In Dense, Urban Japan, Flowers Bring Beauty and Solace

Finding Flowers, and Solace, in the Cracks and Grit of an Urban Jungle

(In Dense, Urban Japan, Flowers Bring Beauty and Solace – The New York Times)

The (American) Tokyo bureau chief of the New York Times writes about the Japanese reverence for, nay obsession with, flowers, and the discovery of reason to hope in the ‘treasure hunt for floral beauty’

— via The New York Times

The Useful Idiot:

Why We’re Not Done With Trump Yet

‘America, we got lucky. On the laundry list of things Donald Trump has been terrible at, transforming our country into a fascist autocracy was only the latest….’

— via HuffPost

It’s Time to Talk About Violent Christian Extremism

‘For two decades, the U.S. government has been engaging with faith leaders in Muslim communities at home and around the world in an attempt to stamp out extremism and prevent believers vulnerable to radicalization from going down a path that leads to violence.

Now, after the dangerous QAnon conspiracy theory helped to motivate the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, with many participants touting their Christian faith — and as evangelical pastors throughout the country ache over the spread of the conspiracy theory among their flocks, and its very real human toll — it’s worth asking whether the time has come for a new wave of outreach to religious communities, this time aimed at evangelical Christians.

“I personally feel a great burden, since I came from these communities, to try to figure out how to help the leaders,” says Elizabeth Neumann, a former top official at the Department of Homeland Security who resigned from Trump administration in April 2020. The challenge in part is that, in this “particular case, I don’t know if the government is a credible voice at all,” she says. “You don’t want ‘Big Brother’ calling the local pastor and saying, ‘Hey, here’s your tips for the week.’”
Neumann, who was raised in the evangelical tradition, is a devout Christian. Her knowledge of that world, and her expertise on issues of violent extremism, gives her a unique insight into the ways QAnon is driving some Christians to extremism and violence.

She sees QAnon’s popularity among certain segments of Christendom not as an aberration, but as the troubling-but-natural outgrowth of a strain of American Christianity. In this tradition, one’s belief is based less on scripture than on conservative culture, some political disagreements are seen as having nigh-apocalyptic stakes and “a strong authoritarian streak” runs through the faith. For this type of believer, love of God and love of country are sometimes seen as one and the same….’


I’ve written before about this community grooming adherents to assume power (probably sounding conspiratorial). Pence was the avatar of Christian authoritarianism in the trump administration. Ironic and perhaps fortunate that, on Jan, 6th, he momentarily remembered his oath uphold the Constitution and became confused about which aspects of love of country were consistent with his love of God.

RIP Lawrence Ferlinghetti

‘…literary icon who opened doors for the Beat Generation has died at 101…’

— via Literary Hub

Ferlinghetti preferred to call himself the last of the Bohemians rather than the first of the Beats. Founder of City Lights Bookstore and City Lights Press, publisher of Ginsberg, friend of them all. I am deeply saddened.

‘I Am a Heroin User. I Do Not Have a Drug Problem’

‘Carl Hart is a neuroscientist and Ziff Professor of Psychology at Columbia University—he was the first tenured African-American professor of sciences at Columbia. His research focuses on the “behavioral and neuropharmacological effects of psychoactive drugs in humans.” Hart’s new book, Drug Use For Grown-Ups, is a bold and engaging effort to counter what he sees as generations of misinformation and moral grandstanding about drug use.

Hart explains:

…(M)ost drug-use scenarios cause little or no harm and some responsible drug-use scenarios are actually beneficial for human health and functioning….’

— John Steele via Nautilus

Why is America getting a new $100 billion nuclear weapon?

We inch closer to doomsday:

‘America is building a new weapon of mass destruction, a nuclear missile the length of a bowling lane. It will be able to travel some 6,000 miles, carrying a warhead more than 20 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It will be able to kill hundreds of thousands of people in a single shot.

The US Air Force plans to order more than 600 of them.

On September 8, the Air Force gave the defense company Northrop Grumman an initial contract of $13.3 billion to begin engineering and manufacturing the missile, but that will be just a fraction of the total bill. Based on a Pentagon report cited by the Arms Control Association Association and Bloomberg News, the government will spend roughly $100 billion to build the weapon, which will be ready to use around 2029.

To put that price tag in perspective, $100 billion could pay 1.24 million elementary school teacher salaries for a year, provide 2.84 million four-year university scholarships, or cover 3.3 million hospital stays for covid-19 patients. It’s enough to build a massive mechanical wall to protect New York City from sea level rise. It’s enough to get to Mars.

One day soon, the Air Force will christen this new war machine with its “popular” name, likely some word that projects goodness and strength, in keeping with past nuclear missiles like the Atlas, Titan, and Peacekeeper. For now, though, the missile goes by the inglorious acronym GBSD, for “ground-based strategic deterrent.” The GBSD is designed to replace the existing fleet of Minuteman III missiles; both are intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. Like its predecessors, the GBSD fleet will be lodged in underground silos, widely scattered in three groups known as “wings” across five states. The official purpose of American ICBMs goes beyond responding to nuclear assault. They are also intended to deter such attacks, and serve as targets in case there is one….’

— Elizabeth Eaves via Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

R.I.P. Nobel Peace Prizewinner Bernard Lown


Inventive Heart Doctor and Antiwar Activist Dies at 99

(Bernard Lown)

‘It was in 1962 that Dr. Lown, a pioneer in the research of sudden cardiac death, developed a new method for correcting dangerously abnormal heart rhythms, called fibrillations. At the time, they were believed to be responsible for 40 percent of the half-million fatal heart attacks in the United States every year. By administering a precisely timed jolt of direct-current electricity, his defibrillator was able to restore normal heartbeats.

…Dr. Lown’s antinuclear work was more controversial. In 1980, seven American and Soviet physicians, including Dr. Lown and Dr. Yevgeny I. Chazov, a Russian cardiologist and personal doctor to the Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev, founded International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Campaigning against nuclear testing and the arms race, the group had gathered 135,000 members in 41 countries by 1985, when it won the peace prize….’

— Via The New York Times


I was honored to have known Dr Lown in my work for IPPNW and mourn the passing of a great man. He was one of those, along with Elizabeth Caldicott, to argue persuasively that nuclear was must be considered a public health issue and was within the purview of health professionals. 

Covid Absolutism

David Leonhardt’s op-ed piece in the New York Times captures a lot of my concerns about our absolutist tendency to “cease all behavior that creates additional risk” during an emergency. During the pandemic, this has led not only to the discouragement but in some places the prohibition of behaviors even minutely increasing risk. Derek Thompson of The Atlantic describes the colossal waste of time, effort and in some cases expense of “hygiene theater“, when we are long past any sense that Covid is spread by unclean surfaces (The Lancet) other than human hands. This week, UC Berkeley banned exercise with or without masks and UMass Amherst has banned outdoor walks, although there are no scientifically documented instances of outdoor transmission unless people were, as one journalist puts it, “breathing the air that other people exhale.” 

In my work as a psychiatrist, I treat OCD, one of the major categories of which is contamination fears leading to excessive cleaning and hand washing. So what’s wrong with keeping exceptionally clean? After all compulsive behaviors function to assuage fears but, famously, mental illnesses are defined not only by their symptoms but by the criteria of causing distress or interfering with function. People with contamination OCD will abrade the skin off their hands from their hand washing behavior and clean so compulsively that they cannot get to sleep or get out of the house for their appointments.

Much of our ritualistic behavior in response to Covid fears is analogous. The price we pay for minimizing danger at all times, especially with scientifically unreasonable behavior, is far worse than the benefit. Leonhardt observes that “some of the clearest voices against Covid absolutism are researchers, and especially those who devoted their careers to studying HIV.

‘They know the history. The demonization of sex during the AIDS crisis contributed to more unsafe sex. If all sex is bad, why focus on safe sex?.. There is a similar dynamic with Covid. People do not have unlimited energy, so we should ask them to be vigilant where it matters most…’

Enforcing unnecessary mask-wearing may undermine wearing masks where they make a difference. Banning college students from outside walks will arguably increase the chance that they surreptitiously gather indoors (Mercury News). And needless deep-cleaning is an enormous waste of resources. 

When I studied cultural anthropology, I thought a lot about the purpose of ritual. It appears that it is not to bring about the desired culturally articulated goal of the ritual. Instead, because rituals are defined so exactingly that we will fail at completing them perfectly as prescribed, they serve to reconcile us to the continued sorrow and distress of life. The Gods cannot be placated. And, similarly, if our Covid rituals as a society are functions of magical thinking, they will not assuage our grief and anxiety but may instead exacerbate it. In short:

‘Rules that are really more about showing that you’re doing something versus doing something that’s actually effective are counterproductive…’

R.I.P. Chick Corea



960x0(Jazz Legend Chick Corea Dead At 79)

‘…[O]ne of the most celebrated jazz musicians of all time both in terms of awards and praise and admiration from his fellow artists has passed away. He was 79.

The tragic news was shared on Corea’s Facebook page, and apparently he died of cancer two days ago, but the news was only made public a short time ago….’

— Via Forbes

Reintroducing Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

What can the most liberal justice accomplish on the most conservative court in decades?

‘Sotomayor is … poised to take over Ginsburg’s role as the functional minority leader. There are calls for 82-year-old Stephen Breyer to retire while a Democratic president and Senate can replace him, and Joe Biden has promised to nominate the first Black woman to the Court. On a Court that runs on seniority, Breyer’s move would anoint Sotomayor as the most senior justice in what is usually, in the most heated cases, the resistance — the true heir to Ginsburg and, before her, John Paul Stevens and Thurgood Marshall….’

— via New York Magazine

Happy Imbolc

(Imbolc / Candlemas | The Goddess and the Greenman)

‘Imbolc, in the Celtic seasonal calendar marks the beginning of the lambing season and signals the beginning of Spring and the stirrings of new life. It is Feile Brighde, the ‘quickening of the year’. The original word Imbolg means ‘in the belly’. All is pregnant and expectant – and only just visible if at all, like the gentle curve of a ‘just-showing’ pregnancy. It is the promise of renewal, of hidden potential, of earth awakening and life-force stirring. Here is hope. We welcome the growth of the returning light and witness Life’s insatiable appetite for rebirth.

It is time to let go of the past and to look to the future, clearing out the old, making both outer and inner space for new beginnings. This can be done in numerous ways, from spring cleaning your home to clearing the mind and heart to allow inspiration to enter for the new cycle. (‘Spring cleaning was originally a nature ritual’ – Doreen Valiente). It’s a good time for wish-making or making a dedication.

Imbolc is traditionally the great festival and honouring of Brigid (Brighid, Bride, Brigit), so loved as a pagan Goddess that her worship was woven into the Christian church as St Bridget. She is a Goddess of healing, poetry and smithcraft. She is a Goddess of Fire, of the Sun and of the Hearth. She brings fertility to the land and its people and is closely connected to midwives and new-born babies. She is the Triple Goddess, but at Imbolc she is in her Maiden aspect….’

— via The Goddess and the Greenman