Faith

The next letter in the alphabet is G, but I can’t come up with a word starting with a G yet that inspires me enough to write a blog about it. Hoewever, I did hear another F word yesterday that triggered me:

Faith.

In all truth, it is a word that gives me the shivers.

Faith is an optimistic word though. It’s just been taken hostage by people that have worn out its meaning and rendered it useless for the rest of us.

Also, what makes me feel even more pity for the word, is the fact that it is often used in combination with an obligation: You have to have faith.

I realized this when I saw the documentary “Down to Earth” (It can be viewed in full on YouTube). In it medicine men and women, shamans and spiritual leaders from all over the world are given a stage to share their wisdom. The film was constructed in a smart way, slowly massaging in the message of spirituality in between scenes of friendships being formed, nature being admired and meals being shared. It managed to hold my attention until the end, hardly bothered by the heavy Dutch accents of the makers.

In one segment, a Native American medicine man called Nowaten, describes how united he feels to the visions he has. Despite never having met the figures from his dreamtravels in the real world, he is convinced that they are out there somewhere. He described this irrational conviction by saying: “We can create faith on our own, without going to any book. There is nothing that we can not do, with that ability. It’s a natural ability that we all have.”

There was no doubt in his mind that the all-knowing man he had encountered in his vision was real. He didn’t intend to find him, nor would not believing in him make him any less true. It was what it was. He had seen him, just like you see the cashier at the grocery store. And then he moved on.

Towards the ending of the documentary, Nowaten explains how he believes in a form of collective consciousness, a sort of cloud memory where we are all one, regardless of gender, nationality or age. Because of this and because his spiritual experiences have allowed him to glimpse into “the other side” he felt no fear of dying. He even expressed a certain degree of eagerness to explore further what was on the other side of the curtain.

Shortly after that, the spectators come to realize that he has indeed passed away during the making of the film. We hear his partner (?) saying she enjoyed his company on earth but is still comforted by his spiritual presence now that he is gone. She explains that if you believe the spiritual world and the tangible world are connected (as she clearly does), there really is no reason to be sad.

I understand how that idea can be comforting. I can even imagine how a gust of wind or a glimmer in a lake can feel like a form of communication. I say that with no sarcasm or skepticism. I actually truly do feel that. I mean, not in the sense that I feel my dead grandmother is trying to tell me something when there is a rustle in the treetops… But there are definitely moments when I tap into ‘the circle of life’, so to speak, and let go of my personal identity and blend in with a greater whole. This happens mostly when I am in a natural setting, where my senses are not overloaded by urban cacophony and my thoughts get the chance to die down.

What struck me about all of this is that it made me realize I had come to associate the word “faith” with blind and unreasonable trust in something non-existent. A delusion used as a bribe. “You must have faith, otherwise the cure won’t work.”

But Nowaten’s words made me realize that faith is something that can give you peace of mind, but is completely irrelevant in every other sense. If your house is on fire, saying you don’t believe in the fire is not going to stop it from destroying everything you own.

As a species we have developed our vocabularies so far that we can make distinction between things we ‘believe’ and things we ‘know’. But what can we really truly know? Not as much as we claim, that’s for damn sure. We go through life deciding which ideas we are going to put are faith in and then start referring to them as facts. And lately, we have been getting that process aalllll kinds of mixed up…

In that sense, I guess you could say we need more people of faith and less less people of facts.

Now that I come to think of it… I actually published a blogpost about that very thing not so long ago

Man, I love how blogging works! I promise I did not intend to ping back to myself when I started to write this blogpost. But it is kind of cool to see how blogging has once again helped me finish a train of thought that I started months ago.

And now, I am going to put an end to this entry and applaud myself for resisting the temptation to make a George Michael reference…

Dystopia

The letter D has brought me to Dystopia.

According to Wikipedia a “dystopia is a community or society that is undesirable or frightening. (…) Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, tyrannical governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society.”

A quick online search further shows that imagery associated with dystopian landscapes are often overly industrialized and polluted. I noticed many computer games these days are set in such a landscape.

My motivation for choosing this word as an inspiration for a blog post does not stem from a conviction that my life or surroundings are dystopian right now. On the contrary, I see a lot to be hopeful for.

Despite my optimistic outlook on things, I do feel that many of the ingredients to plunge into something terribly horribly nasty are present as well.

There is a reason the series Black Mirror was such a success. Each episode tells a story based on an exaggerated and uncomfortable aspect of modern day life. It is an unbingeable series for me, because so much of it feels just a tad too familiar. I guess that is why it is called Black Mirror and not Black Window.

The other day my boyfriend said that he wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in the near future reality would ‘split’. He didn’t mean we would be entering into a parallel universe or something star trekky like that. What he meant, was that there would be a rift in society, where different groups live by different sets of facts (and therefore different realities).

It’s a scary idea but I do actually catch his drift. People are choosing to believe such silly (untrue) things, and they in turn think I am crazy for believing what I do.

This image of two people debating what number they see, is often used to explain how two people can be right or at least believe to be. It’s a metaphor for people being convinced of different things, based on their point of view.

Still….

Somebody put that number there and that person meant it to be a six or a nine. Communication can solve the mystery. Just find the guy that chalked that numeral there and ask him what the message was he was trying to bring across. And once the number-creator has let us know he wants six loafs of bread, not nine, there is no need to continue debating what the number looks like. It’s a six. Period.

It is impossible to have a conversation about things if you can not agree on the most basic principles. When communication is no longer possible, anarchy awaits.

I remember how my punk and goth classmates used to talk about anarchy as if it was something the world needed. I never understood what they meant, as I believed anarchy and chaos were pretty much the same thing. And who wants to live in a constant state of chaos? This video helped me understand anarchy’s charm a bit better:

Nobody wants hate to prevail over love. Nobody wants to make decisions out of fear. Nobody wants to distrust their neighbor.

Lawlessness and violence are not ingredients for anybody’s utopia, I don’t think. People only want to get rid of laws if they feel those laws are corrupt or unfair. Violence is only a means to bring a process of change in motion, not a goal. People that thrive for violence just for the sake of violence are psychopaths, and I choose to believe those are actually quite rare.

There are moments when I feel there is a bigger power pushing us towards the cliff, like in that horribly disturbing (but kind of catchy) song by Stromae (who felt it was fitting to include an image of Obama in his music video in 2015 to depict people being eaten up alive by the Twitter-demon… man… that hurts even more in hindsight…):

But in the end, I think there is no architect behind any of this.

This current state of affairs has been constructed thoughtlessly by many individuals, all acting selfishly but without a higher purpose. Most people do not base their day-to-day choices on a future plan or any bigger picture. They just react to what is straight in front of them.

And I think that is how I would sum up the current state of the world. It is nobody’s fault. Everybody is a victim of an involuntary structure that forms them and they it.

We all agree it’s horrible but the consensus is that “it is what it is”. We learn to work with this system, even though we don’t want it. We fortify it by basing our laws on the premises of its faults. Many people have convinced themselves that we can’t change it until we have found who is responsible.

The winds are changing though. As I said in the beginning, I am feeling hopeful. More and more people are learning to vocalize their feelings and needs. We are starting to see how society is falling short. “It is what it is” is no longer an acceptable explanation.

If there were a way to achieve true and positive change while bypassing the anarchy-fase, that would be awesome. If keeping the peace means leaving everything the way it is, then bring the chaos, by all means!


This dedication to Freedom is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month. Alphabet so far:

Lifetip 6: Calibrate and compare

This lifetip was originally supposed to be titled ‘Create your own compass’.

When Jesse Frederik discussed this lifetip in a Rudi & Freddie podcast episode, he lamented that fact that people tend to prioritize whatever fact they encounter most often.

He described that, as a consequence, we only seem to talk about what everybody else is talking about. His tip was meant as an encouragement to always ask ourselves what is important to us individually and to talk about that instead.

This all rang so true to me. I could think of dozens of examples of people that followed their heart, going against the stream, and making the world a better place because of it.

Also, Jesse Frederik proclaimed that people should make their own estimates and assessments with the available facts. You can do that by asking yourself, what ‘a lot’ means to you (for example when speaking about money)? What is a ‘big’, what is ‘small’? What is ‘wealth’? What is ‘poverty’?

Is a billion dollars investment in military equipment ‘a lot’? Should the amount going towards education be equal to that or would that be ‘too much’? Is a farmer in Spain rich or well off? Is he still rich when compared to farmers in the Netherlands? Is he rich in comparison to you?

Those type of questions are crucial for people like Jesse Frederik, who make a living from the understanding of politics and economics. It must be so frustrating to realize that people (including politicians and people in positions of power) have lost sight of proportions.

In money terms, it’s like everything above a million is just ‘a lot’, putting millions and billions and trillions all on the same heap of unfathomableness. This lack of understanding that we have of amounts and dimensions, is something I will go into further on another day, in another blogpost.

Whereto does the compass point?

Allow me to bring the focus back to the metaphor of the compass and the suggestion to ‘make your own’.

This lifetip was pretty much ready to be packed and posted, when the pandemic took over our lives. From that moment on, all sorts of people started deciding they knew what was good for themselves and their families in ways that were hard to fathom.

All of a sudden, me telling people to stand up for their own truths and to ‘create their own compass’, suddenly sounded like quite a dangerous notion, or in the very least an incomplete one.

I guess I had never considered the possibility that the idea of having an original opinion and a rebellious mind could backfire this way. That sounds incredibly naive now, doesn’t it?

So I came to the conclusion that suggesting you can make your own compass, implies that it is up to you to decide what North is. That is really not a good idea at this particular time.

We already know where North is, as well as East, West and South. The wind directions are not up for discussion. These are facts, backed by science and carefully crafted compasses (and modern day global positioning systems). The compass is fine. you don’t need a new one.

At the same time, I can not ignore the importance of questioning absolute truths every now and then and to never settle for answers like “That’s just the way it is” or “Because I told you so”.

So I went back to the drawing board.

True North

Something that applies to all compasses is that they are of no use if you don’t know where you are or where you want to go. If you don’t know what the starting point is, then there is really very little point in knowing what North, East, West or South is…

I then renamed the blogpost to “Find your own true North”, which is more of an encouragement to figure out which ideas you want to guide you through life.

I also contemplated if it would be different if the lifetip would be ‘Calibrate your compass’. This wouldn’t require a whole new set of truths (aka a new compass), just a re-allignment of your values with the current one.

It also reminded me of Jack Sparrow’s ‘broken compass’, that doesn’t point towards the classical wind directions, but only towards the thing you desire for most in life.

The idea of having a compass but no idea of ones position or destination paralyzed my whole thought process for a while.

Explorers and cartographers

When I found my courage to continue with this post, I decided to investigate the compass metaphor a bit further. I realized that, as a tool, it is most useful when you also have a map. With a map, you can pinpoint your location (or so I’ve been told) and analyze what you would encounter if you were to go in this direction or that.

Once you’ve decided where it is you want to go, the compass can be useful to set your course.

The map we all have to deal with in our daily lives, is one of those computer-game-type-maps where you only get to see the areas where you’ve already been and only fill in the rest as you proceed.

This means you will inevitably be flying blind for a a bit, until you pass a certain threshold and the new borders of the map become visible. I guess that notion comes closest to the way the first explorers had to navigate.

The point beyond the furthest anyone had ever gone remained blank on maps for many centuries. Dragons were drawn into these unknown territories to discourage people to go any further down that unknown path.

The parallel between that metaphor and life is that we can’t really know anything about situations in the future, nor anything that we haven’t experienced first hand.

I have to suppress the urge to type something sarcastic after the previous sentence, as it is almost insulting to have to say it. As professor Redundant would say: you don’t know what you don’t know.

Compare maps & compasses

Basing your choices in life solely on what you have experienced first hand is not very practical, though.

As an example; if I saw somebody diving into a pond from a high cliff and not die, I would assume I could do the same and survive as well. I wouldn’t need to measure the depth of the pond or the wind or check if the water was of the right density. I also wouldn’t check if there were crocodiles, sharks or anacondas down there ready to gobble me up. I would instantly accept that the reality that applied to the first diver would also apply to me (and that I would have fun in the process).

But what about the person standing on the side of the pond refusing to take the jump, convinced it would not end well? What reality does he base his ideas on? Does he have different facts? What does his compass read and what does his map show? Can both realities be true?

If I were to speak to the bystander, I could encourage him by saying “Come on and jump in with me! Hakuna Matata. It is fun!”. With that, I would be assuming many things.

His answer could be: “I am so clumsy, I would surely trip before making the jump and hurt myself with the fall”. I could comfort him by saying (without lying) that I had very poor motor skills myself and that if I could do it, he would surely be fine as well.

If he were to say “sure, but I can not swim”, that would definitely change things. It would indeed be dangerous for him to jump in, without being able to swim, and very reckless of me to encourage him anyway.

Pushing someone who can not swim to dive into a deep pond, would be homicidal. One could say that, from where I stand (with my compass and my map), it is quite rare to encounter someone who can not swim. It is customary for Dutch children to learn how to swim at an early age. My frame of reference tells me that, being an adult equals being able to swim. The possibility that an adult may not be able to swim, would simply not occur to me.

So… long story short: when speaking to someone with a different idea or opinion, it is very useful to check if your maps and your compasses are based on the same parameters, for you could be having a very long discussion without realizing you are simply not talking about the same thing.

Trust the equipment

This leaves me with the dilemma that I don’t want to encourage people to embrace ideas that are just not true.

After thinking it over, I arrived at the conclusion that people that are embracing ‘true fake news’, are not using a compass at all (and the fact that there we live in an era where we have to differentiate fake fake news (which is true) from true fake news (which is fake) continues to baffle me, but no something to go into further here).

People that are not willing to base their life decisions on facts but prefer to rely on gut feelings, would never look at a compass to decide whether to go left or right. They navigate more like Sandra Bullock did in the movie Birdbox; moving around in fear with a blindfold on, shooting at scary sounds and hoping for the best.

A compass will always just do that one thing, which is show you what direction North is. If someone would say “I don’t want a compass that shows me what North is, I want one that always points towards the closest supermarket”, you can simply conclude that they don’t really want a compass. That is not what compasses do. Period.

That means that the compass metaphor stands and that “Make your own compass” is still sound advice. The definition of that device already encompasses (hehehe) its parameters as well as its scientific origins.

Check your coordinates

Along with the creation (or purchase) of a compass one must also be encouraged to figure out the coordinates of ones current location.

I suppose that means you must become conscious of your position, which you can only do by looking around you and retracing your steps to where you came from.

Which lessons did you learn along the way? Ideally you would also ask yourself which lessons you didn’t learn, but that is a tough one (that goes back to the lesson professor Redundant brought us earlier).

What are your values? By whom were they instilled in you? What are your life goals and how do you wish to reach them?

Let’s say your life goal is “owning a house, a pool and a golden retriever”. Do you want to achieve said goal by working your ass off and slowly climbing the corporate ladder? Do you want to marry a rich gal or guy who will make all your dream come true? Or would you rather rob a bank?

All these options are viable. All of them have their up- and downsides. Your moral compass can help you decide which method fits you best.

The triad of tips

Congratulations, you have reached the bottom of the page and the end of this blogpost. The conclusion is that this lifetip consists of a triad of metaphorical tips:

  • Make and calibrate your own compass to set your course.
  • Determine your coordinates to figure out where you are, where you came from and where you want to go.
  • Check and compare your map and compass to that of the person beside you, especially if you plan to go out on an adventure together.

For now, I will leave any further translation of these metaphors to your own personal lives to you.

Mind Cleanup – May 2020

May 2020 came and went. I worked from home. The weather was sunny.

The first of those two facts is actually the less troubling one, at this point.

This Mediterranean feel is awfully nice if you are looking to get a tan but it is really kind of worrying, considering I live in the Netherlands, which us Dutchies endearingly refer to as our “cold frog country”.

First week of May

The month of May started out with a few events, my brother’s 40th birthday being the most noteworthy.

This year was also the year we celebrated 75 years since the end of WWII. The 4th and 5th of May were supposed to be big commemoration and celebration days, with activities all around the country.

But then, the pandemic happened. It was a very odd way of celebrating liberty, I’ll tell you that! Also, it was quite awkward to see our king perform all sort of ceremonious deeds, with no more than a handful of people present.

Back to Lifetip # 1

The idea that people are generally good and deserve to be trusted has been coming back to me in different shapes and forms this month.

Jason Mraz’ song “Look for the good” is a cute tribute to the optimistic lifestyle that we all could use a bit more of right now.

The guy that inspired me to write my first lifetip, Rutger Bregman, recently published an article about a historical figure called Peter Kropotkin. All though this prince turned anarchist definitely needs the story of his life to be molded into a Netflix series, Bregman mostly got me with the following remark:

Theories about human nature – unlike theories about molecules or black holes – can come true simply because we believe in them. (…) What would happen if we turned this around? What if schools, businesses, and governments assumed that most people are doing their best? What if we rallied round our tendency to trust and cooperate – a tendency with every bit as much of an evolutionary basis, over hundreds of millions of years?

The guardian also released an article about the goodness of mankind. The example of kids marooned on an island is an interesting one!

Music

Somehow the Trolls movies made an entrance into my playlists, without me ever haven seen the movies. There are quite a few really cool, groovy, funky, bouncy songs in there!

The song ‘Don’t slack” was one of my favorite songs of the month. Definitely check out the actual song but this lyrics explanation is a fun way to get acquainted.

Netflix

May was also the month that I cancelled my TV subscription. It’s Netflix all the way, from now on (all though I might subscribe to an additional streaming service at some point)

One day, when I was feeling courageous, I watched Netflix’ tribute to Michelle Obama, ‘Becoming’. And before I knew it, I was sobbing. For no reason. Or actually ten million reasons, but most of all the realization that this woman is so awesome (and don’t tell me that is not a good reason to cry for).

She is such a soul force.

And all though she wasn’t voted out of the white house, thinking of what came after her is just too much to handle. I didn’t expect someone as awesome as her to be the next FLOTUS, but my bloody golly Mrs Trump is so not like Mrs Obama that it hurts.

I also finally finished watching the Good Place and to my own surprise I found the ending utterly satisfying! It was a real ending for once. It was clever and thoughtful. Yupp. Big thumbs up to the scriptwriters there!

Now, will you please excuse me, as I have a rain dance to perform.

Bird buddies

When my boyfriend and I moved in together, we were lucky enough to do so in a lovely little house in the center of Leiden. As if that wasn’t enough, the house was also equipped with a tremendously luxurious extra; a garden.

We moved in in November of 2016 and quickly got acquainted with the neighbors. And the neighbors I bonded with the quickest were the ones that don’t pay rent. They can be noisy sometimes and sometimes sing “in the dead of night”. Yes, that Beatles song is based on a true story; I’m talking about birds.

Handsome and charismatic Patrick struts his stuff around enthusiastically every winter, but we now know that he spends the summer elsewhere. Scandinavia I’ve been told. We get quite sad each year when the realization kicks in that he’s left. Patrick is a fierce little robin.

Zwaantje (which translates to little Swan, and is an actual name for women in the Netherlands) was the lady Blackbird that lived in the impressive hedera ivy bush at the far end of the garden when we moved in. When she was seduced by an extremely friendly male, we named him Romeo. We were thrilled to see their romance blossom.

Romeo and Zwaantje raised several young and we grew closer to them than I ever thought one could get to a bird. Both were extraordinarily tame, but Romeo most of all. I learned that my human neighbors had a similar experience with this blackbird couple and we often exchanged endearing stories over the hedge.

We had quite a laugh when one of my neighbors confessed to me she had given all the birds names as well, but quite different from ours. She had named the male first – Koos-, and then decided the female was ‘Koosje’, which is the feminine version of the same name. A ‘Romeo’ is obviously not the same kind of character as a ‘Koos’ (a very mundane Dutch name). 😀

And as you can tell I am speaking about them in the past tense, because at some point, something happened…

We hadn’t seen much of the blackbirds during the winter months but when spring arrived and there was still no singing to be heard from the rooftops, we knew they were no longer with us. And it wasn’t only our rooftop that was quiet. The whole neighborhood (perhaps even the whole city) was silent. It was eerie. And sad.

It may have been the Usutu virus, a disease that targets blackbirds and has decimated populations in other European countries in recent years. Maybe a cat got hold of one of the two, and the other flew off. We don’t know, but there is no denying it was an odd season without them around.

And then last winter, to our utmost delight, a new couple moved in.

My neighbor is convinced that the male is actually our old friend, Romeo. I am not so sure, all though I do find his friendliness remarkable. Maybe one of his sons? The female is definitely not Zwaantje, we all agree on that.

The new lady blackbird is a bit skittish but that’s OK. She peaks at us through the trees when her partner hops over to the garden door to claim his breakfast raisins. She joins him as soon as we step back inside. I haven’t named her yet.

It may sound crazy but it really fills my heart with joy when I see Romeo (or his successor) taking elaborate baths in our little birdbath. He does so with so much passion and love of life. I can watch it all day.

And all though the blackbirds are definitely our bbffs (best bird friends forever) the cutest ones are without a doubt the blue tits.

Their big beady eyes in their tiny heads make them look like kid’s toys. Their little eye masks give them a bit of a samurai look, especially when the male raises the little tuft on his head, to look extra tough (but not really).

And don’t get my started about their young… Adorable. Just heartrendingly adorable.

The blue tits enjoy taking little splashy baths as well, after which they sit on a branch nearby and elaborately groom themselves. And then they fluff up their little feathers and become little feathery balls of squee.

Apart from the robin, the blackbirds and the blue tits, we have daily visits from several turtle doves, sparrows, great tits and sparrows. Less visible (but I know they’re there) is the wren and the dunnock.

Also jackdaws, magpies and jays stop by sporadically, all though I would prefer they stayed away. The turtle doves usually fight them off bravely, oftentimes at the cost of a few feathers.

I have become very protective of my feathery friends. The other day I scolded my neighbor for delousing his roses with a poisonous liquid. Doesn’t he know he’s not only killing the lice, but also the birds that feed on them? I didn’t explicitly call him a murderer to his face, but I did show him my meanest frown when he told me what was in that spraying apparatus… There are natural ways to shoo lice away, you know?!

And that’s when I realized living here has turned me into a little garden gnome. Or perhaps it’s turning me into my dad. Those two options might even be the same thing. And I’m pretty OK with that!

This dedication to my Bird Buddies is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month.

Axolotl questions

The A-to-Z Blogging Challenge started on the 1st of April. A Wednesday. It was not convenient for me. I saw the first few days of the month pass me by and decided I would catch up in the weekend.

By Saturday, April 4th, I saw I could no longer sign up, at least not officially. And then it dawned on me… It did not need to be April. Posting one blog a day following an alphabetical chronology can also be done in May! Besides, May starts on a Friday; much more convenient…

So, today I start my own A-to-Z challenge.

I dedicate my first blog, the letter A, to the Axolotl. I realized it must be so when I saw this T-shirt being recommended to me on social media. And I desired it deeply. I still do.

I axolotl questions and you should too.

Have you ever seen an axolotl? They are fascinatingly odd.

And if you think they look odd, then wait until you learn more about their physiology.

Axolotl Lifecycles

Axolotls are actually salamanders. Salamanders hatch from eggs. They then grow into limbless larva, looking very similar to tadpoles. Then they start growing limbs; first the front legs appear, then the back ones. Up to that moment all salamanders are fully aquatic and therefore have cute frilled gills adorning their faces.

Your regular salamanders then proceed to grow into boring adults. They develop lungs for breathing above water and lose the frills. When they’re ready, they just walk out of the water and never look back.

Axolotls are rebels though. They hang on to puberty, stay in the water, singing Under the Sea all day, I assume. They successfully reproduce without ever morphing into the adult stage.

And it’s not that they have lost the ability to do so. Noooo sir. If for some reason the water they live in no longer suits them or if it dries up for some reason, they do what they have to do.

It must be said, they look really gross as adults. Because I wan’t you to keep the cute image you have of them and also don’t want to embarrass them, I’m not going to include a picture of an adult-stage axolotl here.

Axolotl regeneration

Axolotls don’t only stay young because of their youthful souls. They posses the freakish ability to grow back limbs and tails. But that’s not all; they can regrow whole organs, including their BRAIN!

That is why every scientist has an aquarium these days with a couple axolotls in it. They hold the secret to immortality! OK, maybe not immortality but they could definitely teach us more about healing processes.

An article on Big Think website explains it as follows:

We’ve understood the basic process of regeneration in axolotls for a while now. After a limb is severed, for instance, blood cells clot at the site, and skin cells start to divide and cover the exposed wound. Then, nearby cells begin to travel to the site and congregate in a blob called the blastema. The blastema then begins to differentiate into the cells needed to grow the relevant body part and grow outward according to the appropriate limb structure, resulting in a new limb identical to its severed predecessor.

(…)

Since humans possess the same genes that enable axolotls to regenerate, researchers are optimistic that one day we will be able to speed up wound healing or even to completely replicate the axolotl’s incredible ability to regenerate organs and limbs. With continued research such as this, it’s only a matter of time until this strange salamander gives ups its secrets.

Body swapping

All of this may have you wishing for an axolotl aquarium of your own, but don’t let their cute faces and quirky features fool you; these guys are dangerous!

Luckily, I learned about the fatality of axolotls in my early twenties and can therefore still walk the earth on two legs.

If you ever run into an axolotl; just don’t look it in the eyes…

You can read Julio Cortazar’s story here or listen to a lovely lady read it aloud in the video below.

The short TLDR-version of the story:

A man living in Paris becomes fascinated by an axolotl, a creature that he observes in the aquarium of a botanical garden. He visits the exhibit every day and feels a growing bond between himself and the creature. One day, as the man is pressing his face against the glass, looking into the eyes of the axolotl, a bodyswitch occurs. Stuck in the body of the axolotl, he sees his own face looking back at him from outside the aquarium. The aquarium is now his home… until some foolish visitor walks by and decides to look him deep in the eyes…

Based on a true story.

TV Hosts debating obesity

Bill Maher must be one of the most controversial TV hosts of this moment. He has never been known for mincing his words and his latest controversy is one he must have seen coming from miles away…

It has to do with obesity. If you’re up for it, give it a click below. If you don’t feel like listening to his slightly annoying voice and arrogant demeanor, skip the vid and read my summary further down.

So basically, what Bill Maher is saying is that we should not be making fat people feel OK about the fact that they are overweight. He literally says “fat shaming should make a comeback” and that telling people otherwise is sending them to an early grave.

Enter James Corden, who was having none of Bill’s shit. He manages to make some good points as well as some self deprecating jokes, without watering down his message.

I thought that was awesome. And true!

But still… Hurtful as his choice of words may be, I do think Bill Maher has a point. Not in the sense that I feel we should be pointing and laughing at our large boned friends and family members (obviously), but I do feel that there is a growing acceptance that may not be as right as we are letting ourselves believe.

Actually… This is pretty much how politics (should) work, don’t you think?

Someone pinpoints a problem and offers a solution. Insiders and experts pitch in, creating nuance and a more complete understanding. Empathetic outsiders step in to find a place of mutual understanding and consensus.

From there you build a healthy and balanced policy that is satisfying (enough) for all parties involved.

Ah yes… I remember those days…

YouTube

This is Blog 25 in my A-Z Blogseries:
YouTube

Social media have become something to love to hate and hate to love. If YouTube is a social medium, I think it’s my favorite one.

It’s so easy to lose half a day just clicking from one silly animal video to the next.

One of my favorite YouTube channels is Simon’s Cat. I started watching these cute animated videos 11 years ago, when they first came out. If you have a cat (or wish you did) then I’m sure many of the scenes will look familiar in some way. The video below is the very first video Simon ever made and it’s still one of the best ones:

When it comes to news and satire I love them all; starting with the Daily Show and the Late Show all the way to Seth Meyers and Bill Maher. I also love Graham Norton from time to time.

When it comes to music I’m always excited to see a new video of the Pentatonix appear or of Walk of the Earth. When I’m looking for a good live version of a song I always go for KEXP, Mahogany Sessions or NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts.

A musical flashmob video, that for some reason brought a tear to my eye when I saw it for the first time, was this one:

Actually, now that I’m re-watching it now, I know why it gives me all the feels. It’s the fact that it’s such an ancient art form, such an ancient song and such a universal message, along the lines of “let’s just have a drink and be friends”.

I also just love it when I run into little faith-in-humanity-restoring vids like this one, that was made 3 days after the Paris attacks in 2015:

Let’s use social media for wholesome shit only, what do you say!?

XXX

This is Blog 24 in my A-Z Blogseries:
XXX

The town that I live in in the Netherlands is called Leiden. The city’s coat of arms looks like this:

The emblem features on buildings and structures all over the city, including streetlights and bollards, as is customary in the Netherlands.

As Leiden has many of the same urban features as Amsterdam does, scenes for TV series and films that are meant to take place in Amsterdam, are often re-enacted in Leiden.

You can imagine that elements such as the ones featured in the pictures above, need to be temporarily replaced with their Amsterdam counterparts before filming begins. For Leideners, this is always kind of painful to watch, as any Dutch city’s fear is to “become Amsterdam”.

Now, to get to the point of this blog…. Amsterdam’s coat of arms looks like this:


Determined
Courageous Compassionate

In the current composition, it is believed to date back to the 13th century.

When we see the three X’s positioned vertically like that, we all understand we are referencing Amsterdam. It turns out though, that the meaning and origins of these X’s are a bit of a mystery.

Online historians and Amsterdamologists tell me that the three X’s are actually three silver Saint Andrew’s Crosses (which also features quite prominently on the flag of Scotland). And that’s pretty much where the story ends.

Nobody has been able to think up a good explanation as to why the city thought St Andrew, or the cross he was crucified on, were so important that they should pay tribute to him thrice on the city’s emblem.

According to Amsterdam’s own website, there are two other cities in the area that also feature the cross in the same fashion on their coat of arms, which is an interesting fact but still doesn’t really offer any clarity.

The only theory I could find, led back to the coat of arms of a powerful family from the region, van Persijn, that looks like this:

It is possible that this family owned so much real estate in the area (which they apparently did, including in the area around Leiden) that Amsterdam honored them by referencing them in the coat of arms. It’s still hard to believe that somehow we managed to forget all about this fact in the centuries that followed, don’t you think?

Fast-forward to the 21st century where somehow, the term “triple X” has also became intertwined with sexual imagery, prostitution and pornography, which has also just happened to become part of Amsterdam’s identity.

How? Why? Coincidence? You tell me!

Wunsiedel walkathon

This is Blog 23 in my A-Z Blogseries:
Wunsiedel Walkathon

Wunsiedel is a small German town not far from the border with Czechia, which carries with it the burden of being a place for neo-nazi pilgrimage.

Why present day nazis are interested in this particular East German town is irrelevant for this story.

What is awesome is how locals have reacted to these unwelcome guests that insist on visiting their town each year. Instead of confronting them in anger or repulsion (which would be understandable) they chose the path of pacifism and fun (and reverse psychology).

Upon arrival, the neonazis started being met with joyful faces and streets adorned with glitter, confetti and silly string. The counter protests started in 2004, making sure that anywhere the neonazis went, a colorful party of diversity and happiness erupted.

-“Wunsiedel ist bunt, nicht braun

In 2005, the neonazi march was banned. Small groups of
baldhead-and-army-booted youths continued to show up every year though, inspiring Wunsiedelonians (?) to take their counteractions to the next level

In 2014 they reached level “truly epic” when they turned something that initially was being referred to as the yearly Nazi Memorial March into the Most involuntary walkathon.

At the beginning of the route paint was applied on the road, signalling this was “the START”, in the same way this would be present at a marathon.

Colorful banners unfolded as the neo-nazis passed by, thanking them for their contributions to the good cause… I’m sorry, what?

Yes, Wunsiedel had turned the march into a sponosored walkathon, donating money for every meter the participants walked. The organization being funded with the money raised was an organisation called EXIT Deutschland.

EXIT Deutschland is there for people who have been part of a neonazi group but have decided to leave the hateful lifestyle behind them. Besides mental and financial help, Exiters often need protection from the people they used to call their friends. Also, you can imagine there might be tattoos that need removing (or covering up).

In short, EXIT was an awesome organization to sponsor with this most involuntary walkathon as it meant that with every step they took, they were essentially walking for the support of their defectors.

Check out the video below to see the whole thing unfold:

Supporters cheered as they reached “the finish line”. A large banner displayed the exact amount they had raised. They even received a cute little certificate, to remember their accomplishment of that day.

Sieg LOLs!