I had a gut feeling that there was a connection...

It was just last year that a certain company selling a special probiotic enhanced yogurt* was ordered by a U.S. court to stop suggesting in its advertisements that it’s product had health benefits that went beyond the norm. Now, new evidence by Javier Bravo and colleagues at University College Cork, suggests the company may have been on to something. In their paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the team describes how mice given the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus, showed signs of being less anxious and depressed and even had lowered levels of stress hormones. ‘’ “”

— from a MedicalXPress article by Bob Yirka

*Dannon Activia

1 September 2011


We all live in darkness, kept apart from each other
by walls easily crossed but full of fake doors;
money drawn for light spending on friends or love
      our arguments
about the inexhaustible don’t even graze it
just when it’s time to start talking again, and take
a different road to get to the same place.
We have to get used to knowing how
to live from day to day, each one on his own
as in the best of all possible worlds.
Our dreams prove it: we’re cut off.
We can feel for each other,
and thats more than enough: that’s all, and it’s hard
to bring our stories closer together
trimming off from the excess we are,
to get our minds off the impossible and on the things 
      we have in common,
and not to insist, not to insist too much:
to be a good storyteller who plays his role
between clown and preacher.

Enrique Lihn, born this day in 1929
from The Dark Room and Other Poems, 1978
tr Jonathan Cohen, John Felstiner and David Unger

3 September 2011

A life plan

Culture those of your native gifts that will be most useful for the harmony and the development of your community.

Set modest short-term goals within a visionary long-term plan.

Maintain an openness to change in the short-term program; the long-term vision should carry more weight.

— Josh Mitteldorf

4 September 2011

Lest we forget our benefactors...

They speak sanctimoniously of our right to protest, but this particular protest is out of bounds.  They support labor’s right to strike, but this strike in particular is not in the public interest.

The government and the New York Times have always been on the side of money.  Our right to our half of the fruits of our labor was won with bloodshed, and is being lost in dark rooms.

They disrupt our peaceful protest, they taunt and provoke us until some people crack, then they denounce the whole expression as violent, and brutally break us apart.

In 1894, a strike against Pullman Railroad Cars spread into a national show of solidarity.  The strike peaked with 250,000 workers out in 27 states.  Grover Cleveland called in the National Guard to break the strike, then declared Labor Day a national holiday, in a token gesture of reconciliation.

On Labor Day 2011, the American working class faces a social disaster.

This Labor Day we need protest marches rather than parades.

5 September 2011

Labor Day, NYC 1882


What is this fragrance around me?
What is this quietness?
What is this knowledge of peace in my heart?
What strange, great, new thing is this?
I can hear the flowers growing
and the talk of the trees in the wood.
I think all my old dreams are ripening,
all the hopes and the wishes I sowed.
Everything’s quiet around me,
Everything’s gentle and sweet.
Great flowers are opening up in my heart
with a fragrance of deepest peace.

Eino Leino (1898), tr from Finnish by Lola Rogers

6 September 2011

photo courtesy of Panhala

People like you and me

In 1975, Marie Hamilton started visiting a group of prison inmates in one Pennsylvania state prison with one simple idea: to look for and affirm the good in them. In the 30 years that followed, she expanded that vision, creating unique programs in state prisons across Pennsylvania to educate, empower and support inmates to be successful when paroled. Her volunteer work over the past three decades has challenged conventional wisdom about how to deal with people who have committed crimes. She’s had no formal education in criminal justice, she isn’t part of the “system,” yet her programs have become an integral part of Pennsylvania’s prison system.

Article in Ode Magazine

7 September 2011

Simple melody with busy accompaniment

Antonin Dvořák loved simple melodies and catchy folk rhythms, and also had a genius for creating large, complex pieces that bear up to repeated listening.  One technique is to develop a simple melody in intricate ways, and to relate parts of a piece back to each other in a way that captures the ear at first and the mind only later.  For shorter pieces, he often created accompaniments that maintained the tension under a captivating melody.

Listen to the first of 4 Romantic pieces by Antonin Dvořák, born this day in 1841.

8 September 2011

Cosmology revisited

Astronomy is a science where experiments are impossible. Hence we are forced to stretch our theories to the limit, then see if they agree with observation.

Since Einstein’s first cosmology of 100 years ago, the assumption has been made that our place in the universe is typical, and no place is different from any other place, except for statistical fluctuations. This assumption has been necessary in order to make progress in such a large universe with so few windows open to our observation.

This is the year in which evidence comes to light that the 100-year-old assumption is not true.  Two months back, I reported a count of galaxy spin direction, showing there were more left-handed pinwheels in the Northern hemisphere and right-handed pinwheels in the Southern hemisphere.  In other words, there is evidence that the whole damn thing is spinning. 

Today’s report is that the acceleration of the expansion of the universe seems to be stronger along a particular axis.  This is particularly puzzling, since the expansion itself seems to be isotropic (the same in all directions).  So is it just a coincidence that at this moment in time the expansion appears the same in all directions, even though it is changing in some directions almost twice as fast as in other directions? 

Or do we have something basically wrong about the nature and geometry of the Big Bang?

Physorg Article

9 September 2011

Sanity not all it’s cracked up to be

“Sanity is the lot of those who are most obtuse, for lucidity destroys one’s equilibrium: it is unhealthy to honestly endure the labors of the mind which incessantly contradict what they have just established.”

Georges Bataille, born this day in 1897

10 September 2011

Life is stranger than any of us expected*

The events of 9/11 are a source of wonder, as well as a different kind of terror, for me. The moment that cracked me open came from watching a video called Loose Change in February of 2006. Several friends had emailed me the link, and I had tried to watch it several times before, but my stomach always knotted, I felt anxious and restless, and I never could tolerate more than a few minutes. So one morning I set the computer in front of the elliptical machine, turned on the video, and started pumping and watching, watching and pumping.

I am trained as a physicist. There are few things of which I am more confident than my knowledge of basic high school physics. Watching this video, my certainty about what was physically possible was rubbed hard against my faith in my liberal intellectual peers – the people who listen to NPR and read the New York Times, who count themselves as Brights, meaning that they reject superstitions and institutional dogmas of all sorts, and seek to ground their reality in empirical observation.

There came a moment when physics won, and the Liberal Intellectual Establishment lost. I fell off the machine and collapsed, wailing on my bedroom floor. I cried for many minutes, no longer listening as the video played on in the background. I was crying not for lost lives or for man’s inhumanity to man. Certainly with respect to Bush &Co, I had no faith left to lose. I cried because I had lost the New York Times.

All my life, I had prided myself in fierce intellectual independence. I had kidded myself. I was as dependent for my reality on a community of peers as any Jehovah’s Witness or Branch Davidian, though I had chosen a community that pretended to be rational and evidence-based.

After I peeled myself up off the floor, the world was a more mysterious place and I was a humbler person. Prying myself loose from socially-defined reality became a full-time job, my new career. New questions, new peer groups, new possibilities. No certainty. A softer, more tentative reality. I question what to question. I have subtly transformed from a crusader for truth to an advocate for intellectual openness.

* ‘Enigma rules, and the heart has no certainty’ – Richard Eberhart

— Josh Mitteldorf

11 September 2011


Island where all becomes clear.
Solid ground beneath your feet.
The only roads are those that offer access.
Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.

The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches disentangled since time immemorial.

The Tree of Understanding, dazzlingly straight and simple,
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.

The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.

If any doubts arise, the wind dispels them instantly.

Echoes stir unsummoned
and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.

On the right a cave where Meaning lies.

On the left the Lake of Deep Conviction.
Truth breaks from the bottom and bobs to the surface.

Unshakable Confidence towers over the valley.
Its peak offers an excellent view of the Essence of Things.

For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.

As if all you can do here is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.

Into unfathomable life.

— Wislawa Szymborska

12 September 2011

Cosmology’s Biggest Skeptic

If you took apart the reconstruction of Humpty Dumpty and re-arranged all the pieces, you might get a very different object. 

Cardiff University astronomer Mike Disney's video,
questioning the orthodox interpretation of the Big Bang.

13 September 2011

How does Google Translate do its job?

Using software originally developed in the 1980s by researchers at IBM, Google has created an automatic translation tool that is unlike all others. It is not based on the intellectual presuppositions of early machine translation efforts – it isn't an algorithm designed only to extract the meaning of an expression from its syntax and vocabulary. In fact, at bottom, it doesn't deal with meaning at all. Instead of taking a linguistic expression as something that requires decoding, Google Translate (GT) takes it as something that has probably been said before. It uses vast computing power to scour the internet in the blink of an eye, looking for the expression in some text that exists alongside its paired translation.

— Read article by David Bellos

14 September 2011

When one has come as far as I in pointlessness

When one has come as far as I in pointlessness
each word enthrals
Finds in the loam
which one appears with the archaeologist’s shovel
The minute word you
maybe a pearl of glass
that once hung around another’s neck
The giant word I
perhaps a stone shard
some toothless man used to scrape his morbid

— Gunnar Ekelöf, born this day in 1907,
     tr Steven Fowler
from Strountes (Nonsense) 1955

15 September 2011

The motives naturally akin to the divine principle within us are the thoughts and revolutions of the universe. These each man should follow, correcting the courses of the head which were corrupted at our birth, and by learning the harmonies and revolutions of the universe, should assimilate the thinking being to the thought, renewing his original nature.

— Plato, speaking through Timaeus

16 September 2011

Go south, young man

All of the gold and other precious metals that were originally part of the earth sunk into the earth’s core long ago, while the earth was still a ball of molten rock. Gold is very heavy, with more than twice the density of iron. The vast majority of gold that is recoverable today fell to earth in meteorites from other parts of the solar system.,

...or so the theory goes.

17 September 2011

Confirmation bias

‘A recent analysis of psychological studies with nearly 8,000 participants concluded that people are twice as likely to seek information that confirms what they already believe as they are to consider evidence that would challenge those beliefs.’
— Jason Zweig, Wall St Journal, 11/19/09

What have you observed today that doesn’t fit with what you know, or thought you knew?  What would have to change if you accepted this new finding as incontrovertible fact, and revised this piece of your former conception?

— Josh Mitteldorf

18 September 2011

Worker-owned enterprise

The MONDRAGON Corporation mission is to produce and sell goods and provide services and distribution using democratic methods in its organizational structure and distributing the assets generated for the benefit of its members and the community, as a measure of solidarity. MONDRAGON began its activities in 1956 in the Basque town of Mondragon by a rural village priest with a transformative vision who believed in the values of worker collaboration and working hard to reach for and realize the common good.

Today, with approximately 100,000 cooperative members in over 260 cooperative enterprises present in more than forty countries; MONDRAGON Corporation is committed to the creation of greater social wealth through customer satisfaction, job creation, technological and business development, continuous improvement, the promotion of education, and respect for the environment. In 2008, MONDRAGON Corporation reached annual sales of more than sixteen billion euros with its own cooperative university, cooperative bank, and cooperative social security mutual and is ranked as the top Basque business group, the seventh largest in Spain, and the world’s largest industrial workers cooperative.  (article on alliance with United Steelworkers)

Currently it is the seventh largest Spanish company in terms of turnover and the leading business group in theBasque Country. At the end of 2010 it was providing employment for 83,859 people working in 256 companies in four areas of activity: Finance, Industry, Retail and Knowledge.   (fr Wikipedia)

19 September 2011

What happens when all votes are counted...

In a victory for the left, Helle Thorning-Schmidt has been elected as Denmark’s first female Prime Minister

The Social Democrats’ campaign was based on Ms. Thorning-Schmidt’s promises to raise taxes on Denmark’s banks and its wealthiest citizens to pay for better schools and hospitals, and to finance a $4 billion expansion of what is already one of Europe’s most generous welfare systems.


20 September 2011

Proof of concept

The idea is to try a single day without violence, a cease-fire, an amnesty, a day of restraint and forbearance.

One day a year free of conflict and war, one day of a global truce.

It’s important to lay a foundation for peace, establishing a equitable distribution of wealth, guarantees of human rights and freedom, democratic institutions, cross-cultural education and exchanges.  But it’s also worthwhile to leap ahead and taste for one day the result we would all like to realize.

Today is the day.

21 September 2011

A world in a grain of sand

As I kneel down on the kitchen floor to scrub off a hunk f gunk, I might view the wet paper towel and the slats of hardwood (A) as a bit of trivial drudgery that takes me away from my ‘real work,’ or (B) as an offer to be present (shiny light on the woodgrain, surprise snow on the land outside seen from floor level).  This morning it was B, but usually it’s A.  If it were B all the time, I suppose that would be a form of visionary enlightenment—seeing the infinite in all things.  I’m a long way from being there, but there is hope.

— Steve Nachmanovitch

22 September 2011

What are they thinking?

For 25 years, Denise Herzing has returned to the same place in the Bahamas to study a group of wild dolphins. Next year, she will pioneer a project to communicate with them.

Dolphins make sounds that are differentiated and varied and technically carry a lot of information.  They seem to have individual names.  How much of the information in their sounds is meaningful?  Do dolphins communicate with something that we would call a full language? 

Decoding dolphin-speak is a daunting task.  We don’t know what to look for, or where to hook in.  Instead, Dr Herzing’s plan is to teach the Dolphins a made-up human language.  She intends to start modestly with nouns, names for toys.  Dogs have been trained to recognize hundreds of different nouns.  Herzing hopes eventually to transcend simple names for things and create a fuller range of expression.

The key will be the social relationships she has developed with individual dolphins over 2 decades.  Will they be motivated to want to communicate with her in more detail?

Science Times article

23 September 2011


Gay-hearted harvester, we know thy worth.
The loaded cornucopia of time
Lets fall its bounteous blessings on our clime;
When thou in splendor walkest through the earth,
The happy huskers with their songs of mirth,
The boys who pluck the fruit to cheerful chime,
With wayward notes and merry-making rhyme
Feel life anew. There is no sign of dearth,
While high in heaven’s etheral vault, behold
Justice, thy sister, with starry scales
Weighing with steady hand earth’s harvest yield;
And from her mints kind nature brings her gold,
Stamped with the true inscription that prevails,
And sends her creditors through wood and field.

– by the North Family of Mt Lebanon, NY
   from Cedar Boughs, a book of Shaker poetry

24 September 2011

Open to fundamental changes in conception

The easy part is to remember how much I don’t know, and that some of the foundational ideas that frame my world-view will fall in the next few years, leaving me wide-eyed and gaping.  The hard part is knowing where to mine for such revelations, what ideas to accept, provisionally, and what to question and investigate. 

— Josh Mitteldorf

25 September 2011

And whether or not it is clear to you, universe is unfolding as it should.

The Desiderata of Happiness

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Open your heart to joy.

Max Ehrmann, born this day in 1872

26 September 2011

Michio Kaku’s conjectures on the near future

In his new book, Kaku has wisely demurred from predicting humanity’s distant future, which is so contingent that is difficult to say anything with confidence.  But just extrapolating from technologies that are presently possible but expensive to a decade or two in the future when they may be cheap and widely-available, Kaku comes up with an interesting picture.

Fifty years ago, a computer cost about as much as a million telephones.  No one imagined that in 2011 the cheapest way to make a telephone would be to use a specialized computer programmed to behave like a telephone — let alone that such a device would fit in your shirt pocket.

So what happens when computation becomes cheap enough for throw-aways?  Common objects could be literally made of computer chips, so they are re-configurable on command.

Programmable matter is based on the idea of making microscopic chips, the size of the head of a pin, that can stick to other chips via varying electrical charges. In one formation, these chips may combine to form something like a sheet of paper. But if you reprogram the charges on these chips, they suddenly rearrange to form, say, a cup or plate. Push another button, and these chips rearrange to form forks and spoons. In principle, one can envisions billions of these chips which are programmed to form furniture, buildings, even cities, at the push of a button. So in the future, when you want the latest Christmas toy, you will download the blueprint and rearrange last year's toy to form this year’s toy.

Here’s a more speculative and controversial prediction:

Robots will only become smart once we are able to imbue them with emotions. Why? Because you can't make decisions without emotions. For example, people with brain injuries, which disconnect their logical centers in their cerebral cortex from the emotional center deep inside the brain, are paralyzed when making decisions. They cannot tell what is important or not. When shopping, they cannot make any decisions. That's why emotions are the next frontier in artifcial intelligence.

Read more from a 3QD interview with Kaku, by Evert Cilliers.

27 September 2011

Didn’t you just know they could do better?

This car is available now, for about the cost of a Prius, but with 8 times the mileage.  That’s 400 MPG, when it’s running on gas.  The same car can also run 100 miles between charges on battery alone.

It’s peppy, it’s safe, and it’s a comfortable ride.  Part of the trick is intensely aerodynamic design, and carbon fiber composites instead of steel to keep weight down.  The rest is just plain good engineering. 

Want one?   It’s called Aptera
Article by Eric Peters 

28 September 2011

The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched. 

—Henry David Thoreau

29 September 2011

Being damned is quite liberating

“...That’s why the saved fear the damned and why they damn them in the first place. Salvation, as too many of imagine it, is ultimate conformity to one or another system of belief or behavior while the damned are those who insist upon living outside that system. Authentic spiritual practice – disciplines that don’t merely mirror the imagined world of any given system of thought, but shatter that mirror to see what is on its own terms – is about living outside the system, any system...

“You marvel at what’s emerging in your heart and mind. Surety is shattered, yet not knowing is somehow comforting. Security is crucified, yet there is a liberating wisdom in insecurity. This makes no sense until you experience it for yourself, so keep writing until you do. But don’t be certain you will; certainty rules out faith and makes liberation impossible.”

— from Standing Barefoot before God, by Rami Shapiro

The absurd is where its at...We should be reading Kafka from the pulpit.

30 September 2011

Queen of Hearts — Archive of past entries. Bullfrog Design