Saturday, July 27, 2019


Chagall: The Blue Fiddler, 1947

And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
                   Isaiah 2:4

Muddy-green trucks
clog the parking lot,
a line-up of buses and jeeps.
The library's closed,
I might as well watch:
the first tank rolls by.

The sign on its side
and the soldier in the open turret,
like a jack in the box,
and the other one,
behind the long gun,
are waving at the crowd, but I watch
the ratchets grinding as the caterpillars
lumber under the dumb weight;
I can't help it, I begin to cry,
thinking this is how it is done,
thinking of Poland and Hungary
and Czechoslovakia,
thinking of the German
iron fist, the deep
claws of Russia.

Helicopters fly over in formation;
rifle drills, sabers, tubas, applause.
Teenagers yelp, in Corona-Beer T-shirts.
mothers stick little flags
into babies' hands.
Daughters of the American Revolution
roll past in an antique car.
I am crying quietly.
a policeman directs me
to move more to the side.

Now a group in camouflage fatigues,
with a tuba and a big drum;
in front a black drum major
marches with a baton.
I stop crying because
he isn't marching, he's dancing: 
rah-tah-tah-tum, he sways his hips,
chin high, a lilt to his knees.
The others pound the asphalt
stiffly, miserably; he
explodes the narrow rhythm —
wants it faster, wants to throw his baton
up into the sky,
and, never missing a beat,
catch it like a jeweled star —
this military jazz isn’t hot
for him enough. Looking at him I know

one day this will be
a tribal dance, an archaic performance,
fake pageantry for the tourists.
Little boys will have to be told
what a rifle was;
a tank will be displayed
in a museum like a dinosaur.
it will be a part
of a history lesson,
nobody will be much interested.

~ Oriana


This poem was written before the fall of the Soviet Union. Regardless, since childhood I have hoped to live long enough to see war disappear from the earth. 

I realize that an image of a tank would be logical here, but I'd rather offer an image of beauty . . . the black lotus of beauty and mourning.

I can't help it, I begin to cry,
thinking this is how it is done,
thinking of Poland and Hungary
and Czechoslovakia,
thinking of the German
iron fist, the deep
claws of Russia.

These lines describe our present situation so well, that for anyone with a sense of history the terrible threat of the current predominance of both sentiment and power in the far right, not only here, but globally, is clear as those tanks rolling down the street. Seeing this is at once threat and opportunity, reason for both fear and hope . Of course we can lament, and mourn, and we must, but there is also potential here, in the very threat itself, for hope and change. The picture of that dancing drum major, the transformative creative joy that is also at the heart of what is human can out shine the cruel machinery of that grey parade.

We find ourselves at yet another moment where choice, the choice of every singular individual, becomes critical not only to the direction of history but to the trajectory of human development. We can see, must see, what is happening, the manipulation of language, the undermining of truth, the deliberate ramping up of divisions, mistrust of facts, fueling fears and resentment, the refusal of any principles or morals so that actions are only based on expediency and maintaining the power of the leader.

This process is now well on its way. We have "alternative facts" and news media not allied with the regime declared propaganda. The leader who demands absolute loyalty to himself, not to anything else, the continuous firings and replacement of the inconveniently disloyal, the "true believers" who remain blind and devoted even when it is counter to their own welfare, and the opposite of what was promised.

It is also important to note how language is being used... and just as in 1984,  thought can be controlled by controlling language. The poverty and lack of substance of Trump's language results in a kind of formulaic and reflexive poverty of thought. No analysis, simply acceptance and echo. No discussion or objection, just the shouting of slogans
"lock her up," "fake news," "send them back." And we have an audience whose fears and resentments can be whipped up into a fury of anger and hate.

Yes, it is bad. And yet, there is still that joyous, dancing figure with his baton. In the darkest times the potential of humanity can be irrepressible, can rise and flower. Darkness is both threat and opportunity. To counter hate with love, cruelty with kindness, meanness with generosity, exclusion with welcome. To refuse acceptance into the flock of believers. To resist, to insist on truth, to stay awake to manipulations of the past and distortions of reality.

Clarity, courage, hope. It's what we need now.

I must tell you how much I loved your opening poem here. The way the emotion and tone changes, from grief to joy, so intensely and completely expressed! Transformation and redemption, still possible, even now.


Thank you so much, dear Mary. You understood the poem perfectly. The drum major was that moment of grace that almost makes you believe there is some caring force in the Universe. But it's just us: we are the ones who must preserve sanity in an insane world of greed, militarism, and perpetual unwinnable wars (which Orwell also predicted).

I wonder sometimes how different my life would have been if the church called me "beloved" rather than a sinner.



~ “I’d like to share with you excerpts from two consecutive entries in George Orwell’s Diaries. These were written on Scotland’s Isle of Jura, where he had gone off the grid in an attempt to complete Nineteen Eighty-Four. On August 16, 1947, he wrote:

Last night saw the northern lights for the first time. Long streaks of white stuff, like cloud, forming an arc in the sky, & every now & then an extraordinary flickering passing over them, as though a searchlight were playing upon them.

Looking back now, it’s frightening to consider how close Orwell came to dying shortly after this remarkable sighting. His next diary entry was dated August 19, after he was and his son Richard were almost killed in the notorious Corryvreckan whirlpool:

On return journey today ran into the whirlpool and were all nearly drowned. Engine sucked off by the sea and went to the bottom. Just managed to keep the boat steady with the oars, and after going through the whirlpool twice, ran into smooth water and found ourselves only about 100 yards from Eilean Mór, so ran in quickly and managed to clamber ashore.

[In a letter]: “Four of us including Richard were nearly drowned. We got into the whirlpool, owing to trying to go through the gulf at the wrong state of the tide, and the outboard motor was sucked off the boat. We managed to get out of it with the oars and then got to one of the little islands, just rocks covered with sea birds, which are dotted about there. The sea was pretty bad and the boat turned over as we were getting ashore, so that we lost everything we had including the oars and including 12 blankets.”

The potential human tragedy aside, it staggers the imagination to think that it was a whirlpool, of all things, that so nearly deprived the world of one of the most prescient and profound novels in the short history this English language.

I recently returned to Orwell’s Diaries because I’ve been interested in the idea of thin places, where the membrane separating the real and extra real can feel tenuous, where one’s religious or spiritual communions with nature are most likely to occur. I asked Robert Macfarlane via email what had been his most potent experience in such places while writing his magnificent Underland: A Deep Time Journey. “Undoubtedly the cave of the Red Dancers in Arctic Norway,” he told me, “to which I made what became a shockingly arduous solo winter journey.”

According to ancient Greek myth, Scylla and Charybdis were two monsters who resided on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina. Here’s how Emily Wilson describes Charybdis in her in her marvelous recent translation of The Odyssey:

Divine Charybdis sucks black water down.

Three times a day she spurts it up; three times

she glugs is down. Avoid that place when she

is swallowing the water. No one could

save you from death then, even great Poseidon.

And here’s the kraken-like Scylla:

She has twelve dangling legs and six long necks

with a gruesome head on each, and in each face

three rows of crowded teeth, pregnant with death.

Pregnant with death? I suspect both Orwell and Macfarlane would agree. “The day I finally reached the cave and found the red figures,” the latter told me, “moving there in the scant light, deep inside the mountain, I wept for feelings I still cannot name.”

Wilson told me that she believes the story of Scylla and Charybdis endures in the public imagination because, “It’s a way of representing, instantly, the impossible dilemma.” 

Navigating between those two monsters is impossible without supernatural aid, so Odysseus is forced to choose which one to confront.

“It’s interesting that the proverbial version quite often, it seems to me,” Wilson wrote, “has a notion that one could actually get through without cost, if one were super careful—even though you’d think it should always suggest that there is no such route; the choice, as per Circe, is between losing six and losing everyone.”

To her, the story of Scylla and Charybdis is part of a larger thread in the poem: “a question about whether the male elite protagonist will be swallowed up by female mouths/female speech/female sexuality.”

Picasso: Head of a Woman, 1962; Pencil on cut and folded paper

I took the opportunity to ask Wilson about her own thoughts on the idea of a thin place. “I think it’s closely allied to the concept of local natural deities,” she wrote, “which was of course prevalent throughout Greco-Roman antiquity, and is still part of some modern religions, so that every river or stream or pool or waterway is likely to have its own deity.”
Perhaps Orwell, when facing his own Maelstrom, benefited from Circe’s advice to Odysseus:
Row fast, and steer your ship alongside Scylla
since it is better if you lose six men
than all of them.

Indeed, it’s even better yet to lose twelve blankets to the maw of Charybdis than all of Nineteen Eighty-Four. “Time proceeds according to its usual rhythms,” Macfarlane writes in Underland, “but not here in this thin place.”

“Caves, water, mountains and woods, and islands too, are all likely to be inhabited by natural goddesses (nymphs) or gods,” Wilson told me. “Like Calypso in her cave, or the nymphs in the cave on Ithaca; or the many water goddesses and river gods and sea goddesses and gods. It makes intuitive sense.”


George Orwell (Eric Blair) died in 1950 of tuberculosis, at the age of 46. Though famous chiefly for his masterpiece, 1984, he also wrote, among others, Animal Farm (another dystopian novel that shows the betrayal of revolutionary ideals), Homage to Catalonia, and Down and Out in Paris and London. 

The adjective “Orwellian” is now part of the language — and I suspect it’s ahead of “Kafka-esque.” I can't imagine the world without it.

From Wiki: ~ "Orwellian" connotes an attitude and a policy of control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth and manipulation of the past. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell described a totalitarian government that controlled thought by controlling language, making certain ideas literally unthinkable. Several words and phrases from Nineteen Eighty-Four have entered popular language. "Newspeak" is a simplified and obfuscatory language designed to make independent thought impossible. "Doublethink" means holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously. The "Thought Police" are those who suppress all dissenting opinion.” ~

~ “His introduction to totalitarianism came in Barcelona, when agents of the Soviet Union created an elaborate lie to discredit Trotskyists in the Spanish government as fascist spies.
Left-wing journalists readily accepted the fabrication, useful as it was to the cause of communism. Orwell didn’t, exposing the lie with eyewitness testimony in journalism that preceded his classic book Homage to Catalonia—and that made him a heretic on the left. He was stoical about the boredom and discomforts of trench warfare—he was shot in the neck and barely escaped Spain with his life—but he took the erasure of truth hard. It threatened his sense of what makes us sane, and life worth living.

The biographical story of 1984—the dying man’s race against time to finish his novel in a remote cottage on the Isle of Jura, off Scotland—will be familiar to many Orwell readers. One of Lynskey’s contributions is to destroy the notion that its terrifying vision can be attributed to, and in some way disregarded as, the death wish of a tuberculosis patient. In fact, terminal illness roused in Orwell a rage to live—he got remarried on his deathbed—just as the novel’s pessimism is relieved, until its last pages, by Winston Smith’s attachment to nature, antique objects, the smell of coffee, the sound of a proletarian woman singing, and above all his lover, Julia. 1984 is crushingly grim, but its clarity and rigor are stimulants to consciousness and resistance. According to Lynskey, “Nothing in Orwell’s life and work supports a diagnosis of despair.” ~


First, some background:

~ “Orwell "encapsulate[d] the thesis at the heart of his unforgiving novel" in 1944, the implications of dividing the world up into zones of influence, which had been conjured by the Tehran Conference. Three years later, he wrote most of it on the Scottish island of Jura from 1947 to 1948 despite being seriously ill with tuberculosis. On 4 December 1948, he sent the final manuscript to the publisher, and Nineteen Eighty-Four was published on 8 June 1949. By 1989, it had been translated into 65 languages, more than any other novel in English until then.

Orwell's invented language, Newspeak, satirizes hypocrisy and evasion by the state: the Ministry of Love (Miniluv) oversees torture and brainwashing, the Ministry of Plenty (Miniplenty) oversees shortage and rationing, the Ministry of Peace (Minipax) oversees war and atrocity and the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue) oversees propaganda and historical revisionism. 

The Last Man in Europe was an early title for the novel.

In the book, Inner Party member (and super-villain) O’Brien describes the Party's vision of the future: 

~ There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this, Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever. ~

The statement "2 + 2 = 5", used to torment Winston Smith during his interrogation, was a communist party slogan from the second five-year plan, which encouraged fulfillment of the five-year plan in four years. The slogan was seen in electric lights on Moscow house-fronts, billboards and elsewhere.

The description of Emmanuel Goldstein, with a "small, goatee beard", evokes the image of Leon Trotsky. The film of Goldstein during the Two Minutes Hate is described as showing him being transformed into a bleating sheep. This image was used in a propaganda film during the Kino-eye period of Soviet film, which showed Trotsky transforming into a goat. Goldstein's book is similar to Trotsky's highly critical analysis of the USSR, The Revolution Betrayed, published in 1936. 

The omnipresent images of Big Brother, a man described as having a mustache, bears resemblance to the cult of personality built up around Joseph Stalin. 

The "Hates" (Two Minutes Hate and Hate Week) were inspired by the constant rallies sponsored by party organs throughout the Stalinist period. These were often short pep-talks given to workers before their shifts began (Two Minutes Hate), but could also last for days, as in the annual celebrations of the anniversary of the October revolution (Hate Week).

Orwell fictionalized "newspeak", "doublethink", and "Ministry of Truth" as evinced by both the Soviet press and that of Nazi Germany. In particular, he adapted Soviet ideological discourse constructed to ensure that public statements could not be questioned.
Winston Smith's job, "revising history" (and the "unperson" motif) are based on the Stalinist habit of airbrushing images of "fallen" people from group photographs and removing references to them in books and newspapers. In one well-known example, the Soviet encyclopedia had an article about Lavrentiy Beria. When he fell in 1953, and was subsequently executed, institutes that had the encyclopedia were sent an article about the Bering Strait, with instructions to paste it over the article about Beria.

In his 1946 essay "Why I Write", Orwell explains that the serious works he wrote since the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) were "written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism". Nineteen Eighty-Four is a cautionary tale about revolution betrayed by totalitarian defenders.” ~ Wiki


As Tim Snyder observed in The Road to Unfreedom, the greatest enemy of totalitarianism is totalitarianism itself. To keep this a secret from itself, a totalitarian regime must keep attacking others.

Orwell’s manuscript of 1984 (completed in December 1948)

And here, at last, is my mini-review of the movie:

First, please note that I saw the early (1956) adaptation, not the later R-rated one starring John Hurt. The movie is short (one hour and thirty minutes) but effective, faithful to the spirit of the novel while going a bit easy on the torture scenes (I was grateful for that — and believe me, the torture and brainwashing scenes are scary enough). Some have criticized it for concentrating too much on the love story between Winston and Julia; I found this to be an excellent choice. The totalitarian state tries to destroy both individuality and love; this is powerfully portrayed. According to IMDb, 90% of the audience liked the movie. (“like” is not quite the term for a movie of this sort — let’s just say it’s an unforgettable movie)

It’s a thriller that will keep you tense. The scene of the false confession made a big impression on me, because of my familiarity with the Catholic formula: “I confess that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed.” Later, reading about Orwell, I discovered that at least one biographer said that Orwell had a “pronounced anti-Catholic attitude.” Old-time Catholicism was indeed super-totalitarian. That’s how the Church triumphed early on: by exterminating the opposition. Martin Luther was the first “heretic” to have escaped the usual fate of being burned at the stake.

And note: the Church tried to control not only this earthly life, but also the afterlife. No mere dictator has that particular weapon at his disposal. Usually he has to align himself with the dominant church.

The similarities between the methods used by dictators and cult leaders have also been widely noted.

Is bringing in religious cults relevant to the movie? Yes, because Orwell wasn’t just warning against a Stalinist-type regime. He meant to warn against ALL totalitarianism — all systems that put the organization above the individual (who is basically to be erased). And human love and the existence of families are a threat to any kind of system that demands absolute, unthinking loyalty.

The thoroughness of the brainwashing is demonstrated in a heart-breaking scene when Winston’s friend tells him it was his daughter (the insufferable junior spy, Selina) who denounced him. He says, “At least this shows that I brought her up in the right spirit.” And the final scenes, showing Winston adoring Big Brother, made me think of the personality cult in North Korea. Kim or Stalin, the essence is the same — as are the prison camps and executions, and the need to displace hate on a perpetual enemy, both external and internal (the “two minutes hate” is one of the most indelible images of the movie).

As is the non-stop propaganda that attempts to create “alternative facts.” Totalitarian regimes are always founded on lies, and tremendous energy goes into perpetuating those lies.

It’s not surprising that Orwell’s novel is enjoying a renewed popularity. As for the 1956 movie, it is available on youtube. But if you get a chance to see it on a big screen, by all means go see it. I think you’ll find it unforgettable.

And one of the things that makes it unforgettable is the fact that, in spite of the unhappy ending, it is a love story. The unspoken motto of the regime is MAKE WAR NOT LOVE.That love for another human being can at least briefly blossom and be the highest form of rebellion under such massively oppressive conditions is quite a statement.

Winston after being tortured and brainwashed. His brokenness and hollowness come across more convincingly on a large screen. The main criticism of the 1956 movie was that it toned down the horror.

~ “Orwell understood that oppressive regimes always need enemies. In 1984 he showed how these can be created arbitrarily by whipping up popular feeling through propaganda. But in his description of the ‘Two Minutes Hate’ he also foresaw the way in which online mobs work. Obliged to watch the violent film, (as everyone is), Winston Smith observes “The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in…A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledgehammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current”. Now political, religious and commercial organizations all trade in whipping up feelings. Orwell uncannily identified the willing collusion in hate that such movements can elicit: and of course Winston observes it in himself. So, by implication might we, in ourselves.

Orwell’s writing is rooted in the struggles between the giant ‘-isms’ that disfigured the 20th Century. He fought against Fascism as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War (believing pacifism was a luxury paid for by other people) but realized the hollow promise of Communism, when the anti-Stalinist group he was fighting for was hunted down by the pro-Stalin faction. He witnessed first-hand the self-deception of true believers. Today there is another set of ‘-isms’, such as nationalism and populism who operate through the mobilization of that most dangerous of feelings, resentment. And everywhere you look in the contemporary world, ‘strong’ men are in positions of power. They share the need to crush opposition, a fanatical terror of dissent and self-promotion. Big Brothers are no longer a joke but strut the world.

But the greatest horror in Orwell’s dystopia is the systematic stripping of meaning out of language. The regime aims to eradicate words and the ideas and feelings they embody. Its real enemy is reality. Tyrannies attempt to make understanding the real world impossible: seeking to replace it with phantoms and lies. Winston Smith’s first audacious act of dissent had been to hide from the all-seeing camera and write a diary – to compose his own account of himself and his inner world. He knows that the acts of writing and describing mark him out for the death penalty if he is discovered. When he is finally broken by torture he agrees that “two plus two equals five.” He had discovered that they could indeed “get inside you”, and “Something was killed in your breast; burnt out, cauterized out”.

The terror in 1984 is the annihilation of the self and the destruction of the capacity to recognize the real world. There is no fashionable or casual relativism in Orwell’s work: he understands how hard it is to get things right. However, this story pins down the terror of a world where people have fewer and fewer words to use and whose thinking is distorted by ideologies.

“Stalin wasn't a communist. Hitler wasn't a nationalist. They were sado-narcissists as is Trump. Sado-narcissists do and say anything for a chance to preen and provoke. They'd pretend they cared about any cause to keep their con going.” ~ Jeremy Sherman


I love the term that Jeremy coined. The official term is “malignant narcissist” — his essence of cruelty — but whoever speaks of “malignant narcissists”? I prefer “sado-narcissist” by far.

In my limited observation of petty sado-narcissists, they also obsess with trying to destroy women.

I wrote this brief comment before I knew that more was coming. Jeremy continues:

“It goes back further than [Trump] to the way the Republican party decided to pretend we’re not a country to manage but an all-out civil war to be won.

To warriors, nothing matters but loyalty to their cause. There’s nothing warriors won't do for their cause. Everyone who opposes their cause is the enemy. Truth, justice, fairness, honor – all the virtues distill to one mission: Destroying all enemies by any means necessary.
In contrast, public debate is complicated. You have to listen, address substantive matters and think strategically within the terms of the debate.

It's much easier to blurt "This is war!" even when it's not. To pretend that public debate was a war freed the Republicans to unleash every dirty trick, feeling heroic all the way for being loyal to their cause even if it was nothing more than feeling heroic by smiting all enemies and feeling invincible.

Naturally, there would be a backlash but for warriors, the backlash just motivates. It’s an outrage that the enemy would want to fight back. It proves they’re evil and must be defeated.
Enter Trump, a sado-narcissist, a guy who lives, for whatever reason, to pretend he’s invincible by squashing others and climbing atop their dead bodies. He was the perfect candidate for a party that decades ago, war-ified public debate. 

Throughout history, people have gotten distracted by sado-narcissist’s declared causes. Sado-narcissists don’t care about their causes, not even the ones they pretend are their must-win crusades. Stalin was no communist. Hitler was no nationalist. Trump is no conservative. Tyrants are sado-narcissists. Their sole use of causes is as weapons in their wars for self-aggrandizement. You can tell they don’t care about causes by the way the drop them when they stop serving to punish opponents and pander to followers. They’re not true believers in anything but oppressing others and elevating themselves. 

Some are born sado-narcissists, some achieve sado-narcissism, some have sado-narcissism thrust upon them. Sometimes a backlash turns a revolutionary into a sado-narcissist, as happened with Robespierre or Luther. Sometimes a backlash makes a revolution welcome sado-narcissists, as happened with Stalin succeeding Lenin. 

In Trump’s case, the revolution had started through the GOP war-ification of public debate. That easier-than-debating, battle-cry revolution welcomes a sado-narcissist like Trump. The movement was softened up already, well on the way to becoming a crusading cult of warriors-without-a-cause long before Trump. Evangelicalism and racism were gateway drugs for this cult.

A sado-narcissist plays moral police, blaring his siren so loud it drowns out any recognition of his own failings. The Trump cult can always accuse its opponents of playing politics and lying, not because they care but because it tangles us in self-doubt and defensiveness. They pivot challenges from them to us as though for our politicians to play politics proves that they don’t. It’s a formula.

Too much moral outrage about the symptoms enables the movement. Trumpists warriors are affirmed that they’re on the right track because we, their opponents exclaim that they’re on the wrong track. Sado-narcissist cults are self-winding movements, no matter how you shake them, they have ways to claim victory over vanquished enemies and feel proud of it, because this is war. That’s why the only recourse is to call out the sado-narcissistic formula.

For all their talk about fighting for their vision of making America great, you never hear what their vision is. No one asks them to spell it out. If it’s the vision thing, then apparently they can fool 40% of Americans by claiming they have one without having one. If it’s the warrior thing, then what are they fighting for? They don’t say other than that it’s absolute, sacred and great.

They’re warriors without a cause other than pandering to their base and trouncing all opponents. While there will always be combative discord in politics, they’ve gone absolute. Sado-narcisistic cults have nothing else but their formula, which means if you call them on it, they’ll respond with more of it, thereby affirming your accusation, which our leaders should level at them relentlessly, Reagan style: “There he goes again.”

It’s the sado-narcissism, stupid.” ~ 

A different Winston with the original Big Brother

Jeremy recently visited Russia:

“I just got back from listening to horrors of history books while walking around the now-idyllic places where those horrors happened. 

Such decent, decent people everywhere I looked, and yet apparently, there's that potential for the descent from magnificent to monster in no time, down some supposed path to righteousness — communism, nationalism, theism, whatever salvationism, people being sucked en mass down some slippery slope they're sure is the path to righteousness. 

Hence the proposed warning to us all, me included. If there's one thing that makes humans go wrong, its confidence they've found the right way to go right, boarding some eventually gory express train to glory.” ~ Jeremy Sherman

St. Petersburg, the Fortress of Peter and Paul



Eugene Delacroix, The Good Samaritan, 1949
~ “To grasp the fundamental reorientation of human values implied by a shift toward neoliberalism, consider these two contrasting interpretations of the Good Samaritan parable, one from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the late 1960s and the other, as MacLean shows, from James Buchanan, in the early 1970s.

The night before he was assassinated, King preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan as a call to “dangerous unselfishness.” The Nobel laureate spoke that night on behalf of 1,300 public employees striking for recognition of their collective bargaining rights, their only path to wages that would raise them above food stamps and to safer and less degrading working conditions. Two Memphis sanitation workers had been killed on the job that winter, crushed to death in a trash compacter because that was the only place they were allowed to take shelter from the rain.

In the Gospel of Luke (10:25–37), King reminded his audience, Jesus is prompted to the parable by questions from a learned lawyer: given that the essence of Jewish law is to love God, and to love your neighbor as yourself, how is a devout man supposed to determine just who counts as his neighbor? Jesus responds with the story of a Jewish man on the steep, treacherous road that falls more than a thousand feet in the descent from Jerusalem to Jericho—a prime spot for banditry. The traveler is set upon by thieves, beaten, stripped, robbed, and left to die. As he languishes by the side of the road, two different men of God pass him by, even crossing to the other side of the road to avoid him. But a third, “of a different race,” King recounts, stops to care for the unfortunate victim; this citizen of rival Samaria binds the victim’s wounds, covers him with his own cloak, carries him to an inn on his own animal, and guarantees the full cost of his care until he can recover. Jesus forces his questioner to render the answer: the neighbor you are charged to love by God’s law is the person who needs your help, regardless of kinship or proximity.

The first two men in the parable, King speculates, may have avoided their stricken countryman out of fear, fear that the robbers might reappear and attack them as well, or fear that perhaps the naked, half-dead man by the side of the road was faking his distress in order to lure passersby into a trap. And so, King explains, their first question was “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

a later Good Samaritan painting by Delacroix, 1852. It’s so tender . . .
Buchanan’s “The Samaritan’s Dilemma” implies that Jesus has missed the real lesson of his own parable. Buchanan’s talk—and subsequent article—used the mathematical language of game theory to reevaluate impulses of generosity and mercy. The arid schemas of Cold War game theory, he explained, allowed him to avoid the “instant emotional reactions that my examples seem to arouse” when rendered as concrete narratives, like parables. Instead, to see what is truly at stake under the smoke-and-mirrors of alleged principles, he proposes a two-player game in which a “Samaritan” is pitted against a “potential parasite.” The Samaritan’s choices in this game are to help or not help; the parasite’s options are to work or not work, which gets us straight to the ideological heart of the matter (and far from empirical reality, in which cash transfers to the poor reduce poverty and poor health, not work).

The harm at the center of this version is not the very concrete physical suffering of the robbers’ victim; rather, Buchanan is concerned with the psychic discomfort of the Samaritan who “may find himself seriously injured by the necessity of watching the parasite starve himself while refusing to work.” The battered man by the side of the road that Buchanan conjures with his title functions in the game not as the victim of malign forces beyond his control, but rather as a predator, out to exploit the gullible Samaritan’s weakness for assuaging the pain of others. As long as the parasite—the predator—can count on that weakness in his prey, he can “win” the game; that is, he can shirk work and yet strategically manipulate his victim into repeatedly extending aid. The hypothesis, Buchanan asserts, is that “modern man has become incapable of making the choices that are required to prevent his exploitation by predators of his own species.”

What King called “dangerous unselfishness” in his interpretation of the parable takes on a perverse cast in Buchanan’s hands: from the economist’s perspective, unselfishness is so dangerous that the only solution is to remove the Samaritan’s temptation to irrational charity by imposing inflexible rules that, by law, foreclose public compassion.” ~


The very language is vile..casting the injured as a parasite. Goes with the doctrine that bad things happen to bad people because they deserve it.

Simply to see what has happened to the ideas of Christianity in that example of the Good Samaritan is both enlightening  and empowering. The far Right, "Righteous " Christians have pretty much reversed the teachings of Christ. Their approach to the poor, the sick, the needy are mean spirited at best, more a sanctimonious condemnation, selfish, self serving and self righteous,  than anything remotely like the words of Christ.

I could continue, for instance, John Guzlowski's wonderful poem about his father's beliefs is a lesson in basic humanity not to be forgotten. If you see a man on the cross, if you see suffering, you must try to relieve it. Even if you cannot hope to save him, you must try. You cannot ignore it, turn away, wash your hands, refuse any threat to your own welfare...your focus must not be on yourself but on that suffering other.


As the GOP explains it, the poor are poor because they are lazy and otherwise “immoral.” What other group has been described like that before?

Van Gogh’s version of The Good Samaritan — of course Vincent would also be on the side of the Good Samaritan. The recent Neoliberal perversion is profoundly anti-Christian.



This customs declaration really rocks . . .

Speaking of real superheroes . . . We had them. 



JS: As the concept Superhero Therapy is fairly new, its exact definition has not yet been established. Generally speaking, in the world of psychology Superhero Therapy can refer to either psychoanalyzing Superheroes or to using Superheroes in therapy in order to facilitate recovery. Both can potentially be helpful and informative: the former by helping us understand our favorite characters (for example through books such as Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight; and The Psychology of Superheroes), the latter by potentially helping us shape our own behavior in order to recover. My work is primarily in the latter.

Several therapists, including myself, have been using Superhero Therapy to treat a variety of disorders, including anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is done by incorporating examples from comic books, movies, and TV shows as the means to allow the client to better understand what he or she is experiencing. Often when someone is struggling with a painful experience it might be difficult to make sense of the present situation. 

In addition, painful emotional experiences, such as depression or trauma, can potentially be alienating, creating false beliefs that we are the only ones going through this or that no one else will understand. Sometimes recognizing that some of our favorite heroes have been through a similar experience can potentially be healing. Research suggests that when we identify that we have gone through a painful experience just as others have (the concept of common humanity), that this can allow us to feel more connected and that connection with others might even inspire physiological changes in the body, such as the release of a hormone, oxytocin, which has been shown to be related to increased feelings of love and compassion, reduced stress, reduced depression and anxiety, and increased lifespan.

Superhero Therapy calls for the integration of examples of heroes relevant to the client, such as Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, and others. I typically start the treatment by asking the client whether there are any characters from books, movies, or TV that they like and then work on drawing connections with the client’s current presentation, as well as for setting and implementing treatment goals. Superhero examples can be easily incorporated into nearly every therapy modality, including evidence-based treatments, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Since I primarily use ACT in my work with my clients, I have been using Superhero Therapy with ACT. ACT is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on increasing the client’s willingness to mindfully experience thoughts and emotions in order to lead his or her life according to personal values. This is where Superhero examples can be especially useful.

For example, after young Bruce Wayne (Batman) suffered a painful loss of his parents, he realized that what he valued most was making Gotham City a safe place. Although it was not an easy journey, he mastered a number of fighting techniques, as well as science skills in order to follow his value. In addition, since the Caped Crusader does not believe in unnecessary violence, he does not use guns or explosives despite the fact that it means that sometimes he gets injured. This example can be used to assist the client in figuring out how he or she can become their own version of a Superhero. For example, if someone wants to help people as Batman does, the therapist can work with the client in identifying ways to follow this intention, such as by volunteering at a homeless shelter or by performing random acts of kindness. When people lead their lives that are in line with their values, symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other struggles can sometimes be reduced.  

Finally, I would like to point out that Superhero Therapy does not only need to include characters that we traditionally think of as superheroes. For example, Buffy (The Vampire Slayer) can be used as a powerful example of acceptance of one’s destiny and doing what is right despite how difficult or painful it might be. What are some of your favorite heroes that you identify with? Whom do you relate to or wish to be like?” ~

Dr. Scarlet speaks about the origins of Superhero Therapy:

“I was doing my post-doctoral training at Camp Pendleton, working with active-duty Marines with PTSD. Many of my patients struggled when talking of their emotional experiences — but they could easily talk about the emotional experiences of their favorite superheroes: Batman, Wolverine. They’d bring it up. They might mention that they witnessed their best friend getting blown up in front of them. I would ask them to describe that experience, and they would say, “You know how Batman felt, right? When he saw his parents getting killed in front of him? How awful and horrifying it was? That’s what it felt like.” 

It wasn’t that they didn’t understand what it was like to suffer or what it meant to have depression; it was that they had a hard time talking about it when it came to themselves. I saw that these examples were necessary for them to feel supported and understood, so I started incorporating them into therapy with clients.” She found that the superhero template helped patients feel safer practicing the skills she advocated — “there was almost this element of superhero training.” 

(San Diego Reader, July 18, 2019, p. 12)



~ “Widespread petkeeping is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until the 19th century, most animals owned by households were working animals that lived alongside humans and were regarded unsentimentally. In 1698, for example, a Dorset farmer recorded in his diary: “My old dog Quon was killed and baked for his grease, which yielded 11lb.” However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, animals began to feature less in our increasingly urban environments and, as disposable income grew, pets became more desirable. Even as people began to dote on their pets, though, animal life was not attributed any intrinsic value. In Run, Spot, Run, Pierce reports that, in 1877, the city of New York rounded up 762 stray dogs and drowned them in the East River, shoving them into iron crates and lifting the crates by crane into the water. Veterinarian turned philosopher Bernard Rollin recalls pet owners in the 1960s putting their dog to sleep before going on holiday, reasoning that it was cheaper to get a new dog when they returned than to board the one they had.

More recently, however, several countries have moved to change the legal status of animals. In 2015, the government of New Zealand recognized animals as sentient beings, in effect declaring them no longer property (how this squares with New Zealand’s recent “war on possums” is unclear), as did the Canadian province of Quebec. While pets remain property in the UK, the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 stipulates that pet owners must provide a basic level of care for their animals. Pets are also property in the US, but 32 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington DC, now include provisions for pets under domestic violence protection orders. In 2001, Rhode Island changed its legislation to describe pet owners as “guardians”, a move that some animal rights’ advocates lauded (and others criticized for being nothing more than a change in name).

Before we congratulate ourselves on how far we have come, consider that 1.5m shelter animals – including 670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats – are euthanised each year in the US. The number of stray dogs euthanized annually in the UK is far lower – 3,463 – but the RSCPA says investigations into animal cruelty cases increased 5% year on year in 2016, to 400 calls a day. 

“Can I stick my dog in a car and take him to the vet and say: ‘I don’t want him any more, kill him,’ or take him to a city shelter and say: ‘I can’t keep him any more, I hope you can find a home for him, good luck’?” says Gary Francione, a professor at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey and an animal rights advocate. “If you can still do that, if you still have the right to do that, then they are still property.” 

Crucially, our animals can’t tell us whether they are happy being pets. “There is an illusion now that pets have more voice than in the past … but it is maybe more that we are putting words into their mouth,” Pierce says, pointing to the abundance of pets on social media plastered with witty projections written by their “parents”. “Maybe we are humanizing them in a way that actually makes them invisible.” 

If you accept the argument that pet ownership is morally questionable, how do you put the brakes on such a vast industry? While he was writing his 2010 book, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, Herzog was studying the motivations of animal rights activists and whether it was emotion or intellect that pushed them towards activism. One of the subjects, Herzog says, was “very, very logical”. After he had become a vegan, eschewed leather shoes and convinced his girlfriend to go vegan, he considered his pet cockatiel. “I remember; he looked up wistfully. He said he got the bird, took it outside, let it loose and it flew up,” Herzog recalls. “He said: ‘I knew she wouldn’t survive, that she probably starved. I guess I was doing it more for myself than for her.’”

Although Pierce and Francione agree that pet ownership is wrong, both of them have pets: Pierce has two dogs and a cat; Francione has six rescue dogs, whom he considers “refugees”. For now, the argument over whether we should own animals is largely theoretical: we do have pets and giving them up might cause more harm than good. Moreover, as Francione suggests, caring for pets seems to many people to be the one area where we can actually do right by animals; convincing people of the opposite is a hard sell. 

Black dog from above: Anna Stępień

Tim Wass, the chair of the Pet Charity, an animal welfare consultant and a former chief officer at the RSPCA, agrees. “It has already been decided by market forces and human nature … the reality is people have pets in the millions. The question is: how can we help them care for them correctly and appropriately?” 

If the short history of pet ownership tells us anything, it is that our attitude towards animals is prone to change. “You see these rises and falls in our relationships with pets,” says Herzog. “In the long haul, I think pet keeping might fall out of fashion; I think it is possible that robots will take their place, or maybe pet owning will be for small numbers of people. Cultural trends come and go. The more we think of pets as people, the less ethical it is to keep them.”


Recently I was encouraged to build a koi pond and obtain “rescue koi.” This was countered by a neighbor’s tale of how he built a koi pond and how within two days they were gone, carried off by predators. So, no more koi fantasies. But I do like to watch them in places designed by experts who know how to feed them to keep them healthy. And, if we may indulge in a little anthropomorphizing, they seem happy enough among the water lilies.

We know that pets tend to make people happier, less lonely, and more relaxed. We know about the pet-induced release of oxytocin, the “trust and love” hormone, which has positive health effects. And certainly some dogs and cats appear to be at least content. In fact it could be argued that cats and dogs are the best gurus when it comes to teaching us about simple joy and contentment. In addition, dogs, with their capacity to express affection, make the best therapists, especially when it comes to grief and PTSD.

Nevertheless, I do hope that we can drop the concept of “owning” a pet and think rather of being a good parent to one. I agree with Tim Wass: “It has already been decided by market forces and human nature … the reality is people have pets in the millions. The question is: how can we help them care for them correctly and appropriately?”


I loved best the old, shiny, hollowed out and really slippery pews. You'd slide in and wheeee! fall into the hollow and then by sheer momentum out of it, almost to the middle of the pew, falling over unless you managed to grab the railing. There was something very authentic about it, the buttocks of ancestors having made the old pew that kind of wild slide. Ah, history . . .

John Bellinger:

It is like stone steps with hollows in them — you always have to wonder how many feet have to pass to wear a "saddle" into a piece of granite-or marble!


Yes, thanks for reminding us of stone steps where hundreds of thousands of feet have passed. On a giant scale, there is of course Grand Canyon — and what a thrill to get to the point where you see the Colorado River, so green and innocent-looking. But the stone steps, the benches — it's moving to think of the generations.


1. Coconut Oil Contains Fatty Acids With Potent Medicinal Properties

~ “Coconut oil is high in healthy saturated fats that have different effects than most other fats in your diet. These fats can boost fat burning and provide your body and brain with quick energy. They also raise the good HDL cholesterol in your blood, which is linked to reduced heart disease risk.

Most fats in the diet are called long-chain triglycerides, but the fats in coconut oil are known as medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). What this means is that the fatty acids are shorter than most other fats.

When you eat these types of fats, they go straight to the liver, where they are used as a quick source of energy or turned into ketones.

Ketones can have powerful benefits for the brain, and are being studied as treatment for epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and other conditions.

2. Populations That Eat a Lot of Coconut Oil Are Healthy

Coconut is an exotic food in the Western world, primarily consumed by health conscious people.

However, in some parts of the world, coconut (loaded with coconut oil) is a dietary staple that people have thrived on for many generations.

The best example of such a population is the Tokelauans, which live in the South Pacific.
They used to eat over 60% of their calories from coconuts. When studied, they were found to be in excellent health, with very low rates of heart disease. 

Another example of a population that ate a lot of coconut and remained in excellent health is the Kitavans. (Kitava is an island in Papua, New Guinea,)

3. Coconut Oil Can Increase Fat Burning

Obesity is one of the biggest health problems in the world.

While some people think obesity is only a matter of calories, others believe that the sources of those calories are important too.

It is a fact that different foods affect our bodies and hormones in different ways. In this regard, a calorie is not a calorie.

The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconut oil can increase how many calories you burn compared to the same amount of calories from longer chain fats.

One study found that 15-30 grams of MCTs per day increased 24 hour energy expenditure by 5%, totalling about 120 calories per day.

4. Coconut Oil Can Kill Harmful Microorganisms

The 12-carbon lauric acid makes up about 50% of the fatty acids in coconut oil.

When lauric acid is digested, it also forms a substance called monolaurin.

Both lauric acid and monolaurin can kill harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses and fungi.
For example, these substances have been shown to help kill the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (a very dangerous pathogen) and the yeast Candida albicans, a common source of yeast infections in humans.

5. Coconut Oil Can Reduce Your Hunger, Helping You Eat Less

One interesting feature of the fatty acids in coconut oil is that they can reduce your hunger.
This may be related to the way the fats are metabolized, because ketones can have an appetite reducing effect.

In one study, varying amounts of medium and long chain triglycerides were fed to 6 healthy men.

The men eating the most MCTs ate 256 fewer calories per day, on average.

Another study in 14 healthy men discovered that those who ate the most MCTs at breakfast ate fewer calories at lunch.

These studies were small and only done for short periods of time. If this effect were to persist over the long term, it could help lead to reduced body weight over a period of several years.

[#6 deals with the use of ketogenic diet to reduce epileptic seizures]

7. Coconut Oil Can Raise The Good HDL Cholesterol

Coconut oil contains natural saturated fats that increase the good HDL cholesterol in your body. They may also help turn the bad LDL cholesterol into a less harmful form.

In one study in 40 women, coconut oil reduced total and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL compared to soybean oil.

Another study in 116 patients showed that a dietary program that included coconut oil raised levels of the good HDL cholesterol.

8. Coconut Oil Can Protect Your Skin, Hair and Dental Health

Many people are using coconut oil for cosmetic purposes and to improve the health and appearance of their skin and hair.

Studies on individuals with dry skin show that coconut oil can improve the moisture content of the skin. It can also reduce symptoms of eczema. Coconut oil can also be protective against hair damage. One study shows effectiveness as a weak sunscreen, blocking about 20% of the sun's ultraviolet rays.

Another application is using it like mouthwash in a process called oil pulling [put one tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth and try to swish it around as long as you can], which can kill some of the harmful bacteria in the mouth, improve dental health and reduce bad breath.


Preliminary studies suggest that medium-chain triglycerides can increase blood levels of ketones, supplying energy for the brain cells of Alzheimer's patients and relieving symptoms.

10. Coconut Oil Can Help You Lose Fat, Especially The Harmful Abdominal Fat

Given that coconut oil can reduce appetite and increase fat burning, it makes sense that it can also help you lose weight.

Coconut oil appears to be especially effective at reducing belly fat, which lodges in the abdominal cavity and around organs.

This is the most dangerous fat of all and is highly associated with many chronic Western diseases.

Waist circumference is easily measured and is a great marker for the amount of fat in the abdominal cavity.

In a study of 40 women with abdominal obesity, supplementing with 30 mL (2 tablespoons) of coconut oil per day led to a significant reduction in both BMI and waist circumference over a period of 12 weeks.

Another study in 20 obese males noted a reduction in waist circumference of 1.1 inches (2.86 cm) after 4 weeks of 30 mL (2 tablespoons) of coconut oil per day.


I’ve been using coconut oil more and more over the years. Try it on your skin: it loves it so much, it quickly sucks it in, as if asking for more.

By the way, I recommend whole unrefined, cold-pressed coconut oil rather than just MCT oil, which can be very laxative (the so-called “soiled-pants side effect”).

As for benefits in cases of Alzheimer’s disease, it’s reasonable to expect that it takes large daily doses — which comes down to relatively small doses taken frequently, to maintain a steady supply of ketones to the brain.

“MCFA are unique in that they are easily absorbed and metabolized by the liver, and can be converted to ketones. Ketone bodies are an important alternative energy source in the brain, and may be beneficial to people developing or already with memory impairment, as in Alzheimer’s disease. A small number of clinical trials and animal studies using a formulation of MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) have reported significant improvement of cognition in AD patients.”

But the big interest here is the anti-aging properties. The medium-chain fatty acids are used directly for energy. People who use coconut oil a lot report feeling warmer and more energetic. Even more exciting is the promotion of autophagy — the self-destruction of senile, dysfunctional cells.

Olive oil is also known to promote autophagy. a process associated with longer life expectancy.

It’s interesting to watch the growing interest in longevity. We want to live as long as possible. How different it was centuries ago! Back then, the ideal was to die young — after living a saintly life, of course, so you could go to heaven. Here is Ghirlandaio’s “Pope Gregory Announces the Death of Santa Fina,” 1477

ending on beauty:


Tenderness does not choose its own uses.
It goes out to everything equally,
circling rabbit and hawk.
Look: in the iron bucket,
a single nail, a single ruby —
all the heavens and hells.
They rattle in the heart and make one sound.

~ Jane Hirshfield

Picasso: A Man and a Woman