04 December 2021

The dangers of meditation

What??  It's dangerous to meditate?  Herewith some brief excerpts from a recent article in Harper's, which presents the details of a case report of a young woman who had a frank psychotic break after attending a workshop involving prolonged daily meditation.  The material is absolutely convincing; the only question is whether such episodes occur only in persons "predisposed" to mental illness (depression, neurosis, psychosis), or whether these afflictions can be induced in an otherwise normal healthy mind as a result of intensive meditation.
Some clinicians believe that meditation can cause psychological problems in people without underlying conditions, and that even forty minutes of meditation per day can pose risks...

As in other studies, her twelve subjects said they had been sleeping better since taking up meditation five days a week. And the data seemed to support that for the group that was meditating less than thirty minutes per day. But any more than a half hour and the trend started moving in the other direction. Compared with an eight-person control group, the subjects who meditated for more than thirty minutes per day experienced shallower sleep and woke up more often during the night. The more participants reported meditating, the worse their sleep became...

On a vipassana meditation retreat in 2006, she told one of her instructors about her research. “The teacher kind of chastised me, like, ‘Why are you therapists always trying to make meditation a relaxation technique? That’s not what it’s there for. Everyone knows that if you go and meditate, and you meditate enough . . . you stop sleeping.’..

The Buddhist ascetics who took up meditation in the fifth century bc did not view it as a form of stress relief. “These contemplative practices were invented for monastics who had renounced possessions, social position, wealth, family, comfort, and work”... Monks and nuns sought to transcend the world and its cycles of rebirth and awaken in nirvana, an unfathomable state of equanimity beyond space and time... In other words, mindfulness was not invoked to savor the beauty of nature or to be a more present, thoughtful spouse. According to the Pali suttas, the point of meditation was to cultivate disgust and disenchantment with the everyday world and one’s attachments to people and things...  If meditation conferred any practical benefit, it was in helping ascetics “accept the discomfort of a hard bed and a growling stomach or in preventing them from being beguiled by physical beauty.”..

There are reliable ways to induce psychosis and other disturbances in a healthy subject—via drugs, sleep deprivation, and prolonged confinement or isolation. “If you deprive the brain of normal inputs—through sensory or social deprivation—that can produce psychosis,” he said. “And you can think of prolonged meditation as a form of deprivation.” The brain is accustomed to a certain amount of activity...

Britton’s research was bolstered last August when the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica published a systematic review of adverse events in meditation practices and meditation-based therapies. Sixty-five percent of the studies included in the review found adverse effects, the most common of which were anxiety, depression, and cognitive impairment. “We found that the occurrence of adverse effects during or after meditation is not uncommon,” the authors concluded, “and may occur in individuals with no previous history of mental health problems.”
A fascinating and counterintuitive article.  Those interested in this topic should read the full article, Lost in Thought.

A lake in Serbia

Posted at the BBC as one of "the most striking images of 2021."  Credit: Getty Images.


"... Acts against the environment are not perpetrated solely by the world's uncaring, nor by the profiteers and/or misguidedly self-interested. The taxes we impose upon Nature are being levied by all of us—intentions, ideals, and political allegiances aside. The damages that environmentalism seeks to address stem from the very basis and structuring of our modern cultures and societies as a whole. Our demands of this Earth are hidden behind the most common, and passively accepted, ways in which we think, act, expend, consume, and live..."
Credit Douglas Balmain, via Harper's inside back cover.

A photo of the formerly pristine Atacama Desert in Chile:

How much is there? At least 39,000 tons worth of accumulated cloth waste in a tiny area in a free trade zone – the equivalent of 390 million average cheap T-shirts by weight to give you an idea.

Why? Chile is Latin America's largest importer of second-hand garments (59,000 tons worth per year). Apparently up to half of the imports aren't sold and are dumped illegally nearby by the companies involved in the trade after the local landfill started refusing to take in the waste because there was too much of it and it was deemed too toxic.
Details and lots of photos at La Nacion.

02 December 2021

Ladies Scottish Climbing Club, Edinburgh

Excerpts from the home page of the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club:
At its first meeting in Edinburgh on 27 May 1908, a committee was appointed and a constitution agreed with the main aim to:
' … bring together Ladies who are lovers of mountain-climbing, and to encourage mountaineering in Scotland, in winter as well as summer.'
The ladies of the climbing club enjoyed all the trappings of their status that allowed them to indulge in such leisure activities. Married to lawyers, doctors and other middle-class professions, often with housekeepers and servants they had the leisure time to enjoy outdoor pursuits. A luxury relatively few Edwardian women had.
Video from the National Library of Scotland.

A motley crew

A neighbor dropped off this carton of locally-sourced eggs for us this morning.  They provide a nice example of the proper use of the adjective "motley."  They also have the advantage of being unwashed - which gives them an extended unrefrigerated shelf life (because washing removes a protective film on eggs, potentially facilitating the entry of oxygen or bacteria).  They were also quite tasty, as judged by the first three. 

The pandemic-induced shutdown of restaurant dining has been stressful for huge numbers of farmers worldwide.   I would encourage all readers of TYWKIWDBI to support your local farmers by purchasing produce directly from them - at the farm when possible, or for those embedded deep in urban settings, by visiting local farmers' markets.  A well-run farmers' market will have totally fresh sweet corn, tomatoes, salad fixings, veggies, eggs, honey, soaps and craft items and such.

I probably should do a blog post with photos from our local one.  (done)

Reposted from 2020 to share a recent image of impressive variation in the color of chicken eggs:

I agree with the comment at the via that the image is probably oversaturated, but it's still an awesome array of colors.

Transparent skin graft

First time I've ever seen a procedure like this.  Interesting view of forearm tendons.
"...they use the forearm “flap” based on the radial artery to reconstruct the cancer defect in the head and neck (sometimes tongue, sometime floor of mouth, etc) and hook it into an artery and vein in the neck. This allows for durable coverage that includes skin and fat in the flap. It can withstand effects of radiation and fill in the hole which a simple skin graft cannot. A skin graft from the thigh is then used to cover the forearm defect."
Limited and fragmented discussion at the via.

A bell pepper exhibiting "parthenocarpy"

My wife found this while preparing one of her favorite vegetables; she says she sees the phenomenon not infrequently.  As best I can tell from a quick search, it's called "internal proliferation" and is a form of parthenocarpy ("natural or artificially induced production of fruit without fertilization of ovules. The fruit is therefore seedless").  I'm not sure why the little pepper is green while the larger one is red - presumably from lack of sunlight as a result of the difference in their ages (tx, John).

Reposted from 2012 to add this time-lapse video of the growth of a bell pepper (via Kottke):

An eye-opening graph of world coal consumption

"The two decades of China’s WTO membership have seen the country enjoy economic growth that has been mostly coal-powered. For many reasons, coal is a cheap way to produce energy. Meanwhile, the rest of the world has been trying to shift to other forms of energy, which tend to be more expensive.

China now has an appalling pollution problem, and probably wants to stop burning so much coal. Its recent energy crisis is a sign of attempts to shift away from coal reliance. That leads to an uncomfortable conclusion: either China keeps polluting itself (and the rest of the world), or it doesn’t and other emerging countries do so instead. Or, none of them keep burning coal. In all these scenarios, that thereby increases the prices of the goods China sells to everyone else. 

You could argue that this is a price worth paying in the battle against climate change. And the levels of pollution in China’s big cities are horrifying; the leadership would be remiss if if didn’t try to do something. But the bottom line is that the rest of the world needs to get used to monitoring China as a potential source of inflation, not deflation."
Text and image excerpted from Points of Return by John Authers in his Bloomberg newsletter.

30 November 2021

Today is (or is not) Opposite Day

Opposite Day is a game usually played by children. One can declare that today is Opposite Day (sometimes retroactively) to indicate something which will be said, or has just been said should be understood opposite to its original meaning (similar to the practice of crossed fingers to automatically nullify promises).

An analysis of this concept would conclude that Opposite day causes a self-referential paradox. In theory, the statement "it is opposite day", if uttered on opposite day, should mean "it is not opposite day". However, the statement "it is not opposite day" also does not clearly communicate the meaning of "it is opposite day", since it must first be communicated that it is opposite day before the statement can be interpreted this way. Therefore, there is no unambiguous way to communicate that the current day is opposite day.
First I've heard of this, but here's a description from 2001.  A google search suggests that it is celebrated on January 25.  Or not...

A sampling from Pearls Before Swine

The full series can be accessed at GoComics (it has such a great title)  

(p.s. - it's barrels all the way down)

29 November 2021

CSI, nineteenth-century style

"A short distance from the village of Bertha, Todd County, was one of those burned out meadows on which grass had been cut for many years and no one who had travelled over its smooth surface ever thought that it was the burial place of a human being.

After the turf had been burned off, there lay the scattered bones of a man.  Among them was a silver watch and the remains of a jackknife... 

A short distance from where the cabin had stood was a tree on which were scars as if it had been cut into with an axe.

When the remains were found, the Clines remembered about... the scarred tree and went there and cut into the scars to see how many years had elapsed since they were made.  They found that the scars had been caused by some person cutting bullets out of the tree in order to save the lead, as was a common practice in those early days, and they also found that there were 42 annual rings of growth over the scars, showing that those bullets had been cut from that tree about the year 1850.  The fact that his watch was with his remains indicated that he had not been murdered but why did he die on the meadow instead of in his cabin?  The conclusion that young Cline and I arrived at was that he had a place were he obtained water dug in the meadow and while very ill had gone there to quench his thirst and had been unable to return to his cabin and had breathed out his life all alone on the turf."
Excerpted from Tracks and Trails: or Incidents in the Life of a Minnesota Territorial Pioneer, by Captain "Nate" Dally, Owner and Captain of the "Leila D" Steamboat, the First Steamboat Built and Operated on Leech Lake by a Private Individual.  Published by the Pilot-Independent, Walker MN, 1931.  Reprinted 1994.

How to use a horse's tail to catch fish

"When we started from Illinois, father had, so he thought, provided himself with all that he would need in a new country, but he had forgotten fishing lines, though he had a plenty of hooks, but the matter of not having lines did not block him, for after supper he went out and pulled a bunch of long hair from a horses tail and after soaking it in warm water for a short time, he stripped up his pants and drawers to bare his leg on which to roll the horse hair and in a few minutes he had made a line twelve or fourteen feet long and stout enough to hold any ordinary fish."
Excerpted from Tracks and Trails: or Incidents in the Life of a Minnesota Territorial Pioneer, by Captain "Nate" Dally, Owner and Captain of the "Leila D" Steamboat, the First Steamboat Built and Operated on Leech Lake by a Private Individual.  Published by the Pilot-Independent, Walker MN, 1931.  Reprinted 1994.

26 November 2021

Tibetan yak

Image cropped for size from the one at the via.

A compilation of rare and unusual baseball plays

Said to be the "world's largest freeway"

The Katy freeway (Interstate 10) in Houston "was expanded to as many as 20 total lanes in Houston, but due to induced demand, travel times along the highway within the city increased as much as 30 percent."  Comments about the road at the via.

That photo reminded me of this one, of "Detroit before and after the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956":

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