Category Archives: Wisdom

Gwynne Dyer on James Lovelock, father of “Gaia”

GWYNNE DYER, August 2, 2022:

Gazing into the future of Gaia — Revolutionary thinker James Lovelock was truly Darwin’s heir.

‘Jim Lovelock’s blunt predictions of global climate disaster were once seen as exaggerated, but he understood what was really happening.’ He died on July 27, on his 103rd birthday. (Images via Reuters)

Scientist and inventor James Lovelock, 94, sits with one of his early inventions, a homemade Gas Chromatography device, used for measuring gas and molecules present in the atmosphere.

 

Jim Lovelock was a late bloomer.

His first book, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, was published in 1979, when he was already 60 years old. By the time he died last week, on his 103rd birthday, he had written 10 more books on Gaia, the hypothesis that has evolved into the key academic discipline of Earth System Science.

That gives him a strong claim to be Charles Darwin’s legitimate heir. Just as Darwin’s 19th-century theory of evolution shaped our understanding of how life became so diverse, our understanding of the present is shaped by Lovelock’s idea that the millions of living species function as a self-regulating mechanism that keeps the planet cool enough for abundant life.

The puzzle that started Lovelock down that road was the fact that the sun’s radiation has increased by 30 per cent since life appeared on Earth 3.7 billion years ago, while the planet’s average temperature, despite occasional huge surges up or down, has consistently returned to the narrow range most suitable for life.

What was making that happen?

Gwynne Dyer

Collaborating with American biologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s, he worked out a tentative description of the super-organism he named Gaia and wrote his first book. Most scientists treated it with disdain because he was not a biologist, but also because Gaia had New-Age connotations that he was unaware of. (Jim was not a hippy.) Continue reading Gwynne Dyer on James Lovelock, father of “Gaia”

Attending A Funeral To Die For

The Guardian

Why a good funeral can be a life-affirming occasion
Eva Wiseman — 10 Jul 2022

As well as tears there’s cake and laughter: remembering a well-lived life is a very human affair

Last week, I went to the most fabulous party, and it happened to be a funeral. My best friend’s mum, Janet, died – a clever, funny, brilliant woman who was remembered for the way she danced around kitchens, and smelled of perfume and fags, and trucked across the world with priceless artworks, and brought up two of the most extraordinary girls in London. But while the loss was incredibly sad, her funeral was an absolute blast.

My friends and I dissected it on the way home in the car. Why did it make us feel so… good? The journey was long, the roads were blocked, so we had plenty of time to discuss it, to think about the way their family had performed this quiet trick, taken a sad song and made it better. They’d started by employing progressive funeral directors who gave them a copy of the book they’d written, We All Know How This Ends, a guide to death and the lessons it teaches us about life. They said talking about death and dying can be life-enhancing; they never used the words “passed away”, always “died”. And they insisted the funeral could be anything the family wanted it to be.

There was nothing wild about the afternoon, nothing fired from a cannon or dropped from the sky, instead just this sense of gentle shared joy, passed from hand to hand. Beside the coffin, Janet’s daughter did, not a speech, really, it didn’t feel like a speech, it felt like a series of happy memories told beautifully and everyone laughed.

A colleague talked about Janet’s work, her husband talked about the places they’d lived and the family they’d built, their shared love of drunkenness. There was a poem which read like a love letter, and there was mingling outside in the sun. At a café down the road a jazz trio played while we ate some sandwiches and drank some wine, and the place was packed with Janet’s many friends, some old, some young, some she’d known from work, some from the pub, everyone chatting and chuckling, and holding each other’s arms with that perfect griefy care.

While the loss of my best friend’s mum was incredibly sad, her funeral was an absolute blast
I’m sorry to go on about the pandemic again when I know everybody’s doing so well at trying to forget all about it, but God, every now and then the facts of it prick freshly at me: the way so many had to mourn alone, or die on FaceTime, or attend funerals from home and the distance of a shaky camera, or sit very far apart in ventilated rooms while coffins slid away. It is unbearable, really, to remember.

Continue reading Attending A Funeral To Die For

Living As Well As We Can In Spite of Them Is the First Revenge

NOTE: It’s clear to me that Garrison Keillor doesn’t like to be profound, at least not when he’s performing.

He starts off writing or doing a monologue, following the curves and turns of a narrative, striving for a seamless whimsy. Then something big & weighty abruptly rolls like a boulder onto his path — interruptions that happen too doggone often these days — which  he’d just as soon avoid, or slide around, or deal with obliquely, sidelong, seeking a way to draw at least a half smile out of it. Continue reading Living As Well As We Can In Spite of Them Is the First Revenge

Twofer Thursday: Garrison Keillor at (almost) 80; and the Decline of Religion in the U.S.

There’s not a direct connection between the two items excerpted here. Garrison Keillor is definitely religious, in his low-key, often self-mocking way.
But like others of his (& my) generation, he’s watched in bemusement as the generations behind him have been mostly quietly, but steadily dumping religion.  Following Keillor, pastor-researcher Ryan Burge takes a look at this undeniable, but still puzzling slide: contributing factors are easy to name; but clarity and implications are elusive.

#1 – Excerpted from The Saturday Evening Post:

[Garrison Keillor’s new book] Serenity at 70, Gaiety at 80, is a playful yet deeply felt meditation that ought to be a standard in the literature of human aging. I asked Kate Gustafson, president of

Keillor’s production company, how she’d characterize the work. “It’s a novelty book, a gift book,” she ventured after a long pause. Keillor chortled when I told him that. No, no, he corrected, it’s actually “a memoir with an essay wrapped around it.” . . .

About his “canceling/MeToo” ordeal, Keillor himself was plenty angry. He has written that he was unable to defuse what boiled within him until one day, in New York City, a priest prayed into his ear that the “injustice done to me” could be put aside. And that was it, Keillor wrote in his memoir. He was suddenly unburdened, and could return to the “quiet domestic life with the woman I love,” his third and current wife. But as the Washington Post reported in a lengthy piece last year, the scandal represented a “downfall” from which Keillor never fully recovered. Continue reading Twofer Thursday: Garrison Keillor at (almost) 80; and the Decline of Religion in the U.S.

Pauli Murray! Pauli Murray!

I’m lucky enough to live just a few blocks from Pauli Murray’s modest childhood home, which is now a National Historic site.  Pauli Murray was distinguished in so many ways that it’s difficult for any concise document to do her justice. Here are a few important items the ACLU letter below left out:
Pauli Murray, from a wall mural in Durham NC.
> Murray survived years of grinding poverty while excelling in school and college.
> Murray was not only a brilliant legal theorist, but also a feisty activist, arrested more than once for pioneering civil rights protests.
> Murray “invented” what some now call “intersectionality” decades before it was popularized, based on her own plentiful experience of oppression based on her gender, race, and class. She called it, tellingly,  “Jane Crow.”
> Amidst a life if personal & social turmoil, Murray was a person of deep faith. In fact, late in life she became the first Black female priest in the U. S. Episcopal church. She celebrated this by conducting her first official service in a “historic” North Carolina chapel where many of her enslaved ancestors had been taken.
> After her death in 1985, the Episcopal church declared Murray a saint in 2012.
Ria Tabacco Mar , Director, Women’s Rights Project
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March 10, 2022

Continue reading Pauli Murray! Pauli Murray!

A Quaker Theologian for Our Hard Times.

A substantial Holiday Weekend Read:

I always feel uneasy when finding myself in agreement with rightwing Catholic pundit Ross Douthat. But in his August 31 NYTimes column, he nails it, mocking the spectacle of :

”  . . . generals and grand strategists who presided over quagmire, folly and defeat fanning out across the television networks and opinion pages to champion another 20 years in Afghanistan. You have the return of the media’s liberal hawks and centrist Pentagon stenographers, unchastened by their own credulous contributions to the retreat of American power over the past 20 years.

“Our botched [Afghanistan] withdrawal is the punctuation mark on a general catastrophe, a failure so broad that it should demand purges in the Pentagon, the shamed retirement of innumerable hawkish talking heads, the razing of various NGOs and international-studies programs and the dissolution of countless consultancies and military contractors.”

But I’m not nodding to Douthat today about Afghanistan. It’s more the “general catastrophe,” or cascading crises, that have been similarly botched and booted by our rulers and most of our reigning “elites.”  And rather than piling on, I’m looking for some help in getting through and making some hopeful sense in the aftermath, if there is to be one. Someone outside the discredited mainstream pundits and bemedaled poseurs.

Which brings me to Jim Corbett.

Continue reading A Quaker Theologian for Our Hard Times.

Back to my Future: Vietnam, Afghanistan, Wherever, Forever . . .

It was the headline that caught me: “Shocking and Ominous Talk,” it blared.

Really? Such language was rare in the Selma Times Journal (STJ), but I found it there, on the editorial page of the New Year’s Day edition, for January 1, 1965.

The Alabama headline shone up at me from a cloudy gray background, on a microfilm reader in a library basement at Harvard. The paper’s full year’s run for 1965 took up only one medium-thick roll, but was likely over 3000 pages. Continue reading Back to my Future: Vietnam, Afghanistan, Wherever, Forever . . .

Let’s Go Goatwalking, Friends

Jim Corbett was a fascinating guy, but like all of us he had his faults. In his amazing first book, he way overdid the self-deprecation:

”Goatwalking is a book for saddlebag or backpack —to live with a while, casually.  It is compact and multifaceted, but for unhurried reflection rather than study.  It is woven from star-gazing and campfire talk, to open conversations rather than to lead the reader on a one-way track of entailment to necessary conclusions.  I prove no points.  This is no teaching.“

Like heck he didn’t prove points. And baloney his pages are “teaching-free”; they’re teaching-packed. (He was probably right about the saddlebag; tho I’m guessing on that.)

But don’t take my word for it. Read Goatwalking yourself and decide. And now you can, because on August 10, after a 30-year hiatus, the book is back in print, in modestly priced paperback and E-book versions, right here.

For that matter, Corbett writes tellingly about being and acting as a Quaker in our turbulent times, in ways that go far beyond our usual, Prius-with-the-correct-(but not too many)-bumperstickers  mode. But here he also overdoes the mock-humility thing: Continue reading Let’s Go Goatwalking, Friends

Saving the Country on the Fourth

Two emissaries from America’s future came to visit and delivered a stern warning:

“Grandpa, Nana — y’all & your friends gotta fix up the mess this country’s in!
I started to answer, then they added, “But can we go to the park first?”

(After that we distracted them with blueberries & whipped cream . . . . )

It was a narrow escape.)

Coming Soon: Maybe the Most Important Book I Never Wrote

As I begin this post, Portland and Seattle are roasting, a Florida beachfront condo has collapsed, the lake keeping Las Vegas afloat is  disappearing, and many more out West are dreading the start of fire season. Here in the East we’re keeping a wary eye on Xs and Os on the Atlantic hurricane map; and everybody should be concerned about those virulent variants.
Amid all these budding disasters, pieces of a paragraph from the early 1990s keep popping into my head:
I have a confession to make. I want my grandchildren to learn how to goatwalk . . . . I’m a survivalist where they’re concerned. Industrial civilization has destabilized the earth’s climate beyond the point of no-return. The fair-weather agriculture on which our civilization depends is doomed. In the course of the next century, much of North America will probably become desert. Even if it doesn’t, annual rainfalls and temperatures will fluctuate too wildly to sustain the agricultural systems on which we now depend. If humankind doesn’t self-destruct, my grandchildren will have to get along without industrial agriculture as it now exists. Maybe a more sustainable industrial adaptation will emerge, but I want them to know enough to survive the old-fashioned, nomad way, in case that’s a viable choice.
Learn how to Goatwalk? I have great grandchildren now, and why should they be learning to walk with goats?
To explain why, let me say something first about a bucket. Or more precisely, a Bucket List. We can start with mine.

Continue reading Coming Soon: Maybe the Most Important Book I Never Wrote