Open wide great jaws of time where laughter swallows gods divine
Blow your tune through trumpet stems and daffodil delirium
Drink the day in draughts that say the green has come to stay
Never hear the magpies squall behind the walls of hay
In penumbra veiled the colony failed to roll their Sisyphean rock
Past the meat-locker feast, that bipedal beast that slanders the afternoon clock
And crystal consonants don’t translate to capture the afternoon’s magnetic haze
Nor do vowels of earthenware and syntax candles the mystery erase
The background hum of metal made from piston paragraph
Waits at traffic lights to skin the rubber from the road
The octopus that inks this song on summer skyline scarf
Knows full well the consequence of doing things by half
Half made lies and half-life ties that knot the neck like noose
Half baked pies and half moon smiles the gap-toothed night let loose
Half a mile of bad road tiled with yellow-brick amnesia
Half a brain to wonder why we swallow this anaesthesia
— Pisces Iscariot
1 August 2012
I thought that my voyage had come to its end
at the last limit of my power, – that the path before me was closed,
that provisions were exhausted
and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.
But I find that thy will knows no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.
2 August 2012
Love, as mortals understand the word, isn’t enough
“There’s something in natural affection which will lead it on to eternal
love more easily than natural appetite could be led on. But there’s also
something in it which makes it easier to stop at the natural level and
mistake it for the heavenly. Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than
clay is. And if it finally refuses conversion its corruption will be worse
than the corruption of what ye call the lower passions. It is a stronger
angel, and therefore, when it falls, a fiercer devil.”
—CS Lewis (Great Divorce, p 95)
3 August 2012
After years of battling with cancer, Anita’s body had become quite
emaciated by 2006. On the morning of February 2nd that year, her body
took a rapid turn for the worse. After being rushed to the emergency room,
the doctors informed her husband and family that because her vital organs
were failing or had already shut down, she would not likely live more than
another day or two.
Though she was unconscious and in a coma, Anita witnessed everything
the doctors said and everything that was happening around her for a while
that morning from a place outside of her body. She then had the thrill of
being transported to the other side of the veil, where she had a magical,
healing connection with her deceased father and other amazing beings of
love and light.
— from a review by Fred Burks of Anita Moorjani’s book Dying to be Me
“Then I actually ‘crossed over’ to another dimension. I was engulfed in a total feeling of love.
I also experienced extreme clarity of why I had the cancer, why I had come into this life in the
first place, what role everyone in my family played in my life in the grand scheme of things,
and how life works in general.
The clarity and understanding I obtained in this state is almost indescribable.
Words cannot describe the experience. I was at a place where I understood how much
more there is than what we are able to conceive in our three-dimensional world.
I realized what a gift life is, and that I was surrounded by loving spiritual beings,
who were always around me even when I did not know it.”
There are many such stories, and I don’t know what to make of them. The miraculous
recoveries from cancer are documentable. The rest? My belief system is evolving. –JJM
4 August 2012
Les deux infinis
The vastness of space so far surpasses our ability to imagine
that our sole recourse is the formal procedure of adding zeros
at the ends of numbers that we can comprehend.
We wish for eternal life, but we cannot conceive of eternity.
Homo sapiens has been on earth for a mere 150,000 years,
and even that is so far beyond our experience to be an abstraction.
No experiment that can be performed will yield the result, ‘infinity’
There is only ‘beyond our ability to measure by means conceivable at this time’.
This is the physicist’s definition of infinity.
The other infinity — the mathematician’s infinity that is a million times
bigger than itself and also a million times smaller — this need never
concern us, because it does not exist in our world. That is to say, it
can’t be defined in terms of any experience we may have or may imagine having,
or any experiment we can conceive.
There are only limits that we know we will never encounter.
— Josh Mitteldorf
5 August 2012
In the 1980s, a worldwide political movement arose with so much
appeal and popularity and sanity that even Ronald Reagan had to pay
attention. People the world over were demanding an end to nuclear
weapons. Jonathan Schell wrote an excruciating book making us
think about the unthinkable. Helen Caldicott
reminded us that for anyone concerned about human health and wellbeing, nuclear warfare would
be a substantial setback.
The world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons peaked in 1985 with 80,000
warheads. There are now less than 20,000. Maybe less than 10,000,
depending on how you count.
In the 1950s and 1960s, extensive tests were done, exploding thermonuclear
bombs in the atmosphere, and spreading radioactive fallout downwind. All life
on Earth was affected. Radioactive iodine was in our thyroids, and strontium 90
was in our bones. John Kennedy
advocated an end to nuclear explosions above ground, and a treaty was signed in 1963.
In 1990, the Soviet Union proposed a moratorium on nuclear testing that was agreed to by the
United Kingdom and the United States. This created an opportunity to move ahead for those advocates
who, for decades, had promoted a comprehensive ban on all nuclear testing.
The Soviet Union’s last nuclear test took place on 24 October 1990;
the United Kingdom’s on 26 November 1991 and the United States’ on 23 September 1992.
rance and China conducted their last tests in January and July 1996 respectively, before
signing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty on the day it opened for signature,
24 September 1996, together with the other three nuclear weapon States and 66 other
countries. Read the history.
India, Pakistan and N. Korea have broken the world’s moratorium in this century, but
there remains a powerful moral imperative, with the force of 7 billion consciences.
As years pass without testing the worlds stockpile of arms, no one can be sure that they will
work if they were ever deployed. Using them becomes less feasible with each passing day.
In the future, we will end all nuclear weapons, because we have to.
6 August 2012
Curiosity is sending pictures from Mars
A robotic vehicle with photo equipment, sampling and and analytic chemistry
has landed on Mars. The one-ton rover, hanging by ropes from a rocket backpack, touched down
onto Mars Sunday to end a 36-week flight and begin a two-year investigation.
The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft that carried Curiosity succeeded
in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars, including the
final severing of the bridle cords and flyaway maneuver of the rocket backpack.
NASA video of HQ at touchdown
WashPo picture gallery
7 August 2012
Down the hill I went, and then
I forgot the ways of men,
For night-scents, heady, and damp and cool
Wakened ecstasy in me
On the brink of a shining pool.
O Beauty, out of many a cup
You have made me drunk and wild
Ever since I was a child,
But when have I been sure as now
That no bitterness can bend
And no sorrow wholly bow
One who loves you to the end?
And though I must give my breath
And my laughter all to death,
And my eyes through which joy came,
And my heart, a wavering flame;
If all must leave me and go back
Along a blind and fearful track
So that you can make anew,
Fusing with intenser fire,
Something nearer your desire;
If my soul must go alone
Through a cold infinity,
Or even if it vanish, too,
Beauty, I have worshipped you.
Let this single hour atone
For the theft of all of me.
—Sarah Teasdale, born this day in 1884
8 August 2012
Sense and Logic
For generations, scientists and philosophers have tried
to explain ordinary reasoning in terms of logical principles —
with virtually no success. I suspect this enterprise failed
because it was looking in the wrong direction: common sense
works so well not because it is an approximation of logic;
logic is only a small part of our great accumulation of different,
useful ways to chain things together.
—Marvin Minsky, 85 years old today
9 August 2012
Ignoring anomalies is not scientific
It has been ‘discovered’ just in the last hundred years that the world
is consistent: Do the same experiment twice and you get the same result.
(In biology and quantum physics, this dictum has had to be liberalized to
a probabilistic framework: not exactly the same result, perhaps, but the same
statistical distribution of results.)
But there is no logical requirement that the world has to be put together
in this way. Many observations of anomalous phenomena turned out to be mistakes.
Others opened the doors to new classes of reproducible phenomena. But some were carefully observed,
one-off anomalies – ‘miracles’, if you like. Science can’t afford to ignore persistent anomalies.
We need a ‘science of the irreproducible’.
Beyond its disciplined reliance upon constructive iteration of sound experimental
data with incisive theoretical models, good science is characterized by thorough
and respectful cognizance of relevant past and present work by others,
humility in the face of empirical evidence, and openness of mind to new topics,
new approaches, new ideas, and new scholars. In particular, it maintains a profound
respect for demonstrable experimental and theoretical anomalies and their crucial
role within the scientific dialogue of experiment and theory.
— Robert Jahn and Brenda Dunne
“Everything that happens once can never happen again.
But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.”
— Paul Coelho
10 August 2012
Lord Krishna’s Birthday
The clock struck midnight, and simultaneously the rending note
of the conch broke forth, followed by the trumpeting of elephants;
all who had packets of powder threw them at the altar, and in the
rosy dust and incense, and clanging and shouts.
Infinite Love took upon itself the form of SHRI KRISHNA,
and saved the world. All sorrow was annihilated,
not only for Indians, but for foreigners, birds, caves, railways,
and the stars; all became joy, all laughter; there had never been
disease nor doubt, misunderstanding, cruelty, fear.
Some jumped in the air, others flung themselves prone
and embraced the bare feet of the universal lover;
the women behind the purdah slapped and shrieked;
the little girl slipped out and danced by herself, her black pigtails flying.
Not an orgy of the body; the tradition of that shrine forbade it.
But the human spirit had tried by a desperate contortion to ravish the
unknown, flinging down science and history in the struggle, yes, beauty
herself. Did it succeed? Books written afterwards say ‘Yes.’
But how, if there is such an event, can it be remembered afterwards?
How can it be expressed in anything but itself?
Not only from the unbeliever are mysteries hid, but the adept himself
cannot retain them. He may think, if he chooses, that he has been with
God, but as soon as he thinks it, it becomes history, and falls under
the rules of time.
— E M Forster
11 August 2012
The sufficiency of truth
The system that oppresses us depends less upon coercion or
depravity or even fear than we suppose, and more upon deception.
Truth is the most effective remedy for despotism, and entails the least
risk of ancillary harm.
— Josh Mitteldorf
12 August 2012
Proposed Roads to Freedom
In the daily lives of most men and women, fear plays a greater part
than hope: they are more filled with the thought of the possessions
that others may take from them, than of the joy that they might create
in their own lives and in the lives with which they come in contact.
It is not so that life should be lived.
Those whose lives are fruitful to themselves, to their friends,
or to the world are inspired by hope and sustained by joy:
they see in imagination the things that might be and the way in which
they are to be brought into existence. In their private relations they
are not pre-occupied with anxiety lest they should lose such affection
and respect as they receive: they are engaged in giving affection and
respect freely, and the reward comes of itself without their seeking.
In their work they are not haunted by jealousy of competitors,
but concerned with the actual matter that has to be done.
In politics, they do not spend time and passion defending unjust
privileges of their class or nation, but they aim at making the
world as a whole happier, less cruel, less full of conflict between
rival greeds, and more full of human beings whose growth has not been
dwarfed and stunted by oppression.
A life lived in this spirit--the spirit that aims at creating
rather than possessing--has a certain fundamental happiness, of which
it cannot be wholly robbed by adverse circumstances.
This is the way of life recommended in the Gospels, and by all the great
teachers of the world. Those who have found it are freed from the tyranny
of fear, since what they value most in their lives is not at the mercy of
outside power. If all men could summon up the courage and the vision to live
in this way in spite of obstacles and discouragement, there would be no need
for the regeneration of the world to begin by political and economic reform:
all that is needed in the way of reform would come automatically,
without resistance, owing to the moral regeneration of individuals.
— Bertrand Russell
13 August 2012
L’état, c’est nous
None of us knows all the potentialities that slumber in the spirit
of the population, or all the ways in which that population can surprise
us when there is the right interplay of events.
— Vaclav Havel
14 August 2012
Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife!
To all the sensual world proclaim,
One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name.
— Sir Walter Scott, born this day in 1771
15 August 2012
David and Goliath
Two victories today for law over raw power:
Ecuador agreed to grant asylum to Julian Assange, complicating the Obama
Administration’s plan to extradite him.
Federal court in Washington State ruled that MERS, the mortgage giant,
does not have clear title rights to any of the tens of millions of homes held
in their name, and cannot evict people without due process.
16 August 2012
A Digit Of The Moon
This book is written for Man’s ultimate need,
A creed of joy sent down to the aged Earth
From days of happier daring and more mirth
To comfort and console all hearts that bleed.
Here shall ye find how Love, that mastering weed
Of tropic growth and paradisal power,
Sprang in a night and found its fortunate hour
And was fulfilled of glory, flower, fruit, seed,
A wonder to the Forest.—O ye souls
Of men and women, who on Time’s whim wait
Nor clutch her hem when Pleasure turns to flee!
Read of these two, who ill content with doles
Rose in their rage and gave assault to Fate
And won their birth-fruit. Read. Nay, dare it ye!
—Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, born this day in 1840
A Digit of the Moon is the 8th of a 16-part work,
entitled The Churning of the Ocean of Milk.
A well-known Hindu legend recounts how the gods and antigods assembled to churn the ocean of milk for the
nectar of immortality. They churned it using Mt Mandara, and in addition to their
desired potion, they obtained the Moon as a bi-product.
17 August 2012
Listen to Fairy Summer, one of
ten piano pieces adapted from the ballet Cinderella by Prokofiev.
Performance by Josh Mitteldorf
18 August 2012
Will there be no end?
(to these sonnets on immortality)
Now and then it flashes through:
A feeling I know well from youth
Perhaps it holds a primal clue
Concerning body, soul and truth.
It’s clear to me my thoughts are real
But body seems like ‘not my own’
And at these times I fain to feel
my physicality on loan.
So, is this primal knowledge -
Kant’s synthetic a priori?
Else is it imagined follage
Torn from page of mythic story?
We'll know not ’til we none can tell -
Else life would be a living hell.
We know not ’til we may tell none -
Else life could never be such fun!
— Josh Mitteldorf
19 August 2012
Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man
It is common knowledge to every schoolboy and even every Bachelor of Arts,
That all sin is divided into two parts.
One kind of sin is called a sin of commission, and that is very important,
And it is what you are doing when you are doing something you ortant,
And the other kind of sin is just the opposite and is called a sin of
omission and is equally bad in the eyes of all right-thinking people,
from Billy Sunday to Buddha,
And it consists of not having done something you shuddha.
I might as well give you my opinion of these two kinds of sin as long as, in
a way, against each other we are pitting them,
And that is, don’t bother your head about sins of commission because however
sinful, they must at least be fun or else you wouldn’t be committing
It is the sin of omission, the second kind of sin,
That lays eggs under your skin.
The way you get really painfully bitten
Is by the insurance you haven’t taken out and the checks you haven’t added up
the stubs of and the appointments you haven't kept and the bills you
haven't paid and the letters you haven't written.
Also, about sins of omission there is one particularly painful lack of
Namely, it isn’t as though it had been a riotous red-letter day or night every
time you neglected to do your duty;
You didn't get a wicked forbidden thrill
Every time you let a policy lapse or forgot to pay a bill;
You didn’t slap the lads in the tavern on the back and loudly cry Whee,
Let's all fail to write just one more letter before we go home, and this
round of unwritten letters is on me.
No, you never get any fun
Out of things you haven’t done,
But they are the things that I do not like to be amid,
Because the suitable things you didn't do give you a lot more trouble than
the unsuitable things you did.
The moral is that it is probably better not to sin at all, but if some kind
of sin you must be pursuing,
Well, remember to do it by doing rather than by not doing.
— Ogden Nash, born this day in 1902
20 August 2012
So I say: Fuck dignity, decorum, and consideration for the brittle sensitivities
of prigs, phonies, soulless prevaricators and feckless ass-kissers.
The vast cosmos of the heart and the landscapes of the soul have more in mind for us than that.
If you pray to the God of Everyday Insanity for the ability to act appropriately,
and appropriately only: Your wish may be granted and you might have to live in a world
winnowed down only to what is seemingly manageable, a polite existence where you cannot move nor breath....
It would seem the corporate culture’s pandemic of depression is the ‘appropriate’ response to this.
— Phil Rockstroh (read Unlikely Stories)
Rage may be one step out from depression, but perhaps not where we’d like to end up. –JJM
21 August 2012
Listen to Horowitz playing L’Isle Joyeuse by Claude Debussy, 150 years old today.
22 August 2012
Metaphysical Poetry of George Eliot
“I grant you ample leave
To use the hoary formula ‘I am’
Naming the emptiness where thought is not;
But fill the void with definition, ‘I’
Will be no more a datum than the words
You link false inference with, the ‘since’ & ‘so’
That, true or not, make up the atom-whirl.
Resolve your ‘Ego’, it is all one web
With vibrant ether clotted into worlds:
Your subject, self, or self-assertive ‘I’
Turns nought but object, melts to molecules,
Is stripped from naked Being with the rest
Of those rag-garments named the Universe.
Or if, in strife to keep your ‘Ego’ strong
You make it weaver of the etherial light,
Space, motion, solids & the dream of Time—
Why, still ’tis Being looking from the dark,
The core, the centre of your consciousness,
That notes your bubble-world: sense, pleasure, pain,
What are they but a shifting otherness,
Phantasmal flux of moments?—”
— George Eliot
23 August 2012
It requires greater courage to preserve inner freedom, to move on in one’s inward journey
into new realms, than to stand defiantly for outer freedom.
It is often easier to play the martyr, as it is to be rash in battle.
— Rollo May video clip
It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way.
24 August 2012
What’s the opposite of pro-active engagement?
We live in a culture that encourages a pro-active individual stance for self realization. Here’s the flip side: Peter
Taussig is a pianist known for his interpretation of Bach. After an injury left him unable to perform at the virtuoso level
to which he aspired, he began using software to sculpt keyboard interpretations, that can be realized on a
souped-up player piano, then recorded. Taussig writes:
How does a miraculous life differ from an ordinary life? The essential difference is the direction of their trajectories.
An ordinary life unfolds forward. It consists of future projections and various attempts at their realization.
By contrast, a miraculous life unfolds without any projection of outcomes.
It lacks an overarching direction and its internal logic and structure become clear only with hindsight.
You could almost say that it unfolds backwards...
In an ordinary life, we create an image in our heads of what happiness should look like;
we imagine an ideal future which becomes the yardstic by which we measure our success or failure...Our life then proceeds as a series of strategies...
The magnitude of your aspirations makes no difference; neither does your dedication or perseverance...
When you live a miraculous life there is no carrot, no master plan, no final destination, no fantasy outcome.
Every step you take is a first step.
You make decisions based on what is in front of you.
You have no idea where they are taking you.
You use logic and small-scale planning, of course, but they have no overall direction.
Often you rely on your intuition, on that indefinable gut feeling
And most important, you always look out for that miracle, for that shooting star that you could not have predicted and could never take credit for.
As you bumble along in a seemingly aimless succession of decisions, a pattern may emerge but you do not hold fast to that either. The next (first) step may take you elsewhere.
The worst thing about ordinary life (as opposed to a miraculous one) is that it provides a false sense of security;
it lulls you into believing that planning and clear goals provide safety...
The currency with which we pay for this false sense of safety is the narrowing of our horizon of possibilities. Living an
ordinary life is like riding in a bus through a spectacular landscape with the shades drawn and our noses glued to a map.
— The Atheist’s Guide to Miracles, by Peter Taussig
25 August 2012
First, live blamelessly. Then begin to take responsibility for improving the world,
but only to the extent that it helps you feel engaged and challenged and fulfilled.
— Josh Mitteldorf
26 August 2012
The Strangest Dream
On this day in 1928, the world agreed to put an end to war. The Kellogg-Briand pact
was signed by the US and 14 other nations. By July 1929 when it was to take effect,
every major power in the world had agreed.
Deeply sensible of their solemn duty to promote the welfare of mankind;
Persuaded that the time has come when a frank renunciation of war as an
instrument of national policy should be made to the end that the peaceful
and friendly relations now existing between their peoples may be perpetuated...
The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement or solution
of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be,
which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means.
The interdiction of aggressive war was confirmed and broadened by the United Nations Charter,
which provides in article 2, paragraph 4, that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations
from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,
or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
The treaty has never been renounced, remains in full force and is binding against all combattants.
David Swanson’s blog
27 August 2012
The 10th Precept
Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit,
or transform your community into a political party.
A religious community, however, should take a clear stand against oppression and injustice
and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.
— #10 of the 14 Precepts of Thich Nhat Hanh
Commentary: Thich is helping us to distinguish the moral stance toward
political action that nourishes our souls from the stance which nourishes our egos. One of the great diseases of our culture
is that politics attracts people who want the trappings, the respect and the power more than they want to help. Even
those who deeply want to help can be drawn into the illusion that they need to indulge in self-aggrandizement
in order to obtain the power they need to do good. Thich explicitly warns against this.
28 August 2012
Sounds of a far-awakened multitude,
With cry of countless voices intertwined,
Harsh strife and stormy roar of battle rude,
Labour and peaceful arts and growth of mind.
And yet, o’er all, the One through many seen,
The phantom Presence moving without fail,
Sweet sense of closelinked life and passion keen
As of the grass waving before the gale.
What art Thou, O that wast and art to be?
Ye forms that once through shady forest-glade
Or golden light-flood wandered lovingly,
What are ye? Nay, though all the past do fade
Ye are not therefore perished, ye whom erst
The eternal Spirit struck with quick desire,
And led and beckoned onward till the first
Slow spark of life became a flaming fire.
Ye are not therefore perished: for behold
To-day ye move about us, and the same
Dark murmur of the past is forward rolled
Another age, and grows with louder fame
Unto the morrow: newer ways are ours,
New thoughts, new fancies, and we deem our lives
New-fashioned in a mould of vaster powers;
But as of old with flesh the spirit strives,
And we but head the strife. Soon shall the song
That rolls all down the ages blend its voice
With our weak utterance and make us strong;
That we, borne forward still, may still rejoice,
Fronting the wave of change. Thou who alone
Changeless remainest, O most mighty Soul,
Hear us before we vanish! O make known
Thyself in us, us in Thy living whole.
— Edward Carpenter, socialist and mystic, was born this day in 1844
There is a first half to this poem, which you can view here.
The Respectability of today is the respectability of property.
There is nothing so respectable as being well-off.
29 August 2012
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds,
and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.
But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
— Aleksander Solzhenitsyn
30 August 2012
Blameless people are always the most exasperating.
— George Eliot
31 August 2012