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2 December 2007


Courage has long been held up as a fundamental human virtue.  One reason is that communities want young men in particular to be willing to sacrifice themselves in war for conquest and plunder, or to defend against other communities that would conquer and plunder the home nation.

But the great non-violent traditions (Gandhi, the Seik faith, Buddhism, Quakerism) all speak of courage that has nothing to do with warfare.  One reason that courage has value for us as individuals is that fear has been used to subdue the masses (certainly not you and me) since the dawn of human society; and in current time, this tactic has been integrated with a science of public relations to manipulate us with devastating efficiency.  General hysteria begets paralysis.

The ‘international terrorist conspiracy’ and eco-catastrophism are only the most prominent examples.  If we read the newspapers or watch TV, we are being hypnotized to fear crime in the streets, racial minorities, sexual deviants and internet predators.  When we repeat what we’ve heard, we are helping to hypnotize others to the same effect.

Courage is healthy.  Fear may occlude our good judgment; but when we take on challenge, we gain in strength.  Refusing to succumb to fear is the most difficult part of personal growth and an entré into progressive organizing. 

There is no doubt that the world in store for us will be dramatically different from what we know.  But we are the ones creating it.  We are resourceful; we are flexible; we can think creatively and adapt to new circumstances.  Wonders and opportunities in our future overwhelm the dangers and disasters.

~ Josh Mitteldorf

1 December 2007


Get up from your bed, go out from your house, follow the path you know so well, so well that you now see nothing and hear nothing unless something can cry loudly to you, and for you it seems even then no cry is louder than yours and in your own darkness cries have gone unheard as long as you can remember.

These are hard paths we tread but they are green and lined with leaf mould and we must love their contours as we love the body branching with its veins and tunnels of dark earth.
I know that sometimes your body is hard like a stone on a path that storms break over, embedded deeply into that something that you think is you, and you will not move while the voice all around tears the air and fills the sky with jagged light.

But sometimes unawares those sounds seem to descend as if kneeling down into you and you listen strangely caught as the terrible voice moving closer halts, and in the silence now arriving whispers.

Get up, I depend on you utterly. Everything you need you had the moment before you were born.

~ David Whyte ~

30 November 2007

The art of making people uneasy

“Invention is the talent of youth, as judgment is of age.”

...and yet Jonathan Swift, born this day in 1667, was pushing 60 when he came out with his most original and enduring creation, Gulliver’s Travels.

In fact, Swift remained a rebel to the end.  His Treatise on Good Manners was not published until nine years after his death

“As the common forms of good manners were intended for regulating the conduct of those who have weak understandings; so they have been corrupted by the persons for whose use they were contrived. For these people have fallen into a needless and endless way of multiplying ceremonies, which have been extremely troublesome to those who practice them, and insupportable to everyone else: insomuch that wise men are often more uneasy at the over civility of these refiners, than they could possibly be in the conversations of peasants or mechanics.”

29 November 2007

Cancer cells commit suicide

Apoptosis is a biochemical process which damaged cells use to eliminate themselves in an orderly fashion.  One of the body’s defenses against cancer is that cancer cells detect in an early stage that they have become damaged, and undergo apoptosis.

It has been a matter of theory that this process is optimized by evolution, so that you can’t get more cancer cells to die automatically without also sacrificing healthy cells.  But with aging, there is a paradoxical problem that healthy, functioning cells are lost to apoptosis, causing muscle weakness and memory loss.  At the same time, cancer resistance declines disastrously.

The University of Kentucky laboratory of Vivek Rangnekar has discovered a gene that enhances apoptosis in cancer cells only.  Mice which inherit this gene don’t develop cancer.  But they don’t lose healthy cells either, and they live longer than other mice.   

Science Daily article 

28 November 2007

All of us is smarter than any of us

There are two ways to create software. 

(1) You can organize a bureaucracy of designers, documenters, testers and programmers, each one responsible to someone at the next level up, and paid accordingly.  There’s a schedule to which each person must conform, with bonuses for completing the work on time.  Copying software costs nothing, but you sell the software for a fair share of what it costs to produce it, after applying a multiplicative factor that accounts for the fact that many people will copy the software without paying, because they resent the multiplicative factor.  Charge customers in addition for ‘support contracts’ when it turns out that the software has quirks and bugs that make it difficult to use.

(2) Or you can throw your ideas out on the Internet and let anyone who is interested contribute, unregulated, unorganized, uncompensated.  Then you give it away free.  Users will self-organize and create web sites where they exchange advice and answer questions about use of the software.

The second way is called open source, and it is winning among the world’s largest corporations as well as hordes of individual users.  The browser on which you are reading this was probably distributed free.  Apple computers run faster and smoother, with fewer glitches than Windows systems because the operating system is based on open-source Linux.  And at the heart of the complex systems that direct traffic among millions of Internet users are file-sharing systems that are all open-source.  All the standards that bring the Web to life (HTML, Java and Php) were developed organically, freely sharing source code.  IBM, Intel, Sun Microsystems, and Hewlett-Packard have organized the Globus Consortium to assure that the most important software on which they depend is freely exchanged.  If you haven’t yet discovered Open Office, it is a worthy,  viable and compatible free alternative to Microsoft Word, Excel and Access.

This is a vast, unplanned and un-anticipated experiment in world-wide cooperation and the results are jaw-dropping.  We thought we needed governments and institutions to force people to cooperate, to keep the cheaters and the moochers at bay.  But it turns out that in a self-organized global free-for-all, the cooperators and the contributors dominate the cheaters.

27 November 2007

Courage to grow

“No sooner do we think we have assembled a comfortable life than we find a piece of ourselves that has no place to fit in”

“Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.”

“If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we are not really living.”

“If every day is an awakening, you will never grow old. You will just keep growing.”

Happy birthday Gail Sheehy, seventy years old today.

26 November 2007

Cheap information

“What most experimenters take for granted before they begin their experiments is infinitely more interesting than any results to which their experiments lead”

Norbert Weiner, born this day in 1894, was a scientist and visionary in many fields, who foresaw and promoted a revolution in digital communication. 

During World War II, he refused to work on the Manhattan Project, and during the Cold War he dared to collaborate with Soviet scientists.  “I do not expect to publish...any future work which may do damage in the hands of irresponsible militarists.  I am taking the liberty of calling this letter to the attention of other people in scientific work...”  (from A Scientist Rebels, printed in The Atlantic Monthly, 1947)