Saturday, February 10, 2018


A mouse depicted in a Roman mosaic; photo: Anna Stępień


Not bird not badger not beaver not bee

Many creatures must
make, but only one must seek

within itself what to make

My father's ring was a B with a dart
through it, in diamonds against polished black stone.

I have it. What parents leave you
is their lives.

Until my mother died she struggled to make
a house that she did not loathe; paintings, poems; me.

Many creatures must

make, but only one must seek
within itself what to make

Not bird not badger not beaver not bee

Teach me, masters who by making were
remade, your art.

~ Frank Bidart

I realize that I remember certain things only because I wrote a poem about the experience. There was even a time when I felt that it was too much of a burden, remembering so much of my childhood, for instance — all because of the poems, often revised so many times I'd involuntarily memorize them. “You'd think that all I’ve done in America is miss Poland,” I lamented to friends.

As a poet I know remarked, “We don't choose what we write about.” She was very young then, and new to writing, but had already discovered this amazing fact: we don’t choose what we write about. Our best writing simply happens the way thoughts happen: words start rising from the unconscious. And yet, afterwards, reading what we've written, we can be powerfully affected by our own creation. It’s circular: we are created by what we create.

But we can also be totally surprised by an old poem that we forgot we ever wrote. If we find the poem good, we let it re-enter our psyche, where it adds to the infinite passion of life.


Somewhat on a tangent, but it does seem to belong: I had a whole other lifetime in Poland — and after yet another lifetime that was my first phase of living in the US, I recreated my first landscapes and experiences (I was a late bloomer as a writer). The US seemed so different, so alien, that even the moon looked different somehow in this new sky — different and WRONG. But on Christmas Eve — exactly on Christmas Eve — it started to snow (I was in Milwaukee). I was ecstatic: the snow was totally the same: the hush, the blanketing, the mysterious beauty of the world covered with snow. It was my first experience of joy in the New World.


In summary: We create the work, and the work creates us. And after a while, the work lives on its own — it has to, IF it lives on at all.


This found echoes in  my own thought and experience — especially that we are makers, and in our making, re-make ourselves. This is certainly true for writers and artists of all types, the act of creation is a journey of exploration and discovery, a way not only to find out what we think and feel, but to find new ways of thinking and feeling. New truths about ourselves and the world. This is the basic human action, from cave paintings to DNA sequencing — and it is a fundamental source of joy.


I'm so glad that you mentioned DNA sequencing. After all, this re-making of ourselves is not restricted to writers and artists. Making a scientific discovery — or simply, on a much more ordinary and modest scale, having an insight about something, anything — also remakes us, gives us new eyes. Falling in love, and other life experiences also accomplish this — and I don’t think we have to deliberately strive and try to shape ourselves (think of all those self-help books with the New You in the title); the process is mysterious, unconscious, automatic.

Trusting the unconscious is one of the most important life lessons I’ve learned. Experiencing the creative process no doubt hastened the acquisition of this trust. The encounter with Taoism (“Do nothing”) was marvelous, but it was really the workings of the creative process that taught me that trust.


~ “Without the Moon, there would be no life on Earth, French scientists claim.

The gravitational push-pull of the Moon on iron deep inside Earth keeps it hot and molten. And a liquid core is needed to generate a magnetic field, which forms a protective shield against blasts of particles from the Sun.

Denis Andrault from Blaise Pascal University in Clermont-Ferrand, France, and colleagues propose the Earth's heated interior should have dropped by about 3,000 ºC over the past four billion years or so, but has instead remained almost constant — all because of the Moon.

Their story, published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, begins around 4.3 billion years ago, or 60 million years after the Earth’s birth.

A massive collision turned the planet molten, with some bits flung out to clump together and become the Moon. Back then, the core of the Earth would've sat around 6,800 Kelvin, or around 6,500 ºC.

After around a million years of cooling, Earth developed a thin crust and the beginnings of a mantle — a thick layer of hot rock between crust and core. The core, at this point all liquid, started to produce a magnetic field. This, the scientists write, was a stage of "thermally driven dynamo" as heat rose from the centre of the core towards the surface of the planet, churning parallel to Earth's axis of rotation.

Following another billion years or so, the core started to solidify in its centre, while the liquid outer core kept churning and the mantle cooled. Then, by a billion years ago or so, the temperature of the core should have dropped 3,000ºC.

But it didn't, Andrault and colleagues claim – instead, it dropped only 300ºC.

In the most recent billion years, the temperature was propped up by tidal forces from the Moon squishing and stretching the mantle, along with forces from our orbit around the Sun. This "mechanical forcing", they write, "could have started to induce core motions as soon as the Moon was formed".

They created a thermal model of the deep Earth's geodynamo – an "orbitally driven dynamo" – and showed the Moon's effects made up for the heat lost into space.

And because nothing's perfect — not Earth's slightly wobbly rotation or the Moon's orbit — small irregularities can cause fluctuations in the geodynamo. Pulses of heat may have melted parts of the deep mantle which, in turn, may have led to major volcanic eruptions on the surface.


 The Hoba meteorite lies on the farm "Hoba West", not far from Grootfontein, in the Otjozondjupa Region of Namibia. It has been uncovered but, because of its large mass, has never been moved from where it fell.

The main mass is estimated at more than 60 tons, making it the largest known meteorite (as a single piece) and the most massive naturally-occurring piece of iron known on Earth's surface.


“The enemy of the people has never been one doctrine or another but absolutism's unchecked hypocrisy.” ~ Jeremy Sherman


Not specifically Communism or Fascism or, to go back in time, the Divine Right of Kings. Made me think of old-time totalitarian Catholicism (especially back in the heretic-burning era).

Interesting the way absolutism — absolute power without checks and balances — indeed corrupts quite quickly. Totalitarian institutions never escape corruption. I say “interesting” even though it’s predictable — interesting because whether it’s religion or a secular “ism” there is usually such a huge appeal to idealism, virtually to sainthood.


I'm reading a long history of the Evangelicals. One thing that pops right out is their frequent insistence on the Bible's inerrancy, as though if even one inconsistency is found, the whole thing is called into question.

The craving for an inerrant formula runs deep. And the cosmic wedgie of the past few centuries is that we're never going to get one: In Darwin, that the formula that works today might not work tomorrow. In Godel, that there's no way to generate an airtight system of mathematics or logic that precludes all inconsistencies.

The craving shows up political and social life, in what I've called infallibility battles, people unwilling to admit to even one hypocrisy for fear that it will cast doubt on everything they do, and in religion, of course.


You could say that the central idea of modernity is the lack of absolutism. Most people have not been able to accept it. Hannah Arendt dared to postulate the “banality of evil” and got vilified for it. People wanted to see evil as demonic, rather than inherent in any ideology.


The central disappointment of modernity is that our appetite for absolutes will go unrequited by reality.


As you’ve suggested many times, the remedy is to accept “fallibilism” (the opposite of absolutism) and construct a system of checks and balances that prevents the development of absolute power. Alas, what a setback we’re witnessing right now, what backlash against the recent progress in science, free trade, democracy and human rights — a right-wing (even fascist) backlash not only in the US, but pretty much globally. The yearning for absolute certainty, for unchanging answers, is an incurable disease, especially of the young and of those with low intelligence and meager education. Reality? There are always “alternative facts.” The Christian ideal of compassion? There is always “alternative Christianity” (odd how it appears to be an anti-Christianity). 

~ “Damn, damn it, hell, God, God-damned, God damn it to hello, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ Almighty, etc, etc. A few of them appeared, rarely, in nineteenth-century novels, usually as — —- or more bravely as By G—!  or d—m! Archaic or dialectal oaths such as swounds, egad, gorblimey were printed in full.

With the twentieth century the religious-blasphemy oaths began to creep, and then swarm, into print. Censorship of words perceived as “sexually explicit” was active far longer.” ~ Ursula Le Guin, “Would You Please Fucking Stop?” from a collection of essays, No Time to Spare.

Hell by Fra Angelico


This is an interesting observation: swearwords used to mostly come out of religion. And she doesn’t list such very common one as Gee or Geez! (both derived from Jesus), Golly or By Golly, and Holy Molly! (Holy Mary). And of course those euphemism I heard in Milwaukee all the time, but only from girls and women: Gosh! and “Gosh-darn!” and “Heck!” and “What the heck!” One source lists “Golly” as a synonym of Gosh.

Thinking of Polish, it’s much the same phenomenon: swearwords used to be related to religion, but this has changed. In my grandparents’ and still in my parents’ generation, YezusMarya! (Jesus-Mary) was perhaps the most common swearword.

So we can trace the modern death of god — and of the related concept of hell — even through the use of swearwords.

But now and then I hear a combination of religion with sex or excrement. Thus, on TV on 9/11, I heard an eye witness exclaim, “Sweet fucking Jesus!” And “Holy shit!” has of course been around for a long time.

But as I explored swearwords in more detail, something truly intriguing emerged. Swearwords are not just a subset of words in a language, generated and processed by the same language areas as the rest.

Holy Molly punches the Devil. I was surprised by the scarcity of "devil" in English swear words -- perhaps because "hell" is a more handy monosyllable.

~ “The brain treats swear words differently than other words.

Your brain has both motor and premotor areas, both of which have some control over speech and writing. A part of the brain called Wernicke's area handles the recognition of and processing of spoken words. The prefrontal cortex handles things like personality and determining what is appropriate social behavior. In most people, the left hemisphere of their brains is in charge of language, while the right hemisphere is in charge of the emotional content of language. Processing language is known as one of the "higher" brain functions, while processing emotion is considered one of the "lower" or more primal and instinctual brain functions.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of the brain have revealed that swearing tends to affect the "lower" regions. Strong language gets "tagged" emotionally as we grow up, because our parents or teachers or peers react more strongly to certain words than others. If they react negatively to these words, that emotion gets stored in our brains along with any meanings of the words. So instead of processing "swear words" as a series of sounds or phonemes (as we do other words), the brain stores these "emotionally charged" words as whole units. As a result, the brain does not need the left hemisphere's help when processing them. Instead it relies on the limbic system (which controls memory, emotion, and behavior), and the basal ganglia (which controls motor functions and impulse control) to process the "swear words."

In a very real sense, therefore, swearing is a motor activity with a strong emotional content. This is one reason that most people remember swear words four times better than they do other words. fMRI studies have shown that the brain tends to "struggle" with itself when a person swears, these two areas competing for which will "win" in the moment.

Swearing is also affected by some disorders

One condition known as aphasia causes people to lose the ability to speak or pronounce words, as a result of disease or damage in the parts of the brain that control language. But even when aphasics have lost the ability to speak other words, they remember how to swear, and have no trouble remembering the more colorful words in their former vocabulary. Similarly, people who have undergone an accident or procedure that severs the connection with the left hemisphere of their brains tend to display a dramatic drop in their language abilities, but they still remember how to swear. There are other conditions such as Tourette's Syndrome that lead to coprolalia, an uncontrollable urge to swear. Studies of individuals afflicted with this condition have shown a strong link with the basal ganglia, and thus the more emotional components of language. 

As for how swearing can actually affect our perceptions of pain, one can only theorize, but there is ample scientific evidence that it happens. For example, Keele University psychologist Dr. Richard Stevens' research on the link between swearing and pain was inspired while sitting with his wife as she was giving birth to their children. When the contractions were at their worst and most painful, she often felt the need to swear, but as the contractions eased, so did the swearing. Curious, he began a series of experiments in which subjects were asked to experience mild levels of pain (holding their hands in a tub of freezing water) while repeating either neutral words, or swear words. The subjects were able to tolerate the pain significantly longer when repeating the swear words than the neutral words. His theory is that the association of emotion with these words triggers the "fight or flight" response in humans, stimulates the flow of adrenaline and endorphins, and thus can actually relieve pain.” ~

from another source

~ “To understand why profanity has become a subject for serious inquiry, look no further than the title of Benjamin Bergen’s new book: What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves. Studying how and why we swear has taught researchers much about where language originates in the brain, and the impact profanity has on our psyches.

It wasn’t long ago when the subject was as taboo as the words themselves. In the 1950s, academic inquiry into profanity was placed in the same category as sex research—controversial, immoral and strongly discouraged.

Yet, attitudes shifted with time, and swearing studies became less stigmatized. One of the most interesting and important findings to emerge over the years is that words come from more than one part of the brain. “We have two assembly lines that produce words,” says Bergen.

Researchers discovered that in part by observing patients with severe brain injuries and advanced neurodegenerative diseases. Often cited is a 19th century stroke case, in which a patient with brain damage lost the ability to form and understand speech, a condition known as aphasia, But he was able to swear, saying “I f*ck!” That was particularly unfortunate in his case. He was a priest.

Patients with Tourette syndrome have also provided evidence that language has multiple sources in the brain. Tourette syndrome is an inherited neurological disorder characterized by involuntary behavioral tics. For one in every 10 patients, these tics manifest as outbursts of swearing or offensive remarks such as “you’re ugly.” This phenomenon, known as coprolalia, is thought to be due to a malfunction in the basal ganglia, responsible for inhibiting unwanted or inappropriate behaviors.

Regular speech is generated in the left hemisphere, in an area of the brain close to the surface. The cerebral cortex, or “gray matter,” is often associated with higher thought processes such as thought and action. “It’s sophisticated,” says Bergen, “and comports with the idea of what it means to be human.”

Swearing, on the other hand, is generated much deeper in the brain, in regions that are older and more primitive in evolutionary terms, says Bergen. These regions are often found in the right hemisphere in the brain’s emotional center, the limbic system.

“These are words that express intense emotions—surprise, frustration, anger, happiness, fear,” says psychologist and linguist Timothy Jay, who began studying profanity more than 40 years ago.

“[Swearing] serves my need to vent, and it conveys my emotions to other people very effectively and symbolically,” he says. “Where other animals like to bite and scratch each other, I can say ‘f*ck you’ and you get my contempt—I don’t have to do it physically.” Of course there’s no protection against a primitive physical response, especially when that contempt is expressed in a bar.

Nearly every language in the world contains profanity. “There’s a point at which ordinary words don’t express our needs, but a profanity can do that,” says Michael Adams, a linguist at Indiana University and author of the new book In Praise of Profanity. Profanity makes up half a percent of the average person’s daily vocabulary, or one in every 200 words, according to Jay.

Profanity serves other purposes, too. Lovers use it as part of enticing sex talk; athletes and soldiers use it to forge camaraderie; and people in positions of power use it to reaffirm their superiority. Profanity is even used as a celebratory expression, says Adams, citing “F*ck yeah!” as an example.

The meaning of a profanity, like any other word, changes with time, culture and context. While swear words have been around since Greek and Roman times, and maybe even earlier, the types of things people consider offensive have changed. “People of the Middle Ages had no problems talking about sex or excrement, that was not their hang-up,” Adams explains. “Their hang-up was talking about God that was what a profanity was.”

Consider, also, that people today don’t recoil upon hearing “damn” as they did at the time of the movie Gone with the Wind, when Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler shocked audiences and Scarlett O’Hara with, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

We’ve since moved away from blasphemy being the most offensive and shocking type of profanity, says Bergen. “Now slurs are the worst ones.” Still, he says most swear words fall into four big categories: those relating to religion, sex, or excretion, and derogatory slurs. Most aren’t inherently disturbing except for slurs directed at people that insult their gender, ethnic or sexual identity.  And depending where you are in the word, there can be different takes on what’s considered profane. In Chile, it might be seafood: “Que te folle un pez” or “I hope you get f***ed by a fish.” In Italy, you might hear “porco miseria,” which has roughly the same meaning as “s***” or “bloody hell.” The Dutch might scorch you with “krijg de kanker,” or “get the cancer.”

While we know that swear words are produced in areas of the brain that control emotion, it seems like they might be processed in those regions when we hear them. “There is some evidence that the amygdala, the part of the brain involved in detecting threats, is activated when we hear taboo words,” says Stephen Pinker, a leading psychologist who studies language and cognition.

Researchers now want to explore the impact swearing has on listeners in greater detail. In particular, they’re interested in studying how slurs and terms of abuse can affect the people they’re directed at. For example, researchers would like to know whether middle schoolers experience higher levels of social anxiety when other kids batter them with profanity.

Swearing still makes many people uncomfortable—including Bergen’s mom, who has yet to finish reading his book. But don’t expect it to go away. It’s a deeply ingrained part of our culture, and almost all of us are guilty of unleashing an expletive now and then. “It’s a rare bird,” says Bergen, “who has never let slip a profane word.” Damn right.


I'm particularly fascinated by this part:

~ The meaning of a profanity, like any other word, changes with time, culture and context. While swear words have been around since Greek and Roman times, and maybe even earlier, the types of things people consider offensive have changed. “People of the Middle Ages had no problems talking about sex or excrement, that was not their hang-up,” Adams explains. “Their hang-up was talking about God that was what a profanity was.” ~

And this prevalence of religious swear words continued long past the Middle Ages . . .  Then swear words related to sex and excrement started to gain dominance. The decline in religion found its parallel in the decline of religious swear words, a mirror to the death of god.

But this doesn’t apply to “hell on earth.” How far we are still from implementing the ideal in the quotation below:

And the odd thing is that we can accept this for animals (especially pets) more easily than for humans. For small children, fine: most adults would probably agree that really young children deserve to live free from fear and pain. But past a certain age, watch out! Many parents still believe in “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Life is going to be hard, so there is a need to “prepare” a child for it by dishing out abuse. I’ve certainly seen this argument on Facebook, spouted again and again — if you give your child too much love, adult life is going to be a shock and the person will be “too weak” to cope. In fact the opposite seems to be true: being loved (not just in childhood but at any time of life) makes us stronger.


“We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.” ~ Aesop (621 BC - 564 BC)

Kleptocracy. Or, as Stephen King put it, Trump and his “plunder monkeys.” 


~ “Kate Bowler's new memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason And Other Lies I've Loved, is a funny, intimate portrait of living in that nether space between life and death. In it, she shares her experiences with incurable stage 4 cancer and gives advice on what not to say to those who are terminally ill.

Bowler is also the host of Everything Happens, a new podcast.

She writes that sometimes silence is the best response: "The truth is that no one knows what to say. It's awkward. Pain is awkward. Tragedy is awkward. People's weird, suffering bodies are awkward. But take the advice of one man, who wrote to me with his policy: Show up and shut up.”

from the interview:

I wrote the book more like a theological excavation project, like I was just trying to get down to the studs of what I really expected from my life. And I think I was a lot more sure than I realized ... maybe that I was the architect of my own life, that I could overcome anything with a little pluck and determination.

I went from feeling like a normal person to all of a sudden, like this spaghetti bowl of cancer. I was trying to learn how to give up really quickly, like looking at my beautiful husband and just immediately all the stuff you're supposed to say, which is just like, "I have loved you forever," and "All I want for you is love.”

You have these impossible thoughts like, "You will live without me," and "Please take care of our kid." And like you're trying to do all that hard work and then in the same moment, they're trying to rush in and say, "We're going to fight this." There's all these plans they want to pour their certainty in, to remake the foundation. And there's this, kind of, almost terrible exchange, where you're trying to remake the world as it was. But it's all come apart.

~ On whether she has had conversations with her 4-year-old son about death

He is entirely impervious to all of this, in the best way. But I do think the thing that has radically changed is I really was, before, trying to create this little bubble around him and us, 'cause I thought, like, "It's my job to protect you," and then I realized that I would be the worst thing that happened to him if this went badly.

So then I thought like, "OK, parenting strategy change." And I thought, 'Well, if I can just teach you that there is still beauty in others in the midst of pain, then like, that's my job." So we work a lot on like, "How are you feeling?" like, "I feel frustrated." And then getting him to notice the feelings of others.

~ On how she has learned to cope with negative news about her diagnosis

Well I have rules for when things are too sad, 'cause sometimes, just the reality of things really feels like an avalanche, and it's just going to sweep everything away. So I do make rules for the day, like don't talk about sad things after 9 p.m., so I try to make my day a little gentler. I try to make other people's day a little gentler.
The other thing I do is I try really stupid stuff, like I got terrible news a couple months ago, which thankfully turned out to be a medical error.

It was a scan and it looked brutal, but I spent that week thinking like, "This is my last year for sure." And it was weird because the next day, I turned to a friend and I said, "Would you like to go visit the world's largest Ukrainian sausage?" And he was like, "Oh, I'm in."

~ On her list of things not to say to someone with terminal cancer, including "How are the treatments going and how are you really?”

This is the toughest one of all. I can hear you trying to be in my world and be on my side. But picture the worst thing that's ever happened to you. Got it? Now try to put it in a sentence. Now say it aloud 50 times a day. Does your head hurt? Do you feel sad? Me too. So let's just see if I want to talk about it today, because sometimes I do and sometimes I want a hug and a recap of American Ninja Warrior.” ~


from Amazon:

Kate Bowler is a professor at Duke Divinity School with a modest Christian upbringing, but she specializes in the study of the prosperity gospel, a creed that sees fortune as a blessing from God and misfortune as a mark of God’s disapproval. At thirty-five, everything in her life seems to point toward “blessing.” She is thriving in her job, married to her high school sweetheart, and loves life with her newborn son.

Then she is diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.

The prospect of her own mortality forces Kate to realize that she has been tacitly subscribing to the prosperity gospel, living with the conviction that she can control the shape of her life with “a surge of determination.” Even as this type of Christianity celebrates the American can-do spirit, it implies that if you “can’t do” and succumb to illness or misfortune, you are a failure. Kate is very sick, and no amount of positive thinking will shrink her tumors. What does it mean to die, she wonders, in a society that insists everything happens for a reason? Kate is stripped of this certainty only to discover that without it, life is hard but beautiful in a way it never has been before.

This book will not tell you "everything will be okay". Instead, it will tell you, "you know, it might NOT be okay, but we'll keep living anyway and I will stand there with you.”


For both those facing serious illness and those terminally ill, I would  think you must be honest and kind. The worst thing I think we do is cast the terminally ill, the ones with the worst diagnoses, as “warriors” who must valiantly fight with all their might, no matter what the suffering involved — this places an intolerable burden of guilt on the person who isn’t winning, or can’t possibly win. Suffering becomes defeat, becomes failure, becomes a weakness of character, a spiritual flaw.

This is not only unjust, it is cruel, and all the cheering on, all the flag waving, and naming of “survivors” helps only those who need to distance themselves and reassure themselves that despite everything, strength of spirit and a positive attitude will prevail. This is nonsense. This is the fear of the well encountering the specter of their own potential for suffering and death. I think it is also part of our society’s fear of and denial of death — so extreme at times it is as though we somehow feel death is “optional,” and dying a bad choice, rather than the natural and inevitable consequence of life. When my mother said to me, early in the year that would be her last: “I think this is my last spring” I asked her how she felt about that — I did not “Hush” her with false reassurance, denying that she could fail so badly.. and she answered — “A little curious.”

As in our collective denial of death’s inevitability, the fundamentalist insistence on Absolutism is grounded in fear. If everything is already “written” by the One Infallible author, all uncertainty vanishes. We  are safe as children under the authority of the Father. The Righteous will be rewarded, and everyone else punished.

Fundamentalists, in any system,  cling to this with a sort of rabid hysteria — any refutation, admitting any error, threatens the whole edifice, and pushes them out into the chaos of an uncertain world that is indifferent to their existence and uninterested in their survival. I have felt the pull of this kind of belief, the temptation actually, in very hard and difficult times, to swoon backward into that mythic childhood place of feeling safe — where “Jesus loves me.” Where if I believe and follow all the rules I will be surrounded by the goodness and comfort of that love. But I simply couldn’t do it, couldn’t deliberately refuse to see the imaginary design for what it was, refuse to see my own objections to it’s inconsistencies  and elaborate nonsense. So I remain at the apostate’s table.



You put it wonderfully. Kate Bowler, the author of the book, says that she unwittingly accepted the Prosperity Gospel — everything that happens is either a reward or punishment. But you use a more precise term here: the Warrior mentality when it comes to serious illness (though the warrior mentality pervades the culture in general, an individualism pushed to the extremes: you are allegedly in complete control of your life and your body).

Yet the longer I live, the more I see how little we control when is comes to the truly important things: so much is sheer accident. Also, we often don’t know what is best, and could use more trust in the body, in life. I rebelled when a friend send me all kinds of videos with pre- and post-op meditations. “This time, I don’t even want to think about it. I just want to leave it up to my body,” I said. (At that point I’d already experienced the ravages of the highly recommended physical exercise; before then, the ravages of the so-called “healthy” diet.) 

So, I’ve come to see that while the fighting spirit may be needed in some cases, in MOST cases we do better with a relaxed, “Let go” attitude. A little gardening does my health a lot more good than any “push yourself” exercise regimen. 

My other insight is the importance of affection. If you don’t have a loving person(s) in your life, get a dog. We must love and be loved. But in the end even love will not prevail against death. It is not a defeat. If you’ve had an interesting life, you’ve already “won” (not that there is any need for the win/lose attitude).

Thank you for sharing the wonderful detail about your mother’s last spring. Curiosity — now there is an attitude to have instead of the “I will WIN!!” warrior posturing.


“The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief—call it what you will—than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course.” ~ A.A. Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh

It’s hair-raising in its archaic punishments. Parts of it, at least, read like an ISIS manual (Islam is mostly derived from ancient Orthodox Judaism). It’s a valuable historical document of that culture and mentality, but shows the arbitrary and culture-bound nature of Yahweh — not a lovable deity by any standard. Or, what is perhaps more relevant, not worthy of worship any more than a cruel dictator would be.

Harold Bloom says that in Christianity Yahweh becomes a very shrunken figure. That’s not the way he felt to me. On the contrary, he loomed gigantic, tyrannical, the one with the real power. Because he cast people into hell, he out-Hitlered Hitler. There was no way I could love such a god. But the commandment was to love him, so I realized I was doomed — no way for me to avoid hell. And to believe that one is doomed to hell was a sin against the Holy Ghost, the one sin that will not be forgiven. So there. A total trap. An eleven-year-old girl in despair over her upcoming eternal damnation.


~ “Scientists have found an entirely new mechanism by which our body measures and influences our weight. This "gravitostat" is thought to reside in our bones and may offer new treatment avenues for obesity.

Some studies have shown that the relationship between hours spent sitting and obesity are independent of the amount of exercise undertaken.

In other words, standing itself seems to have anti-obesity powers beyond the number of calories it burns.

As Prof. John-Olov Jansson, of the Sahlgrenska Academy [Sweden], states, "Quite simply, we have found support for the existence of internal bathroom scales. The weight of the body is registered in the lower extremities. If the body weight tends to increase, a signal is sent to the brain to decrease food intake and keep the body weight constant.”

To come to this intriguing and important conclusion, the research team ran a series of experiments on rodents (both rats and mice). The animals were implanted with weighted capsules, making them 15 percent heavier. Control animals had empty capsules implanted, increasing their body weight by just 3 percent.

Amazingly, the animals carrying the additional weight reduced their food intake to compensate. Over the course of the experiment, the animals lost roughly the same amount of weight as was added by the artificial load.

Body fat decreased, and blood glucose levels improved. Motor activity was unchanged, meaning that the loss of fat was solely due to dietary changes.

To understand whether or not leptin could be behind this fat loss mechanism, the team repeated its experiments on a strain of mouse that does not produce leptin. In these mice, the results were the same, implying that leptin is not responsible. This is an entirely new mechanism.

How can the body weigh itself?

The answer appears to be in our bones. Osteocytes, the most common cell type in bone tissue, are important for communication between cells. Osteocytes can detect whether a particular section of bone is under increased mechanical stress, signaling the need for new bone formation and remodeling.

The researchers carried out the same experiment again, but this time using mice with reduced numbers of osteocytes. They found that the animals no longer lost weight in response to the weighted implants. The mechanism appears to be osteocyte-dependent.

They conclude that “increased body weight activates a sensor dependent on osteocytes of the weight-bearing bones. This induces an afferent signal [a signal going to the central nervous system], which reduces body weight.

Uncovering a new mechanism unearths many more questions than it answers. For example, if osteocytes are involved, how exactly do they exert their influence on feeding behavior?

To attempt to answer this question, the team looked at a range of bone-derived compounds, including sclerotin and osteocalcin, but none seemed to be involved.

They also explored the potential roles of other factors involved in fat regulation, including ghrelin (a hormone involved in hunger), MC4R (an important mediator in the effects of leptin), and estrogen receptor-alpha (involved in regulating fat and bone mass). None appeared to play a part.

Understanding how an internal weighing system might work could help to unravel the connections between sitting time and health. Ohlsson explains, "We believe that the internal body scales give an inaccurately low measure when you sit down. As a result, you eat more and gain weight.”


One of the most exciting medical news articles in the recent years. Hah! Sitting prevents the correct “weighing” of the body by the bone cells in the lower extremities.

Here is a quick summary from another source:

~ “By now you've probably heard the notion that "sitting is the new smoking" or put even more frankly: that "sitting is killing you." But a new study puts a positive spin on the bad news about all that time spent sedentary; the research shows that losing weight and fighting the related obesity epidemic could be as simple as literally taking a stand.

Researchers at Sweden's University of Gothenburg believe they may have discovered the body's second known system for regulating body weight.

“Quite simply, we have found support for the existence of internal bathroom scales," explains Professor John-Olov Jansson, in a statement. "The weight of the body is registered in the lower extremities. If the body weight tends to increase, a signal is sent to the brain to decrease food intake and keep the body weight constant.

“We believe that the internal body scales give an inaccurately low measure when you sit down. As a result you eat more and gain weight,” says Ohlsson.

In other words, sitting could really be killing us because it distorts the body's own picture of how much it weighs, screwing with the systems that regulate body fat.” ~

Too simple to be true? To be sure, this is just the beginning of research into that aspect of weight control. A discovery has been made, and now it needs a lot of follow-up.

The ultimate human dream is a drug that would make it possible to eat anything we want and just prevent the conversion of excess calories into body fat. A drug that would safely block fat formation would definitely make whoever patents it extremely rich, so you can be sure that the search is on. But so far, we’ve had only unsafe stimulants that can cause a heart attack. So it’s time to simply stand up.

Stand up . . .  stretch . . . lift some weights a few times . . . or just hold those weights . . . 


ending on beauty:

. . . paradise was when
regathered from height and depth
came out onto the soft, green level earth
into the natural light

~ A. R. Ammons

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