Monday, February 29, 2016

Above, what I'm playing on my iPhone, a screenshot from the cat sim game Neko Atsume.  Below, what's actually going on in real life while I'm playing.  Life imitates art, or reverse virtual reality?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

I'm still fascinated by evolution and embryology, even if former Georgia congressman Paul Broun called the sciences "lies straight from the pit of Hell."  He doesn't speak for all Georgians.

Apparently, almost all animals pass through a watershed moment early in their life called gastrulation. Typically, before gastrulation, an embryo consists of a hollow ball of cells, the blastula, the wall of which is one cell thick.  During gastrulation, the ball indents to form a cup with two layers, and the opening of the cup closes to form a small hole called the blastopore. 

For many animals, including mammals, reptiles, birds, and such, that small pore becomes the anus, which is used to expel wastes from the body cavity (the inside of the cup) and a mouth later develops on the opposite side.  However, most other animals, including the great variety of insects, spiders, crustaceans, segmented worms, and molluscs, including the slug that crawled across a wall of my house yesterday, do it differently.  These animals, which are far more numerous than the first bunch, use the blastopore as a mouth, and then later develop an anus on the opposite site or somewhere else on their body plan.  All these creatures are collectively called protostomes, which means "mouth first," and we humans and other mammals, reptiles, birds, etc. are called deuterostomes, which means "mouth second."  All living protostomes descended from the first "mouth first" animal and all living deuterostomes descended from the first "mouth second" creature.

So the common ancestor between man and slug is a creature that's neither a protostome nor a deuterostome and lived before animals started going through gastrulation.  That common ancestor was probably something similar to certain of the current flatworms, those small worms living in or near the ocean that lack a body cavity (no gastrulation) and an anus.  The protostomes and deuterostomes did not evolve from those living flatworms, the Acoela and the Nemertodermatida, but all of us deuterostomes, the protostomes, and the living flatworms all descended from a common ancestor that was probably very similar to the present Acoela and the Nemertodermatida.

Two other things I've learned that make this interesting, at least to me.  The flatworms most of us are at least passingly familiar with, the tapeworms, flukes, and such, don't have body cavities or an anus, but are still considered protostomes.  Natural selection has actually caused them to lose the body cavities and anuses they've inherited in order to fill some niche, just as some mammals (whales and dolphins) have returned to the sea and at least superficially resemble fishes, but are still mammals. So that common ancestor of man and slug was not quite like a tapeworm or our usual idea of what a flatworm looks like, but actually something stranger still.

The Acoela, a tiny creature more representative of the common ancestor, is so simple that some species let algae inhabit parts of their bodies and therefore benefit from photosynthesis to supplement their diet.  As Richard Dawkins describes them (I'm indebted to Dawkins for most of my understanding about all this), the Acoela can be seen living in colonies on the beaches of Brittany, where they appear as a green slime due to all the algae. They crowd the surface as much as they can to give the algae as much sunlight to work with as possible, but as one approaches, the green slime suddenly disappears by retreating into the sand.

My point in all of this is that the more we examine and the more we learn about life on this planet, the more connected we realize we are and the more alike we realize we are, despite the profound differences we see at first.     

Friday, February 26, 2016

This little critter was crawling across an exterior wall of my house Wednesday (the picture is rotated 90 degrees to make it look "normal").  I'm far from sure, but I think it's a form of Carolina mantleslug. 

Land slug is the common name for any shell-less terrestrial mollusc.  As the shell-less condition has independently arisen many time during the evolutionary past, there are a great variety of slugs derived from several quite different evolutionary lineages. Therefore, the various families of slugs are not closely related, despite a superficial similarity in the overall body form, but they've all evolved from one common ancestor. 

To be sure, humans did not evolve from slugs, but if you go way, way back in evolution, about 590 million years ago, the lineage that gave rise to humans branched off from that same common ancestor that gave rise to the various families of slugs.  You can consider that common ancestor, by Richard Dawkins' estimate, as our 300 million greats- grandfather.  That would make the present slug not an ancestor, but a far-distant cousin.

Therefore, it's not surprising that 70% of our DNA is the same as a slug's.  The difference between us and them is only in that other 30%. Still, it's startling when we encounter ourselves in an unfamiliar form, separated as we are by 590 million years of separation and 300 million generations,

He was gone by the time I finished unpacking the groceries from my car.  Since there's no way he could have moved that fast, I fear a bird must have gotten him and this picture uploaded to the internet will be his only legacy.   

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The homicidal neighborhood trees have attacked again, this time falling near the neighborhood park and blocking the road until the Fire Department came by with a chain saw and cleared the way.

Naturally, the tree struck power lines on the way down and knocked the power out for over three hours.

LOL - the sign warning motorists about the fallen power lines couldn't turn on because there was no power due to, you got it, the fallen power lines.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Sunday, February 21, 2016

"Just think of the trees: they let the birds perch and fly, with no intention to call them when they come and no longing for their return when they fly away.  If people's hearts can be like the trees, they will not be off the Way." - Zen Master Roya Ekaku (11th Century)

"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." - Jesus of Nazareth (1st Century)

"The cats will come and go at their own pleasure; there is no point to wishing their arrival or trying to delay their departure."  - Neko Atsume (21st Century)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Okay, I finally mustered the courage to look under the bed, and there were no monsters there.  I looked in the closet and found no bogeyman.  Sure, as it turns out, there was somebody lurking in the shadows outside, but he was just a municipal worker anxious to finish his job and get home and didn't want any trouble. 

In other words, all my worrying and anxieties turned out to be for nothing.  I was anxious about losing things I wanted but did not yet have, and despite assurances from everyone involved that I would get them, my mind indulged in worst-case fantasies of treachery, of being double-crossed, of not being respected.  But fantasies are just make-believe, and everything turned out to be alright in the end. 

No doubt, there were and will continue to be challenges and set-backs, trials and tribulations.  But generally speaking, they aren't as bad as we fear they will be,  Sometimes, we're our own worst enemies.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Suffering is caused by our longings and attachments, I know.  I know it's all in the mind, and I know that this too shall pass.  But knowing alone is not enough, because right here, right now, my mind is running wild with negative fantasies and is causing me distress, and will continue at least until I decide not to indulge myself anymore. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Monday, February 15, 2016

But to be honest, the challenges and difficulties that I'm imagining right now are pretty formidable. A luta continua.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Winter Snow, 2011

It's not that there aren't challenges and difficulties on my path, it's just that they aren't as bad as I imagine.

Saturday, February 13, 2016


“Awareness cannot be practiced. There has been some confusion between awareness and mindfulness. They are related, but distinct. Sati, or mindfulness, implies there is action of the mind. We purposely set ourselves to pay attention to our minds. We exert effort. Awareness is different. Awareness is devoid of any action. The mind simply 'awares.' There is no action here, only a collected and spontaneous awareness that just 'sees.' Here, mindfulness is the cause, and awareness is the effect. You cannot practice or train the effect. You can only practice something that will cause it. We have to start with mindfulness so that awareness may arise in us.

-- Thynn Thynn, in Living Meditation, Living Insight

Friday, February 12, 2016

Abandon wordiness and intellectualization and there is nothing you cannot penetrate.

At first, it seems like a mosquito trying to drill through a metal bell, but if you persevere you will find a way.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

This city may often be clogged with automobiles, but we're reminded daily that Atlanta was founded as a rail town.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

It may not look any different to you, but just like that, we're done.

It's over. Time to move on to the next chapter of my life.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

A luta continua... ... A vitória é certa, or, a little less hyperbolically, still digging, but we're almost done. 

Monday, February 08, 2016

Not Over Yet

Back knee-deep in what Johnny Cash once called "the mud and the blood and the beer."

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Pascagoula, Mississippi, One Year After Hurricane Katrina

The damage of 2005's Hurricane Katrina has had 10 years now to be repaired, and the national consciousness seems to have moved on to other disasters and other calamities.  But each of these incidents are expressions of the same impermanence, the ever-changing nature of the universe and its tendency to constantly transform from those forms that we recognize to those that we don't, even while we're blind to everything's true and basic potentiality.   We should just awaken to this truth, as Japanese Zen Master Ikkyu once said; how and where do not matter.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Three More Reasons To Love Atlanta

Sun Ra (1914 – 1993) was an American jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet, and philosopher known for his experimental music, cosmic philosophy, prolific output, and theatrical performances. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama, but in keeping with his Afrofuturist aesthetic (a thing that he pretty much invented), he always claimed to be from Saturn.  

I was fortunate enough to have seen him perform multiple times in the 1970s and '80s, including several shows of a legendary five-night stand at Boston's Orpheum Theater.  Even more amazingly, I met him on the street twice: once in the subway in NYC, where he was instantly recognizable since he always wore his colorful and eccentric outfits (the man lived "in character"), and once coming out of a screening of Invasion of The Body Snatchers during his Orpheum residency. It was thrilling to realize that I had just sat through a motion picture in his company.

Anyway, coming out of a show last night, I encountered him a third time, this time in the form of an epic East Atlanta Village mural, and just like at the previous two meetings and all of those Sun Ra concerts, I felt blessed by his presence.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Piedmont Park, 2003
Rain day: no digging in the dirt until the clouds part.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016