10 September 2006

Become intimate with your pulse.  Put your fingers on your wrist or neck or over your heart.  Feel each heartbeat.  Notice the pace, and the variability of the pace.  How does your heart rate vary with the phase of your breathing?  Can you slow or quicken your pulse by actively engaging your breath?

Take your fingers away.  Learn to sense your heartbeat from the inside out.  Feel your pulse at the source, or in your head or your neck.  Become intimate with your pulse.

Try this with a friend:  Put your fingers on your friend’s wrist or neck or over his heart.  Ask him to do the same with you.  Pay attention for a few minutes to the other person’s pulse, rather than your own.  

Tap your friend’s arm with each of his heartbeats, as he taps your arm with each of your heartbeats.  Attune to the other person’s pulse as you are aware of your own.  Unless your two pulse rates are very different from each other, you will be able to entrain the two heartbeats, so that your hearts beat in synchrony.

– Josh Mitteldorf

9 September 2006

250 Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs gathered last weekend in California for the fourth annual Peacemakers Camp.  In the shadow of Yosemite Valley, people of different backgrounds opened their hearts to reach past the fear and hatred so eagerly fueled by their governments, and make human contact. 

“We have become so close this weekend, closer than friends, and more than brothers and sisters. We can work for peace because we know what peace looks like. It is not too late. The future leaders of the world are here to make a difference.”

article in the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California

8 September 2006

Cosmologists propose that there is a new form of matter, never observed before on earth or in space. Its all around us, and constitutes >80% of all matter in the universe, but it is undetectable because it has no interaction with ordinary matter.  (I’m not making this up. This is the most “standard” of the theories of the universe, the one that is believed by most astronomers today.)

The reasoning comes from a comparison of two things: One is the large-scale motion of the universe, including the rate at which the expansion of the universe is speeding up. The other is a calculation from nuclear chemistry: what happened in the first three minutes after the Big Bang, when most of the lighter elements (e.g. helium, deuterium, lithium) were created? The first calculation only works if the mass density of the universe is large, but the second only works if the total amount of “ordinary matter” in the universe is much smaller. Hence they have proposed that there is a lot of “something” in the universe, about which all they can say is that 1) it has mass, and 2) it is not “ordinary matter”. This stuff is usually called “dark matter”.

Just last month came the first claim of confirmation that dark matter is real. Here's what Douglas Clowe of the University of Arizona did in order to detect it: 

When two galaxy clusters collide, stars don't actually hit each other, because they're spread too thinly. Their gases are magnetic, however, and the magnetic fields cause the clusters to become entangled with each other so that they don’t simply “pass through”. They slow down and linger awhile.

Clowe reasoned that dark matter, whatever it is, is known to have gravitational pull, but it doesn't respond to magnetism. (If it responded to magnetism, or electric charge, or either of the other two forces to which ordinary matter is subject, then particle physicists would have known about it a long time ago, so it wouldn't be mysterious, and wouldn't be called “dark matter”.)  Dark matter clumps around galaxies – in fact, the gravitational pull of the dark matter is an important part of what holds galaxies together. But when two galaxy clusters collide, the dark matter ought to keep going right on through, whereas the rest of the matter is slowed down by magnetism, and lingers in a magnetic tangle.

So it might be possible to see clumps of dark matter flying out ahead where clusters of galaxies are colliding. But how to see the dark matter - that’s still a problem. Clowe’s idea was to look at the light from galaxies behind the colliding clusters. The light can be deflected by gravity, making the images fuzzy and distorted. There will be more of this fuzziness and distortion where there is more mass, and maybe this is a way to “see” dark matter.

The image at left was made in Photoshop, combining three things: From an optical telescope, you can see the stars and galaxies against the black sky. On top of this are the red clouds, which were mapped from an orbiting x-ray telescope. (It turns out that x-ray telescopes are the best way to detect intergalactic gas.) Then there are the blue clouds, which were mapped by working backwards from the gravitational fuzziness of the background galaxies. The blue clouds show where most of the mass is located, and the theory is that most of the mass is dark matter.

In the Photoshop composite, you can see that the galaxy clusters have just passed through each other (only 100 million years ago) and the blue clouds of dark matter have gotten ahead of the red clouds of ordinary matter. 

Clowe's verdict: “These results are direct proof that dark matter exists.”

Science Daily article    Video illustration  

7 September 2006

“A primitive artist is an amateur whose work sells.”


A farmer who started a new career at age 80, Grandma Moses was born this day in 1860


6 September 2006

Jane Addams invented the modern idea of social activism. It was her vision to realize that a life devoted to charity yields as a fringe benefit an enormous group of grateful and loyal citizens; add leadership, and they become a political base for progressive change.

All this began with an expansive notion of a community center or ‘Settlement House’ for immigrants in Chicago at the close of the 19th century. 

“Around Hull-House, which was located at the corner of Polk and Halsted Streets, immigrants to Chicago crowded into a residential and industrial neighborhood. Italians, Russian and Polish Jews, Irish, Germans, Greeks and Bohemians predominated. Jane Addams and the other residents of the settlement provided services for the neighborhood, such as kindergarten and daycare facilities for children of working mothers, an employment bureau, an art gallery, libraries, and music and art classes. By 1900 Hull House activities had broadened to include the Jane Club (a cooperative residence for working women), the first Little Theater in America, a Labor Museum and a meeting place for trade union groups.” 
– (fr UIC biography

From this platform, she was able to create and support a dizzying array of political movements, embracing every progressive idea for the new century: Consumer advocacy, opposition to child labor, promotion of civil rights, women's suffrage, freedom of expression. Her work in opposition to World War I qualified her for a Nobel Peace Prize.

“We all bear traces of the starvation struggle which for so long made up the life of the race. Our very organism holds memories and glimpses of that long life of our ancestors which still goes on among so many of our contemporaries. Nothing so deadens the sympathies and shrivels the power of enjoyment as the persistent keeping away from the great opportunities for helpfulness and a continual ignoring of the starvation struggle which makes up the life of at least half the race. To shut one's self away from that half of the race life is to shut one's self away from the most vital part of it; it is to live out but half the humanity to which we have been born heir.”
~ from Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910), ch. 6 

Jane Addams was born this day in 1860.

5 September 2006

We continually renew our bodies... 

“The cells in our bodies commit suicide at an amazing rate – about one million per second – and are replaced just as rapidly.  Such turnover is accomplished by the cells’ internal suicide program.” [Dale Bredesen, Buck Inst for Aging Research]

There are at least three such programs, used to accomplish an orderly, ongoing recycling program.  Our cells last on average about a year, before being replaced.

Amazingly, some aspects of aging seem to involve turning the body’s recycling mechanism against us.  Promising approaches to Alzheimer's disease derive from crudely jamming the cell suicide signals.

4 September 2006

“It has become an article of the creed of modern morality that all labour is good in itself; a convenient belief to those who live on the wealth of others.”

William Morris

“It is right and necessary that all men should have work to do which shall be worth doing, and be of itself pleasant to do; and which should be done under such conditions as would make it neither over-wearisome nor over-anxious.”

William Morris

“Nothing should be made by man’s labour which is not worth making; or which must be made by labour degrading to the makers.”

William Morris