They are marching for us

Those on the streets around Wall Street are the physical embodiment of hope. They know that hope has a cost, that it is not easy or comfortable, that it requires self-sacrifice and discomfort and finally faith. They sleep on concrete every night. Their clothes are soiled. They have eaten more bagels and peanut butter than they ever thought possible. They have tasted fear, been beaten, gone to jail, been blinded by pepper spray, cried, hugged each other, laughed, sung, talked too long in general assemblies, seen their chants drift upward to the office towers above them, wondered if it is worth it, if anyone cares, if they will win. But as long as they remain steadfast they point the way out of the corporate labyrinth. This is what it means to be alive. They are the best among us.It is our duty—as men and women—to behave as though limits to our ability do not exist. We are collaborators in creation of the Universe.

Chris Hedges

1 October 2011

Our common destiny

What keeps us from coming together as one nation, indeed one world, pursuing our common interest peaceably and efficiently?

Through most of human history, the labor of many men was required to support the comfort of one.  Thus slavery was endemic, and we were in a continual state of warfare to determine who would be master and who would be slave.

But this premise is no longer true. Technology offers the possibility of comfort with modest expenditures of labor, and—if we can control our population—manageable material demands.

John Locke thought it was mankind’s legacy of selfishness and greed that keep people from cooperating.  But now we know that most people are, if anything, too eager to cooperate and sacrifice their own needs for ideals that they believe in.

Are there legitimate, but irreconcilable differences in perspective that keep us from seeing eye-to-eye?  I have come to believe that neither religions nor political ideologies can be maintained without propaganda and outright deception.

I believe that the majority of humans are peaceful, cooperative, and idealistic—but perhaps too dependent on a community to do their thinking for them, and thus vulnerable to being misled. 

Thomas Jefferson said, ‘If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter....Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.’

I don’t know if a free and uncensored press is sufficient to assure peace and freedom, but I’d sure like to give it a try.

— Josh Mitteldorf

2 October 2011

Atoning for every failure to accept joy when it is offered

Most Jews still think that fasting is more righteous than feasting. Yet the Talmud suggests that in the world to come a person will have to stand judgment for every legitimate pleasure in this life that was renounced. The Nazirite—the person who gave up the pleasures of wine and family life to devote himself entirely to God—was called a sinner on the grounds that he gave up the joys of wine when the Torah did not require him to do so.

The perception that asceticism is superior to enjoyment is wrong...

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg

Joy is revelation. Joy unearths latent potentials no one even knew existed and amplifies revealed potentials to levels no one ever thought possible. Joy is an effusion of self that spills over to places and achievements far beyond the soul's natural horizons. — Yanki Tauber

8 October 2011

Kol Nidre

Yesterday, Jewish people began their observance of the holiest day of the year with the Kol Nidre:

All personal vows we may make between this Yom Kippur and the next Yom Kippur,, all personal oaths and pledges, we publicly renounce, in advance. Let them all be relinquished and abandoned, null and void. Let our personal vows, pledges and oaths be considered neither vows nor pledges nor oaths.

This is subversive stuff. It leaves us radically free to decide in each moment how we wish to proceed. But more devastating is its effect on the social contract. How can I trust you to cooperate with me if you have told me in advance that I shouldn’t believe anything you promise?

The only way I can make sense of this is to admit that the 17th Century theory of Locke and Rousseau is far too rational to describe real human behavior. As they conceived the Social Contract, it was a bargain negotiated, perhaps unconsciously, between society and the individual, who voluntarily surrenders some of his freedom of action in order to gain the protection and security of a community. But communities are far older than rational negotiation – ask any honeybee! It may be that we cooperate in communities and conform our behavior to social norms because it is programmed in our genes. It may be that we behave caringly toward other humans not because we have been trained in righteousness, but because we have hearts that feel empathy.

Marx envisioned a utopia in which laws would not be necessarily, and people would live together in harmony because of their innate goodness and their socialization. Maybe Marx was Jewish.

— Josh Mitteldorf

9 October 2011


Giuseppe Verdi, born this day in 1813, gave people what they came to the opera to experience: passion, drama, beautiful melodies and deep emotion.  His long life overlapped with Beethoven at the front end and with Paul Hindemith at the back end, and he composed continually from his first opera at age 25 to his last at 74.

While he was working on his second opera, Un giorno di regno, Verdi’s wife died. The opera, given in September 1840, was a flop and he fell into despair and vowed to give up musical composition forever. However, Merelli persuaded him to write Nabucco and its opening performance in March 1842 made Verdi famous.

His Te Deum is alternately solemnly mystical and explosively joyous.  Listen

10 October 2011

Richard Feynman talks about aesthetics and the scientist


11 October 2011

Use it or lose it

Salamanders that live in dark caves lose their eyesight within a few generations of natural selection.  Thus almost all the vertebrates alive today lost the ability to detect tiny electric currents, though this was a ‘sixth sense’ in our common ancestor, a 500 million-year-old fish.  Melinda Modrell figured this out via comparative genetics.

Sturgeons, ‘paddlefish’ and a few others retain that sense today, but you and I rely on a an electronic voltmeter.

Science Daily article

12 October 2011

Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it’s cracked up to be. that’s why people are so cynical about it. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.

Erica Jong

13 October 2011

No matter how complete the despair, no matter how bitter the cynicism, a possibility beckons of a world more beautiful and a life more magnificent than what we know today. Though we may rationalize it, it is not rational. We become aware of it in moments, gaps in the rush and press of modern life. These moments come to us alone in nature, or with a baby, making love, playing with children, caring for a dying person, making music for the sake of music or beauty for the sake of beauty. At such times, a simple and easy joy shows us the futility of the vast, life-consuming program of management and control.

We intuit also that something similar is possible collectively
I write of a coming shift from a profit-taking economy to a gift economy, from an economy of ‘how can I take the most?’ to ‘how can I best give of my gifts?’ This future, in which the anxiety of "making a living" no longer drives us, will arise out of the transformation in the human sense of self that is gathering today. But it is not only a future. We can live it now. 

— Charles Eisenstein, previewing The Ascent of Humanity

14 October 2011

Small but sweet victory in Manhattan

15 October 2011

In my present form, I remain trapped in appearances most of the time, catching only occasional glimpses of a mystery beyond. May I be transformed, that I may experience reality face-on.

In my present form, I prefer to occupy my mind with puzzles and entertainment, to focus on the small parts of the world I can understand and the smaller parts I can control. May I be transformed, that I might look unflinching into the face of the sun and feel awe.

— Josh Mitteldorf

16 October 2011

«Il n’est rien de plus doux pour l’oreille de la liberté que le tumulte et les cris d’une assemblée du peuple.»

— de L’Esprit de la Révolution et de la Constitution en France

“For liberty, there is no sweeter sound than the tumult and the shouts of a crowd.”

Claude-Henri Saint-Simon, born this day in 1860

17 October 2011


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

David Wagoner

18 October 2011

Early Childhood Education

Washington, DC, November, 2004 — A landmark, long-term study of the effects of high-quality early care and education on low-income three- and four-year-olds shows that adults at age 40 who participated in a preschool program in their early years have higher earnings, are more likely to hold a job, have committed fewer crimes, and are more likely to have graduated from high school. Overall, the study documented a return to society of more than $16 for every tax dollar invested in the early care and education program. 
HighScope Perry Preschool Study

Compared with a control group, children who went through the Perry program were 22 percent more likely to finish high school and were arrested less than half as often for felonies. They were half as likely to receive public assistance and three times as likely to own their own homes.
Kristof Column in NYTimes 

19 October 2011

Counterpoint to rationalism

It was when I said,
“There is no such thing as truth,”
That the grapes seemed fatter.
The fox ran out of his hole.

It was at that time, that the silence was largest
And longest, the night was roundest,
The fragrance of the autumn warmest,
Closest and strongest.

Wallace Stevens, “On the Road Home

20 October 2011

This is how it begins

I arrived at Freedom Plaza, Washington DC, on the morning of October 6, 2011 for the start of the October 2011 ‘Stop the Machine’ actions and I was overcome by what I found. I was in the company of several thousand fellow citizens, from all corners of the US. There was a powerful communal spirit. It felt like we were one being. We had come together because we had all, separately, felt so strongly about changing the US, and the world, that we had put our daily lives on hold, committed resources, and travelled long distances to be there. We believed that our presence, in that place and at that time, had meaning. The power of the energy and passion of the participants was overwhelming to me. I immediately understood why Abbie Hoffman thought it was possible to levitate the Pentagon in 1967. I felt like a space traveler arriving on a friendly and welcoming planet. I wept tears of joy and excitement.
Ed Wujciak, writing for OpEdNews

The genie is out of the bottle. People will no longer accept the systematic transfer of wealth and power from we the people to the 1 percent. In this remarkable, leaderless movement, each one of the 99 percent who gets involved helps shape history.
Sarah van Gelder at Common Dreams 

21 October 2011


“During the decade of the Russian Revolution, [Lincoln] Steffens was in his Christian Socialist phase.  John Reed dedicated a poem to him, in which the hero, Sangar,‘the mad recreant knight of the West’, attempted to ward off a  Hun invasion with the words of the Gospel.  His message unavailing, Sangar fell at the hand of his own son, who rejected Sangar’s appeal to conscience and insisted on meeting iron with iron.  At this point Sangar went to his reward.”  — H. W. Brands

SOMEWHERE I read a strange, old,
     rusty tale
Smelling of war; most curiously named
The Mad Recreant Knight of the West.
Once, you have read, the round world
     brimmed with hate,
Stirred and revolted, flashed unceasingly
Facets of cruel splendor. And the strong
Harried the weak …
Long past, long past, praise God,
In these fair, peaceful, happy days.

The Tale:
Eastward the Huns break border,
Surf on a rotten dyke;
They have murdered the Eastern Warder
(His head on a pike).
“Arm thee, arm thee, my father!
Swift rides the Goddes-bane,
And the high nobles gather
On the plain!”

“O blind world-wrath!” cried Sangar,
“Greatly I killed in youth;
I dreamed men had done with anger
Through Goddes truth!”
Smiled the boy then in faint scorn,
Hard with the battle-thrill;
“Arm thee, loud calls the war-horn
And shrill!”

He has bowed to the voice stentorian,
Sick with thought of the grave—
He has called for his battered motion
And his scarred glaive.
On the boy’s helm a glove
Of the Duke’s daughter—
In his eyes splendor of love
And slaughter.

Hideous the Hun advances
Like a sea-tide on sand;
Unyielding, the haughty lances
Make dauntless stand.
And ever amid the clangor,
Butchering Hun and Hun,
With sorrowful face rides Sangar
And his son….

Broken is the wild invader
(Sullied, the whole world’s fountains);
They have penned the murderous raider
With his back to the mountains.
Yet though what had been mead
Is now a bloody lake,
Still drink swords where men bleed,
Nor slake.

Now leaps one into the press—
The hell ’twixt front and front—
Sangar, bloody and torn of dress
(He has borne the brunt).
“Hold!” cries, “Peace! God’s peace!
Heed ye what Christus says—”
And the wild battle gave surcease
In amaze.

“When will ye cast out hate?
Brothers—my mad, mad brothers—
Mercy, ere it be too late,
These are sons of your mothers.
For sake of Him who died on Tree,
Who of all creatures, loved the least— ”
“Blasphemer! God of Battles, He!”
Cried a priest.

“Peace!” and with his two hands
Has broken in twain his glaive.
Weaponless, smiling he stands—
(Coward or brave?)
“Traitor!” howls one rank, “Think ye
The Hun be our brother?”
And “Fear we to die, craven, think ye?”
The other.

Then sprang his son to his side,
His lips with slaver were wet,
For he had felt how men died
And was lustful yet;
(On his bent helm a glove
Of the Duke’s daughter,
In his eyes splendor of love
And slaughter)—

Shouting, “Father no more of mine!
Shameful old man—abhorr’d,
First traitor of all our line!”
Up the two-handed sword.
He smote—fell Sangar—and then
Screaming, red, the boy ran
Straight at the foe, and again
Hell began….

Oh, there was joy in Heaven when Sangar came.
Sweet Mary wept, and bathed and bound his
And God the Father healed him of despair,
And Jesus gripped his hand, and laughed
        and laughed…. 

John Reed, born this day in 1887

“War means an ugly mob-madness, crucifying the truth tellers, choking the artists,
 sidetracking reforms, revolutions, and the working of social forces”

22 October 2011

Caring less is not the answer

Equanimity is not indifference. Disengagement can be a temporary expedient, an opportunity for rest and consolidation; but ultimately, every relationship, every interaction will feed our child-like delight and curiosity, a source of joy and wonder.

— Josh Mitteldorf

23 October 2011


Of all the composers who experimented in the last half of the 20th Century with radical departures from traditional tonality and classical forms, I find that Luciano Berio (born this day in 1925) is the most listenable, the most consistently dramatic and interesting and entertaining. 

He was also a political radical a teacher and conductor who made a big splash in the small pond of experimental and electronic music. ‘Among serious composers working since the Second World War, Luciano Berio wrote the music which comes across most clearly as compassionately human.’ [Martin Anderson]

Visages (1961) was a collaboration with his first wife, Cathy Berberian who had remarkable control over her voice.  Chemins IV (1975) for oboe and strings offers new sonorities around every corner.  Likewise, Formazioni (1986) for orchestra offers a constantly changing soundscape that holds our interest by shifting in unexpected ways.

24 October 2011

Earth your dancing place

Beneath heaven’s vault
remember always walking
through halls of cloud
down aisles of sunlight
or through high hedges
of the green rain
walk in the world
highheeled with swirl of cape
hand at the swordhilt
of your pride
Keep a tall throat
Remain aghast at life

Enter each day
as upon a stage
lighted and waiting
for your step
Crave upward as flame
have keenness in the nostril
Give your eyes
to agony or rapture

Train your hands
as birds to be
brooding or nimble
Move your body
as the horses
sweeping on slender hooves
over crag and prairie
with fleeing manes
and aloofness of their limbs

Take earth for your own large room
and the floor of earth
carpeted with sunlight
and hung round with silver wind
for your dancing place

~ May Swenson

25 October 2011

Scarlatti’s birthday

Domenico Scarlatti was the third of the three great composers of the High Baroque, all born in 1685.  He composed choral music for the church through a long career, a repertoire which is forgotten today.  But after Sarlatti’s retirement at age 66, he devoted himself to writing for the harpsichord, and composed 555 sonatas of such inventiveness and variety that he is justly called the father of modern keyboard technique.

Sonata K87 in b minor is more contrapuntal than Scarlatti’s typical style.  The mood is placid, the tone hypnotic.  Voices are overlaid and dovetailed, disappearing and reappearing just in time to keep the motion flowing.  Here it is in a home-made recording by Josh Mitteldorf.

Here is sonata in A K39, reprentative of Scarlatti’s exuberant pyrotechnics, made of little motifs, scales and sequences and repeated notes, strung together in a way that is both fresh and satisfying.  Performance is by Dmitry Gordin.

And one more, sonata K8 in g minor performed by Mikhail Pletnev, in the style of a sarabande.

26 October 2011

Sonatas and life

Scarlatti also gave us the first version of Sonata Form, which, in the next generation, Haydn ran with and demonstrated its versatility.  Beethoven and Brahms filled the 19th Century with romantic sonatas, and the form continues to submit to content that is ever stranger and more distant from the language of Scarlatti or Haydn.  My present project is a Sonata by Martinu in which the form is discernible (after a few listenings, perhaps).

The recipe for a sonata sounds so much like some of the extra-musical adventures that animate our lives:

  1. Start with a clear and definite idea.
  2. End up in the wrong key.
  3. Try again.
  4. Same thing happens.
  5. Experiment with something different and unknown.  Get lost.  Wander 40 years in the desert.
  6. When the night seems darkest, find yourself suddenly back at home.
  7. Begin again, and this time you stay on course.
  8. Finish with a sprint.

 We shall never cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
— T S Eliot

27 October 2011

The Sixth Precept

Do not maintain anger or hatred. As soon as anger and hatred arise, practice the meditation on compassion in order to deeply understand the persons who have caused anger and hatred. Learn to look at other beings with the eyes of compassion.

— Thich Nhat Hahn

This is #6 of the 14 Precepts, wise counsel and a steep challenge for living. 

Commentary:  Anger and hatred are burdens that cause suffering in the person who carries them, and they also interfere with judgment, often leading to ill-considered actions that can spread waves of harm through a community.

But it is not clear that the practice of meditation is (always and for everyone) the best means for letting go of anger.  For some, various forms of Western psychotherapy are effective, for others it’s chopping wood, or stomping or screaming. 

Anger can be the driving force behind organization and resistance to challenge oppression.  But un-reconstructed anger is rarely an effective basis for action.  Thich has led a life both of political action and spiritual leadership, and we can trust him as well as anyone to help us reconcile these two directions in our lives.

28 October 2011

The artist must raise the cup of his vision aloft to the gods in the high hope that they will pour into it the sweet mellow wine of inspiration.

— Paul Brunton

The amazing thing to me is how often they come through with the goods.


29 October 2011


Live strictly by your discipline six days a week.  On the seventh, abandon all rules and follow your whims from moment to moment.

— Josh Mitteldorf

30 October 2011


We all focus our lives around some BIG EVENT, or intermittent series of big events, with an endless smorgasbord of activities thrown in. Dates are the markers of these events. Dates and times. Calendars and clocks don’t tell us what we do. They tell us what we wait for.

On a platform, a woman stares down the tracks, looking for the face of a train. She is wearing red, maybe to attract the train, to pull it closer to her, faster to her, like the woman of Babylon in Revelations hastening the end of the world. There is a man too, several men, they are looking at their wrists, shifting around, trying to act casual, trying to hold it together. The platform is full of men and women, waiting, waiting to get home—or to go… somewhere? Each of them is listening to a private concert—presumably, understandably, different private concerts, though one wonders what would happen if all the musics could suddenly be heard at once. It would be a fitting soundtrack for the chaos of waiting.

Is waiting a state of being or is it an act of consciousness? It’s hard to say. One thing we know, though. Waiting is undesirable, regrettable, at times frustrating as all hell, and to be avoided at any cost. Waiting signals a breakdown of order. In modern times, when we are waiting, it’s because we think that something is not functioning properly, someone isn’t doing their job.

...maybe waiting is just another word for living. It’s a devastating thought though, I would say. To live is to wait. To live is to wait.

*     *     *

There’s a sigh of relief when the train finally comes, but why? It’s not as though lives have changed by this fact, the train’s arrival, even one tiny bit. But it feels like it. The end of a wait feels like a movement towards something. The end of a wait feels like the beginning of something new. But if you can live inside the waiting, can be present for the wait, rather than wishing it finished, rather than holding your holding your breath—you can almost trick yourself into believing that you are really living.

Stefany Anne Golberg, writing at 3QuarksDaily

31 October 2011

Queen of Hearts — Archive of past entries. Bullfrog Design