Saturday, November 26, 2022


iceberg above and underneath the water


I am thankful to be alive at the end of history.
To have eyes that look back upon the whole messy parade
of these nasty, clever, loving, hating, killing,
fucking, thinking apes.

I am thankful for cool mornings filled with the sounds of jazz
and pungent, tear-gassed sunsets in Ferguson, Missouri,
for Beethoven and Buchenwald,
Mozart and MyLai.

I am thankful for eyes that glisten with knowledge, hope,
and for a God who has proven to me
there is no purpose to my life or the universe.
I know that there is an approaching end darker than a deleted poem.

For all this, all the feasting and fasting of the ages,
the triumphs and tragedies,
and for this last terminal hope that bubbles up
and bursts into the raging air of a dying planet
For all I am finally, eternally, wonderfully thankful.

~ Bob Boldt

Bob says:

~ I have finally learned to acknowledge, if not fully accept, the paradox that is the human mind: That of a meaning-seeking primate born into a meaningless universe. ~


Re: "I am thankful for eyes that glisten with knowledge, hope,
and for a God who has proven to me
there is no purpose to my life or the universe."

There is no universal meaning, but there can be a personal meaning, perhaps in the small acts of kindness, in spite of being told by nuns and priests that a human being is a worthless sinner, fit only for the fires of hell, if not for the blood of the Lamb.


~ There have always been good reasons to ignore Robert Frost. The most traditional, the most metrically and morally conservative of modern poets, he was in a strict sense the last American poet of the nineteenth century (twelve at the death of Dickinson, he entered Dartmouth the year Whitman died). He could be hidebound and narrow and backward-looking, his Yankee landscape the agrarian fantasy of a Southern Democrat— not John Crowe Ransom or Allen Tate, but Andrew Jackson. The land he celebrated (not just the physical landscape but the moral landscape) was already gone, if it had ever existed. No American poet has created a more profound pastoral than Frost—profound because we’d like to believe it was a real place, not just the landscape of poetry.

Part of Frost’s despair was his knowledge that his world was gone (when the terms of Frost’s world were gone, the people remained). Many of his best poems take loss as their theme—sometimes as private and as crippling as anything in American literature. He was a ruined melancholic, and the dark gestures of his late Romanticism make him a moodier and far more difficult figure than Stevens, or Eliot, or Pound—compared to Frost they are shining untroubled aesthetes. They took America as a hypothesis; he took it for what it was—Frost told the stories that Whitman only suggested.

Frost was a poet of missed chance, of failed opportunity, of regret and cold disappointment. Of all the moderns he is the one we have not come to terms with, yet part of the problem has always been Frost himself. He did so much to emphasize, to publicize and receive honorary Ph.D.’s for, his own worst instincts, to make himself the cracker-barrel Yankee sage people were glad to take him for, a kind of Grandma Moses on the deck of the Pequod, that we shouldn’t be surprised if now it is almost impossible to take him for anything else. 

More than forty years ago Randall Jarrell wrote two marvelous essays of rehabilitation, “The Other Frost” and “To the Laodiceans,” arguing for the gloomy, hard, human Frost (“human” was a favorite Jarrell word), the Frost of “The Witch of Coös,” “Provide, Provide,” and “Home Burial.” Most of the poems Jarrell favored are now part of our Frost—but instead we have two Frosts, a farmer schizophrenic, half Vermont maple-syrup and half raw granite, an old man of the mountains people can take home to dinner.

Each of these Frosts serves the idiom of our beliefs—we need the one to believe that poetry is good, the other to believe that poetry is true. Each version is a fact, but each is also a bias confirmed by the partiality of a reading. Frost was at times a bad philosopher, a man who wore his morals on his sleeve, and as he grew older he convinced himself he was a philosophe of masques and fables—he almost became a fable himself (or an apophthegm dreaming it was a fable). For sententious observation, homespun morals, complacent sentiment, and barn-idle philosophizing (the kind a cat does, tangled in a ball of yarn), you can’t go much further than the later Frost. By the time John F. Kennedy asked him to read at the 1961 Inaugural, Frost was more a monument than half the equestrian statues in Washington—a brass-necked cold calculation, standing proudly on all fours. Has any major poet written a worse poem about America than “The Gift Outright”? It contains every part of Frost’s terrible sentiment for the Land, America, the Past, for Ourselves, for the general myth that replaces the mangled event—even the best line, “To the land vaguely realizing westward,” drowns in the horror of all that is left unsaid.

When “Home Burial” and “The Death of the Hired Man” can sit comfortably in high-school anthologies, no longer cruel rural dramas but complacent period pieces, perhaps it is time for a different Frost, one not so easily lost to high-mindedness. There is need for a Frost less dramatic and more demonic, a Frost of impermanent mood, whose own moods seemed a confusion to him (hence his reliance on, his attraction to, codes of behavior, morals, blind jurisprudence, the otherworldly forces that might set the world in order, or strip it to raw design).

Jarrell wanted people to read Frost, to suffer from his range and his terrors, and what is permanent in Frost now includes many of the poems Jarrell salvaged from neglect: “The Witch of Coös,” “Neither out Far Nor in Deep,” “Home Burial,” “Acquainted with the Night,” “Design,” “Provide, Provide,” “An Old Man’s Winter Night,” and “Desert Places.” (Even “After Apple-Picking” and “The Gift Outright,” poems I can’t imagine anyone liking. I may as well admit that my taste is different from Jarrell’s—I don’t like “Directive,” I don’t think “Provide, Provide” an “immortal masterpiece,” though I like it well enough, and I despise “The Gift Outright.” Every reader should have a list of the Frost poems he can’t abide.)

If Jarrell’s Frost was the Frost of interior and melancholy, of moral observation and metallic cunning, he was also the Frost whose monologues and scenes tended toward sentiment (a poet a lot like himself, in other words). I would like to propose what might seem impossible after Jarrell, a list of a dozen or so of Frost’s best poems rarely seen in anthologies and likely to be new to most readers. Here is the list: “The Code,” “A Hundred Collars,” “The Bearer of Evil Tidings,” “Snow,” “Place for a Third,” “The Exposed Nest,” “The Fear,” “Spring Pools,” “The Thatch,” “Sand Dunes,” “The Strong Are Saying Nothing,” “The Draft Horse,” “The Silken Tent,” and “Willful Homing.” This is a list of moral ambiguity and suspended grief, of stark horror and shy confusion—if Frost was a confusion to himself, we should, part of the time, be as confused and surprised by the Frost we read.

“The Code” starts with three men haying a field under an advancing thundercloud:

There were three in the meadow by the brook

Gathering up windrows, piling cocks of hay,

With an eye always lifted toward the west

Where an irregular sun-bordered cloud

Darkly advanced with a perpetual dagger

Flickering across its bosom. Suddenly

One helper, thrusting pitchfork in the ground,

Marched himself off the field and home. One stayed.

The town-bred farmer failed to understand.

The farmhand’s action is as abrupt as a scrawl of lightning, and the rest of the poem sets out to explain it. Silence has the force of speech in Frost, but this is one of the few places where silence is interpreted. The opening lines might seem just an excuse for a story, the story the remaining farmhand goes on to tell about another haying, another farmer who offended the code—in a more straightforward mood (even a rambling storyteller like Frost generally got on with things) the prologue could have been dispensed with. But the action is not just about the code, it is in code—a tale is required to explain the tale. The poem’s lovely, lopsided organization is rougher and more accidental than in Frost’s conservative dramas—the reader almost requires doubt about the form, as an imitative action. Only gradually is it clear that the second tale is in code as well—that the second farmhand is delivering a genial threat.

“But the old fool seizes his fork in both hands,
And looking up bewhiskered out of the pit,
Shouts like an army captain, ‘Let her come!’
Thinks I, D’ye mean it? ‘What was that you said?’
I asked out loud, so’s there’d be no mistake,
‘Did you say, “Let her come”?’ ‘Yes, let her come.’
He said it over, but he said it softer.
Never you say a thing like that to a man,
Not if he values what he is. God, I’d as soon
Murdered him as left out his middle name.
I’d built the load and knew right where to find it.
Two or three forkfuls I picked lightly round for
Like meditating, and then I just dug in
And dumped the rackful on him in ten lots.
I looked over the side once in the dust
And caught sight of him treading-water-like,
Keeping his head above. ‘Damn ye,’ I says,
‘That gets ye!’ He squeaked like a squeezed rat.
That was the last I saw or heard of him.
I cleaned the rack and drove out to cool off.”

“I went about to kill him fair enough,” the hand says later—he can afford to be so casual (death is often casual in Frost) because he knows his actions were understood, part of the code, never written down, by which men get along with one another. The farmer didn’t die, but he earned his life at the cost of a lesson. The force of the poem is in the implicating conduct of different stories: the squall of violence when the farmhand throws down his pitchfork, the patient explanation of the second farmhand (a code of courtesy here), the town-bred farmer’s incomplete understanding of what he’s been told, the silent courtesy of the threat which the remaining farmhand delivers. The farmer has been warned—that is part of the code, too. Frost lets each of these stories rustle over the others (he knows something about literary codes as well); but the poem would never be effective without his warm feeling for the way men work, their stiff prides and dishonors, the lies they tell themselves.

The texture of those prides is in the texture of the details, the force that starts as invention and ends as a kind of second life: that “bewhiskered” farmer, about to be whiskered in hay; the ominous way the farmer “said it over, but he said it softer”; the almost meditative construction (more codes), “I’d as soon/ Murdered him as left out his middle name”; the further meditative gesture of the farmhand picking “lightly round” the hay (how lovely to describe it as a kind of meditation); and that terrible sound, that terrible image, of the farmer squeaking “like a squeezed rat” (there is danger throughout—recall that “perpetual dagger” in the storm cloud). Running through the poem, as in the best of Frost, is the haunted echo of men’s speech. Frost’s pentameter is always too dependent on monosyllables, like the speech of most men, and here and there the lines are posed or stilted; but most of a century later these sound like men talking, not like men writing.

Frost knew when to let a poem go—in his best poems the ending comes as a slight shock, as if the poem couldn’t be over (in his worst the reader feels the poem shouldn’t have begun). The actions seem to move beyond the end of the lines—this is an old trick in fiction, but how many poets have used it well? Fiction wouldn’t have served Frost’s temper (if he’d been a novelist he might have written something awfully like Ethan Fromme), but when we place him it must be alongside those moody gothics Hawthorne and Melville, the New England geniuses of guilt and redemption, and failures to redeem. Something of the violent Fate that moves their fiction moves through his verse, but it is a Fate blinder and more callous. Here is “The Draft Horse”:

With a lantern that wouldn’t burn

In too frail a buggy we drove

Behind too heavy a horse

Through a pitch-dark limitless grove.
And a man came out of the trees

And took our horse by the head

And reaching back to his ribs

Deliberately stabbed him dead.
The ponderous beast went down

With a crack of a broken shaft.

And the night drew through the trees

In one long invidious draft.
The most unquestioning pair

That ever accepted fate

And the least disposed to ascribe

Any more than we had to to hate,
We assumed that the man himself

Or someone he had to obey

Wanted us to get down

And walk the rest of the way.

This is the Frost who makes readers uncomfortable. We ought to be able to call it an allegory—but no allegory suggests itself (or, rather, the allegories are too simple for the savagery). The murder of the horse is so abrupt, so unforeseen, that the murderer seems more than just part of that unknowable agency that makes life harder (no memory “keeps the end from being hard,” Frost wrote in “Provide, Provide”). The couple, with their faulty lantern and fragile buggy, with the wrong horse, are destined for trouble—and how Frost loved those scary old woods. (One critic asked—this is the sort of question critics should ask—why the couple had hitched a draft horse to a buggy. The answer should have been obvious—because they had to.)

Frost knew more about depravity than any American writer after Melville and before Faulkner—and he had a cellar knowledge of our irrational fears (Frost tells us the man stabbed the horse deliberately; but first, in the way he grips the horse’s head, Frost shows us deliberation). This is the Frost people don’t want to care for, and yet look how compellingly the poem ends. The couple don’t curse their fate; they’re so unquestioning they seem slightly stupid. Yet isn’t this a philosophy, a kind of clear religion, not “to ascribe/ Any more than we had to to hate”? As readers we know we wouldn’t act this way, and we’re not finally sure that we should act this way—but we’re not sure we shouldn’t, either. That makes Frost strange, and us, in our settled, suspicious natures, ill at ease.

Frost’s poems often find something human but distasteful in knowledge and belief—not just religion’s set beliefs, but the beliefs men have to accept to get from one day to another. He recognizes that belief can be a weakness, that strength often requires a restraint. “The Strong Are Saying Nothing” ends there, but it starts in a casual, causal, haphazard way.

The soil now gets a rumpling soft and damp,

And small regard to the future of any weed.

The final flat of the hoe’s approval stamp

Is reserved for the bed of a few selected seed.
There is seldom more than a man to a harrowed piece.

Men work alone, their lots plowed far apart,

One stringing a chain of seed in an open crease,

And another stumbling after a halting cart.
To the fresh and black of the squares of early mold

The leafless bloom of a plum is fresh and white;

Though there’s more than a doubt if the weather is not too cold

For the bees to come and serve its beauty aright.
Wind goes from farm to farm in wave on wave,

But carries no cry of what is hoped to be.
There may be little or much beyond the grave,

But the strong are saying nothing until they see.

How lovely that “rumpling” in the first line is, and how ambiguous that “harrowed” later on. There is much in the loneliness of the way these men work, in that farmer “stumbling after a halting cart.” The brilliance of Frost’s poems is often in these acts of notice, in the contrast between the harrowed soil (retaining the decay in that other sense of “mold”) and the white plum blossoms. Frost isn’t a poet for mere beauty. The beauty of the plum tree comes ripe with disaster: if the weather is too cold for the bees, the beauty will not be served with plums. It’s as if to say, “Beauty is all very well, in its place, but what’s really important is the homely old plum.” This isn’t the point of the poem, but it leads to the point by a roundabout way. Farming is the faith and hope of seeds, the religion of what comes after—suddenly we’re in a poem about death. Frost’s farmers don’t trust anything they can’t see. It might be tempting to predict a crop, and for many men it’s tempting to predict what lies beyond the grave. It takes a kind of strength, Frost is saying, to resist from hope—those harrowed fields are bleak and biblical.

Frost could barely think of beauty without thinking of death. At times it made him arch and melodramatic, those two sins of Romantic character (there’s a self-congratulatory cruelty to the end of the mawkish “Out, Out—”—the boy probably died from bad doctoring and an overdose of ether); but usually he just suffered his understandings, half sad and half stoic. He knew how much death cost the people who survived, how much even the prospect of death cost them. The odd little poem “Not to Keep” is about a wounded soldier, sent home to his wife. She thinks that they’ve escaped, that the war is over for them; but she cannot see his wound. Finally she has to ask, and he has to tell her—the wound is severe enough to send him home, but not to keep him home. He has to go back to war.

Frost is a master of what people have to endure for one another. The visual arts have never been much good at showing what people say without saying, but in “Not to Keep” it is all there in a line or two. (The movies cheat and use music, and perhaps you could say that de la Tour cheated with light and with significant glances.) It’s easy to forget how much Frost does not say in his poems, how much power lies in his reticence.

Frost’s poetry is one long exploitation of a fairly limited notion about character, and yet to the limitations what a rare and brush-fine rendering he brings. There is more truth in Frost’s simplicities, his love of morals and homilies and examples, than in all the dull rattle of autobiography on which our poetry now subsists (This was my life, our poems protest, as if having a life were the same as having art). How interested Frost seems in other people—and yet how interesting that makes him seem. The problem is not that Frost is too simple for us; it’s that we are too simple for him. ~\


Many critics like to criticize Frost’s poetry because he writes formally and uses end rhyme, and he writes about the New England farmer and the landscape of the Northeast, and these techniques make him ripe to be classified as the Norman Rockwell of poetry by critics, who miss the subtlety of his poems. Despite his faults, Frost does not use poetry to promote a mythical culture the way the poetry of John Crowe Ransom, and the early poems of Allen Tate promote the ‘Plantation Culture’. The Southern culture in these poems is slave-based, and Ransom never apologized for his view on the South, but Tate did when he was near the end of his life.

When asked if he would change his life, Frost said he would give up poetry and concentrate on being a better husband and father. The use of form and rhyme, along with images of a rural community, does not give critics the right to make assumptions about the poet’s desires outside the poem. Frost indeed wanted to return to some aspects of his past; however, he crushes the myth that all farmers were successful middle-class entrepreneurs. A primary example of this myth is the movie Friendly Persuasion, in which the actor Cary Grant portrays the mythical agrarian who owns multiple horses, a huge barn and house.

His poems come from the forgotten history of the family farm, and he tells them with empathy for the poverty of most farmers; his verse uses images as simple and stark as the lives of the poor and raises the question: How does an author show hardship of poor without sentimentality? Frost describes poverty with the image of a rickety buggy with a broken lantern and uses rhythm that makes this condition real on the night and for the conceivable future. Their destitute condition has lost its impact because the family lacks hope for the money to repair or upgrade the cart.

For the pre-World War One generation, poverty was a common condition and did not need an explanation; by the 1950s, movies and the TV culture of farm poverty obscured the poverty in the farm community where I grew up observing its remnants. For the senior prom, my mother made a dress for my sister, Sue, and she was afraid of being laughed at because her clothes were handmade; therefore, my mom told a story about her prom to assuage the fear that poverty created.  From a box of discarded dresses that her aunts donated, my grandmother selected a dress to downsize for mom. The material came from her great aunt and was over twenty years old. Of the fifteen girls who went to the prom, fourteen wore dresses of old cloth.

My mother was in her early thirties when she told this story. She remembered not how pretty the store-bought dress looked but how the family sacrificed to buy it. They sold eggs meant for breakfast and the pig, intended for their winter meat supply. The father gave up tobacco. Large and small, the family sacrificed. When my mother died, we found her jar of a thousand buttons. If the knowledge of family farms came only from the movies and TV, a lazy critic might think that Frost ached for a return to the 1800s of his childhood. The reviewer would misinterpret the poem The Draft Horse. This poem is not about a random murder. It is about the cruelty of fate and the strength of character of the New England farmer.

In the poem The Draft Horse, the lantern remains broken, and the buggy is in disrepair because the money goes for food, feed, and seed. Against the background of this destitute condition, a strange man appears. To understand this stranger, the reader needs to understand the New England literature of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving.  The stranger is fate, a character like a devil or misfortune, and it is not used only for drama. To kill a horse, you would need a knife the size of a machete, which is why soldiers use spears against horses. The horse dies, and Frost uses the typical metaphor of a villain to describe misfortune. The horse’s death is horrible because the man needs the horse for plowing, planting, harvesting, and going to the market.

During the night, the devil and his agents are the most active. In the New England Protestant religion, they don’t believe in fate. They believe in God’s will. The poem ends with the farmer saying, someone wants us to get down and walk. That someone is God. Because the strange man is a metaphor for God, which means it is God who wants him to suffer. Yet, the farmer acknowledges this divine action without malice, anger, or bitterness. The character in Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye the Dairyman says, I know even our misery is a blessing from You. Couldn’t You bless someone else? Tevye's is the attitude of the farmer in The Draft Horse. In this poem, Frost uses the English classical conventions and the New England storytelling traditions to take God to task for mistreating the poor.


~ Valentina Istomina was a quiet witness to history. “Valechka” was the housekeeper for Joseph Stalin during his final eighteen years. Stalin, the prototypical totalitarian leader of the 20th century had few really close, personal acquaintances. This was by design. Stalin had overseen the arrest, imprisonment and murder either directly or indirectly of the majority of those close to him. Being “friends” with him was a lethal enterprise. He was brutal, cruel, controlling and highly suspicious of everyone he came into contact with, either via his professional (i.e. political) or personal life. His behavior and beliefs touched the lives of everyone from the lowest Russian peasant to immediate family members. He is most often portrayed as a malevolent, paranoid, mass murderer. That is most certainly true.


There is at least one notable exception to the common portrait of Stalin. At least one individual was intimately familiar with his private affairs. A different perspective on Stalin comes from his relationship with Valechka, who dutifully served him for many years. She would remain a part of Stalin’s intimate circle up to the final moments of his life. A biographical sketch of Valentina Istomina is difficult. Though she was present in Stalin’s life throughout the most notable historical events in the Soviet Union during the final two-thirds of his reign – the Great Terror, the Great Patriotic War, Yalta and Potsdam – she seems to be almost invisible. Always there, but hardly noticed. This was most likely the main reason she was able to serve Stalin for so long without fail.

Valechka did not involve herself in politics in any way. She was never a member of the Communist Party. Her personality was submissive and simple. She knew her role and kept to it. Her looks were typical of a Russian woman from the countryside, plump, but not fat, busty, but not voluptuous, a woman not a diva. From all accounts she was pleasant, practical minded and good natured. She blended in well, almost to the point of anonymity. Her presence was rarely noted and even less discussed. She was less concubine and more of a companion. She asked for nothing while being left to do her job. This she did well.


Valechka first served the Stalin household as a maid beginning in the early 1930’s. In 1938 her career received its biggest boost when she was made head housekeeper at Stalin’s home in Kuntsevo. This is where Stalin would spend the majority of his time outside the Kremlin in the later years of his life. Here Valechka would take care of his clothes, meals and private quarters. She also took care of his physical needs as well. Little if anything is known about any romantic interactions between them. Here was Valechka’s greatest quality — to always remain not so much behind the scenes, as part of the scene.

One can only imagine the conversations she overheard, but never divulged. Secrets were something to be ignored. They would get in the way of her duty, which was day after day of unfailing loyalty to this terrible man’s private affairs. Did she understand what Stalin was up to, the extent and scale of his crimes? Did she silently and tacitly commiserate? This was blind loyalty to the point of ignorance. She was privy to thousands of secrets that never passed from her lips. We do not know, we will probably never know, what she thought, felt or believed during all those years.


We do know what Valechka felt when Stalin died. In her autobiography, Stalin’s daughter Svetlana tells how when Valechka “came in to say good-bye. She dropped heavily to her knees, put her head on my father’s chest and wailed at the top of her voice as the women in villages do. She went on for a long time and nobody tried to stop her.” This horrible dictators’ life was over, but Valechka represented a feeling that was experienced across much of the Soviet Union. She was heartbroken, as were millions of others. This is hard to believe, but that makes it no less true. He was a monster, a horrible man, but he was their monster. For Valechka he was her beloved. In his life, Stalin had caused countless tears of sorrow among his enemies, real or imagined. In his death, he caused tears of sorrow to the one who had known him best. Everything with this man, including his most private affairs, was a tragedy. ~ CJ Wilkinson

from the same source:

A large part of Valentina Vasilevna Istomina’s anonymity has to do with the society Stalin cultivated. In this world everything was a secret, the truth open to manipulation and propaganda created a new reality. The secretiveness extended to Stalin’s private life as well. The Soviet Union under Stalin came as close to total control over its citizens as any society in the history of humanity. Information about Stalin was manufactured and massaged to create a cult of personality, a man larger than life itself. Everything human about him was hidden, including the woman who came closer to being a true wife to Stalin than either of the two women who had been unlucky enough to marry him. Yet in the giant, demonic shadow of Stalin was hidden the housekeeper nicknamed Valechka, unfailingly there for him during the final quarter of his life. It is quite incredible that the woman who spent years and years tending to Stalin’s domestic needs has gone almost entirely unnoticed by history.

With this in mind I tried to put together more information on Istomina from English language sources. This was a bit like trying to put together a puzzle with most of the pieces missing and where the few available offered little continuity. The best resources were Sebastian Sebag Montefiore’s Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar and Svetlana Alliluyeva’s Twenty Letters To A Friend.  Montefiore’s book is an exhaustive account of the dictator’s private and what might be termed “court” life.  While Alliluyeva, who was Stalin’s daughter, offers a personal memoir of the fraught relationship she had with her father and anecdotes from this dysfunctional world. Montefiore devotes several pages to Valechka, more than any other book concerning Stalin. He also has several references to her scattered throughout the text. Putting together a picture of just who Istomina was and her appeal to Stalin is not easy, but the information does provide some fascinating insights.


The sources Montefiore relies on to describe Valechka state that she was “cheerful” “laughed all the time” “like a kind woman from the villages” and “always smiling.” Details such as these raise the question of what exactly sparked an attraction between Stalin and Valechka. Perhaps it was the fact that they were opposites— after all no one ever accused Josef Stalin of perpetual smiles or cheerfulness. The attraction of an opposite is also evident in the fact that Valechka was said to take no interest in politics. Stalin was said to have preferred submissive women who knew and kept their place. He would brook no resistance.

Valechka certainly knew how to keep out of the way, blend into the background and do her master’s bidding without attracting any notice whatsoever. She did not interject herself in affairs of state. This may seem obvious, but it is still remarkable, as she was witness to no end of incredible conversations and events that helped decide the future for much of the world. She accompanied Stalin to Yalta, Potsdam and on his postwar trip into southern Russia and Ukraine. She must have heard and witnessed extraordinary things on an almost daily basis, but never uttered a word publicly. Not while Stalin was alive and not after he was dead. His secrets were safe with Istomina. He had chosen the right woman.

One anecdote from Alliluyeva’s book conveys the blind devotion that Istomina had for Stalin. It is also a telling example of how a sheltered and secretive life influenced her view of the larger world. “The housekeeper Valechka, who accompanied my father on all his journeys, told me recently how upset he was when he saw that people were still living in dugouts and that everything was still in ruins (post World War II). She also told me how some Party leaders who later rose very high came to see him in the south and report on agricultural conditions in the Ukraine. They brought watermelons and other melons so huge you couldn’t put your arms around them. They brought fruit and vegetables and golden sheaves of grain, the point being to show off how rich the Ukraine was. Meanwhile the chauffeur of one leader….told the servants there was a famine in the Ukraine, that there was nothing to eat in the countryside and peasant women were using their cows for plowing. “It’s a wonder they weren’t ashamed,” wailed Valechka, the tears streaming down her face. ‘”To deceive your father of all people! And now they’re blaming him for it, too!”

Deceiving Stalin, that master of deception and lies would have been quite an achievement. Stalin was one of the most controlling leaders in world history, and that control extended to knowledge and information over the entire Soviet Union. He would have been well aware of the situation in Ukraine. Of course Istomina, blinded by love and loyalty believed only what she wanted to. Her ability to suspend disbelief must have rivaled Stalin’s powers of manipulation and artifice. Then again her entire adult life had been lived in an alternate universe, the private world of Josef Stalin.

Perhaps the most interesting detail I learned from my research was that those who worked in Stalin’s household had to sign confidentiality agreements, as though the threat of being sent to the camps and ground into dust for so much as whispering a word about the personal affairs of Stalin was not enough. Istomina would certainly have signed one of these. Those lips, which on countless occasions had kissed Stalin’s, were sealed not only by officialdom and fear, but also undying affection. As Alliluyeva says, “During his last years Valechka and all the rest of them had known more about him and had seen more of him than I, who no longer felt close to him and was living in a different place. She (Istomina) had seen people from all over the world at that large table during banquets at which she always served. She had seen a good deal that was interesting, within her own narrow limits, of course, and whenever I see her now she tells me about it in the most vivid and amusing way.”

Istomina may have shared those stories with Alliluyeva, but she kept them from the rest of the world. There was never any tell all memoir, there was never a diary or love letters. There was only an intensely private world that very few people ever glimpsed. It was a world never meant to be known because Valentina Istomina knew how to keep secrets. And perhaps that was what attracted Joseph Stalin to spend so much of his life with her. ~

from another source:

~ Valya Istomina, Stalin's personal housekeeper, had to live through perhaps the hardest ordeal.

Initially, she was “intended” for General Nikolai Vlasik, chief of Stalin's personal guards. However, at the time, she was courted by many men, including Lavrentiy Beria, head of the NKVD. When Valya caught the eye of Stalin himself, all the others retreated. The young woman was transferred to his Moscow dacha in Kuntsevo: she personally set the table for him and made his bed.

Tragedy struck 17 years later, when Stalin fell sick and Valya did not go to him. She was raped by Vlasik and Beria. Having learnt that she had “cheated on him,” Stalin gave the order to send her to the infamous Kolyma camp, in the Magadan Region. Vlasik was also arrested and sent to a camp, while Beria was spared.

Fortunately for Valya, upon arriving at the camp she was informed that Stalin could not bear being without her, so she was sent back to Moscow.

After Stalin's death, his daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva wrote about Valya in her book "Twenty Letters to a Friend": “She fell on her knees by the sofa, dropped her head on the dead man's chest and started wailing, like a village woman ... To her dying day, she was convinced that there was no man better than my father.” ~

~ Valentina Vasilyevna Istomina (maiden Surname: Zhbychkina) was born on 11.11.1917 - just the day when a revolution occurred that changed the lives of millions of people. However, the Zhbychkin family, who lived in the village of Donok (present-day Oryol Oblast, Korsakov District), was not up to the political upheavals — it was necessary to work in order to survive.
In addition to Vali, Zhbychkiny had 3 more sons — Pavel, Fyodor and Vasily.

About the early years of the girl, little is known. According to official data, at the age of 18 she arrived in Moscow, where she got a job at a factory. However, some sources claim that, before conquering the capital, Valya received medical education in the Oryol obstetric school.

For most historians, it remains a mystery how Valentina Istomina managed to attract the attention of the Chief of the Security of the Leader, Nikolay Sidorovich Vlasik, to herself and get a job as a housekeeper at a dacha in Zubalovo.

The state security was interested not only in the pretty appearance of the girl, but also in her intelligence and economy. After all, not having all these qualities, Istomina (then still Zhbychkina) would not have been able to hold the position of housekeeper for so many years.

According to the testimony of Stalin’s daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva, two girls, Klava and Zina, worked with Valentina Vasilyevna in Zubalovo, but none of them managed to stay in this post for long.

Alliluyeva asserts that the woman first worked at her country house in Zubalovo for three years and only then moved to her country house in Kuntsevo. However, other sources claim that Valentina Vasilyevna immediately began working in Kuntsevo, starting in 1935 and until her master died in 1953.

Stalin's country house in Kuntsevo

According to the testimony of the personal protection of the head of the USSR,Valentina Vasilyevna Istomina was always distinguished not only by her pleasant appearance, but also by her docile disposition. In addition, she was a good cook and an excellent housekeeper, keeping the dacha in perfect order.

In addition to the above qualities, the girl was wise beyond his years. She knew how to listen, but not to talk too much. Not surprisingly, in just a couple of years, Istomina became almost the only person Stalin really trusted. And not only to restore order in his home and monitor the tidiness of clothing, but also to take care of his health. According to eyewitnesses, the head of state almost always did not trust the doctors, but from the hands of Valyushka meekly took absolutely any medicine.

After the war, Stalin spent most of his time in Kuntsevo, in the company of his housekeeper. And in the late forties, he even began to take Valentine with him on trips around the country.

Closer to his death, Stalin and Valentina Istomina almost never parted. And after the death of Yosip Vissarionovich, it was she who prepared his body for the funeral ceremony [washed it and prepared it for subsequent mummification].

The fact that Valentina Istomina was the mistress of the head of the USSR was gossiped about during Stalin's lifetime. However, people usually spoke of this in a whisper, and only those who knew about the existence of Valentina, and there were few of them.

Despite these rumors, Valentina Istomina managed to arrange her personal life without problems. Her husband was Ivan Arsenyevich Istomin, who worked in military structures.

According to eyewitnesses, the couple lived their lives peacefully. And even loved ones spoke of them as a happy family.


With the death of the Leader she lost her job, which provided her with all the benefits for almost 18 years.

Fortunately, the fate of Istomina was much better than that of her colleagues from Stalin’s personal guards. She received a personal pension and she never worked again.

In addition to high pension payments exceeding the salary of her husband, she also received a lot of other benefits. She and her spouse had a separate apartment in Orlikov Lane, a cottage in the Moscow region and a Zaporozhets car. At the same time, Valentina Vasilyevna felt completely secure and didn’t do any additional work.

With the beginning of perestroika, prosperous life of Istomin family was under threat. Special retirement was canceled, but thanks to the title of state security officer and many encouraging awards, Valentina Istomina continued to receive good money.

At the beginning of publicity, journalists became interested in the personal life of the former leader. Having learned about the close relationship with Valentina Vasilyevna, the young woman at that time was asked to be interviewed. Despite the fact that Istomina promised good money for a story about her life with Stalin, she never agreed to these proposals.

Moreover, it turned out that even many of her relatives did not know who Valentina Istomina worked in the past.

She died of a stroke at the end of 1995 in a state security hospital in Moscow. They buried her at Khovansky cemetery.

Valentina's husband, Ivan Istomin, survived her for six years.

It is worth remembering that in 1935, when Valentina Istomina began working as Stalin’s housekeeper, the leader of the world proletariat was already 56 years old. His health, undermined during the years of revolutionary youth, gradually deteriorated. Did he need a young mistress, who just came from the village yesterday (even though he could get any woman in the country)? Unlikely. But he badly needed a good nurse. Stalin’s trusting relationship with Valechka began when she cured him of a cold. ~ [heavily edited by me due to the poor English of the original]

~ Valechka did not involve herself in politics in any way. She was never a member of the Communist Party. Her personality was submissive and simplistic. She knew her role and kept to it.

Her looks were described as “typical of a Russian woman from the countryside, plump, but not fat, busty, but not voluptuous, a woman not a diva.”

From all accounts she was “pleasant, practical minded and good natured. She blended in well, almost to the point of anonymity. Her presence was rarely noted and even less discussed.
She was less concubine and more of a companion. She asked for nothing while being left to do her job.” ~ Jimmy Thomas, Quora


This we know for a fact: she was his trusted housekeeper for the last 18 years of his life.

Some sources claim she was illiterate; others say she liked to read. I think it makes more sense to think of her as illiterate. I agree with Wilkinson: “I argue her illiteracy afforded Stalin tremendous peace of mind. He could easily hide things in plain sight.

Of course Soviet women were expected to “love” Stalin. Below are female workers demonstrating their devotion.



What struck me most about Stalin's housekeeper/mistress Valentina was that she seemed more mother than lover. And maybe that's what he needed/wanted the most—someone who would care for him, comfort him, be totally and blindly loyal, see none of his faults, none of his sins, just like a doting mother.

Perhaps this kind of infantilism is typical in cruel tyrants. It may also speak to the rising numbers of single men still living with their parents—where they have the convenience of a mother to cook and clean and do their laundry, without troubling to learn how to do it themselves. This kind of thing does not recommend such a man as a desirable partner, one you might consider dating or marrying. Why bother, when you would just replace his mother with yourself in that same suffocating role?


That’s a great observation. I think historians would agree that Valentina was indeed more a mother and nurse to Stalin than an erotic love object. Another high-placed Georgian, Beria, was known to be a sex fiend who ordered women kidnapped in the street and brought to him to be raped. No such stories about Stalin. He didn’t crave sex, but a motherly devotion. Valentina was the only one from whose hand the normally paranoid Stalin would take medication. She was a loving mother taking care of her sick child.

Yes, there may be something about cruel tyrants that makes them crave this kind of blind devotion in the family sphere. Saddam Hussein supposedly adored his grandchildren. It’s easy to believe. Even monsters secretly need to be loved, to have an island of tenderness as a refuge from their monstrosity.


Textile workers showing their adoration (they didn't have a choice):


~ His wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, shot herself in the heart because of the way Stalin treated her.
Her sister, Anna, was married to a NKVD officer. Stalin had him arrested on charges of being a member of “Polish subversive-spying group” and had him shot in February 1940.

Stalin’s son, Yakov Dzhugashvili, fought in WWII and was taken prisoner by the Germans. The Germans offered him in a prisoner exchange. Stalin refused and allowed him to die in a concentration camp in 1943. ~


He regarded his second wife’s suicide as treason, and all her family guilty by association. He seemed to be affectionate only toward his daughter, Svetlana.

All his in-laws, including the ones from his first marriage, got executed or sent to the Gulag.

Nor did he spare Georgians, his own ethnic group. Estimates vary, but up to 60,000 eminent Georgian intellectuals and professionals were executed during the Great Purge.

Now, a bit of a surprise. Here’s a photo of Stalin’s granddaughter, Chrese [Olga] Evans, Svetlana’s youngest child. She lives in the U.S.

Here's another photo of Stalin’s granddaughter:

Dictators have one common denominator: development of a secret police or loyal para-military militia. The object is to seize power by armed force, arrests, and imprisonment. ~ Dimitri Zolochov


~ An epic feat of the Communist rule—widely overlooked, ignored or silenced—is the successful suppression of nationalism. This included Jewish nationalism, too.

If you look back at how Western liberal elites viewed the Soviet Union before and a few years after WW2, this is why they acted so seemingly soft-headed and deferential around their sworn enemy Josif Stalin. “He’s a cold murderer all right, but he sees how the narrow blinkers of nationalism lead to wars and misery.” The anti-nationalist passion of Marxists often made them strange bedfellows with liberal globalists.

A large part of revolutionary romantics who destroyed the Russian empire in 1917 were Jews. They were not motivated by ethnic nationalism. On the contrary, they split ways with Zionists, and during the Soviet rule happily killed many of them. But Stalin annihilated them in the Great Purge. He also prepared a large-style ethnically-based purge of Jews in 1953, similar to the ones he did to Germans, Poles, Tatars, Chechens and other “counter-revolutionary elements” before and during WW2.

The Red Holocaust failed to materialize because of Stalin’s sudden death. Beria called off the dogs. Yet, within a generation, anti-Semitism crept up from the grass-root level where it hibernated during the first Soviet decades up to the top levels of power. It morphed with the official anti-nationalist agenda when the Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public was formed.

With the launch of Perestroika and Glasnost in the mid 1980s, Gorbachev unintentionally let out the demons of Russian radical nationalism with its recurrent anti-Semite grievances. Wise from centuries of persecution, Soviet Jews read the writing on the wall loud and clear: “Get out, now!” When the economy went bust, and chaos ensued, the choice was not too hard to take. The once hermetically sealed Soviet borders were thrown open— and Jews poured out.

Now, it’s somewhere between 100–300 thousand Jews left in Russia, many of them holding Israeli passports. Several of them are still prominent in the sciences, education, business and entertainment. With the Jewish-friendly President in the Kremlin, good Israeli-Russian relations, and the iron grip of the secret police on the throat of radical nationalists, our country now probably is the least anti-Semitic ever since we inherited 2 million Jews from the annexed part of the Polish Kingdom two centuries ago.

The modern Russian cartoon below illustrates the residue of the Soviet-time attitudes related to Jews among many Russians. “The tolerant restroom”: the third public restroom door is marked “LGBT” and bears superimposed male/female signs that form the Star of David. I.e. Jewish culture is shown as a confusing intermixture of disparate things with possibly some hidden layers beneath. Jews are the conduit of questionable liberal values from the West. If left unchecked, it might lead to crumbling of the tradition-bound foundations of Russian civilization. ~

 ~ Based on collected data, it is estimated that almost two million Jews and their relatives have emigrated from the former Soviet Union since 1970. Most of this mass emigration occurred since 1989—about 1.7 million. ~

Ferenc Nagy:
The changes in 1990 unleashed anti-semitism in Hungary, too. I can imagine the fear of Russian Jews whose ancestors experienced pogroms for centuries.

Zachary Taylor:
Unless the question has something to do with Israeli policy, the answer is always anti-semitism and not anti-zionism. No anti-semite in history has taken a scientific opinion poll before deciding whether or not to hate their country’s Jews.

Max Kalininskiy:
It was mostly just economics. Ethno-nationalism like any other idealism picks up when there is a material motive behind it though.

Robert Hedlund:
So, Gorbachev asks the NKVD officer, “How many Jews are in Russia?
Perhaps one million. Then Gorbachev asks “So if we offer passage to Israel, how many will go?” Perhaps ten million.

Mark Leykin:
I’m a Jew who wanted to leave USSR as soon as I had an opportunity. Main reason was rabid antisemitism that was sponsored by the government and widely spread among general populations. Jews were discriminated at job hiring, promotions, college and university acceptance. Being Jewish means exposed to constant bullying at school for children. Besides, Jewish religion and culture was practically non-existent in USSR. It was all connected to economy of course. People believed that they have no opportunities to utilize their talents…

Ilya Taytslin:
A town of Birobidzhan in Far East, right on Chinese border was declared “Jewish Autonomous Oblast”, and the idea was to gather up all Jews throughout USSR and dump them in Birobidzhan. Most of them would have ended up starving to death as the place did not grow enough food for that many people, and most Soviet Jews were city folk unused to farming and wilderness living. Those who survived (likely the most “down to earth” and least educated ones) would have an unenviable position of being right in the line of fire if/when USSR went to war against China; by 1953 Mao had broken away from Stalin, and the idea of separate, distinct Communism was intolerable to Soviet leadership. Jews in Birobidzhan were to be cannon fodder / speed bumps for any potential Chinese attack.


~ Russia’s war against Ukraine is irrevocably lost. In fact, it was already lost at the moment when the Russian army was driven away from Kiev and it became clear that the blitzkrieg failed. More importantly, it was lost on the very day it started. The question now can only be about the terms of signing Putin's surrender regime — and about the conditions of the latter.

Although, on the other hand, someone else will be signing the act of surrender. Not Putin. ~


Alas, as long as Putin is in power, he won’t sign. Putin couldn’t care less about the loss of human lives — unless it means riots in the streets and a threat to his power. But Russians are mostly too intimidated to protest. And I don’t blame them — Russian prisons are a horror.

But before I get too pessimistic here, let me remind myself that Communism did fall. The Berlin Wall did come down, and the Soviet Union collapsed. That showed me that nothing is impossible. 

A Russian tank depot


~ A country whose modern history counts as one of its most tragic and sacred pages the Siege of Leningrad, with its one-million dead -- and whose totalitarian ruler is a native of the city and belongs to the generation of the children and younger siblings of the Siege of Leningrad's survivors -- right now is trying to replicate the Siege of Leningrad in Ukraine, expanding it onto the entire territory of that country.

Leaving many millions of civilians -- women, children and the elderly -- without light, heat, water and electricity: That is the way Putin, the genocidal war criminal and irredeemable moral degenerate, is trying to compensate for the unbearable humiliation of his vaunted army's crushing defeat on the battlefields of Ukraine.

I don't have access to the thoughts and feelings of all Russians -- no one does -- but my strong surmise would be that at least half of them, and probably more, either support what Putin is doing in Ukraine or don't give a damn about whatever he is doing there.

I am filled with contempt and disgust for the country of my birth and the first thirty years of my life.

And I also think that the prevalent Russian attitudes even to the most tragic and sacred pages of the country's modern history, such as the Siege of Leningrad, are now in dire need of some serious tonal adjustment. ~


I've been wrestling with the same dilemma, even published an essay on the death of nostalgia a couple of weeks ago. I'm afraid our past has been tarnished beyond repair.


I'm from Leningrad. Grew up on that sacrality. No part of Russia's past can any longer be protected by the gauzy scrim of that hushed-toned reverence. Russia's past is ripe for tonal reassessment. As for Russia's present, it deserves nothing but contempt.


~ PUTIN LOOKS GAY TO ME FROM TWO MILES AWAY. There's no romance between him and Kabayeva. Kabayeva was just a trophy to display to people as the “secret” mistress. There was no reason for him to keep Kabayeva secret, other than there was nothing whatsoever between them. He cannot fuck Kabayeva, but he likes people to pretend that he secretly does. Kabayeva simply played along with this game out of a terrible fear for her life. If she comes out and tells the truth, that Putin never fucked her, he would kill her. Putin is the least appealing male I know. He displays ZERO masculinity and testosterone. He is also extremely unattractive. ~ Just Michael, Quora


Again, it doesn’t really bother me that Putin is gay. What bothers me is that he pretends to stand for “traditional values” and pursues anti-gay policies.

And I wonder, if someone truly blew the cover, if that would be the end of Putin’s political career.

I discussed Putin’s sexual orientation in a fairly recent blog:

A man can smile, and smile, and be a villain ~ Shakespeare



~ According to the opposition in exile, a number of Belarussian units have made arrangements to surrender immediately if they are forced into Ukraine. They have no intention of murdering their fellow Slavs.

It’s likely that many of their troopers would join the Belarussian volunteer brigades already fighting with the Ukrainians. ~ Geoff Caplan


I almost feel sorry for Lukashenko. Apparently it's not easy being Putin's puppet! 


~ “The Banshees of Inisherin” feels like a writing exercise that got out of hand. Writer-director Martin McDonagh (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “In Bruges“) starts with an idea: One day a man goes to visit his best friend, and the friend doesn’t answer the door.

Later, Colm (Brendan Gleeson) tells Pádraic (Colin Farrell), “I just don’t like you no more.” Pádraic is hurt and confused, and the situation slowly builds from there. The rest is atmosphere: The movie is set in Inisherin, a fictional village off the coast of Ireland, and the year is 1923, during the Irish Civil War.

“Banshees” feels very loose, but not in a good way. Eventually, Colm explains himself. He reveals why he wants to cut himself off from Pádraic, and his explanation touches on deeper concerns regarding time, mortality and finding sense in the impermanence of existence. But none of it rings true. It feels as though McDonagh is just riffing, coming up with stuff as he goes along.

That could have been all right. A writer isn’t obligated to know, when he’s writing the first scene, what he’ll write in the 10th scene. But what McDonagh comes up with doesn’t illuminate his premise, but rather seems like a smoke screen to cover the fact that there’s nothing there to illuminate. McDonagh employs cleverness to distract you from the movie’s essential emptiness.

He’s such a good writer he can strike gold wherever he digs, a few flecks here, a minor vein there. He devises a funny character called Mrs. McCormick, an old lady dressed in black who scares everybody with dire predictions that have a way of coming true. Sheila Flitton plays the role right on the line between serious and Cloris Leachman — that is, Cloris Leachman in a Mel Brooks movie.

The best thing about “The Banshees of Inisherin” is Kerry Condon as Pádraic’s sister, an intelligent woman with an even temperament and a good sense of humor who finds herself marooned in the wrong part of Ireland and in the wrong half of the 20th century. Mocked as an old maid, she’s the one entirely sane person in the village, and the only one with any chance of finding happiness outside of it.

Other incidental pleasures include the hilly, unspoiled landscape, which looks a little like patches of the Northern California coast. The movie was filmed in the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland, just in case you’re looking for somewhere to relax.

But ultimately this is a movie about the two men, and there’s just not much there — not enough to justify a feature film. Perhaps knowing this, McDonagh tries to keep things lively by giving into his tendency toward the grotesque. He introduces a whole element of body mutilation, which isn’t funny or absurd in an interesting way, or believable in terms of character. However, it is disgusting.

For those who find this interesting, there’s also the spectacle of watching actors struggle.

Farrell’s struggle is to make something of a character whose only note is dejection. Gleeson’s struggle is to give balance and internal life to a character whose outward behavior actually makes no sense at all.

Both actors fail, but they end up making the cinematic void that is “The Banshees of Inisherin” seem a little fuller than it is. ~


It’s rare that I truly regret seeing a movie. It’s usually a movie with some horrible images that remain in your mind, hard to expunge.

When I left the theater, I said to my friend, “This movie was in bad taste.” At home I found the review (above) that said it more strongly: “disgusting.”

Among audience reviews was one that said, “I am 66 years old, and this is the worst movie I’ve ever seen.”

The one pleasant person in the movie was Padraic’s sister. Her story, ending with successful escape from the island, could have been an uplifting movie. As is, the movie is, alas, disgusting.

I was eager to see it because, judging by capsule reviews, it was to be about the question of whether it’s legitimate to discard an old friend once you realize that it’s a waste of time chatting with him over beer, and you have better things to do with your time. That question does get posed, but the answer certainly does not call for the horrors of self-mutilation.

The movie was shot in Aran Islands, and the scenery is indeed beautiful: the sea and cliffs and green hills. However, my friend said that there was too much glare.

Another complaint: because of the heavy Irish accent, the dialogue was hard to understand. But then, given the overall nature of the movie, perhaps missing half the words was a benefit.

I rarely write negative reviews, but disgusting is disgusting. Strongly recommend against.


~ Almost a third of adult single men live with a parent. Single men are much more likely to be unemployed, financially fragile and to lack a college degree than those with a partner. They’re also likely to have lower median earnings; single men earned less in 2019 than in 1990, even adjusting for inflation. Single women, meanwhile, earn the same as they did 30 years ago, but those with partners have increased their earnings by 50%.

These are the some of the findings of a new Pew Research analysis of 2019 data on the growing gap between American adults who live with a partner and those who do not. While the study is less about the effect of marriage and more about the effect that changing economic circumstances have had on marriage, it sheds light on some unexpected outcomes of shifts in the labor market.

Over the same time period that the fortunes of single people have fallen, the study shows, the proportion of American adults who live with a significant other, be it spouse or unmarried partner, also declined substantially. In 1990, about 71% of folks from the age of 25 to 54, which are considered the prime working years, had a partner they were married to or lived with. In 2019, only 62% did.

Partly, this is because people are taking longer to establish that relationship. The median age of marriage is creeping up, and while now more people live together than before, that has not matched the numbers of people who are staying single. But it’s not just an age shift: the number of older single people is also much higher than it was in 1990; from a quarter of 40 to 54-year-olds to almost a third by 2019. And among those 40 to 54-year-olds, one in five men live with a parent.

The trend has not had an equal impact across all sectors of society. The Pew study, which uses information from the 2019 American Community Survey, notes that men are now more likely to be single than women, which was not the case 30 years ago. Black people are much more likely to be single (59%) than any other race, and Black women (62%) are the most likely to be single of any sector. Asian people (29%) are the least likely to be single, followed by whites (33%) and Hispanics (38%).

Most researchers agree that the trendlines showing that fewer people are getting married and that those who do are increasingly better off financially have a lot more to do with the effect of wealth and education on marriage than vice versa. People who are financially stable are just much more likely to find and attract a partner.

It’s not that marriage is making people be richer than it used to, it’s that marriage is becoming an increasingly elite institution, so that people are are increasingly only getting married if they already have economic advantages,” says Philip Cohen, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. “Marriage does not make people change their social class, it doesn’t make people change their race, and those things are very big predictors of economic outcomes.”

This reframing of the issue may explain why fewer men than women find partners, even though men are more likely to be looking for one. The economic pressures on men are stronger. Research has shown that an ability to provide financially is still a more prized asset in men than in women, although the trend is shifting. Some studies go so far as to suggest that the 30-year decrease in the rate of coupling can be attributed largely to global trade and the 30-year decrease in the number of stable and well-paying jobs for American men that it brought with it.

When manufacturing moved overseas, non-college educated men found it more difficult to make a living and thus more difficult to attract a partner and raise a family.

But there is also evidence that coupling up improves the economic fortunes of couples, both men and women. It’s not that they only have to pay one rent or buy one fridge, say some sociologists who study marriage, it’s that having a partner suggests having a future.

“There’s a way in which marriage makes men more responsible, and that makes them better workers,” says University of Virginia sociology professor W. Bradford Wilcox, pointing to a Harvard study that suggests single men are more likely than married men to leave a job before finding another. The Pew report points to a Duke University study that suggests that after marriage men work longer hours and earn more.

There’s also evidence that the decline in marriage is not just all about being wealthy enough to afford it. Since 1990, women have graduated college in far higher numbers than men.
“The B.A. vs. non B.A. gap has grown tremendously on lots of things — in terms of income, in terms of marital status, in terms of cultural markers and tastes,” says Cohen. “It’s become a sharper demarcation over time and I think that’s part of what we see with regard to marriage. If you want to lock yourself in a room with somebody for 50 years, you might want to have the same level of education, and just have more in common with them.”

Wilcox agrees: “You get women who are relatively liberal, having gone to college, and men who are relatively conservative, still living in a working class world, and that can create a kind of political and cultural divide that makes it harder for people to connect romantically as well.”
What seems to be clear is that the path to marriage increasingly runs through college.

While the figures on single men’s declining economic fortunes are the most sobering, they are not what surprised the report’s authors the most. “It’s quite startling how much the partnered women have now outpaced single women,” says Richard Fry, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center.

“About 43% of partnered women have completed at least a bachelor’s degree compared to a third of single women.”

He speculates that women may be going to college in greater numbers because it helps them attract a partner in the same way it helps men. “Not only are they rewarded in the labor market with higher earnings, but increasingly, partnership also depends on educational attainment.” ~


I feel that both sides are brought up with a hopelessly false set of expectations of what "the real world" is going to be like. It starts with schooling / stereotyping, moves on to media (sitcoms, social media, films, etc.) which only reinforces those false expectations — e.g. TV commercials where "everyone" lives in a $750,000 home with a 300 sq.ft. kitchen, 10ft. ceilings, decked out with $5000 appliances. EVERYTHING we consume these days is just to sell us on a concept or idea so we buy more, to try and 'become' something that is totally unrealistic. Both men & women should learn to appreciate what is truly good in life & have realistic expectations — there will be give & take, good times & bad, BUT together you have a far better chance of surviving and living a long, healthy life vs. giving up / dumping your partner or divorcing when real life throws you a curve ball or two.


I think it really depends on the person. Some people (mostly men) thrive when married, while others (mostly women) feels stifled and stressed out, so a divorce is a great relief and liberation. 

Most marriages are not happy, especially if you ask the wife. It's generally the woman who initiates divorce. Nevertheless, I feel that the average person should try at least living together, just to see if you were made for it, or the opposite. 

Also, being happy if married or happy if single depends to some extent on one's stage of life. In youth there is more energy and sex drive, and marriage makes sense. Of course if children are desired, marriage is better for obvious reasons. Later in life, when one has developed a daily routine that keeps one content, disrupting it to accommodate to another person's needs may cause resentment. 

As practically all articles on the subject point out, you have to work to build and maintain a good (or "good enough") marriage. This takes time and energy -- and, above all, motivation. Couples who stay together aren't necessarily happier than couples who break up, but they have the motivation to stay together -- yes, sometimes for the sake of the children, sometimes to preserve real estate  and other assets, or for any number of reasons. It's complicated.

from another source:


~ If we could peek into American homes right now, it wouldn’t take long for us to find someone who lives alone. And according to a recent article on Psychology Today, there’s a high chance that someone is a heterosexual male. As a couple and family psychologist Greg Matos explained in the column, the number of “lonely, single men” is on the rise due to women having higher standards.

In fact, the modern dating arena has left younger and middle-aged men more likely than women to be unpartnered, which wasn’t the case 30 years ago. And things may get worse. Matos addressed three trends that contribute to this difficulty to find a partner: the rising use of dating apps, increased dating standards, and men lacking key relationship skills. In short, some men need to find a way to step up, or they will continue gliding through their lives being single.

The article quickly sparked discussions online and caused a stir across social media channels. Some internet users applauded Matos’s findings and found them validating, while others jumped at the opportunity to share their outrage.

Key points made by Greg Matsos:

~ Dating opportunities for single heterosexual men are diminishing as relationship standards rise.
~ Men represent approximately 62% of dating app users, lowering their chances for matches.
~ Men need to address skills deficits to meet healthier relationship expectations.

Over the last thirty years, men have become a larger portion of that growing group of long-term single people. And while you don’t need to be in a relationship to be happy, men typically are happier and healthier when partnered.

Women prefer men who are emotionally available, good communicators, and share similar values.

While there is probably no chance of stemming the rising tide of unintentional single men, there is still good news.

The algorithms are becoming increasingly more complex on dating apps and other online platforms. One benefit is that great matches are on the rise.

Ultimately, we have an opportunity to revolutionize romantic relationships and establish new healthy norms starting with the first date. It’s likely that some of these romances will be transformative and healing, disrupting generational trauma and establishing a fresh culture of admiration and validation.

Women weren’t as surprised as men by Matos’s findings. Many reacted by saying the article was validating what they have been saying about the dating scene for years. After all, there’s a running trend that shows women would rather stay single than waste time on people who don’t deserve it. And it’s hardly surprising, especially considering research that has found that men tend to benefit more from heterosexual relationships than women. Married men tend to lead happier, healthier, and longer lives compared to bachelors. On the flip side, women are more likely to link the benefits of marriage to marital quality.

Recent studies also suggest that females can definitely live and even thrive without men. For example, unmarried and childfree women are the happiest subgroup in the UK. “We do have some good longitudinal data following the same people over time, but I am going to do a massive disservice to that academic science and just say: if you are a man, you should probably get married; if you are a woman, don’t bother,” Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioral science at the London School of Economics told the Independent.

So if men really want to make women’s time worthwhile, they need to address a “skills deficit” as women who are looking for partners to create a healthy relationship seek people who are “emotionally available, good communicators, and share similar values”, as Matos explained.
The chances for men to find a match are low to begin with (considering that they make up a majority of all dating app users). Since women are raising standards and sticking to their boundaries more than they did before, there are way fewer opportunities for men to secure romantic connections.

Matos pointed out that one reason for men’s relationship skills gap is because society fails to teach young boys the importance of communication. This has resulted in growing numbers of unintentionally single men, as “emotional connection is the lifeblood of healthy, long-term love”. So unless straight men start changing their approach to dating and women, the issue will only get worse.

It looks like the article didn’t sit well with some men. Some of them were downright outraged, arguing women are “too picky” and have “double standards”, and even sending hate mail to the couple’s psychologist himself. Matos later took to TikTok to offer a response to the angered men and ask them, “Why? When all I am doing is asking you to be the best version of yourself. That’s all. All I am inviting you to do is just be the best version of yourself.”

Despite men lashing out after being called out for adverse behaviors, the psychologist has hope for men’s “transformation” and said there is some good news. A few of his suggestions on how men can lessen their chances of being single include seeking therapy to address their skills gap, self-reflection, and establishing new healthy romantic habits, starting from the first date and continuing forward. ~

If I remember correctly there is also the study that said the happiest people are single child-free women.

So fed up of never meeting a man who makes my life easier rather than harder, so I’ve given up. I”m so happy and fulfilled being single. 


Lesley raises a valid point: a woman's life becomes automatically more complicated and demanding when she enters a relationship. Unless she's brand new to romance, she knows that it comes with a price, even if it seems ecstatic at first -- perhaps especially when it seems ecstatic during the first few months.


This is a depressing article, but ultimately it says nothing new. All studies appear to find that men get more out of a relationship/marriage than women do. Some women I know would say, “Of course! They are gaining a slave who’ll take care of them.” Others might say that men are primarily looking for mommy, or a “service person,” with the man’s needs always coming first.

I’m glad that I got to experience marriage — for one thing, I’m no longer wondering what it’s like to be married. I also learned that every 5-7 years, it's a different marriage, and it's fascinating to watch how marriage evolves. 

But I’m far from typical, needing a lot of solitude, freedom, and privacy to be happy. Still, coming from a culture where people always seemed to get married and have children (or one child for professional women), I am startled to see the growing trend toward singleness and remaining child-free (or, for some women, deliberately having a child without first establishing a relationship.)

I suspect that people are less and less willing to make sacrifices. Some people, including me, won’t even have a pet because of the unavoidable demands, costs, and inconveniences. Yet I also have to admit that life loses some richness the more we start relating to screens rather than real people — who have real flaws, alas, because that’s the way life is, and maybe we should just be grateful for all the people and animals in our lives (I’m writing this on Thanksgiving).

Everything comes with a price, but the price may be worth paying (she said, luxuriating in having the house all to herself).


~ The first transformational trend, former CEO Mohamed El-Erian says, is the shift from insufficient demand to insufficient supply. The second is the end of boundless liquidity from central banks. And the third is the growing fragility of financial markets.

These help to explain “many of the unusual economic developments of the last few years,” he wrote, and looking forward he sees even more uncertainty as economic shocks “grow more frequent and more violent.” Analysts aren’t waking up to this yet, he added.

The first shift was driven by the effects of the pandemic, beginning with the entire system coming to a halt and stimulus from the government, or what El-Erian called “enormous handouts,” causing “demand surges well ahead of supply.”

But as time went on, El-Erian said, it became clear that the issue of supply “stemmed from more than just the pandemic.” It’s tied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that resulted in sanctions and geopolitical tensions, along with a widespread labor shortage brought forward by the pandemic. These disruptions in supply chains gave way to “nearshoring,” a more permanent shift of companies moving their production closer to home, rather than a reconstruction of the 2019-era supply chain. This essentially reflects a change in the “nature of globalization.”

“Making matters worse, these changes in the global economic landscape come at the same time that central banks are fundamentally altering their approach,” El-Erian said. As he has been for months now, El-Erian criticized the Federal Reserve in particular for being too slow to recognize inflation entrenching itself into the economy, and then for its steep rate hikes to make up for lost time.

As inflation soared, the Fed pivoted to aggressive rate hikes—with the last four increases all being by 75 basis points that lifted the federal funds rate to a range of 3.75% to 4%. But this fundamental change in approach led to the third problem, El-Erian writes. “Markets recognized that the Fed was scrambling to make up for lost time and started worrying that it would keep rates higher for longer than would be good for the economy. The result was financial market volatility.”

El-Erian isn’t alone in citing multiple threats to the future of the world economy. The veteran economist Nouriel Roubini and the financial historian Adam Tooze are two other prominent voices warning of interrelated threats. Roubini has just authored a new book called “MEGATHREATS” about no fewer than 10 giant economic problems facing the world, while Tooze has popularized the term “polycrisis” to describe a group of related and compounding problems.

Moving forward, El-Erian concluded, these changes mean economic outcomes will be harder to predict. And it won’t necessarily mean one simple outcome but rather a reflection of a “cascading effect”—in that one bad event could likely lead to another. ~

Mohamed El-Erian, economist


Our hope comes from the fact that humanity has survived even worse disasters -- the two world wars, for instance, or the Black Death. But the amount of suffering has been enormous. Now many of us in the West are spoiled by a long period of prosperity, and have forgotten the secrets of survival that our ancestors used (with only partial success -- one can survive eating nothing but potatoes, but that leads to malnutrition, which is particularly disastrous to children). Murderous dictators, and, let's face it, even asteroids are beyond our control. Life is fragile. Cassandra wasn't believed not necessarily because of Apollo's curse, but because people don't want to believe the truth.


~ In the US, most food waste ends up in landfills while South Korea recycles close to 100% annually, and its model could illustrates some core principles.

Every few months or so, 69-year-old Seoul resident Hwang Ae-soon stops by a local convenience store to buy a 10-piece bundle of special yellow plastic bags.

Since 2013, under South Korea’s mandatory composting scheme, residents have been required to use these bags to throw out their uneaten food. Printed with the words “designated food waste bag”, a single 3-liter bag costs 300 won (about 20 cents) apiece. In Hwang’s district of Geumcheon-gu, curbside pickup is every day except Saturday. All she has to do is squeeze out any moisture and place the bag by the street in a special bin after sunset.

“We’re just two people – my husband and myself,” said Hwang. “We throw out one bag or so every week.” Hwang, an urban farmer who also composts some of her food waste herself (things like fruit peels or vegetable scraps) guesses that this is probably on the lower end of the spectrum. “We’re part of a generation from a far more frugal time,” she explained. “Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the country was so poor that very little food actually went to waste. We ate everything we had.”

Things changed as urbanization intensified in the following decades, bringing with it industrialized food systems and new scales of waste. Beginning in the late 1990s, as landfills in the crowded capital area approached their limits, South Korea implemented a slate of policies to ease what was becoming seen as a trash crisis. The government banned burying organic waste in landfills in 2005, followed by another ban against dumping leachate – the putrid liquid squeezed from solid food waste – into the ocean in 2013. Universal curbside composting was implemented that same year, requiring everyone to separate their food from general waste.

Hwang’s yellow bag will be hauled off to a processing plant along with thousands of others, where the plastic will be stripped off and its contents recycled into biogas, animal feed or fertilizer. Some municipalities have introduced automated food waste collectors in apartment complexes, which allow residents to forgo the bags and swipe a card to pay the weight-based fee at the machine directly. As far as the numbers go, the results of this system have been remarkable. In 1996, South Korea recycled just 2.6% of its food waste. Today, South Korea recycles close to 100% annually.

Ease-of-use and accessibility have been crucial to the success of the South Korean model. “South Korea’s waste system, especially in terms of frequency of collection, is incredibly convenient compared to other countries,” says Hong Su-yeol, a waste expert and director of Resource Recycling Consulting. “Some of my peers working at non-profits overseas say that disposal should be a little bit inconvenient if you want to discourage waste but I disagree: I think that it should be made as easy as possible as long as it goes hand-in-hand with other policies that attack the problem of reducing waste itself.”

In addition to daily curbside pickup, Hong notes the importance of balancing cost-sharing and affordability. Food waste is heavy from its high moisture content, which makes transportation expensive. In South Korea, the revenue from the yellow bags is collected by the district government to help defray the costs of this process, in effect working as a pay-as-you-throw tax. (In Hwang’s district of Geumcheon-gu, yellow bag fees pay for about 35% of the total annual costs). “As long as the public’s sense of civic duty can accommodate it, I think it’s good to charge a fee for food waste,” he says. “But if you make it so costly that people feel the blow, they’re going to throw it away illegally.”

In the United States, where most food waste still ends up in landfills – the third largest source of methane in the country – state and municipal governments are also reckoning with the growing need to recycle more of their discarded food. Earlier this year, California enacted Senate bill 1383, which makes separated food waste collection in all jurisdictions mandatory with the aim of a 75% reduction in landfilled organic waste by 2025. New York City, which has long struggled to find a workable food recycling system of its own, recently introduced its first borough-wide universal curbside composting program in Queens.

Each of these experiments is pointing in the right direction, but experts say that there is still a long way to go. Only nine US states currently have some sort of ban on landfilling organic waste, while others are facing the high costs and logistical complexities of building new recycling infrastructure. “The way this goes, it’s policy first, then money for infrastructure, then making sure that it gets collected at the home,” said Dana Gunders, executive director of food waste-focused non-profit ReFed. “Most cities are at the stage of still needing the policy.”

While it will ultimately fall to individual states and cities to figure out the specific recycling policies best suited to their unique environments, the South Korean model illustrates some of the core principles that might guide this process. “When it comes to larger-scale municipal organics recycling, in the United States, like in South Korea, convenience and cost effectiveness are essential to garner political will and participation from residents,” said Madeline Keating, city strategist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Cities like Denver, for example, are exploring a volume-based pricing strategy similar to South Korea’s pay-as-you-throw system. Ease-of-use, most notably in the form of curbside pickup, is also critical. “For households, you have to collect it at home,” said Gunders, of ReFed. “There’s no way you’re going to hit any critical mass if you have to take it somewhere.”

But there are cautionary tales in South Korea’s case, too. Although centralized recycling facilities are necessary in order to make a difference at scale – and currently much needed across the US – some municipal facilities in South Korea are already at their breaking points. And while on paper, South Korea’s food waste recycling rate is nearly 100%, there’s still a need for more diversified recycling and end-use streams.

The viability of recycled food waste as animal feed has been undermined by livestock diseases like avian influenza and African swine fever, while fertilizer made from compost has struggled to find takers even among the farmers who receive it from the government free of charge. “We need more public procurement, such as municipalities buying up this fertilizer to use for landscaping in public parks,” said Hong, the waste expert. “And we need more efforts to compost at the source, expanding many smaller models driven by resident participation rather than relying only on mass processing.”

To this end, national and municipal governments in South Korea have been actively investing in urban farming programs, which include composting courses and project grants.

“I think that concerned citizens composting their own food waste can be an important contribution to resource recirculation,” said Kwon Jung-won, a 63-year-old retiree who was recently hired part-time by the Seoul city government as a fertilizer consultant after completing a composting accreditation course. Funded in part by a grant, Kwon currently teaches members of Geumcheon-gu’s urban farming network how to compost everyday food waste into fertilizer. “Doing this at a large-scale farm would make a big difference environmentally, and I see this project as a pilot for that,” he said.

These sort of community-based efforts might be where the US can shine, increasing initial access to composting options in cities that presently have few other options, and taking advantage of backyard composts that can feed gardens. “These smaller-scale methods have the advantage of removing materials from the municipal waste stream by involving consumers and households directly in their food waste recycling, and often yield additional benefits such as job creation and production of compost products that enrich local soil,” said Madeline Keating of the NRDC.

The most sustainable approach to composting, of course, is to not view it as a magic bullet. No amount of recycling can replace the more fundamental solution of simply eliminating waste at the source, and this is an area where individual effort – not hi-tech solutions – can make the biggest impact. Examples of this might be not throwing out food just because it’s past its label date (it’s OK to trust your senses to determine if it’s spoiled or not, experts say) and not over-buying or over-preparing food.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” said Keating. “Each individual needs to look at why food goes to waste in their own kitchen and find opportunities to prevent that from occurring.” ~


~ On November 25, 1647, Massachusetts Bay banned Jesuit priests from the colony on penalty of death. The English Puritans who settled the colony feared the Jesuits for several reasons. First, simply because they were Catholic. To Puritans, Catholicism was nothing less than idolatrous blasphemy, and Catholics were destined for eternal damnation. Second, because the Jesuits were French, and France and England were engaged in a bitter struggle for control of North America. Finally, Jesuit missionaries had converted large numbers of Indians in Canada to Catholicism. Indian converts were potential allies of France and enemies of the English. Although no Jesuit was executed for defying the ban, the legacy of anti-Catholicism in Massachusetts survived for generations.

Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Note that men are more ornamentally dressed.

The English Puritans who settled Massachusetts in the 1630s feared dangers lurking in the vast new land. What frightened them most was not hostile Indians or wild animals. In the woods to the north and west were people they perceived as "devils" — Roman Catholic Frenchmen and their Jesuit missionary priests.

The Puritans were horrified to find that Jesuit missionaries working in the French provinces were successfully converting Indians and, even worse, English captives to Catholicism. Puritans believed that Catholic converts were destined for eternal damnation. To prevent the spread of Catholicism into Massachusetts Bay, the General Court banned Jesuit priests from entering the colony.

While the Puritans were inhospitable to anyone who did not share their religious views, they were particularly hostile to Roman Catholics. Puritans had originally separated from the Church of England because they believed it had not cleansed itself fully of "corrupt" Catholic practices. They "purified" worship by eliminating rites, rituals, and outward signs of religion such as crucifixes, holy water, statues, priestly vestments, and stained glass. They also rejected church hierarchy and abolished the priesthood. To them, the Pope was the "Antichrist," and the "Papists" who followed him were in league with the devil.

The French had begun staking out claims even before the English arrived in Plymouth. Like their countrymen at home, the French who established trading posts at Quebec in 1608 and Montreal in 1642 were Roman Catholics. They brought with them Jesuit priests, members of a Catholic order that promoted education as the best way to spread Catholicism. The Jesuits had considerable success converting Huron and Algonquin Indians. As the French missionaries pushed south as far as the Kennebec River in present-day Maine, the Puritans saw a double threat on their border. These men were not only Catholic, they were French, and France and England were already struggling for dominance of the North American continent. With its territory in Maine, Massachusetts was the northernmost English colony. The French Catholics were an all-too-real threat.

The first Jesuit missionary made several trips along the coast of what is now Maine in 1611, almost 20 years before the Puritans settled in Boston. Others followed. In 1646 a French ship visited Boston with two priests on board, and the colonial governor entertained them at his home. The General Court did not approve of the governor's hospitality. The next year lawmakers banned Jesuit priests from the colony.

Only a handful of Roman Catholics resided in Boston in these years. According to a 1689 report, there was not a single "Papist" living in New England. But in the early 1700s, stories began circulating that there were "a considerable number" of Catholics in the colonial capital. During the winter of 1732 a newspaper reported that an Irish priest had celebrated Mass "for some of his own nation" on St. Patrick's Day. Bostonians were alarmed enough for the governor to order the sheriff and constables to break into homes and shops and arrest any "Popish Priest and other Papists of his Faith and Persuasion." While English and French soldiers were fighting in what came to be called the French and Indian War, authorities in Boston arrested 100 French Catholics "to prevent any danger the town may be in.”

Even after the end of the war, Bostonians did not let down their guard. Each year, Harvard College sponsored a lecture against "popery." In 1765, the lector prayed, "May this seminary of learning, may the people, ministers, and churches of New England ever be preserved from popish and all other pernicious errors." Three years later, Samuel Adams proclaimed that "the growth of Popery" posed an even greater threat than the hated Stamp Act. As late as 1772 Boston specifically prohibited "Roman Catholicks" from practicing their religion because it was "subversive to society.”

The Revolution forced Massachusetts to change its stance towards, if not its view of, Catholics. An alliance with France was critical to the success of the American cause. From his Cambridge headquarters in 1775, George Washington objected to the celebration of "Guy Fawkes Day" — the anniversary of a failed 1644 Catholic uprising in England. Washington was incensed that there should be "officers and soldiers in this army so void of Common sense" as to insult the Canadians and French, the new nation's potential allies. After independence, some French soldiers chose to remain in Boston, creating the core of the first Catholic congregation in New England. Mass was celebrated publicly in the city for the first time on November 1, 1788.

When Rev. Fr. John Carroll, the Bishop of Maryland, visited Boston in the spring of 1791, he wrote home that "it is wonderful to tell what great civilities have been done to me in this town, where a few years ago a Popish priest was thought to be the greatest monster in the creation." The Bishop estimated that there were then about 120 Catholics then living in Boston.

Under the leadership of two French priests who arrived in the 1790s, the Catholic Church took root in New England. Over the next ten years, the Catholic population of Boston grew to about 500. When John Carroll visited again in 1805, he decided it was time for the city to have its own bishop. In April 1808, he appointed the Rev. John Louis de Cheverus the first Bishop of Boston.

Anti-Catholic sentiment did not disappear with the growth of the Catholic population. Indeed, the huge wave of Irish Catholic immigration after 1840 brought a renewal of prejudice, discrimination, and even violence against Catholics. It would be more than a century before anti-Catholic sentiment would finally begin to fade. Eventually, a son of Massachusetts would become the nation's first Roman Catholic president.

Corpus Christi basilica, Kraków (photo: D. Goska) Note the papal tiara.



Of course the Puritans didn't think they were "stealing" the continent. They arrived thinking they already owned it, being god's new "chosen people." I'm not kidding: they seriously thought that they are bound by a "New Covenant" that makes them the New Chosen People.


Jack Dorsey, former Twitter CEO, swears by just one meal a day and a morning salt juice.

~ Shortly after waking, Bryan Johnson drinks a murky concoction involving olive oil, cocoa flavanols and something derived from algae. Breakfast will be a blended green slurry of lentils, broccoli and mushrooms, with lunch and dinner not much different.

The 45-year-old American entrepreneur is religious about his sleep, follows a strict workout regime, monitors the performance of his vital organs using hospital-grade medical equipment, and suggests to his social – media followers that deviating from what he calls the “blueprint” to have a raucous night out getting wasted with friends is a form of self harm.

If your best friend suddenly started behaving like this, you’d worry she was developing an eating disorder. But men like Johnson – whose monastically disciplined routine went viral on Twitter this week – consider themselves biohackers: scientific pioneers pushing the boundaries of human life expectancy, in what amounts to an attempt to hack death itself. He claims his experiment – from which he hopes to devise rules anyone can use – allows him to resist aging so successfully that “for every 365 days, I age 277 days”, whatever that means. Yet contemplating his dessert of olive oil with pellets of dark chocolate floating glumly in it, you have to ask if it’s worth it.

Who wants to live for ever? Not me, with all due respect to Freddie Mercury for asking, and possibly not you either. Only a third of Britons even want to make it to 100, according to a recent Ipsos poll carried out for the British not-for-profit initiative the Longevity Forum. This suggests less a death wish than a fear of what growing old may actually involve. Tellingly, the older the respondent already was, the less enthusiastic they were about getting very much older. Extreme age can look brutal, up close.

Personally, I want very much to live until my child no longer needs me, whenever that may be, and to enjoy some kind of retirement. But beyond that, I just want to live until it feels like enough, and then ideally to have some control over the end. I’d rather have a busy, happy, meaningful life and drop dead at 75 than make it to 150 and run out of ways to fill the endless days.

Perhaps at 74 I’ll feel differently, but intriguingly the poll found women less keen than men on a long life, although it couldn’t explain why. Are we perhaps less likely to see aging as a competition, won by the last person standing? Do we worry more about outliving all our friends?

But perhaps it’s just that men are statistically more likely to die sooner, so don’t take longevity for granted. For whatever reason, venture capitalists continue to pour billions into biotech companies promising to extend human lifespan, while Silicon Valley tech bros’ famed obsession with often scientifically questionable “human optimization” regimes shows no sign of waning.

The former Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, an early biohacking devotee, swears by just one meal a day and a morning “salt juice” (a mix of water, lemon and Himalayan salt). Dave Asprey, CEO of the supplements company Bulletproof, describes in his book, Superhuman: The Bulletproof Plan to Age Backwards and Maybe Even Live Forever, his hopes of making it to 180. Some biohackers predict a future where we’ll voluntarily replace healthy limbs with prosthetics, engineering ourselves for optimal performance.

But beneath this exhausting quest for immortality, the constant tweaking of the bodily algorithm to ensure maximum efficiency, you sense anxiety and perhaps also the legacy of burnout. Johnson has tweeted about suffering from depression in the past, admitting that while building the tech company he eventually sold to PayPal for $800m – freeing him to pursue adventures in biohacking – he worked round the clock: “Days without sleeping was legend. Ragged state of being a badge of honor. Now I’m trying to make up for that.” Perhaps extreme health kicks like this are best understood as a reaction against an extreme way of life, replacing workaholism with a different form of driven behavior.

Yet already the niche language of biohacking is filtering down, much like its less sciencey cousin “wellness”, to the rest of us mere mortals via glamorous Instagram influencers and magazine articles suggesting you can shave years off a suspiciously nebulously defined “biological age” by eating more berries, walking barefoot on grass or taking ice baths. Biohackers often say they’re interested in extending healthy life, not living just for living’s sake, and of course it’s good to want to stay fit for as long as possible, dodging Alzheimer’s or cancer or painfully crumbling bones if you can.

But there’s a difference between enthusiastically wanting to get the most from life and fearfully striving to reverse the cellular process of aging via suspiciously rigid regimes. Much of that venture capital and restless energy might be more practically employed seeking not to defer old age indefinitely, but to take the terror out of it – through better treatments for horrible degenerative diseases, unsexy but useful technology that helps people stay independent at home for longer, and reliable social care.

The goal shouldn’t be to endlessly extend life but to create joy and purpose at every stage of it, whether that means easing pain at the very end or not making employees spend their 20s sleeping in the office. We don’t really need to hack death. What we need is to make life worth living. ~


And when we find life worth living, we are much more likely to stay healthy and vital even in our eighties -- and we will probably live long, without needing to resort to "salt juice." On the other hand, there is useful advice out there that's worth taking even if extreme longevity is not our goal. Fasting, for instance, has wonderful benefits. If "fasting" sounds off-putting, just skipping breakfast will also do some good. Trying to eat more green things makes sense -- no need to make them into a smoothie. Ditto for eating sauerkraut to nourish one's microbiome. It's more about disease prevention and having plenty of energy and mental agility in spite of being "senior." 

And to some extent, it's about the pleasure of experimenting and trying to find out what works best. Finding the half a dozen or so supplements that work for me is exciting. A health regimen doesn't have to be grueling. It should be a joy.

Speaking of joy, positive emotions may be more important to longevity than diet and exercise.


On living forever...a foolish thought, so unnatural, everything living dies, soon or late, well or horribly. Those who follow weird and baroque rules for eating and behavior seem to twist themselves into knots of self -righteous denial (like self flagellating, hairshirt wearing, aspiring saints) without much proof that their regimens are actually effective. They die too, like everybody else...after all that discipline and denial.

Reasonable steps to maintain and improve health, to have a better life, not simply a longer one, is a different matter. I think we were misdirected in terms of diet, and advised in the wrong direction at least since the 60's. There have even been those who feel this misdirection at least partially was promoted by those who would profit from its adoption. The place of grains in the "Food Pyramid" and the demonizing of dietary fats were probably the worst possible recommendations...and have significantly contributed to the unhealthy state that leaves us with crises in rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It is still hard to avoid "low fat" products, offered as "healthy choices." These low fat products have deficiencies in taste usually remedied with additional sugars...a devil's bargain if there ever was one.


Asked for diet advice, I reply: "No bread, no sugar." I don't experience the "no cookies" rule as any kind of deprivation. I must admit, however, that I like neither cookies nor American bread, so avoiding those is no effort at all. 

With diet, what you don't eat seems to be have more impact than what you eat . . . except for seafood and "green things" -- I don't just mean salads, but also cooked leafy greens such as bok choy, broccoli and kale (you can buy kale frozen and then just add a small amount to practically anything).  

Stated in the most succinct way:

what not to eat: no bread, no sugar

what to eat: seafood and green things

Extra bonus: fermented dairy, sauerkraut 

Fermented dairy means full-fat plain yogurt (check the label for "added sugar") and full-fat cheese, e.g. Gouda, Cheddar.

Now, vegetables that happen to be orange (sweet potatoes) or red (beets) are wonderful too --- unless you are trying to lose weight. Then you have minimize or exclude those because they are starchy, i.e. they do raise you blood sugar. But if you practice serious intermittent fasting -- one meal a day -- then you don't have to worry. Fasting will take care of your blood sugar and insulin. It's high insulin that makes you fat and sickly.

Another hack that will help you not to worry about starches is adding healthy oil (MCT, extra virgin olive oil, avocado) to your food, or a bit of vinegar or lemon juice. Learn to love the tart taste -- it's a sign that glycemic load isn't too high.

Fruit is questionable. Most fruit is way too sweet (remember, it was bred for sweetness) -- a big load of fructose is definitely not good. I've met people who believed that to be healthy you had to eat fruit every day, and the more the better. In fact you can be perfectly healthy eating zero fruit. Vegetables will supply the nutrients, minus the sugar. (Slightly green bananas are acceptable because they provide resistant starch, great food for friendly gut bacteria.)

Some people are afraid to try these exclusions. I can only say, Try it and see how quickly you feel much better.

Here is another article about the benefits of GLP-1.


~ GLP-1 is a peptide hormone that is produced in the gut as a response to food. GLP-1 Receptor Agonists have different types depending on how long they work in your body.
Short-acting GLP-1 helps control the blood sugar levels after meals. And long-acting GLP-1 controls the blood sugar levels throughout the day.

GLP-1 plays a significant role in regulating appetite and controlling blood sugar levels. It slows down the digestion process and helps nutrients to be released more slowly, preventing blood sugar levels from spiking after meals. It improves insulin production in the body and prevents your liver from releasing more sugar into your blood than needed.

GLP-1 is best known for its incretin (blood glucose-lowering) effects. This incretin hormone is produced as a response to carbohydrate meals and promotes insulin production, balancing the blood sugar levels. It slows down the gastric emptying process and decreases appetite. GLP-1 acts on the central nervous system by binding receptors in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus, promoting satiety.

Here are some advantages of GLP-1.


First, GLP-1 curbs appetite by blocking a hormone known as glucagon. Having high levels of glucagon causes intense food cravings, particularly sweets (carbohydrates).

Blocking glucagon means there are fewer food cravings, which, in turn, leads to fewer calories being eaten and weight loss.


Second, GLP-1 is an excellent choice for weight loss as it improves sugar control in those with diabetes or at risk of diabetes.

For example, many patients come in after being told by their doctor and/or medical provider that they are in early diabetes or at risk of diabetes due to a blood test known as a hemoglobin A1c.
There have been many examples in which diabetics that are taking over 100 units of insulin per day decrease their total insulin intake in half by adding GLP-1 to their medication regimen.


Third, GLP-1 is a peptide that has been shown through medical research to decrease the risk of heart attacks.

This peptide improves the remodeling and structure within the walls of various arteries throughout the body, especially the heart. For this reason, GLP-1 is a peptide that can benefit those at risk for heart disease and heart attacks.


Because GLP-1 decreases appetite, its main side effect is nausea and headaches when an individual attempts to eat large portions of food. Upon starting this medication, decreasing portion size to at least one half or one-third of the portion one is used to eating minimizes this side effect and leads to improved weight loss.

This peptide is contraindicated in individuals who suffer from gastroparesis and/or chronic constipation.


GLP-1 is thought to be able to prevent brain seizures, enhance memory, and learning.
According to research, when given to 45 Parkinson’s patients, GLP-1 seemed to improve brain function and motor skills. Some scientists even proposed that GLP-1 should be used in Alzheimer’s disease to control the symptoms, but more studies are required on this matter.


GLP-1 agonists are anti-diabetes drugs. GLP-1 increases insulin production and decreases glucagon levels.

GLP-1 agonists were developed to achieve long-term sugar control.

SIDE EFFECTS (of semiglutide)

GLP-1 does not have serious side effects. Those who start to use GLP-1 peptides may experience:

– feeling full faster
– low appetite
– nausea
– diarrhea
– vomiting

These side effects have been reported to lessen over time.


I assume that this article uses GPL-1 interchangeably with semiglutide — hence side effects. Most people, I assume, would rather raise their GLP-1 levels naturally.

Also, note the beneficial role of drinking coffee: “Coffee polyphenols augment gut-derived active GLP-1 secretion via the cAMP-dependent pathway, which may contribute to the reduced risk of type 2 diabetes associated with daily coffee consumption.”


There are two things to remember about how to raise your GLP-1 with diet: protein and dairy. Since a lot of dairy, especially cheese, contains protein, an easy solution is simply to have some cheese with every meal. Cheese is the ideal snack food -- but there is a distinct possibility that snacking, which is the opposite of intermittent fasting, is one of the worst things for digestive health. Rather, think how you can incorporate cheese in your meals.


~ Pterostilbene is a natural substance found in small quantities in vegetables and fruits such as blueberries. [Let’s face it, you need a supplement — fortunately it’s not expensive.]

Pterostilbene is a small molecule that is better than resveratrol in terms of absorption and stability.

Pterostilbene can activate sirtuins, which are enzymes that repair DNA, improve metabolism and can extend healthspan and lifespan.

Pterostilbene extended lifespan in various organisms.

Pterostilbene can reduce inflammation.

Pterostilbene can improve DNA repair.

Pterostilbene can improve brain functioning and can protect the brain.

Pterostilbene can reduce protein accumulation, which is one of the drivers of aging.

Pterostilbene activates AMPK, an important enzyme that can protect cells against aging.

Pterostilbene increases the production of powerful antioxidant enzymes, protecting the cells against oxidative damage.

In summary:

Pterostilbene can reduce protein accumulation, which is one of the drivers of aging. 

Pterostilbene activates AMPK, an important enzyme that can protect cells against aging. 

Pterostilbene increases the production of powerful antioxidant enzymes, protecting the cells against oxidative damage.


Pterostilbene is a natural analogue of resveratrol. Its best food source is blueberries.


~ In community-dwelling older adults of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (2011-2015), we examined cross-sectional associations between total and specific dairy product intake and performance in 3 cognitive domains (executive functions, memory, and psychomotor speed). Cheese, milk, yogurt, regular-fat, low-fat, and fermented dairy product intake frequencies were estimated using a food frequency questionnaire; participants were classified into quartiles. Multivariate analyses of covariance models were applied to estimate differences.

Results: In 7,945 participants (65-86 years, 49% women, 97% Caucasian), the mean dairy product intake was 1.9 (1.1) times/d. Total dairy product, cheese, and low-fat dairy product intakes were positively associated with the executive function domain and yogurt intake with the memory domain (all p < .05), independently of important covariates including age, gender, education, and diet quality. Intakes of total dairy product, cheese, and low-fat dairy product were associated with verbal fluency specifically (all p < .05). Participants with a dairy product intake >2.5 times/d had a higher score compared to those consuming less. No associations were found with psychomotor speed.


~ The research on low-fat versus full-fat dairy goes well beyond weight loss and type 2 diabetes. A study done by Mario Kratz published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2021 looked at 72 patients with metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that raise the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke — and found that a diet rich in full-fat dairy (at least three servings a day) had no effect on blood pressure or cholesterol compared to a diet limited in dairy or rich in low-fat dairy.

Another study, published in 2016 in the journal Circulation, tracked more than 3,300 adults over 15 years and found that those who had the highest blood levels of certain fatty acids found in full-fat dairy had a 44 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those with the lowest. Why is still unclear, although the researchers do speculate that certain molecules found in dairy fatty acids, known as gangliosides, or even the vitamin D in dairy products themselves, could play a role.

One concern with full-fat dairy is that high saturated fat levels may not bode well for older adults. But a 2018 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed nearly 3,000 adults age 65 and older for more than 20 years. Those with higher fatty acid levels associated with a higher consumption of whole-fat dairy products had a lower risk of death from all causes, as well as a lower risk of heart disease.

“I think what all these studies together say is that we need to stop making blanket recommendations such as ‘Avoid full-fat dairy because it’s high in saturated fat,’ ” says Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, who has authored several studies on the health effects of full-fat dairy.

Not all dairy is created equal. There may be more of a health benefit to eating fermented dairy products such as cheese and yogurt and drinking fermented milk products such as kefir, says Mozaffarian. Research shows that the consumption of these forms of dairy lower risk of both death and cardiovascular disease, possibly because these foods are also rich in probiotics, a type of good bacteria that lives in your gut. Probiotics themselves can improve body weight and blood glucose and insulin levels, Mozaffarian notes. “This may also help explain why consumption of cheese, which is the dairy product that tends to be highest in fat, is also associated with a significantly lower risk of both coronary artery disease and stroke,” he said. Fermented dairy products are also rich in menaquinones, a form of vitamin K also shown to lower risk of heart disease, he adds. ~


Also, another study found that dairy protein protects older adults against muscle loss. There is also this: “high intake of whole-fat dairy is inversely associated with obesity and abdominal adiposity compared to those with low consumption. Additionally, research by Drehmer et al. shows that full-fat, but not low-fat, dairy is favorably related to the metabolic syndrome in adults.” ( )

ending on beauty:

Mark you this, Bassanio,
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.

~ William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice


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