An uplifting news item, poem, thought or quotation each day.
Archive of past entries

25 September 2005

Most of us feel fatalistic about poverty. Even Jesus assumed that ‘the poor ye have always with you’. Our attitude is born of the millennia during which the leisure of a man to create and to think could only be purchased with the sweat of a hundred laborers. Men of leisure would never give up their privilege, and even if they could be forcibly dislodged - who would want to live in a society where no one has the leisure of contemplation?

Poverty is certainly with us undiminished, but it may be that the underlying reason for poverty has changed. It may be that the economic necessity for a large, impoverished working class has disappeared, and what keeps poverty in place is a kind of social sclerosis.

The impoverished masses are not laboring to supply our needs, but are unemployed or worse. Their poverty does not benefit us; it costs us dearly in a thousand ways: locks and keys, security systems, detours around the other side of town, criminal court systems, prisons, violence that is woven through the fabric of our culture. Fear, too, is a cost.

It is no longer true that we can only eliminate poverty by diminishing our own standard of living. We look forward to a time when we as a society no longer support the cost of so many idle, unproductive lives. Prisons are more expensive than schools; but they are only a small part of the price we are paying now for an underclass of petty criminals.

An impoverished underclass is our ancient heritage; but an unproductive underclass - this is new, and perhaps unnecessary.  Changing our social structures so that the poor can become productive and gain a measure of dignity will enrich us all. Sooner or later, this will come to pass.

- Josh Mitteldorf

24 September 2005

Today many hundreds of thousands of people are gathering in Washington to bear witness for peace.  Despite a concerted effort to convince them that war is justified and indeed necessary, despite the complicity of newspapers and TV stations in broadcasting the message that patriotism demands war, despite the relentless campaign to promote xenophobia and plant fear in their hearts, there are many, many people willing to expend their own time and money, simply to make a statement with their presence: 

"There is no way to peace; peace is the way." - A. J. Muste 

23 September 2005

Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.

~ Amelia Earhart 

22 September 2005

What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine, and curious peach,
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

Here at the fountain's sliding foot
Or at some fruit tree's mossy root,
Casting the body's vest aside
My soul into the boughs does glide:
There like a bird it sits and sings
Then whets and combs its silver wings
And, till prepared for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.

- from The Garden by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)

"The life and work of Andrew Marvell are both marked by extraordinary variety and range. Gifted with a most subtle and introspective imagination, he turned his talents in mid-career from incomparable lyric explorations of the inner life to panegyric and satiric poems on the men and issues involved in one of England's most crucial political epochs. The century which followed Marvell's death remembered him almost exclusively as a politician and pamphleteer. Succeeding periods, on the other hand, have all but lost the public figure in the haunting recesses of his lyric poems." 

- from an introduction to the Complete Poems by George Lord

21 September 2005

"It is possible to believe that all the past is but the beginning of a beginning, and that all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn. It is possible to believe that all the human mind has ever accomplished is but the dream before the awakening."

H. G. Wells, born this day in 1866

20 September 2005

The Elephant is Slow to Mate

The elephant, the huge old beast,
     is slow to mate;
he finds a female, they show no haste
     they wait

for the sympathy in their vast shy hearts
     slowly, slowly to rouse
as they loiter along the river-beds
     and drink and browse

and dash in panic through the brake
     of forest with the herd,
and sleep in massive silence, and wake
     together, without a word.

So slowly the great hot elephant hearts
     grow full of desire,
and the great beasts mate in secret at last,
     hiding their fire.

Oldest they are and the wisest of beasts
     so they know at last
how to wait for the loneliest of feasts
     for the full repast.

They do not snatch, they do not tear;
     their massive blood
moves as the moon-tides, near, more near
     till they touch in flood.

~ D. H. Lawrence

19 September 2005

Two Views of Evolution

Here’s a classical view of how Darwinian evolution works, by Richard Dawkins. And here’s the radical-alternative-progressive view by Lynn Margulis.

Both agree that the biosphere arose by natural selection. But where does the random variation come from that gives natural selection the differences to select from?

In the classical view, the answer is pure and simple: mutations. These are (1) small changes; they occur (2) completely at random, and they arise (3) in the process of each individual’s birth.

Some scientists find that this is not a plausible explanation. How has evolution managed to be such a good engineer? Living things are optimized not just in little ways that could be accounted for one gene at a time, but also in ‘global’ ways: life history strategies, co-adaptation, stable ecosystems.

Is there a better way to account for evolution’s direction? (without invoking divine intervention, which, to a scientist, has to be an admission of failure - a last resort).

Margulis’s answer invokes the parallel universe of bacteria. "Unlike other life forms, all the world's bacteria have access to a single gene pool and hence to the chemical prowess of the entire bacterial kingdom." In other words, bacteria freely exchange genes with one another, regardless of their species. Occasionally, we higher organisms borrow a gene from bacteria as well; and very, very occasionally, an entire bacterium gets scooped up and becomes part of us.  This is how plants got their chloroplasts, and animals the mitochondria that process energy for every living cell.  "This symbiogenesis, the merging of organisms into new collectives, is a major source of evolutionary change on Earth...

"Since all life on Earth evolved from bacteria, it makes more sense now to think of beetles, rose bushes, and baboons as communities of former bacteria and protoctists than as higher animals or plants. The traditional belief in ‘man, the highest animal’ endures because the shift to a more egalitarian view of the world that respects and empowers all life is an enormous step."