9 September 2007

No regrets for the past – No limits for the future

You have performed perfectly, every moment of your life.  You have balanced obligations to others against personal desires, thought against instinct, reason against intuition, spontaneity and impulse against plans and long-term goals.  It is not possible that you could have done better than you have done.


In this moment, you have new choices and new freedoms that you never had before.  You know now how to act from your whole person, how to be present and responsible and fully awake and ecstatic in all that you do, how to feel every passion the more intensely within a halo of joy and deep wellbeing.*   

– Josh Mitteldorf

*No, I’m not there yet, but I have seen a glimmer:  Embrace the vast unknown with your sense of wonder out front and a dispassionate, Zen eye on your terror.

8 September 2007

Report from the Third International Conference on Strategies for Engineering Negligible Senescence (SENS-3), Cambridge UK

Zheng Cui grew up in China during the worst excesses of Maoism, when his family was persecuted for earlier contacts with the West (long before the 1949 revolution).  His grandfather was exiled to hard labor on a farm, his father was stripped of a University Professorship, and Zheng was barred from attending college.  When American universities opened to Chinese students in the late 1970s, he became one of the first applicants.

Cui now heads a research team at Wake Forest Institute in Winston-Salem, NC. 

Why don’t most humans get cancer despite big body mass, long lifespan and even some intentional exposures to known carcinogens (such as cigarette smoking)?  The answer may come from a single male BALB/c mouse that unexpectedly survived challenges of highly lethal cancer cells in 1999.  The survival of this mouse was very surprising since no other mouse of any strain had ever survived this type of cancer.  Even more surprising was that about 40% of offspring of this mouse also survived many different cancer challenges, meaning that this cancer resistance is a genetic trait.  This trait has now been passed on to more than 2000 offspring in more than 15 generations and in several different mouse strains.

Cui traced the cancer resistance to a kind of white blood cell, a ‘granulocyte’ which is loaded with highly-reactive chemicals.  These killer cells seek out cancer cells, attack them, and blow up both cancer and killer cell, like a suicide bomber.  His lab has succeeded in isolating these cells from the mice that have them, injecting them into mice that have cancer, and curing cancer in the receiving mice.  Success rates are near 100%.

Some humans, Cui has discovered, also have these cancer-killer cells in their blood.  (Curiously, they’re present in the summer, but not the winter.)  There is a machine that extracts the cells from an identified donor and concentrates them.  All the groundwork is laid for trying a cancer cure in humans.

Cui’s Wake Forest web site
Read more about the science           NYTimes article
News report from last year              Scientific American article

7 September 2007

Science proceeds incrementally.  Georges-Louis LeClerc, Compte de Buffon questioned the dogmatic approach to reality which he inherited, and built a bridge to Darwin.  He was condemned by the Church for opining that the Earth was much older than the Biblical 4004 years.  In fact, he could calculate the age of the earth from the rate at which iron cools, and placed it accurately at 75,000 years.  He noted similarities between apes and humans, and concluded that man might be an animal.  He noticed vestigial organs, no longer in use, and deduced that animals could be descended from others that were quite different, with some functions lost and others enhanced over time.  He sought a natural origin for the planets, and opined that they must have been thrown off from the sun after collisions with comets.  In his 44-volume Natural History (Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière) he catalogued everything that was known about the natural world up to his time, from astronomy to biology. 

LeClerc was not a nerd.  He was an articulate, even poetic polymath.  «Le Genie, c’est la patience.»  “Genius is only patience.”

Happy birthday Georges-Louis, 300 years old today.

6 September 2007

Jack Sim has been elected Global Fellow for 2007 by the Ashoka Foundation.  Ashoka identifies and supports ‘social entrepreneurs’ worldwide, but especially in underveloped countries.  With publicity and money, they promote efforts to create new, growing institutions for cooperation, efficiency, and friendliness to the environment.

Uniting a global effort for clean, safe toilets & sanitation

Through the World Toilet Organization, Jack draws together 55
sanitation-focused member organizations worldwide to better
serve the 2.6 billion people who lack access to usable toilets.
Jack aligns the agendas of citizen groups and governments to
underscore the urgency of proper sanitation, open new funding
outlets, and foster public will to support sanitation infrastructure.
Jack also orchestrates campaigns, education, and marketing
to overcome the cultural taboos that slow progress.

Someone had to do it.

5 September 2007

“When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them…Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable, in a shamefully timorous Congress.”

Howard Zinn, author of the People’s History of the United States, has been an activist for more than forty years.

4 September 2007

“Bruckner’s personal character has for too long been misrepresented as boorish and simple-minded. He did have a child-like religious faith, which lies at the root of all his music, and a becoming modesty. But the composer of those superbly organized and complex symsphonies, most of them over an hour in duration, was no simpleton. He was a late starter as a composer because of his determination to master his technique, and recognition only came late in his lifetime. The ‘Wagnerian’ tag on his symphonies led to their being regarded as elephantine monsters, but they are now widely recognized as being in the Austrian tradition of Schubert’s last symphony and are admired for their combination of contrapuntal splendour with intense melodic beauty and grandeur (but not extravagance) of orchestration. His Masses, also on a symphonic scale, are equally splendid, and in all his mature church music there is the radiance of a devout believer and the technical dexterity of a composer whose mastery of vocal polyphony stemmed from intimate study of Palestrina and his school.” – Oxford Bio

Anton Bruckner was born this day in 1824.
Listen to Bruckner’s motet, Os Justi.

3 September 2007

Ballade of the Centre

WHEN all the shores of knowledge fade 
Beyond the realms of night and day, 
When the quick stir of thought is stayed 
And, as a dream of yesterday, 
The bonds of striving fall away: 
There dawns sometimes a point of fire 
Burning the utter dark, that may 
Fulfil our desperate desire. 

Into the darkness, unafraid, 
Wherein soft hands of silence lay 
Their veil of peace upon the blade 
Of too bright thought, we take our way. 
In changing of desire we pay 
Whatever price the gods require, 
Knowing the end is theirs—and they 
Fulfil our desperate desire. 

Upon the stillness we have made 
Between our working and our play 
A deeper stillness yet is laid. 
Like some white bird above the sway 
Of summer waves within the bay 
Peace lights upon us ere we tire, 
And does (yet how, we cannot say) 
Fulfil our desperate desire.

– Anonymous 
   (from the Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse, 1917 edition)