Saturday, January 12, 2008

New Poem: Not Present

Not Present

Being in the past--is jealousy on my part--in general
~ Leslie Scalapino

Not sentient : reliving an old photograph from college,
standing with her outside the dorm, last day
of the quarter, sunshine blinding me

Life is not retrospective : memory
confuses the brain : iron anchor

The floating world : being miserable on pages
of dust-stained journals : holding a mirror
to the boy, immature, who spilled ink
and so much more
in misguided efforts to be

Not sentient : not present


Some mornings I do not know who I am until
someone speaks to me : captivated by the sunrise
or a dream encasing me in a cocoon of imagery

Not present : picking at a hangnail

10,000 things cloud my eyes, and still the raven
can wake me from retrospection and root my body
in the waking moment, the caw of now


Lost presence : when her touch awakened me
to this flesh, everything reversed, the floating world
receded : how many years have passed?


Sentience : a boy at the time, and not present, then
the knock of death, everything reversed, split
wide open, a gaping whole in my chest

Fathers do not die : misguided child : the heart stops
and the earth opens its arms in acceptance


All these things : not present : an inversion
of the laws, emptiness beneath the surface
of the fragile ice I called my life

Obviously : being fairly immature my whole life
as I waited for someone to speak to me, to know
what I was seeking : barking dogs, temporary
tattoos, blue cream Nehi

But not present : obviously


Standing beside Sabino Creek, I drew circles
in the sand, reminders of something, something
I read in a book, or dreamed : circles mean
something about presence, or sentience, or . . . .


Not sentient : being in the past


Awareness : opening the ivy-covered heart, seeking
the girl I once knew only to find her grown and married,
lost to me, and yet, and yet . . .

There is feeling, not sentience, but presence : pain,
and the roots of my flesh secured in soil

Knowing nothing : everything opens


Not present : seeking the anchor's weight,
setting memory aside : everything
opens : knowing nothing

Raven's caw : a circle

Daily Om: Listening With Your Heart

This was yesterday's very cool Daily Om:

Inner Hierarchy
Listening With Your Heart

Most of us were born and raised in cultures that value the head over the heart and, as a result, we place our own hearts below our heads in a sort of inner hierarchy of which we may not be conscious. What this means is that we tend to listen and respond from the neck up, often leaving the rest of our bodies with little or no say in most matters. This is a physical habit, which sometimes feels as ingrained as the way we breathe or walk. However, with effort and awareness, we can shift the energy into our hearts, listening and responding from this much deeper, more resonant place.

The brain has a masterful way of imposing structure and order on the world, creating divisions and categories, devising plans and strategies. In many ways, we have our brains to thank for our survival on this planet. However, as is so clear at this time, we also need the wisdom of our hearts if we wish to continue surviving in a viable way. When we listen from our heart, the logical grid of the brain tends to soften and melt, which enables us to perceive the interconnectedness beneath the divisions and categories we use to organize the world. We begin to understand that just as the heart underlies the brain, this interconnectedness underlies everything.

Many agree that this is the most important work we can do at this time in history, and there are many practices at our disposal. For a simple start, try sitting with a friend and asking him to tell you about his life at this moment. For 10 minutes or more, try to listen without responding verbally, offering suggestions, or brainstorming solutions. Instead, breathe into your heart and your belly, listening and feeling instead of thinking. When you do this, you may find that it’s much more difficult to offer advice and much easier to identify with the feelings your friend is sharing. You may also find that your friend opens up more, goes deeper, and feels he has really been heard. If you also feel great warmth and compassion, almost as if you are seeing your friend for the first time, then you will know that you have begun to tap the power of listening with your heart.

This has been the core of my inner work for the past few years. One of the great things about Buddhism, and especially the teachings of Pema Chodron, is that it has helped me soften the barriers around my heart. When our hearts are tender and open, we are at our most human.

I am a perfect example of someone who has lived from the neck up for most of my life. It has cost me relationships, made me miserable on many occasions, and until I began to work at having more access to heart energy, it made me a selfish and self-centered person -- I was in life for what I could get, not what I could give.

I'm still working on this stuff, but if I can change from the selfish person I was to who I am now, anyone can.

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

This is the Dalai Lama Quote of the Week from Snow Lion Publications.

Selflessness in Context: Ultimate Bodhichitta

Let us return for a moment to the beginning of [the Heart] Sutra where the Buddha enters into the meditative absorption called "appearance of the profound" and Avalokiteshvara beholds the practice of the profound perfection of wisdom. Generally speaking, the expression "appearance of the profound" refers to the bodhisattva deeds, which are encompassed in the practice of the six perfections. Here, however, the expression refers particularly to the perfection of wisdom, known in Sanskrit as prajnaparamita. What the text means by "perfection of wisdom" is a direct, unmediated realization of emptiness that is also called "ultimate bodhichitta." This is not the direct realization of emptiness alone; rather it is this direct realization in union with bodhichitta--the aspiration to become a buddha in order to free all beings. This union of wisdom and method constitutes the first bhumi, or level of bodhisattva attainment.

The importance of this altruistic aspiration cannot be overstated. Bodhichitta is not only important as a motivating factor at the beginning of practice, it is also important as a complementary and a reinforcing factor during every stage of the path. The bodhichitta aspiration is twofold, comprised both of the wish to help others and of the wish to become enlightened so that one's assistance will be supremely effective.

~ From Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings by H.H. the Dalai Lama, translated & edited by Thupten Jinpa.

Martin Amis on Religion

Martin Amis was interviewed for The New Republic, and of course the conversation came around to religion.

I just read a quote of yours, "Atheists have as much conscience, possibly more, than people with deep religious convictions," and I have noticed that recently you have been talking a little more about atheism. You also contributed an essay to a new book called The Portable Atheist. What are your thoughts on the "New Atheist" movement, which has gotten so much publicity and sold so many books in the last year or so. Do you think it differs from strains of atheism in the past?

I am a little baffled as to why it is called the "New Atheism." There is a very long tradition of free thinking, and the arguments made against religion tend to be the same but made over and over again. But I think what has happened is that there have been a number of good, articulate books--Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, Sam Harris, and so on. What they have discovered to their own great surprise is that in the United States, and right across the South too, there are an enormous number of people who also think this way. I don't think they have suddenly been persuaded by this rash of books--the feelings were there anyway--but they didn't have a voice, they didn't have a focus. When Hitchens took his book across the Bible Belt and debated with Baptist ministers in churches, there were huge audiences, most of whom, it seems, from when they spoke to him afterwards, were somewhat irritated that the place in the United States that they lived in was called the Bible Belt. I think there was something there that people had not taken into account. Quite heartening really, given that America is meant to be a secular republic with a strong tradition of upholding all freedom of thought.

Do you see religion as ineradicable, or do you think there is a chance to change people's minds on religion?

I think it is ineradicable, and I think it is a terrible idea to suppress it, too. We have tried that and it joins the list of political oppression. It seems to be fairly deeply stitched into human nature. It seems to be part of all cultures, so I don't expect it to vanish. And yet at the same time, if it is built into human nature, why are there so many people who don't believe in it? I think it is important that people with no religious beliefs speak up and speak for what they value. It is a bit of a problem, the title "Atheist"--no one really wants to be defined by what they do not believe in. We haven't yet settled on a name, but you wouldn't expect a Baptist minister to go around calling himself a Darwinist. But it is crucial that people who do not have a sky god and don't have a set of supernatural beliefs assert their belief in moral values and in love and in the transcendence that they might experience in landscape or art or music or sculpture or whatever. Since they do not believe in an afterlife, it makes them give more valence to life itself. The little spark that we do have becomes all the more valuable when you can't be trading off any moments for eternity.

It's good to see a prominent atheist admitting that we can not eradicate religion or religious beliefs. Dan Dennett falls into this camp, and Christopher Hitchens would keep religion around simply for the amazing art it can produce.

More and more, people like Richard Dawkins are appearing as extremist in their views as the believers they ridicule. Like all belief systems, there are moderates and there are fundamentalists. It's good that this distinction is becoming more clear in the atheist movement.

Chogyam Trungpa - Conflicting Emotions

The Ocean of Dharma quote for this week -- Rinpoche makes a very useful distinction between the energy of an emotion and when that emotion becomes conflicted through attachment to ego. If we can avoid the attachment element, emotions as energy will come and go; but as soon as they get caught in the web of ego needs, we've bitten the hook.


Ego presents a twofold barrier: conflicting emotions and primitive beliefs about reality. You might call conflicting emotions anti-shunyata, anti-emptiness, because they do not allow or experience any space or lubrication to develop things. They are solid and definite. It is like the analogy of the pig, the symbol of ignorance, which just follows its nose and never sees any direction of any kind at all. It just keeps following , constantly guided by impulse. And whatever comes in front of its nose, it just consumes it and looks for the next one....

In this case, we are talking about emotions as primitive emotions. Take the example of anger, for instance. There is the primitive, conflicted quality of anger and there is also the energetic quality of the anger, which is quite different. Conflicting emotions are those that are purely trying to secure ego's aim and object, to fulfill ego's demand. They are based on constantly looking for security, maintaining the identity of "I am." Conflicting emotions also contain energy, which is the compassionate nature, the basic warmth and basic creative process. But somehow in that situation of primitive emotions, there is very little generosity of letting energy function by itself.

~ From "Fruition," in Glimpses of Shuntaya, page 53.

Deborah Gordon: How Do Ants Know What To Do?

This is an old TED Talk, from 2003, that was just posted this month.

Armed with a backhoe and a handful of markers, Deborah Gordon studies ant colonies in the Arizona desert. She asks: How do these chitinous creatures get down to business -- and even multitask when they need to -- with no language, memory or visible leadership? Her answers could lead to a better understanding of all complex systems, from the brain to the Web.

Jon Stewart Talks With David Frum

So glad Stewart is back.

Friday, January 11, 2008

New Poem: Mistaken Identity

Mistaken Identity

This is a fiction, in the way that breath
is not the inhalation and exhalation of air,
in the way that meaning is not constructed
in the moment my back slides down
along the solid and stable trunk of an oak

In that way, these words do not tell the whole
story, nor do they reveal the skeleton
within this flesh, the frame upon which we
hang moments on the cross, worshiping
the slow passage of time, on our knees

* * * * *

The walls of these rooms reveal the images
that sustain me, but much can be read
in the white spaces, the emptiness

There are stones on the altar, memories
of weather-beaten shores, mountains
I have climbed, but the emptiness is loud

* * * * *

You might be forgiven your assumptions
of who I am, even I struggle to piece
together the elements: earth, air,
fire, and water: so little is solid

Books are no help, lined upon the shelves
and stacked in corners, volumes on every
subject suggest an eclectic mind, or
a body seeking solid ground

* * * * *

This is a fiction, in the way that all
things are unreal, in the way that minds
build towers of meaning that lack
earthy foundations, lack the roots
that hold trees against fierce winds

In that way, anything I might write
is only a proposition, words without
anchors, like liquid poured into the sea,
one word among many, so few words
to say what can never be spoken

More on Biophotons

I blogged a while back about biophotons and evolution, but now there is some more proof in support of such a view.

One view of biophotons is that they are produced within the DNA of individual cells. From this perspective, biophotons are a means of communication between cells and between organisms. The premise is that these biological photons are forms of coherent light, meaning that the photons carry some form of information.

This theory has led to procedures for testing food safety in Germany and disease detection in humans (unhealthy cells emit different biophoton patterns than do healthy cells).

Now, finally, US researchers are finally looking at the protons emitted by living cells.

New Mode of Cell Communication Discovered

By Steve Mitchell
ScienceNOW Daily News
9 January 2008

Like teenagers, cells in our bodies constantly chatter back and forth. But instead of zapping text messages, they relay signals with molecules. Now, researchers have discovered a surprisingly tiny new messenger in worms: protons. The find raises the possibility that the subatomic particle plays the same role in humans, the researchers say.

Research in mice has hinted that protons--hydrogen atoms stripped of their electrons--might act as messengers, but until now direct evidence has been lacking. A team led by biologist Erik Jorgensen of the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, made the discovery while investigating how the worm Caenorhabditis elegans contracts certain muscles around its intestines to squeeze out waste. Previous experiments had ruled out several neurotransmitters known to aid defecation, suggesting that a novel molecule might be playing a role.

After sequencing the DNA of worms with defects in muscle contraction, the team identified mutations in a gene called PBO4. This gene encodes a protein located on the outer surface of intestinal cells, where it brings sodium ions into the cell while pumping protons out. This hinted that protons might play a role in making the muscles contract.

Next, using a protein that glows green until it contacts protons, the researchers found that protons flood from the intestinal cells and into the surrounding muscle cells just before the muscle contracts. Finally, the researchers inserted protons bound to a light-sensitive molecule into the space between the intestine and the muscle in mutant worms with a defective PBO4 gene. When a flash of light set the protons free, the muscle contracted, the researchers report in the 11 January issue of Cell. Further experiments identified a receptor on the muscle cells that triggers contraction when protons bind to it.

Jorgensen speculates that protons probably act as neurotransmitters in humans and other vertebrates, but so far there is no evidence of this. He notes that this could explain why humans have proton pumps in brain cells that are the same as the proton pumps found in their intestines.

Les Iversen, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, U.K., agrees with that notion. But Charles Stevens, a neurobiologist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California, says that the protons may only be used as neurotransmitters in worms and other invertebrates. "Oftentimes, invertebrates have evolved special mechanisms that are not so widely used in vertebrates," Stevens says.

Granted, this study is looking at invertebrates, and they are looking merely at the protons used to cause muscle contractions, but this might be enough to generate some more interest in researching these unique communication systems within and between cells.

New Poem: Unconventional Love Sonnet - The Last

Unconventional Love Sonnet - The Last

Her eyes are a storm of dark skies. I thought
she was someone else: the mornings we sat
together drinking coffee, warm sunshine and
the simple, quiet comfort of touching hands.

Maybe she is that woman. But the cruel hag
in her mirror tells her she is fat, ugly,
unlovable, the fairy tale turned inside out,
and she believes, slumped shoulders.

Her words feel frantic, a torrent of pain
pouring from black clouds she lives with,
as though the woman I knew has surrendered

to the rising waters, not wanting to swim.
Her drowned body in the mirror, but the glass
only distracts her from the stormy loss of self.

Speedlinking 1/11/08

Quote of the day:

"A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he gets to know something."
~ Wilson Mizner

Image of the day:

~ Weighing the New Diet Books -- "Every December, publishing houses flood bookstore shelves with a plethora of new diet titles, hip to the hordes of repentant holiday bingers who will be desperate to make their New Year's resolutions stick come January. And there are more and more of us in that category every year. This year's crop of diet books run the gamut — from low-carb to vegan, from anti-caffeine to tea-around-the-clock. Some appear based on sound nutritional advice; some decidedly less so."
~ Cranberry juice can prevent flu and stomach ulcers...but only in women -- "Drinking two glasses of cranberry juice a day can ward off flu, stops teeth from rotting and keep away bladder infections and stomach ulcers - but only in women."
~ Fit Tip: Cross Train -- "If you are going gang busters at the gym, as many people do come January, and are just tackling the treadmill I am here to urge you to cross train. Variety is the spice of life and if you are mixing up your workouts the chances of getting bored and stopping significantly decreases. Boredom is one major fitness routine killer."
~ For A More Youthful Heart Either Eat Less Or Exercise More -- "Overweight people who lose a moderate amount of weight get an immediate benefit in the form of better heart health, according to a study conducted at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. And the heart improvements happen whether that weight is shed by eating less or exercising more."
~ Family dietary coach fuels healthy eating: study -- "Having a nutrition coach actively coach families on how to make healthy changes in their diet appears to help parents and their children improve their nutritional intake, researchers found."
~ When Fitness Means Life or Death -- "Are you in good enough shape to flee a burning building?"
~ Chewing Gum Sweetener Can Cause Dangerous Weight Loss -- "Many sugar-free chewing gums contain a sweetener called sorbitol. Sorbitol is a laxative which is poorly absorbed by the small intestine. An article in this week's British Medical Journal (BMJ) warns of the dangers of excess sorbitol intake. The warning comes after doctors came across two patients who had chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain and dangerously excessive weight loss."
~ Fat to fitness coach: Man loses 120 pounds -- "Two years ago, Tim Lenczowski dreaded walking from the parking lot into his office. Weighing 335 pounds, he suffered constantly from pain in his knees and ankles. At the age of 39, he was diagnosed with a heart condition and hypertension. Lenczowski knew it was time to make a change."
~ Atkins Diet Results Are In & Some People Aren’t Going To Like Them -- "At the end of the two-week period, the patients lost an average of 3.6 pounds each and their blood levels normalized. But what about the low-carbohydrate diet caused them to lose weight? Interestingly, though they were not given calorie restrictions, the patients inadvertently cut their caloric intake by a whopping one-third." The reality behind this study is that protein and fats create greater satiety than do carbs, so you eat less and feel more full. The other aspect is that protein foods require 25% of the consumed calories simply for digestion, while carbs and fats are much lower, under 10%.

~ Pets: Good for Your Health? -- "Research shows that caring for an animal can improve your mental and physical well-being—with a few caveats."
~ Media Psychologists: Educating The Public; Demystifying Psychotherapy And Modeling Professional Ethics -- "News is often about human behavior, thus there's a natural role for psychologists and other mental health professionals to work with the news media to help people understand behavior and other mental health issues."
~ Men Do Care - British Psychological Society -- "Men worry more about their work-life balance than their female counterparts."
~ Fighting over inner experience -- "Salon has an entertaining review of the new book Describing Inner Experience which is sort of a combination of an argument and a self-consciousness showdown between philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel and psychologist Russell Hurlburt."
~ abstracts related to ageing, mitochondria, neurodegeneration etc -- Lots of cool, geeky links.
~ Is there a moral grammar? -- "One of the most controversial new approaches, promoted by Marc Hauser of Harvard University, is to study moral reasoning by analogy to linguistics. For instance, what are the phonemes of moral reasoning? What is the grammar that determine whether an action is considered moral or not?"
~ What Everyone Should Know About Their Own Minds: 6 Introspective Insights From Psychology -- "Ever wondered where your opinions come from, how you manage to be creative, or how you solve problems? Well, don't bother. Psychology studies examining these areas and more have found that while we're good at inventing plausible explanations, these explanations are frequently completely made-up."
~ Medicating People Because It’s Easier than Talking to Them -- "Sadly, antipsychotics are not the first medications ever to be used to basically sedate people, so they would be more manageable to the individuals and organizations charged with their care. The use of psychiatric and other medications for control of behaviors, rather than treatment of diseases or disorders, has a long history. Time and time again, research shows that it’s the human relationship we share with one another that have a significant, perhaps the most significant impact, in how we feel. And how we feel has an impact on our treatment and feeling better."
~ What is Happiness? -- "Because happiness is something most of us aim for, how we define it has important implications for how we conduct our lives. To see why, compare these two competing definitions of happiness...."

~ Middle-Class Capitalists -- "Supply-side economics had a good run, but continual tax cuts can no longer be the centerpiece of Republican economic policy. The demographics have changed. The U.S. is an aging society. We have made expensive promises to our seniors. We can’t keep those promises at the current tax levels, let alone at reduced ones." Wow, David Brooks is sounding like a centrist.
~ "We're all fascists now" -- "An interview with conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg, who argues that fascism is left-wing, not right-wing, and that contemporary liberals are fascism's intellectual offspring." Some partial truths turned into broad generalizations, as well as some bad reading of history -- still, interesting.
~ Exchanges in Latest Debate Highlight a New Dynamic in the Republican Field -- "The performance by Mr. Thompson, which including several pointed one-liners, capped a debate that showed the altered terrain of the Republican field as it moved beyond contests in Iowa and New Hampshire."
~ Review: To the Edge of the Precipice -- "Shelby Steele, who was a black radical in the 1960s, has since acquired a view of both blacks and whites that is almost completely unclouded by dogma. Dr. Steele, who has been a fellow at the Hoover Institution since 1994, is perhaps the first mainstream author to analyze white guilt and describe the tremendous damage it does. Dr. Steele does not get everything right, but his elegant dissection of white self-absorption and black opportunism is one of the best antidotes now available to the shelves of nonsense that pass for wisdom on race."
~ A big-tent approach to worship -- "At Unionville’s Pathways United, Christian traditions mix with Hindu music and teachings from the self-help shelf. It’s a seductive mix for those scared off long ago by rigid dogma. Of course, the approach has its critics."
~ Faith Without Borders -- "On the one hand, Perennialism rejects a modern world that has slipped off the rails. Yet it also embraces all variations of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faith, as well as Asian religions and indigenous schools of thought. Perennialists believe that all religions are part of one great religion; that all wisdom makes up a great river of truth that all modern people should return to for what the Gospels call 'living water.'"
~ Tony Sachs: Roll Over Radiohead And Tell Trent Reznor The News -- "Music is a thing. It's always been more than the beats and melodies coming out of your speakers or headphones. It's being able to hold a physical object in your hand and say "This is mine - I own it." For all the Utopian talk of file sharing and subscriber services that will render music ownership as we know it obsolete, the needs and preferences of the record collector, the force that's kept the music biz going since there were records to collect, are being ignored."
~ Supporting Hillary or Barack? Stop Apologizing for It -- "It's time to stop ignoring gender and race as reasons to support a candidate."
~ The New Hillary -- "Clinton has abandoned a controlled and cautious persona for a more passionate fighting version of herself. Will post-N.H. voters buy it?"
~ Paul on CNN -- "I haven't been in the libertarian movement long (I'm 32, and I really only became a full-fledged movement libertarian at 25, when I started working for Cato). But reading the long-time activist's descriptions of those newsletters and how they were written, edited, and distributed, when Paul says he had no idea who wrote them, and that he rarely read them—well, I simply don't believe him. Nor do I think that would be a viable excuse even if it were true."

~ New Mode of Cell Communication Discovered -- "Like teenagers, cells in our bodies constantly chatter back and forth. But instead of zapping text messages, they relay signals with molecules. Now, researchers have discovered a surprisingly tiny new messenger in worms: protons. The find raises the possibility that the subatomic particle plays the same role in humans, the researchers say." Biophotons aren't new, but American researchers have been slow to examine this field of research.
~ Do Monkeys Pay for Sex? -- "It turns out that one of humanity's oldest professions may be even older than we thought: In a recent study of macaque monkeys in Indonesia, researchers found that male primates "paid" for sexual access to females — and that the going rate for such access dwindled as the number of available females went up."
~ CES 2008: Wrapping Up Another Year of Gadget Glut -- "From a humongous HDTV to Bill Gates' date with Slash, the annual orgy of consumer electronics delivers plenty of surprises. Enjoy a roundup of the biggest hits and misses."
~ Astronomers on the Universe: Hey, It's a Jungle Out There -- "The things astronomers discover as they probe deeper into the universe -- orphaned baby stars, planet-devouring black holes -- paint a bleak picture of "out there." Heck, we might as well stay home."
~ Gasoline Is Here to Stay, But It's Greener Than Ever -- "For all the hydrogen, electric and hybrids we'll see at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the green stars of the show may be the next generation of gasoline and diesel internal combustion engines."
~ Warming Climate Can Support Glacial Ice: It Did In Much Warmer Times -- "New research challenges the generally accepted belief that substantial ice sheets could not have existed on Earth during past super-warm climate events. The study provides strong evidence that a glacial ice cap, about half the size of the modern day glacial ice sheet, existed 91 million years ago during a period of intense global warming."
~ Why Chimps Eat Dirt -- "It turns out our closest animal relations have a good reason for feasting on soil."
~ Bond between ants, trees breaks without large animals -- "For thousands of years, thorny African acacia trees have provided food and shelter to aggressive biting ants, which protect the trees by attacking animals that try and eat the acacia leaves."

~ Deepak Chopra: "I Know I'm Right, So Why Be Fair?" -- "Below is an article forwarded to me by its author, the noted biologist and evolutionary thinker, Rupert Sheldrake. It's about an encounter with the equally noted biologist and evolutionary thinker, Richard Dawkins. The subject isn't atheism, Dawkins' last hobby horse, but reason and science."
~ “Universal Man” -- "An illumination of Hildegard von Bingen — 12th century Christian nun, composer, and more." Very cool picture.
~ Gerald Ford’s Buddhism: Then and Now -- "Here of course, I am talking about me, Gerald Ford, which is my online screen name,* not the ex-president. While on my recent break, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and writing outside the blog. Among the things I am reading (in no particular order)...."
~ The Sensual Approach to Self-Enquiry -- "When I talk about attention, I'm not talking about an abstraction, I'm talking about the very real and obvious phenomena of noticing that we are aware of one another, of ourselves, of these bodies, of these hands and eyes and feet, of the whole gamut of sensual experience, including the sensuality of thought, of emotion, of observing ourselves in this moment from head to foot, and everything in between. What are we observing that is not attention?"
~ Talking about art -- "With regard to conversations about the fine arts, I think the traditional means of learning to do so remains the best: poetry analysis. Namely, in the course of learning how to close-read poetry, and talk about the close-reading bursts of recognition that one glimpses during that, you learn how to talk about all the fine arts." Yep.
~ Sweet Seattle Rituals -- "When we're not adorned with our clunky metal armor, I often don't find people exhibiting the same willingness to extend oneself into another person's personal space in kind and friendly ways. hmmm... how can I start living this more fully?" As a former Seattle resident, this post made me homesick.
~ I-Thou: Twenty-four Hour Lament -- " The following account of a day in the life of a social worker is excerpted with the author's permission from Reviving Our Interiors: Serving the Mentally Ill Living On Our Streets, by Annie McQuade."
~ What's Next for Integral Buddhism? -- "Perhaps the future of Buddhism is integral. ISC Teacher Patrick Sweeney sees his purpose as creating mandalas or practice environments that faithfully embody Buddhism, in its most integral form. But what is Integral Buddhism?"

Symphony Mechanique (circa 1925) Georges Antheil

It's not art, it's dada. I've always been a fan of dada, so I thought I'd post this strange musical composition and film. Very, um, unconventional.

From Wikipedia:

"Antheil, an American composer, wrote this score to accompany a dadaist film. This piece of ballet music which is impossible to play in full, is set to a film by Fernand Léger (1881 - 1955). Strangely, it was not until the 1990s that the film and score were brought together. The film and music is a masterful example of the movement. It is hard to believe that this is from the 1920s, nearly 100 years ago. Here is the Ballet Mécanique (with plane propellers and various other strange instruments). This is Antheil’s most famous work."


Daily Dharma: Our Four Functions

Today's Daily Dharma from Tricycle:

Our Four Functions

With regard to the Four Noble Truths we have four functions to perform: The First Noble Truth is Dukkha, the nature of life, its suffering, its sorrows and joys, its imperfection and unsatisfactoriness, its impermanence and insubstantiality. With regard to this, our function is to understand it as a fact, clearly and completely.

The Second Noble Truth is the Origin of Dukkha, which is desire, "thirst", accompanied by all other passions, defilements and impurities. A mere understanding of this fact is not sufficient. Here our function is to discard it, to eliminate, to destroy and eradicate it.

The Third Noble Truth is the Cessation of Dukkha, Nirvana, the Absolute Truth, the Ultimate Reality. Here our function is to realize it.

The Fourth Noble Truth is the Path leading to the realization of Nirvana. A mere knowledge of the Path, however complete, will not do. In this case, our function is to follow it and keep to it.

--Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught; from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book.


Hmmm. Didn't know that post-modern language theory had infiltrated the hard sciences, but then I stumbled upon Biosemiotics.

Here are some of the definitions given for this field of study:


(i) the study of signs, of communication, and of information in living organisms
(Oxford Dictionary of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 1997. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 72).

(ii) biology that interprets living systems as sign systems (Emmeche, Kull, Stjernfelt 2002: 26).

(iii) the scientific study of biosemiosis (Emmeche, Kull, Stjernfelt 2002: 9).

Go to an encyclopedia article 'Biosemiotics'.

The term biosemiotic was first used by F.S.Rothschild in 1962.

Go to Gatherings in biosemiotics

Below are few definitions of biosemiotics as taken from various authors.

"The process of message exchanges, or semiosis, is an indispensable characteristic of all terrestrial life forms. It is this capacity for containing, replicating, and expressing messages, of extracting their signification, that, in fact, distinguishes them more from the nonliving - except for human agents, such as computers or robots, that can be programmed to simulate communication - than any other traits often cited. The study of the twin processes of communication and signification can be regarded as ultimately a branch of the life science, or as belonging in large part to nature, in some part to culture, which is, of course, also a part of nature." (Sebeok 1991: 22)

"The life science and the sign science thus mutually imply one another." (Sebeok 1994: 114)

"Biosemiotics proper deals with sign processes in nature in all dimensions, including (1) the emergence of semiosis in nature, which may coincide with or anticipate the emergence of living cells; (2) the natural history of signs; (3) the 'horizontal' aspects of semiosis in the ontogeny of organisms, in plant and animal communication, and in inner sign functions in the immune and nervous systems; and (4) the semiotics of cognition and language. /../ Biosemiotics can be seen as a contribution to a general theory of evolution, involving a synthesis of different disciplines. It is a branch of general semiotics, but the existence of signs in its subject matter is not necessarily presupposed, insofar as the origin of semiosis in the universe is one of the riddles to be solved." (Emmeche 1992: 78)

"A modern unification of biology /../ has to be based on the fundamentally semiotic nature of life." (Hoffmeyer 1997)

"The most pronounced feature of organic evolution is not the creation of a multiplicity of amazing morphological structures, but the general expansion of 'semiotic freedom', that is to say the increase in richness or 'depth' of meaning that can be communicated" (Hoffmeyer 1996: 61).

"The sign rather than the molecule is the basic unit for studying life." (Hoffmeyer 1995: 369)

"Sign processes penetrate the entire body of an organism. [...] Signification is the fundamental property of living systems that can be taken as a definition of life. Hence, biosemiotics can be viewed as a root of both biology and semiotics rather than a branch of semiotics." (Sharov 1998: 404-405)

"Biosemiotics can be defined as the science of signs in living systems. A principal and distinctive characteristic of semiotic biology lays in the understanding that in living, entities do not interact like mechanical bodies, but rather as messages, the pieces of text. This means that the whole determinism is of another type. /../ The phenomena of recognition, memory, categorization, mimicry, learning, communication are thus among those of interest for biosemiotic research, together with the analysis of the application of the tools and notions of semiotics (text, translation, interpretation, semiosis, types of sign, meaning) in the biological realm." (Kull 1999: 386)

"With the discovery that a set of symbols has been used by nature to encode the information for the construction and maintenance of all living things, semiotics - the analysis of languages and texts as sets of signs and symbols - has become relevant to molecular biology. Semiotics has given students of the DNA text a new eye for reading, allowing us to argue for the validity of a multiplicity of meanings, or even for the absence of any meaning, in a stretch of the human genome." (Pollack 1994: 12)

It looks like you can find all you might ever want to know about biosemiotics at this site, which links to lots of papers, people in the field, and so forth.

Colbert Is Back

Looks like this is free offering from Comedy Central to let people know Colbert is back.

Satire: Syria Attends Mideast Peace Talks For Free Continental Breakfast

From The Onion:

Syria Attends Mideast Peace Talks For Free Continental Breakfast

January 10, 2008 | Issue 44•02

ANNAPOLIS, MD—Despite years of diplomatic stalemate in the Mideast crisis, Syrian officials appeared eager to mend troubled Arab-Israeli relations this week by participating in a second round of U.S.-led peace talks, which feature representatives from every country in the region, as well as a complimentary continental breakfast in the hotel lobby.

"We are attending this conference in the interest of peace, and intend to take full advantage of the opportunities afforded by this historic summit," Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad said Tuesday. "I understand that a total of five different beverage options, including milk, tea, and assorted juices, will be available free of charge."

Enlarge Image Syria

Syrian delegates maintained their position on the so-called "Danish situation."

Now in its second day, the summit has reportedly been a success for the Syrians, who described themselves as "optimistic" and "full" and are already pointing to a number of positive developments, including fresh pastries and a new policy of unlimited coffee refills.

A number of observers applauded Syria's apparent commitment to peace after Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who selected a raspberry Danish and small cup of vanilla yogurt sprinkled with granola from the ice-filled bin in the hotel reception area, laid out his country's goals for the five-day summit.

"This is a chance for us to get something truly worthwhile out of the arduous peace process," al-Assad said. "Now is the time to put aside petty concerns and take advantage of this incredible generosity. The continental breakfast is only available for a limited time each morning, so we must be focused and diligent about getting down to the lobby before hotel staff remove all the doughnuts at 10:30."

According to the State Department, the first day's discussions—centered around Palestinian statehood and security along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip—went relatively smoothly, though the Syrian delegation did not appear until 90 minutes after the scheduled 9 a.m. start. Upon their arrival, however, the Syrians introduced themselves to their international counterparts and, as a measure of goodwill, offered them croissants, small wedges of grapefruit, and toast with jelly packets.

"We are encouraged by the Syrians' willingness to help promote freedom in the region," U.S. spokesman Sean McCormack said. "We just hope they will be ready to start talks before 10:31 tomorrow morning."

The meetings were not without setbacks. Small arguments broke out sporadically throughout the day over the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, and the Kuwaiti ambassador taking the last three cream cheese packets.

"We deserve unfettered access to the cream cheese," said the head of the Syrian parliament's foreign relations committee, Suleiman Haddad, addressing a group of delegates assembled near the milk and cream table. "This must not be taken away from us. It is unacceptable. What will we put on this bagel?"

Tensions were relieved by some Syrian representatives who took a more conciliatory tone, pointing out that it's nearly impossible to find good bagels in their native country at all, while expressing hope that a more equitable cream cheese–sharing arrangement could be arrived at the following morning.

Enlarge Image Coffee

Syria's president and prime minister hold an emergency meeting near the coffee.

In Tehran, meanwhile, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was not invited to the talks, was highly critical of the summit, claiming that the European-style breakfast was indicative of a pro-Israel bias.

"It is quite obvious that the Annapolis summit will offer little real substance to those in attendance," Ahmadinejad said. "The little single-serving boxes of cereal are not even sizable enough to constitute a real meal."

Nevertheless, many within the State Department said they were encouraged to witness a number of delegates working together to clean up a cup of spilled coffee. At one point, the Israeli prime minister even offered to give up extra napkins to Syria's president in order to stop the liquid from flowing over the side of the counter.

In comments made to the Syrian state newspaper, Syrian prime minister Muhammad Naji al-Otari said he was confident there was even more to achieve during the conference.

"I am pleased to report that there will be a variety of instant oatmeal flavors being offered in the near future," al-Otari said. "I am certainly looking forward to learning more about the apples and cinnamon, maple and brown sugar, and the plain oatmeal flavors."

While the United States organized an opening-night gala to welcome the participating ambassadors, the Syrians did not attend the event, claiming they had to go to bed early in order to get plenty of sleep for some "very important business" they had to attend to at 7 a.m. the following day.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gratitude 1/10/08

I've been lax in my gratitude posts of late. I've been trying not to blog too much in the evening. But that's no good excuse.

Anyway, first some gratitude for blog stats. December was the busiest month ever for IOC, with over 13,000 visitors. January is looking to be even busier, with a current average of more than 500 hits a day. Thanks to all who read this blog regularly or just stumble upon it by accident.

Next, I want to express my gratitude for my job. I have several new clients already this month, two of whom are husband and wife. Both are serious cyclists, and it's fun to train people who take their fitness seriously. I love my work, and I feel fortunate to have such a great job, one that allows me to help other people.

Finally, I am grateful to have met some new friends through my friend Susie. They are intelligent kind people, and I am glad to know them. It's been a challenge to meet people outside of work, so for this I am grateful to Susie, and just plain grateful.

What are you grateful for today?

Speedlinking 1/10/08

Quote of the day:

"In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress."
~ John Adams

Image of the day (John Craig):

~ Tips for Longer, Healthier Living -- "With chronic disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity on the rise, so are many guys’ concerns about living a longer, happier life. There are certain things you can do every day to live a longer, healthier, more fulfilling life. Here are some tips on staying healthy and fit."
~ Preparing for Battle -- "If you need to decide what to eat, track down those foods in the proper amounts, and then finally take a bite — the chances of you skipping that meal are much higher. Here's how to take the thinking out of eating."
~ A Warm Welcome to 2008 From Fortress! -- "Fortress thinks people who make New Year's Resolutions are, well, "ass clowns." He'd prefer the SOBs just fail miserably; smoke more, drink more, become fat and weak, and lose more money on online betting sites."
~ Fitness: They’re Playing My Song. Time to Work Out -- "There is a rough science to choosing performance-enhancing music." To each his/her own, but for me, it's aggressive, angry metal -- cathartic as well as boosting hormone levels.
~ The Latest Diet Books: Recipe for Success? -- "ALL of the popular diet books and programs, regardless of the "scientific" explanations they give, recommend menus that give you 1500-1800 calories or less per day. For most people this means you will be taking in fewer calories. You can lose weight on ANY OF THEM, but ask yourself: Is this a way of eating I can follow for the rest of my life? (If not, you will regain the weight as soon as you go back to your old eating habits.)"
~ Study Results Provide Surprise Benefits Of Cholesterol -- "If you're worried about high cholesterol levels and keeping heart-healthy as you get older, don't push aside bacon and eggs just yet. A new study says they might actually provide a benefit. Researchers at Texas A&M University have discovered that lower cholesterol levels can actually reduce muscle gain with exercising." I've had this issue. So I adjusted my fat intake to 1/3 monounsaturated, 1/3 polyunsaturated, and 1/3 saturated (where we get cholesterol), to good results.
~ You Are What You Eat - Benefits of Superfoods -- "Do you know that "an apple a day can keep the doctor away"? Well that's what this famous saying indicates. Now maybe it won't keep the doctor away completely but it sure has some tremendous health benefits. It's considered by Dr. Steven Pratt, MD to be a "superfood." A "superfood" is a whole food. And whole foods are foods that are unprocessed or are minimally processed in such a way that none of the nutritional characteristics have been intentionally modified."
~ Cranberries have medicinal qualities -- "Many know cranberry juice can help prevent urinary tract infections, but an Israeli researcher says the tart berry has other medicinal qualities."
~ Diet affects older men's weight training success -- "Getting enough protein and moderate amounts of fat from food may help older men's muscles respond better to weight training, a study suggests." It's silly that they still have to do studies to reveal the obvious.

~ Do We Have a Natural Bias Toward Superstitions? -- "A top British psychologist is attempting to explain the biological basis for superstitions."
~ Anxious babies have more bad dreams as preschoolers -- "Preschoolers' odds of having nightmares may be related to their temperament as infants, which may be noticed as early as 5 months old, new research suggests."
~ Study Finds Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Later Substance Abuse -- "In a study published in the January issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers interviewed subjects over a period of 20 years in order to discover connections between mood disorders and alcohol, cannabis, and benzodiazephine abuse and dependence. They found a strong association between bipolar disorder as well as sub-threshold mania and subsequent use of all the substances included in the study."
~ Did You Know? -- "Fast facts on antioxidants, depression, and multitasking."
~ 11 Tips to Carve Out More Time to Think -- "How much time do you get a week to just think? Not while listening to music, driving your car or during group brainstorms. Not while playing video games, doing chores or taking a shower. Just you and your brain."
~ The Great American Meditation Challenge Transforming 100,000 American Minds -- "One Oregon woman is challenging Americans to transform their relationship to the idea of "waiting" by turning waiting rooms across the country into meditation rooms. She has launched a nationwide campaign called the "Don't Wait - Meditate Challenge" to help people across the America utilize the estimated 42-50 mts a day that they spend waiting for miscellaneous events to happen."
~ How to Write a Personal Mission Statement to Make 2008 Your Best Year Ever -- "2008 is here and it is time to take a personal inventory to make this year your most productive year ever. You may be asking yourself, “How am I going to do that?” You, my friends, are going to write personal mission statements."
~ Psychoanalysis And Medications -- "As Americans increasingly seek a "quick fix" to physical and mental ailments, psychoanalysts can be caught in the crossfire of a debate about the potential benefits and drawbacks of including medication in their treatment plans. A panel discussion entitled, "The Uses of Medications in Psychoanalysis: What We Know; What is Uncertain," will be led by internationally renowned psychoanalyst Glen O. Gabbard, M.D., at the American Psychoanalytic Association's 2008 Winter Meeting."
~ The psychology of the politics of fear -- "Newsweek has a fantastic article on the psychology and neuroscience behind the politics of fear which draws directly on examples from the current and past US elections."
~ Read A Good Book And Reduce Your Stress Levels -- "Whether the book you choose to read is one that will have you looking into the future world of Big Brother, going back to the days or prehistoric monsters, or the kind which will make you drift off with the sounds of small silver waves lapping on a white sandy beach, reading the book is sure to be a great help in reducing your stress levels."

~ Pentagon, Big Pharma: Drug Troops to Numb Them to Horrors of War -- "The DoD is flirting with the idea of medicating soldiers to desensitize them to combat trauma -- will an army of unfeeling monsters result?" This is just plain scary.
~ New World Symphony and Discord -- "In the Gilded Age, a Czech visionary saw America's musical future in 'negro melodies'."
~ Democracy: inevitable no more -- By Madeleine K. Albright -- "In 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, it appeared that the global debate had been settled in freedom's favor, yet almost two decades later, the struggle to define and defend self-government still rages on every continent. Indeed, a real danger exists that the world will again be split by competing ideologies, not communist versus capitalist but democratic versus autocratic."
~ Language past its use-by date -- "You can picture the scene. It's Friday evening at the Hilton Chicago, and Private Dining Room 2 is bustling with grammarians, etymologists, lexicographers and morphologists: America's linguistic elite are awaiting the announcement of the American Dialect Society's Word of the Year 2007 with barely contained excitement. As the moment gets nearer, the tension mounts. By the time the golden envelope appears it's hardly bearable. Then it's time, and the winner is ... " subprime!" The crowd goes wild."
~ Can Obama Build a Movement? -- "Democrats were supposed to return to the good old days of Clintonism, with its war rooms, relentless partisanship and parsing denials. But Hillary's version seems less compelling than her husband's -- a Clintonism without charm. And despite his loss to Clinton in New Hampshire on Tuesday, this has allowed Sen. Barack Obama to turn a coronation into a real race."
~ Consuming Our Way to Unhappiness -- "Our excessive consumption is trashing more than just the planet."
~ Kofi Annan to Lead Kenya Mediation -- "Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is taking over mediation in Kenya's disputed presidential election."
~ The Voter ID Fraud -- "Garrett Epps | Conservative Supreme Court justices are poised to uphold draconian ID requirements on voters that will redefine electoral politics in America."
~ An Old Democratic Fault Line -- "Beneath the profound novelties of this year's Democratic race lurk the same rifts that have characterized the party for 40 years. Breaking down New Hampshire's vote, the old divisions of class, and the sometime divisions of age, are plain to see."

~ A Brief History of Infinity -- "The paradoxical twists and turns of infinity have baffled many great thinkers. The first person to truly come to grips with the concept was the remarkable Galileo Galilei."
~ Scientists riff on fabric of the universe -- "Their music may be the scourge of parents, but the thrashing guitars of heavy metal bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden could help explain the mysteries of the universe." If this was how they taught science when I was in high school, I'd probably be a physicist.
~ The Big Bang Wasn't the Beginning -- " What if the Big Bang wasn't the beginning of the universe, but only one stage in an endlessly repeated cycle of universal expansion and contraction? So suggests mathematical physicist and string theorist Neil Turok. He thinks there may be many universes, at once interpolated but separate, like a mixture of gases."
~ Study: Daily Visits to Video-Sharing Sites Double -- "The number of internet users checking out YouTube and similar sites jumps to 15 percent, according to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project."
~ Math Trek: Small Infinity, Big Infinity -- "A mathematician develops a new proof showing that infinity comes in different sizes."
~ New X-ray Source In Nearby Galaxy Spawns Mystery -- "Astronomers studying a nearby galaxy have spied a rare type of star system -- one that contains a black hole that suddenly began glowing brightly with X-rays. Though this type of star system is supposed to be rare, it's the second such system discovered in that galaxy, called Centaurus A. The discovery suggests that astronomers have more to learn about the lives and deaths of massive stars in galaxies such as our own."
~ Feeling the Heat: Berkeley Researchers Make Thermoelectric Breakthrough in Silicon Nanowires -- "Energy now lost as heat during the production of electricity could be harnessed through the use of silicon nanowires synthesized via a technique developed by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy`s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley. The far-ranging potential applications of this technology include DOE`s hydrogen fuel cell-powered “Freedom CAR,” and personal power-jackets that could use heat from the human body to recharge cell-phones and other electronic devices."
~ Scientists: Earth Barely Supports Life -- "Without earthquakes, life on earth would cease to exist."
~ Fighting pollution the poplar way: Trees to clean up Indiana site -- "Purdue University researchers are collaborating with Chrysler LLC in a project to use poplar trees to eliminate pollutants from a contaminated site in north-central Indiana."

~ Freedom Is Just Another Word For Freedom -- "In case anyone got the wrong idea, the purpose of this blog is not to give a blow-by-blow account of my experiments in the practice of self-inquiry, but simply to post whatever seems relevant to me in the course of attempting to immerse myself in this process. I'm not even sure how to describe self-inquiry in that way."
~ TEACHERS AND STUDENTS -- "The whole teacher/student thing is interesting to watch. At a big residential place like San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC) where I've been staying for the past week or so, it's vital to keep some clear lines of demarcation between teachers and students."
~ "Mapping the Dharma"--A Book Review -- "If you are just a bit like me in these respects, there’s help for us in the form of a neat little book called “Mapping the Dharma: A Concise Guide to the Middle Way of the Buddha,” 2007, by Paul Gerhards. Gerhards sets out to provide 'a visual guide to the teachings—more a map than a text,' with the recognition that 'The Buddha said that a map is not a territory; it is merely a tool of discovery.'"
~ Studying Happiness -- "I’ve been spending much of my time over the past few weeks reading about happiness. My new course on the philosophy of happiness begins on Friday – with Aristotle – and so I’ve been putting in a fair amount of preparation. The course is designed to look at various approaches to happiness from the perspective of philosophy, the sciences and systems of practice such as Epicureanism, Stoicism, Taoism and Buddhism, and I hope that it will be a truly hands-on course, looking hard at the roots of happiness in our lives and trying to put these various philosophies to the test."
~ Buddhism as philosophy -- "In modern Western culture there is a tendency to suppose that certain questions are to be settled through the use of reasoning, while others can only be addressed through faith and feeling. This is the dichotomy between reason and faith, with reason seen as a matter of the head and faith a matter of the heart." The post presents an excellent Mark Siderits quote.
~ Red ~C Diary: So, Am I an Atheist? -- "With all my postings about religion, politics, atheism, and the New Atheists, I think it's time that I reflect on where I stand within the psycho-socio-spiritual spectrum."
~ A 5-Level Model of Youth Organizing -- "It is commonly know that human development and justice are limited by social divides. This is especially the case among economically disadvantaged children and youth. In order to address the complex issues and life conditions of youth everywhere a wide spectrum of non-profit and charitable organizations have emerged to try and address inequality and social deprivation."
~ The Complete English Translation of Great Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo -- "This is a remarkable achievement on the part of Rev. Hubert Nearman and the monastics of Shasta Abbey. I’ve read through Volume One, in which the first 11 chapters were published, many times but this complete translation makes another 85 chapters available. That’s over 1,100 freely downloadable pages of Great Master Dogen’s writing. I am speechless - which is good because I have a lot of reading to do." Great link -- I look forward to checking this out.