March 11th, 2006

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Good Morning -

Lightning struck outside our bedroom window last night with an immediate thundering crash. Wow! The light seemed to strike my dreams. I felt I was living in fairy tales the rest of the night, which might be a good thing, because as I listen to the heater run to keep the house even at 58, I see dollar signs sliding by.

The morning is calm, so we'll see what this day brings. I read about Merida, the capital of the Yucatan state in Mexico. It seems expatriates are gathering there in a pact of secrecy so others won't know how wonderful it is. Of course, an article in the travel section of the NY Times hardly keeps it a secret. I used to consider moving somewhere like that, but now, I wonder if I am tied to my medical community, in such a way that it isn't a possibility. And yet, in this moment, my life could not be more fine. There is nothing I need. I am content.

I heard a radio interview yesterday with a man, Josh Dorfman, who has founded a business for the lazy environmentalist. Jeans are from organic cotton, and the furniture from sustainable woods. The callers were affronted that more consumption could be construed as environmental awareness. His point is that it is a step. It seems that even Target is focusing on furniture that is eco-friendly. Again, I sit with the balance. Yes, perhaps we could get by with just organic cushions and simplicity, and yet, most of us seem to want more. We want tables and chairs, and the company this man promotes, Vivavi, has worked out attractive designs, and feels good about what he is doing. He is not yet making a profit, and he admits that, of course, ultimately that is his goal. I think of the steps we take, each step, of mindfulness, and of balancing our steps with those of others. For one person, recycling is the way to go, and they are content with something found at Good Will. For another, this might offer a compromise, and yet, these products are not inexpensive. Right there, a choice is made.

My heater continues to run. I could put on more sweaters, though Mandu huddled on the heater vent clearly thinks he is not willing to sacrifice any more for the environment. He needs that heat. My lights are on, as is the computer. I think the guy tagged it right. He says 80% of Americans say they care about the environment, but how much are they willing to sacrifice. He is trying to step into that niche in his way. Good for him, I say.
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Vivavi!

I check out the Vivavi web-site. There is quite a range of prices and influences. Some of it is designer work, and appropriately priced, but there are also chairs made from seat belts, and tables from recycled wood. It is quite a composite. I don't actually need anything right now, but looking at the web-site, I think it provokes awareness of how to think more clearly about what we do purchase, when we do, and, I think, awareness, in all its forms, is a very good thing.
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freeway news -

There was a 31 vehicle pile-up early this morning on 101 by Sausalito. Two people were killed and the highway was shut down in both directions. The northbound lanes will be closed all day to allow a complete investigation. The southbound lanes were only partially re-opened at 7:30 this morning. It is hard to imagine what the traffic will be, and how this would have affected a work day. Again, I feel the fragility of our circumstances. We make plans, and assume we can get somewhere. We don't consider an excuse. And, yet, this year, weather has been a big part of our lives. Some long-term businesses closed for good in San Anselmo. They couldn't handle another flood. Flooding has affected the freeway off-ramp where I live, again and again. This accident this morning seems to be due to drinking but the involvement of so many cars was due to slushiness and ice.

I continue to read of how everything we need is here right now. There is nowhere to go. How appropriate for this day, where my parameters of distance will be defined by walking, and that feels okay to me.

I also consider the person who will be charged with felony drunk driving. How very sad this is for absolutely everyone involved.
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Feelings -

Elaine sent this to me the day I was in my fear mode. I moved through that, and somehow didn't want to go back in and address it, but today, I am trying to hold all my feelings and emotions like a huge bouquet I lean in to sniff. Each flower adds to the allure.

I place these words of Thich Nhat Hanh here. I am typing with Mandu's chin on my arm. He needs my warmth. I read that it is 45 degrees in Mill Valley.


Transforming Feelings by Thich Nhat Hanh

The first step in dealing with feelings is to recognize each feeling as it arises. The agent that does this is mindfulness. In the case of fear, for example, you bring out your mindfulness, look at your fear, and recognize it as fear. You know that fear springs from yourself and that mindfulness also springs from yourself. They are both in you, not fighting, but one taking care of the other.

The second step is to become one with the feeling. It is best not to say, "Go away, Fear. I don't like you. You are not me." It is much more effective to say, "Hello, Fear. How are you today?" Then you can invite the two aspects of yourself, mindfulness and fear, to shake hands as friends and become one. Doing this may seem frightening, but because you know that you are more than just your fear, you need not be afraid. As long as mindfulness is there, it can chaperone your fear. The fundamental practice is to nourish your mindfulness with conscious breathing, to keep it there, alive and strong. Although your mindfulness may not be very powerful in the beginning, if you nourish it, it will become stronger. As long as mindfulness is present, you will not drown in your fear. In fact, you begin transforming it the very moment you give birth to awareness in yourself.

The third step is to calm the feeling. As mindfulness is taking good care of your fear, you begin to calm it down. "Breathing in, I calm the activities of body and mind." You calm your feeling just by being with it, like a mother tenderly holding her crying baby. Feeling her mother's tenderness, the baby will calm down and stop crying. The mother is your mindfulness, born from the depth of your consciousness, and it will tend the feeling of pain. A mother holding her baby is one with her baby. If the mother is thinking of other things, the baby will not calm down. The mother has to put aside other things and just hold her baby. So, don't avoid your feeling. Don't say, "You are not important. You are only a feeling." Come and be one with it. You can say, "Breathing out, I calm my fear."

The fourth step is to release the feeling, to let it go. Because of your calm, you feel at ease, even in the midst of fear, and you know your fear will not grow into something that will overwhelm you. When you know that you are capable of taking care of your fear, it is already reduced to the minimum, becoming softer and not so unpleasant. Now you can smile at it and let it go, but please do not stop yet. Calming and releasing are just medicines for the symptoms. You now have an opportunity to go deeper and work on transforming the source of your fear.

The fifth step is to look deeply. You look deeply into your baby-your feeling of fear- to see what is wrong, even after the baby has already stopped crying, after the fear is gone. You cannot hold the baby all the time, and therefore you have to look into her to see the cause of what is wrong. By looking, you will see what will help you begin to transform the feeling. You will realize, for example, that her suffering has many causes, inside and outside of her body. If something is wrong around her, if you put that in order, bringing tenderness and care to the situation, she will feel better. Looking into your baby, you see the elements that are causing her to cry, and when you see them, you will know what to do and what not to do to transform the feeling and be free.
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noticing -

The last few days I have been noticing that the only thing I have to groom is my expression. If I want to look extra special, there is no hair to comb and form, and there are no eyelashes awaiting a coat or two of mascara. The only thing I have to work with as to how I am perceived is my smile, and what comes forth from my skin, and my eyes.

I see how much I used to hide behind my hair. Well, my hair looks good, so I must be presentable for the day, but I see now what is far, far more important. It is the face I put on my day.
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blessing -

I read an email from a lovely woman who has just been cleared of breast cancer after five years of battling. I am struck by what she says. She is surprised to feel tired once the battle is over. Yes, I understand what it is like to finally put down the fists, and let go.

I was unaware that the French word for wound is "blessure" which is the root of the English word for blessing.

How fascinating it is to sit and contemplate my wounds as blessings.

Well, yes, as Leonard Cohen says, "There is a crack, a crack in everything, That's how the light gets in."

So, now, I google Leonard Cohen's song. Here it is.


Anthem

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.

Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government --
signs for all to see.

I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
a thundercloud
and they're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring ...

You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
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another Leonard Cohen song -

And then there is this song by Leonard Cohen.


The Great Event

It's going to happen very soon. The great
event which will end the horror. Which will
end the sorrow. Next Tuesday, when the sun
goes down, I will play the Moonlight Sonata
backwards. This will reverse the effects of
the world's mad plunge into suffering, for
the last 200 million years. What a lovely
night that would be. What a sigh of relief, as
the senile robins become bright red again,
and the retired nightingales, pick up their
dusty tails, and assert the majesty of creation!
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Food -

I eat a "yobaby" yogurt by Stonyfield Farm. I am trying to be aware of what I ingest. On the side of the carton in huge letters, are these words, "yobaby is made without the use of antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones or toxic pesticides." Somehow I want this to be universally true. I don't want to have to read every label so carefully, and maybe that is unrealistic. If I were hunting and gathering I would pay attention to every berry I ate, so maybe I am okay with this, and, I find it strange that such a label is still needed in these times when we have gained so much more awareness of the importance of what we eat.
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checking in -

I walk around the block and feel the flimsy wobbliness of my legs, and the steaming warm glow of my chemo head. I am back inside.

APR comes in the mail and Robert Hass has a wonderful new poem called "Bush's War" on the back. Feeling sure you want to read it, too, and not feeling up to typing the whole thing in, I google it, and enter a new world, from comments on Laura Bush not understanding that yes, poetry is political and not always "nice," and set up for tea parties, to a blog called Whimsy Speaks, which says Hass's poem on the back of APR is competent, but he, himself, is on Iraq overload. I see that this guy got his APR before I did, and I wonder what is up with my mail service this week.

Does any of this make sense? I think I need a nap. My legs are saying, curl up and sleep, and the sky is actually blue, and is saying, Be spacious and let all of this go. Just breathe!! And so I do!
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and yet who can resist Molly Ivins -

And so here is Molly Ivins, and then, I really will rest.

The Progress Myth in Iraq
By Molly Ivins

Wednesday 08 March 2006

Austin, Texas - It was such a relief to me to learn we are making "very, very good progress" in Iraq. As the third anniversary of our invasion approaches, I could not have been more thrilled by the news reported by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on a Sunday chat show. Vice President Dick Cheney's take was equally reassuring: Things are "improving steadily" in Iraq.

I was thrilled - very, very good progress and steady improvement, isn't that grand? Wake me if anything starts to go wrong. Like someone bombing the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra and touching off a lot of sectarian violence.

I was also relieved to learn - via Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, so noted for his consistently accurate assessment of this war - that the whole picture is hunky-dory to tickety-boo. Since the bombing of the mosque, lots of alarmists have reported that Iraq is devolving or might be collapsing into civil war. They're sort of jumping over the civil war line and back again - yep, it's started; nope, it hasn't - like a bunch of false starts at the beginning of a football play.

I'm sure glad to get the straight skinny from Ol' Rumsfeld, who has been in Iraq many times himself for the typical in-country experience. Like many foreign correspondents, Rumsfeld roams the streets alone, talking to any chance-met Iraqi in his fluent Arabic, so of course he knows best.

"From what I've seen thus far, much of the reporting in the US and abroad has exaggerated the situation," Rumsfeld said. "We do know, of course, that al Qaeda has media committees. We do know they teach people exactly how to try to manipulate the media. They do this regularly. We see the intelligence that reports on their meetings. Now I can't take a string and tie it to a news report and then trace it back to an al Qaeda media committee meeting. I am not able to do that at all."

No horsepoop? Then can I ask a question: If you're able to monitor these media committee meetings, how come you can't find Osama bin Ladin?

But, Brother Rumsfeld warns us, "We do know that their goal is to try to break the will; that they consider the center of gravity of this - not to be in Iraq, because they know they can't win a battle out there; they consider it to be in Washington, D.C., and in London and in the capitals of the Western world."

I'm sorry, I know we are not allowed to use the V-word in relation to Iraq, because so many brilliant neocons have assured us this war is nothing like Vietnam (Vietnam, lotsa jungle; Iraq lotsa sand - big difference). But you must admit that press conferences with Donny Rum are wonderfully reminiscent of the Five O'Clock Follies, those wacky but endearing daily press briefings on Southeast Asia by military officers who made Baghdad Bob sound like a pessimist.

Rumsfeld's performance was so reminiscent of all the times the military in Vietnam blamed the media for reporting "bad news'" when there was nothing else to report. A briefing officer once memorably asked the press, "Who's side are you on?" The answer is what it's always been: We root for America, but our job is to report as accurately as we can what the situation is.

You could rely on other sources. For example, the Pentagon is still investigating itself to find out why it is paying American soldiers to make up good news about the war, which it then passes on to a Republican public relations firm, which in turn pays people in the Iraqi media to print the stuff - thus fooling the Iraqis or somebody. When last heard from, the general in charge of investigating this federally funded Baghdad Bobism said he hadn't found anything about it to be illegal yet, so it apparently continues.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told the Los Angeles Times that Iraq is "really vulnerable" to civil war if there is another attack like the al-Askari bombing. By invading, said Khalilzad, the United States has "opened the Pandora's box" of sectarian strife in Iraq.

Could I suggest something kind of grown-up? Despite Rumsfeld's rationalizing, we are in a deep pile of poop here, and we're best likely to come out of it OK by pulling together. So could we stop this cheap old McCarthyite trick of pretending that correspondents who are in fact risking their lives and doing their best to bring the rest of us accurate information are somehow disloyal or connected to al Qaeda?

Wrong, yes, of course they could be wrong. But there is now a three-year record of who has been right about what is happening in Iraq - Rumsfeld or the media. And the score is: Press, 1,095; Rumsfeld, 0.

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peacefully blank -

I realize this poem by Chase Twitchell captures a bit of what my head is wanting right now - so much space there is nothing there.  Though she titles this Death's Portrait, perhaps, it is a place of peace.  We know the fish are there, somewhere in the ocean.  Thoughts are in my mind, too, and, for a moment, I request a blank space.



Death's Portrait  

by Chase Twitchell


I just caught myself in the mirror
with a look like one of my father’s,
a forward-leaning absorption,
greedy, thinking of itself.
I saw him animated in me,
jaw set with glee and slyness,
his future ghost dropping in
to remind me he’ll always
be with me, even when I no longer
know where or who I am.
I rented a boat and went
fishing in the Caribbean.
The guy who took me was
proud of his sonar,
acres of ocean on a little screen.
A black shape might be a big fish,
might be a school of smalls.
We rode around all morning
watching the screen.
There was nothing there.
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Oh, Joy!!

I am calmly reading through APR when I come across this poem by Tess Gallagher. I look up the drug "The Red Devil" since the description sounds discomfortingly familiar. Yep, I was on it. That was the one they pushed through my veins to make sure nothing slipped - adriamycin.   And, yes, I know red urine, and floating nails.


THE RED DEVIL

the nurses on the cancer ward call it
because, like acid, if it spills
from the needle onto skin, the patient
has to have a skin graft. Red devil
for how it singes the inside of
the veins, causes the hair to fall
out and the nails of the hands and feet
to lift from their beds, to shrivel
or bunch like defective armor.

Now the test reveals the heart
pumps 13% less efficiently.
Never mind. Your heart
was a superheart anyway.
Now it's normal. Join
the club. Get tired. Learn to nap.
Watch the joggers loping unhill
as if they were under water, as if
they had something to teach you
about the past, how sweet
and useless it was, taking the stairs
two at a time. They still
call you hummingbird.
Sooner or later you'll be flying
on your back to prove
you've got at least
one trick left.  

- Tess Gallagher
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Tonight -

I am in a great deal of discomfort today, which nothing seems to shake, so I will probably go early to bed.
I want to offer a tid-bit of joy, since despite this discomfort and fatigue, I do feel great joy, or perhaps because of it. I am grateful to feel. So, what do I offer?

Ah, Vicki is in Flagstaff, Arizona. About ten inches of snow have fallen when she writes. A tour bus of about twenty five people have arrived at the motel where she is staying, and among them is a group of children. "They look Navajo but the language they speak is Spanish. The kids are giddy with the snow. I hear a grandmother giving them the word--nieve. Frozen water. Nieve. The kids make snow angels on the sidewalk, pluck icicles from the bumper of my van, throw fistfuls of snow over their heads."

Perhaps, tonight, we can all enjoy the glee and wonder of children playing in snow.
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Stewart Brand -

Stewart Brand again gives a synopsis of the talk by Kevin Kelly last night. Here are the words of Stewart Brand.

Science, says Kevin Kelly, is the process of changing how we know things. It is the foundation of our culture and society. While civilizations come and go, science grows steadily onward. It does this by watching itself.

Recursion is the essence of science. For example, science papers cite other science papers, and that process of research pointing at itself invokes a whole higher level, the emergent shape of citation space. Recursion always does that. It is the engine of scientific progress and thus of the progress of society.

A particularly fruitful way to look at the history of science is to study how science itself has changed over time, with an eye to what that trajectory might suggest about the future. Kelly chronicled a sequence of new recursive devices in science...

2000 BC - First text indexes
200 BC - Cataloged library (at Alexandria)
1000 AD - Collaborative encyclopedia
1590 - Controlled experiment (Roger Bacon)
1600 - Laboratory
1609 - Telescopes and microscopes
1650 - Society of experts
1665 Repeatability (Robert Boyle)
1665 Scholarly journals
1675 - Peer review
1687 - Hypothesis/prediction (Isaac Newton)
1920 - Falsifiability (Karl Popper)
1926 - Randomized design (Ronald Fisher)
1937 - Controlled placebo
1946 - Computer simulation
1950 - Double blind experiment
1962 - Study of scientific method (Thomas Kuhn)

Projecting forward, Kelly had five things to say about the next 100 years in science...

1) There will be more change in the next 50 years of science than in the last 400 years.

2) This will be a century of biology. It is the domain with the most scientists, the most new results, the most economic value, the most ethical importance, and the most to learn.

3) Computers will keep leading to new ways of science. Information is growing by 66% per year while physical production grows by only 7% per year. The data volume is growing to such levels of "zillionics" that we can expect science to compile vast combinatorial libraries, to run combinatorial sweeps through possibility space (as Stephen Wolfram has done with cellular automata), and to run multiple competing hypotheses in a matrix. Deep realtime simulations and hypothesis search will drive data collection in the real world.

4) New ways of knowing will emerge. "Wikiscience" is leading to perpetually refined papers with a thousand authors. Distributed instrumentation and experiment, thanks to miniscule transaction cost, will yield smart-mob, hive-mind science operating "fast, cheap, & out of control." Negative results will have positive value (there is already a "Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine"). Triple-blind experiments will emerge through massive non-invasive statistical data collection--- no one, not the subjects or the experimenters, will realize an experiment was going on until later. (In the Q&A, one questioner predicted the coming of the zero-author paper, generated wholly by computers.)

5) Science will create new levels of meaning. The Internet already is made of one quintillion transistors, a trillion links, a million emails per second, 20 exabytes of memory. It is approaching the level of the human brain and is doubling every year, while the brain is not. It is all becoming effectively one machine. And we are the machine.

"Science is the way we surprise God," said Kelly. "That's what we're here for." Our moral obligation is to generate possibilities, to discover the infinite ways, however complex and high-dimension, to play the infinite game. It will take all possible species of intelligence in order for the universe to understand itself. Science,
in this way, is holy. It is a divine trip.

--Stewart Brand

PS... Kevin Kelly's book in progress on all this, and much more, is being written online and is visitable and discussable at http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/index.php .
--

Stewart Brand -- sb@gbn.org
The Long Now Foundation - http://www.longnow.org
Seminars: http://www.longnow.org/projects/seminars/calendar.php
Seminar downloads: http://www.longnow.org/shop/free-downloads/seminars/