magnesium. Spinach is also rich in chlorophyll, a natural blood builder.

Kale is rich in antioxidants and helps the digestive system.

Bananas act as a natural antacid. They also produce mucus, which coats the lining of the stomach. This versatile fruit is rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

Broccoli helps inhibit the growth of cancerous cells, supports the digestive system, and improves detoxification processes in the body.

Celery has extremely high water content and lots of vitamin C, which helps support the immune system, inflammation, and cardiovascular health.

~ adapted from


One surprising “natural antacid” is standing rather than sitting or lying down. Standing puts less pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter.

ending on beauty:

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

~ Elizabeth Bishop, last stanza of “Filling Station”

Edward Hopper: Gas Station, 1940

Saturday, March 23, 2019


Rembrandt: The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1669


In Saint Petersburg, on an autumn morning,
having been allowed an early entry
to the Hermitage, my family and I wandered
the empty hallways and corridors, virtually every space

adorned with famous paintings and artwork.
There must be a term for overloading on art.
One of Caravaggio’s boys smirked at us,
his lips a red that betrayed a sloppy kiss

recently delivered, while across the room
the Virgin looked on with nothing but sorrow.
Even in museums, the drama is staged.
Bored, I left my family and, steered myself,

foolish moth, toward the light coming
from a rotunda. Before me, the empty stairs.
Ready to descend, ready to step outside
into the damp and chilly air, I felt

the centuries-old reflex kick in, that sense
of being watched. When I turned, I found
no one; instead, I was staring at The Return
of the Prodigal Son. I had studied it, written about it

as a student. But no amount of study could have
prepared me for the size of it, the darkness of it.
There, the son knelt before his father, his dirty foot
left for inspection. Something broke. As clichéd

as it sounds, something inside me broke, and
as if captured on film, I found myself slowly sinking
to my knees. The tears began without warning until soon
I was sobbing. What reflex betrays one like this?

What nerve agent did Rembrandt hide
within the dark shades of paint that he used?
What inside me had malfunctioned, had left me
kneeling and sobbing in a museum?

Prosto plakat. Prosto plakat. Osvobodi sebya
said the guard as his hands steadied my shoulders.
He stood there repeating the phrase until
I stopped crying, until I was able to rise.

I’m not crazy, nor am I a very emotional man.
For most of my life, I have been called, correctly, cold.
As a student, I catalogued the techniques, carefully
analyzed this painting for a class on the “Dutch Masters.”

Years later, having mustered the courage to tell
this ridiculous story, a friend who spoke Russian
translated the guard’s words for me: “Just cry. Just cry.
Free yourself.” But free myself from what, exactly?

You see, I want this whole thing to be something
meaningful, my falling to my knees in front of a painting
by Rembrandt, a painting inspired by a parable
of forgiveness offered by a father to his lost son.

But nothing meaningful has presented itself. Even now,
after so much time has passed, I have no clue
what any of this means. I still haven’t figured out
whether or not I am the lost son or the found.

~ C. Dale Young


It's a remarkably honest poem. Rather than try to force some kind of easy-to-understand meaning, the speaker admits to being at a loss to explain why he was so emotionally overwhelmed by the painting. The guard's reaction (the guard may be assuming that the weeping viewer has a father-son problem or maybe it's just a lot of stress, and the painting's strong emotional content simply released the urge to cry) shows great compassion and a cultural permission in the culture to touch a stranger and try to console him. The guard is saying that it's OK to cry.

Note that the painting presents also the resentful “good son” who apparently never received such affection. The resentful son has a point
his goodness has been taken for granted and never celebrated. People want to feel appreciated, and should be. The situation can easily make us think, "Well, the younger kid had lots of fun spending all this money, and then he just returns and gets all this love from his father, and a party thrown in his honor!” Oh sure, the prodigal son got to suffer too before daring to approach his father, but it seems like he got to live it up and had interesting experiences. The stay-at-home son got no fun and no appreciation.

The bible is full of examples of favoritism and the damage it causes but the damage is not acknowledged, and the favored son gets all the prizes after all. And I suspect that in this situation, even though the prodigal already spent his portion of the inheritance, he will get inheritance later after all — some will be taken away from the older son so the younger doesn't miss out on anything.

I'm not saying that the father should not forgive the prodigal son. But to completely disregard the other son, to have no empathy for him in this situation, is wrong also.

Though the speaker doesn't understand the guard's words, the body language of consolation is obvious. Note that the guard patiently stays with the visitor until the weeping stops. For me the “hero” of this poem is the guard.


Yes. I would like to meet that compassionate guard.

And somehow I feel so moved. I understand the speaker and his overwhelming emotion . . . not understand what it means, not understand how this can happen, out of nowhere, unexpected, overwhelming, triggered by some powerful stimulus that speaks to us so directly we cannot say why or how . . . many things can do this, art, music, nature . . . and I love how he ends it — not knowing if he's lost or found.


And because it’s Russia, a warm Slavic culture, we aren’t surprised. It seems perfectly natural — just as in Anglo culture, it would be natural for the guard to turn away. A public display of grief — of powerful emotions in general — is not well tolerated. A man bursting into tears in a museum — no. Pretend you never saw it.


There is a term for what is described in this poem: the Stendhal Syndrome. It’s a strong psychosomatic reaction in response to an experience of great personal significance, especially while viewing art.

Wiki: ~ “When Stendhal visited the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Niccolò Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Galileo Galilei are buried, he was overcome with emotion. He wrote:

    I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty ... I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations ... Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call 'nerves'. Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.” ~

I have certainly teared up many times when watching beautiful ice-skating, for instance, or listening to certain kinds of music. Operas are notorious tear-jerkers, and though you may try to steel yourself and not cry while Mimi is dying, suddenly you lose that self-control and start sobbing. The conditions have to be right. There is a certain poem that I’ve read a few times, filled with admiration but perfectly dry-eyed — and then one time I must have been especially receptive, and started vehemently sobbing.

Yes, art can overwhelm us. Beauty can do it; a compelling presentation of an emotional experience can do it.


“What cannot be said will be wept.” ~ Sappho

Of course art can give a lot of pleasure without bringing us to tears, as in these examples of Japanese and Impressionist art.


“Perhaps love could never be captured in a definition; it could only ever be captured in a story.” ~ Julian Barnes, The Only Story



~ “I blame my first marriage on Jane Austen. Elizabeth Bennet married for gratitude and esteem, and these were exactly the feelings I had for my first husband. If they were good enough for Elizabeth, why wouldn’t they be good enough for me? But I wasn’t Elizabeth; I was much more like Emma, a far more flawed heroine. The romantic Emma would never have been satisfied with gratitude and esteem, and neither was I. To be fair, I know my husband felt the same way, although I don’t think he blamed Austen for his mistake.

. . . Indeed, readers tend to think of characters as real people when they read, especially when they read novels. One reason we read for the plot is that we want to find out what happens to people we’ve come to know and care about.

At the elite institution I attended, thinking about characters as real people was strictly taboo, the sign of naïveté and ignorance. Doctoral candidates were expected to be professional readers who realized that every “text” (we didn’t call them books or novels) consisted of words on a page and nothing more. We were being trained to decode, not to read. Many of us still harbored a “naïve” love of literature and authors, but this was our shameful secret, the madwoman who lived in hidden rooms in the attic.

Thinking about Austen in the context of the mind and the brain, I was now able to find an answer to my question: So many of us love and trust Austen because she possessed extraordinary powers of empathy.

Empathy means seeing the world from a different perspective, walking a mile, or even a moment, in someone else’s shoes. It means actually experiencing, although in a weaker form, another person’s state of mind, while also maintaining your own perspective. So if a friend is panicking, becoming anxious yourself wouldn’t be true empathy but rather emotional contagion. Empathy means understanding your friend’s panic while at the same time realizing that the anxiety of the moment is hers, not yours.

For Austen to have created such a variety of convincing imaginary people, she must have been a profoundly astute mindreader of real people. And no one familiar with her work can doubt her compassion for the unfortunate, or her glad participation in the happiness of others. She knew loss and thwarted love in her own life, which enabled her to portray the sufferings of disappointed love. But she could also show the joy of love’s fulfillment. I can think of no other novel in which the happy ending is rendered so poignantly meaningful as it is in Persuasion. Yes, Austen must have possessed a high degree of empathy.

The second experience of empathy is even more crucial: Because Austen understands human nature so thoroughly, we have the sense that she empathizes with us, her readers. To put this in the apt phrase of psychiatrist Daniel Siegel, when we read Austen, we have the feeling of “feeling felt,” of having our innermost feelings understood and resonated with. This is inherently gratifying because as a species, humans crave such understanding. We have a profound need for empathy, to know that we’re not alone with our joys and sorrows.

These two kinds of empathy, of recognizing and feeling recognized, are two sides of the same coin. Austen conveys her understanding of us, her readers, precisely by creating characters that we identify with. And we’re able to identify with Austen’s characters because they mirror our ways of thinking and feeling.

The literary scholar Patrick Hogan has found that love stories are told in cultures throughout the world, and that the same situations and emotions tend to appear within those stories no matter where or when they were written. We might find much about the Latin classic The Aeneid alien and even alienating, but we can still identify with Dido’s heartbreak when her lover, Aeneas, abandons her. Austen concentrates on this world of ubiquitous feelings and perceptions.

Austen’s style remains as accessible as her stories. She writes in pithy, crystal-clear sentences, creating novels that are paced quickly enough even for our impatient 21st-century sensibilities. In Austen, the heart of the matter, which is indeed the matter of the heart, is right there; we don’t have to penetrate layers of cultural and stylistic difference to get at it. Because Austen creates a world that has much common ground with our own, there’s a strong foundation for empathy.

Perhaps it seems strange to characterize Austen’s novels as being about empathy. After all, Austen’s great subject is love: its different varieties, its frustrations, its nuances, and, above all, its satisfactions. And not just love between couples, but also between friends, parents and children, siblings. Austen certainly understood this most precious of human emotional resources.

But there’s no contradiction here. Austen’s novels show again and again that the most complete and satisfying relationships rely on perspective taking, understanding, and emotional resonance. Whatever its other features—gratitude, esteem, passion, nurturing—at its core, true love is empathy. Think about all of Austen’s happy couples and you’ll see that this is the case. Anne of Persuasion might be more intuitive and passionate than Elizabeth of Pride and Prejudice, but sensitivity and understanding lead to happy endings for both of them.

Above and beyond the kindness and understanding that empathy creates, it’s valuable because it unlocks the prison house of cosmic loneliness that threatens each of us with a life sentence of solitary confinement. Anglo-European politics, philosophy, and psychology have emphasized our separateness, condemned us without a trial, insisting that we’re stuck in a container, the body, looking out through windows, the eyes. We’re born alone and we die alone, even if other people are near us for these two defining events in the life cycle of every human.

But the latest work in social intelligence tells us that we’re profoundly interconnected in terms of brain, body, and mind. This has been a key insight of the literary imagination all along, that fund of wisdom and observation found in literature.” ~


I took me a while to warm up to Austen. At first I found her style too plain, completely unlyrical. What, no descriptions of nature? Nothing poetic whatsoever? Just straight plot and dialogue?

But fast-paced plot certainly draws and keeps a reader’s interest — and Austen also had quite a bit of wit. Some of her characters are satirical portraits that Dickens might envy — though she rarely goes for pure caricature. She’s basically a realist, and her satire emerges organically from accurate portrayal.




“My culture comes from everywhere. I'm sick of this notion of nationality, that if you're brought up in the same city or same country you're the same. Even three kids brought up in the same family with the same genes, they are not the same. Just consider a human a human.” ~Marjane Satrapi


It reminds me of my constant battle not to be introduced as a Polish poet. It’s both inaccurate and limiting. Imagine Einstein being introduced as a Swiss Jew — that would be ridiculous.

A person is so much more than their nationality — especially someone educated and accomplished. We can take it for granted that many cultures went into the making of that person’s unique mental make-up. 

I am not against cultivating regional cultures, but without asserting their superiority. My nationality is the best because it is MINE! My religion is the only true religion because it is MINE! A more idiotic logic can hardly be construed, but there it is . . .

I think something revolutionary happened when the knowledge of Buddhism and Taoism became widespread in the West. As philosophies as least — practice is always "impure" — they were arguably superior. No one died on the cross for anyone else's sins — how repugnant. Nature was revered (especially in Taoism). The Flower Sermon was amazing, and certainly on a different plane than debating whether Jesus died only for the Elect. So at least the educated were forced to see that other cultures had something valuable to offer, and the idea of Christian supremacy began to crack.

I am not advocating that anyone accept any philosophy or idea in its entirety. We need to be selective. Cherry picking, yes, by all means! Let's sift “wisdom literature” for the best it has to offer. Also, in retrospect, the way the educated preserved classical mythology, philosophy (especially Stoicism, which, like Buddhism, cannot be dismissed as inferior), and literature was amazing, and perhaps actually the first crack in Christian supremacy — this reverence for ancient, non-Christian cultures with their cultural treasures.

I'm also reminded of Vonnegut's idea of a granfalloon -- a false grouping, basing your identity on having been born in a particular state, for instance — thus, those born in Indiana are “Hoosiers.”

True, people frequently ask me, “Where are you from?” I was going to say “always,” but I’ve noticed that this has ceased to be 100% “always.” Some people have the tact not to ask that question, knowing that I’ll reveal my national origin if it becomes relevant in any way, at my own choosing. I remember a beautiful moment when I did reveal it, and a Japanese man bowed and said only one word: “Chopin.” And we were instantly in a much wider realm. Love of music made us part of what Vonnegut called a “karass” — a more authentic grouping based on something of universal value.

Magda Abakanowicz: Crowd

Abakanowicz (1930-2017) was an internationally famous fiber artist. She happened to have Tatar ancestry (Abba Khan + “owicz,” one of the typical ending of Polish family names, an example of how names became polonized) — but is that in any way essential? It’s interesting, but no doubt her knowledge of modern art and her art education and her peers were ultimately more influential.


A sign of progress: it seems the Catholic church no longer preaches (or doesn’t preach it as openly and emphatically as in the past) that Catholicism is the only true religion. I was taught that all Protestants, Jews, Muslim, Buddhists, Hindus, and on and on (we hardly need to mention atheists), went to hell to burn there for eternity — not because they were evil but because they weren’t Catholic. All those not baptized as Catholics — and all baptized Catholics who became “lapsed” (these days that’s apparently over 80% of those who start as Catholics leave the church — either for other denominations [Episcopalians and Unitarians are popular alternatives], or because they decide all religions are man-made archaic nonsense.)

Nevertheless, let’s bear in mind that not speaking of eternal damnation for all non-Catholics is a huge step toward greater tolerance. And now there is even the revolutionary talk that not just Protestants, but virtuous Jews and Buddhists maybe go to heaven too! That perhaps Jonas Salk, who gave the world the polio vaccine as a gift, without taking out a patent on it, is not after all being boiled in a cauldron of tar, right along with Hitler!

I suspect that some of the ideas that were forced on me in childhood are now viewed by more and more people as morally obscene.


“Stupidity isn't embracing bad ideas. It's failing to replace them when better ideas come along.” ~ Jeremy Sherman


Some stupid (or at least outdated) ideas are imparted to us in childhood. We shouldn’t blame ourselves for having accepted them — a child’s brain can do only so much critical thinking (yet note how many questions children tend to ask). But as we get older, it’s time to examine the validity of what we were taught, and to explore alternatives. Perhaps Buddhism and/or Taoism have something to offer? Or the great Russian writers? Or a maverick psychologist like BF Skinner, who dared suggest that rewards are more effective than punishment?


~ “We draw on evidence from paleoanthropology, speech biomechanics, ethnography and historical linguistics to suggest that new speech sounds emerged in our ancient ancestors as their jaws and teeth evolved to deal with new kinds of diets.

Like the communication systems of other animals, language is simply part of our nature. We process it with the neural wiring in our brains, and we produce it with our bodies: mostly with our mouths, but in the case of sign languages, also with our hands and other gestures.

Language is also often seen as a fixed skill – it arose with the emergence of our species and has been stable in its basic design since its origin.

This traditional view is part of what researchers call the uniformitarian assumption in linguistics and anthropology. The assumption is that languages today are the same — in terms of their types and distributions of linguistic structures — as they were in the past.

Food and language

Our research group’s work directly challenges this uniformitarian assumption. We believe the range of available speech sounds used in human language has not remained stable since its origin. Our research shows that labiodental sounds – such as “f” and “v,” which are made by raising the bottom lip to the upper teeth – began to arise only after the transition to agriculture, between 10,000 and 4,000 years ago (depending on the world region).

While labiodentals are rather common today and appear in roughly half of the world’s languages, we show that in the case of Indo-European languages, they’ve been innovated mainly since the Bronze Age.

Why? What caused this sudden emergence of a new class of speech sounds?

To understand the relevant processes, we need to quickly dive into some biological anthropology. All primates start with an overbite and overjet bite configuration – colloquially a scissors bite – both with their baby teeth and their permanent teeth. Then a traditional diet of tough foods naturally develops the scissors bite of a young individual into an edge-to-edge bite by adulthood.

The invention of food processing technologies – like milling and fermentation – that gained steam with the development of agriculture allowed people to move toward a softer diet. And those softer foods meant people retained the scissors bite well into adulthood. For example, the archaeological evidence shows adult skulls with the scissors bite as early as 4,300 years ago in what is today Pakistan.

This rather recent change in the human bite paved the way for labiodentals to be incorporated into spoken languages. This process gradually began to appear in geographic areas including Europe and South Asia where there was increased access to softer foods through food processing technologies.

But these new sounds didn’t emerge everywhere: Retention of the overbite and overjet only facilitates the ease of producing labiodentals and increases the probability for producing them accidentally – it does not mandate it. So across diverse regions, societies and cultures, many groups slowly developed a new class of speech sounds, but others did not.

A biological perspective on language evolution allows us to ask exciting new research questions, like how did the current diversity of speech sounds develop over evolutionary time?

At present, there are over 2,000 different speech sounds that play a role in the world’s roughly 7,000 or so spoken languages. These speech sounds range from the omnipresent cardinal vowels (i, a and u) found in most languages to the rare click consonants found in a handful of languages spoken in southern Africa. Why is there such immense diversity in the sounds of the world’s languages?

Recent research suggests that the basic anatomical conditions for speech were in place long before the emergence of Homo sapiens. According to those results, it was chiefly a matter of neural development that allowed the sophisticated motor control that human beings now have over their speech organ. But our new findings now hint that researchers might have underestimated the importance of fine anatomical details: While the basics may have been set, some sounds may be older than others in the hominin and primate lineage, simply because of anatomical conditions and independent of motor control.

We believe that our discovery opens a new chapter in the quest for the origins of humanity’s most distinctive faculty, language, a quest that has been called the hardest problem in science.” ~

Overbite is shown on the right


In my experience and observation, we don’t become progressively spiritualized with age until we are
ripe for death. It’s fine to be “spiritual” when one is healthy and has plenty of energy for exploration and new beginnings: in late adolescence and one’s twenties and thirties, sex drive notwithstanding. That’s when the urge to explore monastic life is sometimes acted on. Then there is a somewhat chastened spiritual quest of healthy middle age — we see people leaving monasteries, un-cocooning themselves from the collective robes and striking out in a new direction — Thomas More leaving the Servites and becoming a Jungian is only one example. Merton was apparently about to leave his order too, but the stupid accident with the electric fan deprived us forever of knowing how that would go. Karen Armstrong left the convent to think and write according to her new insights. Even Martin Luther’s journey from priesthood to a break with the church and a happy marriage with Katherine von Bora, a former nun, echoes this pattern to some extent.

As for non-celebrities, I imagine this pattern repeated and repeated countless times.

But then as people grow older, the body becomes more and more INTRUSIVE. With its proverbial aches and pains fusing into chronic pain, and the various dysfunctions and diseases of old age, it keeps the mind prisoner by constantly calling attention to itself. It’s too strong a statement, I know, but I'm tempted to say it: we die slaves to the body.

This is not to deny the positive aspects of aging: the proverbial “mellowing,” a greater clarity about what really matters, taking delight in the small daily pleasures, increased empathy, gentleness, and affection toward others. This is not universal, and again is predicated on a brain function that, while diminished, is still sufficient, and health still not so poor that life becomes an ordeal.

PS. When I was growing up, the people I most often saw in church were elderly women. Since faith was a gift, I wondered why it was so disproportionately given to elderly women. Later I saw the sociological dimension — some of these women practically lived in church, spending most of the day in the pews.

But even here, again it seems that older and downright elderly women are the majority of various dwindling congregations and the most active members . . .  But after they are gone? 



~ “The study showed that there were two major migrations into India in the last 10,000 years.

The first one originated from the Zagros region in south-western Iran (which has the world's first evidence for goat domestication) and brought agriculturists, most likely herders, to India.

This would have been between 7,000 and 3,000BCE. These Zagrosian herders mixed with the earlier inhabitants of the subcontinent - the First Indians, descendants of the Out of Africa (OoA) migrants who had reached India around 65,000 years ago - and together, they went on to create the Harappan civilisation.

In the centuries after 2000 BCE came the second set of immigrants (the Aryans) from the Eurasian Steppe, probably from the region now known as Kazakhstan. They likely brought with them an early version of Sanskrit, mastery over horses and a range of new cultural practices such as sacrificial rituals, all of which formed the basis of early Hindu/Vedic culture. (A thousand years before, people from the Steppe had also moved into Europe, replacing and mixing with agriculturists there, spawning new cultures and spreading Indo-European languages).

Other genetic studies have brought to light more migrations into India, such as that of the speakers of Austro-Asiatic languages who came from south-eastern Asia.

The best way to understand the Indian population is to imagine it as a pizza, with the first Indians forming its base. Though the base of this rather irregular pizza is thin in some places and thick in others, it still serves as the support that the rest of the pizza is built upon because studies show that 50% to 65% of the genetic ancestry of Indians derives from the First Indians.

On top of the base comes the sauce that is spread over the pizza - the Harappans. And then come the toppings and the cheese - the Austro-Asiatic, Tibeto-Burman and Indo-European language speakers or Aryans, all of whom found their way into the subcontinent later.

To many in the Hindu right wing, these findings are unpalatable. They have been campaigning to change school curricula and remove any mention of Aryan immigration from textbooks [the right wing would like people to believe that the Aryans originated in India]. And on Twitter, several hugely popular right-wing "history" handles have long been attacking India's leading historians who have defended the theory of Aryan migrations and continue to do so.

For Hindu nationalists, there is a cost to admitting that the Aryans were not the first inhabitants of India and that the Harappan civilization existed long before their arrival. It would mean acknowledging that Aryans or their Vedic culture were not the singular fountainhead of Indian civilization and that its earliest sources lay elsewhere.

The idea of the mixing of different population groups is also unappealing to Hindu nationalists as they put a premium on racial purity. There is also the additional issue of the migration theory putting Aryans on the same footing as latter-day Muslim conquerors of India - such as the Mughals.

These are not just theoretical debates. The ruling BJP government in Haryana state, which neighbors the Indian capital Delhi, has demanded that the Harappan civilisation be renamed the Saraswati river civilization. Since the Saraswati is an important river that is mentioned in the earliest of the four Vedic texts, such a renaming would serve to emphasize the link between the civilization and the Aryans.

The new study puts an end to these debates and it has thus come as a shock to the Hindu right-wing. In a tweet attacking its co-author Prof Reich, ruling party MP and former Harvard University professor Subramanian Swamy said: "There are lies, damned lies and (Harvard's 'Third' Reich and Co's) statistics."

However, the real message that the new research carries is an exciting and hopeful one: that Indians have created a long-lasting civilization from a variety of heredities and histories.

The genius of the Indian civilization during its best periods has been inclusion, not exclusion. Unity in diversity is, indeed, the central theme of India's genetic make-up.

A descendant of the Aryan tribe. Somehow I don't think that Hitler would be happy with this image.


~ “In a new paper in the journal Science, a group of 111 population geneticists and archaeologists charted 8,000 years of genetics in the region. They paint a picture that shows plenty of genetic complexity, but that also hints at a single mysterious migration about 4,500 years ago that completely shook up ancient Iberians’ DNA.

The team searched DNA evidence for clues to how and when various populations became part of the Iberian Peninsula’s gene pool. They sequenced the genomes of 271 ancient Iberians, then combined that information with previously published data about 132 other ancient peninsula dwellers.

Beginning in the Bronze Age, the genetic makeup of the area changed dramatically. Starting in about 2,500 B.C., genes associated with people from the steppes near the Black and Caspian seas, in what is now Russia, can be detected in the Iberian gene pool. And from about 2,500 B.C. much of the population’s DNA was replaced with that of steppe people.

The “Steppe Hypothesis” holds that this group spread east into Asia and west into Europe at around the same time—and the current study shows that they made it to Iberia, too. Though 60 percent of the region’s total DNA remained the same, the Y chromosomes of the inhabitants were almost entirely replaced by 2,000 B.C. That suggests a massive influx of men from the steppes, since Y chromosomes are carried only by men.

“It looks like the influence was very male dominated,” says Miguel Vilar, a genetic anthropologist who serves as senior program officer for the National Geographic Society.

Who were these men—and did they come in peace? Vilar, who was not involved with the study, speculates that the steppe men may have come on horses bearing bronze weapons, hence ushering in the Bronze Age to the area. He compares the migration to the one the indigenous peoples of North and South America faced when the first Europeans landed in the 1490s.

“It shows that you could have a migration all the way across the whole continent (of Europe) and still have a heavy influence on this far extreme,” he says.

Although bronze came into use in Iberia around that time, no other distinct traces of steppe culture have yet been found. The study did show that people in present-day Basque, who speak Western Europe’s only non-Indo-European language, carry genetic markers closely related to those of the steppe people. And unlike modern Spaniards, modern-day Basques don’t show the same amount of genetic mixing that happened on the peninsula over the centuries.

The team also found a single individual with North African DNA from a site in the middle of Iberia. His bones date to about 2,500 B.C.

“At the beginning I thought it was a mistake,” says Iñigo Olalde, a population geneticist who led the study.

When he replicated his work, it checked out. The presence of that lone African suggests early, sporadic interchange between Iberia and North Africa, making sense of archaeological discoveries of African ivory at Copper-Age Iberian digs. But the team thinks that North African ancestry became widespread in Iberia only in about the last 2,000 years.

Ice Age diversity

The study forms a complex picture of the genetic history of Spain—one that’s reinforced in a companion piece published in the journal Current Biology. In that study, researchers from Spain and Germany found that hunter-gatherers and farmers living on the Iberian Peninsula also were more genetically diverse than previously thought. They found evidence that different hunter-gatherer cultures mixed on the warm Iberian Peninsula, which they used as an Ice Age refuge 19,000 years ago. Newer farmers to the area mixed with the hunter-gatherers later.

”The DNA was a surprise,” says doctoral student Vanessa Villalba-Mouco, an archaeogeneticist who led the research for the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany and the University of Zaragoza in Spain. “Clues about what happened in that moment help us understand the evolution of the next period. We need to sample more individuals to know their history in a more accurate way.”

Ancient DNA work “is helping us deconstruct the idea that that we have distinct geographic populations like Africans or Asians or Europeans,” says Vilar. “Not only are people living in areas like Iberia heterogeneous, but they were the product of different waves of migration themselves.”

Two skeletons of hunter-gatherers who also happened to be brothers


What we are finding with studies of DNA, both in ancient and modern populations, is that ideas of 'racial purity' and of race itself, have, as has long been asserted by science, no real basis. Our history as a species is being gradually uncovered by these studies, with DNA as a historical record. Part of the problem I think with proponents of race as a determining factor in the development of cultures and nations is that none of these ideas go deep enough into time. They put their ideas of origins in the framework of early agricultural societies, and of course much of our ideas of history come from those beginnings — agriculture, cities, states, writing. All those ways of being remembered.

But what we are finding is that our history goes back incredibly far, and that all that enormous expanse of time was filled with two important and astonishing things. First, there was more than one type of hominin, at least three we know of with tantalizing hints of more. And all these folks engaged in massive migrations, and when they met, they interbred. It looks like there was not one massive migration out of Africa, but two. And various populations rapidly, and very early on, surged across the continents, Europe, Asia, Indonesia Australia. Parts of the DNA of other hominin groups are embedded in the DNA of modern populations outside sub-Saharan Africa — so bits of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA persist in us.

The movements and migrations of these early peoples lasted for tens of thousands of years. They swept back and forth and across the same territories again and again, apparently mixing and mating when opportunity arose. Inevitable conclusion: everyone is the end result of uncounted repeated genetic exchanges between different groups, the only exception being isolated sub- Saharans whose ancestors did not leave Africa in any of the migratory waves.

And if the idea of separate and distinct “races" is no longer credible, how much more baseless the idea of “nationalism”? Simply think of all the national boundary shifts in Europe over the last 150 years. These boundaries describe political entities that aren't congruent with cultural or linguistic ones common to groups of the people living there. An imposed and artificial construct, the state, like the idea of race or racial purity, exists to serve it's own agenda.

At least, that's what I think. Look long and deep, and a lot of nonsense melts away like fog. The closer you look, the more you see connections, the less convincing divisions become.


I'm in no way against the cultivation of regional cultures — folk singing, cuisine, unique local varieties of cheese, whatever. This makes the world richer, more interesting through its diversity. The only problem is with the larger states that somehow develop the idea that they are exceptional and superior.

Now, this is by no means confined to giant countries like the US and Russia. Poland developed its own ridiculous nationalism based on all kinds of myths — in the 19th century, it was the idea that Poland was the “Messiah of nations.” It had to do with the supposedly Christ-like suffering of the Polish people during the time when Poland did not exist as an independent country. Please don’t ask about the logic — it’s ridiculous on the face of it.

Also, Poland used to be a multi-ethnic state, a fact that Polish nationalists hate, wanting an ethnic and religious “purity” — this after centuries of intermarriage with Germans, Russians, Lithuanians, Belorussians, and other groups. And of course it doesn’t even take marriage to produce ethnic mixing — not all official fathers were the biological fathers.

And a saying like “Scratch a Pole, find a Jew” doesn’t come out of nowhere either. The greatest of Polish Romantic poets, the official national bard, had a Jewish mother and married a Jewish woman in a temple. He increasingly insisted on identifying himself as Jewish — not something we were ever told in school. I learned it only in the US, after reading an eye-opening article by Milosz.

Of course it’s entirely OK to feel both Polish and Jewish, Polish and Ukrainian, and so forth. And it’s best, I think, not to give it any special importance. The important thing is to be a good human being, kind to all regardless of nationality. And it helps to remember that we are all “mixed” — both genetically and culturally.

An example of folk art from one region of central Poland.

“They used to say: 'When you are as ugly as that and when you have a voice like that, you do not sing.' But Piaf used to tell me: 'You will be the greatest.’" ~ Charles Aznavour

Aznavour statue in Gyumri, Armenia

~ “Standard civics-class accounts of the Electoral College rarely mention the real demon dooming direct national election in 1787 and 1803: slavery.

At the Philadelphia convention, the visionary Pennsylvanian James Wilson proposed direct national election of the president. But the savvy Virginian James Madison responded that such a system would prove unacceptable to the South: “The right of suffrage was much more diffusive [i.e., extensive] in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.” In other words, in a direct election system, the North would outnumber the South, whose many slaves (more than half a million in all) of course could not vote. But the Electoral College—a prototype of which Madison proposed in this same speech—instead let each southern state count its slaves, albeit with a two-fifths discount, in computing its share of the overall count.

Virginia emerged as the big winner—the California of the Founding era—with 12 out of a total of 91 electoral votes allocated by the Philadelphia Constitution, more than a quarter of the 46 needed to win an election in the first round. After the 1800 census, Wilson’s free state of Pennsylvania had 10% more free persons than Virginia, but got 20% fewer electoral votes. Perversely, the more slaves Virginia (or any other slave state) bought or bred, the more electoral votes it would receive. Were a slave state to free any blacks who then moved North, the state could actually lose electoral votes.

If the system’s pro-slavery tilt was not overwhelmingly obvious when the Constitution was ratified, it quickly became so. For 32 of the Constitution’s first 36 years, a white slaveholding Virginian occupied the presidency.

Southerner Thomas Jefferson, for example, won the election of 1800-01 against Northerner John Adams in a race where the slavery-skew of the electoral college was the decisive margin of victory: without the extra electoral college votes generated by slavery, the mostly southern states that supported Jefferson would not have sufficed to give him a majority. As pointed observers remarked at the time, Thomas Jefferson metaphorically rode into the executive mansion on the backs of slaves.

The 1796 contest between Adams and Jefferson had featured an even sharper division between northern states and southern states. Thus, at the time the Twelfth Amendment tinkered with the Electoral College system rather than tossing it, the system’s pro-slavery bias was hardly a secret. Indeed, in the floor debate over the amendment in late 1803, Massachusetts Congressman Samuel Thatcher complained that “The representation of slaves adds thirteen members to this House in the present Congress, and eighteen Electors of President and Vice President at the next election.” But Thatcher’s complaint went unredressed. Once again, the North caved to the South by refusing to insist on direct national election.

In light of this more complete (if less flattering) account of the electoral college in the late 18th and early 19th century, Americans should ask themselves whether we want to maintain this odd—dare I say peculiar?—institution in the 21st century.” ~

from another source:

~ “While there are many grievances about the Electoral College, one that’s rarely addressed is  that it was created to protect slavery, planting the roots of a system that’s still oppressive today.

“It’s embarrassing,” said Paul Finkelman, visiting law professor at University of Saskatchewan in Canada. “I think if most Americans knew what the origins of the Electoral College is, they would be disgusted.”

Madison, now known as the “Father of the Constitution,” was a slave-owner in Virginia, which at the time was the most populous of the 13 states if the count included slaves, who comprised about 40 percent of its population.

During that key speech at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Madison said that with a popular vote, the Southern states, “could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.”

Madison knew that the North would outnumber the South, despite there being more than half a million slaves in the South who were their economic vitality, but could not vote. His proposition for the Electoral College included the “three-fifths compromise,” where black people could be counted as three-fifths of a person, instead of a whole. This clause garnered the state 12 out of 91 electoral votes, more than a quarter of what a president needed to win.

“None of this is about slaves voting,” said Finkelman, who wrote a paper on the origins of the Electoral College for a symposium after Gore lost. “The debates are in part about political power and also the fundamental immorality of counting slaves for the purpose of giving political power to the master class.


~ “Myth #1: Electors filter the passions of the people

College students first learning about the Electoral College will often defend the system by citing its original purpose: to provide a check on the public in case they make a poor choice for president.

But electors no longer work as independent agents nor as agents of the state legislature. They’re chosen for their party loyalty by party conventions or party leaders.

Myth #2: Rural areas would get ignored

Since 2000, a popular argument for the electoral college made on conservative websites and talk radio is that without the Electoral College, candidates would spend all their time campaigning in big cities and would ignore low-population areas.

Other than this odd view of democracy, which advocates spending as much campaign time in areas where few people live as in areas where most Americans live, the argument is simply false. The Electoral College causes candidates to spend all their campaign time in cities in 10 or 12 states rather than in 30, 40 or 50 states.

Presidential candidates don’t campaign in rural areas no matter what system is used, simply because there are not a lot of votes to be gained in those areas.

Myth #3: It creates a mandate to lead

Some have advocated continuation of the Electoral College because its winner-take-all nature at the state level causes the media and the public to see many close elections as landslides, thereby giving a stronger mandate to govern for the winning candidate.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan won 51 percent of the national popular vote but 91 percent of the electoral vote, giving the impression of a landslide victory and allowing him to convince Congress to approve parts of his agenda.

Perhaps for incoming presidents, this artificial perception of landslide support is a good thing. It helps them enact their agenda.

But it can also lead to backlash and resentment in the majority or near-majority of the population whose expressed preferences get ignored. Look no farther than the anti-Trump protests that have erupted across the country since Nov. 8.

Rural states do get a slight boost from the two electoral votes awarded to states due to their two Senate seats. But as stated earlier, the Electoral College does not lead to rural areas getting more attention.

And there is no legitimate reason why a rural vote should count more than an urban vote in a 21st-century national election.



Don't you know there ain't no devil.
It's just God when he's drunk.

~ Tom Waits 

Oriana: I suspect that Jung would agree, in a way: he wanted us to acknowledge god’s dark side, especially in Answer to Job: “Jung saw this evil side of God as the missing fourth element of the Trinity, which he believed should be supplanted by a Quaternity. However, he also discusses in the book whether the true missing fourth element is the feminine side of God. Another theme in the book is the inversion of the myth that God sent his son Christ to die for the sins of humanity. Jung maintains that upon realizing his mistreatment of Job, God sends his son to humankind to be sacrificed in repentance for God's sins. Jung sees this as a sign of God's ongoing psychological development.” ~ Wiki

It’s a mind-blowing idea: Jesus dying for Yahweh’s sins.

On the other hand, Tom Waits’s idea makes sense on the face of it.

And then Slavoy Žižek sees it as god’s suicide, i.e. that was the actual “death of god.”

All made-up, I know, but still it’s fascinating what people will make up, and how religions evolve.

Slavoy Žižek: “Christianity is much more atheist than the usual atheism which can claim there is no God and so on, but nonetheless it retains a certain trust into the Big Other. This Big Other can be called natural necessity, evolution, or whatever. We humans are nonetheless reduced to a position within the harmonious whole of evolution, or whatever, but the difficult thing to accept is again that there is no Big Other, no point of reference which guarantees meaning.”

“The death of Christ,” says Žižek, “is not any kind of redemption… it’s simply the disintegration of the God which guarantees the meaning of our lives.”

I think already the Book of Job does that, showing that suffering happens for no reason — it’s not divine punishment — it’s not “justice” (“justice” is just a more respectable word for revenge). It's based on a bet that Yahweh makes with Satan.

If Christianity is atheist, in my view it’s because there is an essential incompatibility between the OT god of vengeance and capricious favorism (a god who is never called “father”) and Christ’s message of non-judgment and compassion.

I don’t have an obvious Big Other (unless, to some extent, the genius of humanity; the goodness of most, the endurance). In writing I sometimes invoke that Big Other, realizing that there are endless complications and limitations. And nature is also the Big Other. But for daily use I have a Small Other — the cognitive unconscious (not to be confused with Freud’s concept of the unconscious). I know that my “back-burner” brain is smarter than my consciousness. The smarter neural processors will communicate the answer to consciousness when that answer is ready. I call it “email from my other self.”

Peter and Paul, a 4th century etching


~ “In the American diet, the top sources are soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods. But added sugar is also present in items that you may not think of as sweetened, like soups, bread, cured meats, and ketchup.

The result: we consume way too much added sugar. Adult men take in an average of 24 teaspoons of added sugar per day, according to the National Cancer Institute. That's equal to 384 calories.

In a study published in 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine, Dr. Frank Hu and his colleagues found an association between a high-sugar diet and a greater risk of dying from heart disease. Over the course of the 15-year study, people who got 17% to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with those who consumed 8% of their calories as added sugar.

"Basically, the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease," says Dr. Hu.

Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease. Excess consumption of sugar, especially in sugary beverages, also contributes to weight gain by tricking your body into turning off its appetite-control system because liquid calories are not as satisfying as calories from solid foods. This is why it is easier for people to add more calories to their regular diet when consuming sugary beverages.

"The effects of added sugar intake — higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease — are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke," says Dr. Hu.” ~


This may seem like old news by now, but it’s worth repeating. The public has been so brainwashed by being told for decades that heart disease is caused by saturated fats that the role of sugar is still unknown to many. Actually it was only in 2016 that the scandal emerged: the US sugar industry actually paid scientists to publish papers that emphasized the role of saturated fats in heart disease while suppressing the publication of findings on the harmful effects of sugar (first discovered in the late 1960s by the British nutritionist John Yudkin).

Sugar consumption also increases cancer risk, especially for pancreatic, breast, prostate, and bladder cancer. It seems that fructose (table sugar is composed of glucose and fructose) is a particular culprit here. Fructose is also implicated in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and other metabolic disorders.


ending on beauty:

KALOS is written over the heads of the gods
on the Greek vases. They like beauty so much
they fill the world with it. . . . 

The gods must not know us well or they would
not dance so openly, so happily before us.

~ Linda Gregg (died 3-20-2019), The Gods Must Not Know Us

Poppies, March 2019, aerial photo of the hills NE of I-15 near Lake Elsinore; WingsByWerntz