Thursday, November 27, 2008

"I am thankful"

Some years ago I attended a Thanksgiving dinner at which the hostess asked everyone to "go around the table" and say what he or she was thankful for. I enjoyed the experience, and I probably addressed my expression of thanks to "God," perhaps as "Heavenly Mother" rather than as "Heavenly Father," depending on whether this happened before or after I grew tired of the general tendency among Christians (as among Jews and Muslims) to refer to deity as masculine.

As I anticipate going over to our neighbors (in less than two hours!), I've found myself wondering whether anyone will make a similar suggestion. In anticipation of the possibility, I've looked up "thankful" in Webster's:
1: conscious of benefit received <for what we are about to receive make us truly ~>
2: expressive of thanks <~ service>
3: well-pleased: GLAD <he was ~ that the room was dark>
I have long thought that thankfulness in the first sense is too important to relegate to a single day of the year, for such mindfulness encourages compassion and humility. We might not have been so lucky. Can we justify thinking that we deserve our luck more than others deserve their lack of it?

But Thanksgiving as an annual event, as a holiday, tends to make us think about things from a larger perspective, even a national one. But I've already been thankful ever since November 4 that come January 20 we won't need to put quotes around "president" any more. A larger perspective for me is remembering some of the people (such as Gary) who can't be with us (or with anyone else) today. They died young or they died violently or they just died unexpectedly.

On this particular Thanksgiving, I will remember that, for the "national turkey" named Pumpkin pardoned yesterday by our current "president," there are literally millions of turkeys that were recently slaughtered (or slaughtered weeks ago and frozen) so that creatures higher on the food chain could gorge themselves today. And lots of other animals as well. To me, that's very sad. In a couple of hours I mean to be mindful of the sacrifice of the free-range turkey our neighbors have been baking this morning.


Actually, only one of our neighbors baked the turkey; the other baked a cut of free-range pig. Unfortunately, each animal's flesh was so delicious (as also was the sweet potatoes, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce, the brown gravy, the Brussels sprouts and carrots, the green beans, the dinner rolls, and the wine, all followed by pumpkin pie, chocolate-pecan-Kahlua-bourbon pie, wine cake, and New Orleans chickory coffee) I barely paused to remember that the two animals had been deprived of their range, not to mention their lives, for the very purpose that distracted me.

It isn't easy to be thankful, especially in America, where we have perhaps too much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Half a world population ago

In 1968, a couple of years after Lunar Orbiter I made the first images of Earthback when the planet's human population was half what it is today—I gave a talk recommending zero population growth at a meeting of a chapter of the American Association of University Women.

Many of those present had already heard the term zero population growth, and some may have read Stanford University ecologist Paul Ehrlich's bestseller of that year, The Population Bomb, which was among my primary sources of information. The basic idea was that if humans, on average and as a personal commitment, produced just enough offspring to replace themselves (two per couple), then population could remain approximately constant. Zero population growth. Or, as an entry in Wikipedia puts it, "In the long term, zero population growth can be achieved when the birth rate of a population equals the death rate...."

Ehrlich's predictions of worldwide famines between 1970 and 1985 because of overpopulation may have failed in their details, but few informed people today doubt that overpopulation has driven and continues to drive global warming, including unmistakable changes in weather patterns, shrinking polar icecaps, and the rising acidity of oceans (some of the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere going into the formation of carbolic acid)—all of which have stark consequences for life on earth.

For along with rising numbers of humans come their rising expectations, which can be summarized briefly as expecting to live like an American. You know, drive an SUV and produce, by Third World standards, an astounding amount of garbage.

I don't know how accurate Erhlich's 1968 prediction was for when the Earth's population would double (I'd have to read his book again to check), but he did expect it to double. He knew how difficult it would be to achieve ZPG, because, to quote Wikipedia again, "a country's population growth is often determined by economic factors, incidence of poverty, natural disasters, disease, etc."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, here are the Earth's population figures for 1966 and 2008: 3,416,212,203 and 6,677,602,292 (doubling in those 42 years). Its prediction for the next 42 years (2050) is 9,392,797,012. While that would be a growth of less than half the preceding period, remember that the extra people will be hustling to realize their growing long as conditions don't worsen to the point where such expectations are impossible to maintain and many will give up hustling in favor of desperately hoping and waiting for an afterlife.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wait...or hustle?

Thought for the day

Reading Dick and Felix Francis's 2007 novel, Dead Heat, this morning, I found on pages 176-177:
Who was it, I thought, who said, "Things may come to those who wait"?
    I asked my computer who said the quote. It came back with the answer: Abraham Lincoln. But his full quote was: "Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle."
I too asked my computer about the quote, and a number of sites have it and attribute it to Lincoln, but none of the ones I found indicate where or when Lincoln wrote or uttered it.

A plumbing company (I don't think it was Joe the Plumber's) recast the first clause in the more New Age or New Testament way: "Good things [emphasis mine] come to those who wait, but only the things left over by those who hustle." (Strict New Agers and fundamental New Testament folks, of course, don't include the second part, intent as they are to sit back and wait for the good things to roll in without any more effort than it takes to be optimistic.)

The intent of Lincoln's statement seems to be to recommend hustling as the way to get the best things, since otherwise you'll get only the things that the hustlers didn't manage to get or didn't want.

Of course, many a hustler comes a cropper. And some waiters come into a fortune. I wonder whether Lincoln said anything about luck? Of course, there's the business of the "Lucky Penny" charm. Was that a Lincoln penny?

The only possible Lincoln quote containing "luck" that I could find through a spot of googling was one site's claim that Lincoln said (or wrote): "The harder I work, the luckier I get." Lincoln really did seem to recommend that we hustle.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Early image of Earth newly restored

On Monday, The New York Times editorial, "The Moon View," published a newly restored image of our planet photographed from the first lunar orbiter, in 1966. More attractive images (in color) have of course since been made, but, as the editorial concludes:
What is most evocative is the awareness that this is our planet in 1966, which feels like a very long time ago. A train of thought immediately presents itself. If scientists can recover extensive new information from old electronic data, shouldn’t there be some way to peer beneath those clouds, back in time, and see how this planet looked when it had only half its current population? [emphasis mine]
    It is probably not possible to say that one Earth is ever more innocent than another. And yet there is a feeling of innocence hanging over that beclouded planet, which was just about to get the first glimpse of itself from the Moon.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

“Of the two, one has been a big success....”

The story of the comic beginnings of “Doonesbury” is told in an April 11, 2008 article in the Yale Daily News, “For Trudeau, Road to Comic Fame Began on York Street,” by staff reporter Raymond Carlson.

The strip’s creator took some of his initial attempts at cartooning to Reed Hundt, Yale College ’69, LAW ’74, the executive editor of the Yale Daily News, who was interviewed for his side of the story:
After rifling through the first three or four comic strips, Hundt shrugged. He was impressed with the artist’s humor, but less so with his drawing ability.
    Still, Hundt agreed to run the strip.
    “Sure. We print pretty much anything,” the young man recalled the editor saying.
    Little did Hundt know that he had recruited Garry Trudeau, [Yale College] ’70, ART ’73, future creator of “Doonesbury” and now, one of the most widely syndicated cartoonists alive.
Hundt recalled that during his junior year, Trudeau lived above him and George W. Bush lived below.
According to Hundt, Trudeau—a member of Scroll and Key—was amiable, “dashing,” “witty,” and “intensely verbal.” Bush, [Yale College] ’68, too, was “agreeable,” “genial,” but he [was] the center of the Davenport College social life as the go-to source of alcohol for his classmates. [emphasis mine]
    Still, Hundt said, “Of the two, one has been a big success—that would be Garry.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"He's half-white, you know"

Garry Trudeau had no backup for today's "Doonesbury" in case Obama didn't win the election, and most newspapers planned to hold today's strip until tomorrow (or never), just in case. But not The Los Angeles Times.