Ivan Karamazov

Though I may not believe in the order of the universe, yet I love the sticky little leaves as they open in spring.

“Do you know I’ve been sitting here thinking to myself: that if I didn’t believe in life, if I lost faith in the woman I love, lost faith in the order of things, were convinced, in fact, that everything is a disorderly, damnable, and perhaps devil-ridden chaos, if I were struck by every horror of man’s disillusionment-still I should want to live and, having once tasted of the cup, I would not turn away from it till I had drained it! “

“Though I may not believe in the order of the universe, yet I love the sticky little leaves as they open in spring. I love the blue sky, I love some people, whom one loves you know sometimes without knowing why. I love some great deeds done by men, though I’ve long ceased perhaps to have faith in them, yet from old habit one’s heart prizes them.”

From Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky’s,
The Brothers Karamazov
Book 5, Chapt. 3. The Brothers Make Friends,
Братья знакомятся,

“the single best idea anyone has ever had” Daniel Dennett, NYR, April, 2020

Charles Darwin; illustration by Siegfried Woldhek

One lesson from all this is that Darwin’s name sells. A less mercantile way of viewing it is that Darwin’s name stands for what Daniel Dennett has called “the single best idea anyone has ever had,” and therefore serves as a portal to scientific and philosophical ruminations of vast depth and breadth. We can’t stop reading and talking about Darwin, 138 years after his death, because the great theory of which he was co-conceiver (with Alfred Russel Wallace) and chief propounder (in On the Origin of Species) was so big and startling and forceful, yet so unfinished when he died in 1882, that there’s always more work to do. We’re still trying to figure out how evolution by natural selection—Darwin’s dangerous idea, — applies to every aspect of life on Earth, from virulence in coronaviruses to human social behavior. It takes a lot of books to follow all those tendrils out to their end points, and a lot of other books to examine Darwin’s digressions and lesser fancies (pigeon breeding, the taxonomy of barnacles, the facial expressions of orangutans, climbing plants), his place in scientific history, and his continuing influence on how we understand the living world and humanity’s place within. (From the New York Review of Books, of April 23, 2020)

Post script, this from the opening pages of Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene:

Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the reason for its own existence. If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilization, is: ‘Have they discovered evolution yet?’ Living organisms had existed on earth for, without ever knowing why, for over three thousand million years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin.

now is the time to join with others, not wait for the war with the virus to be over….

A old friend, a friend of our family’s, sent me Kitty O’Meara’s poem, And The People Stayed Home...” as being I suppose an appropriate, timely, and comforting response to the havoc wrought by the Coronavirus and COVID-19. If you haven’t read it, and don’t know it, you will find it below at the end of this posting.

Now I don’t know Kitty O’Meara, and I certainly know nothing of why and how she wrote this poem. And I like the poem. How could anyone not like the poet’s good thoughts in this major Time of Trouble that we are now living through?

But don’t we need something else entirely, more like a call to arms. Don’t we need to be, even while separated, while keeping our distances from one another, don’t we need to be on a war footing against this virus that is going along happily chewing up our lung tissue and killing us?

And guns and tanks won’t help us as they did, say, against the Germans in the forties. (Now the Germans are our friends and we have joined up with them.) But aren’t there things we could be doing against this deadly organism that is invading our bodies?

For example, shouldn’t we be somehow providing PPEs, that is protective clothing that would keep the bug away, especially from the “first responders”. Protective clothing being probably the very first thing that we should provide to all those who need it, in particular the combatants who by their work are most at risk themselves?

The bug is no friend of ours, although like us a living organism. We need to uncover it, find it perhaps when it’s fully occupied eating our flesh and destroy it. In this case, as in so many critical moments in our past, we can’t allow ourselves to be distracted even by the best within us, our art and music, our philosophy. This is one more war to the end, and could if we do nothing come close, as so many plagues in the past, to destroying us.

Our first line of defense , the PPEs should at a minimum prevent this from happening. Also there are those of us, especially in the absence of protective clothing, who have caught the bug, and the bug is now in their bodily systems. Shouldn’t we no less be providing devices for properly managing the sick and dying, devices such as ventilators now so much in the news and so much in demand? And then there are the medicines and vaccinations that don’t yet exist but could be here within months if not a year or two and thereby assure our survival, but only if we set about with all our forces right now developing them ?

So Kitty O’Meara’s “stay at home” people, if they are doing what should be their and our real job, taking part in the war against the bug, wouldn’t have time for reading books, making art, playing games… for to do these kind of things wouldn’t it be like fiddling while Rome burned? That of which we have been guilty so many times in the past. Our survival I guess has always meant that when it came right down to it we took the right actions, did the right thing. Because after numberless disasters we are still here.

What people shouldn’t be doing is join together only when the danger is past, “And when the danger passed, and the people joined together…”
The people need to join together now when the danger is upon us.

Kitty O’Meara’s lovely poem, is perhaps for another time:

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

So what is going on, can you believe that this is happening?

Isn’t it about time that we recognize, accept that the time we’re presently living in, and with luck living through, Is a special time? Is it a once in a lifetime? Will we one day, as following other past and major interruption s in our lives get up and walk away from this one and get on again with our lives?

Our president would like that to happen immediately, and so wouldn’t we all. Don’t give so much attention to a bug, Trump is saying, for it is just a bug, in fact less than a bug since bugs we can see but not viruses.

At one point people would go here for answers, now it’s to MIT and Harvard big names with answers.

But we’re told by the scientists, those who today are playing the role of the Delphic Oracle, much like as in the ancient classical world the oracle would be consulted before making an important decision, so now are we waiting on the scientists to tell us what to do.

Facing up to the bug attacking us we turn to science rather than to religion. In all the talk now going on about the frightening Bug I near no mention of God, of any God. Is that because, as we were told by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and others, that God has died, that God was no more? In any case I find myself that God is out of the picture, and the god fearing folk, unfortunately I say, have said or done nothing to make me change my mind.

Anyway I started to think of all these things when I read two news items among the Notifications on my iPhone, one after the other, just about an hour ago (It’s now March 24, 2020).

One was, from Bloomberg—
“The Dow surges more than 2,000 points, or more than 11 percent, on hopes for coronavirus aid package.

The other was from the Boston Globe —
382 new coronavirus cases confirmed in Mass. as state death toll rises to 11.

The death toll goes up and the Dow goes up. That’s improvement on the last numbers from last week, when the one, deaths, was going up and the other going down. I guess there is some question about what is happening now. What is most important, new cases and new deaths on the one hand, or the economy and more work on the other. Well of course both are important. But wouldn’t you like to think that getting people out from under a death sentence, that which threatens most of us, if not all of us right now, was more important than the economy. We are familiar with the huge devastation that past plagues have wrought. Why don’t we see this one as what it is, lookat the bug in its face, and if not staring it down at least push it away? Perhaps it’s because the isolation and unemployment that social distancing may bring about may be a death worse than death. In any case it makes you think about what is happening, and my own thoughts are not good.

Words, Jane Hirshfield

It is our biological destiny to exist — and then not. Each of us eventually returns their stardust to the universe, to be constellated into some other ephemeral emissary of spacetime. Eventually, our entire species will go the way of the dinosaurs and the dodo and the Romantics; eventually, our home star will live out its final moments in a wild spin before collapsing into a white dwarf, taking with it everything we have ever known — Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and the guillotine and the perfect Fibonacci sequence of the pine cone.

Taken from Mary Popova’s Brain Pickings of March 22, 2020

our forgotten ancestors

In the Milky Way galaxy alone there may be a hundred billion worlds—neither close by, nor too distant from, the local sun, around which they orbit in silent gravitational homage. This is a story about one such world, perhaps not very different from many others—a story, especially, about the beings that evolved upon it, and one kind in particular.
Just to be alive billions of years after the origin of life, a being must be tough, resourceful, and lucky: There have been so many hazards along the way.

from Sagan, Carl. and Ann Druyan, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors . Random House Publishing Group.

Lifeforms endure by being patient, say, or ravenous, or solitary and camouflaged, or profligate with offspring, or fearsome hunters, or able to fly away to safety, or sleek swimmers, or burrowers, or sprayers of noxious, disorienting liquids, or masters at infiltrating into the very genetic material of other, unsuspecting, beings; or by accidentally being elsewhere when the predators stalk or the river is poisoned or the food supply dwindles.

The creatures with which we are particularly concerned were, not so long ago, gregarious to a fault, noisy, quarrelsome, arboreal, bossy, sexy, clever, tool-using, with prolonged childhoods and tender regard for their young. One thing led to another, and in a twinkling their descendants had multiplied all over the planet, killed off all their rivals, devised world-transforming technologies, and posed a mortal danger to themselves and the many other beings with whom they shared their small home. At the same time, they set off to visit the planets and the stars. ——

Who are we? Where do we come from? Why are we this way and not some other? What does it mean to be human? Are we capable, if need be, of fundamental change, or do the dead hands of forgotten ancestors impel us in some direction, indiscriminately for good or ill, and beyond our control? Can we alter our character? Can we improve our societies? Can we leave our children a world better than the one that was left to us? Can we free them from the demons that torment us and haunt our civilization? In the long run, are we wise enough to know what changes to make? Can we be trusted with our own future?

Continue reading our forgotten ancestors

Peter Wehner — The Trump Presidency Is Over

Bastiaan Slabbers / NurPhoto / Getty

Peter Wehner is telling us in the article below from the Atlantic of March 13 that the Trump presidency is over. Would that it be so!

The president, enraged for having been unmasked, will become more desperate, more embittered, more unhinged. He knows nothing will be the same. His administration may stagger on, but it will be only a hollow shell.

When, in January 2016, I wrote that despite being a lifelong Republican who worked in the previous three GOP administrations, I would never vote for Donald Trump, even though his administration would align much more with my policy views than a Hillary Clinton presidency would, a lot of my Republican friends were befuddled. How could I not vote for a person who checked far more of my policy boxes than his opponent?

What I explained then, and what I have said many times since, is that Trump is fundamentally unfit—intellectually, morally, temperamentally, and psychologically—for office. For me, that is the paramount consideration in electing a president, in part because at some point it’s reasonable to expect that a president will face an unexpected crisis—and at that point, the president’s judgment and discernment, his character and leadership ability, will really matter.

“Mr. Trump has no desire to acquaint himself with most issues, let alone master them” is how I put it four years ago. “No major presidential candidate has ever been quite as disdainful of knowledge, as indifferent to facts, as untroubled by his benightedness.” David Frum: The worst outcome

Mr. Trump’s virulent combination of ignorance, emotional instability, demagogy, solipsism and vindictiveness would do more than result in a failed presidency; it could very well lead to national catastrophe. The prospect of Donald Trump as commander in chief should send a chill down the spine of every American.

It took until the second half of Trump’s first term, but the crisis has arrived in the form of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s hard to name a president who has been as overwhelmed by a crisis as the coronavirus has overwhelmed Donald Trump.

To be sure, the president isn’t responsible for either the coronavirus or the disease it causes, COVID-19, and he couldn’t have stopped it from hitting our shores even if he had done everything right. Nor is it the case that the president hasn’t done anything right; in fact, his decision to implement a travel ban on China was prudent. And any narrative that attempts to pin all of the blame on Trump for the coronavirus is simply unfair. The temptation among the president’s critics to use the pandemic to get back at Trump for every bad thing he’s done should be resisted, and schadenfreude is never a good look.

That said, the president and his administration are responsible for grave, costly errors, most especially the epic manufacturing failures in diagnostic testing, the decision to test too few people, the delay in expanding testing to labs outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and problems in the supply chain. These mistakes have left us blind and badly behind the curve, and, for a few crucial weeks, they created a false sense of security. What we now know is that the coronavirus silently spread for several weeks, without us being aware of it and while we were doing nothing to stop it. Containment and mitigation efforts could have significantly slowed its spread at an early, critical point, but we frittered away that opportunity.

“They’ve simply lost time they can’t make up. You can’t get back six weeks of blindness,” Jeremy Konyndyk, who helped oversee the international response to Ebola during the Obama administration and is a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, told The Washington Post. “To the extent that there’s someone to blame here, the blame is on poor, chaotic management from the White House and failure to acknowledge the big picture.”

Earlier this week, Anthony Fauci, the widely respected director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases whose reputation for honesty and integrity has been only enhanced during this crisis, admitted in congressional testimony that the United States is still not providing adequate testing for the coronavirus. “It is failing. Let’s admit it.” He added, “The idea of anybody getting [testing] easily, the way people in other countries are doing it, we’re not set up for that. I think it should be, but we’re not.”

We also know the World Health Organization had working tests that the United States refused, and researchers at a project in Seattle tried to conduct early tests for the coronavirus but were prevented from doing so by federal officials. (Doctors at the research project eventually decided to perform coronavirus tests without federal approval.)

But that’s not all. The president reportedly ignored early warnings of the severity of the virus and grew angry at a CDC official who in February warned that an outbreak was inevitable. The Trump administration dismantled the National Security Council’s global-health office, whose purpose was to address global pandemics; we’re now paying the price for that. “We worked very well with that office,” Fauci told Congress. “It would be nice if the office was still there.” We may face a shortage of ventilators and medical supplies, and hospitals may soon be overwhelmed, certainly if the number of coronavirus cases increases at a rate anything like that in countries such as Italy….

Some of these mistakes are less serious and more understandable than others. One has to take into account that in government, when people are forced to make important decisions based on incomplete information in a compressed period of time, things go wrong.

Yet in some respects, the avalanche of false information from the president has been most alarming of all. It’s been one rock slide after another, the likes of which we have never seen. Day after day after day he brazenly denied reality, in an effort to blunt the economic and political harm he faced. But Trump is in the process of discovering that he can’t spin or tweet his way out of a pandemic. There is no one who can do to the coronavirus what Attorney General William Barr did to the Mueller report: lie about it and get away with it.

The president’s misinformation and mendacity about the coronavirus are head-snapping. He claimed that it was contained in America when it was actually spreading. He claimed that we had “shut it down” when we had not. He claimed that testing was available when it wasn’t. He claimed that the coronavirus will one day disappear “like a miracle”; it won’t. He claimed that a vaccine would be available in months; Fauci says it will not be available for a year or more.

Trump falsely blamed the Obama administration for impeding coronavirus testing. He stated that the coronavirus first hit the United States later than it actually did. (He said that it was three weeks prior to the point at which he spoke; the actual figure was twice that.) The president claimed that the number of cases in Italy was getting “much better” when it was getting much worse. And in one of the more stunning statements an American president has ever made, Trump admitted that his preference was to keep a cruise ship off the California coast rather than allowing it to dock, because he wanted to keep the number of reported cases of the coronavirus artificially low.

“I like the numbers,” Trump said. “I would rather have the numbers stay where they are. But if they want to take them off, they’ll take them off. But if that happens, all of a sudden your 240 [cases] is obviously going to be a much higher number, and probably the 11 [deaths] will be a higher number too.” (Cooler heads prevailed, and over the president’s objections, the Grand Princess was allowed to dock at the Port of Oakland.)…

On and on it goes.  

Taken together, this is a massive failure in leadership that stems from a massive defect in character. Trump is such a habitual liar that he is incapable of being honest, even when being honest would serve his interests. He is so impulsive, shortsighted, and undisciplined that he is unable to plan or even think beyond the moment. He is such a divisive and polarizing figure that he long ago lost the ability to unite the nation under any circumstances and for any cause. And he is so narcissistic and unreflective that he is completely incapable of learning from his mistakes. The president’s disordered personality makes him as ill-equipped to deal with a crisis as any president has ever been. With few exceptions, what Trump has said is not just useless; it is downright injurious….

Donald Trump is shrinking before our eyes.

The coronavirus is quite likely to be the Trump presidency’s inflection point, when everything changed, when the bluster and ignorance and shallowness of America’s 45th president became undeniable, an empirical reality, as indisputable as the laws of science or a mathematical equation.

It has taken a good deal longer than it should have, but Americans have now seen the con man behind the curtain. The president, enraged for having been unmasked, will become more desperate, more embittered, more unhinged. He knows nothing will be the same. His administration may stagger on, but it will be only a hollow shell. The Trump presidency is over.

Peter Wehner is a contributing writer at The Atlantic, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Egan visiting professor at Duke University. He writes widely on political, cultural, religious, and national-security issues, and he is the author of The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump.

Nobody Cares, a nadie le importa

Niños sirios mueren congelados, caen bombas y ‘a nadie le importa’

La ofensiva del gobierno sirio a una provincia controlada por los rebeldes ha creado una de las peores emergencias humanitarias de una brutal guerra de nueve años. By Vivian Yee y Hwaida Saad 28 de febrero de 2020

En los últimos tres meses, casi un millón de sirios han huido hacia la frontera con Turquía. Muchos viven en campamentos improvisados o al aire libre.
En los últimos tres meses, casi un millón de sirios han huido hacia la frontera con Turquía. Muchos viven en campamentos improvisados o al aire libre.Credit…Muhammed Said/Anadolu Agency vía Getty Images

I think of the Evangelicals who are keeping our President in power, being the real power behind the Senate of United States while doing so. Now what is an Evangelical? At the very least a follower of Christ, or as they say, without knowing what they’re saying, “born agains.” That is, born again into Christ, meaning Christ-like if nothing else..

Do these “born agains” even hear what Iman’s father, Ahmad Yassin Leila, a Syrian refugée, is saying: “I dream about being warm. I just want my children to feel warm. I don’t want to lose them to the cold. I don’t want anything except a house with windows that keeps out the cold and the wind.”

Now there are millions of refugées, homeless much like Almad, throughout our world, the world being much larger than our little world, the United States. And instead of opening their riches to those millions, giving them as is said ‘”the shirt off their backs,” the Evangelicals go on pretending to be followers of Christ, while in fact revealing themselves to be nothing more than followers of Donald Trump, caring mostly about building his wall and keeping the refugees, the asylum seekers out.

Cry the beloved country!

Einstein ’s reply to the Soviet scientists, 1948

The good in the bad, are we not able to see it? Castro’s educational system? The Soviet Unions’s planned economy? “No doubt, the day will come when all nations will be grateful to Russia (and Cuba?).” (Albert Einstein)

The chief object of your attack against me concerns my support of “world government.” I should like to discuss this important problem only after having said a few words about the antagonism between socialism and capitalism; for your attitude on the significance of this antagonism seems to dominate completely your views on international problems.

If the socio-economic problem is considered objectively, it appears as follows: technological development has led to increasing centralization of the economic mechanism. It is this development which is also responsible for the fact that economic power in all widely industrialized countries has become concentrated in the hands of relatively few. These people, in capitalist countries, do not need to account for their actions to the public as a whole; they must do so in socialist countries in which they are civil servants similar to those who exercise political power.

I share your view that a socialist economy possesses advantages which definitely counterbalance its disadvantages whenever the management lives up, at least to some extent, to adequate standards. No doubt, the day will come when all nations (as far as such nations still exist) will be grateful to Russia for having demonstrated, for the first time, by vigorous action the practical possibility of planned economy in spite of exceedingly great difficulties.

I also believe that capitalism, or, we should say, the system of free enterprise, will prove unable to check unemployment, which will become increasingly chronic because of technological progress, and unable to maintain a healthy balance between production and the purchasing power of the people.

On the other hand we should not make the mistake of blaming capitalism for all existing social and political evils, and of assuming that the very establishment of socialism would be able to cure all the social and political ills of humanity. The danger of such a belief lies, first, in the fact that it encourages fanatical intolerance on the part of all the “faithful” by making a possible social method into a type of church which brands all those who do not belong to it as traitors or as nasty evildoers. Once this stage has been reached, the ability to understand the convictions and actions of the “unfaithful” vanishes completely.

You know, I am sure, from history how much unnecessary suffering such rigid beliefs have inflicted upon mankind. Any government is in itself an evil insofar as it carries within it the tendency to deteriorate into tyranny.

However, except for a very small number of anarchists, everyone of us is convinced that civilized society cannot exist without a government. In a healthy nation there is a kind of dynamic balance between the will of the people and the government, which prevents its degeneration into tyranny.

It is obvious that the danger of such deterioration is more acute in a country in which the government has authority not only over the armed forces but also over all the channels of education and information as well as over the economic existence of every single citizen. I say this merely to indicate that socialism as such cannot be considered the solution to all social problems but merely as a framework within which such a solution is possible.

From: Einstein, Albert. Essays in Humanism. Philosophical Library/Open

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has a long history of showing support for left-wing dictatorships around the world, …

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has a long history of showing support for left-wing dictatorships around the world, but some thought he would steer clear of offering even qualified statements toward those regimes now that he’s running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
On Sunday night, though, Sanders made it clear that belief was misplaced.
Asked about his past backing of Fidel Castro’s communist government in Cuba during an interview with 60 Minutes, Sanders began by saying, “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba,” before adding, “but, you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad.”
“When Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program,” he told journalist Anderson Cooper during the interview. “Is that a bad thing, even though Fidel Castro did it?”

Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité