Saturday, December 31, 2022



He broke our hearts
bringing home an aluminum tree
with its own light bulb
and cellophane color wheel
that turned and lit
those tinfoil branches
blue and red and green
so proud, he said
you didn’t need
We couldn’t smile
we wanted a real tree
that would smell like pine
and drop real needles
on the artificial snow
even our old
skinny wire and papery green
fake tree would have been better
there was so much space
between those flimsy branches
to hang the glittering
almost weightless
glass-fragile balls
room to twist the lights
and carefully place the icicles
Set between the mirror
and the window
it sang and echoed light
real and reflected
so much more beautiful
than it ever should have been

~ Mary McCarthy


~ Not long ago I had a memorable conversation with a young writer (hereinafter referred to as YW) who professed to be curious about life in the former Soviet Union and wanted me to suggest a few works of literature describing the latter with a reasonable degree of accuracy. So I did, off the top of my head.

When, at some point, I mentioned Varlam Shalamov's "Kolyma Tales," adding that this, in a sense, in my judgment, was the Soviet, Gulag-bound version of Dante's Inferno, YW's eyebrows went up.

"Gulag? Never heard that word. What does it mean?.. No, wait, don't tell me: let me google it. I like to find things out for myself. How do you spell it?”



With the great agility of heedless youth, YW typed the ungodly word into that slick little thing called a smartphone, one containing the entire knowledge available to the human race
as I, with only a slightly slower speed of old man's thought, marveled at the very mind-warping notion of googling the Gulag, in all its lovely alliterativeness. Googling the Gulag! Oh my world! How ancient, how hopelessly outdated you were! Googling the Gulag!

"Aha!" YW exclaimed. "Yes... Here: 'The Gulag was the government agency in charge of the Soviet network of forced labor camps which were set up by order of Vladimir Lenin, reaching its peak during…'"

"It's OK," I interrupted — gently, I hoped. “You don't need to read it out loud for my benefit. I know what it was.”

"Sorry," YW mumbled, and continued to peruse the Wikipedia article in silence.

For an instant I felt like a relic, a thawed-out Siberian woolly mammoth, a befuddled guest from an incomprehensibly distant past, benevolently tolerated by the inhabitants and rightful owners of the shiny, brand-new world of the present.

In YW's world, there was Google and no Gulag. In the world of my childhood and youth
the ironclad world that formed and shaped and bent me for life there was Gulag but no Google. No Google, and no... oh, so infinitely many things! Such hopelessly different worlds! Never the twain shall meet. I would (but who was asking me?) take YW's world over mine any... No I wouldn't. Of course I wouldn't. Jeez. What nonsense was that. Good Lord

"That Gulag, it was a pretty terrible place, I must say," YW said in a sad voice.

My mind was placid and my heart serene. Everything was the way it was because it was the way it was supposed to be. Or the other way around. Or whatever.

Or to put it more clearly — and with more ultimate finality: One generation passeth away, in short, and another generation cometh and stuff, but the earth, like, it abideth for ever. ~

Kolyma Gulag Memorial, Ernst Neizvestny

Louisa Hemingway:
There is a podcast of a travel writer who spent part of a year traversing the northern reaches of Russia. He said the Gulags were rotting away, the physical forms forgotten, unlike those of Germany, where they have been demolished or stand as lessons and testaments to mankind’s inhumanity.

Sonia Melnikova-Raich:
If you wonder whether we should wish that the word Gulag is forgotten or remembered... Replace is with the word Holocaust and you will get the answer.

I’ve met some young people who’ve never heard of Auschwitz (and those who haven't heard of Stalin, either; on the other hand, they had an extensive knowledge of various pop culture celebrities).

A friend of mine said, “To me Auschwitz is as unreal as the Middle Ages.” Imagine how that felt to me, whose maternal grandmother who survived Auschwitz.

Eva Eger, an Auschwitz survivor and anti-war activist, told me that when she went to deliver a lecture at the UCLA Medical School, she asked, “How many of you have heard of Auschwitz?” Not a single hand went up.

John Guzlowski:

Kafka asks Buddha
What can a cat teach me?

Buddha smiles and says a cat
Will hear what's behind a door
Even when there is nothing
Behind the door.

Be that cat.

Kafka smiles back and says
I’ve heard what is behind the door.
I never want to hear it again.

Buddha nods.
Kafka: The Accused


No, we mustn’t forget about the Holocaust (which to me means genocide in the broader sense; it wasn’t just the Jews who died in the concentration camps). For one thing, our knowledge of organized evil that humans are capable of would be incomplete without knowing about the Holocaust. And for the same reason, we need to remember the Gulag. Hitler or Stalin, it almost doesn't matter . . . They were both human, and thus bring dishonor to all of humanity. 

Now, it's not the absolute truth that humans learn nothing from history. After Putin's invasion of Ukraine, the West decided to react, in part because of historical knowledge that Putin was following Hitler's playbook: at first, grab little pieces of land here and there; then, an "unimportant" country. Sign peace treaties while assembling a huge army. Accuse the other side of aggression while pleading self-defense. Lie non-stop. Commit genocide while you can. 

It worked quite well once, didn't it? Yes, but only up to a point. 


In the United States, the myth of the individual has several tenets. One of them is that we taught you to read. Therefore, it is your fault if you are ignorant of world history. The author of the article, Googling the Gulag, uses this tenet to belittle the younger generation for being ignorant. If the author wanted to praise the younger generation, whom I think was a woman because he labels the person YW, he could have pointed out that the younger person immediately went to a historical archive, Google, to find the answer and become educated. Yet, both scenarios ignore the root cause of ignorance in the United States.

The American conservative and conservative Christian philosophies promote ignorance of world history. Racism is the primary reason that the United States downplays world history. To the Conservative leaders, studying the Gulag’s history would lead to the discovery of Stalin’s antisemitism. In 1944, Stalin began his purge of the Jewish community from Russia. His policies regarding Russian Jews were similar to Hitler. Learning about the Holocaust brings the forefront the antisemitism inherent in Christianity.

Learning about European antisemitism uncovers the connection to American antisemitism, leading to the discussion of slavery and segregation that the Christian church supported. Listen to the anti-woke rhetoric of the American Conservative party, Republicans. Although the above progression may not be logical, it is the history of religious discrimination and slavery in the USA that the conservative and Christian leadership fears. These leaders fear that a good education will weaken the support for the antisemitism and racism that gives them power and wealth.

The conservatives belittle the viewpoint of an African American by making a derogatory label for any history told from the African American perspective. Several states have prohibited the teaching of slavery from a minority’s perspective. In Virginia, the Republican legislature adopted the teaching of the Free Market module. It refuses to acknowledge the immorality of slavery and teaches that the Free Market makes us more peaceful, wealthier, and happier. In this Free Market scenario, the entrepreneur prospers by using cheap labor. Slavery is a type of cheap labor, and segregation is another.

The module teaches that the US prohibited importing slaves because the imported slaves reduced the price of homegrown slaves, inferring slavery was an economic issue, not a moral one. Segregation is taught as a method to keep labor prices low, implying that segregation by law was a financial choice.

I’m not for communism, but I am for a balanced economy. History teaches that a thriving economy practices respect. It pays a fair wage and bases its profits on long-term sustainability, not the highest price that the market can bear in the short term. If we taught a well-rounded history, our students would not be ignorant of world events of the last 100 years.


No, we mustn’t forget about the Holocaust (which to me means genocide in the broader sense; it wasn’t just the Jews who died in the concentration camps) — for one thing, our knowledge of organized evil that humans are capable of would be incomplete without it.

Re: Stalin and the Jews. In public, Stalin was against anti-Semitism. In private, according to his daughter, for instance, Stalin was indeed an anti-Semite, though not a passionate one like Hitler. Still, there is a consensus that he had the plan to deport Russian Jews from the cities and settle them either in the special region of Siberia called Birobidzhan, also known as the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, or somewhere else east of the Urals. Only his death (probably caused by Beria’s slipping rat poison into Stalin’s drink) prevented the plan from being put into action.

For more on Stalin’s death, please go to one of my earlier blogs:


~ Putin'a New Year's "greeting" to the people of Russia, already having been broadcast in the giant country's Far East. 
Just look at this. Soviet Union was unspeakably bad, but this...
Russia today represents a direct parallel with Nazi Germany on the eve of the New Year 1945.
Bunker-bound Putin and his monstrous regime, desperate to stave off the inevitable, will try their damnedest to prolong the de facto lost war. There will be martial law implemented early in 2023, and another wave of "mobilization." 
The writing is already on the wall, the end is nigh, but many thousands of people will still have to die, wholly unnecessarily so, before the hour of final reckoning and retribution is upon the Kremlin.
And for me and many millions of others, the terrible year 2022 will not come to its proper conclusion as long as this atrocious war is still raging in Ukraine and Putin's regime is still in place.
This is my post of anger, despondency and hope for this day, December 31, 2022. ~ 

One big difference is that no one is willing to invade Russia (again, we do learn from history). Germany went through a period of de-Nazification. Without a much worse defeat than having to retreat to pre-2014 borders, I fear that Russia will not become a "normal" country, without imperial ambitions. How is the demilitarization of Russia to be accomplished without an occupying force? But, again, no one is willing to invade Russia, and that's understandable. 

Perhaps, then, a remote war, with drones and missiles? Knock out all or nearly all of Russia's military bases and installations? The West isn't ready for this yet . . . And even the use of a small nuclear bomb in Ukraine might not be enough. Now, if Putin dropped a nuclear bomb on London . . . but that's a horror scenario no one wishes to contemplate. But maybe that's exactly what would need to happen . . . But it won't.
My wish to the world in 2023? A victorious Ukraine, and peace on earth.


Indeed one generation follows another, and our generation  could not help but remember the horrors of the second world war because it was stitched into our family experience, the greatest shaping event in the lives of our parents and grandparents...hard to forget because it cast a long shadow over those who survived, changing them in profound ways. Even though, like my father, many of the survivors didn't want to talk about it,  the effects were real and lasting. That silence itself an expression of its horrors. We learned the depth of those horrors from that very silence.

After trauma there is an urge to forget, to push out of its influence far enough to act, to move toward a possible future. In many ways this is healthy, even redemptive, restoring an agency that can be crippled if the trauma remains unprocessed, always present, as for the sufferers haunted by flashbacks. But remembering is also necessary to survival, and this remembering must be on a societal level, not simply an individual one. I would argue it is not only the immediate survivors, the victims and soldiers, who must remember, but their children and grandchildren, for whom these memories may be even more essential.

Yes, we must remember so we don't repeat the horrors, but even more, memory becomes a template for recognizing dangers before they become unstoppable, overwhelming. All alarms should be sounding now with the recognition of the rising in nationalism, the unabashed rhetoric of racism and antisemitism, the efforts of the Right to undermine the legitimate operations of democracies, the insistence on denying fact and replacing it with propaganda, the appeals to atavistic fears of threat from the "others" outside the chosen tribe.

Unfortunately we have been well prepared to be vulnerable, to lose the solid footing of historical fact under the assault of fascist propaganda. If people know only the kind of trivia generated by People magazine celebrities, influencers, pop artists, pop culture, the alternate worlds of gamers and virtual reality participants, if they are fully engaged in these artificial, cult like, fantasy narratives....the alarms won't go off, the dangers won't be recognized, the false narratives of propaganda will prevail. The crowd will cooperate with its own subjugation, its own loss of freedom, and, even worse, will become avid and enthusiastic supporters of evil, celebrating fascist terrors.

Kind of a rant, but watching this as it happens is almost intolerable. On the other hand, there is the most encouraging, almost miraculous defeat of Russia's aggression in Ukraine, the blazing example of Zelinskyy and his people operating with courage and determination to refuse subjugation, the revelation that a most feared global tyrant was not such a fearsome opponent, but a paper tiger, with a military gutted by corruption, the failure of the predicted "red wave" in our mid term elections, the relief of a good and reasonable man in the White House, the wonder of science bringing us those astounding photos of a very early universe....whatever is to come this year we will witness astonishing changes.

It's enough that instead of anxiety I feel anticipation, a good place to start a new year.


The greatest event of 2022 has of course been the Russian invasion of Ukraine -- and then Ukraine's almost miraculous resistance. It's a David and Goliath situation, and of course the world is cheering for David -- who in this case even happens to be Jewish! Or, as Russian propaganda would have it, he's a Nazi Jew . . . Have we ever heard such atrocious nonsense as what comes these days from Russia, and not with love, but with delusional plans to exterminate the very existence of Ukrainians as an independent nation, with its own language and culture. How dare they not want to be Russian instead? 

Just when we thought that a major war in Europe wasn't possible anymore . . .  Here they are, fighting "for their freedom and ours." Go, David, go.

As for the Russian Goliath, he reminds us of another figure almost a century ago. But he doesn't have the voice for it, the charisma, the requisite power of passion. Indeed, when history repeats itself, it's with a heavy dose of travesty. 


~ Everyone has the same answer and it’s “Hitler was a terrible general and his choices led to the German defeat in WW2”.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first — if Alexander the Great and Sun Tzu came back from the dead to lead the German army the war would still be lost. Germany did not lose the war due to anything related to the command.

German generals by and large were capable, experienced, and talented. The issue was never bad tactical decisions or poor planning. The German problem was that they were short on resources inside their borders, specifically oil, and began to run shortages of coal, oil, steel, and everything else as early as 1942.

The German surface fleet was far too small and undeveloped. This meant the German fleet could never maintain or protect international trade.

German wartime production lagged behind the allies.

German refusal to allow women to work meant they had to use a large part of their male population in factories instead of the front. [this is inaccurate]

Germany did not have enough men to fight the war and had manpower shortages early on.

Germany was never going to win WW2, and that is that. But everyone knows this so let's talk about something else — blaming Hitler for the war.

The idea that Hitler and his bad choices lost the war is a common one. The myth is that during 1939–1942 (when Germany was dominant) the Generals were in charge but then as Germany fell in 1943–1945 it was because Hitler was in control. So where did this come from?

After WW2 ended and Hitler was dead (thank god), many defeated German generals decided to basically blame him for everything. In their many books and memoirs, they basically say that if Hitler only listened to them the war would be won and it's all stupid Hitler that caused Germany to lose.

This is an overly simple way to view the war though.

In the early years of success, Germany owed its victories to its strategic thinking, use of armor, and the fact it was attacking lots of smaller nations. Hitler was very much hands-on during these years; he just often agreed with his generals.

Then Germany began to lose the war due to lack of oil, manpower shortages, production shortfalls, and being outnumbered.

Hitler is often blamed for not taking Moscow and defeating the Russians — but here is the issue.

Hitler wanted to focus forces on the South to take the oil fields instead of Moscow, and this was the right call.

Taking Moscow does not win the war. The Red Army had plans in place to lose the city and planned to fight on.

Germany could not take Moscow. They did get pretty close to the city but only forward scout units did so. By the time German troops got close they were 100% out of supplies and had to stop and wait for resupply. By the time resupply came the winter had hit and the Russians began to turn the tide.

When it comes to Moscow, Hitler was right, his generals were wrong.

However, Hitler made errors.

Later in the war, Hitler demands offensives like the Ardennes offensive (Battle of the Bulge) and Operation Nordwind. These offensives cost Germany much of its remaining tanks and oil and accomplished nothing- likely resulting in the war ending sooner.

By 1945 Hitler is giving control to the SS and Himmler. This was a huge error and led to problems. Hitler began to promote commanders based on loyalty rather than ability and this obviously was stupid.

So in essence it was not Hitler that lost the war and Hitler did not always make bad decisions. It’s far more complex than that. ~ Alex Mann, Quora


Though the Nazi ideology prescribed restricting women to domestic tasks, it’s not true that during the war German women were not allowed to work in factories.


~ General Erwin Rommel, “the Desert Fox,” was reputedly the best tactician in the entire German Army. For years, he led his panzers across multiple campaigns in North Africa.

But what was a German army doing zipping across the deserts of Libya?

Simple: Rommel was trying to capture the Suez Canal, and with it the route to the precious, untapped oil fields of the Middle East.

From the deserts of North Africa to the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the jungles of the South Pacific and the skies above Romania, World War II was defined by a struggle over a single resource — petroleum.

Without oil, modern mechanized warfare was impossible. It fueled the war effort of each major power, and battles over access and control of petroleum resources marked the war’s most important episodes—from the Battle of Stalingrad to the attack on Pearl Harbor.


Adolf Hitler rose to power in the 1930s in the wake of the Great Depression -- a cataclysmic economic crisis that affected the entire world, but which hit Germany especially hard. Amidst spiraling inflation and mass unemployment, Hitler preached a return to national greatness through conquest. Germany would dominate Europe, and in so doing capture all the resources it would need to become a self-sustaining, self-sufficient economic power.

Despite being one of the most powerful industrial nations on earth, Germany had no oil reserves. Furthermore, it lacked an empire — like the British — that would give it access to oil overseas.

In fact, in the 1930s oil production was dominated by a handful of countries—the United States, which accounted for 50% of global oil production, as well as the Soviet Union, Venezuela, Iran, Indonesia, and Romania.

But in order to fuel its industrial economy and power its growing war machine, Germany would need oil reserves — as German oil production was negligible.

Hitler had two choices: either get by on alternatives — such as producing synthetic oil from coal, which Germany had in abundance — or secure oil through conquest.

Thus, the war in Europe was often fought over petroleum, which Hitler needed to build and sustain the German empire.

After the fall of France in May 1940, Hitler’s only adversary was Great Britain. With a powerful navy and a sprawling international empire (two things Germany lacked), Britain was in a strong position to oppose Hitler, though its ability to intervene on the European continent was limited.

Britain, like Germany, had no oil reserves. It depended on supplies from overseas, particularly oil from the United States and Venezuela. Oil tankers made easy targets for German U-boats, which waged their undersea war with the Royal Navy and the British merchant fleet.

While Britain took tremendous losses, particularly in the Spring of 1941 and 1942, eventually the Royal Navy was able to manage the U-Boat threat.

On June 1941, a vast German army invaded the Soviet Union. One wing advanced towards Leningrad, another towards the Soviet capital at Moscow. A third army group cut through the south, slicing through the Ukraine. It’s objective: the Soviet oil fields in the Caucasus Mountains.

The Battle of Stalingrad, the turning point for the war on the Eastern Front, came after the German army made a push towards the Caucasus Mountains — the heart of the Soviet oil industry. Capturing the refineries and oil fields around Baku would have given Hitler the oil he needed to fuel the German economy and war-machine.

But the German advance was turned back at Stalingrad. After the initial shock of the invasion, the Soviet army recovered its strength and began pushing the German forces from Russia.

Hitler’s armies failed to secure access to Russian oil, and in 1943 began a slow retreat, beaten back by overwhelming Soviet forces.


Britain and the United States, meanwhile, were preparing for Operation Overlord -- the invasion of German occupied-France. But before landing troops, the Allies conducted a massive bombing campaign of German industries, cities and military installations.

Thousands of British and American bombers flew thousands of sorties in 1942-1944. Bombing strategy was still in its infancy, and not all the Allied bombing runs were successful -- in fact, Germany was producing more planes and tanks in late 1944 than it had been in 1942, despite the heavy bombing.

But in one important way, the Allied bombing was decisive. In 1943 and 1944, British and American planes targeted the Ploesti oil fields in Romania, a German ally. Romania was Hitler’s major source of oil, since he had failed to conquer the Russian fields.

The Allied bombers had trouble hitting the oil fields and refinery — like other bombing raids in WWII, the majority of the bombs failed to hit their targets. But the sheer number of sorties left a mark. By June 1944, German access to oil had been seriously impaired — and the results were devastating.

The Luftwaffe, Germany’s mighty air force, was grounded. Panzer divisions couldn’t maneuver for fear of using up precious oil. German army units lacked mobility and couldn’t respond quickly when the Allied armies arrived on the shores of Normandy. Lack of fuel crippled the German army.

In Summer 1944, led by the Third Army of General George S. Patton, the Allies swept across France, driving Hitler’s forces back to the Rhine River. But in August, the advance suddenly halted. Patton had gone so far, so fast, he had exceeded his supply lines.

Now it was the Allies who were running low on fuel: the huge Anglo-American army was poised to invade Germany, but it lacked the gas to launch an all-out offensive.

Instead, it was the German army that would make the next move. In December, as the Allied armies dug in to await re-supply, Hitler sent what was left of his Panzer divisions to strike the Allied over-stretched lines in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium.

The German objective wasn’t the forest — it was the port city of Antwerp, far behind Allied lines, and the only port from which the Allies could be re-supplied.

If they could take Antwerp, Hitler would be able to deprive Eisenhower of the gasoline his armies would need to push on into Germany — potentially changing the course of the war.

But the bold move failed, and within a few weeks Hitler’s tanks were stuck in the snow. In 1945, after months of re-supply, the Allied armies pushed back the German forces and invaded Germany. Soviet forces advanced across Poland and surrounded Berlin. On April 30, 1945, Hitler committed suicide, after his armies crumbled from a lack of men, equipment — and fuel. On May 8, 1945 Germany surrendered.


The War in the Pacific was fundamentally a war over resources…particularly oil.

Imperial Japan spent the 1930s constructing a Pacific empire, which they called the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Japan was an emerging industrial power with one of the largest navies in the world. But its economy was dependent upon imports — mostly from the United States — of steel, aluminum, and oil.

The European powers had colonized much of the Pacific World — the French in Indochina, the British in Malaysia and Singapore, and the Dutch in Indonesia. Even the United States had gone imperial, taking over the Philippines and a number of Pacific Islands.

Japan decided it needed an empire to achieve self-sufficiency. It conquered Korea and Manchuria and invaded China. It spread its empire across the Western Pacific. But the best territories — including the oil fields of Indonesia — lay outside of its reach.

To go after them would mean war with the European colonial powers — Britain, France and the Netherlands — as well as the United States.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, alarmed by Japan’s aggression, placed economic sanctions on Japan to counter its activities. In August 1941, he ordered all U.S. oil shipments to Japan to cease. It was a bold move, one that was designed to pressure Japan to rein in its imperial expansion.

But instead of surrendering, Japan chose to launch a surprise attack on the United States. On December 7, 1941 a Japanese fleet assaulted the U.S. naval headquarters at Pearl Harbor.

But the attack was a cover for the real offensive directed against territories in the South Pacific. Japanese armies attacked Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore. On March 1942, Dutch forces in colonial Indonesia surrendered, allowing Japan to occupy the Dutch oil fields.


In a matter of months, Japan erected an empire covering half the Pacific Ocean. But it now faced a massive problem — while it had secured the resources it would need for economic self-sufficiency, it was now at war with the United States, a nation seven times larger with an industrial base that dwarfed that of the Japanese home islands.

After the Battle of Midway on June 7, 1942 when a Japanese fleet was decisively defeated near Hawaii, the United States began a campaign to push back the Japanese. Much of this campaign involved “island-hopping,” using naval power to re-capture crucial island fortresses occupied by the Japanese.

But another campaign went on behind the scenes — or rather, under the waves.

From 1942 to 1945, American submarines waged an unrestricted war against Japanese shipping — particularly Japanese oil tankers.

Like the German U-boats in the North Atlantic, the Americans targeted the lifelines tying Japan to its colonial possessions scattered throughout the Pacific.

But unlike the Germans, the American campaign was hugely successful. By 1945 the Japanese economy had nearly collapsed, fuel for the Japanese navy and air force was rationed, and the Japanese merchant fleet had been reduced by nearly 2 million shipping tons.

Sapped of its former strength and crushed by the overwhelming military might of the United States, imperial Japan fought on until August 1945, when several factors — the collapse of its army in Manchuria, the entry of the Soviet Union into the Pacific War, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — compelled its surrender.

Both Japan and Germany had embarked upon wars of conquest for similar reasons — access to resources, particularly oil.

And it was shortages of oil that had ultimately contributed to each nation’s defeat
. ~


Yes, ultimately Germany did not have the resources to win a global war. And they wasted some of their already insufficient resources on trying to exterminate the Jews and invading Russia.

Number One, they started with an insane ideology based on false premises, e.g. the racial superiority of Germans and the inferiority of all the other peoples, especially of Slavic origin. Defeat by the Red Army must have been, among other obvious things, also quite a surprise (though the word is too mild for the shock of it).

But then delusions of grandeur are a standard feature of ultra-nationalism, and its downfall whenever extreme nationalism comes to power.

The analysis of WWII through the lens of oil resources reminds me of "Guns, Germs and Steel"
of how enlightening it can be to see history through a new lens, to realize it is not only, or even primarily, shaped by heads of state and their generals, or the evolution of ideas, but by some very specific and basic items. It also reminds me of the rhyme that ends up saying a battle was lost for "want of a nail" in a certain horse's shoe. It is at once a more solid and fact based way to understand events, and a more serendipitous way...i.e. "the butterfly effect." How could something so small, so seemingly random, leave such a big footprint??


~ The greatest national security danger posed to the Russian Federation were not by Alexey Navalny or liberal critics of the regime who tried to save fledgling democracy, but by Putin himself, one of the weakest and incompetent leaders in the national history.

With the assistance of television propaganda, siloviki — political police — have promoted one of their own, a dim figure of Putin, who had held no prior position of authority, as strong and competent president in order to secure permanent access to looting Russia.

A whole class of parasites has come into life to suck the nation dry and impoverish its populace.

Siloviki have considerably weakened the military and hollowed out institutes of power. Too busy plundering with his friends, Putin “forgot” to build post-industrial economy while over 70,000 factories and plants have been shut down.

Russia might appear big and strong, but in truth it is a bright picture on TV screen and there’s nothing but devastation inside.

This is far from the first time when political police screwed up so badly in Russia.

Okhranka in the Tsarist era failed to stop communist revolutionary movement that led to the collapse of monarchy.

The ensuing regime of terror and genocide carried out by Cheka, Okhranka’s heir, decapitated intellectual class and organized slave labor to build national projects that was proven to be highly inefficient.

The next generation of political police KGB have sealed the country inside the Iron Curtain, waged Cold War against a stronger opponent and lost.

Okhranka has its roots in The Oprichnina implemented by Ivan the Terrible, a reign of terror in which hundreds of thousands of nobleman and peasants lost their property and land stifling development and progress and leading to the creation of the institute of serfdom.

Another direct result of Oprichnina was the installation of the machine of terror that would eventually thrust to the Russian throne a political police agent, Vladimir Putin, who would terrorize the whole world with nuclear annihilation.

Political police have finally become the masters of the country, which they are incapable to rule due to limitations of their profession.

Russian political police originated from Alexander Nevsky.

Alexander Nevsky was an active figure in establishing the Golden Horde yoke in Rus', hoping with the help of the khans to assert his power over other Russian princes.

His reign was marked by the strengthening of Tatar-Mongols and their spread to those regions of Rus' that were not affected by the Batu invasion.

The punitive campaigns of the khans against Rus' have become the norm since the time of Alexander Nevsky.

Alexander Nevsky is the ideological and spiritual heir [I think Misha means "ancestor") of the political police that control Russia.

In the absurd world of Russia, the worst national traitor in its history, Alexander Nevsky, was elevated to the position of a savior.

Should one be surprised then that the worst leader in history Vladimir Putin is also considered by millions to be a savior?

I'm afraid that after those gentlemen weaken Russia, they gonna sell it to the highest bidder, namely China, to continue their reign of terror against Russians whom they view as vassals.

Alexander Nevsky: Saintly, Faithful, Great Duke. Portrayed here with the Mongol rulers

Freedom is slavery. A man who helped to enslave Russians is praised as a national hero and liberator.

War is peace. Russians believe they don’t fight war with Ukraine, they bring them peace.

Ignorance is strength. Russians believe what makes them strong is the lack of facts, evidence and truth. That’s why propaganda works so well here. ~ Misha Firer, Quora


Tim Kennedy:
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.” ~ George Orwell, 1984

Richard Smith:
’A whole class of parasites has come into life to suck the nation dry and impoverish its populace.’

In the old days Russia would be termed a ‘kakistocracy’ (government by the worst). Nowadays the term is more likely to be ‘pathocracy’ (rule by the pathological, meaning the biologically mentally disordered). Pathocracies are always parasitic because individual pathocrats are nearly always parasitic, using other people for their own ends.

At some moment a small animal fell from a tree onto the nape of his neck, clawing his skin painfully and sucking his blood. The biologist cautiously removed it – without anger, since that was its form of feeding – and proceeded to study it carefully. This story stubbornly stuck in my mind during those very difficult times when a vampire fell onto our necks, sucking the blood of an unhappy nation. (Poland under the Soviet Union) ~ ‘Political Ponerology’, Andrzej Lobabczewski


“Three-quarters of mankind may die if necessary, to ensure the other quarter for Communism.”

Lenin even outlined the purpose for the famines by stating “destroying the peasant economy and driving the peasant from the country to the town, the famine creates a proletariat…” Lenin also regarded Europeans as animals. "It is precisely now and only now, when in the starving regions people are eating = human flesh, and hundreds if not thousands of corpses are littering the roads, that we can (and therefore must) carry out the confiscation of church valuables with the most savage and merciless energy, not stopping (short of) crushing any resistance.” He continued, “The greater the number of representatives of the reactionary clergy and reactionary bourgeoisie we succeed in executing for this reason, the better.” 


~ One Russian lady, a committed communist, visited the USA on a cultural exchange and was taken to a modern grocery store/supermarket. This lady chose which direction the car should drive so that she would get an objective sample of American grocery stores. She walked into the store, saw abundance she’d never seen in the USSR, and burst out crying. ~ John Dewar Gleissner, Quora

Kelly Pedron:
The story I heard was that the Russian woman didn’t believe our stores were always stocked that well, she thought we stocked it that way just for propaganda purposes.


I'll never forget the first time I walked into an American supermarket. It seemed like a magical palace. The produce section was like an art gallery, with all those colors. I was mentally prepared for a rich display in libraries and bookstores (that was a big part of the reason I wanted to come to the U.S.), but groceries? I was a surprised, enchanted.


~ Russians who knew too much about Kremlin's finances and military secrets and from Putin's circle are dying en masse in Russia.

Pavel Antonov, richest deputy of the Duma, died in India on 26th December. He fell out of a hotel's window where he celebrated his birthday. Antonov's companion Vladimir Bidenov was found dead in the same hotel four days prior to Antonov's death. Aleksey Maslov, 69, ex chief of Russian Ground Forces, died in hospital on 25 December. Aleksandr Buzakov, 67, died on 24 December. He headed "Admiralty Shipyards" for 10 years — they produced submarines that shot Kinzhals at Ukraine. Vladimir Sungorkin, 68, died in Russian Far East on 14 September. He was editor in chief of a popular Russian propaganda media Komsomolskaya Pravda. Aleksandr Tyulyakov, 61, was found dead in Leninskiy village (where Gazprom's top managers live) on 25 February. He was Deputy General Director of Gazprom's SRC for Corporate Security. Leonid Shulman, 60, was found dead in Leninskiy village where Gazprom's top managers live, on 30 January. Shulman was head of Transport Service of Gazprom Invest.

Head of the submarine factory dies suddenly.

Franc Veaux:
The best way to think about the Russian government I know of, if you want to understand how and why it works, is to think of it as an organized crime group. The Russian government is basically a mafia, ruled by a Don who has a background in the KGB.

The various billionaire kleptocrats are effectively capos, hand picked by the Don to run Russia’s business enterprises, which they operate basically the same way the American mafia runs waste disposal services.

And as with capos in any mafia, they serve at the Don’s pleasure, with all the attendant political machination, Court intrigue, and occasional whack that goes along with that.


According to Bill Browder, 23 oligarchs have died since the beginning of the war. "And these are just the high-profile cases," he says. We'll probably never know about even the medium-profile cases.


~ Chidera Akigwe, Quora
The GINI Index is a measure of income inequality.

Nick Arends:
They certainly have the AIDS and HIV infections of a poor African nation. Nigeria is probably generous to compare with Russia. Russia will be more like Ethiopia or Eritrea by the time this war is over.

I’m not sure about the accuracy of those numbers. For instance, the most frequently quoted figure for the population of Russia is 144 million, but some claim only 110 million, and that the birth rate is not 1.6, but 1.1. Skepticism is in order, as well as remembering that the standard of living in major cities is much higher than elsewhere in the country.

In terms of economic development, one Quora reader stated that these statistics reflect the late nineties, not 2022.

Fred Smith:
Being in Moscow ( and St Petersburg ) is just fine and very modern. I actually love it there. Drive an hour outside and it is forest and shacks.

Simone Varo:
Nigeria has a healthy demographic structure with lots of young people. Russia has a terminal one…

Early in the war, Russian soldiers occupied a Ukrainian residence. When they left, written on the wall (in Cyrillic) was, “ Who gave you permission to live so well?” It seemed to me a very average middle class home...

Russian soldiers with a looted washing machine

The Mongol invasions were the most destructive historical event, killing about 11% of the world’s population that lived on the Euroasian continent and sacking Baghdad, which put an end to the Islamic Golden Age, a civilizational disaster from which the Mesopotamian region never recovered.

FOR RUSSIA, THE US IS ITS ARCHENEMY, the root of all troubles, the engineer behind the greatest calamity to befall humankind: the downfall of the USSR. I don't know if Putin honestly believes it (he probably does), but it doesn't even matter: this fiction is the basis of the social contract between the Russian people and their rulers. I can't tell you what comes first: the anti-American propaganda or the widespread perception that the Russian Empire is not the most fantastic place on earth YET because Evil States.

Meanwhile, neither US citizens nor its government spends much of their time thinking about Russia (which no self-respecting Russian can imagine, by the way). And say what you will about global politics and national interests, but attention-seeking is at the core of Russia's motivation in mounting apocalyptic global crises. The scorned RF must remind everyone, particularly the US: we're not just an oversized mafia-ruled banana republic with little to offer besides our natural resources and doped athlete prodigies.

And now that Russia is in the daily headlines, the Americans still fail to realize -- something evident for anyone watching Russian news -- that it is the AMERICANS the Russians are fighting.

It doesn't end here: the US is not only oblivious to the fact that they're taking part in this war, but they're also winning, and quite spectacularly -- all at the cost of 0 dead, 0 wounded, and 0 captured American soldiers.

And that could have been the punchline, but no. The funniest thing here is that the US is not even sure whether they want Russia to lose.

It partly has to do with the nuclear threats -- there is a risk, however small, that a desperate Putin will push the button in the face of defeat. A more significant and plausible threat is the collapse of the Russian Federation -- on a more dramatic, violent and unhinged scale than the USSR in the 90s.

Like its army, the RF is big, monolithic, and impervious only on paper. In reality, it's the last grand Empire of old: a ramshackle aggregation of over 30 different political entities spanning nine time zones, dozens of disparate ethnicities and cultures, and thousands of barely functioning corrupt bureaucracies. An almost religious belief in Moscow's power glues this archaic mess together. And it probably would have gone the way of the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, German and British Empires in the nineties had the Bush administration not done everything possible to preserve it.

The US did not want the collapse of the USSR for a pragmatic reason, as this would create overnight anarchy and chaos on a span of land more extensive than the surface of planet Pluto, littered with thousands of nuclear warheads.

Such a fall of an empire would have been a nightmare in peacetime. But Putin, in his stubborn prosecution of an ill-fated adventure in Ukraine, broke the seals on not one but several Pandora's boxes, ensuring that the collapse of RF would look more like 1917 than 1991. The only reason that he hasn't summoned Chthulu yet, is because -- just like with nuclear weapons -- the US made it patently clear they would kill him and Shoigu should they ever attempt that ritual. Let's take a brief look:

Even the elite Russian regular forces behaved like a mob of thugs upon entering Ukraine: with widespread murder, rape and looting, complete lack of discipline either condoned or even encouraged by their superiors.

Several mercenary outfits promptly joined -- of which Prigozhin's Wagner and Kadyrov's National Guard are just the most famous formations. These private armies have access to RF's arsenal but are not under the command of the Russian generals or the jurisdiction of Russian law.

The Wagner Group can recruit, condone or execute convicted criminals. Thousands went from Russian prisons straight to Ukrainian battlefields with weapons in their hands.

To complete this orgy of murder and death, Putin called in hundreds of thousands of Russian civilians in his mobilization order -- the first to be issued in Russia since 1941. Unprepared and unequipped, thrown into the trenches as shock troops and cannon fodder, whoever survives this war will have learned that it is either kill or be killed -- many will apply this knowledge for the rest of their lives.

Russian media quickly went from the hypocrisy of a "humanitarian" special operation (protecting the Russian speakers, fighting Nazis, retrieving the Ark of the Covenant, etc.) to a candid blood frenzy, openly advocating for strikes on civilian infrastructure, the genocide of Ukrainian people, and the use of nuclear weapons against anyone who disagrees.

And while the support for Putin is -- ostensibly -- waning within Russia, nothing indicates that's because Russians suddenly realize that the invasion of Ukraine is illegal and immoral. There is some anger because of the mobilization, and many voices admonishing the supreme leader for not being strong enough.

On top of it, the Russian economy is facing a triple challenge of sanctions, war focus, and tremendous workforce and domestic income loss due to those hundreds of thousands mobilized.

This violence and impoverishment ensure that the eventual collapse of Putin's government will not usher in a new era of peace and prosperity. At the same time, all these actions increasingly link Putin's own fate to that of the war -- with the definitive military failure likely signaling the end of his government and probably his life. But what comes next?

I figure the scariest picture in the mind of a US foreign analyst should be this: a few dozen warlords in the mold of Prigozhin and Kadyrov, riding around Eurasian steppes on top of their private Iskander ballistic launchers, painted in their war colors and adorned with severed heads on spikes.

Ramzan Kadyrov: note the Islamic crescent and star.

And, should Ukraine win the war tomorrow, this will likely be a reality just in time for November 2024. Now, explain how you conducted the most successful foreign policy since FDR to the US electorate.

Hence, the US officials carefully choose words to outline their commitment to Ukraine. If I recall correctly, Anthony Blinken once stated that we should ensure “Ukraine wins this war.” And he probably got slapped on the wrist for that, too, since the official rhetoric is "not allowing Russia to win" or "not allowing Ukraine to lose."

In a way, it's a Catch-22 scenario for the US. They could ensure a prompt Ukrainian victory by increasing the weapon supplies and giving them access to ATACMS HIMARS munitions. Even at the current supply rate, Ukraine will win — although it will take them longer. And the US is not interested in preserving Putin's government, nor can it save it even if it wanted to — Putin is set himself firmly on a road of self-destruction.

I guess the US is biding more time: waiting (and hopefully working) for a surge of a more acceptable alternative to Putin than private armies and their warlords. Either an actual anti-war popular movement in Russia, a capable siloviki group within the Kremlin that could withdraw from Ukraine without disintegrating the RF, or a mix of both. At the moment, neither seems likely.

Update: Shortly after posting, I received a comment from Ron Keffer, which sums up my opinion so perfectly that I'm just going to quote it:
The end of a major war — and this IS a major war — often doesn't produce the expected and intended outcomes. We find it hard to imagine what a new reality would look like, even if, in the end, it's a better one — so we fear the future. The wheel turns, and all the factors in play guarantee the future will be different from the present, and it will happen regardless of whether we fear it or not.”


It seems that I have already posted this article — or at least the last paragraph — a few months after the war began. On re-reading, I find it so full of wisdom that I hope the reader won’t mind the repeat posting.

The first time, I was particularly impressed with that last paragraph — wars do end unpredictably  and change the world. This time I’m struck by the statement that the US could hasten Ukraine’s victory simply by increasing military aid — not just its quantity, but the quality. As Zelensky stated, it’s not charity — it’s an investment in the defense of the free world.


~ It was his ultimate goal: Hitler believed fully that the Jews and Communists were one and the same. His hatred for Jews extended to communists and specifically Russians. He was ALWAYS going to attack Russia — PERIOD. The only world in which Hitler does not invade the USSR is the same world in which there is no Hitler.

He needed oil: Hitler needed oil badly as practically none was produced in Germany and the Romanian oil fields did not produce enough to fuel all those tanks and planes. Hitler had relied on oil imports from the USSR but was terrified it would be cut off so Hitler decided to conquer Russia and specifically their oil fields.

He was sure he’d win: Going into WW2 the Nazi high command did not fear the Soviet Union, they feared France. In WW1 the Germans had beaten the Russians and lost to the French after all. In this new World War Germany had beaten France in a single month and this made them sure they could beat Russian again. Additionally, the Soviet Union was coming off a humiliating war with Finland that they barely won and took insane losses.

Think about it from Hitler's POV. The Russians just nearly lost to Finland while Germany had conquered all of Europe. It looked like a giant vs a mouse.

Now one of the reasons is NOT that Russia was going to attack first.

That said it is highly likely that the USSR would have eventually attacked Germany. Stalin viewed Hitler as the enemy and was actively refitting the Red Army to fight the Germans. They were adding new powerful tanks, radio units, and all sorts of stuff geared towards fighting the Germans.

So sure, the USSR was going to attack Germany eventually (maybe 1943 or 1944) but this was not a motivation of Hitler’s.

This argument is used along with a number of others to make the Germans look like good guys. Generally, these folks say

The Polish Army was killing Germans and this forced Hitler to invade Poland

France chose to declare war on Germany starting WW2

The Germans were forced to invade the USSR because the USSR was about to attack

None of this holds up though — it’s all BS. ~


~ Although the Holocaust has become a widely discussed subject in our times, it took very long to be covered thoroughly after WW2. Paradoxically, we are much better informed about the topic today than the postwar generation was, in Germany as well as other countries — except Israel.


For Germany, the experience of the war and the defeat had caused a gigantic trauma. The whole country was bombed to the core, it was cut into pieces with a part of it occupied by the Soviets. There were millions of refugees, and misery prevailed for quite a few years. Everyone wanted to rebuild and forget, not gather information about the immediate past, and certainly not cultivate guilt feelings in such circumstances.

A German woman refugee

The world had discovered the gruesome images of the camps in 1945 with the footage filmed by the Allies, followed two years after by the Nurnberg trials. Even outside of Germany, the revelations were such a shock that the public chased them away from their minds for several decades. If you look at all the history books about WW2 written in the 1950’s in the USA, the UK or France, you will be very surprised to see that the Holocaust is only scantly mentioned, if at all.

The testimony books by Primo Levi and others didn’t reach a wide public anywhere at the time they were released. The most widely read book was the Diary of Anne Frank, published in 1952, and it did have a big impact in Germany although it was a gradual process. But precisely, it didn’t give any details about the aftermath.

The Holocaust was also a no go in film for three whole decades, as it was deemed too horrible to be depicted. A famous French documentary had been released ten years after the war, but it was rather an exception. There were very few fictional renderings, and most were made in Eastern Europe. The absence of images made the public much less aware than we are today.

The very details of the Holocaust took quite a while to be gathered by historians. The first thorough survey was published by Raul Hilberg only in 1961. An important step was the Eichmann trial on the same year in Israel, which was broadcast on television and mentioned extensively on the radio. Further trials in Germany followed throughout the 1960’s. That’s how the new German generation born after the war first received accurate information.

Indeed, the Nazi regime was still a taboo topic in Germany at that point, as everyone above 40 had been involved in it in some way. Which meant everyone in charge : civil servants, teachers, judges, businessmen, politicians, and of course parents…


In 1968, a young woman called Beate Klarsfeld slapped chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger’s face in public. She was married to a French Jew, and had learnt from him what the final solution was all about. Her daring gesture was a public protest that the country’s leading official had been a former Nazi. It was such a humiliation for the chancellor that he had to resign. This turned out to be a milestone, and immediately attracted national attention.

The following chancellor was Willy Brandt. He made a big impression on a visit to Warsaw in 1970 as he fell on his knees in front of the ghetto monument. It was a very controversial move, as so many people remembered the war very well. But this was the first public acknowledgement of German collective guilt, only 25 years after. It seems to have had a cathartic effect. After that, Nazism started to be discussed frequently in the German public debate, and being included in school programs. But the part about the Holocaust was still more than many people could bear.

Confusion was added by the left wing wave of the time, which tended to associate capitalism with fascism. Rudi Dutschke, raised in East Germany, led a movement that wished to cut all ties with the German authoritarian tradition. It was the birth of the alternative movement, the impact of which was felt throughout the whole society. But a part of it drifted towards terrorism throughout the whole 1970’s, which didn’t help making discussions more peaceful.

Unexpectedly, the big turn for the German public was the television broadcasting of NBC’s mini series « Holocaust » in 1979, which happened to be the debut for Meryl Streep. Virtually everyone in Germany watched it, and it turned out to be more effective than anything before. An enormous demand of information ensued from the German youth, but it had been 35 years already. By that time, the Nazi generation was becoming elderly. Most had retired and had become the grandparents.

However, the smaller communist East German Republic was totally ignoring the trend. The official policy considered that the successor state to the Third Reich was the Federal Republic, and that East Germans were therefore victims of fascism and had no collective guilt to bear. Still, as West German TV was available in the East, the public received all the information unofficially.

Post 1980

In the 1980s, the German public started to show an obsessive curiosity about Nazism and the Holocaust, especially the younger generations. Television programs about the topic thrived, and the documentaries by Guido Knopp became iconic. There were many interviews of elderly people about how they had experienced the Nazi era and what they had known and felt. A whole memory cult ensued, with obligatory school visits paid to former camps, and countless monuments erected. Still, until the end of the Cold War, Auschwitz was difficult to visit and not a target for mass tourism as it has become today.

The same trend was continued after reunification. The chancellor at the time was still Helmut Kohl, and he was an adamant supporter of the memory policy, as he deemed it necessary to reconciliation with Germany’s neighbors east or west. An unfortunate consequence is that the twelve years of the Nazi era tend to receive about as much attention as the whole rest of a thousand years of German history, an extreme opposite of what prevailed in the 1960’s.

So all in all, the German postwar generation had been given very little information about Nazism in general and about the Holocaust in particular. It all came very gradually over three decades.


I think that like Israel, Poland too was quite aware of wartime atrocities right after the war. At that point, all the adults were survivors. And they did talk about their wartime experiences. Plaques were affixed to the walls in places of execution; monuments were erected. In Poland, the shadow of the war was very dark and long. There was no escaping it. 


~ In 900 a major divergence occurred between Western Europe and Eastern Europe.

Before that point, Western and Eastern Europe were relatively similar in prosperity. Both had one factor significantly holding them back: foreign invaders. For Western Europe, it was the Scandinavian Vikings who preyed upon river cities and traffic. The Vikings were so successful in disrupting river traffic that Western European nations could scarcely use their rivers to trade. Considering that Western Europe has one of the economically best river systems, the Vikings robbed Western Europe of significant prosperity.

For Eastern Europe, it was the steppe invaders. Using the effective land bridge of Ukraine, invaders would come from the Russian steppes into Eastern Europe and ravage the farms and towns. The only objective that many of the invaders had was to destroy as much as possible. They were effective in doing so. Unsurprisingly, the invaders significantly stagnated the Eastern European economy from reaching full prosperity as well.

However, by 900, Western Europe would finally conquer the Vikings. Through the innovation of the mounted knight, Western Europe found something that matched the high mobility of the Vikings. In addition, mounted knights had much more armor and destructive force than Viking soldiers had. As a result, the Vikings, who did not innovate to match the mounted knight, lost their stranglehold on Western Europe.

Consequently, Western Europe was free to use its rivers for its economic development. The freedom from foreign invasions and their destruction was also liberating to the Western European economy. After 900, the only setbacks that Western European nations would receive would be damages from fellow nations. Overall, Western Europe had a relatively tranquil situation, and it used it to achieve the highest prosperity the World had ever known.

On the other hand, Eastern Europe was not free from its foreign invaders. They only seemed to become more prevalent. Foreign invaders would continue to cross Ukraine into Eastern Europe to pillage up until the Mongol Age. The Mongols, who also pillaged Eastern Europe, were the last foreign invaders to cross from Ukraine into Eastern Europe. However, briefly, after the Mongols left, the Ottomans came in from the South and conquered almost all of Eastern Europe. While the Ottomans did not pillage Eastern Europe, they did attempt to reap economic profits for themselves. For example, the largest landowners in Eastern Europe under the Ottoman age were Turkish.

Turkish domination would start to recede in the 18th century (though it was brutal where it remained after this time). By this time, unsurprisingly, Western Europe was significantly more prosperous than Eastern Europe. When independent Eastern European states interacted with Western European states, it was always an unbalanced interaction. Western Europeans saw a chance to exploit the weaker Eastern European states, and they did. Similar to the mercantilist colonial system, Eastern Europe would send Western Europe raw goods that Western Europe would use to make manufactured goods that they would sell to the Eastern European people.

As a result of this system, Eastern Europe was only slowly economically industrializing. There was no incentive to in a system where it was unneeded. In addition, the internal infrastructure of Eastern Europe was weak, as the only “important” infrastructure was that that would help the export process. By World War One, with a few notable exceptions, Eastern Europe was significantly undeveloped compared to Western Europe.

However, recently Eastern Europe is catching up economically to Western Europe. Poland now has a better standard of living than Portugal, and there many Eastern European nations growing much faster than their Western European counterparts. It may not be long before Eastern Europe and Western Europe are on a similar development level. ~ Scott O’Connor, Quora

Karl Degraa:
Knights did not stop Viking raids. Medieval knights in armor are from a later time. Viking raids slowed down as people and ideas mixed. The Vikings became more English, Irish or Frankish. They became Christian. Viking leaders formed marriage alliances with the leaders of European kingdoms. Alliances lead to Vikings fighting Vikings. Many Vikings made more money out of trading and working than raiding. Raids became unprofitable.

John Connor:
In some parts of Western Europe, Vikings stopped Vikings. Before the Norman invasion in 1066, England had a strong Viking presence -- the whole north of the country was the Danelaw, and just before the battle of Hastings, Harold the Saxon king had fought the battle of Stamford Bridge, against an invading Norwegian force. Then Harold force-marched south, and met the Norman invaders at Hastings, which he lost. And what were the Normans? They were Viking invaders who had settled down in northern France. After the victory of Hastings, the Normans went on to bring the whole country under control, including the north.

So perhaps you could say that the Vikings ultimately won, and then settled down and started to build prosperous kingdoms…

Eric Jensen:
Yes. Vikings were not beaten by local knights. I agree, the knight was not a substantive force at the time. They were in almost all cases beaten by Vikings who had assumed local identities.

Please see the Norman invasion of England. Then please see who the Normans were. 

And….why they were called Normans. The difference between the two invading forces is that the Vikings integrated with the local populations. Which meant they became defenders not attackers.

Dean Calvert:
Let’s not forget that 70 years of communism retarded the economy of Eastern Europe.

Adam Fear:
Scandinavians settled in Ireland and Great Britain northern France Ukraine Belarus and Russia. In the east they founded first the city of Novgorod then later Kiev. Russia takes its name from the Rus, who basically assimilated with the Slavic people in that region. In the west they founded Dublin and ruled the majority of England at one time then assimilated then the the Normans came and they were descended from Vikings who settled in France after being granted lands to stop raiding and started assimilating with the Francs. The Normans also settled in Sicily and Cyprus for a bit.


Alex Kanyon:
Also, the population density of W Europe has always been significantly higher than in the east, with shorter distances between larger groups of people.

Sanjeev Kumar:
A few Western European countries did remarkably well during the colonial era, thereby increasing the gap.

Normans on horseback


~ Take a look at Denmark, repeatedly voted as the world’s happiest country (although it has just been knocked back to second place in the 2017 World Happiness Report). Denmark’s social structure is very different to that of the US. Danes tend to believe in something called Jante Law, which has 10 rules all around the idea of accepting the average. Quartz reports that Jante Law is everywhere in Denmark, even if no one is discussing or admitting it. In online comic Scandinavia and the World, the character of Denmark has been consistent in its exemplification of Jante even though it’s never named as such.

Jante persists in the culture in every way and, according to Ourhouseinaarhus, even affects the school system. There is no competitive school system, no advanced programs for gifted learners. The schools must all be equal, and the students must help each other rather than vie for ‘the best.’ There are no rewards program, no trophies for the students who graded better. As the blogger commented, the Danish children learn early on about Jante.

The laws themselves are simple. They all encourage the idea that you are average, and that’s just fine.

1. You’re not to think you are anything special.

2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.

3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.

4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.

5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.

6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.

7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.

8. You’re not to laugh at us.

9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.

10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

The laws, when written out, are meant to look horrifying and quite intimidating. They come from a book written by Aksel Sandemose, and he was trying to satirize what it was like in Scandinavian small towns in his novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks (En Flyktning Krysser Sitt Spor). When Sandemose named that town Jante, he gave name to something that already existed in practice in Scandinavia.

While the idea of Jante Law is culturally relevant, according to Lindsay Dupuis, a therapist in Copenhagen, it’s not discussed in everyday life as a conscious practice, rather it’s lived out — talking about it seems redundant. Why discuss oxygen intake when you were born breathing it? It materializes like this: nobody brags when their child is named number one in their math class. They don’t talk about who gave the best speech at their work function, or discuss who’s been promoted most at work. This is not to say that the Danes are not ambitious, they’re just as ambitious as everyone else. They just don’t brag about it, or stress over doing more.

“By definition, most of us are average,” remarks psychologist Madeline Levine in her Big Think discussion of the topic. By the very principle of the word average, most of society falls somewhere between worst and best, and struggling against that only leads to anxiety. It’s by no means futile to try, but intentions matter — do you want to achieve something, or do you want to beat someone else at their achievement? As Alain de Botton writes in Status Anxiety: “Anxiety is the handmaiden of contemporary ambition.”

Psychologist Barry Schwartz has commented on this very thing. He’s stated in his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, that it is necessary for a person’s mental health to accept the average, the ‘good enough.’ This is necessary because it may be impossible to know if ‘the best’ is ever reached, and often, perfection is unattainable. It may be impossible to know if one had the best score, but it is easily understood if the score was good enough. It is impossible to quantify if one is the best musician, but good enough is well within reach. Schwartz has pressed that psychologically speaking, this continued push to rise above average has negative consequences on mental health.

… what happens is this imagined alternative induces you to regret the decision you made, and this regret subtracts from the satisfaction you get out of the decision you made, even if it was a good decision.

This means that Jante is, psychologically speaking, a far healthier way of thinking. To accept an average life means that one would get more satisfaction from it. To accept the ‘good enough’ means that one would have a far better experience with it. 

In addition, the Danish also have hygge which is, according to The New Yorker and Oxford Dictionary, the concept of being cozy and comfortable as a way of creating the sense of health and happiness. The Oxford Dictionary even reports that hygge is a defining quality of the Danes. That, plus the 10 rules of Jante Law, all add up to the low-stress environment that is Denmark. By slipping into something a little fleecier, and lowering your expectations you will occasionally find yourself pleasantly impressed when those expectations are outdone. All it takes is a sense of being good enough to be comfortable and cozy in life: Jante and hygge.


The architecture of language made emotions possible.

~ For his next book, Joseph LeDoux knew he had to go deep. He had to go back in time, way back, 3.5 billion years ago. The author of the seminal The Emotional Brain, followed by Synaptic Self and Anxious, sensed a missing element in those books on how brain anatomy and function shape human behavior and emotions. That element was evolution. In his 2019 book, The Deep History of Ourselves: The Four-Billion-Year Story of How We Got Our Conscious Brains, LeDoux takes readers back to the emergence of life on Earth to show what our protean brains today owe to the canny survival of Protozoa.

LeDoux’s argument is our emotional systems are what make us uniquely human. He writes that “there is indeed good evidence that the same brain systems control survival behaviors in humans and other mammals, but that these are not the systems responsible for conscious feelings we experience when we engage in such behaviors.” Those conscious feelings belong to humans alone.

LeDoux is aware his argument runs counter to that of many animal experts like Frans de Waal and Jane Goodall, whose work underlines a connection between the emotions of non-human primates and us. As you will see in “The Tricky Problem of Other Minds,” an article LeDoux’s wrote for Nautilus, LeDoux carefully spells out, and documents, where humans differ from other animals in their emotional lives and experiences.

In my interview with LeDoux, I asked him to focus on the common misperception of emotions, as he sees them, and to clarify for us just what makes us unique from other animals. He did just that, with patience and passion.

What’s the most common conception of emotions?

That they are states that we share with animals and they drive our behavioral responses. Darwin said emotions are mental states we’ve inherited from our animal ancestors. It’s assumed that when we respond to danger, do things like freeze or flee, it’s because we’re afraid. When we feel pleasure, it’s because we’ve eaten something great. It’s true these states go with those kinds of behaviors, but the question is, do the states cause the behavior?

And do they? Do emotional states drive our behavior?

A lot of research, including mine, suggests that’s not the case. Take the example of subliminal stimulation. If you present stimuli to people in a way that they can’t consciously recognize it, they still have responses to it. One of the first studies was done in the 1950s. After being passively conditioned with a visual stimulus, the person’s heart was beating faster, even though they had no fear or any conscious experience of what the stimulus was.

Another example is blindsight, patients who don’t see stimuli in a blind spot, yet perform behaviors that show the stimuli were perceptually registered by the brain. If a person with blindsight sees a picture of a snake, their heart will beat faster and their palms will sweat, but they won’t know the stimulus is there and they won’t have any fear. Fear is not what’s causing it. The same stimulus is going into the brain, but it’s going to one set of circuits to produce the responses, and other circuits to generate the experience.

Why is fear universal if it’s not innate?

What’s universal is danger, not fear. Because danger has to be important in the life of every human, no matter what culture they’re in, they’re going to have a system for understanding that within their culture. They’re going to have a word for it or some words for it. We have 36 words in our language for variations of fear and anxiety. So the experience that’s going to arise is going to be culturally determined and is going to be personally determined.

So what, then, is an emotion?

Emotion is a conscious awareness that something psychologically or biologically important is happening to you. Evolution gave us these behavioral responses to stimulus, but those are not yet emotions.

Why did we evolve emotions?

I think of emotions as coming along in the way that Stephen J. Gould described certain things as exaptations, which is a kind of a variation of his more famous term, which was spandrel. A spandrel is something that exists without having a function, and he used the so-called spandrels at San Marco and Venice, arches in the architecture that created a space where you could put pictures or flowers. They weren’t designed for that, but because they existed, it was useful to use them. A good example of an exaptation is that feathers originally arose in bird-like reptiles for warmth, but then they were co-opted for flight in the wings.

How are emotions exaptations?

I see emotions as the result of other exaptations. One is language. We had certain kinds of communicative skills, and we put these together with other capacities, such as hierarchical relational reasoning, the ability to do mental time travel, to project yourself into the past and the future.

An important part of these ideas is the self. I have a motto, “No self, no fear.” If you don’t know you’re in harm’s way, then you’re not going to experience fear. You can react to it, you can protect yourself, but until you know that it’s you, it’s not the conscious experience that invades your mind. The stimulus of danger is going into the brain. But it’s going to one set of circuits to produce the responses, and other circuits to generate the experience. Now, the responses are going to contribute to the experience, but don’t determine it.

Other scientists argue emotions are more hardwired circuits in our brains. They say we can read emotions in people’s faces because they’re signifiers of these ingrained emotions. Why are they wrong?

It’s the difference between correlation and causation. The facial expressions are innate, and they often occur when we are afraid or happy or whatever the basic emotion in question is. But in the brain, I think that those are separately controlled. So the fear does not cause the grimace or whatever you would call the fear facial expression. Those things happen in parallel rather than in sequence.

So if someone smiles, am I not necessarily right to say they’re happy?

If you did that, you’d probably be correct many times. But in the case of fear, there are instances where we can dissociate those things. I suspect you could do that with other emotions as well. A lot of the reason we can do this so well in the case of fear is because there are good animal models for studying them. We know that the circuit underlying the behavioral and physiological responses to danger is pretty much the same in non-human animals and human animals.

And that’s the amygdala, right?


What is the amygdala?

The amygdala is a small region in the temporal lobe. We say “the amygdala,” but there are two amygdalas. Amygdalae. Traditionally it’s thought of as the fear center, an idea for which I’m partly responsible, maybe largely responsible, through my book The Emotional Brain. But I was a little sloppy with the language, even though back then I was saying the amygdala is an implicit fear circuit, and the explicit fear, the conscious fear, is a cortical process. Still, over time, the amygdala has been become a term for a fear center, not an implicit fear center, and that’s what I’ve been trying to correct.

The amygdala is not where you consciously experience fear. It’s just a way station in the flow of information from the sensory systems into the motor systems. You can have a person with amygdala damage who can still feel fear. Given that fact, the amygdala can’t be making fear. It’s making behavioral responses, but not the experience of fear. Let’s say there’s a snake at your feet. That’s probably enough to activate a fear schema in your circuits and begin to pattern-complete a concept of the situation you’re in. That concept is then the foundation of the conscious experience.

We’re not conscious of the foundation, right?

Right. Most of what the brain does is not conscious. Up until the moment when something crosses that threshold of consciousness, it’s not conscious. So every conscious experience is based on a flow of information that’s not conscious, that somehow reaches the threshold. So these schema are non-conscious, but they are the kinds of things that can rise up.

How do you know you’re right?

I don’t. But my research on this goes back to my Ph.D. in 1978. My Ph.D. research was all on split-brain patients and conscious experience. I wanted to understand how non-conscious behaviors could be dealt with simultaneously with these conscious experiences. We’d generate behaviors in patients’ right hemisphere, and then we’d ask the left hemisphere, “Why’d you do that?” And the left hemisphere would generate an explanation, even though it had no idea. So there’s this idea of these narratives that come out of observing your behavior, because it causes cognitive dissonance if you’re seeing a behavior you didn’t perform. We have free will. We control our behavior, and if we’re not controlling our behavior, something is wrong. So that’s where this idea of narratives comes from. I think, basically, the mind is a narrative generator. It’s all about generating mental models of situations.

To explain what?

To explain what we’re doing and why we do it. The other thing is motivation. We know what we do, we see it. But why we do it is less clear. So we’re often compelled to generate an explanation for our motivations because then we feel that we’re in charge of ourselves.

Is that explanation subjective? Is it going to be subjective to each person?


Are emotions, then, just subjective narratives?

They are.

You disagree with scientists who claim animals have emotions. Why don’t animals have emotions comparable to ours?

I know I’m accused of saying animals have no emotion. I don’t say that. I say that whatever they have, they don’t have what we have. Every human has a human brain. Every animal has their own brain. And they’re different. Some parts of the brain involved in conceptualizations of what emotions are have unique properties in the human brain. It’s based on the difference between autonoetic and noetic consciousness, which is an idea that Endel Tulving gave us about memory, and I’m using to extend to emotion.

What is autonoetic consciousness?

It’s a consciousness in which the self is involved. The self is subject as opposed to object. To have an emotion, as I mentioned, your self has to be involved. Animals can have past memory and perspective cognition. They can project and experience something that’s going to happen in the future. But the question is, can they put themselves into it? Even the best people in the animal-studies field say they don’t know if the animals can have this sense of self the way that humans can. I think that’s the right approach.

In his recent book, Mama’s Last Hug, Frans de Waal writes, “Emotions are like organs. They are all needed, and we share them with other mammals.” He goes on to say, “All emotions are both biological and essential. None is more basic than the others, and none are uniquely human.” What do you think of that statement?

I agree with him that none are more basic than the others, but they do have a unique, human sense. Animals have semantic knowledge, not in the sense of words, but of facts. Animals have a lot of facts in their lives. They have facts about where there’s food, and may have an experience that goes along with that. But do they have the sense of self that allows them to know that it’s them that is having the experience?

Do they?

No. The self as a psychological entity is different from the self as an objective body. Many animals may have a body-self sense. They know their body versus another body or another animal. But they don’t have a psychological sense that they own their own body, that it’s something that they’re aware of as a possession of their mind.

Jane Goodall and Temple Grandin repeatedly say animals have feelings.

Yeah, but on the basis of what? Nothing.

On the basis that we share a similar anatomy.

My argument is that anatomy is the wrong anatomy, that emotions are cognitive-assembled states in higher areas of the brain, in the prefrontal cortex, with circuits and cellular components that other animals don’t possess.

What is the one brain component we have that animals don’t have?

The frontal pole. It’s a unique region in the human brain. Other primates, some apes, have some tiny version of the frontal pole. But there’s a unique aspect of it in the human brain that’s involved in higher-order conceptualization. My whole point is that emotions are higher-order conceptualizations, so that’s where I put my money.

Doesn’t our language differentiate us from animals, too?

Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s all about words or any specific thing about language, except that language has rewired our brains to think in different ways. Daniel Dennett has said, “language lays down tracks on which thoughts can travel.” It allows us to do all kinds of things, like simulate in a fraction of a second of who’s going to do what to whom in a social situation. We have syntax that parses those kinds of things.

Are you saying we need language for emotions?

We need the architecture of language because that’s one of the spandrel exaptations that made emotions possible.

So animals don’t have language?

They have communication, but not language.

So does that also explain why animals can’t have emotions?

They can’t have what we call emotions, or the way we understand emotions.

Like anger, shame, jealousy?

They might behave in a way that’s consistent with those. But do they have the experiences of them is the question. And if they did, how would you know? You can’t ask them because all they do is behave. Here’s the thing. A human can do two things to respond to a conscious stimulus. You present me with an apple, I can say, “That’s an apple,” or I can pick up the apple. I can respond verbally or non-verbally to something I’m conscious of. But if I’m not conscious of something, I can only respond non-verbally. I can’t give a verbal response. Animals don’t have that alternate response, one different from the non-verbal response. All they have is the non-verbal. I’m not saying they don’t have something, but scientifically, how do you study that?

If readers came away from The Deep History of Ourselves with only one idea, what would you like that idea to be?

That we can’t take the obvious as fact. Just because things seem a certain way doesn’t mean they are. Just because we are running from the bear and feeling afraid at the same time, that doesn’t mean our behavior and emotions have the same cause. To understand the causes, we have to study them. We can’t simply study them psychologically. We have to figure out what’s going on in the brain. When we do that, we see these things are controlled separately in the brain. They interact but fundamentally they’re triggered separately. One has an evolutionary history that we can trace to the beginning of life, and the other is something that is unique to our species. ~


This reminds me most of William James's idea that behavior comes first. You don't cry because you feel sad; it's because you cry that you feel sad. It's because you pray you start believing in god. That's what Pascal recommends as part of his discussion of Pascal's Wager: if you don't feel it's possible for you to believe in god, start imitating what the believers do. It's performing the ritual that will create the deity. 

This became very important to me when I decided not to be depressed. My chief depressive behavior was ruminating on all the disasters of the past. Finally it took only a bit of rumination to become deeply depressed. Rumination was a behavior I had to quit cold-turkey -- and I did. No rumination, no depression. It was arguably the most enlightening event of my adulthood.

Dinosaurs almost certainly didn't roar. They probably cooed instead.

~ We have few clues for what noises dinosaurs might have made while they ruled the Earth before being killed off 66 million years ago. The remarkable stony remains uncovered by paleontologists offer evidence of the physical prowess of these creatures, but not a great deal about how they interacted and communicated. Sound doesn't fossilize, of course.

From what we know about animal behavior, however, dinosaurs were almost certainly not silent.

Now with the help of new, rare fossils and advanced analysis techniques, scientists are starting to piece together some of the clues about how dinosaurs might have sounded.

There is no single answer to this puzzle. Dinosaurs dominated the planet for around 179 million years and during that time, evolved into an enormous array of different shapes and sizes. Some were tiny, like the diminutive Albinykus, which weighed under a kilogram (2.2lbs) and was probably less than 2ft (60cm) long. Others were among the biggest animals to have ever lived on land, such as the titanosaur Patagotitan mayorum, which may have weighed up to 72 tonnes. They ran on two legs, or plodded on four. And along with these diverse body shapes, they would have produced an equally wide variety of noises.

Some dinosaurs had greatly elongated necks – up to 16m (52ft) long in the largest sauropods – which would have likely altered the sounds they produced (think about what happens when a trombone is extended). Others had bizarre skull structures that, much like wind instruments, could have amplified and altered the tone the animals produced.

Parasaurolophus tubicen had an enormous crest almost 1m (3.2ft) long protruding from the back of its head. Inside this were three pairs of hollow tubes running from the nose to the top of the crest, where two of the pairs performed a U-bend to wind back down towards the base of the skull and the animal's airways. The other pair widened to form a large chamber near the top of the crest. In total they formed what was essentially a 2.9m (9.5ft) long resonating chamber.

In 1995, paleontologists at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science unearthed a nearly complete skull of this unusual looking Parasaurolophus. Using a computerized tomography (CT) scanner, they were able to take 350 images of the crest, allowing them to see inside in unprecedented detail. Then, working with computer scientists, they digitally reconstructed the organ and simulated how it might behave if air was blown through it.

P. tubicen

Even without a larynx or voice box, P. tubicen may have still been able to produce sounds using its distinctive headcrest (Credit: Tom Williamson)

“I would describe the sound as otherworldly,” says Tom Williamson, one of those who worked on the dig and is now curator of paleontology at the museum. "It sent chills through my spine, I remember.”

The closest analogues he can find in living animals today are the vibrating grunts of the southern cassowary, which lives in Australia. This flightless bird emits a series of deep bellows and growls that reverberate through the thick jungle where they live.

"It's easy for me to imagine a misty Late Cretaceous rainforest setting with those eerie sounds thundering in the background," says Williamson. "The sounds are of low frequencies – just what is necessary to penetrate the dense undergrowth.”

Williamson and his colleagues simulated the sound P. tubicen might have produced both with and without an assortment of vocal organs, such as the larynx found in mammals and modern reptiles. They found that even without a larynx or the equivalent voice box, the dinosaur may still have produced a noise due to the way air would have resonated inside the crest when the animal blew air through it, much like blowing over the opening of a jug.

"We didn't have preserved soft tissues and we don't know, for example, if these dinosaurs had sound-producing organs such as mammals and birds do," says Williamson. "It became apparent that a sound-producing organ wasn't necessary to get the crest to resonate because it is such a long structure.”

Other hadrosaurs had similar, if not so dramatic, musical crests on their skulls that are thought to have doubled as a visual display and an aid to vocalization. Most would have produced low-frequency sounds, and the fossilized remains of these animals have even inspired some to create musical instruments based on hadrosaur skulls.

Not all dinosaurs were blessed with what amounted to a trumpet atop their heads. And we have no fossilized evidence of voice boxes from dinosaurs, leading some to speculate the animals may even have been mute.

"What we do have are fossil clues that can tell us about different parameters of the airways like its diameter and its length," says Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at the University of Texas at Austin. "We can compare those geometries to see how they relate to those dinosaurs that are living today – birds.”

But Clarke has another clue that has provided a further piece of the puzzle. In the mid-2000s, she and her colleagues conducted a detailed examination of the preserved skeleton of an early type of bird found over a decade earlier by Argentinian researchers on Vega Island, a tiny scrap of land on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The fossil itself remains partially embedded in a piece of rock, but using advanced CT scanning techniques, Clarke and her team were able to detect bits of the fossil hidden from view. They then digitally reconstructed the fossil from the scans.

And there, nestled amongst the fossilized bone fragments, were the remnants of something astonishing – the mineralized rings of a syrinx, the sound producing organ found in birds, dating back to the time of the dinosaurs.

The primitive bird it belonged to – a goose-like creature called Vegavis iaai – would have coexisted with non-avian dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period, 66-68 million years ago. At around this time, this part of modern Antarctica would have been covered in temperate forests and surrounded by shallow seas. The honking sounds of V. iaai were probably part of that landscape.

But for Clarke, the discovery reveals something else by its presence – that these sound-producing organs can fossilize, and their absence from most dinosaur fossils is telling. Birds, or avian dinosaurs to be more precise, evolved from theropod dinosaurs around 165-150 million years ago during the Jurassic period. If the syrinx from a bird living 66-68 million years ago could be preserved as a fossil, why have none been found among the remains of their extinct non-avian cousins, such as Tyrannosaurus rex?

It is a question that led Clarke to delve deeper into how modern birds produce sound. "There are around 10,000 living species of birds [some estimates put the number as high as 18,000], but there has been surprisingly little scientific research done on what sounds they actually make and how they do it," she says. Her work has led her to a revelation that will shake the ground from under the feet of five-year-olds and movie goers around the world. Dinosaurs almost certainly didn't roar. They probably cooed instead.

Or more accurately they may have produced sounds in ways similar to the way doves coo or ostriches boom. Many modern birds use what is known as closed-mouth vocalization, where sound is made by inflating the throat rather than passing air through the syrinx. Crocodiles – another distant relative of the dinosaurs that split from a common ancestor around 240 million years ago – also use closed-mouth vocalization to generate deep rumbles that can cause the water around them to "dance" around their bodies. Crocodiles, like other reptiles and mammals, have a larynx rather than a syrinx that produces the sound. But they bypass this when producing their mating bellows.

"The Jurassic Park films have got it wrong," laughs Clarke. "A lot of the early reconstructions of dinosaurs have been influenced by what we associate with scary noises today from large mammalian predators like lions. In the Jurassic Park movies they did use some crocodilian vocalizations for the large dinosaurs, but on screen the dinosaurs have their mouths open like a lion roaring. They wouldn't have done that, especially not just before attacking or eating their prey. Predators don't do that – it would advertise to others nearby that you have got a meal, and it would warn their prey they are there.”

Instead Clarke believes that many non-avian dinosaurs may have produced sounds with their mouths closed by inflating the soft tissues of their throats, as part of some sort of mating display. But she says they could also have used open-mouth calls in other situations, such as moments of distress. "There's going to be a lot of different kinds of sounds out there in the landscape of the Late Jurassic or Early Cretaceous," she says.

It is a view supported by research on another part of dinosaur anatomy for which there is better evidence in the fossil record – their ears. Studies of dinosaur skulls have allowed paleontologists to reconstruct what their inner ears were like. A few fossils have also revealed some of the delicate bones that helped dinosaur ears to function.

"Dinosaurs only had this single bone in their middle ear, the stapes – a key structure in translating vibrations in air, sound waves, to the inner ear that can then be processed by the brain," says Phil Manning, professor of natural history at the University of Manchester. "We mammals also possess the malleus (hammer) and the incus (anvil).”

Without these additional pieces of bony hearing apparatus, dinosaurs may only have been able to hear a much narrower range of frequencies compared to mammals, Manning says. And they were probably attuned to picking up low frequency sounds.

"The stapes in dinosaurs were often quite large, almost the size of a matchstick in T. rex, meaning it was well tuned to lower frequencies," says Manning. "Small species of dinosaurs with smaller stapes would correlate with high-frequency sounds.”

The size of the cochlear ducts in the inner ears of dinosaur fossils offer other insights about their hearing abilities, and suggest they could have also been able to pick up high frequencies. "We know from living animals that the longer the cochlea, generally the greater range of sounds it can hear," says Steve Brusatte, professor of paleontology and evolution at the University of Edinburgh. "Mammal cochleas are coiled like a snake, to pack in a long length into a small region of skull. Dinosaur cochleas aren't like this, but some of them are pretty long.”

One detailed study of a species of tyrannosaur – a horse-sized predator from the mid-Cretaceous called Timurlengia euotica, which prowled what is now the Kyzylkum Desert in modern-day Uzbekistan – has revealed that these animals had unusually long cochlear ducts in their inner ears. "That suggests that it could hear a wider range of sounds than many other dinosaurs," says Brusatte who led the study. When we studied the CT scans of Timurlengia, we noticed that its cochlea was really, really long for a dinosaur.”

In fact dinosaurs might have developed these elongated cochleas fairly early on in their evolution, perhaps in the very early days of their branch of the evolutionary tree, known as the Archosauria, around 250 million years ago.

"The cochlear elongation denoting sensitivity to squeaky noises occurred near the origin of the archosaurian 'ruling reptiles', which includes birds and crocodiles," says Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticu. He has reconstructed the ear canals of several archosaurs using three-dimensional scans of their fossilized skulls. "We considered all sorts of possible drivers of this transformation and realized that the only one that was consistent with all evidence was the advent of a high level of parental care, and more specifically the use of chirping 'location calls' by the babies.”

So, could young dinosaurs have been tweeting in their nests to get their parents' attention, like modern bird chicks and young crocodiles do today? Bhullar thinks they might have. "Given that baby birds and baby crocodiles chirp, it's reasonable to infer that baby non-bird dinosaurs did as well, and that their parents listened to them and cared for them just as crocodile and bird parents do," he says. "As far as what sensitivity to high-pitched sound means about the noises that adult non-bird dinosaurs made – it's an open question. I would be entirely unsurprised if most dinosaurs, and especially those closely related to birds, made a variety of noises.”

The ability to hear a wide range of sounds could have been useful in many ways, such as detecting predators or other threats, or allowing them to scout out prey more effectively, says Brusatte. But it could have been used for communication with each other too – either to warn about danger, to attract mates, intimidate rivals or to help herds stick together.

"We know at least some tyrannosaurus traveled and maybe hunted in packs, so communication between individuals was probably important," says Brusatte.

But with such large animals producing many of these sounds, how would they have sounded to our ears? Much of the booming calls of crocodiles and cassowaries is beyond the limits of human hearing in low frequencies known as infrasound (there are even reports of alligators living close to Cape Canaveral in Florida producing infrasound calls in response to the deep rumble of the rockets during launches of the Space Shuttle in the 1980s). Elephants are also known to communicate over long distances using infrasound and Sumatran rhinos use infrasound "whistles" that resemble humpback whale song to penetrate their thick forest habitat.

Low-frequency sounds and infrasound are especially good at traveling long distances, both in open environments and dense jungle habitats. In animals the size of the T. rex or giant sauropods like the Diplodocus, the sound could have been very low indeed.

"We know there is a fundamental scaling relationship between body size and frequency," says Clarke. "Small animals produce higher frequency sounds in general because of the length of their vocal cords, unless they've got some weird modifications. Large animals produce lower frequency sounds. And so in dinosaurs, you have these animals that are the size of four elephants stacked on top of each other. They're not producing sounds in the frequency range of human hearing.

"But you would probably feel them.”

Other research suggests that even if we could hear the biggest of the dinosaurs humming to one another, it would have sounded strange to our ears. Giants like the Supersaurus may not have had great control over their vocal abilities due to the relatively long delay for nerve signals to travel down the 28m (92ft) long necks from the brain. It would have meant any calls they produced may have seemed remarkably sluggish in relation to events around them.

Some paleontologists, however, have proposed that giant sauropods like the Diplodocus and Supersaurus might have relied more upon tactile communication while moving in herds. It is perhaps the reason why they have such elongated tails, as they allowed them to stay in almost constant contact with their neighbors while they migrated.

It is evocative to imagine a Cretaceous alive with the squawks of smaller dinosaurs, chirps of newly hatched young and the menacing rumble of giants somewhere in the distance. Faced with such an assault on the ears and vibrating through your bones, it's worth considering if you would stay to take a closer look, or simply turn and run. ~



~ Julian Jaynes was living out of a couple of suitcases in a Princeton dorm in the early 1970s. He must have been an odd sight there among the undergraduates, some of whom knew him as a lecturer who taught psychology, holding forth in a deep baritone voice. He was in his early 50s, a fairly heavy drinker, untenured, and apparently uninterested in tenure. His position was marginal.

“I don’t think the university was paying him on a regular basis,” recalls Roy Baumeister, then a student at Princeton and today a professor of psychology at Florida State University. But among the youthful inhabitants of the dorm, Jaynes was working on his masterpiece, and had been for years.

From the age of 6, Jaynes had been transfixed by the singularity of conscious experience. Gazing at a yellow forsythia flower, he’d wondered how he could be sure that others saw the same yellow as he did. As a young man, serving three years in a Pennsylvania prison for declining to support the war effort, he watched a worm in the grass of the prison yard one spring, wondering what separated the unthinking earth from the worm and the worm from himself. It was the kind of question that dogged him for the rest of his life,and the book he was working on would grip a generation beginning to ask themselves similar questions.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, when it finally came out in 1976, did not look like a best-seller. But sell it did. It was reviewed in science magazines and psychology journals, Time, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. It was nominated for a National Book Award in 1978. New editions continued to come out, as Jaynes went on the lecture circuit. Jaynes died of a stroke in 1997; his book lived on. In 2000, another new edition came out. It continues to sell today.

In the beginning of the book, Jaynes asks, “This consciousness that is my self of selves, that is everything, and yet nothing at all—what is it? And where did it come from? And why?” Jaynes answers by unfurling a version of history in which humans were not fully conscious until about 3,000 years ago, instead relying on a two-part, or bicameral, mind, with one half speaking to the other in the voice of the gods with guidance whenever a difficult situation presented itself. The bicameral mind eventually collapsed as human societies became more complex, and our forebears awoke with modern self-awareness, complete with an internal narrative, which Jaynes believes has its roots in language. 

Julian Jaynes

It’s a remarkable thesis that doesn’t fit well with contemporary thought about how consciousness works. The idea that the ancient Greeks were not self-aware raises quite a few eyebrows. By giving consciousness a cultural origin, says Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, “Jaynes disavows consciousness as a biological phenomenon.”

But Koch and other neuroscientists and philosophers admit Jaynes’ wild book has a power all its own. “He was an old-fashioned amateur scholar of considerable depth and tremendous ambition, who followed where his curiosity led him, says philosopher Daniel Dennett. The kind of search that Jaynes was on—a quest to describe and account for an inner voice, an inner world we seem to inhabit—continues to resonate. The study of consciousness is on the rise in neuroscience labs around the world, but the science isn’t yet close to capturing subjective experience. That’s something Jaynes did beautifully, opening a door on what it feels like to be alive, and be aware of it.

Perhaps most striking to Jaynes is that knowledge and even creative epiphanies appear to us without our control. You can tell which water glass is the heavier of a pair without any conscious thought—you just know, once you pick them up. And in the case of problem-solving, creative or otherwise, we give our minds the information we need to work through, but we are helpless to force an answer. Instead it comes to us later, in the shower or on a walk. Jaynes told a neighbor that his theory finally gelled while he was watching ice moving on the St. John River. Something that we are not aware of does the work.

The picture Jaynes paints is that consciousness is only a very thin rime of ice atop a sea of habit, instinct, or some other process that is capable of taking care of much more than we tend to give it credit for. “If our reasonings have been correct,” he writes, “it is perfectly possible that there could have existed a race of men who spoke, judged, reasoned, solved problems, indeed did most of the things that we do, but were not conscious at all.”

Jaynes believes that language needed to exist before what he has defined as consciousness was possible. So he decides to read early texts, including The Iliad and The Odyssey, to look for signs of people who aren’t capable of introspection—people who are all sea, no rime. And he believes he sees that in The Iliad. He writes that the characters in The Iliad do not look inward, and they take no independent initiative. They only do what is suggested by the gods. When something needs to happen, a god appears and speaks. Without these voices, the heroes would stand frozen on the beaches of Troy, like puppets.

Speech was already known to be localized in the left hemisphere, instead of spread out over both hemispheres. Jaynes suggests that the right hemisphere’s lack of language capacity is because it used to be used for something else—specifically, it was the source of admonitory messages funneled to the speech centers on the left side of the brain. These manifested themselves as hallucinations that helped guide humans through situations that required complex responses—decisions of statecraft, for instance, or whether to go on a risky journey.

The combination of instinct and voices — that is, the bicameral mind — have allowed humans to manage for quite some time, as long as their societies were rigidly hierarchical, Jaynes writes. But about 3,000 years ago, stress from overpopulation, natural disasters, and wars overwhelmed the voices’ rather limited capabilities. At that point, in the breakdown of the bicameral mind, bits and pieces of the conscious mind would have come to awareness, as the voices mostly died away. That led to a more flexible, though more existentially daunting, way of coping with the decisions of everyday life—one better suited to the chaos that ensued when the gods went silent. By The Odyssey, the characters are capable of something like interior thought, he says. The modern mind, with its internal narrative and longing for direction from a higher power, appears.

The rest of the book—400 pages—provides what Jaynes sees as evidence of this bicamerality and its breakdown around the world, in the Old Testament, Maya stone carvings, Sumerian writings. He cites a carving of an Assyrian king kneeling before a god’s empty throne, circa 1230 B.C.

Frequent, successive migrations around the same time in what is now Greece, he takes to be a tumult caused by the breakdown. And Jaynes reflects on how this transition might be reverberating today. “We, at the end of the second millennium A.D., are still in a sense deep in this transition to a new mentality. And all about us lie the remnants of our recent bicameral past,” he writes, in awe of the reach of this idea, and seized with the pathos of the situation. “Our kings, presidents, judges, and officers begin their tenures with oaths to the now-silent deities, taken upon the writings of those who have last heard them.

“There is such a difference between the consciousness of a chimpanzee and human consciousness that it requires a special explanation, an explanation that heavily invokes the human distinction of natural language,” though that’s far from all of it, Daniel Dennett notes. “It’s an eccentric position,” he admits wryly.

Marcel Kuijsten, an IT professional who runs the group called The Julian Jaynes Society, feels that many people who come down on Jaynes haven’t gone to the trouble to understand the argument, which he admits is hard to get one’s mind around. “They come into it with a really ingrained, pre-conceived notion of what consciousness means to them,” he says, “And maybe they just read the back of the book.” But he’s playing the long game. “I’m not here to change anybody’s mind. It’s a total waste of time. I want to provide the best quality information, and provide good resources for people who’ve read the book, and want to have a discussion.

To that end, Kuijsten and the Society have released books of Jaynes’ writings and of new essays about him and his work. Whenever discoveries that relate to the issues Jaynes raised are published, Kuijsten notes them on the site. In 2009 he highlighted brain-imaging studies suggesting that auditory hallucinations begin with activity in the right side of the brain, followed by activation on the left, which sounds similar to Jaynes’ mechanism for the bicameral mind. He hopes that as time goes on, people will revisit some of Jaynes’ ideas in light of new science.

Ultimately, the broader questions that Jaynes’ book raised are the same ones that continue to vex neuroscientists and lay people. When and why did we start having this internal narrative? How much of our day-to-day experience occurs unconsciously? What is the line between a conscious and unconscious process? These questions are still open. Perhaps Jaynes’ strange hypotheses will never play a role in answering them. But many people—readers, scientists, and philosophers alike—are grateful he tried.

Capsule overview from Wiki:

Abandoning the assumption that consciousness is innate, Jaynes explains it instead as a learned behavior that "arises ... from language, and specifically from metaphor." With this understanding, Jaynes then demonstrates that ancient texts and archeology can reveal a history of human mentality alongside the histories of other cultural products. His analysis of the evidence leads him not only to place the origin of consciousness during the 2nd millennium BCE but also to hypothesize the existence of an older non-conscious "mentality that he calls the bicameral mind, referring to the brain’s two hemispheres”.

Jaynes wrote an extensive afterword for the 1990 edition of his book, in which he addressed criticisms and clarified that his theory has four separate hypotheses:

consciousness is based on and accessed by language

the non-conscious bicameral mind is based on verbal hallucinations

the breakdown of bicameral mind precedes consciousness, but the dating is variable

the 'double brain' of bicamerality is based on the two hemispheres of the cerebral cortex being organized differently from today's functional lateralization.

Jaynes also expanded on the impact of consciousness on imagination and memory, notions of The Self, emotions, anxiety, guilt, and sexuality.


Bicameral mentality is a hypothesis in psychology and neuroscience which argues that the human mind once operated in a state in which cognitive functions were divided between one part of the brain which appears to be "speaking", and a second part which listens and obeys—a bicameral mind, and that the evolutionary breakdown of this division gave rise to consciousness in humans.

The term was coined by Julian Jaynes, who presented the idea in his 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, wherein he made the case that a bicameral mentality was the normal and ubiquitous state of the human mind as recently as 3,000 years ago, near the end of the Mediterranean bronze age.

Jaynes uses "bicameral" (two chambers) to describe a mental state in which the experiences and memories of the right hemisphere of the brain are transmitted to the left hemisphere via auditory hallucinations. The metaphor is based on the idea of lateralization of brain function although each half of a normal human brain is constantly communicating with the other through the corpus callosum. The metaphor is not meant to imply that the two halves of the bicameral brain were "cut off" from each other but that the bicameral mind was experienced as a different, non-conscious mental schema wherein volition in the face of novel stimuli was mediated through a linguistic control mechanism and experienced as auditory verbal hallucination.

According to Jaynes, ancient people in the bicameral state of mind would have experienced the world in a manner that has some similarities to that of a person with schizophrenia. Rather than making conscious evaluations in novel or unexpected situations, the person would hallucinate a voice or "god" giving admonitory advice or commands and obey without question: One would not be at all conscious of one's own thought processes per se. 

Jaynes's hypothesis is offered as a possible explanation of "command hallucinations" that often direct the behavior of those with first rank symptoms of schizophrenia, as well as other voice hearers.

Jaynes asserted that, until roughly the times written about in Homer's Iliad, humans did not generally have the self-awareness characteristic of consciousness as most people experience it today. Rather, the bicameral individual was guided by mental commands believed to be issued by external "gods"—commands which were recorded in ancient myths, legends and historical accounts. This is exemplified not only in the commands given to characters in ancient epics but also the very muses of Greek mythology which "sang" the poems. According to Jaynes, the ancients literally heard the muses as the direct source of their music and poetry.

Jaynes asserts that in the Iliad and sections of the Old Testament no mention is made of any kind of cognitive processes such as introspection, and there is no apparent indication that the writers were self-aware. The older portions of the Old Testament (such as the Book of Amos) have few or none of the features of some later books of the Old Testament (such as Ecclesiastes) as well as later works such as Homer's Odyssey, which show indications of a profoundly different kind of mentality—an early form of consciousness.

In ancient times, Jaynes noted, gods were generally much more numerous and much more anthropomorphic than in modern times, and speculates that this was because each bicameral person had their own "god" who reflected their own desires and experiences.

Jaynes argues that schizophrenia is a vestige of humanity's earlier bicameral state. Recent evidence shows that many people with schizophrenia do not just hear random voices but experience "command hallucinations" instructing their behavior or urging them to commit certain acts, such as walking into the ocean, which the listener feels they have no choice but to follow. Jaynes also argues people with schizophrenia feel a loss of identity due to hallucinated voices taking the place of their internal monologue.

Jaynes further argues that divination, prayer, and oracles arose during this breakdown period [the Bronze Age Collapse], in an attempt to summon instructions from the "gods" whose voices could no longer be heard. The consultation of special bicamerally operative individuals, or of divination by casting lots and so forth, was a response to this loss, a transitional era depicted, for example, in the book of 1 Samuel. It was also evidenced in children who could communicate with the gods, but as their neurology was set by language and society they gradually lost that ability. Those who continued prophesying, being bicameral according to Jaynes, could be killed. Leftovers of the bicameral mind today, according to Jaynes, include mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and the hallucinations present in patients with split brain syndrome.

Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist reviews scientific research into the role of the brain's hemispheres, and cultural evidence, in his book The Master and His Emissary. Similar to Jaynes, McGilchrist proposes that since the time of Plato the left hemisphere of the brain (the "emissary" in the title) has increasingly taken over from the right hemisphere (the "master"), to our detriment. McGilchrist, while accepting Jayne's intention, felt that Jaynes's hypothesis was "the precise inverse of what happened" and that rather than a shift from bicameral mentality there evolved a separation of the hemispheres to bicameral mentality.


~ The very reason we need logic is because most reasoning is not conscious at all. Indeed, it is sometimes almost as if the problem had to be forgotten to be solved. 

~ The mind is still haunted with its old unconscious ways; it broods on lost authorities; and the yearning, the deep and hollowing yearning for divine volition and service is with us still.

~ Poetry begins as the divine speech of the bicameral mind. Then, as the bicameral mind breaks down, there remain prophets.

~ The changes in the Catholic Church since Vatican II can certainly be scanned in terms of this long retreat from the sacred which has followed the inception of consciousness into the human species.


For personal reasons, I was struck by the Catholic Church’s “long retreat from the sacred.” Of course it’s not just the Catholic Church. This has been a global process, which loosely fits under the heading of “decline of religion.” Humans everywhere are finding it more and more difficult to believe in the biblical Yahweh, or any other deity in any culture’s sacred texts. 

Nowadays we seek answers on the Internet, or from experts such as psychotherapists (who themselves are not averse to going to psychics — who I think have become better at being non-judgmental.) The answers are in the stars, or cards, or former lifetimes; for the more sophisticated, in quantum entanglement and synchronicities. Yes, we certainly long to be guided.

I agree with Iain McGilchrist that the left hemisphere has become dominant, and with the various authors who claim that at least from time to time we need to “step to the right” — into music and other non-rational activities in order to gain a greater sense of well-being and psychological richness.

In most people, the left hemisphere is slightly larger. Oddly enough, the brains of autistics and schizophrenics are more symmetrical. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease show a greater deterioration in the left hemisphere, showing a parallel deterioration in verbal skills, while musical skills may remain intact.

In general, the left and right hemisphere age at different rates, with the left hemisphere deteriorating faster, especially in Alzheimer's patients.


~ In the study, reported on December 14, 2022, in Science Advances, the researchers found that a particularly harmful, chemically modified form of an inflammatory immune protein called complement C3 was present at much higher levels in the brains of women who had died with the disease, compared to men who had died with the disease. They also showed that estrogen —  which drops in production during menopause — normally protects against the creation of this form of complement C3.

"Our new findings suggest that chemical modification of a component of the complement system helps drive Alzheimer's, and may explain, at least in part, why the disease predominantly affects women," says study senior author Stuart Lipton, MD, PhD, professor and Step Family Foundation Endowed Chair in the Department of Molecular Medicine at Scripps Research and a clinical neurologist in La Jolla, California.

Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia that occurs with aging, currently afflicts about six million people in the U.S. alone. It is always fatal, usually within a decade of onset, and there is no approved treatment that can halt the disease process, let alone reverse it. The shortcomings of treatments reflect the fact that scientists have never fully understood how Alzheimer's develops. Scientists also don't know fully why women account for nearly two-thirds of cases.

Lipton's lab studies biochemical and molecular events that may underlie neurodegenerative diseases, including the chemical reaction that forms a modified type of complement C3 — a process called protein S-nitrosylation.

Lipton and his colleagues previously discovered this chemical reaction, which happens when a nitric oxide (NO)-related molecule binds tightly to a sulfur atom (S) on a particular amino acid building-block of proteins to form a modified "SNO-protein." Protein modifications by small clusters of atoms such as NO are common in cells and typically activate or deactivate a target protein's functions. For technical reasons, S-nitrosylation has been more difficult to study than other protein modifications, but Lipton suspects that "SNO-storms" of these proteins could be a key contributor to Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative disorders.

For the new study, the researchers used novel methods for detecting S-nitrosylation to quantify proteins modified in 40 postmortem human brains. Half of the brains were from people who had died of Alzheimer's, and half were from people who hadn't -- and each group was divided equally between males and females.

In these brains, the scientists found 1,449 different proteins that had been S-nitrosylated. Among the proteins most often modified in this way, there were several that have already been tied to Alzheimer's, including complement C3. Strikingly, the levels of S-nitrosylated C3 (SNO-C3) were more than six-fold higher in female Alzheimer's brains compared to male Alzheimer's brains.

The complement system is an evolutionarily older part of the human immune system. It consists of a family of proteins, including C3, that can activate one another to drive inflammation in what is called the "complement cascade." Scientists have known for more than 30 years that Alzheimer's brains have higher levels of complement proteins and other markers of inflammation compared to neurologically normal brains. More recent research has shown specifically that complement proteins can trigger brain-resident immune cells called microglia to destroy synapses — the connection points through which neurons send signals to one another. Many researchers now suspect that this synapse-destroying mechanism at least partly underlies the Alzheimer's disease process, and loss of synapses has been demonstrated to be a significant correlate of cognitive decline in Alzheimer's brains.

Why would SNO-C3 be more common in female brains with Alzheimer's? There has long been evidence that the female hormone estrogen can have brain-protective effects under some conditions; thus, the researchers hypothesized that estrogen specifically protects women's brains from C3 S-nitrosylation — and this protection is lost when estrogen levels fall sharply with menopause. Experiments with cultured human brain cells supported this hypothesis, revealing that SNO-C3 increases as estrogen levels fall, due to the activation of an enzyme that makes NO in brain cells. This increase in SNO-C3 activates microglial destruction of synapses.

"Why women are more likely to get Alzheimer's has long been a mystery, but I think our results represent an important piece of the puzzle that mechanistically explains the increased vulnerability of women as they age," Lipton says.

He and his colleagues now hope to conduct further experiments with de-nitrosylating compounds — which remove the SNO modification — to see if they can reduce pathology in animal models of Alzheimer's and eventually in humans. ~


It's little known that in old age, men's estrogen levels tend to exceed those of same-age women. That's because men's testosterone is easily converted to various estrogens as needed. It's women who suffer from all the hormone deficiency-related degenerative illnesses. 

Considering this, it's natural to predict that hormone replacement therapy would protect against Alzheimer's. I have read enough reports that confirm this hypothesis to believe this to be true. However, I must admit that some studies contradict this conclusion. Our knowledge is simply incomplete. 

For men, testosterone replacement seems to lower the risk of dementia. But the heat generated by the debate around any form of hormone replacement again shows that our knowledge is sadly lacking.


~ Today, by and large, patients receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer's only after they exhibit well-known signs of the disease, such as memory loss. By that point, the best treatment options simply slow further progression of symptoms.

But research has shown that the seeds of Alzheimer's are planted years — even decades — earlier, long before the cognitive impairments surface that make a diagnosis possible. Those seeds are amyloid beta proteins that misfold and clump together, forming small aggregates called oligomers. Over time, through a process scientists are still trying to understand, those "toxic" oligomers of amyloid beta are thought to develop into Alzheimer’s.

A team led by researchers at the University of Washington has developed a laboratory test that can measure levels of amyloid beta oligomers in blood samples. As they report in a paper published the week of Dec. 5 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, their test  — known by the acronym SOBA — could detect oligomers in the blood of patients with Alzheimer's disease, but not in most members of a control group who showed no signs of cognitive impairment at the time the blood samples were taken.

However, SOBA did detect oligomers in the blood of 11 individuals from the control group. Follow-up examination records were available for 10 of these individuals, and all were diagnosed years later with mild cognitive impairment or brain pathology consistent with Alzheimer's disease. Essentially, for these 10 individuals, SOBA had detected the toxic oligomers before symptoms surfaced.

SOBA, which stands for soluble oligomer binding assay, exploits a unique property of the toxic oligomers. When misfolded amyloid beta proteins begin to clump into oligomers, they form a structure known as an alpha sheet. Alpha sheets are not ordinarily found in nature, and past research by Daggett's team showed that alpha sheets tend to bind to other alpha sheets. At the heart of SOBA is a synthetic alpha sheet designed by her team that can bind to oligomers in samples of either cerebrospinal fluid or blood. The test then uses standard methods to confirm that the oligomers attached to the test surface are made up of amyloid beta proteins.

SOBA also detected oligomers in those members of the control group who, records show, later developed mild cognitive impairment. Blood samples from other individuals in the control group who remained unimpaired lacked toxic oligomers. ~

ending on a love letter:

"How can I explain to you, my happiness, my golden wonderful happiness, how much I am all yours with all my memories, poems, outbursts, inner whirlwinds? Or explain that I cannot write a word without hearing how you will pronounce it — and can't recall a single trifle I've lived through without regrets so sharp! — that we haven't lived through it together — whether it's the most, the most personal, intransmissible or only some sunset or other at the bend of a road — you see what I mean, my happiness?” ~ Vladimir Nabokov, in a letter to VĂ©ra.