“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
— Carl Jung
1 July 2014
I imagine my inner working
will be more playful then than now,
less attention to survival paid,
finally getting to the sparkling black hole of day,
a moment of arrival: of at-once knowing and
I was told by a monk who’d kept silence for years
of when his inner dialog disappeared,
when his chattering selves came to accord
and all that buzzing skull talk
finished, fading, trailed off like
the tail of a fifties forty-five
spiral to infinity as if an engineer
were dialing down the gain,
spinning duality to mum mutuality:
the end of fire and rain.
May we hug trees
While dancing in nude ecstasy
In the dripple drappling reign of the mind's awakening
sparked by the thunderous pouring rain.
May we even experience in our earthly reign
The fullness of our human pain.
Just let us be aware and alive
In order to transcend strife in order to strive
For a loving embrace of this warring world
Ending forever a life embracing a deafening deadly strife.
Tribute to patriots
An honor roll of whistleblowers from within the American intelligence community
Let us celebrate today the courage of men and women in our intelligence service who have
decided that their allegiance is to the Constitution and to the American People, rather than to
their superiors. We know who has taken over our country and how they have done it because these
whistleblowers have taken great personal risks to tell us what they know. We have heard much about
Ed Snowden in the last year, and Chelsea Manning in the years before that. There will be more
in the future. Here are some less-known CIA whistleblowers of the last 10 years:
Colleen Rowley told us some of what the Bush Administration knew about 9/11 before the attack, and what they knew about Iraq before the invasion. Ray McGovern has been willing to be arrested at peace protests, and has publicly exposed lies about the war in Iraq. Robert David Steele has advocated for truth and trust since retiring from the CIA and a CIA private contractor. Sibel Edmonds was a translator for the CIA in Turkey and the Middle East, and told what she knew about the CIA’s suspicious behavior before 9/11. Mike Springman worked in the US Embassy and denied visas to men who he thought had no legitimate business in the US. The CIA overrode his judgment and issued visas, then publicly accused them of terrorism once they were here. John Perkins wrote about CIA assassinations of democratically-elected populists in Ecuador, Panama and elsewhere. William Plumlee was a CIA agent at the time of the JFK murder, and tells us some of what the CIA knew about it before it happened. Thomas Drake worked for NSA, and broke ranks to reveal to the Americn public that there was a huge computer complex in Utah, recording our every phone conversation and email, without ‘probable cause’ or even a hint of suspicion. He was prosecuted for ‘espionage’.
As far back as 2002, William Binney told Congress that NSA was illegally spying on Americans. Do you remember that the NYTimes refused to cover this story before the 2004 election, and was called to task for it a year later? Binney was raided by FBI only after Obama came into office. J Kirk Wiebe told us some of what the NSA knew about 9/11 before it happened, and accused NSA of spying on Americans. After Obama came into office, he was raided by the FBI.
In 2001, Susan Lindauer was an under-cover CIA agent transmitting messages to the Iraqi government, including warnings about impending airplane hijackings and attacks on the World Trade Center. Yes, the messages were from the White House, with foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. When she tried to testify before Congress about this, she was jailed without charge. John Kiriakou was a veteran CIA agent who disclosed to the public during the Bush administration the CIA’s use of torture, including waterboarding. He is now in jail on trumped-up drug charges.
“It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government.” — Thomas Paine
4 July 2014
As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world—that is the myth of the “atomic age”—as in being able to remake ourselves.
5 July 2014
You keep thinking the future is going to be like the past. The future is going to be nothing like the past.
Even your expectation that the future is going to be like the past worked in the past, but it won’t work in the future.
— Josh Mitteldorf
6 July 2014
Wisdom of Hypatia
“Happy, thrice happy! they who once have dared, even though breathless, blinded with tears of awful joy,
struck down upon their knees in utter helplessness, as they feel themselves but dead leaves in the wind
which sweeps the universe—happy they who have dared to gaze, if but for an instant, on the terror of that glorious pageant;
who have not, like the young Astyanax, clung shrieking to the breast of mother Nature, scared by the heaven-wide flash of Hector’s arms,
and the glitter of his rainbow crest! Happy, thrice happy,! even though their eyeballs, blasted by excess of light,
wither to ashes in their sockets!—Were it not a noble end to have seen Zeus, and die like Semele,
burnt up by his glory? Happy, thrice happy! though their mind reel from the divine intoxication,
and the hogs of Circe call them henceforth madmen and enthusiasts.
Enthusiasts they are; for Deity is in them, and they in It. For the time, this burden of individuality vanishes,
and recognising themselves as portions of the universal Soul, they rise upward, through and beyond that Reason
from whence the soul proceeds, to the fount of all—the ineffable and Supreme One—and seeing It,
become by that act portions of Its essence.”
“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”
9 July 2014
May human beings and other people learn to live in harmony with nature.
10 July 2014
Renascence, condensed for modern readers
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.
Over these things I could not see:
These were the things that bounded me;
And I could touch them with my hand,
Almost, I thought, from where I stand.
And all at once things seemed so small
My breath came short, and scarce at all.
The sky, I said, must somewhere stop,
And—sure enough!—I see the top!
And reaching up my hand to try,
I screamed to feel it touch the sky.
I screamed, and—lo!—Infinity
Came down and settled over me,
Forced back my scream into my chest,
Bent back my arm upon my breast,
And, pressing of the Undefined
The definition on my mind,
Held up before my eyes a glass
Through which my shrinking sight did pass
Until it seemed I must behold
Immensity made manifold;
I saw and heard and knew at last
The How and Why of all things, past,
And present, and forevermore.
The Universe, cleft to the core.
All sin was of my sinning, all
Atoning mine, and mine the gall
Of all regret. Mine was the weight
Of every brooded wrong, the hate
That stood behind each envious thrust,
Mine every greed, mine every lust.
And all the while for every grief,
Each suffering, I craved relief
With individual desire,—
Craved all in vain! And felt fierce fire
About a thousand people crawl;
Perished with each,—then mourned for all!
A man was starving in Capri;
He moved his eyes and looked at me;
I felt his gaze, I heard his moan,
And knew his hunger as my own.
A thousand screams the heavens smote;
And every scream tore through my throat.
All suffering mine, and mine its rod;
Mine, pity like the pity of God.
Ah, awful weight! Infinity
Pressed down upon the finite Me!
And so beneath the weight lay I
Full six feet under ground did die,
And sank no more,—there is no weight
Can follow here, however great.
From off my breast I felt it roll,
And as it went my tortured soul
Burst forth and fled in such a gust
That all about me swirled the dust.
And all at once, and over all
The pitying rain began to fall;
I lay and heard each pattering hoof
Upon my lowly, thatchèd roof,
And seemed to love the sound far more
Than ever I had done before.
For rain it hath a friendly sound
To one who’s six feet under ground;
And scarce the friendly voice or face:
A grave is such a quiet place.
The rain, I said, is kind to come
And speak to me in my new home.
I would I were alive again
To kiss the fingers of the rain,
To drink into my eyes the shine
Of every slanting silver line,
To catch the freshened, fragrant breeze
From drenched and dripping apple-trees.
For soon the shower will be done,
And then the broad face of the sun
Will laugh above the rain-soaked earth
Until the world with answering mirth
Shakes joyously, and each round drop
Rolls, twinkling, from its grass-blade top.
How can I bear it; buried here,
While overhead the sky grows clear
And the big rain in one black wave
Fell from the sky and struck my grave.
I know not how such things can be;
I only know there came to me
A fragrance such as never clings
To aught save happy living things;
A sound as of some joyous elf
Singing sweet songs to please himself,
And, through and over everything,
A sense of glad awakening.
And as I looked a quickening gust
Of wind blew up to me and thrust
Into my face a miracle
Of orchard-breath, and with the smell,—
I know not how such things can be!—
I breathed my soul back into me.
Ah! Up then from the ground sprang I
And hailed the earth with such a cry
As is not heard save from a man
Who has been dead, and lives again.
About the trees my arms I wound;
Like one gone mad I hugged the ground;
I raised my quivering arms on high;
I laughed and laughed into the sky,
Till at my throat a strangling sob
Caught fiercely, and a great heart-throb
Sent instant tears into my eyes;
O God, I cried, no dark disguise
Can e’er hereafter hide from me
Thy radiant identity!
— Edna St Vincent Millay
11 July 2014
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a milestone in the centuries-long
struggle for equality by people of color and women. An extended New Yorker article
tells the story, with details that were new and surprising to me. Nixon ran against Kennedy in 1960 saying he would appoint a Black member of his cabinet. Kennedy accused him of
‘racism at its worst’. Alice Paul, a leader of the women’s suffrage movmement, didn’t rest on her laurels when women were granted the vote in 1920.
She wrote an Equal Rights Amendment and introduced it (first) in the Congress of 1923. She continued to fight for the ERA through the ensuing decades, opposed by such liberals
as Eleanor Roosevelt, the League of Women Voters, the AFL-CIO and, of course John Kennedy. She was still a powerhouse in 1963 when at the age of 88 she lobbied and maneuvered
to get have women included in the landmark Civil Rights bill. Martha Griffiths, a stalwart congresswoman from Michigan, introduced Title VII and defended it vigorously from Democratic opposition.
It is not quite true, as historic legend would have it, that women were included in the bill by Southern racists in a cynical attempt to kill the bill.
For twenty years, the belief that the sex provision was a monkey wrench that unintentionally became part of the machine was the conventional wisdom about Title VII. But when scholars—including Michael Gold, Carl Brauer, Cynthia Deitch, Jo Freeman, and Robert Bird—dug into the archives they not only learned that the real story of the sex amendment was quite different; they essentially uncovered an alternative history of women’s rights.
The person behind the sex amendment was the seventy-nine-year-old leader of a tiny fringe organization called the National Woman’s Party. Alice Paul was a major figure in the American suffragist movement, back at the time of the First World War. Paul was a Quaker. She attended Swarthmore and then the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned the first of many advanced degrees. In 1907, she went to study in Britain and got caught up in the suffragist movement, led by Emmeline Pankhurst. It changed her life.
Title VII enabled a limited rapprochement between feminists and civil-rights organizations. The first Title VII gender-discrimination case to reach the Supreme Court was Phillips v. Martin Marietta, in 1971. In a unanimous decision, the Court held that Martin Marietta’s policy of not hiring women with children of preschool age violated Title VII. The case was brought by a white woman, Ida Phillips, who was represented by the Legal Defense and Education Fund of the N.A.A.C.P.
For most of my adult life, I have pursued mysticism against the strong undertoe of my scientific worldview. I have sought out
mystical experiences. I have argued with myself, logically enough, that scientific theories pursued to their depths actually lead to
Today during a leisurely swim across a lake too warm for vigorous exercise, I bobbed and nodded and hung motionless as long as I could hold
my breath. I looked up and realized that that battle is over. Rather than seeing living beings as chance agglomerations of matter in a
purposeless, mechanical universe, I have come to see the world and all within it as animated with a life force.
Years of working on myself have quieted the old suspicion that I am deluding myself with an extra-scientific outlook, and
along with it, my ancient terror of death has been muted as well.
— Josh Mitteldorf
13 July 2014
The Great Revolution, that set all Europe astir, that overthrew everything, and began the task of universal reconstruction in the course of a few years, was the working of cosmic forces dissolving and re-creating a world.
Two great currents prepared and made the Great French Revolution. One of them, the current of ideas, concerning the political reorganisation of States, came from the middle classes; the other, the current of action, came from the people, both peasants. and workers in towns, who wanted to obtain immediate and definite improvements in their economic condition.
I admit to a difficulty appreciating jazz. I rarely can convince myself that the music is worth getting to know and understand more deeply.
The exception is Bernstein, who knew better than anyone how to make serious music in a jazz idiom.
We spend the first twelve months of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next twelve telling them to sit down and shut up.
— Phyllis Diller, born this day in 1917
17 July 2014
R Murray Schafer thinks about the sonic environment of our ancestors, the music of birds and streams and wind and rain that has
been supplanted in modern times by the din of jackhammers, the roar of jets overhead, the traffic noises and ever-present whir of machines.
“Soundscape” is Schafer’s word for the sonic environment, to which he has directed our attention. Before we can
Listen to Epitaph for Moonlight by R Murray Schafer, born this day in 1933, as sung by Roanoke College Choir.
Born into the British aristocracy and provided with an impeccable education, he appreciated all the good things about
the nobility, and had no illusions about their foibles, or their global culpability. He saw through war early in life, and
protested actively from the First World War in 1914 through the Vietnam War, protesting which he was arrested and forcibly dragged
to jail at age 96.
19 July 2014
The earth is 4½ billion years old. The oldest fossil life remains are more than 4 billion years old. As close as we can tell, life began on primeval Earth just about as soon as the planet was cool enough for liquid water.
In the 1950s, when biochemistry was new and headstrong, everyone assumed that simple combinations of organic chemicals would be able to reproduce themselves and jumpstart the evolutioary process. In Harold Urey’s UChicago lab, electrical discharge in a flask of methane, hydrogen, ammonia and water had simulated lightning in earth’s primeval atmosphere, and guess what! Trace quantities of amino acids, building blocks of protein, were discovered in the reaction products. The rest was supposed to be easy.
But here we are 60 years later, and there have been many, many attempts to engineer a living, evolving chemistry in a test tube. None of them has succeeded. The complexity gap between living systems and engineered systems remains deep and wide. We have no idea how to put together a system that is able to reproduce itself, let alone one that is simple enough to have arisen by chance.
How did life get its start? This is one of the greatest mysteries of science.
The concept of panspermia is as old as Anaxagoras, and is still perfectly respectable science. The fact that complex cells appeared so quickly after it first became possible for them to survive on earth is cited as evidence that spores or bacteria arrived on earth from space, surviving a long trip on a meteor. This is a solution for this one, limited question, “How did it happen so fast?” But it only pushes back the bigger question of how life got its start.
Maybe there was one immensely improbable event leading to life, somewhere in a very distant place, many billions of years ago. Or maybe the truth is yet stranger. I’m sure you can imagine possibilities, and I encourage you to do so.
— Josh Mitteldorf
The phrase “irreducible complexity” and the idea that it is difficult to understand how all the ingredients necessary for a living, evolving system fell into place are staples of the “creation science” literature. I think they have a point that evolutionary scientists would do well to address. It is a far more viable PR strategy to be honest and say we don’t have an explanation than to pretend that these things are less mysterious than they are. I don't follow the creation scientists on their next leap, which is often to a Christian-style Creator.
If you could see the world through my eyes, you would know how perfect it is, how much order runs through it, and how much structure is hidden in its tiniest parts. The universe itself and everything we can touch and all that we are is made of the most beautiful geometric patterns imaginable. I know because they’re right in front of me. Because of a traumatic brain injury, the result of a brutal physical attack, I’ve been able to see these patterns for over a decade. This change in my perception was really a change in my brain function, the result of the injury and the extraordinary and mostly positive way my brain healed. All of a sudden, the patterns were just . . . there, and I realize now that my injury was a rare gift. I’m lucky to have survived, but for me, the real miracle—what really saved me—was being introduced to and almost overwhelmed by the mathematical grace of the universe. Doctors tell me that nothing in my brain was newly created or added when I was injured. Rather, innate but dormant skills were released. This theory comes from psychiatrist Darold Treffert, who is considered the world’s leading authority on savants and acquired savants. He ... suggested that all of us have extraordinary skills just beneath the surface, much as birds innately know how to fly in a V-formation and fish know how to swim in a school. Why the brain suppresses these remarkable abilities is still a mystery, but sometimes, when the brain is diseased or damaged, it relents and unleashes the inner genius. This isn’t just my story. It’s the story of the potential secreted away in all of us.
Then said a rich man, Speak to us of Giving. And he answered:
You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow? And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?
And what is fear of need but need itself? Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?
There are those who give little of the much which they have—and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space. Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.
— Kahlil Gibran
22 July 2014
Blind as a bat
Animals perform feats of navigation that make us scratch our heads. It has recently been established that sensitivity
to the earth’s magnetic field and to polarized light are part of their secret.
Bats use a magnetic compass, and this new study shows that they also use patterns of polarized light from the sky at daybreak and sunset. You and I are not sensitive
to the orientation of polarized light (or maybe you are), but bees are, and now it seems that bats, too, can sense polarization.
“We had already demonstrated that bats used a magnetic compass that was calibrated by cues observed at sunset,” says [Richard] Holland. “The question was, what cues? It was known that birds calibrate the magnetic field with the pattern of polarization at sunset, so we tried the same for bats.”
Animals can call on a multitude of sensory information to orient and navigate. One such cue is the pattern of polarized light in the sky, which for example can be used by birds as a geographical reference to calibrate other cues in the compass mechanism. Here we demonstrate that the female greater mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis) uses polarization cues at sunset to calibrate a magnetic compass, which is subsequently used for orientation during a homing experiment. This renders bats the only mammal known so far to make use of the polarization pattern in the sky. Although there is currently no clear understanding of how this cue is perceived in this taxon, our observation has general implications for the sensory biology of mammalian vision.
23 July 2014
Don’t give up on deep questions
Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable.
We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds,
the order of things can satisfy.
Every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put.
He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth. In like manner, nature is already, in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design.
Let us interrogate the great apparition, that shines so peacefully around us. Let us inquire, to what end is nature?
Today is the traditional birthday of Milarepa, poet, sage, penitent, saint in the Buddhist tradition, born in 1040 or maybe 1052.
His mother, who was angry about being cheated out of an inheritance, enrolled Milarepa as an adolescent in a school for black magic.
He was talented enough to do great damage, invoking an earthquake that led to deaths of his family members and many others.
He realized the enormity of his crime, and resolved to redeem himself by doing as much good as he had done harm. He learned to
harness his innate mystical gifts for peace and relief of suffering
‘If you lose all differentiation between yourselves and others,
fit to serve others you will be.
And when in serving others you will win success,
then shall you meet with me;
And finding me, you shall attain Buddhahood.’
We’re accustomed to think that the Darwinian struggle for existence is a condition of life, and it has always been thus. We imagine that cooperation arose after competition, as alliances became a potent aid in the struggle.
We get our genes from our parents, and micro-organisms get their genes from progenitor cells. We read about bacteria that routinely share plasmids – “horizontal gene transfer” – and we think this is a bizzarre, chimerical monstrosity.
Carl Woese presents a picture of a time before separate selves, when all partook of the chemical commons, and genes were free-floating templates belonging to no one in particular.
One day, an oil film walled off one little portion of the sea, and the chemicals therein spoke the word “mine” for the first time in history.
It was the beginning of a great experiment in complexity, of conflict and adaptation to conflict. Sensing and moving and giving and taking became possible, along with (eventually) conceiving and planning. Perhaps this was also the beginning of good and evil.
27 July 2014
The lyrical Stravinsky
Listening to The Fairy’s Kiss, we might imagine Tchaikovsky (but with some extra surprises
in store for the listener who attends to details or studies the score).
Wolle die Wandlung. O sei die Flamme begeistert,
drin sich ein Ding dir entzieht, das mit Verwandlungen prunkt;
jener entwerfende Geist, welcher das Irdische meistert,
liebt in dem Schwung der Figur nichts wie den wendenden Punkt.
Was sich ins Bleiben verschließt, schon ists das Erstarrte;
wähnt es sich sicher im Schutz des unscheinbaren Grau's?
Warte, ein Härtestes warnt aus der Ferne das Harte.
Wehe-: abwesender Hammer holt aus!
Wer sich als Quelle ergießt, den erkennt die Erkennung;
und sie führt ihn entzückt durch das heiter Geschaffne,
das mit Anfang oft schließt und mit Ende beginnt.
Jeder glückliche Raum ist Kind oder Enkel von Trennung,
den die staunend durchgehn. Und die verwandelte Daphne
will, seit sie lorbeern fühlt, daß du dich wandelst in Wind.
Will transformation. O long for the flame,
where a Thing escapes you, splendid in change:
that designing spirit, master of what is earth,
loves only the turning-point in the form’s curve,
What closes itself, to endure, already freezes:
does it feel safe in the refuge of drab grey?
Wait: the hard’s warned, by the hardest – from far away,
a blow – the absent hammer is drawing back!
Who pours out like a spring, knowing knows him:
and leads him delighted through the bright creation,
that often ends with the start, and begins with the end.
Every fortunate space is a child or grandchild of parting,
whose passing-through amazes. And Daphne, altered,
since she became laurel, wants you to alter to breeze.
Some 5,000 other dangerous fanatics and I gave up a small slice of our weekend to express our intolerably radical views
to a hostile or, at best, indifferent public, surrounded by a thick protective wall of visibly disgruntled border police
and a 20-foot wide cordon of metal barriers. Some waved the Palestinian national flag; many carried signs saying things
like “Stop the War” and “End the Occupation”. We chanted “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” and distributed bumper stickers
with the subversive slogan “It won’t end until we talk”. One guy carried a clutch of olive branches. Tea candles spelled out
the Hebrew word slicha – forgiveness.
An octopus lays eggs but once, her mouth seals over, she eats no more and dies soon thereafter.
This life plan is called semelparity.
Her last act in life is standing guard over the eggs, keeping predators away, fanning them with freshly-oxygenated water.
In cold water, it can take awhile for the eggs to develop. Here is the story of an octopus mom in the depths of Monterey Bay
who was caught on camera staying by her eggs without straying for 4½ years, kept alive by love.