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Carpe Diem

This morning I heard “Chasing the Sun” by Sara Bareilles, one of my favorite musicians ever. In case you haven’t heard it yet, the song reminds us that life can be rich though fleeting, and that honoring those no longer with us should reinforce the value of our continuing lives. A universal message to be sure, but one too easy to overlook in the hustle of daily life. I’m not doing the song justice, of course. Find it here and listen for yourself: https://www.amazon.com/Chasing-The-Sun/dp/B00DRDSLNU

“Life’s a Song” by Mindy Braasch is another worthwhile listen, available (at least right now) as a free download from her website here: http://mindybraasch.com/

Take a moment to reflect on what you do each day that really matters. If you have trouble finding these answers, that’s okay, but you need this reflection even more. Life is far too short and too fragile to let it slip away without a fight. We’re not all taught that, but it is still true. Step up, step out, and live today as if it is all that matters. Tomorrow will come for most of us, if we’re lucky, but today is really all we have. It’s the most important day, and it means everything. Be grateful, and more than that, be aware. Look, listen, pay attention, and live.

Why Not Try?

I’m sure you noticed that this blog is new.

Until recently, I spent most of my life thinking of reasons NOT to do things, and boy, are there an endless supply of those, once you start looking! I don’t know why I did that, other than simple fear of failure or of success. Yes, success! (“What would I do if I failed at this? Admit I’m worthless? Never try anything new again?”) If you HAVE these conversations with yourself, it can be so much easier to get around the unspoken fears that hold you back from the shadows of your mind; put a name to them, and you remove their teeth (another blog post will focus entirely on this subject). Or, might I simply say, “That didn’t go as well as I hoped, but I liked trying, or didn’t. Maybe I’ll try again, or try something different next time.”

Also ask yourself, “What if I try something and it works well? What if I succeed? Will people look to me for guidance or inspiration or even just with admiration? What is wrong with that? What if I don’t like the attention? And do I have to keep doing this forever once I find I’m good at it or I like it today?” Of course not! Start these conversations with yourself and remove the fear of uncertainty. Then you’re simply trying something new, and new experiences can turn out good, bad, or everywhere in between. You literally never know until you actually try it.

Think about it. Read about it. Plan something. Try something. Risk a little or risk nothing, learn how it goes, and learn how you feel. Once you know better, do better. Or move on if you don’t want to do better at that. But either way, be honest with yourself and open to whatever you are trying. Join me in starting something of your own. What do you want to try next?

Thoughts on Friday the 13th

I have long considered this date to be irrelevant in the grand scheme of life, but that doesn’t keep me from recognizing it.

Like so many people who believe themselves to be intelligent and discerning, I am keenly aware that just because I may feel a certain way, that does not put me into the majority by any means. If most people in this country believe that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day, then it bears paying attention. In the same way, if most people think that there is something in the road along which I am driving, whether I think so or not, I would be wise to pay attention to their behavior in case they swerve around the spot, obstacle or no!

It is interesting that there is no consensus of any particular origin of the superstition, though several theories have sprung up over the past couple of centuries. Christians say that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, and history suggests that the Romans conducted all executions on Friday; they also add that Judas was the 13th guest at the Last Supper. The Norse god Loki was said to be the 13th (unwanted) guest at a meal in Valhalla attended by 12 other gods; Loki, god of mischief, tricked one of Odin’s sons into destroying his brother during the visit, and the mourning over such a great loss fueled the superstition for ages to come.

Curiously as well, people in the United States view Friday the 13th as unlucky, but Italians see Friday the 17th in the same light, while Greek people and Spanish-speaking cultures hold Tuesday the 13th to be the unluckiest day in general. Some literature backs up many of these modern ideas, but the histories have a pretty wide range of origins, too. The Dutch have even noted that fires, theft, and traffic accidents in the Netherlands tend to be lower on Friday the 13th, since people tend to be more careful on this day; some even stay home as a precaution. And Finland promotes the National Accident Day to raise awareness of automotive safety. The scheduled date for this each year? Always on a Friday the 13th (which does occur at least once and often more in every calendar year).

Looking around at traditions and group psychology, it is easy to see why millions of people believe that there is an unlucky day like this, whether the proof is there or not. But my favorite perspective is one that a colleague told me just this morning: how can it be unlucky when you’re about to enjoy a weekend off of work? So have a nice weekend, everyone, whatever your plans. And if you have to work on Saturday, remember that everyone else will be grateful to have made it past Friday the 13th, and share a few smiles with them over that.

Reflections on the flu

I heard someone say today they were suffering through the worst flu they could remember for more than 20 years. While there was little I could do to help, I did wonder why such things seem to be getting worse.

Tonight I learned that influenza is an especially tricky virus to fend off because it mutates regularly, and there have been at least 24 varieties observed by modern scientists.1 Some viruses and bacteria might change over time, but the flu virus seems to do this every year now, making antibodies obsolete when a new strain invades. Worse, the 15 versions of H and 9 versions of N can combine into a multitude of unique variations, although the body seems to recognize them primarily by those two proteins, so perhaps 24 is the greatest number that humans must face (at once!) for now.

We have all heard for years that nothing can treat a virus except time and a natural immune response, but there is now a trio of antiviral treatments that all seem to function in the same manner as one another. Zanamivir (commonly called Relenza)2, Oseltamivir (known as Tamiflu)3, and Peramivir (trade name Rapivab)4 all inhibit the chemical action of neuraminidase, an enzyme the viruses produce to enable them to escape from infected cells and spread into healthy cells. As inhibitors, they do not attack the virus directly and do little against a full-blown infection. But taken very early after exposure, they can help to limit the virus’s activity and thus shorten the time required for the immune system to eliminate it from the body.

As any informed shopper knows these days, overuse of antibiotics (which only work against bacteria) can allow resistant strains to rise when their competitors are pushed back. These antivirals can be overused in the same way, blocking some of the flu viruses and allowing any new mutation to spread like wildfire. Even this limited line of defense can quickly fall apart if it is abused. A healthy immune system really is the best defense against the flu, and not everyone has that anymore. Still, people are working on solutions.5 6 7 Please share any more that you find in the comments below!

 

References / further reading:

  1. Book: “Gasping For Air” by Kevin Glynn, MD; published 8/3/2017 by Rowman & Littlefield
  2. Zanamivir: https://www.medicinenet.com/zanamivir/article.htm#what_is_zanamivir_and_how_does_it_work_mechanism_of_action
  3. Oseltamivir: http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/tamiflu/how_work.htm
  4. Peramivir: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peramivir
  5. Urumin is effective against strains of the virus that resist the three antivirals above. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urumin
  6. Scytovirin https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scytovirin must be cultivated from bacteria at present but is topically protective against flu virus and HIV, among other deadly pathogens.
  7. One promising step toward a universal flu vaccine was announced in 2010 http://mbio.asm.org/content/1/1/e00018-10.abstract and seems to have begun development by several more teams.

Soldiers as Guardians… and more importantly, as Humans

Soldiers are celebrated as heroes, as well they should be, putting their lives on the line to defend what they believe in. But problems arise when people can no longer believe in anything real. Artificial borders, political affiliations, religious zealotry… these are ideas that are meant to divide humans from each other, and they do so quite effectively.

I heard something tonight that got me thinking more than ever about this issue. Whether fictional or not, the very concept of a “NQK” (No Questions Kill) mission is troublesome on the face of it. The supremely destructive act of taking a life, while sometimes necessary for the greater good, should never be undertaken lightly, nor blindly. Well-trained soldiers with understanding from an informed populace make the BEST soldiers, because they understand the reasons behind their orders, and so can follow them with conviction when right, or know to question them when wrong.

The problem with “blind loyalty” is right there in the name: it is BLIND. And of course, “there is none so blind as one who will not see.” If someone refuses to consider new ideas, that person has stopped learning and indeed has stopped thinking. Confirmation bias is a widely-known psychological phenomenon to which no one is immune; the only way to avoid it is by constantly questioning one’s own reasoning and conclusions. Sound reasoning can stand up to this. However, rationalizing what we already want to believe is no way to live, and it is the antithesis of truth.

Regarding leadership, some people have been shown to thrive with firm guidance, but most people can do so much more with encouragement, education, and opportunity than with slavish obedience. There are people who are so scarred, mentally and emotionally, that they need structure imposed upon them to function at all, but “breaking” people so they can become better at following orders still requires BREAKING in the first place. If breaking the spirit of horses is innately cruel (since they have a right to life), then breaking the spirit of humans is just as cruel (since they have a right to life, too). There is no difference unless we close our eyes and cry dogma, and that difference is artificial and deadly to all life.

With compartmentalized knowledge and secret missions, police become simple tools of the person or group in power, and military soldiers become no more than pawns in power struggles, and not the guardians of their people that they should be. Even our so-called National Guard simply protects financial interests in other countries much of the time. Soldiers should be entrusted with the protection of their people, and the full understanding of what and whom they are protecting, and why.

People with strong tendencies are easy to steer. This is not necessarily the same as passion. Passion for something is a choice you make, something you are happy to pursue. Drives, however, can compel you to take actions, good or bad. These can stem from healthy convictions or from poorly-understood emotional obsessions. The detective who never misses a clue at the crime scene may still feel compulsions that capture his attention in daily life, even to the point of letting him walk right into danger unawares. The officer or agent who remains cool in the face of most criminal activity may still lose his self-control in the presence of someone who did what was done to him in his youth. If it made him feel powerless and victimized years ago, he may overreact to the newest villain and even lose sight of his training, perhaps even compromising the prosecution against the new monster before him. Mature children of manipulative parents who outgrow the oppressive grip under which they were raised, still may find the old reactions coming back years later, even after just a phone call with a parent or someone who reminds them of that time.

All of this speaks to why blind obedience is just as dangerous for soldiers and the people they would protect, because blind followers can be used like tools if you know how to grip their handles; sailed like winds on the sea if you know which direction they blow and how to tack. Rich metaphors for certain, but the same is true for those who train people too narrowly.

Soldiers who are best suited to protect themselves, their families, and their homelands, are well-rounded, intelligent people who understand their own psychology as well as that of their opponents. Enemies of humanity abound, but they can only climb to power and work from within if they first train their guardians not to look inward. True heroes may or may not be patriots, but if you believe that this is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, then the Free and the Brave must be free to question their leaders and brave enough to do so. Everyone is wrong sometimes. The wisest among us understand this, value honest feedback, admit our own mistakes and learn from them, to grow wiser and stronger over time. This is true leadership. The stubborn and the strong may defeat a person, a group, or a nation, but they will never be handed victory without a fight by anyone who knows who they are but questions everything honestly, to ensure that they stay true.

Any path through the chaos of life is never easy, and we must always remain vigilant to know upon what ground we stand, and which way we are facing as we move across each terrain that we encounter. Stop and rest, recover your strength, look inward at yourself and at those around you, and you will see which way to go after a time. Life is like travel by foot. Sometimes there will be fog all around; sometimes visibility is clear for miles. Sometimes everything seems uphill, but there is always a balance to that if you just keep going. I read once, “If you’re going through hell… KEEP GOING!” Anywhere you stop and give up, you will remain. Even if you settle in a fertile valley by a river, if you do not pay attention and tend to the land around you, you will stagnate and start to decay.

Only through challenge can we grow stronger. The person whose injuries are healing but who will not test his muscles because they still hurt, will lose what muscle he had, and will continue to weaken. The person who never pushes the boundaries never learns what she can do. The child who never encounters bacteria or dirt may never develop the immunity to carry him through the dangers of adult life. The adult who stops questioning her values stops understanding them and shrivels into a creature of blind habit. The elder whose habits and traditions have never been challenged collapses upon himself and may wonder one day what all he has missed by never looking the other way. Or he may never wonder at all, and lose even the benefits of hindsight and the wisdom of reflection.

Struggle, in modest doses, makes us stronger. It makes us wiser, as we learn where we thrive as well as what always hurts more than it helps. It broadens our horizons whenever we take up something new, even for a day, a year, a decade. Exercise your body when and where you can. Be careful, but take risks. Push a little every chance you get, then reflect on how it made you feel. Even fear cannot rule us when we understand it and call it by name. Everything you learn makes you stronger. Insight is a tool at least as powerful as a strong back. Experience opens more doors than you can count. “New” may be daunting, but growth can be inspiring. The endorphins people talk about when they exercise are from pushing themselves in the right ways and the right amounts. People can feel the same invigorating release of energy from mental accomplishments and emotional milestones.

Work. Push. Think. Learn. Reflect. Discuss. Understand. Find peace in motion and growth in sharing, whether you connect with other people or with everything else around you even while seemingly alone. There is always something. No part of this planet is truly empty. And if you are there, it can be a rich place indeed.

Briefly: Aeon.co

This week I discovered a new essay-publishing site called Aeon.co – a not-for-profit site supported by reader patrons, and perhaps syndication fees.  Some of these essays are short, some very long, some video clips, and all thought-provoking with good titles and great subheadings. I look forward to exploring more about this site and sharing at least some of the articles and videos therein.

https://aeon.co/

Today’s Random Brief Discovery

5/23/2021 – As a lifetime glottophile, I have long been fascinated by the various families of languages that modern cultures use, and of course some of their historical roots and changes over the centuries and millennia.

Today I learned of a few new groupings:

In 2014, a new research paper suggested a common linguistic ancestor between the first two families above.

I do love finding more ways to show how connected we are on this Earth, and common languages, however far back they may reach, can help light the way to a greater understanding of each other in the present.

We really do have more in common with our neighbors at home and abroad than many of us realize. And if seeing that helps anyone empathize a little better today, it seems worth sharing, too.

 

5/22/2021 – Silvopasture means that trees are left standing on grazing lands, and the balance is carefully managed. This hands-on practice leads to greater health for the trees, the pastures, and the animals, and is a solid improvement over clear-cutting trees for grazing turf.

My screensaver changes daily, and this beautiful cover image led me to my discovery. The USDA’s Forestry Center and of course Wikipedia both had more to add, if you’re as intrigued as I am and want to read a few more tidbits.

 

4/19/2021 – Space Calendar – Sync your calendar with the solar system and Earth’s space programs! Keep in tune with every eclipse, meteor shower, rocket launch, and other astronomical event before it happens. I’m in already! How about you?

 

7/15/2020 – Idea of the Day: Code-Switching – Humans are not generally wired to appreciate change; in many, novelty often seems to activate the same parts of the brain that generate fear, a largely obsolete reaction to unexpected encounters in prehistory that might have meant a new predator or a dangerous development was at hand. This fact makes it even more important to expose young people (especially) to as many new ideas and situations as possible, preferably at the side of a guiding adult who understands both science and social nuances. With some exposure and a broad education, such children can grow up to be confident citizens of the world, open-minded enough to handle change with care and kindness, and wise enough to learn from their ongoing experiences and become even better at dealing with various people and groups they meet, and even with paradigm shifts that they will undoubtedly witness in their lifetimes. (These thoughts came after reading a short piece in the NYTimes morning briefing; follow the link and search the page for “Code-switching” if you’d like to read a little more on the subject.)

 

5/2/2020 – “Science Will Win” – I just watched this great commercial about science, working together, and doing everything we can to advance our understanding and even beat pandemics. Well done!

 

1/10/2020 – “Discover the unsearchable” – DiscoverTheForest.org What a beautiful TV spot and a marvelous website! Reconnecting families with each other, and helping people of every age bond with the natural world around us all. A lesson more timely than ever, and eternally valuable!


1/2/2020 – Today I discovered MUJI, short for Mujirushi Ryohin, a Japanese company that specializes in “no-brand quality goods” and environmental responsibility. Unexpectedly delightful, they have spread across the globe since 1980 and bring fascinating products and some real excellence to boot. See their pens, their octagonal chopsticks, and their household goods (and more) right here, at
https://www.muji.com/us/ – if you prefer another language, just visit https://www.muji.com/ and select your nation of choice there. Check it out today!


12/1/2018 – I was out shopping today, when I saw a T-shirt that made me laugh out loud in appreciation. I have always loved great wordplay!
This one said CARPE SKIEM (the image below is not my own photograph; clicking on that image will open a link to buy this shirt for yourself, if you want to – no affiliate anything, just sharing the fun!)

CARPE SKIEM T-shirt


11/19/2018 – Today you can meet Shadan Kishi Price, a vegan/vegetarian chef in Denton, Texas with multiple degrees, boundless energy, and a passion for fabulous food and friendly service. Shadan won an award this year for the most unique menu in the Food Truck Championship of Texas. She runs a food truck, serves the community, caters for businesses, and hopes to start sharing her most popular menu items in area grocery stores soon as well. Learn more about her
Middle Eastern fusion here, check out some wonderful photos, and find out where Leila’s Food Truck will be next. Full of Flavor, Free of Meat, and always delicious!

 

11/4/2018 – Learning new languages can deepen your understanding of different cultures. Such bridges lead people to peace, sharing, and growth for all. Find a group, an app, or a course that interests you; start learning about other cultures through their language; then find a community where you can practice your skills and get to know a different people in their own words. Start anywhere you like, but start today!

https://www.duolingo.com/

 

7/28/2018 – One famous leader on screens large and small was inspired by a genuine family of innovators and adventurers. This is your primer on The Piccard Stratosphere Flight – joining Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek fame and real-life Captain Bertrand Piccard of the Solar Impulse 2, the first plane to navigate the globe powered entirely by the sun.

 

7/7/2018 – This morning, a new TV ad came on showing a woman bursting into the (female) President’s meeting room, filled with advisers. She exclaimed, “It wasn’t an attack, just a failure in the mainframe; don’t worry – I fixed it!” She holds a microchip in her hand, and the scene fades to a student holding the same microchip, smiling as she envisions the future and where her knowledge might take her. The tagline of this commercial, of course, is “We believe that if you can see her, you can be her™.” #SeeHer

https://www.seeher.com/

 

6/12/2018 – Most of the time, looking for vegan food options in the Southeastern USA means constant vigilance and a lot of questions. Tonight I found a site where someone has done that work already. Follow the link below for vegan options at a host of modern fast-food places.

https://coolasvegan.com/vegan-fast-food-options-list/

 

6/4/2018 – It feels good to stretch your body out in the morning, but avoid anything too aggressive. Health and wellness coach Jeffrey Siegel says that the spinal discs naturally absorb fluid as your body restores its hydration balance during sleep. He cautions that while the discs expand, sometimes making you a bit taller in the morning, this natural process also limits movement of the vertebrae and causes the spine to stiffen. As a result, flexing and bending too deeply when you first wake up is not only harder, but potentially dangerous. Move gently right when you wake up to avoid any injuries.

 

5/4/2018 – Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia, PA, where grave gardeners cultivate beds of flowers in planters over the graves. True to the era in which the cemetery was created, this brings some extra peace and a lot of new life to a place of mourning and quiet reflection. Once a public park, people are returning to enjoy the grounds.

https://www.gravegardeners.org/

 

1/26/2018 – This week I discovered a new essay-publishing site called Aeon.co – a not-for-profit site supported by reader patrons, and perhaps syndication fees.  Some of these essays are short, some very long, some video clips, and all thought-provoking with good titles and great subheadings. I look forward to exploring more about this site and sharing at least some of the articles and videos therein.

https://aeon.co/