May Day

“In the conditions of the proletariat, those of old society at large are already virtually swamped.  The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family-relations; modern industrial labor, modern subjection to capital, the same in England as in France, in America as in Germany, has stripped him of every trace of national character.  Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests.  All the preceding classes that got the upper hand, sought to fortify their already acquired status by subjecting society at large to their conditions of appropriation.  The proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation.  They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify; their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property.  All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities.  The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.  The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole super-incumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.”

— Karl Marx (quoted by Bertrand Russell)

1 May 2014


Musical improvisation is a way to know what is going on inside myself. I discover moods I didn’t know I had.  It requires letting go of self-consciousness and the inner critic, allowing the fingers to play whatever they are inclined to play.  For me, it is one of the best ways to be alive in the moment.

This week, I re-discovered piano improv through a brief presentation by Amir Khosrowpour.

“When I first found myself improvising, I felt with great excitement that I was on to something, a kind of spiritual connectedness that went far beyond the scope of music-making. At the same time, improvisation extended the scope and relevance of music-making until the artificial boundary between art and life disintegrated. I had found a freedom that was both exhilarating and exacting. Looking into the moment of improvisation, I was uncovering patterns related to every kind of creativity; uncovering clues as well to living a life that is self-creating, self-organizing, and authentic. I came to see improvisation as the master key to creativity.”

Stephen Nachmanovitch

2 May 2014

We are like people eating menus instead of dinners.

Making plans for the future is of use only to people who are capable of living completely in the present.

Alan Watts

The most dangerous risk of all is the risk of spending your life not doing what you want
on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.

3 May 2014

I’ve never had a transformative mystical experience.

If I did have a large, deep and transformative mystical experience, I know what it would be like.  It would be an experience of profound trust.  I would trust in myself, and my instincts, that I don’t have to impose discipline or hem myself in with rules.  I would know that I can trust myself to do the wise thing, far better than any rule system could achieve.  I would trust the person or persons I’m with to think about me well, to know me and to care about me with whole heart, nay to have an interest and a presence in the world that is not distinguishable from my own.  I would trust the world and the way the world is put together, particles and cosmos and life, to create for me an open-ended future unconstrained by the fate of my physical body.


4 May 2014

Guilt, blame, responsibility, crime and punishment

Radiolab on Sunday had an episode about the culture and assumptions of our criminal justice system, about guilt, blame and redemption.

Two themes that emerged brilliantly from their very human stories

  • There is no line to be drawn between that which is freely chosen and that which is programmed irresistibly into the biochemistry of the brain.
  • Even people who do heinous things have a soft underside, an ability to love and be loved, and are capable of changing utterly given a caring and supportive social environment.

Listen here.

5 May 2014

Aging breakthroughs

Sunday, journal articles came out from labs at Harvard and UCSF that documented the rejuvenating effects of proteins derived from the blood. In particular, one called GDF11 “is naturally found in much higher concentration in young mice than in older mice, and raising its levels in the older mice has improved the function of every organ system thus far studied.” [Doug Melton of Harvard, quoted in Science Daily].

The implication is that a small number of such blood factors might be sufficient to signal our bodies to become younger. More at my ScienceBlog page.

6 May 2014

Even while waiting in line…

“it is, I say, a very glorious truth, that even in what are called the waste minutes of our time, like those of expectation, the soul may soar and range, as in some of our dreams which are brief as a broken rainbow in duration, yet seem to comprise a long history of terror or joy. And again, each moment may be a beginning of a new spiritual energy.”

— George Eliot

7 May 2014

Google homes in on the self-driving car

“We’ve improved our software so it can detect hundreds of distinct objects simultaneously — pedestrians, buses, a stop sign held up by a crossing guard, or a cyclist making gestures that indicate a possible turn.  A self-driving vehicle can pay attention to all of these things in a way that a human physically can’t — and it never gets tired or distracted.”

— Read more at Kurzweil AI

Volvo, too, has been investing in the technology.

The potential is huge, not just for reducing accidents and providing access to transportation for people who are blind or disabled or epileptic or intoxicated, but also for coordinating road travel with internet-based meta-programs that eliminate traffic jams and reduce the need for traffic lights.  My concern is that the software will be written with a consistent choice of safety over speed, and sooner or later someone will sell a version with a slider-bar that the driver can use to select his preferred compromise level between safety and speed. —JJM

8 May 2014

Multi-valued truth table

There is this common to Buddhist scripture and modern mathematics: in addition to true and false, there are the two other possibilities, both true and false and neither true nor false.

As the Buddha may or may not have said (or both, or neither): ‘There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth: not going all the way, and not starting.’

— read more from Graham Priest in Aeon Magazine

9 May 2014

Is death the end of consciousness?

Here is a debate conducted earlier this week.

I love both sides of this debate. I don’t pretend I know the answer.

Raymond Moody on the ‘yea’ side did a good job of pointing out that our experience of consciousness is nowhere to be found in the nerve firings of the brain, and that any statement that ‘consciousness is an epiphenomenon of neuroanatomy’, or (equivalently) ‘the mind is what the brain does’ is a statement from metaphysics, for which there is and can be no evidence in support.

On the ‘nay’ side, Sean Carroll stated repeatedly that ‘we would have to be willing to radically alter our fundamental understanding of physics on the basis of almost no evidence.’ This is a bit disingenuous, and there was no one on the other side with a knowledge of physics sufficient to challenge Sean. So I will attempt it here…

There is a great deal of evidence for people knowing things for which there is no conceivable physical channel, and yet the science of parapsychology has been suppressed and marginalized because established scientists refuse to publish it, or even to look at the data, on the grounds that ‘we know as a matter of theory that this can’t be right.’

Sean said about the (absence of) relationship between quantum physics and consciousness that the argument boils down to ‘Quantum mechanics is strange and we don’t understand it; consciousness is strange and we don’t understand it. Maybe they’re related.’

If there were a physicist on the other side of the debate, he might have said that quantum entanglement demands long-range connections among electrons on the grounds that they are identical; that these connections are routinely ignored in quantum calculations for simplicity’s sake; that there are already indications that life is evolved to take advantage of quantum entanglement in ways that human experiments have yet to figure out how to do.


10 May 2014

fear and danger

Fear comes in many guises, from diffidence and embarrassment at the mild end, to social and financial insecurity to terror of the Great Void at the other extreme.

Much of the intention I have devoted to personal growth in the last half century has been directed toward dissolution of fear.

The effect has been to make me less inhibited, more spontaneous, less anxious, more peaceful…

and I also make more mistakes. There are things that I should have been more concerned about that I ignored until too late.

Still, I think it has been a good bargain. Most of the things that we are afraid of never come to pass. Most of the true tragedies that befall us were not the ones that we were concerned about. My hope is that a mind calm and peaceful is a better judge of the most effective places in which to direct my anticipatory efforts and preventive maintenance.

— Josh Mitteldorf

11 May 2014

Don Martin
click to enlarge

Habituation to the miraculous

The sciences are fascinating, but they have a pedestrianizing and soporific effect. They make weirdness piled on improbability poured over the incomprehensible seem as ordinary as breakfast. How did the stars get there? Well, there was the Big Bang. We know because the 4K background radiation. But…why the Big Bang? Well, you see, the question has no meaning within physics, so let’s talk about the state of the universe 10-45 seconds after the Bang, and then about the formation of electrons. All right, but why electrons? Why not cream cheese? Well, you see, it’s just the nature of Big Bangs...

Yes, the universe has its appeal. I have never lived in a place more eerily beautiful and complexly implausible. Perhaps we really are just pond scum on a minor planet in the middle of everywhere. Or maybe something is going on that is way above our pay grade. But between the sciences that describe much and explain nothing, and religious faiths that seem exercises in wish fulfillment…What’s on the movie channel?

Fred Reed

12 May 2014


But only to be memories of spiritual gate
Letting us feel the difference from the real
Are not limits the sooth to formulate
Theories thereof, simply our ruler to feel?
Basques of statuettes of Eruptions long ago,
Of power in symmetry, marvel of thought
The crafts attempt, showing rare aspiration
The museums of the ancient fine stones
For bowels and cups, found Historians
Sacred adorations, the numismatist hath shown
But only to be memories of spiritual gate
Letting us feel, the difference from the real
Are not limits, the sooth to formulate
Theories thereof, simply our ruler to feel? 

— Samuel Greenberg (1893-1917)

Art is a limited human expression of a truth or divine reality, a kind of theory that we formulate in order to feel close to the divine. Isn’t the limitation of artistic expression, which allows us to sense our separation from an ungraspable reality, actually a memory of a spiritual gate to the divine?
Camille Martin

13 May 2014

“Could, for example, the Federal Reserve, the U.S. government’s banker, match Congress’s overseas aid contributions, up to a certain level, by printing money?”

For decades, we were told that the Federal government didn’t have enough money to address poverty or full employment seriously, at the same time that construction boondoggles and defense contract overruns were rampant. Then, in 2008, the world’s largest banks suffered huge losses, and blackmailed Congress into approving bailout subsidies in the trillions of dollars. The Fed was all to happy to just print this money and turn it over to the banks.

But wait a minute…If the Fed can print trillions of dollars for bank bailouts, tell me again why it was impossible to print trillions to end poverty?

Many of us have been asking that question for a long time. This week, our chorus is joined by

Business Week

14 May 2014

One of the saddest lessons of history is this:  If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle.  We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth.  The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken.  Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.

— Carl Sagan

I know plenty of people and I’m sure you do who have been taken in.
Too bad they are so unwilling to face truth.                               –JJM

15 May 2014

While we cry ourselves to sleep, gratitude waits patiently to console and reassure us; there is a landscape larger than the one we can see.

Sarah Ban Breathnach

16 May 2014

Poem (that’s what she called it)

The spirit
  likes to dress up like this:
    ten fingers,
      ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest
  at night
    in the black branches,
      in the morning

in the blue branches
  of the world.
    It could float, of course,
      but would rather

plumb rough matter.
  Airy and shapeless thing,
   it needs
      the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,
  the oceanic fluids;
   it needs the body's world,

and imagination
  and the dark hug of time,
      and tangibility,

to be understood,
  to be more than pure light
    that burns
      where no one is --

so it enters us --
  in the morning
    shines from brute comfort
      like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
  lights up the deep and wondrous
    drownings of the body
      like a star.

— Mary Oliver

17 May 2014

Why am I here?

Humanity, having achieved dominance over the Natural World, is busily murdering the mother that gives us milk. Gaia is bursting at the seams with our overwrought ambitions, and America is leading the world into a culture that says “me, Me ME!” oblivious to the collective consequences of our self-absorption.

Ironically – tragically – narcissism is not even fun. So deeply do we miss our connection to each other, to community and to Nature that we fall to fidgeting and distraction, even as we try to pleasure ourselves.

This is a crisis not just for humankind but for the only planet we know that has life on it. We are in the midst of the sixth and most rapid mass extinction in the history of the biosphere.  I must assume (else why live?) that humanity will be reborn into a collective consciousness, in which global stewardship will be as central to the organization of our daily lives as the pull of diversion and entertainment is presently.  I must assume that the reason for my sojourn into humanhood is to promote and participate in this rebirth.

— Josh Mitteldorf

18 May 2014


The intermediate aspirant starts to get a clue that the end of suffering is identical with the end of self, but struggles with the elements of self that he is willing to discard and the elements of his personal life he needs to have control over and be the enjoyer of. Failure is still the only way through, but we secretly negotiate with God that it be some other way…

Many folks quote the Buddha (a world-renown trusted source of spiritual solutions) as pointing to craving and aversion or desire as the cause of all this suffering, but that is clearly bullshit…

Let suffering be suffering and give the miracle of your attention and curiosity and novelty and joy to the bliss field at hand. Find a way and relinquish your habit of self-condemning discursive rumination to the radiant gift of being.

Night Sky Sangha

19 May 2014


I’ve been taking an on-line Coursera in epigenetics. Here’s something I learned that I can’t get over.

I’ll try to explain why, but it takes a bit of biochemistry to get into it. The thing that amazes me is how smart a single molecule can be. The molecule called DNMT-1 is probably no smarter than a lot of other proteins, but it’s the one I’ve learned about and thought about. What it does would require thousands of lines of computer programing to replicate. And it’s all in one molecule.

DNA is the same from cell to cell, and what makes the cell able to do a particular job is that some genes are turned on and others turned off. One way to turn a gene off is to ‘decorate’ it with methyl groups.

Let’s say a liver cell is dividing to make two liver cells. Each daughter cell inherits the information about which genes are permanently turned off with methylation.

DNMT-1 is “DNA Methyl Transferase #1”. In the process of the cell dividing, the DNA copies itself by unwinding the double helix, and each strand makes itself a new strand. At that point, one strand is appropriately methylated to turn off selected genes, and the other strand, being newly formed, is not. So what DNMT-1 does is to crawl along the length of the DNA molecule and when it comes to a place where it “sees” methyls on one side and not the other, it grabs a methyl group out of the chemical environment and slaps it onto the opposite side.

A single molecule is smart enough to slide alog the entire length of the chromosome, to look left, look right, and methylate where appropriate.

20 May 2014

The way of the Creative works through change and transformation, so that each thing receives its true nature and destiny and comes into permanent accord with the Great Harmony: this is what furthers and what perseveres.

Alexander Pope, born this day in 1688

21 May 2014

The Visionary

SILENT is the house: all are laid asleep:
One alone looks out o’er the snow-wreaths deep,
Watching every cloud, dreading every breeze
That whirls the wildering drift, and bends the groaning trees.

Cheerful is the hearth, soft the matted floor;
Not one shivering gust creeps through pane or door;
The little lamp burns straight, its rays shoot strong and far:
I trim it well, to be the wanderer’s guiding-star.

Frown, my haughty sire! chide, my angry dame!
Set your slaves to spy; threaten me with shame:
But neither sire nor dame nor prying serf shall know,
What angel nightly tracks that waste of frozen snow.

What I love shall come like visitant of air,
Safe in secret power from lurking human snare;
What loves me, no word of mine shall e’er betray,
Though for faith unstained my life must forfeit pay.

Burn, then, little lamp; glimmer straight and clear —
Hush! a rustling wing stirs, methinks, the air:
He for whom I wait, thus ever comes to me;
Strange Power! I trust thy might; trust thou my constancy.

— Emily Brontë (1819-1848)

22 May 2014

A time for persistence, a time for change

She fumbled with words for a moment...
“I’ve sticking… I’ve been sticking with… I’ve been stuck with my guns long enough.”

— Marsha Saxton, born this day in 1952

23 May 2014

The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world — we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.

— Joanna Macy

24 May 2014

John Perkins lives

When I was still quite small, 9 or 10 years old at most, I remember wondering how it was that the "made in Japan"* toys in the dime store were so cheap. I don’t remember asking adults about it - if I did, I never got a satisfactory answer. How did it come about that the world could be organized in such a way that everyone I knew lived in a brick house and had plenty to eat, while children in Asia and Africa lived in destitution? (I didn’t know the word, but I had the idea.)

I’ve learned pieces of the answers to these questions over the years, but yesterday evening, a central piece of the puzzle fell into place as I watched Apologies of an Economic Hit-Man. I had known that our CIA had been responsible for assassinating populist leaders in Iran, Chile and Congo, among other places. What I hadn’t realized was that these who were killed were the few leaders who were principled enough to resist the powerful bribes and threats of our hit-men. For deniability, the hit-men operate from a base as contractors or corporate consultants, but their pay comes from the CIA. They have overthrown every democratically-elected populist leader who stood in the way of American corporate profits.

How is this an “inspiration”? Perkins also tells us the good news: First, John Perkins is still alive. Had he revealed these things as recently as 10 years ago, he would have been disappeared. More importantly, the CIA is losing its grip, and there are democratically-elected governments beginning to thrive in Latin America. And most promising: The truth is coming out. These operations cannot continue if they are in the open.

The US is printing more and more dollars to keep everyone fat and happy. The countries holding the most dollars are the countries that actually manufacture things, or have major resources to sell. These countries are getting together to overthrow the almighty dollar and replace it with an international currency. The game will be over, and billions of people around the world will no lonner be in the economic clutches of the US.

“The majority of people in the United States have no idea that we are living off the benefits of a clandestine empire.” — John Perkins

“I’m very aware that my grandson cannot possibly hope to inherit a sustainable, peaceful, socially just world unless every child today growing up in Ethiopia, in Indonesia, Bolivia, in Palestine and Israel also has that expectation. Here we are at an amazing time in history...”

* Yes, I grew up before toys were made in China.

25 May 2014

Pharrell Williams is happy

Watch and listen

26 May 2014

carpe diem

One of the illusion is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive hour. Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. No man has learned anything rightly until he knows that every day is Doomsday.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson celebrated his 211th birthday this week

28 May 2014

Computer power and people power

Facebook and Google seem very powerful, but they live about a week from total ruin all the time. They know the cost of leaving social networks individually is high, but en masse, becomes next to nothing. Windows could be replaced with something better written. The US government would fall to a general revolt in a matter of days. It wouldn’t take a total defection or a general revolt to change everything, because corporations and governments would rather bend to demands than die. These entities do everything they can get away with — but we’ve forgotten that we’re the ones that are letting them get away with things.

Computers don’t serve the needs of both privacy and coordination not because it’s somehow mathematically impossible. There are plenty of schemes that could federate or safely encrypt our data, plenty of ways we could regain privacy and make our computers work better by default. It isn’t happening now because we haven’t demanded that it should, not because no one is clever enough to make that happen.

So yes, the geeks and the executives and the agents and the military have fucked the world. But in the end, it’s the job of the people, working together, to unfuck it.

Quinn Norton

27 May 2014

Profile in Courage

John F Kennedy was president when I came of age, politically. All right, so I was 11 the year he was elected. Still, I knew enough to admire his idealism, and sensed a different sort of courage, a different range of vision from Dwight Eisenhower, who had my support four years earlier, when I was 7. All right, so I was precocious.

I lived through the shock of his assassination, and was puzzled by the crazy events of that week, in particular the murder of Oswald while in police custody, with TV cameras looking on. But at 14, I was not equipped to question the reality presented to me by parents, teachers and newspapers.

Only decades later did I learn to distinguish Kennedy’s courage in office from his Democratic successors, who were elected on similar platforms, but retreated into political camouflage once in office.

I learned that the Bay of Pigs plot was conceived to force JFK to send troops into Cuba during his first week in office, and that he bravely said “No”. I learned that during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, he was surrounded by military advisors who thought that tens of millions of deaths in a nuclear war would be a small price to pay for defeating Soviet communism once and for all, and Kennedy stood alone in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and said “No”. I learned that Kennedy learned in office that the CIA was operating as a rogue organization and tried to dismember it, because he knew he could not rein it in.

I understood all too well why Kennedy died, and why we have waited half a century for a president willing to risk assassination by opposing the shadowy forces in Washington that have held the Federal government hostage.

“The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy.”

29 May 2014

Let all be now forgiven, and forgive

Now bury with the dead years conflicts dead
And with fresh days let all begin anew.
Why longer amid shrivelled leaf-drifts tread,
When buds are swelling, flower-sheaths peeping through?
Seen through the vista of the vanished years,
How trivial seem the struggle and the crown,
How vain past feuds, when reconciling tears
Course down the channel worn by vanished frown.
How few mean half the bitterness they speak!
Words more than feelings keep us still apart,
And, in the heat of passion or of pique,
The tongue is far more cruel than the heart.
Since love alone makes it worth while to live,
Let all be now forgiven, and forgive.

— Alfred Austin, born this day in 1835

30 May 2014

Sing a joyous song

Listen to Dvorak’s setting of Psalm 149

31 May 2014

Queen of Hearts — Archive of past entries. Bullfrog Design