Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"How It Really Is"

"Serendipity"

"Serendipity"

"In early December of 1241, the great Mongol army was camped on the Hungarian plain, poised to invade Europe “all the way to the Great Sea.” In the spring, they had defeated the Hungarian army at the battle of Mohi and spent the summer and fall ravaging eastern Europe. By autumn, all of the lands east of what is now modern Germany had been subdued by the Mongols. There was no army between the Mongols and the Atlantic Ocean capable of stopping them from ravaging the rest of the continent.

Then, in the middle of December, Ogedei Khan, the Great Khan, died on a hunting trip, most likely drunk. He was well known as a drunkard and the legend is he fell of his horse while drunk. Regardless of the reason, his death required all of the Mongol leaders to return home and select a new Great Khan. That meant the Mongol Army, instead of sacking Europe, returned home. It was one of the strange, fortunate events that probably made it possible for Europe to be Europe. The Mongols were not known for their mercy.

To put this into some perspective, the Mongols invaded what is now Iraq, known in the 13th century as the Abbasid Caliphate. This was the third caliphate, whose rulers were descended from Abbas, the uncle of Muhammad. Baghdad was the capital and at the time, one of the most advanced cities in the world. The Mongols sacked the city in 1258, putting anywhere from 200,000 to one million people to the sword. They destroyed the city, filled the canals and stole or burned everything of value. It was an annihilation.

At the time, Baghdad was the center of the Islamic world. The Grand Library of Baghdad may have been the most important center of knowledge on earth at the time. It had books ranging from medicine to astronomy. The 36 public libraries in the city were also burned. Of course, the scholars and learned people who used those books and libraries were murdered. What was once the center of Islamic learning was destroyed. The population of the city and surrounding areas did not recover until the 19th century.

The point of this is that serendipity often plays a definitive role in humans affairs. At the dawn of the 13th century, there was no reason to think Europe was about to rocket ahead of the rest of the world. Through the Middle Ages, Europe slowly began to develop more advanced societies and develop a high culture, but they were still playing catch-up with Asia and the Middle East. Yet, the totally unexpected and unpredictable events of the Mongol invasions, radically changed the trajectory of Europe and the Middle East.

In retrospect, it is easy to look at a singular event like the Great Khan dropping dead just when his armies are about to sack Europe and see the significance. Once you read the story of the Mongol invasions, you know the West dodged something close to a meteor strike. The Siege of Baghdad, and its subsequent obliteration, is probably the great inflection point in the history of Islam. There’s no doubt that Islamic intellectual curve bent sharply downward because of the Mongol invasions and destruction of Baghdad.

The thing is, serendipity can also be the result of great stupidity. The Mongols initially tried to establish trade relations with the Khwarezmid Shah, who ruled the lands between the Mongols and the Abbasid Caliphate. The trouble was the caliph and shah hated one another and conspired to keep each other from making a deal with the Mongols. It’s a matter of dispute, but some historians argue that the Mongols never would have invaded if they could have struck a deal. They took the rejection as an insult and invaded.

This brings us to some rather interesting serendipity of our own age. In 2015, there was no reason to think the 2016 election was going to be anything but more of the same. The smart money said it would be Bush versus Clinton to decide the title. If not Bush, then one of the Bush family flunkies. Then like the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs, Trump entered the race and altered the political trajectory of the empire. Not only has this event extinguished the Bush wing of the GOP, it is threatening the neo-liberal world order.

How did this happen? Mostly it is due to Trump getting angry about how the political class has treated him. Like all rich guys, he had spread his money around to buy friends in the political class. He never had any respect for them, but if you want to do business in the world you have to do business with the people who run it. According to people who know him, what got Trump interested in running is being disrespected by the people in the chattering classes. The political class simply ticked off the wrong guy.

How this improbable event happened is going to be debated for a long time, but there is no debate about the consequences. Imagine if Clinton were president. The CIA meddling in our politics would only have accelerated. The corruption of the FBI would never have been revealed. In fact, it would have metastasized. People like to focus on the policy issues that would have been different with Clinton in power, but without the miracle of Trump, Washington would be ruled today by a dumpy old Caligula in a muumuu.

Here’s another bit of serendipity. Even if Trump won, much of this would never have come to light if not for two wholly unnecessary actions taken by the Democrats. One is the nonsense about Russian hacking. For no other reason than spite, the Left embraced this ridiculous narrative. The demands for an IG investigation of the FBI’s handling of the Clinton e-mail stuff came from liberal Democrats. They were the ones who demanded it, after blaming Comey for the election loss. Two dumb decisions have changed the world.”

"The Next Recession Will Be Devastatingly Non-Linear"

"The Next Recession Will Be Devastatingly Non-Linear"

"The acceleration of non-linear consequences will surprise the brainwashed, loving-their-servitude mainstream media.

Linear correlations are intuitive: if GDP declines 2% in the next recession, and employment declines 2%, we get it: the scale and size of the decline aligns. In a linear correlation, we'd expect sales to drop by about 2%, businesses closing their doors to increase by about 2%, profits to notch down by about 2%, lending contracts by around 2% and so on.

But the effects of the next recession won't be linear - they will be non-linear, and far more devastating than whatever modest GDP decline is registered. To paraphrase William Gibson's insightful observation that "The future is already here - it's just not very evenly distributed": the recession is already here, it's just not evenly distributed - and its effects will be enormously asymmetric.

Non-linear effects can be extremely asymmetric. Thus an apparently mild decline of 2% in GDP might trigger a 50% rise in the number of small businesses closing, a 50% collapse in new mortgages issued and a 10% increase in unemployment.

Richard Bonugli of Financial Repression Authority alerted me to the non-linear dynamic of the coming slowdown. I recently recorded a podcast with Richard on one sector that will cascade in a series of non-linear avalanches once the current asset bubbles pop and the current central-bank-created "recovery" falters under its staggering weight of debt, malinvestment and speculative excess. ("The Intensifying Pension Crisis" 37-minute podcast.)

The core dynamic of the next recession is the unwind of all the extremes: extremes in debt expansion, in leverage, in the explosion of debt taken on by marginal borrowers, in mal-investment, in debt-fueled speculation, in emerging market debt denominated in US dollars, in financial repression, in political corruption - the list of extremes that have stretched the system to the breaking point is almost endless.

Public-sector pensions are just the tip of the iceberg. What happens when the gains in equities and bonds that have nurtured the illusion that public-sector pension funds are solvent and can be funded by further tax increases reverse into losses?

Pushing taxes high enough to fund soaring public pension obligations will spark taxpayer revolts as the tax increases will be monumental once the delusion of solvency is stripped away in the upcoming recession.

The entire status quo rests on the marginal borrower/buyer. All the demand for pretty much anything has been brought forward by the central banks' repression of interest rates and the relentless goosing of liquidity: anyone who can fog a mirror can buy a vehicle on credit, get a mortgage guaranteed by a federal agency, or pile up credit card and student loan debts.

Those with stock portfolios can gamble with margin debt; those with access to central bank credit can borrow billions to fund stock buy-backs or the purchase of competitors, the better to establish a cartel or quasi-monopoly.

What's not visible in all the cheery statistics is how many enterprises and households are barely keeping their heads above water as inflation shreds the purchasing power of their net incomes. Inflation is supposedly tame, but once again, following Gibson's aphorism, inflation is already here, it's just not evenly distributed.

While employees with employer-paid health insurance are dumbstruck by $50 or $100 increases in their monthly co-pays, those of us who are paying the unsubsidized "real cost of health insurance" are being crushed by increases in the hundreds of dollars per month.

The number of cafes, restaurants and other small businesses with high fixed costs that will close as soon as sales falter is monumental. Add up soaring healthcare premiums, increases in minimum wages, higher taxes and junk fees and rising rents, and you have a steadily expanding burden that is absolutely toxic to small businesses.

The first things to go are marginal employees, overtime, bonuses, benefits, etc. - whatever can be jettisoned in a last-ditch effort to save the company from insolvency. The first bills cash-strapped households will stop paying are credit cards, auto loans and student loans; defaults won't notch higher by 2%; they're going to explode higher by 20% and accelerate from there.

Here are a few charts that reveal the extremes that have been reached to maintain the illusion of "recovery" and normalcy: total credit has exploded higher, after a slight decline very nearly brought down the global financial system in 2008-09:
The massive expansion of assets purchased by central banks will eventually be slowed or even unwound, removing the rocket fuel that's pushed stocks and bonds to the moon:
As governments/central banks borrow/print "money" in increasingly fantastic quantities to keep the illusion of "recovery" alive, the currencies being debauched lose purchasing power. Venezuela is not an outlier; it is the first of many canaries that will be keeling over in the coal mine.
Wide swaths of the economy won't even notice the recession devastating the rest of the economy, at least at first. Public employees will be immune until their city, county, state or agency runs out of money and can no longer fund its obligations; shareholders of Facebook et al. who cashed out at the top will be doing just fine, booking their $18,000 a night island get-aways, and those few willing to bet on declines in the "everything bubbles" of real estate, stocks and bonds will eventually do well, though the Powers That Be will engineer massive short-covering rallies in a last-ditch effort to mask the systemic rot.

The acceleration of non-linear consequences will surprise the brainwashed, loving-their-servitude mainstream media. The number of small businesses that suddenly close will surprise them; the number of homeowners jingle-mailing their "ownership" (i.e. obligation to pay soaring property taxes) to lenders will surprise them; the number of employees being laid off will surprise them, and the collapse of new credit being issued will surprise them. Don't be surprised; be prepared.”

"We're so freakin' doomed!"
- The Mogambo Guru

"Who Sanctions America?"

"Who Sanctions America?"
by Bill Bonner

"The Dow jumped over 25,000 yesterday. But unless (and until) it can beat the January top of 26,616, we will presume that the primary trend, which we detailed recently, is down. And since primary trends tend to last a long time, we further presume that stocks may be set to slide for the rest of our lives.

Long trend down: Big moves take time. Stocks peaked out in August 1929. Inflation adjusted, it was not until 30 years later that they fully recovered. They peaked out again in 1966. And again, it took 30 years for an investor to get his money back in real terms (not including dividends). If this pattern holds, the peak in January won’t be seen again until 2048. Good luck with that!

Meanwhile, the bond market, too, seems to be sliding. The peak in bond prices came and went nearly two years ago, in July 2016, when the yield on a 10-year Treasury bond hit a low of 1.4%. [The price and yield of bonds move inversely.] There, too, the primary trend is now down. Expect it to last a long time. As we rehearsed a few days ago, the last top in bond prices occurred in the late 1940s. If this pattern repeats itself, we’d have to live to be 136 years old to see the next one.

So we presume that we have already seen the one and only top in bond prices that we will ever see…and that the only gain we will get from stocks will be from dividends. Alas, the dividend yield for the S&P 500 last year was only 1.8%. That was about the same as the Consumer Price Index, the fed’s measure of inflation. Real inflation is probably twice that. So an investor holding stocks for the dividend yield is losing money. But there are big trends in the political world, too.

Get to be a ‘bad guy’: Yesterday, we wondered how you get to be a ‘bad guy’ in global politics. Iran, for example, hasn’t invaded another country since the Achaemenid dynasty went on a spree in the 4th century BC. But it’s been invaded by almost everyone able to do so — Mongols, Russians, English, Muslims, and in 1980, US-backed Iraq. In the 1950s, the country also endured a coup d’état organized by the US. Its democratically elected president was replaced by a CIA puppet.

So who’s the bad guy? Today, Iran is considered such a bad hombre that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo read it the riot act on Monday. The Associated Press followed the story: ‘The Trump administration on Monday demanded that Iran make wholesale changes in its military and regional policies or face ‘the strongest sanctions in history’, as it sought to turn up heat on Tehran after President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from a landmark nuclear deal. Unless such a treaty can be reached, Pompeo warned that Iran would face tough sanctions that would leave it ‘battling to keep its economy alive’. ‘These will end up being the strongest sanctions in history by the time we are complete,’ Pompeo said…’

Moses, bringing the law down from Mt. Sinai, announced 10 things Jews needed to do to keep themselves in God’s good graces. But Pompeo came with 12 demands. And while the US made a dozen demands, Iran made not a single one. Why the imbalance? Is it because the US has already reached perfection…or because the Pentagon spends an amount equal to the entire Iranian defense budget every seven days?

Among the US demands is a requirement to allow inspectors ‘unqualified access’ to all nuclear sites. But does the US give Iranian inspectors unqualified access to its sites? So, too, must Iran release all US citizens held in Iran on ‘spurious’ charges. But will the US release all Iranian citizens held on spurious charges in Guantanamo Bay? No? We didn’t think so.

Crime, no punishment: Power, as discussed yesterday, has rules of its own. Reciprocity isn’t one of them. When you can throw your weight around with nothing to stop you, why not? Crime, but no punishment. Up, but no down. Israeli soldiers, for example, can shoot Palestinians. But the Palestinians can’t shoot back. What’s not to like?

But power is still subject to the rule of ‘too much’. When a nation has too much power, like a child who has had too many desserts, it becomes insufferable. Nature needs balance and harmony. Civilisation thrives on limits, restraints, and corrections. ‘Too much’ upsets it. When there is ‘too much,’ something has to give. Otherwise, it tips over into chaos and calamity.

After the Cold War ended, the US was master of the field…unopposed…on the top of the heap. It could have brought its troops home and cut its military spending in half…or more…restoring some measure of balance with the rest of the world. It could have taken up the America First slogan, minding its own business and being a good neighbour to other countries. It could have balanced its budget, paid off its debt, and devoted its time, money, and energy to building a great country.

Instead (and we don’t recall any debate in Congress)…it took another path. The ‘enemy’ was defeated. But military spending still went up, and now sits at $580 billion, up from $355 billion in 1991. The cost of the War on Terror alone is reaching up to about $50,000 per household. And now, all over the world, the US bombs, drones, and assassinates…bullying, bossing, and bamboozling small countries that can’t defend themselves.

But who bombs targets in New Orleans? Who drones America’s ‘extremists’ in Kentucky? Who assassinates ‘insurgent’ leaders in California? Who imposes sanctions on America? Americans are perfectly happy with this situation. Neither Democrats nor Republicans resist. But what about the custodians of the natural order? What about the guardians of civilized justice? What about those who make sure people get what is coming to them?

What about the gods? How do they feel about it? Our bet is, they don’t like it. More to come…including how America got to be a ‘bad guy’.”

"Sometimes..."

“Why They Hate Us”

“Why They Hate Us”
by Fred Reed

“A frequent theme nowadays is “Why do they hate us?” meaning why does so much of the world detest the United States. The reasons given are usually absurd: They hate our freedom or democracy. They hate us for our cultural superiority. They hate us because we are wonderful.

No. Actually the reason is simple if unpalatable. They hate us because we meddle, and have meddled. They hate us because we are the most murderous nation on the planet. They hate our insufferable smugness. People remember slights. They may not remember them as they actually happened, but they remember them. The Civil War ended in 1865, the Federal occupation in 1877. Yet today many Southerners are still bitter, to the point that their emotional loyalty is to the South, not to Washington. Silly? Yes, if you are from the North. Grievances matter more to those aggrieved than to the aggrievers.

In Guadalajara, near my home in Mexico, a towering monument in a traffic circle honors Los Niños Héroes, the Heroic Children. These are the little boys who, when the invading American armies attacked Chapultepec in 1847, went out to fight for their country. Avenues are named Niños Héroes all over Mexico. Few Americans even know that there was a war.

Wounds to national pride gall people, and endure. Exactly why, I don’t know, but it happens. Consider China. How many have heard of the Opium Wars of 1839 and 1856? Or understand that the United States and the European powers simply occupied such parts of China as they chose, forced opium sales on China, imposed extraterritoriality, and bloodily suppressed the Boxers? How many people have even heard of the Boxers? Over a billion Chinese.

My point is not that China is morally superior to the United States. It isn’t. However, if you want to understand why so many countries loathe us, you have to understand how they see us. Whether you agree is irrelevant. Nor does it matter whether their grievances are factual. For example, many South Americans believe their countries to be poor because of exploitation by America. This isn’t true, which doesn’t matter at all.

A few years back I was in Laos and chatted with a young Lao woman. She mentioned in passing the death of her father. What happened to him, I asked? Oh, she said, he died fighting the Americans. A war that many Americans saw as a meritorious crusade against communism was, to the countries involved, an inexplicable attack that killed their fathers and brothers and children. They didn’t see why the internal affairs of their country were America’s business.

Agree with them or don’t, but that’s why they hate us.

Countries usually see their own virtues and the warts of others. Americans, perhaps because they do not much travel, carry this to an extreme and regard their country as superior to all others. The attitude is highly annoying. Consider the US from the point of view of others: America is both a rogue state and a bully, constantly attacking countries hopelessly inferior in military strength — Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Panama, Cuba, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, etc. Civil rights? The US has more people in prison than any other country. Many of our cities are festering slums. The world saw the victims of Katrina. Morality? The country is rife with drugs, crime, sex. Culture? In education, American students are annually shown to be inferior to those of Thailand, Hungary, Singapore, and so on. America is tasteless and sordid. Look at the movies….

Yes, yes, some of that isn’t fair, and an American might ask, for example, how an Arab country, practicing female circumcision and not allowing girls to study, can lecture anyone on morality. I agree. But how they see things determines their attitudes.

In Google Images, search on “Abu Ghraib.” You will see American Army women grinning as they torture and humiliate Arab men. They are having a wonderful time, and the whole world can see those pictures. This was American policy — low-ranking girl soldiers do not undertake this kind of thing without approval from command. The general in charge was a woman. Torture is still American policy.

Stalin did this sort of thing. So did Adolf. So did Pol Pot. And so does the United States. Other countries know it. (Google pulled its ads from Antiwar.com because the site posted an Abu Ghraib photo. Does Google support torture, or did the Feds threaten? Nah. Impossible. Not our government.) When I think how other countries react, I cringe.

Below the Rio Bravo? The first rule of American hemispheric diplomacy south of Texas should be “Don’t get into Latin faces unless you have to.” The US has a long history, of which most Americans aren’t aware, of meddling to the south. At least three invasions of Mexico depending on whether Veracruz counts as an invasion or just a bombardment), at least one of Panama, the installation of Pinochet in Chile and of support for various Central American dictators, United Fruit, the Canal Zone, the Bay of Pigs, on and on and on. These things are remembered.

A couple of examples of abjectly stupid, obnoxious meddling: First, many decades back, Mexico had a comic-book character called Memin Pinguin, a caricature black kid with exaggerated lips and so on who had adventures with white friends. In 2005, Mexico issued postage stamps with Memin’s picture, as we might of Elvis. To Mexicans it was innocent nostalgia. Yet in America outrage erupted. Jesse Jackson attacked the Mexican government and George Bush denounced the stamps as racism. People here were furious: Mexico couldn’t even issue postage stamps without approval from Washington.

Second: In 2006, some Cuban businessmen took a room in the Sheraton in Mexico City. Washington got wind of it and forced Sheraton, an American company, to eject them. Childish, pointless, it enraged Mexicans who see Cuba as yet another small country being bullied by the US, and regarded the ejection as meddling with national sovereignty. The effect of course was to fan sympathy for Cuba.

Further, we tend to see things through lenses of moralistic abstractions: Democracy is good, and freedom is good, and therefore if we bomb Iraq and kill many thousands of soldiers who are someone’s husbands, brothers, children, and fathers, the survivors will throw flowers and turn into Fifth Century Athens. It’s all right to destroy cities because we say we have good intentions.

People detest condescension. Yet we lecture Russia and China condescendingly on human rights, and speak openly of committing “regime change” in various countries as if we had a divine right to determine their form of government. It smells of armed mommyism, which no one can stand.

It is even worth reflecting that our “democracy” and “freedom” do not look as resplendent as we might think to the people of a more collective-minded and well-run country. Try Singapore. Neither democratic nor free in our sense, it is prosperous, free of crime, without a drug problem (a country that executes drug dealers has few of them), enjoys schools far better than ours; lacks graffiti, vandalism, and trash in the streets, and has a high degree of technological advancement. Its people quietly regard themselves as civilizationally superior to a degraded America in decline. (Humility is not a besetting sin of the Chinese.)

Why do we not behave more sensibly? Americans obviously are not stupid people. Dummies don’t build Mars rovers. Yet we seem to have a wanton, almost genetic non-grasp of how others think — which means that we can’t predict what they will do. Often Americans just don’t care what others think. This of course plays into the hands of people like Hugo Chavez and bin Laden. That’s why they hate us. We meddle.”
How we Americans would like to view ourselves...
"Prime Directive", anyone? 
How most of the world views us, for good reasons...

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

BetterHelp: "Online Therapy for PTSD: Does it Really Work?"

"Online Therapy for PTSD: Does it Really Work?"

"Online Therapy for PTSD: Does it Really Work? When you think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you probably think of soldiers or war veterans, right? Well, PTSD affects more than just soldiers. In fact, PTSD is a common mental health disorder that affects more than 44 million people in the United States and most of them are women. One in every nine women in America will develop PTSD, which is twice as many as American men. The main cause of PTSD is, of course, experiencing some kind of traumatic experience, hence the name post-TRAUMATIC stress disorder. 

Who is at Risk for PTSD? According to the National Institutes of Health, 70% (223.4 million) of all American adults will experience some type of traumatic event but not all of them will develop PTSD. There are certain things that can put you at a higher risk for developing PTSD, which include:
  • Previous mental health condition such as depression or anxiety disorder
  • Family history of PTSD or other mental health condition
  • Living in a violent or impoverished household
  • Experiences of violence such as sexual abuse, domestic assault, war, or natural disaster.
What Are the Signs of PTSD? Depending on the cause of the condition and how severe the traumatic incident was, the effects of PTSD can vary. While PTSD is a complex and confusing condition, there are some symptoms that can help you determine whether or not you or someone you love has the disorder. Some of these include:
  • Severe anxiety
  • Nightmares or night terrors
  • Vivid flashbacks during the day
  • Trouble sleeping or staying asleep
  • Isolating yourself
  • Fear of crowds
  • Memory lapses
  • Inability to make decisions or concentrate
  • Angry outbursts for no apparent reason
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Easily startled
  • Bouts of crying for no apparent reasons
  • Panic attack (rapid heart rate, sweating, dizziness, fainting, nausea, fear of impending doom)
  • Fear of men (women who have been victims of rape or assault)
Therapy Online: So, how can online therapy actually help someone who is suffering from PTSD? Believe it or not, online therapy is actually much easier for a person with PTSD to relate to because one of the main side effects of having the disorder is fear of crowds or meeting new people. Being able to talk to a therapist online from the privacy and comfort of your own home makes getting help seem a lot less frightening. In addition, those who suffer from anxiety often have an easier time using chat rooms, texting, or emails to talk about their feelings.

Does Online Therapy Work? According to the American Psychological Association, the most effective choice for treating PTSD is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which is easy to do online. In fact, CBT has been shown to have both immediate and long-term benefits without the side effects of medication. There is also a much lower relapse rate in those who are treated with CBT rather than taking medication such as antidepressants or antianxiety drugs. With the right therapist, you can begin feeling less anxiety within a few weeks of treatment. And when you choose online therapy, you do not even have to make an appointment or leave your home." 

About BetterHelp: https://www.betterhelp.com/about/
Getting started: - https://www.betterhelp.com/start/

Get help now: If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger - don't use the BetterHelp site. The following resources can provide you with immediate help:

Musical Interlude: The Grateful Dead, “Touch of Grey”

The Grateful Dead, “Touch of Grey”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Is the heart and soul of our Galaxy located in Cassiopeia? Possibly not, but that is where two bright emission nebulas nicknamed Heart and Soul can be found. The Heart Nebula, officially dubbed IC 1805 and visible in the below view on the right, has a shape reminiscent of a classical heart symbol. Both nebulas shine brightly in the red light of energized hydrogen.
Click image for larger size.
Several young open clusters of stars populate the image and are visible above in blue, including the nebula centers. Light takes about 6,000 years to reach us from these nebulas, which together span roughly 300 light years. Studies of stars and clusters like those found in the Heart and Soul Nebulas have focussed on how massive stars form and how they affect their environment.”

Chet Raymo, “A Fear of Freedom?”

“A Fear of Freedom?”
by Chet Raymo

“It is almost a cliché to say that Western civilization was created by the Greeks. Our government, law, art, music, architecture, literature, drama, historiography, science, and mathematics are largely Greek inventions. The sublime refinement and sophistication of the Parthenon have been widely taken as reflecting qualities of the Athenians citizens who built the temple and adorned it with sculptures.

No doubt something remarkable happened in the Greek world of the 6th to 3rd centuries B.C.E., with its epicenter first at Athens, then at Alexandria. But Connelly reminds us of the lingering hold of the mythological past on the Greek psyche.

In his book “The Greeks and the Irrational”, the scholar E. R. Dodds was thinking of Greek culture when he wrote: "Despite its lack of political freedom, the society of the third century B.C. was in many ways the nearest approach to an 'open' society that the world had yet seen, and nearer than any that would be seen again until modern times." It was a society confident of its powers, says Dodds. Aristotle had asked his fellow citizens to recognize a divine spark within themselves: the intellect. Men and women who exercise reason can live like gods, he said. For Zeno, the human intellect was not merely akin to God, it is God, a portion of the divine substance. Temples are superfluous, Zeno said; God's true temple is the human intellect.

But the seeds of irrationality were also there, embedded in popular culture, or perhaps embedded in human nature. Soon enough supernaturalism returned. Astrology and magical healing replaced astronomy and medicine. Cults flourished, rationalists were scapegoated, and the scientific culture perfected at Alexandria began to decline. The old dualisms- mind and matter, gods and mortals, soul and body -- which the rationalists had striven to overcome, reasserted themselves with fresh vigor.

Dodds calls it "the return of the irrational," and speaks of a "fear of freedom - the unconscious flight from the heavy burden of individual choice which an open society lays upon its members." Connelly might be inclined to say that the irrational never went away, and that for all their innovative gifts, the Greeks never learned to stand on their own without the support of the gods, clinging to the foundational myths that exalted them above "the others."

"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.”