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.
23 September 2005
Courage is the price that
life exacts for granting peace.
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
"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
is slow to mate;
he finds a female, they show no haste
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.
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
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."