Daily Desperation

April fool edition

There is plenty of hope. An infinite amount of hope. But not for us.
— Kafka

1 April 2014

“The greatest gift that you could ever give to another is your own happiness, for when you are in a state of joy, happiness, or appreciation, you are fully connected to the Stream of pure, positive Source Energy that is truly who you are. And when you are in that state of connection, anything or anyone that you are holding as your object of attention benefits from your attention.”

Esther Hicks

See what I’ve sacrificed for you. Surely you must love me after all that I have suffered on your behalf.
–Anon. Jewish mother

2 April 2014

So may it be with God

Gary Gutting: You say you’re a naturalist and deny that there are any supernatural beings, yet you’re a practicing Jew and deny that you’re an atheist. What’s going on here? What’s a God that’s not a supernatural being?

Howard Wettstein: Let’s begin with a distinction between participation in a practice and the activity of theorizing, philosophically and otherwise, about the practice.
Just as a practicing mathematician need not have views about the metaphysical status of numbers, so too religious life does not require a theoretical stance on God’s existence.
Richard Feynman said that he lived among the numbers, that he was intimate with them. However, he had no views about their metaphysical status; he was highly skeptical about philosophers’ inquiries into such things. Do numbers exist? Feynman had no opinion on the question.

— more from The Stone column in NYTimes

And the fact that I practice Theravada meditation every morning doesn’t mean I believe in Buddhism.

3 April 2014

Listen to Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax play the Andante from Rachmaninoffs cello sonata

— Author

4 April 2014

To evade the whirlwind

To evade the whirlwind and to espouse the sky
Is now all my mental imagery
The rocket’s red glare is dense nowhere
For mankind’s best ruddied energy

The myth of mankind demands the honest heart
The occult seas and occult trees treat
Of things foreknown but in their farthest art:
Most male is being hale in this heavenly heat.

— Richard Eberhart, born this day in 1904

5 April 2014

May all beings find the courage to embrace their freedom, to expand into the vast potential into which they were born.

— Josh Mitteldorf

6 April 2014

A rationalist’s mystical moment

something happened when I was 17 that shook my safely rationalist worldview and left me with a lifelong puzzle. Years later, I learned that this sort of event is usually called a mystical experience...

This was not the passive beatific merger with “the All,” as promised by the Eastern mystics. It was a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming at me through all things at once, too vast and violent to hold on to, too heartbreakingly beautiful to let go of. It seemed to me that whether you start as a twig or a gorgeous tapestry, you will be recruited into the flame and made indistinguishable from the rest of the blaze. I felt ecstatic and somehow completed, but also shattered.

— Barbara Ehrenreich, writing in the NYTimes yesterday

7 April 2014

Again and Again

Again and again, however we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
fall: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lie down again and again
among the flowers, face to face with the sky.

— Rainer Maria Rilke - See more at 3 Quarks Daily

8 April 2014


O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have

    fingers of
prurient philosophers pinched

, has the naughty thumb
of science prodded

    beauty    , how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive

to the incomparable
couch of death thy

    thou answerest

them only with


— e e cummings (our most beloved anti-intellectual intellectual)

9 April 2014

There is within each of us a modulation, an inner exaltation, which lifts us above the buffetings with which events assail us. Likewise, it lifts us above dependence upon the gifts of events for our joy.

— Albert Schweitzer

10 April 2014


Starling video

People look at these swarms with hundreds of thousands of birds and see beauty and grace and natural wonder.  The computer modeler in me also wonders whether such behaviors can be the result of simple local rules, or must they be globally coordinated?  In other words, the motion gives the appearance of being highly synchronized.  Some such dances can be emergent properties of a group, where each individual is responding to his immediate environment and unaware of the larger pattern. But others truly require a choreography, implying that there is ongoing communication within the swarm, and some kind of communal decision-making process that results in coordinated changes in direction.

I have done a quick search of academic articles about numerical modeling of starling murmurations.  Numerical modelers have successfully simulated ant hills and star clusters and traffic patterns and many thousands of other phenomena, but I don't see that anyone has emulated starlings.

I am tempted to try to emulate this spectacle with my own computer simulation. If I succeed, it doesn’t mean that there is no channel of mass communication among the starlings, but it means there is no necessity for communication, and our intuition that tells us the dance is choreographed is misleading us. If I fail, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is some mysterious channel through which starlings talk to one another, but it may mean that….or it may be just that I have not yet guessed the rule.

Update: A colleague pointed me to simulations on the web (for example). They look pretty impressive, but I think they impose a constantly changing global direction, as if everyone gets the signal ‘turn’ at once. Can a model be built without this?


11 April 2014


It is the accumulation of year,
an awakening to each other slowly,
that allows us
to take in the long view.
Not for everyone,
but a few
who withstand winter upon winter,
after the long frost of both body and heart.
A bounty purifie sweet again.

Like a stream cutting deeply
into the land,
carving a road of determination,
against our individual wills,
against our knowing anything.

Or a river,
arriving someplace
we’ll never see with our eyes.
A mystery –
content to be so.
The infinite in the limit of day,
immobile agains the backdrop of uncertainty.

Loving naturally,
cast in the bronze of day,
we are the density of concrete.

Undone in the intimacy of evening,
bound in a simple pair,
shielded against the chaos
we choose not to endure.

— Kim Empson

12 April 2014

How did I do?

If my God in Heaven Buddha show the way,
Every day I try to live for one more day.
— “The King and I”

We may laugh at Oscar Hammerstein’s crude conflation of Buddha with the Old Testament God, but in fact it is terribly difficult to absorb the wisdom of the Orient unfiltered by our own cultural conditioning.

If I want to ascend to heaven, I should go to church every Sunday and confess my sins. If I want to achieve enlightenment, I should meditate with my sangha and practice mindfulness.

Every chapter of the Dao De Jing and every sutra of Patanjali is translated as if it were an admonition against wrongdoing or an exhortation to concerted effort, a sustained offensive in pursuit of a goal.

I try so hard to be good, even as I re-define good as not trying so hard.

A glimmer of recognition that “should” and “better” and “seeking” are the problem, but I cannot laugh as I ask myself, “What should I do about that?”

I add a new practice, a new discipline. Every day, a “no-shoulds hour”. A time for letting go. But it is too uncomfortable. I dread the hour of freedom. I procrastinate, and find things that need doing.

I seek refuge in paradox, consume myself in pursuit of goals that are patently absurd. I undermine my own discipline. (I persist.)

And in the end, I evaluate, “How am I doing? Did I succeed?”

— Josh Mitteldorf

13 April 2014

‘Az Öröm illan’ = A Whiff of Joy
translated from the Hungarian by Google Translate and JJM

Joy escapes, rebuke him!
A flash at the back of those gorgeous eyes,
Soft fading music of his voice
And tufts of blond...

He was here? O, I do not think
I could have mistaken him, stealthy sprite,
his reflection in the marsh

Like a hazy shadow
zig-zagging above the burning city:
The smoke low and squirming under wing

A lone star, dead to light,
A million years in the making
Now unconscious and stateless
In the infinity of frozen space.

Herald from Eden, gesture of heaven,
Lighten our hearts on this dusty,
Blind road...

But alas, the heart is heavy.

He was here? - O, joy, joy,
One word more, one minute!
Oh, tell me, does not the sky glow blue?
Tell me my life is not the honey of wormwood.

Joy escapes, rebuke him!
Those gorgeous eyes,
choked music
silver white tufts ...

Az Öröm illan, ints neki,
Még visszavillan szép szeme,
Lágy hangja halkuló zene,
S lebbennek szõke tincsei.

Itt volt hát? jaj, nem is hiszem,
Már oly kusza a tünde rajz.
Mint visszafénylõ, kedves arc
Szétrezgõ képe vad vizen

Mint lázálomkép, lenge árny,
Cikázó galambsziluett
Lánggal égõ város felett:
Füst közt vonagló gyenge szárny

Egy holt csillagról árva fény,
Mely milljom éve untalan
Száll ájultan és hontalan
A végtelen tér jég ürén.

édeni pajtás, égi kéz,
Feldobná szívünk a poros,
Vak légbe, mint vidám, piros
Labdát, de jaj, a szív nehéz.

Itt volt hát? -- ó, Öröm, Öröm,
Egy szóra még, egy percre még!
ó, mondd, az ég fenn ugye kék,
S az élet méze nem üröm?

Az Öröm illan, ints neki,
Még visszabúsul szép szeme,
Lágy hangja elfúló zene,
S ezüstfehérek tincsei...

— with apologies to Árpád Tóth, born this day in 1886

14 April 2014


Since the fabric of the universe is most perfect and the work of a most wise Creator, nothing at all takes place in the universe in which some rule of maximum or minimum does not appear ... there is absolutely no doubt that every affect in the universe can be explained satisfactorily from final causes, by the aid of the method of maxima and minima, as it can be from the effective causes themselves ... Of course, when the effective causes are too obscure, but the final causes are readily ascertained, the problem is commonly solved by the indirect method... ‘’ “”

— Leonhard Euler, born this day in 1707, was first to realize that adding one imaginary number (the square root of minus one) completes the ordinary (real) numbers, and assures there is a solution to all algebraic equations.

15 April 2014

The Audacity of Hopelessness
dialog between a wise woman and her wise-ass son

The natural world cannot survive
It’s SCIENCE tells me so.
I’d just as soon not be alive
If Gaia has to go.

No scientist, however good,
But prone to human erra—
Predictors of the future should
Remember Yogi Berra*.

The dying seas, the climate shift
Support their predilection—
And worst of all the Pope won’t lift
His ban on contraception!

Our eyes, but not our brains, can sort
The truth from out our fears.
To see the outcome, I exhort
you! Live another 90 years!

— Josh Mitteldorf

* Yankee Yogi is still alive and wise-cracking at 89.
Among his famous quotes: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

16 April 2014

“That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm; the experiences that are called ‘visions,’ the whole so-called ‘spirit-world’, death, all those things that are so closely akin to us, have by daily parrying been so crowded out of life that the senses with which we could have grasped them are atrophied. To say nothing of God.”

Das ist im Grunde der einzige Mut, den man von uns verlangt: mutig zu sein zu dem Seltsamsten, Wunderlichsten und Unaufklärbarsten, das uns begegnen kann. Daß die Menschen in diesem Sinne feige waren, hat dem Leben unendlichen Schaden getan; die Erlebnisse, die man «Erscheinungen» nennt, die ganze sogenannte «Geisterwelt», der Tod, alle diese uns so anverwandten Dinge, sind durch die tägliche Abwehr aus dem Leben so sehr hinausgedrängt worden, daß die Sinne, mit denen wir sie fassen könnten, verkümmert sind. Von Gott gar nicht zu reden.

— Rilke

17 April 2014


Pain cannot contrive for you
Humility beyond your own,
Stripped of your body to the bone.
Passion will not phrase anew
A fabric more than skeletal
To veil the fabric of your skull

Fire and anger let you rest;
The wind comes where your lips are mute,
Blowing a labyrinthine flute
Out of the caverns of your breast
Fire and agony depart
From fallen ashes of a heart.

This is the kingdom that you find
When the brave, empty eyeholes stare
Impartially against the air;
A little universe defined
By infinite white ribs for bars
Against the struggle of the stars.

This is the power that you hold
Over the worlds of splintered sand:
Your crystal framework of a hand
Can crumple space in hollow cold,
And your small fingers roll
The seven heavens in a scroll.

This is the glory that you have:
A broad sun standing overhead
To shape a halo for your head;
Skies wheel and laugh above a grave
To worship, in the fields of breath,
Inviolable, lovely death.

Symbols for the celebrant
Are your sharp and silver feet,
Syllables he shall repeat;
So your light bones lie aslant
The mystical and sacred sun—
Infinity in skeleton.

— Joy Davidman, born this day in 1915

18 April 2014

Easter Exultant

Shake out your qualms.
Shake up your dreams.
Deepen your roots.
Extend your branches.
Trust deep water
and head for the open,
even if your vision
shipwrecks you.
Quit your addiction
to sneer and complain.
Open a lookout.
Dance on a brink.
Run with your wildfire.
You are closer to glory
leaping an abyss
than upholstering a rut.
Not dawdling.

Not doubting.
Intrepid all the way
Walk toward clarity.
At every crossroad
Be prepared
to bump into wonder.
Only love prevails.
En route to disaster
insist on canticles.
Lift your ineffable
out of the mundane.
Nothing perishes;
nothing survives;
everything transforms!
Honeymoon with Big Joy!

~ James Broughton

19 April 2014

Common sense about preparing for death

If all we know of mind is the aspect of mind that dissolves when we die, we will be left with no idea of what continues, no knowledge of the new dimension of the deeper reality of the nature of mind.  So it is vital for us all to familiarize ourselves with the nature of mind while we are still alive.  Only then will we be prepared for the time when it reveals itself spontaneously and powerfully at the moment of death; be able to recognize it “as naturally,” the teachings say, “as a child running into its mother’s lap”.

— Sogyal Rinpoche, from the Daily Rigpa

She said I know what it’s like to be dead.

20 April 2014

Bet you didn’t know plants could do this

This is a vine that is so attractive a food source for insects that it doesn’t want to be recognized. So it makes leaves that look exactly like whatever tree it’s climbing on.   Sometimes the same plant, from the same roots, can cross over between trees, and the leaves sense where they are (!) and grow the same size and shape as the tree that presents the background.

“Native to Chile and Argentina, B. trifoliolata is the first plant shown to imitate several hosts. It is a rare quality—known as a mimetic polymorphism—that was previously observed only in butterflies, according to this study, published today in Current Biology.  When the vine climbs onto a tree’s branches, its versatile leaves (inset) can change their size, shape, color, orientation, and even the vein patterns to match the surrounding foliage (middle panel; the red arrow points to the vine, while the blue arrow indicates the host plant). If the vine crosses over to a second tree, it changes, even if the new host leaves are 10 times bigger with a contrasting shape (right panel). The deceit serves as a defense against plant-eating herbivores like weevils and leaf beetles, according the researchers. They compared the charlatan leaves hanging on branches with the leaves on vines still crawling on the forest floor in search of a tree or scaling leafless trunks. Herbivory was 33% and 100% worse for the vines on the ground and on tree trunks, respectively. It is unclear how B. trifoliolata vines discern the identity of individual trees and shape-shift accordingly. The vines could read cues hidden in odors, or chemicals secreted by trees or microbes may transport gene-activating signals between the fraud and the host, the researchers say.”

— Read more from Science Magazine ‘Science Shot’

21 April 2014

Earth Day

O vast Rondure, swimming in space,
Cover'd all over with visible power and beauty,
Alternate light and day and the teeming spiritual darkness,
Unspeakable high processions of sun and moon and countless stars above,
Below, the manifold grass and waters, animals, mountains, trees,
With inscrutable purpose, some hidden prophetic intention,
Now first it seems my thought begins to span thee.

— Walt Whitman

Listen to Vaughan Williams’s setting of these words from his Sea Symphony.

22 April 2014

The Mouse that Roared

Today the tiny republic of Marshall Islands filed a lawsuit in international court to require that all nuclear-armed nations give up their nuclear arsenals. A separate suit is being brought against the USA in an American Federal District Court.

All nine defendant nations are signers of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treat, which states (Article VI in its entirety):

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

‘This was the grand bargain that convinced many non-nuclear weapon states to sign the treaty and agree not to develop nuclear weapons of their own.  Forty-four years later, with no meaningful negotiations on the horizon and no end in sight to the “step-by-step” process heralded by the permanent five members of the UN Security Council (P5), the RMI has stepped in to change the discourse on nuclear disarmament.’
United for Peace and Justice

24 April 2014

The Unstoppable Walk for Political Reform

Lawrence Lessig talks about the change in American politics that 92% of Americans want, and how it might be achieved.

25 April 2014

Experiment on the Origin of Life

Markus Raiser of Cambridge University reports having observed fundamental processes of cellular metabolism arising spontaneously in a test tube. The particular reactions involve the conversion of sugars to phosphates that underpins a fundamental mechanism of energy metabolism. New Scientist article

It’s an interesting result, but it doesn’t tempt me to revise my view that the origin of life is a great mystery. This experiment is about a process of metabolism, not reproduction. Metabolism is the easy part.

Traditional Science tends to assume that of course there must have been some self-reproducing system of molecules that was simple enough to arise spontaneously under conditions prevailing in Earth’s first billion years, because…well, how else could life have arisen? But the truth is that we have no idea whether such a simple-enough self-reproducing chemical system exists, and we have never found one, and to the extent that we are able to judge such probabilities in the absence of examples, the probability of self-reproducing systems appearing spontaneously would seem to be vanishingly small. It’s fair to say we don’t understand the origin of life, and our conjectures lack substantiation.

26 April 2014

Dialog between Josh and Josh

Josh: What should I do now?

Josh: How should I know? Why are you asking me?

Well, it’s just that I want so much to do the right thing, but I don’t really trust any of the great moral systems of the world to tell me what the ‘right thing ’ is?

– So…why are you asking me?

I believe that we must all look within for guidance, learn to be our own guru.

– Then you’ve come to the right place.

Good, so tell me…what should I do?

– You’re doing it already.

Yes, but what next? What is your counsel about what I should be doing?

– Yes, I mean, you’ve done it. You’re doing fine.

Yes, I know I’ve come to the right place, asking for your counsel. But what is your counsel?

– …

Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again.

– Don’t be angry with me.

I’m not angry with you. I just want to hear, what’s the wisdom you have for me?

– Don’t be angry with me.

Please don’t play games with me. I just want to know what to do. Why won’t you tell me?

– You’re not listening.

Is this a test? Are you waiting to be sure you have my attention before you give me what I ask?

– Why must everything be a test?

You’re the one who set up the test.

– No, I’m not testing you. I’m trying to help you. I want you to be able to hear me and I don’t know how to be any clearer.

I’m listening. So, what’s the message?

– Don’t be angry with me. That’s the message.

But I asked you what to do, not how to feel. I don’t have any control over what I feel. But I can do as you direct. What should I do?

– I’m trying to teach you. It’s not your fault you don’t get it. It’s not my fault either. It’s just that this whole framework of what you ‘should’ do, of feeling virtuous if you do it and guilty if you don’t…it’s all cultural conditioning. I want to help liberate you from that. I want you to trust yourself, to allow your inner direction to come out without imposing this control and censorship over yourself. It’s not necessary. It’s not even helpful.

You mean, what I should be doing is to stop thinking in terms of what I should be doing?

– ...Very good, Josh.  I think you’re beginning to get the idea.

— the Mitteldorf collaborative

27 April 2014

The Octave of Elephants

Bull elephants, when not weeping need, wander soberly alone.
Only females congregate and talk, in a seismic baritone:

Dawn and sundown we honour you, Jehovah Brahm,
who allow us to intone our ground bass in towering calm.

Inside the itchy fur of life is the sonorous planet Stone
which we hear ad speak through, depending our flugelhorn.

Winds barrel, waves shunt shore, earths moans in ever-construction
being hurried up the sky, against weight, by endless suction.

We are two species, male and female. Bulls run to our call.
We converse. They weep, and announce, but rarely talk at all.

As presence resembles everything, our bulls reflect its solitude
and we, suckling, blaring, hotly loving, reflect its motherhood.

Burnt-maize-smelling Death, who brings the collapse-sound bum-bum,
has embryos of us on its free limbs: four legs and a thumb.

From dusting our newborn with puffs, we assume a boggling pool
into our heads, to re-silver each other’s wrinkles and be cool.

— From Translations from the Natural World by Les Murray

28 April 2014

The Ubuntu Party Platform

We have all been led to believe that money is absolutely necessary for our survival and that money makes the world go around, and that without money humanity would go back to the dark ages.

Well, nothing can be further from the truth – because money does nothing… people do everything. People plant the seeds, grow the food, build the bridges, develop the technology, find cures for diseases, build the rockets, create breath-taking works of art and play music that reduces us to tears. Only people have the capacity for compassion and infinite love for each other. Money cannot do this.

In fact, it is money that stands between people achieving their dreams – it is money that constantly prevents people from doing all of these things that they so eagerly want to do. Money is the hurdle to all human progress, because there never seems to be enough of it. WHY? Because the supply of money is not in the hands of the people or the government of the people – it is in the hands of private, multinational corporations, called banks.

The Ubuntu party aims to take over South Africa with a radical program that puts people ahead of corporations.

Competition is a crime. –John D Rockefeller

29 April 2014


To experience the fear, deep, emotionally-shattering fear, and to know it for what it is, to know the part of myself that it cannot disturb, cannot touch.


30 April 2014


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