Like You

Like you I
love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.

And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.

I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.

And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
little things,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.

Roque Dalton  translated from Spanish by Jack Hirschman

From Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination
Curbstone Press, 2000



Marx Got a Lot of Things Right

Yanis Varoufakis was Minister of Finance in Greece 3 years ago, helping to organize a failed movement to escape from the austerity imposed by the European Union.  He came away chastened about the present, but more hopeful than ever for the future.

“Inevitable are both the bourgeoisie’s fall and the victory of the proletariat.”

Writing for The Guardian, Varoufakis sees the predictions of Karl Marx playing out in the West of our lifetimes.  The proletarian revolution has been held in check for a century more than Marx envisioned, by use of concessions, tricks, and deceptions that were beyond his imagination.  But capitalism is collapsing before our eyes, just as he predicted more than a century and a half ago. Unless capital is socialised we are in for dystopic developments.

On the topic of dystopia, the sceptical reader will perk up: what of the manifesto’s own complicity in legitimising authoritarian regimes and steeling the spirit of gulag guards? We might respond defensively, pointing out that no one blames Adam Smith for the excesses of Wall Street, or the New Testament for the Spanish Inquisition.

In praise of The Communist Manifesto, Varoufakis says that the main thing that Marx failed to anticipate is his own influence, and the effect his thought would have both on the behavior of the working class revolutionaries and on the capitalists who have strategized to retain their power.

Anyone reading the manifesto today will be surprised to discover a picture of a world much like our own, teetering fearfully on the edge of technological innovation. In the manifesto’s time, it was the steam engine that posed the greatest challenge to the rhythms and routines of feudal life. The peasantry were swept into the cogs and wheels of this machinery and a new class of masters, the factory owners and the merchants, usurped the landed gentry’s control over society. Now, it is artificial intelligence and automation that loom as disruptive threats, promising to sweep away “all fixed, fast-frozen relations”. “Constantly revolutionising … instruments of production,” the manifesto proclaims, transform “the whole relations of society”, bringing about “constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation”.

Finally, Varoufakis offers us his suggestion for what we can do to hasten the Marxist utopia:

We need more robots, better solar panels, instant communication and sophisticated green transport networks. But equally, we need to organise politically to defend the weak, empower the many and prepare the ground for reversing the absurdities of capitalism. In practical terms, this means treating the idea that there is no alternative with the contempt it deserves while rejecting all calls for a “return” to a less modernised existence. There was nothing ethical about life under earlier forms of capitalism, just as capitalism today is devoid of human values.

Adapted from Yanis Varoufakis’s introduction to The Communist Manifesto, published by Vintage Classics on 26 April.

A Rational Approach to Science Funding

The problem with science research today is that everyone wants to fund the next Einstein, and no one wants to fund a thousand crackpots whose ideas will lead only to dead ends—but none among us is smart enough to tell the difference.

We have to give up on the idea that we can manage research the way we manage an efficient business.

We have to give up on the idea that we have a solid foundation or understanding nature’s workings, and the job of scientists is to fill in the details.

— Josh Mitteldorf


Nikola Tesla, with his equipment

How to lengthen your (subjective) life

From the Book of Life:

Five minutes can feel like an hour; ten hours can feel like five minutes. Our subjective experience of time bears precious little relation to the way we like to measure it on a clock. When we think about a long life, shouldn’t we be imagining a life that feels full and rich, not 120 years of repetitive stupor, one day just like the next?

The difference in pace is not mysterious: it has to do with novelty. The more our days are filled with new, unpredictable and challenging experiences, the longer they will feel.

One solution: We must go to Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat, Astana or Montevideo, we need to find a way to swim with dolphins or order a thirteen course meal at a world-famous restaurant in downtown Lima. That will finally slow down the cruel gallop of time.

But this is to labour under an unfair, expensive and ultimately impractical notion of novelty.  We have barely scratched the surface of the lives we live already. We have grown bored of a world we haven’t begun to study properly. And that, among other things, is why time is racing by.

The pioneers at making life feel longer in the way that counts are not dieticians, but artists. At its best, art is a tool that reminds us of how little we have fathomed and noticed. It re-introduces us to ordinary things and reopens our eyes to a latent beauty and interest in precisely those areas we had ceased to bother with.

Here is Albrecht Durer, looking – as only children usually do – very closely at a clod of earth:

Image result for durer clod of earth

We don’t need to add years; we need to densify the time we have left by ensuring that every day is lived consciously – and we can do this via a manoeuvre as simple as it is momentous: by starting to notice all that we have as yet only seen.

Read more…



Biodegrading Plastic Bottles

About 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute.  Only 14% of these are recycled worldwide.  The rest end up in landfills or, worse, pollute the ocean.  PET is inert by design, and lasts millions of years.

In 2016, a species of bacteria was genetically engineered to eat plastic.  The bacteria use an enzyme (a biochemical catalyst) that breaks down the plastic and turns it into liquids that can be used like kerosene or gas.

Tweaking the enzyme, a group of University of Portsmouth scientists stumbled on a form that is more efficient than what the bacteria used.  It can break down PET in just a few days.

“It is a modest improvement – 20% better – but that is not the point,” said McGeehan. “It’s incredible because it tells us that the enzyme is not yet optimised. It gives us scope to use all the technology used in other enzyme development for years and years and make a super-fast enzyme.”

Guardian article


Sonnets to Orpheus, Part One, IV

O ihr Zärtlichen, tretet zuweilen
in den Atem, der euch nicht meint,
laßt ihn an eueren Wangen sich teilen,
hinter euch zittert er, wieder vereint.

O ihr Seligen, o ihr Heilen,
die ihr der Anfang der Herzen scheint.
Bogen der Pfeile und Ziele von Pfeilen,
ewiger glänzt euer Lächeln verweint.

Fürchtet euch nicht zu leiden, die Schwere,
gebt sie zurück an der Erde Gewicht;
schwer sind die Berge, schwer sind die Meere.

Selbst die als Kinder ihr pflanztet, die Bäume,
wurden zu schwer längst ; ihr trüget sie nicht.
Aber die Lüfte … aber die Räume …

— Rainer Maria Rilke


Thanks to Joe Riley at for both poem and photo.

You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing
that is more than your own.
Let it brush your cheeks
as it divides and rejoins beside you.
Blessed ones, whole ones,
you where the heart begins:
You are the bow that shoots the arrows
and you are the target.

Fear not the pain. Let its weight fall back
into the earth;
for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.

The trees you planted in childhood have grown
too heavy. You cannot bring them along.
Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold.

— Rainer Maria Rilke, tr Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy