Memento exultate

Though eager gusts avail, but yet
This tight-furled sail I don’t deploy;
As lo! How often I forget—
And fail to practice joy.

— Josh Mitteldorf

1 June 2014

Dolphins lead rescuers to drowning girl

...suddenly, one individual changed direction heading out toward deeper water. A minute later, the rest of the school turned to follow. We were so accustomed to tracking these coastal metropolitan dolphins back and forth within a few hundred meters of the beach, that seeing them abruptly leave a foraging ground and change direction came as a surprise to the research team. I decided to follow them.

“Someone’s in the water!” yelled my assistant, standing up and pointing at the seemingly lifeless body of a girl.

[The young woman received emergency medical care, and recovered fully.]

There are many anecdotal accounts of dolphins saving humans from death and disaster, either by guiding them to shore, fending off sharks or helping them to remain afloat until help arrives.

Nat Geo article

Of course, I find it heartwarming that dolphins care enough about humans to help with a rescue (especially since humans have not been so consistently kind to dolphins). But there is a mystery here that may lead to some new and unknown connection between physics and biology. How did the dolphins know what they knew? Was there another dolphin out by the drowning girl who signalled with beeps and whistles with a message that drew the pod out to join him? Or do dolphins have means of communication that are do not rely on sound, which human scientists do not yet understand? –JJM

2 June 2014


Peace is not just the opposite of war or the time between wars.
Peace is the law of human life.
Peace is when we treat nature well, and justice rules among all the people and all the nations.

— Audrey Shenandoah, Onandaga (Iroquois)

3 June 2014

Hunter-gatherers—and presumably all our ancestors—lived as equals

Seek the richest family in a traditional camp of the Ju/'hoansi/!Kung people of the Kalahari Desert in Africa, and you will almost surely fail. There is no such thing. These hunter-gatherers traditionally moved periodically and had few possessions. What they had, they shared—food, weapons, property, even territory. The poorest looking hut in a camp likely belonged to the leader, explains anthropologist Richard Lee, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto in Canada, because leaders try to avoid looking superior.

Humility, humor, and strict protocols about distributing meat helped keep people on an even footing...

Cooperation is self-reinforcing: Sharing the spoils promotes further cooperation and self-sacrifice (Science, 4 September 2009, p. 1196). “Inequality may be the enemy of cooperation,” [Samuel] Bowles says.

— Elizabeth Pennisi, writing in Science Magazine

4 June 2014


In Spent, University of New Mexico evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller contends that marketing—the jet fuel of unrestrained consumerism—“is the most dominant force in human culture,” and thus the most powerful shaper of life on Earth.

…it is possible to live lives that are more sustainable, more sane, and more satisfying.

— from a Seed Magazine review of the book by Geoffrey Miller.

5 June 2014

What kind of impoverishment is this to withhold emotion, to restrain our passionate nature in the face of a generous life just to appease our fears? A man or woman whose mind reins in the heart when the body sings desperately for connection can only expect more isolation and greater ecological disease. Our lack of intimacy with each other is in direct proportion to our lack of intimacy with the land. We have taken our love inside and abandoned the wild.

Terry Tempest Williams

6 June 2014

George Szell, musical prodigy

In his teens, George Szell composed music of subtlety, complexity, beauty and originality.

Then he decided to be exclusively a conductor, and never looked back.

Listen to the last major piece he left to us, the Lyric Overture, Op 5, composed when he was 18.

George Szell was born this day in 1897.

7 June 2014

Missive from the edge of gratification

Expect miracles, but never any miracle in particular. Want what you want fervently, passionately, with all your might, but never imagine that getting it will make you happy.

— Josh Mitteldorf

8 June 2014

Lewontin’s religion is also mine

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.  It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.  Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

Richard Lewontin

In this review of Carl Sagan’s last book, Lewontin is refreshingly aware that science is but one system for understanding the world.   There is a scientific method and a scientific culture, which are distinguishable, and Lewontin is firmly committed to both.  Nevertheless, he understands and respects those who come from another culture, another methodology.

For me, the next step beyond Lewontin is to expand the scientific world-view; first to push science to the limit, and when we encounter paradox (as we do in quantum physics, in cosmology, and in evolutionary biology) to seek insights in a broader context than science. –JJM

9 June 2014

Tian An Men + 25

Twenty-five years ago this week, brave democracy activists in Beijing put their bodies on the line for the reforms that they knew would benefit their country. In the short term, they paid a heavy price; in the long term, the government is slowly opening, becoming freer and more responsive.

Chris Hedges writes about what we can learn from the Chinese experience, for those of us who realize that democracy is broken in America, and that we have no opportunity to vote for an end to war, or an end to domestic spying, or a single-payer healthcare system, or an end to fracking, or a large-scale transfer of funds from the military to education and infrastructure…

The most potent weapon in the hands of nonviolent rebels is fraternizing with and educating civil servants as well as the police and soldiers… If bonds of sympathy are established between protesters and some of the police and soldiers, the ruling elites are unsure whether they can trust the security apparatus to obey.  This engenders paralysis within the centers of power. In China the ruling Communist Party watched in dismay May 20 as the initial military assault to crush the protesters failed.  Thousands of people surrounded military vehicles. They spoke to the soldiers about the reasons for the protests.

Nonviolence requires deep reserves of physical and moral courage. State violence is defeated through the refusal to be afraid, even after violence is used by the state to stamp out protest…

10 June 2014

Children full of life

The Japanese know something about what children need from us, and it’s not more accountability or early standardized testing. Watch a master teacher in action.

Children Full of Life

11 June 2014

Kingsley on Friendship

“A blessed thing it is for any man or woman to have a friend, one human soul whom we can trust utterly, who knows the best and worst of us, and who loves us in spite of all our faults.”

Charles Kingsley, born this day in 1819

“It is only the great hearted who can be true friends. The mean and cowardly can never know what true friendship means.”

12 June 2014

What is a bagatelle?

In Renaissance music, a bagatelle was a light-weight piece of music, short and entertaining.

Beethoven’s called his last compositions for piano bagatelles, though they were deceptively deep and complex. The tradition stuck.

Listen to 6 Bagatelles for Wind Quintet by György Ligeti, born this day in 1965, and watch the Carion quintet dance and gesture as they make the music come alive visually.

13 June 2014

or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

It is not given to us to know the truth, but we might dedicate ourselves to unmasking the great falsehoods that bind and limit us.  Among these are mythologies that maintain a privileged social order, and widespread assumptions about what is politically or even physically possible.

— Josh Mitteldorf

15 June 2014

Staying sane in a suicidal culture

‘For me, the price of admission into that present was allowing my heart to break. But then I saw how despair transforms, in the face of overwhelming social and ecological crises, into clarity of vision, then into constructive, collaborative action.’

A veteran of the nuclear disarmament movement in the 1980s, Joanna Macy has been running a program she calls the work that reconnects, helping people to be more effective activists by being more aware and joyful individuals.

Read Dahr Jamail’s tribute and interview with Joanna Macy

The most radical thing any of us can do is to be fully present to what is happening in the world.

16 June 2014


Listen to (and watch) the opening of Petrouchka.

Igor Stravinsky was born this day in 1882

17 June 2014

what Buddhist meditation is all about

The goal of attention, or shamatha, practice is to become aware of awareness. Awareness is the basis, or what you might call the “support,” of the mind. It is steady and unchanging, like the pole to which the flag of ordinary consciousness is attached. When we recognize and become grounded in awareness, the “wind” of emotion may still blow. But instead of being carried away by the wind, we turn our attention inward, watching the shifts and changes with the intention of becoming familiar with that aspect of consciousness that recognizes Oh, this is what I’m feeling, this is what I’m thinking. As we do so, a bit of space opens up within us. With practice, that space—which is the mind’s natural clarity—begins to expand and settle.

— Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

18 June 2014

The house by the side of the road

THERE are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths
Where highways never ran—
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in my house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by—
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish - so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

— Sam Walter Foss, born this day in 1858

19 June 2014


Nothingness unseamed itself for me too.
It turned itself wrong side out.
How on earth did I end up here—
head to toe among the planets,
without a clue how I used not to be.

O you, encountered here and loved here,
I can only guess, my arm on yours,
how much vacancy on that side went to make us,
how much silence there for one lone cricket here,
how much nonmeadow for a single sprig of sorrel,
and sun after darknesses in a drop of dew
as repayment—for what boundless droughts?

Starry willy-nilly! Local in reverse!
Stretched out in curvatures, weights, roughnesses, and motions!
Time out from infinity for endless sky!
Relief from nonspace in a shivering birch tree’s shape!

Now or never wind will stir a cloud,
since wind is exactly what won’t blow there.
And a beetle hits the trail in a witness’s dark suit,
testifying to the long wait for a short life.

And it so happened that I’m here with you.
And I really see nothing
usual in that.

— Wisława Szymborska, tr Clare Cavanagh

20 June 2014


Listen to ‘Enchanted Summer’, by Sir Arnold Bax, for choir, 2 soprano soloists, and orchestra (1910)

Oh, gentle Moon, the voice of thy delight
Falls on me like thy clear and tender light
Soothing the seaman, borne the summer night,
    Through isles for ever calm;
Oh, gentle Moon, thy crystal accents pierce
    The caverns of my pride’s deep universe,
Charming the tiger joy


21 June 2014

Take 1.  As long as the global ecosystem is collapsing, my country’s democracy has been appropriated by fascists, and oppression is being enforced by violence in my name, it is a conceit for me to care for my own happiness.

Take 2.  Since there is nothing I can to prevent the global ecosystem collapsing, my country’s democracy being appropriated by fascists, and oppression enforced by violence in my name, I might as well attend to the wellbeing of my own soul.

Take 3.  Because the global ecosystem is collapsing, my country’s democracy has been appropriated by fascists, and oppression is being enforced by violence in my name, it is important for me to care for myself well, so I can be clear and effective in my work to change these things.

Take 4.  My own effectiveness in helping to avert collapse of the global ecosystem, restoring democracy to my country, and ending oppressive violence depends critically on my ability to feel satisfaction, and to experience joy, to share my joy and my gratitude with others.

— Josh Mitteldorf

22 June 2014

Robert Koehler on Restorative Justice

"While peace circles can be held for any reason, a peer jury, which is run by students trained in the process, is held to deal with a dispute or the commission of harm; it's an alternative to suspension or other form of traditional punishment, which never deals with underlying causes. Peer jury circles give all sides a chance to listen, a chance to apologize and a chance to forgive.

"Sometimes all that matters is the listening. In a recent post at the Illinois Balanced and Restorative Justice website, staff member Robert Spicer wrote of an incident at Fenger that could have blown up into headline-grabbing violence. One morning, two boys in the lunchroom were trying out a new kind of handshake, which another student took offense to. He challenged them, they felt disrespected -- and suddenly eight students were involved and ready to fight.

"School security guards broke it up and, later that day, all the participants were part of a peer jury circle. They could have been suspended, but the anger would have continued to smoulder and could easily have erupted into violence at some point, at school or in the neighborhood.

Instead, as Spicer wrote, "all the students, when they received the talking piece, agreed that the situation was a big misunderstanding. Some began to share stories about situations they were dealing with and others in the circle were able to relate by sharing their stories. . . .

"After the closing ceremony, each of the students shook hands and even hugged each other as they were preparing to leave my office. They did this without any adults prompting them to do this, which showed their sincerity. Once we concluded the circle, the adults decided to allow them to blow off some steam and play basketball. And the students who were the main ones in conflict were on the same team!"

"This is a glimpse at what it means to build lasting peace: to transform the volatility of hopelessness into deep and real connection between people. I visited Fenger recently and talked to five of the student peer jurors -- who have become ambassadors of peace in the classrooms and hallways -- and I will write more about this in future columns.

"We are family," said Ana, one of the peer jurors. "Right here. All these people are here for me. We understand -- we go through the same stuff."

Read Joan Brunwasser’s interview with Robert Koehler

23 June 2014

A Rainbow in Curved Air

Listen to the music of Terry Riley, born this day in 1935

24 June 2014

“In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.
The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.”

— George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) born this day in 1903

25 June 2014

Prose poem

When I heard he had entered the harbor, and circled the wharf for days, I expected the worst: shallow water, confusion, some accident to bring the young humpback to grief. Don't they depend on a compass lodged in the salt-flooded folds of the brain, some delicate musical mechanism to navigate their true course? How many ways, in our century's late iron hours, might we have led him to disaster?

That, in those days, was how I’d come to see the world: dark upon dark, any sense of spirit an embattled flame sparked against wind-driven rain till pain snuffed it out. I thought, This is what experience gives us, and I moved carefully through my life while I waited…

Enough, it wasn’t that way at all. The whale — exuberant, proud maybe, playful, like the early music of Beethoven — cruised the footings for smelts clustered near the pylons in mercury flocks. He (do I have the gender right?) would negotiate the rusty hulls of the Portuguese fishing boats — Holy Infant, Little Marie — with what could only be read as pleasure, coming close then diving, trailing on the surface big spreading circles until he’d breach, thrilling us with the release of pressured breath, and the bulk of his sleek young head — a wet black leather sofa already barnacled with ghostly lice — and his elegant and unlikely mouth, and the marvelous afterthought of the flukes, and the way his broad flippers resembled a pair of clownish gloves or puppet hands, looming greenish white beneath the bay’s clouded sheen.

When he had consumed his pleasure of the shimmering swarm, his pleasure, perhaps, in his own admired performance, he swam out the harbor mouth, into the Atlantic. And though grief has seemed to me itself a dim, salt suspension in which I’ve moved, blind thing, day by day, through the wreckage, barely aware of what I stumbled toward, even I couldn’t help but look at the way this immense figure graces the dark medium, and shines so: heaviness which is no burden to itself.

What did you think, that joy was some slight thing?

— Mark Doty

thanks once again to Joe Riley and Panhala

26 June 2014

On a Drop of Dew

See how the orient dew,
Shed from the bosom of the morn
  Into the blowing roses,
Yet careless of its mansion new,
For the clear region where ’twas born
  Round in itself incloses:
  And in its little globe’s extent,
Frames as it can its native element.
  How it the purple flow’r does slight,
  Scarce touching where it lies,
  But gazing back upon the skies,
    Shines with a mournful light,
    Like its own tear,
Because so long divided from the sphere.
  Restless it rolls and unsecure,
Trembling lest it grow impure,
  Till the warm sun pity its pain,
And to the skies exhale it back again.
  So the soul, that drop, that ray
Of the clear fountain of eternal day,
Could it within the human flow’r be seen,
    Remembering still its former height,
    Shuns the sweet leaves and blossoms green,
    And recollecting its own light,
Does, in its pure and circling thoughts, express
The greater heaven in an heaven less.

— Andrew Marvell (c 1660)

27 June 2014

Listen to Masse for the Virgin Mary, by Jean-Jacques Charpentier, born this day in 1734

28 June 2014


These words were written as a hymn of peace by Peter, Paul and Mary sung to the tune of the chorale from Sibelius’s Finlandia. The last verse was added by me for a peace vigil after 9/11.

This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
A song of Peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,
A song of Peace for their land and for mine.

When nations rage, and fears erupt coercive,
The drumbeats sound, invoking pious cause.
My neighbors rise, their stalwart hearts they offer,
The gavels drop, suspending rights and laws.
While others wield their swords with blind devotion,
For peace I’ll stand, my true and steadfast cause.

Listen to the St Paul Concert Chorale

29 June 2014

Who will save the world from the USA?

The way I see it, the US has become a rogue state, making the same mistake as Alexander the Great and Napoleon and Hitler, trying to establish an economic empire by using military intimidation. The good news is that this project is the brainchild of just a handful of neocons in America, and neither the American people nor (certainly) the rest of the world is behind it. The US has to be stopped, and the sooner the better, the more gently and firmly, the better.

There are two things that are going to save us from ourselves. One is that the rest of the world is organizing to resist US economic hegemony. This whole misguided project is being bankrolled with money printed at a breathtaking rate by our Federal Reserve, and once the world subjects the dollar to the discipline of a free-market exchange rate, the Project for a New American Century will be kaput. The second thing that will save us is the truth. There are whistleblowers within the US intelligence community, good people who enlisted in government to do good things, who are now disillusioned and frightened, and some of them are brave enough to tell the story. The Obama Administration is so desperate to keep the truth bottled up that these good souls are being exiled and jailed, and some have been murdered.

Read here about what Robert David Steele has to tell us from his 18 years in the CIA and 20 years as a private contractor to the CIA.

“We are at the end of an era in which lies can be used to steal from the public and the commons. We are at the beginning of an era in which truth in public service can restore us all to a state of grace.”

— The quote is from Steele. The opinions are of your host, JJM

30 June 2014

Queen of Hearts — Archive of past entries. Bullfrog Design