old words

I’ve been reading Barlaam and Josaphat, translated by Peggy McCracken.  Strangely, it keeps reminding me of The Little Prince — something about all the dialogues in this poignant parabolic light, the brightly colored simplicity of the words, and the sudden touching candor — where here and there, it says just what it means.


I don’t think our world outgrows old words.  A really eternal life, I read elsewhere this evening, is not only a quantity in length but a quality in depth.  It is easy to lose this understanding and grasp at every scant elongation along a {radically & inescapably} curtailed plane as the essence of ‘life’ — at the cost of life’s depth. Perhaps this is even easier in a technologically advanced age, where extension of self is possible along all sorts of undimensioned surfaces.  Barlaam and Josaphat is about life as a ‘quality in depth’.


This particular candid statement (set in the ‘featured image’) struck me, centuries later — true, if I can receive it.  But it was difficult to receive centuries ago.

a real book

One of my favorite of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales is about the adventures of a pompous little beetle.  This tiny personage sees the emperor’s horse being shod with golden shoes and stretches out its own legs to be illustriously shod.  When no gold beetle-shoes are forthcoming, he flies off in a huff, out into the great world, to prove that he is every bit as valiant as the emperor’s horse.


I have been experimenting with how to illustrate this one and am going to make and bind a physical book of big rice paper sheets, with text printed directly on them.  The ‘title’ was just an experiment, which I messed up in various ways (and I was not happy with that look for the beetle: I think I finally got the right look for him in the sketch. He *must* have little mustachios …).


I think I will also approach the swans story this way.  I love working with large sheets of rice paper.  I love hand made books.  My favorite memories of art museums are the old illuminated pages, individually drawn and lettered, of which only single copies exist.  There is something about the texture of the love with which they were created, of love’s illuminated rarity.


It echoes in my mind from how the Word became flesh — something, the apostle John says, that our hands could handle. Our age has increasingly moved away from enfleshment.  Even our contact with one another is often (especially now) ‘virtual’. The reasons for this are many-dimensioned, and have their advantages: I understand readily that personalities and work can extend over a wider mass, the less each separate thing is limited to its embodiment. God incarnate taught large crowds, but they were much smaller than lots of people’s twitter audiences.


But I believe in the precious rarity of enfleshment.  I will go on making my small efforts to cherish it.  Perhaps a single copy of this particular beetle-tale is all that will ever exist (and I doubt it will turn up in a museum; I’m no Michelangelo) … but maybe its adventures as a ‘real’ book before it decays will include the touch of someone who needs to feel the fragile grain of rice paper. Who needs to feel something of Love become finite, bound in edges — with molecules slipping away, with texture to the touch.

but for hope

But for hope, the heart would break. 

To save the heart from being quite broken, here is something called to mind. 

When our comforts fail, yet God’s compassions do not.

-Matthew Henry

the substance of gratitude

There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness; and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we ourselves are incredibly and sometimes almost incredulously real. It is the fundamental fact of being, as against not being; it is unthinkable, yet we cannot unthink it, though we may sometimes be unthinking about it; unthinking and especially unthanking. For he who has realized this reality knows that it does outweigh, literally to infinity, all lesser regrets or arguments for negation, and that under all our grumblings there is a subconscious substance of gratitude.

-G. K. Chesterton

because, truth

Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

-James Russell Lowell

(references here.)

(graphic produced by Ethical Skeptic. More information here.)

Several public health experts, some close to tears, warned that if the current trends continue, the coronavirus is likely to set back years, perhaps decades, of painstaking progress against TB, H.I.V. and malaria.

(“‘The Biggest Monster’ is Spreading. And it’s Not the Coronavirus” — NYT article)

(thread here)

… The design of these twelve trials differed: viral circulation was usually variable; none had been conducted during a pandemic. Outcomes were defined and reported in seven different ways, making comparison difficult. It is debatable whether any of these results could be applied to the transmission of SARs-CoV-2. Only one randomised trial (n=569) included cloth masks. This trial  found ILI rates were 13 times higher in Vietnamese hospital workers allocated to cloth masks compared to medical/surgical masks, RR 13.25, (95%CI 1.74 to 100.97) and over three times higher when compared to no masks,* RR 3.49 (95%CI 1.00 to 12.17).

(‘Masking Lack of Evidence with Politics’, Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, University of Oxford. Emphasis mine.)

Should I wear a mask during a wildfire, even if it’s not really smoky where I am?
Surgical masks, dust masks, bandanas or other face coverings do not offer protection from particle pollution. Inexpensive paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles and do not provide enough protection for your lungs. 
… Also, wearing a mask may actually be harmful to some people with heart or lung disease because it can make the lungs work harder to breathe. …

For adults, NIOSH N95 or P100 masks, when worn correctly, have been shown to filter particles and improve the quality of the air being inhaled.  … Children should not wear these masks – they do not fit properly and can impede breathing.

(California Dept of Health Wildfire FAQ’s, emphasis mine — more about the size of smoke & virus particles here)

On July 12, Deborah Cohen, the medical correspondent of BBC2’s Newsnight, revealed an astonishing thing. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had reversed its advice on face masks, from ‘don’t wear them’ to ‘do wear them’.
But the key fact was that it had not done so because of scientific information – the evidence had not backed the wearing of face coverings – but because of political lobbying.

(‘Face Masks Turn us into Voiceless Submissives‘ — I don’t agree with how this article characterises mask-wearers, but the concerns raised for a society that requires them without evidence are critical. Emphasis mine.)

As professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health, I have authored over 300 peer-reviewed publications and currently hold senior positions on the editorial boards of several leading journals. I am usually accustomed to advocating for positions within the mainstream of medicine, so have been flummoxed to find that, in the midst of a crisis, I am fighting for a treatment that the data fully support but which, for reasons having nothing to do with a correct understanding of the science, has been pushed to the sidelines. As a result, tens of thousands of patients with COVID-19 are dying unnecessarily.

Harvey A. Risch, MD, PhD., Newsweek article, emphasis mine

I unashamedly believe in the values of the enlightenment as the pillars of democracy in the form of freedom of expression, individual rights, social connectedness, trust, justice, and equality, and a shared belief there is such a thing as truth. For the first time in my adult life, I worry there is a genuine risk that the very fabric of our democratic societies is at risk of falling apart, under the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic, corrupt and incompetent governments, and a challenging geo-political situation. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I urge everyone who believes in the values of the enlightenment to take a step back, and reflect on the shared values that can unite us, as a society, beyond our political and ideological divisions.

Professor Francois Balloux, director of UGI, UCL Genetics Institute

the star thrower

There is a story told about a beach strewn with starfish. In the story, a young man encounters the stranded creatures and is overcome with the desire to rescue them: he bends down and begins to throw the starfish back into the ocean, one by one. A naysayer looking on questions what he’s doing.

“If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

“But don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man bends down, picks up another starfish, and throws it into the sea. He turns to the onlooker.

“It made a difference for that one!”

-from Adoption Through the Rearview Mirror, by Karen Springs. The star-thrower story is originally by Loren Eiseley: this retelling is very adapted.