Publish or perish

150 years ago today, Charles Darwin gave his first public presentation of the Theory of Evolution to scientific amateurs at the Linnaean Society of London.  He had been compiling observations and consolidating his thoughts for at least 25 years, and The Origin of Species was in preparation.  But in June he received a paper by Russel Wallace, entertaining some very similar ideas.  At the encouragement of friends, he decided to go on record with his thoughts in their yet-preliminary state, so as not to be scooped.

Darwin’s presentation, loaded with factual detail, was received in sleepy silence.  The Linnean society's president Thomas Bell, writing in his review of 1858, concluded the year had not been marked by ‘any of those striking discoveries which at once revolutionise the department of science’.

Article by Robin McKie from The Guardian

1 July 2008

The US is an outlier...

Last month a Univ of Michigan group released results from its World Values Survey of subjective wellbeing.

They asked people directly, “How happy are you?”, and compared results with answers in years past.

In the 52 countries for which a substantial time series is available (covering 17 years on average), this index rose in 40 countries and fell in only 12.

Fully as important as the fact that happiness rose is the reason why. In recent decades, low-income countries such as India and China have experienced unprecedented rates of economic growth, dozens of medium-income countries have democratized and there has been a sharp rise of gender equality and tolerance of ethnic minorities and gays and lesbians in developed societies.

In subsistence-level societies, happiness is closely linked with in-group solidarity, religiosity and national pride. At higher levels of economic security, free choice has the largest impact on happiness.

The largest recent increases on the subjective well-being index, measuring both happiness and life-satisfaction, occurred in the Ukraine, followed by Moldova, Slovenia, Nigeria, Turkey and Russia.

—from a Press release by Diane Swanbrow of UMich

2 July 2008

Take a nap

In a Nature Neuroscience article, it was shown that a ninety minute daytime nap helps speed up the process of long term memory consolidation...

A second part of the study focused on skill acquisition and consolidation.  It was found that daytime sleep can shorten the time ‘how to’ memory becomes immune to interference and forgetting.

—from a Press release by Avi Karni and Maria Korman of University of Haifa

3 July 2008

Rebirth for America

As we celebrate America’s birthday, let us not focus on the remarkable achievement of the Declaration of Independence to the exclusion of the process that created it.  The Fathers of the Republic were men of defiance who trusted their own thinking, who balanced traditional values with a willingness to experiment with something new.  They risked all they had in the hope of creating something better.  They did it in 1776, and we can do it today. 

“Our three branches of government have become like an unstable chair, a three-legged chair. The founders could not have envisioned how much lobbyists and expensive media campaigns would corrupt the political process. Giving us Americans legislative power will put the fourth leg on our stool and make it stable.”

Mike Gravel
Philadelphia II website

“Americans are conditioned to see our present form of government as a representative democracy. We’re almost incapable of understanding that we live in a plutocracy, and that our Constitution was deliberately constructed so that the nation is ruled by the wealthy.”

Norman Livergood

4 July 2008

Défense de penser

Philosophy will clip an angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine —
Unweave a rainbow.

~John Keats, from Lamia 1819

5 July 2008

Perfunctory is the enemy of engagement

Confession: I caught myself yesterday working on today’s Daily Inspiration in order to get it out of the way in anticipation of a busy Sunday.  Is this the relationship I want to have to inspiration?

Just showing up is 90% of success.’ …then perhaps this sort of success is not for me.  When I do things half-heartedly, it undermines my self-respect and drains my life force.

Triage:  Suppose I were to make a conscious choice about each of the things I do half-heartedly. The board meetings where I don’t really listen.  The entertainment in the background. The movies that are sort of OK.  The social calls and family gatherings that I attend because I’m expected to be there.  The projects I feel I must complete because I don’t want to disappoint people.

Suppose I were to decide for each of these activities (‘passivities’), either to be fully present with my whole self or to skip them; to participate fully or not at all. 

Would there be time where I sat idly and did nothing at all?  Doing nothing with full awareness is called meditation.

I would make some people angry at me.  I would feel guilty.  Maybe I’d get over it.

— Josh Mitteldorf

6 July 2008

Whose reality?

Is it true that mystics live in a fantasy world of imagined reality? Or is it the logical positivists who must exclude chunks of fundamental reality in order to imagine that our world can be tamed by reason?

listen to O Magnum Mysterium by Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611)

7 July 2008

To Science

Science! True daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?

Edgar Allen Poe
Music and images in Youtube video

8 July 2008

The beloved moves through the world.
Is the world.
Becomes the hundred things we love
Or the one and only thing or person
We love.
Shifting, restless,
Refusing to incarnate in a final form,
As if to teach us to keep our eyes
Moving if we want to see the bird
Flitting from bush to tree:

There it is! No, there. No,
It's hidden now, you can't see it,
But you can hear its song.

      ~ Gregory Orr ~

9 July 2008

Transforming our weaknesses

“Reading is sometimes an ingenious device for avoiding thought”

“Strength is born in the deep silence of long-suffering hearts; not amid joy.”

“Having once decided to achieve a certain task, achieve it at all costs of tedium and distaste.   The gain in self confidence of having accomplished a tiresome labor is immense.”

Arthur Helps, born this day in 1813, wrote books of aphorisms.  He very much wanted to be able to create larger literary constructions, but his attention span and focus made this difficult.  Perhaps if he were alive today, he would be be diagnosed with ADD.  He reworked his personal struggles as universal truths, and wrote them down to inspire others.

As he hit his stride in later life, he created a massive, 4-volume history of slavery which helped turn the world’s moral compass around. 

10 July 2008

Christian values

75 years ago this spring, Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker movement.  Newly converted to Catholoicism, Day looked to her faith for guidance in a life of service and peace.  Catholic Worker houses operate today in 37 states and 10 countries around the world.  Without government support or salaried workers, they provide food and shelter for all those who need it.

An outspoken pacifist through WW II and Vietnam, Day expressed contempt for churchmen who duped the faithful into accepting the “just war".

read an article by Colman McCarthy in The Nation this week

‘I have a hard enough job to curb the anger in my own heart which i sometimes even wake up with — a giant to strive with, an ugliness, a sorrow to me...As long as there is any resentment, bitterness, lack of love in my own heart I am powerless.  God must help me’

‘Don’t call me a saint.  I will not be dismissed so easily!’

11 July 2008

   “The Caladrius is a bird of which it is related that, when it is carried into the presence of a sick person, if the sick man is going to die, the bird turns away its head and never looks at him; but if the sick man is to be saved the bird never loses sight of him but is the cause of curing him of all his sickness. Like unto this is the love of virtue. It never looks at any vile or base thing, but rather clings always to pure and virtuous things and takes up its abode in a noble heart; as the birds do in green woods on flowery branches. And this Love shows itself more in adversity than in prosperity; as light does, which shines most where the place is darkest.”

— Leonardo da Vinci

12 July 2008

Healing touch works for patient and healer

I fancy myself a healer.  When I visit friends who are suffering, it is empowering for both of us if we imagine there is something I can do, not with supplements or herbs or even advice, but with pure intention.

The leap of faith is in believing that such a thing is possible, rather than that I personally have this power.  If there is such a thing as healing touch, then probably it is a gift of which we all partake in some lesser or greater measure, a strength that can be cultured and developed with practice.  I wish to believe that my caring and my attention are valuable, my very presence is beneficial.  Is it such a large step from study of the placebo effect to medical research that suggests that prayer has a power to heal, even when it is remote and unannounced to the patient?

This is a practice that benefits me as well as my friend, and deepens the bond between us.

— Josh Mitteldorf

13 July 2008

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

“When work is a pleasure, life is a joy! When work is a duty, life is slavery.”

Maximilien Robespierre

14 Juillet 2008

“The climate...was the colorless, reductionist world of 19th century classical physics, which by that time had strongly affected the outlook of western society in general. The living world did not exist in any fundamental sense for classical physics: reality lay only in atoms, their interactions, and certain forces that acted at a distance. The living world, in all its complexity and beauty, was merely a secondary, highly derived and complicated manifestation of atomic reality and, like everything else in our direct experience, could (in principle) be completely explained (away) in terms of the ever-jostling sea of tiny atomic particles. The intuitive disparity between atomic reality and the “biological reality” inherent in direct experience became the dialectic that underlay the development of 20th century biology.”

Carl Woese realized 40 years ago that Archaea is a biological kingdom in its own right, and was the first to propose that life on earth began in the form of  RNA, which served as both enzyme (‘ribozyme’) and repository of genetic information.  Today, Woese turns 80, and he remains an original thinker about the Big Picture in biology.

15 July 2008

The sufficiency of one’s own approval

“Common experience shows how much rarer is moral courage than physical bravery. A thousand men will march to the mouth of the cannon where one man will dare espouse an unpopular cause . . . True courage comes from a consciousness of the right attitude toward the world, a faith in one’s purpose, and the sufficiency of one’s own approval as justification for one’s own acts.”

— Clarence Darrow, Resist Not Evil

16 July 2008

The Creed of my Heart

The rose-lit clouds of morning; the sun-kissed mountain heights;
The orient streaks and flushes; the mingling shades and lights;
The flow of the lonely river; the voice of its distant stream;
The mists that rise from the meadows, lit up by the sun’s first beam;—
They mingle and melt as I watch them; melt and mingle and die.
The land is one with the water: the earth is one with the sky.
The parts are as parts no longer: Nature is All and One:
Her life is achieved, completed: her days of waiting are done.

Edmond Gore Alexander Holmes (1850–1906)

17 July 2008

The power of cooperation

“You are the crown of creation.”
Grace Slick (Youtube video)

“...that is, if you happen to be a termite.”
E. O. Wilson  (Science Times article this week)

Social insects are arguably the most successful animal group ever to appear in evolutionary history.  They derive their power from division of labor and a genetic program of behaviors that subjugate the welfare of the individual for the benefit of the colony.

18 July 2008

A century before Rosa Parks

A black woman refused to give up her seat on a bus.  She was brutally attacked and thrown off...and she took the case to court.  It was the summer of 1854, and her name was Elizabeth Jennings.

Here’s how the The New York Tribune reported the Jennings incident in a February 1855 article: “She got upon one of the Company’s cars last summer, on the Sabbath, to ride to church. The conductor undertook to get her off, first alleging the car was full; when that was shown to be false, he pretended the other passengers were displeased at her presence; but (when) she insisted on her rights, he took hold of her by force to expel her. She resisted. The conductor got her down on the platform, jammed her bonnet, soiled her dress and injured her person. Quite a crowd gathered, but she effectually resisted. Finally, after the car had gone on further, with the aid of a policeman they succeeded in removing her.”

Jennings sued the company, the driver, and the conductor. Messrs. Culver, Parker, and Arthur represented her. Arthur was Chester A. Arthur, then a novice 21-year-old lawyer and future President of the United States. This law firm was hired because it had demonstrated some talent in the area of civil rights the year before.

Elizabeth Jennings claimed $500 worth of damage. The majority of the jury wanted to give her the full amount, but, as the Tribune put it, "Some jury members had peculiar notions as to colored people's rights." They eventually agreed to give her $225, and the court added 10% plus her expenses.

Within a month of the Jennings decision, an African American named Peter Porter was barred from an Eighth Avenue rail car.  He too sued and the company settled out of court. From then on, African Americans were allowed to ride on New York rail cars on an equal basis.

Read more

19 July 2008


Separating fear from the apprehension of danger

All during my childhood, I had nightmares about nuclear holocaust. The dreams were not all the same, but in each one there was a gathering apprehension of distant missiles, followed by increasing certainty that a missile was nigh.  Then I would hear the explosion or see the mushroom cloud and I would know that this moment was my last…just as I awoke, heart pounding within my chest.

The dreams continued through adolescence and young adulthood, even as some waking consciousness crept in:  As the certainty of my doom came upon me, I would remember, ‘The last time I experienced this, it turned out I was dreaming.  Could it be that this, too, is a dream?’

I matured.  I learned to separate thoughts from the feelings that accompany them, and learned to identify emotions with physical sensations within me.   One morning (I was 26), I dozed off during deep relaxation following yoga asanas. I was in a dream of nuclear terror, but simultaneously I was aware of lying safely on the floor of my yoga room. I experienced terror as a physical sensation, a mushrooming hollow within my chest that spread outward through my limbs.  I was overwhelmed with terror; I knew I was safe.

I have not since then had nightmares of nuclear annihilation.

— Josh Mitteldorf

20 July 2008

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust him.”

— Ernest Hemmingway, born this day in 1899

21 July 2008

«Le véritable voyage de découverte ne consiste pas à chercher de nouveaux paysages, mais à avoir de nouveaux yeux.»

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but having new eyes”

— Marcel Proust

22 July 2008

Art as deliverance from alienation

«Celui qui, souvent, a choisi son destin d'artiste parce qu'il se sentait différent apprend bien vite qu'il ne nourrira son art, et sa différence, qu'en avouant sa ressemblance avec tous.»

“Often he who has chosen the fate of the artist because he felt himself to be different soon realizes that he can maintain neither his art nor his difference unless he admits that he is like the others.”

— Albert Camus, Nobel acceptance speech, 1957

23 July 2008

Laughter and irony

«C’est quelque chose, le rire : c’est le dédain et la compréhension mêlés, et en somme la plus haute manière de voir la vie.»

“Consider laughter: it can be disdain; it can be misapprehension; but at its best, it is the highest attitude toward life.”

— Gustave Flaubert

Ironie: Lassen Sie sich nicht von ihr beherrschen, besonders nicht in unschöpferischen Momenten. In schöpferischen versuchen Sie es, sich ihrer zu bedienen, als eines Mittels mehr, das Leben zu fassen. Rein gebraucht, ist sie auch rein, und man muß sich ihrer nicht schämen; und fühlen Sie sich ihr zu vertraut, fürchten Sie die wachsende Vertraulichkeit mit ihr, dann wenden Sie sich an große und ernste Gegenstände, vor denen sie klein und hilflos wird. Suchen Sie die Tiefe der Dinge: dort steigt Ironie nie hinab, — und wenn Sie 50 an den Rand des Großen führen, erproben Sie gleichzeitig, ob diese Auffassungsart einer Notwendigkeit Ihres Wesens entspringt. Denn unter dem Einfluß ernster Dinge wird sie entweder von Ihnen abfallen (wenn sie etwas Zufälliges ist), oder aber sie wird (so sie wirklich eingeboren Ihnen zugehört) erstarken zu einem ernsten Werkzeug und sich einordnen in die Reihe der Mittel, mit denen Sie Ihre Kunst werden bilden müssen.

Irony: Don’t let yourself be controlled by it, especially during uncreative moments. When you are fully creative, try to use it as one more way to take hold of life. Used purely, it too is pure, and one needn’t be ashamed of it; but if you feel yourself becoming too familiar with it, if you are afraid of this growing familiarity, then turn to great and serious objects, before which it becomes small and helpless. Search into the depths of things: there, irony never descends - and when you arrive at the edge of greatness, find out whether this way of perceiving the world arises from a necessity of your being. For under the influence of serious things it will either fall away from you (if it is something accidental), or else (if it is really innate and belongs to you) it will grow strong, and become a serious tool and take its place among the instruments with which you can form your art.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

24 July 2008





The Wisdom of Fear

Anything worth doing will always have some fear attached to it. For example, having a baby, getting married, changing careers-all of these life changes can bring up deep fears. It helps to remember that this type of fear is good. It is your way of questioning whether you really want the new life these changes will bring. It is also a potent reminder that releasing and grieving the past is a necessary part of moving into the new.

Fear has a way of throwing us off balance, making us feel uncertain and insecure, but it is not meant to discourage us. Its purpose is to notify us that we are at the edge of our comfort zone, poised in between the old life and a new one. Whenever we face our fear, we overcome an inner obstacle and move into new and life-enhancing territory, both inside and out. The more we learn to respect and even welcome fear, the more we will be able to hear its wisdom, wisdom that will let us know that the time has come to move forward, or not. While comfort with fear is a contradiction in terms, we can learn to honor our fear, recognizing its arrival, listening to its intelligence, and respecting it as a harbinger of transformation. Indeed, it informs us that the change we are contemplating is significant, enabling us to approach it with the proper reverence.

—from the archives of the Daily Om website

25 July 2008

What does it take to remind us that the familiar is not ordinary?

Humans have an uncanny ability to domesticate everything they touch.   Eventually, even the strangest things become absorbed into the routine of the daily mind with its steady geographies of endurance, anxiety and contentment.  Only seldom does the haze lift, and we glimpse for a second, the amazing plenitude of being here.  Sometimes, unfortunately, it is suffering or threat that awakens us.   It could happen that one evening, you are busy with many things, netted into your role and the phone rings.  Someone you love is suddenly in the grip of an illness that could end their life within hours.  It only takes a few seconds to receive that news.  Yet, when you put the phone down, you are already standing in a different world.  All you know has just been rendered unsure and dangerous.  You realise that the ground has turned into quicksand.  Now it seems to you that even mountains are suspended on strings.

John O’Donohue

26 July 2008

Jenny Lake at dawn

Help me finish this one...

What do you call a skeptic who has lost his faith in atheism?

— Josh Mitteldorf

27 July 2008

Egalitarian sharing is our destiny

“Say that a man has been hunting. He must not come home and announce like a braggart, ‘I have killed a big one in the bush!’  He must first sit down in silence until I or someone else comes up to his fire and asks,  ‘What did you see today?’  He replies quietly,  ‘Ah, I’m no good for hunting.  I saw nothing at all…maybe just a tiny one.’  Then I smile to myself because I now know that he has killed something big.’  The jesting continues when they go to retrieve the dead animal: ‘You mean to say you have dragged us all the way out here to make us cart home your pile of bones?  Oh, if I had known it was this thin, I wouldn’t have come.  People, to think I gave up a nice day in the shade for this.  At home we may be hungry but at least we have nice cool water to drink.’

“When a young man kills much meat, he comes to think of himself as a chief or a big man, and he thinks the rest of us as his servants or inferiors.  We can’t accept this.  We refuse one who boasts, for someday his pride will make him kill somebody.  So we always speak of his meat as worthless.  In this way we cool his heart and make him gentle.”

— from an account by Richard Lee of the !Kung San tribe in the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa, as recounted by David Sloan Wilson in his new book Evolution for Everyone.

Wilson makes a case that egalitarian cooperation is what distinguishes human societies from the great apes, who socialize in dominance groups.  He cites other tribes with strong sharing imperatives, where each member is valued equally, and all food is shared without regard to its origin.

Humans have become exquisitely adapted for close cooperation, for reading each other’s intentions and emotions, for shunning or punishing those who cheat or take more than their share.  Cooperation, not intelligence, is the source of our breakout as the most successful primate.

Historically, it is the most democratic cultures that have flourished.  Social forces within each nation or tribe lead toward authoritarian regimes with strong dominance; but when groups become repressive, they fall behind in the competition with more egalitarian tribes or nations, and thus is democracy maintained and advanced.

28 July 2008

Improvisation for Angular Momentum

Perhaps the death mother like the birth mother
does not desert us but comes to tend
and produce us, to make room for us
and bear us tenderly, considerately,
through the gates, to see us through,
to ease our pains, quell our cries,
to hover over and nestle us, to deliver
us into the greatest, most enduring
peace, all the way past the bother of
beyond the finework of frailty,
the mishmash house of the coming & going,
creation’s fringes,
the eddies and curlicues

~ A.R. Ammons

29 July 2008

Radical Christianity

“Jesus taught no theology whatever…there is no warrant in his teaching for the setting up of any form of ecclesiasticism, of any hierarchy of officials or system or ritual... All through his public life he was at war with the ecclesiastics and other religious officials of his own country…

“Jesus…made a special point of discouraging the laying of emphasis upon outer observances; and, indeed, upon hard-and-fast rules and regulations of every kind. What he insisted upon was a certain spirit in one's conduct, and he was careful to teach principles only, knowing that when the spirit is right, details will take care of themselves; and that, in fact, ‘the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.’”

Emmet Fox, born this day in 1876, emulated Jesus in devising his own religious thought.

30 July 2008

Start by listening...

“I’ve learned that practical solutions to extreme poverty can only come from listening to poor people themselves.”

Paul Polak is a retired psychiatrist who has devoted himself to the problems of poverty in the third world.  He develops small, ‘obvious’ solutions and finds  ways to reproduce them sustainably. 
Interview in Smithsonian magazine. 
Video introduction

Virtually all ‘dollar-a-day’ people in rural areas own their own houses. But the walls are made of mud and wattle, usually there's a thatched roof, and the floor is a mixture of dung and clay. The house has no value. You can't sell it and, even more critically, you can't go to a bank and use it [as collateral] for a loan. But for $100 you can build a 20-square-meter house—a skeleton of eight beams and a good roof that they can add bricks or cinder blocks to. Then they can go to the bank and borrow against it.

31 July 2008

Queen of Hearts — Archive of past entries. Bullfrog Design