Cosmological Koans for Katrina



From the News Center at UC Santa Cruz:  “In his new book, Cosmological Koans: A Journey to the Heart of Physical Reality”, physicist Anthony Aguirre explores deep questions about the nature of reality, using an approach inspired by Zen koans to take the reader on a thought-provoking tour of the cosmos and the core ideas of modern physics.

In Zen Buddhism, koans are short parables or questions meant to confront the practitioner with the inadequacy of conventional concepts and habits of thought. Similarly, Aguirre’s “cosmological koans” confront the reader with the unexpected nature of the world as described by physics and the mind-boggling ways in which it differs from our subjective experience or intuitive understanding of things.

‘I wanted to convey that sense of mystery and wonder that comes from seeing reality in a new way,’ said Aguirre, a professor of physics and holder of the Faggin Family Presidential Chair for the Physics of Information at UC Santa Cruz.

The book covers a wide range of topics, woven together with a fictional story line that recounts a journey from Italy to Japan. Multiple universes, the nature of time, the meaning of quantum theory, and entropy and information are among the subjects explored in short chapters that manage to convey mind-bending ideas in a way that is accessible and entertaining.

The topics include some of the most challenging open questions in cosmology and physics, as well as concepts that have long been settled science yet remain disturbingly counterintuitive. With respect to the enduring mystery of time, for example, Einstein showed that there is no universal ‘now’—in other words, different observers can have different perceptions of whether two events are simultaneous.”


Let’s explore the concept of time a bit further.  In Chapter 28, p. 210, Professor Aguirre writes that you don’t see the world as it is now, whether that “now” is cosmic or not.  The world you see around you is the world as it was in the past.  Viewing the leaf falling from a tree 50 meters away, you see the tree as it was 167 nanoseconds ago.

What does “now” mean?  In other words how do we define the present as distinct from the past or the future?  It’s a timeless question borne of metaphysics as much as physics.  As soon as you stop to identify that now is now, the moment has already passed into the past.  Perhaps the closest we can come is envisioning a pause button as the label for a given “time t” that occurs as an event in a particular space at a specific time.  But as we know, within our physical framework, there is no pause button.  The arrow of time is always moving forward.  The instant we reflect on the present it becomes the past, and the future is the next moment in time.

So if identifying the present is nearly a fleeting impossibility, would we have the audacity to imagine a perfect moment in time?  Art Garfunkel believes we can, and who am I to disagree?

In chapter 30, p. 226, Professor Aguirre turns his attention to the thorny question of Theodicy, or why a designer would create a world of beauty such as ours while allowing for unimaginable levels of pervasive suffering.   This leads the good professor to contemplate the multiverse, and that the universe we inhabit is one among many – merely the one that is most inhabitable to us.  That thinking is in line with Leibniz, who imagined this to be the “best” universe not just in terms of good outweighing evil, but also as the simplest in hypotheses and the richest in phenomena.

Chapter 31, The Floating Gardens, prompted me to get even more whimsical than usual. From a biblical standpoint, and the Old Testament in particular, the most significant “uni-verse” is the first verse.  (Might we consider this a Cosmological “Cohen” as opposed to a “Koan”?)  It reads:  בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ


בְּרֵאשִׁית – in the beginning.   The beginning of what?  Time would seem to be the essence.

בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים – God created.  The apparent conflict between “God” in the plural, and “created” in the singular.

אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ – The heavens and the earth.  Note the singularity of the earth and the multiplicity of the heavens, not to mention “the two aces”.

So by now you may be wondering, who is Katrina?  In chapter 50, p. 355, Professor Aguirre takes note of the host of dichotomies he has assailed us with:  Us and Them.  Self and Other.  East and West.  Katrina is a young woman in the service industry I encounter in her role as a barista at Starbucks in the morning and as a waitress at Martell’s Tiki Bar in the evening, a dichotomy in its own right.  She took an interest in what I was reading one morning – it was Cosmological Koans – which led to a conversation about East/West and the Yoga which got shoved down to the bottom of my bucket list.

Starbucks of course asks for your first name if you order anything but regular coffee.  Originally I gave my name as Len, but for some reason the baristas kept hearing “Glen”.  I got tired of correcting them, and so Glen I became for the purposes of my morning routine.  When Katrina waited on Miriam and me and at Martell’s, my “real” name came to the surface.  “If you’re Len, be Len” she said.  Sounds like a cosmological koan to me.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Congratulations to Kayla Goldstein!


So proud of our granddaughter, Kayla Goldstein, upon her graduation from Bruriah High School this afternoon, receiving the Benjamin & Rose Muskat Memorial Award from the Faculty, presented to the G.O. President for Outstanding Commitment to Torah Values and School Service, and a National Honor Society scholar as well.



In this year of the makeshift, it was an outdoor graduation with only parents in attendance joining the graduates.  While we wish we could have been there in person, it was a wonderful “Plan B event”, and we were fortunate to be able to watch through live streaming.


Screen Shot 2020-06-28 at 4.08.56 PM

Screen Shot 2020-06-28 at 3.14.03 PM

Screen Shot 2020-06-28 at 3.15.40 PM

Screen Shot 2020-06-28 at 3.20.44 PM

Screen Shot 2020-06-28 at 3.34.49 PM

Screen Shot 2020-06-28 at 3.42.22 PM

Screen Shot 2020-06-28 at 3.50.55 PM

Screen Shot 2020-06-28 at 3.52.03 PM

Screen Shot 2020-06-28 at 3.51.52 PM

Screen Shot 2020-06-28 at 3.54.36 PM

Screen Shot 2020-06-28 at 4.08.24 PM

Here’s wishing our exceptional Kayla a very special forthcoming year in her studies, hopefully following Plan A in Israel!

Addendum 07/03/2020: Kayla’s synopsis in the Jewish Link (page 79):

Screen Shot 2020-07-03 at 6.06.46 PM


Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Spirits Hovering …

When you last heard from me, our granddaughter Atara and her choshon/groom Zack were about to be married, an oasis in the back yard of uncertainty.  I’m pleased to share that all went smoothly, on a June 9th afternoon when Murphy’s Law increased the cap on outdoor gatherings from 25 to 100.  The sun was shining and the air was thick with anticipation, the ceremony having been moved forward from June 11th which had a more ominous weather forecast.  The ability to be nimble with arrangements was a by-product of having nature as one’s canopy.

IMG_3345 (1)

We were not in the cities of Judah nor in the streets of Jerusalem, but in the backyards of Bergenfield.  Nevertheless we were privileged to hear the sound of joy and the sound of happiness, the sound of a groom and the sound of a bride, and share in the blessing of a bride and groom gladdening one another derived from G-d.

Timing is everything.  While the wedding was going off without a hitch in North Jersey, all heck was breaking loose in our neighborhood at the Jersey Shore.  Thankfully by the time we hosted Sheva Brachot the following evening, an unruly flash mob had receded to whence they came.  והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך על־פני תהום ורוח אלהים מרחפת על־פני המים

“And the land was formless and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirt of G-d was hovering upon the face of the water.”

That enabled us to dwell on the beauty of the preceding day, when the spirit of G-d was hovering (מרחפת/חוּפָּה‎) over our majestic couple; a celebration of spiritual intimacy in the face of social distancing.  Atara and Zack are off to a wonderful life’s journey together …










IMG_3347 (1)









Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Heard Immunity

Screen Shot 2020-06-02 at 7.22.52 PM

Herd immunity as is relates to COVID-19 is a complex topic, as evidenced in this Q & A out of the Bloomberg School of Health at Johns Hopkins University.  But here I refer to an unplanned and unintended twist on the theme initiated by mass protests that have erupted over the homicide of George Floyd.  It has generated a situation where those who wish to make their voices heard are immune from all the constraints placed on public gatherings and social distancing.

Screen Shot 2020-06-03 at 6.06.38 AM


In his daily coronavirus briefing yesterday, Governor Cuomo gave the advice of taking a step back and gaining perspective on the intersection between COVID-19 and the massive civil unrest.  He reminded viewers that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic: “Express your outrage but be responsible, because the last thing we want to do is to see a spike in the number of Covid cases”.

Every day seems to grow in complexity.  Regarding the effectiveness of the police in dealing with a nearly untenable situation, the New York City Mayor acknowledged: “There’s a lot of things that have to be done better, a lot of things have to be fixed”.   Reports are that anarchy has run rampant, and that even when looters are arrested they are released immediately due to bail reform laws implemented earlier this year.  Law authorities acknowledge that protection of life and prevention of violence to individuals are being prioritized over protection of property.  In some segments of the community looting is justified as quite understandable, perhaps even an admirable form of protest, as expressed in this essay written after the Ferguson riots.

Weddig Juxtaposition

There is considerable irony here.  Weddings involving social gatherings can only be held outdoors, but limited to groups of 10 people in New York and 25 people in New Jersey within a defined space, because of public health concerns.  I know because I’ll be attending my granddaughter’s wedding next week in the yard of her parent’s home.  We are celebrating rather than protesting that day, and if excessive numbers of people participate I suspect the police would arrive, no doubt alerted by a concerned neighbor.  Every day seems to grow in complexity.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti warned that protest gatherings could become “super-spreader events”, similar to the 1918 flu pandemic when large public gatherings led to a second, more deadly wave of infections.  That caution was echoed at the end of this news clip from ABC News (Australia):

“But lurking amongst the thousands mobilizing around the country is an unseen enemy.  The risk of COVID-19 silently spreading through the crowds is frighteningly real.”  And after a quote from Dr. Deborah Birx, the correspondent concludes:  “One man’s brutal death, one way or another, could cost many more lives in the weeks ahead.”


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blog Ba’Omer – Part 3

In part one and part two I dwelled on the significance of Numbers.  The etymology of Numbers in Hebrew stems from the common root or shoresh of “חָשַׁב” which is the origin of thinking as well as accounting or “חשבון”.  We can therefore conceptualize the merging of thinking and numbering as indicative of the extent of its importance, giving us the Hebrew word “חשיבות”.  Furthermore, the essential linkage between words and numbers gives us the common origin of root as reflected in the shoresh of words and the square root of numbers.

There is a similarly nuanced theme in the root of “ספר” which means book, as in ספר במדבר, known as the Book of Numbers, whose debut last week was discussed in part two.   That is the origin as well of the word “ספירה”, or the counting that links the seven weeks between the festivals of פסח and שבועות.  Which brings us to a story or “סיפור” of a different kind, and that is the reading of  מגילת רות.


There are many explanations given as to why we read מגילת רות on שבועות.  But I daresay that this year, in which the pandemic has forced shul-goers into holidays of relative solitude at home, affords more people than ever the opportunity to reflect on מגילת רות in some detail.  In that spirit, I’d like to highlight two contiguous phrases in Chapter three.  The first is:  וַתִּשְׁכַּ֤ב מַרְגְּלוֹתָו֙ עַד־הַבֹּ֔קֶר וַתָּ֕קָם בְּטֶ֛רֶם יַכִּ֥יר אִ֖ישׁ אֶת־רֵעֵ֑הוּ

Ruth arose early in the morning, after her meaningful overnight dalliance with Boaz, before one could recognize his neighbor.

The second is: וַתָּבוֹא֙ אֶל־חֲמוֹתָ֔הּ וַתֹּ֖אמֶר מִי־אַ֣תְּ בִּתִּ֑י

Ruth returned to her mother-in-law, who said “who are you, my daughter?”  Somehow, even at that early hour, Naomi recognized Ruth as her daughter, but that she had palpably changed.

There is a custom to stay up and learn all night on the first night of שבועות.  Those who do so find themselves walking to, or coming home from shul in the wee hours of the morning at the same time each year, before one would recognize his neighbor.  It is a quixotic state, one in which the individual is recognizable, yet palpably changed.  How well can we answer the question, “who are we?”

These past seven weeks thrust most of us into hibernation.  Our sleep patterns have been altered.  Irrespective of the extent to which we have undertaken formal learning, all of us have been changed in palpable but as yet unknown ways.  Governmental agencies around the world have set various numerical benchmarks for the advisability of social gatherings and intimacy.  As we gradually return from this pandemically-induced sojourn, we will no doubt reflect on what we have learned.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Blog Ba’omer – Part Two


As we point toward the Torah it mirrors current times, and vice-versa.  It is timely and topical this week because of various controversies surrounding the math behind the novel coronavirus pandemic.  I like continuing to use the word novel to describe the pandemic, since much of the story is still being written and we are part authors of, and characters in the COVID-19 experience.

In Part One I noted that that this week’s Torah reading is Bamidbar, focused on the act of enumeration, and it has an element of mathematical controversy as well.


First, note the apparent redundancy.  Beginning with the first-born Re’euven:

וַיִּֽהְי֤וּ בְנֵֽי־רְאוּבֵן֙ בְּכֹ֣ר יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל תּֽוֹלְדֹתָ֥ם לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֖ם לְבֵ֣ית אֲבֹתָ֑ם בְּמִסְפַּ֤ר שֵׁמוֹת֙ לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָ֔ם כָּל־זָכָ֗ר מִבֶּ֨ן עֶשְׂרִ֤ים שָׁנָה֙ וָמַ֔עְלָה כֹּ֖ל יֹצֵ֥א צָבָֽא …  the number of individual names of every male from twenty years old and upward, all who were fit to go out to the army.  And that, followed by the number.  In the case of Re’euven’s tribe, 46,500 (פְּקֻֽדֵיהֶ֖ם לְמַטֵּ֣ה רְאוּבֵ֑ן שִׁשָּׁ֧ה וְאַרְבָּעִ֛ים אֶ֖לֶף וַֽחֲמֵ֥שׁ מֵאֽוֹת)

You’d think at this point it would have sufficed just to present the tally for each subsequent tribe, yet the Torah is compelled to repeat the same formula each time:

לִבְנֵ֣י שִׁמְע֔וֹן תּֽוֹלְדֹתָ֥ם לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֖ם לְבֵ֣ית אֲבֹתָ֑ם פְּקֻדָ֗יו בְּמִסְפַּ֤ר שֵׁמוֹת֙ לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָ֔ם כָּל־זָכָ֗ר מִבֶּ֨ן עֶשְׂרִ֤ים שָׁנָה֙ וָמַ֔עְלָה כֹּ֖ל יֹצֵ֥א צָבָֽא

לִבְנֵ֣י גָ֔ד תּֽוֹלְדֹתָ֥ם לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֖ם לְבֵ֣ית אֲבֹתָ֑ם בְּמִסְפַּ֣ר שֵׁמ֗וֹת מִבֶּ֨ן עֶשְׂרִ֤ים שָׁנָה֙ וָמַ֔עְלָה כֹּ֖ל יֹצֵ֥א צָבָֽא

לִבְנֵ֣י יְהוּדָ֔ה תּֽוֹלְדֹתָ֥ם לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֖ם לְבֵ֣ית אֲבֹתָ֑ם בְּמִסְפַּ֣ר שֵׁמֹ֗ת מִבֶּ֨ן עֶשְׂרִ֤ים שָׁנָה֙ וָמַ֔עְלָה כֹּ֖ל יֹצֵ֥א צָבָֽא

לִבְנֵ֣י יִשָּׂשכָ֔ר תּֽוֹלְדֹתָ֥ם לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֖ם לְבֵ֣ית אֲבֹתָ֑ם בְּמִסְפַּ֣ר שֵׁמֹ֗ת מִבֶּ֨ן עֶשְׂרִ֤ים שָׁנָה֙ וָמַ֔עְלָה כֹּ֖ל יֹצֵ֥א צָבָֽא

… and so forth for each of the remaining tribes.  Now I have to confess that for a bar mitzvah boy it’s a pleasure to be able to get into the rhythm of having this much space taken up by repetitive phrases with repetitive “trup”.  But then when the census is finished, the Torah announces not only that the tally was done, but again how it was done:

אֵ֣לֶּה הַפְּקֻדִ֡ים אֲשֶׁר֩ פָּקַ֨ד משֶׁ֤ה וְאַֽהֲרֹן֙ וּנְשִׂיאֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל שְׁנֵ֥ים עָשָׂ֖ר אִ֑ישׁ אִֽישׁ־אֶחָ֥ד לְבֵֽית־אֲבֹתָ֖יו הָיֽוּ

וַיִּֽהְי֛וּ כָּל־פְּקוּדֵ֥י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לְבֵ֣ית אֲבֹתָ֑ם מִבֶּ֨ן עֶשְׂרִ֤ים שָׁנָה֙ וָמַ֔עְלָה כָּל־יֹצֵ֥א צָבָ֖א בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל

This is followed in the next chapter not only by the geography of encampment of the twelve tribes, but again repeating the identical census of each tribe.


I do not currently have access to commentaries other than Rashi, who is silent on the reason for the seemingly redundant information here, but I do recall seeking out explanations for this many years ago.  I cannot quote any of those sources, but it is apparent that the Torah is underscoring the importance of consistent and accurate calculations when accounting for population information and geopolitical positioning.  That brings us back to the hodgepodge the world faces currently with regard to the chaotic nature of COVID counting.  Here, for example, is an attempted explanation at why the counting is so murky:

An accurate tabulation is not just important so that politicians have less egg on their faces about requests, categorizations, and predictions based on modeling.  It also speaks to the heart of what we are experiencing today, which is the tremendous variation and guesswork in trying to restore normalcy to societal functioning.  There is good reason to question the accuracy of the count.  As we attempt to distance ourselves from these days of unrest, let us remind one another that accurate numbers matter.

Screen Shot 2020-05-22 at 4.47.10 PM

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blog Ba’omer – Part One


Screen Shot 2020-05-21 at 12.00.07 PM

The current season that stretches between the Jewish holidays of Pesach/Passover and Shavuot/Pentecost, bounded by סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר, is one steeped in numbers.  I’ve always had an affinity for this week’s Torah reading which happens to be my Bar Mitzvah portion.   It is the opening of what is called “The Book of Numbers” in English, because of the census taken of the Jewish people in the Sinai desert: בְּמִדְבַּ֥ר סִינַ֖י (technically the parsha should be called “Bemidbar” rather than “Bamidbar”).  The haftorah begins with numerosity as well, indicating that at some point the census of the Jewish people will approach infinity:  וְֽ֠הָיָה מִסְפַּ֚ר בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ כְּח֣וֹל הַיָּ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יִמַּ֖ד וְלֹ֣א יִסָּפֵ֑ר.  And it will be that the census of the sons of Israel will be like the sands of the sea, immeasurable and uncountable. 

In contrast to the prophetהוֹשֵׁע  who predicted unlimited growth constrained by moral principles stands the Malthusian Principle of population curtailment.  The rate limiting step for population growth proposed by Malthus was the production of food, but one can substitute Natural Resources to derive a more generalizable model. Malthus believed that nature would correct the imbalance between resources and population growth in the form of disasters such as floods and earthquakes.

Malthusian Model

Unconstrained infectious disease is a force that curbs population growth, and COVID-19 qualifies as a Malthusian Catastrophe that has presented humanity’s latest inflection point on his graph (inflection through infection, one might say).  As the mathematical biologist Kit Yates observed, “much of the story of our history has the often unwritten subplot of contagious disease running through it”.  The numbers involved in modeling epidemics and pandemics, the essence of mathematical epidemiology, are a matter of life and death.


As Yates notes in his book published last year in the U.K., any mathematical model is only as good as the assumptions and data underpinning it.  For the past century, the S-I-R model has held sway in mathematical epidemiology.  This identifies three classes in the population: Susceptibles (people who have not yet had the disease); Infected (those who contracted the disease and could pass it to susceptible); and Removed (people who had the disease and recovered with immunity or those who died from it).  In a section entitled “The Next Pandemic”, Yates indicates that for zoonotic viral diseases that jump from nonhumans to humans, and is then transmitted among humans, the model has been expanded to S-C-I-R, with the added class of Carrier.  This designation was the class of people capable of passing on the disease while remaining asymptomatic and therefore undetectable in the absence of mass testing of the entire population.  Enter COVID-19.

The numbers lead us to the concept of R-0 or R-naught, which is the basic Reproduction profile of the disease in terms of strength or virulence.  If a virus has R-0 < 1.0, then the infection will die out quickly as each infectious person passes on the disease, on average, to less than one other individual and the outbreak cannot sustain its own spread.  If R-0 is > 1.0, the outbreak is poised to grow exponentially.  This is what happened when SARS reached an R-0 somewhere in the range of 2.  As reported in early April in the journal Biosafety and Health, the estimated R-0 of SARS 2 or COVID-19 as emanating from Wuhan, China was between 2.43 and 3.10.  This led to the ubiquitous mantra you’ve heard about efforts to “flatten the curve” by measures such as masks, hand washing, social distancing, and potential meds/vaccines.  This we’ve been told was largely done to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system capacity.

Flatten the Curve

As Yates writes, “once outbreaks are in full swing it is often impractical to develop and test an effective vaccine in time”.  Or as Sigal Samuel wrote in Vox last September, we’ve got a bad habit of paying attention to pandemics only when it’s too late.  There will be collateral damage unless one is able to adopt an alternative strategy as employed for animal diseases such as culling or “intentional de-population”.  Culling is like setting brush fires ahead of rampaging forest fires, a calculated sacrifice of potential susceptible individuals in the SIRS model above.  Preventive slaughtering, if you will.

Yates continues: “For active outbreaks of human diseases in unvaccinated populations, culling is clearly not an option.  Quarantine and isolation, however, can be extremely efficient ways to reduce the transmission rate and, consequently, the effective reproduction number.”  The challenge, as Yates notes, is weighing the economic costs of quarantining healthy individuals against the risk of an enlarged disease outbreak.  “It’s impractical in the real world to quarantine a high proportion of the population for a long time”.

Yet here we are, in the real world, having done just that.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is Donald Trump Full of Sh*t?

Screen Shot 2020-05-17 at 1.20.07 PM

Far be it from me to suggest that President Trump is a fully rational individual.  What I am suggesting is that he may not be as irrational as he appears to be.  By now, his suggestion during an April 24th briefing that UV light or disinfectant brought inside the body might be a way to combat coronavirus has become a legendary clip.

No doubt the President could have broached the subject with more discretion, making it clear that he was not advocating that such an approach was ready for prime time. After all, he does have followers who swallow everything he says hook, line and sinker, such as this unconditional Trump supporter for whom chugging bleach wouldn’t be far fetched.

On the facebook page of an individual who I respect highly,  I wrote:  If we’re honest with each other, we’ll admit that the only certainty in all this is that we each choose which speculations to believe at any given point in time.  To which she replied:  “I know what you’re getting at but, to state the obvious, there is a clear demarcation between emerging scientific knowledge and emerging idiotic superstition and lies.”  I then told her that I was writing a blog in which I would cite one of the most idiotic suggestions one could imagine being made.  It sounds crazier than ingesting Lysol:  It was during a 1941 outbreak of dysentery in North Africa when Nazi troops in close quarters were getting wiped out by dysenteric microorganisms. But the local Arabs were mysteriously spared. Mysterious, that is, until the German doctors witnessed locals with dysentery scooping up handfuls of steaming camel feces and eating it as an antidote to the malady. Understanding why this bizarre practice worked eventually gave rise to RCTs of fecal transplants for C. diff. My point? The demarcations here are not as clear as we would like to believe.

Here is the full story from the Yale University Press Blog:

“When the Nazi army invaded North Africa in 1941, the German tank drivers thought it was good luck to run over piles of camel dung. The Allies started to make fake camel dung piles and connect them to explosives that would detonate when run over by any luck-seeking tank driver. The deceit was so well planned that the Allies even put tire track marks in their fake dung piles to trick the tank drivers into plowing over them.

But, camel dung in its true form would hold a life-saving secret. Soldiers were suffering greatly from dysentery and the Nazi medical corps was brought in to attempt to alleviate the outbreaks. Early on, the local nomads were thought to hold a key to the solution, because they rarely suffered from dysentery. In fact, when an outbreak of dysentery occurred, or even when slight diarrhea was experienced, the nomads would diligently follow their camels around. When a camel defecated, the nomad would quickly scoop up the dung and ingest some while it was still steaming.  After close scrutiny of the dung, the corps discovered that the dung was loaded with the bacterium Bacillus subtilis.  This species is in the same genus as a terribly pathogenic species, Bacillus anthracis, which causes anthrax, an often lethal respiratory disease. Bacillus subtilis, however, has since become one of those bacterial species considered “good” for humans.

What is it about B. subtilis that would make Arab nomads ingest camel dung? This species is a voracious eater of other microbes, including the ones that were causing dysentery. By ingesting the camel dung, the nomads were essentially altering their gut ecology to get rid of the pathogen causing the dysentery. But the B. subtilis was present only in warm dung; it would die out when the dung cooled. Not wanting the troops to ingest camel dung, the German high command and medical corps, instead, cultured large amounts of B. subtilis in vats and fed the broth from the cultures to the troops, stopping the outbreaks of dysentery. The Nazi medical corps even developed a way to dry out the B. subtilis and put it into powdered form for their troops. Since the Nazi experience with camel dung, B. subtilis has been used in much the same way as an anti-dysenteric agent.”

So in a way I understand where Donald was coming from.  If eating sh*t turned out to be medicinal, who knows what possibilities there might be in harnessing the power of UV light and agents with disinfecting properties.  It isn’t so outlandish to suggest that research might show a way to activate the anti-COVID nature of UV light or disinfectants internally under laboratory-controlled conditions, as might be done through optogenetics.  That’s really what he should have said the following day when a reporter asked him to clarify his remarks from the previous day.  Instead he chose to qualify what he said as being sarcastic when if fact, in proper context it could have been taken as a serious suggestion and might have earned him some respect.


Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Tanglewood Music Center: Santana


It happened nearly fifty years ago.  Tanglewood Music Center was the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, originally founded in 1940 as the Berkshire Music Center by conductor Sergei Koussevitzky, relative to the noted chazan Moshe Koussevitzky.  But exactly one year after Woodstock, on August 18, 1970, Santana performed a magnificent concert there.   Here is a YouTube compilation of their set, beginning with Batuka/Se A Cabo, and ending with Savor/Jingo.  This is in honor of the memory of Rafa Fredman, who would become my roommate at Yeshiva University at summer’s end of 1970, and in anticipation of  Dr. Cheeko’s cure for corona preserving summers to come.


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

One Fine Day

written by David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) and Brian Eno (T.H. producer)

Saw the wanderin’ eye, inside my heart
Shouts and battle cries, from every part
I can see those tears, every one is true
When the door appears, I’ll go right through

In a small dark room, where I will wait
Face to face I find, I contemplate
Even though a man is made of clay
Everything can change that one fine —

One fine day

Then before my eyes, is standing still
I beheld it there, a city on a hill
I complete my tasks, one by one
I remove my masks, when I am done

Then a peace of mind fell over me —
In these troubled times, I still can see
We can use the stars, to guide the way
It is not that far, that one fine —

One fine day

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Biking to Bradshaw’s Beach

A-1 Bicycles

In this era of the new abnormal, purchased a bike yesterday at A-1 on Arnold Ave. in Point Pleasant Beach.  The lack of car traffic has made cycling more appealing than usual, and though it’s been too many years since I’ve been on one, the reflexes are still pleasantly in muscle motor memory.


Today is the first day that Murphy’s Law is allowing for beaches to be open in New Jersey, and the forecast at the Jersey Shore is tailor-made for venturing onto the sand and re-communing with the gulls.


Looks like Governor Murphy didn’t have to worry about social distancing, at least in the private area of Bradshaw’s Beach today.  We’ll see how Memorial Weekend and Day plays out at the Jersey Shore.  No way Hollywood would dare write this script …





Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment