‘Hope smiles on the threshold of the year to come,
whispering that it will be better.’

— Alfred Lord Tennyson 



1 January 2011

Follow any analytic discipline, rigorously pursue any science or philosophy to its inexorable end, and you arrive at absurdity. From there, two paths diverge: toward despair of the overwrought intellectual, or toward the laughter of the gods.

— Josh Mitteldorf

2 January 2011

Zdzislaw Beksinski (1972)

‘I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big success.  I am for those tiny, invisible, loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride.’

— William James

3 January 2011

An ingredient found in abundance in birch bark appears to have an array of metabolic benefits, according to new studies in animals that are reported in the January issue of Cell Metabolism. In mice, the compound known as betulin lowered cholesterol, helped prevent diet-induced obesity, and improved insulin sensitivity. Betulin-treated mice were also more resistant to developing atherosclerotic plaques in their arteries.

Read article from PhysOrg

4 January 2011

On Humility

Even those of us without gods are profoundly vulnerable to mistaking our own perspective for Reality. The only protection against sanctifying our own perceptions is to nurture a constant awareness of this profound, universal human flaw. Like background music, a part of our minds must always be asking, what am I distorting? what am I missing? how am I being seduced and blinded by self-interest? We must cherish doubt, the guardian of goodness and truth. And we must surround ourselves with friends and advisors who help us to safeguard ourselves: People who ask us hard questions. People who bear witness to our complicated motives. People who ask us to think more deeply when we are spouting half truths.

Valerie Tarico

5 January 2011

Dog with a 1000+ word vocabulary

Two South Carolina psychologists have spent three years training their Border Collie to distinguish among more than 1000 different toys, called by their names.  

They stopped training the dog after three years due to their time constraints, not because the dog could not learn more names. This study demonstrates Chaser’s ability to learn the names of proper nouns, and her extensive vocabulary was tested repeatedly under carefully controlled conditions. The authors admitted that she remembered the names of each of her 1022 toys better than they could.

Read Science Blog article
Original research article

6 January 2011

Imagining life for early humans

David Reed from the FL Museum of Nat History has determined that humans first started to wear clothing two ice ages ago, or about 170,000 years.  Although the oldest crafted artifacts from human culture are only 35,000 years old, Reed was able to determine the date of clothing use by comparing the genomes of clothing lice to closely-related head lice.  Counting the genetic differences in places that don’t matter, and hence are not subject to evolutionary pressures, is a standard biological clock.  Reed determined that the clothing lice separated out as a species 170,000 years ago.

The data shows modern humans started wearing clothes about 70,000 years before migrating into colder climates and higher latitudes, which began about 100,000 years ago. This date would be virtually impossible to determine using archaeological data because early clothing would not survive in archaeological sites. The study also shows humans started wearing clothes well after they lost body hair, which genetic skin-coloration research pinpoints at about 1 million years ago, meaning humans spent a considerable amount of time without body hair and without clothing, Reed said. “It’s interesting to think humans were able to survive in Africa for hundreds of thousands of years without clothing and without body hair, and that it wasn’t until they had clothing that modern humans were then moving out of Africa into other parts of the world,” Reed said.

Science Blog article

7 January 2011


A strange new youth is on me; not of song
Nor fiery wine, nor woman’s kisses dim
But of the long night’s strife I strove with him
Whose face is secret and whose hands are strong.
There is a joy too keen for common thought
This: that whoe’er has slowly scaled and spelled
Cycles of starry suffering: may be held,
Worth, at last to learn that he is naught.
Now and for one great moment, not in me
Nor any crown I hope for, I rejoice
But in a meadow-game of girls and boys
Some sunset in the centuries to be.

— G.K. Chesterton

8 January 2011

You have a sense that the things you are anxious about are not the things that are making you anxious. Shouldn’t it be possible to do all the things that you do without the feeling you carry that there’s always something wrong? So you meditate, pursuing that state of mind in which you are satisfied in the moment, and there is no wish for things to be different.

Meditation starts in the pursuit of a state in which there is a present realization of the world’s perfection, so that there is no desire for anything to be different, and it ends as just one more goddamned self-improvement project, (I hate doing it, but I’m investing in the future to make things better someday.)

The paradoxical truth is that meditation does make your life better, but that it really only works to the extent that you can come to the practice with a attitude that ‘I’m doing this for its own sake, for the present experience, because it’s real and here and now.’

— Josh Mitteldorf

9 January 2011

Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité

A 93-year-old veteran of the WWII French Resistance has written a surprise best-seller – a call for non-violent insurrection and an overthrow of corporate-dominated state politics in Europe.

‘I would like everyone – everyone of us – to find his or her own reason to cry out. That is a precious gift. When something makes you want to cry out, as I cried out against Nazism, you become a militant, tough and committed. You become part of the great stream of history ... and this stream leads us towards more justice and more freedom but not the uncontrolled freedom of the fox in the hen-house.’

Stéphane Hessel       —> Independent article    —> Articles by Hessel in French

 It is high time that ethics, justice and a sustainable balance prevailed.

10 January 2011

Control of the means of production

Evergreen Cooperatives is a network of employee-owned, environmentally-sensitive for-profit companies in Cleveland, OH.  Within the world’s most intensely capitalist economy, employee ownership is a radical model for democracy in the workplace. Workers are motivated to build the company’s future, not this quarter’s bottom line.  And, of course, management looks out for the workers when the management is the workers.


11 January 2011


Number LIGHTNING among nature’s mysteries.  No one really understands why huge voltages build up over distances in the sky.  Even the process of discharge is controversial, with some physicists thinking they are triggered by cosmic rays, and others imagining that breakdown of the air is spontaneous.

It is only in the last 15 years that astronomers have realized that gamma rays are emitted in connection with thunder storms.  Electrons traveling very close to the speed of light must stop suddenly to make this happen.  (This is how x-rays are generated in a dental x-ray.  There, the electrons are stopped suddenly by a metal plate.  What stops the electrons so suddenly in a lightning discharge?)

Just this week, anti-matter streams were detected coming from the earth by orbital astronomical observatories that are designed to detect cosmic rays from space. 

12 January 2011

Practical mystic

In 17th Century Europe, all discussions of morals took place in the context of theology.  What did Jesus want from us? 

Antoinette Bourignon, born this day in 1616, was inspired by direct communications from God, but her message had practical content.  She assailed the view of Protestants and Catholics alike that faith in Jesus, rather than good deeds, was God’s criterion for admission into heaven.  She asserted free will, and denied pre-ordination and fatalism. 

As a teenager in 17th-century Belgium, Antoinette Bourignon had deep spiritual longings her family and town priest could not satisfy. One night as she prayed, a voice spoke to her: Forsake all earthly things. Separate thyself from the love of the creatures. Deny thyself.

Antoinette took these intuitions earnestly. But her parents would not allow her to enter a convent. When they betrothed her to a wealthy merchant, she kept putting off the wedding date. One morning, dressed in a hermit’s habit she had sewn herself, she stole into the pre-dawn darkness. She had stashed a penny in her pocket to buy bread, but the voice asked, “Where is thy faith...in a penny?” so she tossed it away. “Thus,” a disciple would later write, “she went away wholly delivered from the heavy burden of the cares and good things of this world and found her soul so satisfied that she no longer wished for anything upon earth.”

Later Antoinette served in a convent and supervised an orphanage. Meanwhile, she began formulating her own spiritual philosophy. A century after Martin Luther’s reform movement, she began traveling throughout France, Belgium and Holland preaching her brand of Christian mysticism.

For the next four decades, Antoinette promoted Quietism. She carried a wooden printing press with her. In each town she set it up and laboriously produced 250 pages an hour of pamphlets promoting direct, personal experience with God. ‘’ “”

Rebecca Bartholomew, author of Lost Heroines: Little-Known Women Who Changed Their World

13 January 2011

Rethinking grief

Grief is “a grab bag of symptoms that come and go and, eventually, simply lift.” What really determines how you grieve is simply how resilient your personality is in general. 

Boston Globe article on the works of Ruth Davis Konigsberg

14 January 2011

Through the practice of meditation, we begin to find that within ourselves there is no fundamental complaint about anything or anyone at all.

Chogyam Trungpa*

* In the spirit of defying the airbrush: Chogyam Trungpa was one of many inspired teachers
who led a dissolute life and yet had much genuine wisdom to offer in his writings and lectures.

15 January 2011


What could be more worthy of my passionate effort than to make this moment come alive?

What if I were to focus the intensity of my passion not on getting what I (think I) want, nor on alleviating suffering in the world around me nor even on self-expression, but instead worked just as hard as I could to open myself to the now, to be present with what is, to make this moment come alive?

I’ll tell you what: It wouldn’t work. It would just make me anxious and self-conscious. No, if I wish to be fully alive in this moment, the best thing I can do would be to focus my passion on getting what I want...

and resolve to be aware through the process.

— Josh Mitteldorf

Going after what you want is a good thing, not because you’ll get what you
want and that will make you happy, but because in embracing your passion
and harnessing your abilities for any purpose you become more alive.

16 January 2011


Since every worldly goal is mere delusion,
Suppose I place this insight at the helm:
Abstracting, then, my passion from that realm,
The projects I’ve pursued in such profusion...

Concentrate and focus all intensity
Not according to naïve propensity
Nor even on aesthetic self-expression
Yes – suppose I’d learned that humbling lesson

And abandoned all to seek realization:
To quest in every hour its animation
And be present to what is, the here and now.
Might I then perchance attain the sacred dao?

No! I’d be a sanctimonious bore:
Seeing through ambitions, I embrace them all the more.

— Josh Mitteldorf

17 January 2011

Julia C. R. Gray

Rotating cows

Climate change has arrived, and Australia is experiencing a historic 10-year draught.  Tony Lovell thinks it may be more practical to adapt to the change locally rather than organize globally, trying even now to avoid it.

In natural ecosystems in dry areas, herds of grazing animals eat the grass down to the roots once a year, then move on, allowing the grass to recover.  In contrast, ranches are designed to let cows graze continually.  Since the grass is always at a low level, its growth is slowed.

Semi-arid prairie can be transformed into lush grassland. More moisture is retained, and more carbon is returned to the soil, enriching the topsoil while reducing the carbon footprint.  ‘What is more exciting is that almost any farmer can adopt the system. All you need is a few fences. Then you build lots of small paddocks, form your cattle into a big herd, and put them in each one for just a day or two.’

Read New Statesman article by Mark Stevenson

18 January 2011

Chain of logic

Studying the Buddha way is studying oneself. Studying oneself is forgetting oneself. Forgetting oneself is being enlightened by all things. Being enlightened by all things is to shed the body-mind of oneself, and those of others. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this traceless enlightenment continues without end.

Dogen Zenji, born this day in 1200 AD

Q: If all humans are born with Buddha nature, why is it so hard to realize?
A: There is no separation.

19 January 2011

Blindfolded dolphin

A blindfolded dolphin is able to imitate on command the motions and tricks performed by a friend and tank-mate.  How does he know what the other dolphin is doing? 

Is dolphins sonar so exquisitely sensitive that they can ‘see’ details of another dolphin’s motion?*  Or are they communicating with clicks and whistles?  Or are they just so well-tuned to interpretation of splashing sounds that they can tell what motion created what kind of splash?  How about telepathy?

AP Article                                — Journal Article

*Note added 1/21:  After reading the full article I am less convinced that the dolphin’s feat is extraordinary.  Many of the behaviors that Tanner imitated were associated with vocalizations, and some others had distinctive splashes.  The success rate was 75% for the vocalizations, and 41% for the swimming stunts.  It is possible that all the success could be attributable to sharp ears.

20 January 2011

“So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we’ll be called a democracy.”

Roger Nash Baldwin, born this day in 1884

I am for socialism, disarmament, and, ultimately, for abolishing the state itself... I seek social  ownership of property, the abolition of the propertied class, and the sole control for those who produce wealth.

21 January 2011

Musical Citizen of the World

‘Alexander Tcherepnin’s view of music as a moral force that breaks down artificial barriers between peoples has a special relevance in our own troubled times.’  [Tcherepnin Society]

Listen to his wind quintet
     Allegro Marciale

22 January 2011

The world is full of unfairness and injustice, and I have been the beneficiary far more often than I have been the victim. The deck has been stacked in my favor. May this realization inspire not reticence or self denial, but generosity.

— Josh Mitteldorf

23 January 2011

«Tous les sentiments forts sont purs de leur essence.»

‘Every strong sentiment emboidies an essential purity.’

«La raison, pour nous, c’est la mort : à calculer, tout calculer... nous périrons avant l’heure.»

‘Pure reason will be our demise.  Calculating, ever calculating, we perish before our time.’

Delphine-Gay de Girardin, born this day in 1804

24 January 2011

Echo of the Gilded Age

‘This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of Wealth: First, to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and after doing so to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community — the man of wealth thus becoming the mere agent and trustee for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves.’

— Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)

25 January 2011

Dawn of the Spirit

Quand chez les débauchés l’aube blanche et vermeille
Entre en société de l’Idéal rongeur,
Par l’opération d’un mystère vengeur
Dans la brute assoupie un ange se réveille.

Des Cieux Spirituels l’inaccessible azur,
Pour l’homme terrassé qui rêve encore et souffre,
S’ouvre et s’enfonce avec l’attirance du gouffre.
Ainsi, chère Déesse, Etre lucide et pur,

Sur les débris fumeux des stupides orgies
Ton souvenir plus clair, plus rose, plus charmant,
À mes yeux agrandis voltige incessamment.

Le soleil a noirci la flamme des bougies;
Ainsi, toujours vainqueur, ton fantôme est pareil,
Ame resplendissante, à l’immortel soleil!

— L’Aube Spirituelle, par Charles Baudelaire

When to the drunkard’s room the flushing East
comes with her comrade sharply-clawed, the Dream,
She wakens, by a dark avenging scheme,
an angel in the dull besotted beast.

Deep vaults of inaccessible azure there,
before the dreamer sick with many a phasm,
open, abysmal as a beckoning chasm.
thus, deity, all pure clear light and air,

Over the stupid orgy’s reeking track
— brighter and lovelier yet, thine image flies
in fluttering rays before my widening eyes.

The sun has turned the candles’ flame to black;
even so, victorious always, thou art one
— resplendent spirit! — with the eternal sun!

— English rendering by Lewis Piaget Shanks (1931)

salvation is not just for the worthy –ed

26 January 2011

photo courtesy of

Let go the fiction of life and death

The ego is a monkey catapulting through the jungle: Totally fascinated by the realm of the senses, it swings from one desire to the next, one conflict to the next, one self-centered idea to the next. If you threaten it, it actually fears for its life.

Let this monkey go. Let the senses go. Let desires go. Let conflicts go. Let ideas go. Let the fiction of life and death go. Just remain in the center, watching. And then forget that you are there.

— Lao Zi, Hua Hu Jing, Brian Walker translation

27 January 2011

Visionary Common Sense:
Is economic scarcity an illusion maintained for the sake of Wall St profits?

‘If our nation can issue a dollar bond, it can issue a dollar bill.  Both are promises to pay, but one promise fattens the usurers and the other helps the people.’
— Thomas A Edison

‘It is well that the people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.’
— Henry Ford

Both quotes from the NY Times, 6 Dec 1921.
Video on the history of banking
The essential idea is that we can replace the current system, in which dollars are created privately as credits in the account of private banks, with a common-sense system that most people think is what we already have: Congress has the power to print dollar bills instead of borrowing from the private market in an ever-expanding Web of Debt.

The money supply must expand to keep pace with the economy, otherwise deflation occurs.  The amount of that expansion is a boon that belongs to We the People.  It has been usurped by Them the Bankers.

28 January 2011

The Old Astronomer to His Pupil

Reach me down my Tycho Brahe, I would know him when we meet,
When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
We are working to completion, working on from then to now.

Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,
Lacking only certain data for your adding, as is meet,
And remember men will scorn it, ’tis original and true,
And the obloquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learned the worth of scorn,
You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn,
What for us are all distractions of men’s fellowship and smiles;
What for us the Goddess Pleasure with her meretricious smiles!

You may tell that German College that their honor comes too late,
But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant’s fate.
Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

— Sarah Williams (British, 1837-1868)

29 January 2011

With a little forethought, you can arrange to have more spontaneity in your life.  With practice and discipline, you can train yourself to be free.

— Josh Mitteldorf

30 January 2011


Franz Schubert was born 31 January 1997, and died in obscurity before his 32nd birthday.  Almost all the music we treasure was rescued from trunks in his apartment.  Not only the ‘Unfinished’ 8th Symphony, but also the ‘Great’ 9th and the charming, Mozartian 5th, both staples of the orchestral repertoire, remained unpublished in his lifetime.  His greatest chamber works, including my personal favorite the String Quintet, were also known only to a handful of Schubert’s associates in Vienna.

Luciano Berio was a 20th Century Italian composer of experimental and avant garde music mixing classical themes with synthesized sounds and voice, spoken and sung.  His tribute to Schubert is a setting of orchestral fragments that were ongoing projects at the time of Schubert’s death.  Rather than try to ‘reconstruct’ according to any conjecture about Schubert’s intention, Berio quotes the fragments verbatim and retreats from there into a dreamy orchestral texture.  The effect is like walking through a fog, from which glimpses of a distant city edifice emerge for a time, then retreat once again behind the mist.  This is the third of three movements based on Schubert’s orchestral fragments.  (Listen for the main theme from the first movement of the Quartet Death and the Maiden, also embedded in the fog.)

31 January 2011

Queen of Hearts — Archive of past entries. Bullfrog Design