Five Quick Takes 9.19.16

0_street_views_-_leith_walk_fit_o_the_walk_hoy_and_soapbox_election_may_1955_560(1) Some years ago, I was one of several people working together to start an environmental organization. Among us was a man who lovvvvved drama. Not Shakespeare. No, like “drama queen.” He saw conspiracy everywhere. Powerful enemies in the shadows. I’d get these phone calls from him. He’d talked to a guy who told him yadda yadda. He knew for a fact that so-and-so was in cahoots with such-and-such. On and on and on. I’d say, well, we can do X, and if X doesn’t work, we can try Y. But he wasn’t listening. He was just waiting for me to stop talking, so he could start up again. One day I realized what was going on. In his mind, he was Erin Brockovich. He was the young woman who sat in a redwood tree for 2 years. He was, I don’t know, Rachel Carson. And since then, I see his type everywhere: heroes and heroines of their own private biopics. It’s like everyone’s this guy on the soapbox, yammering to an empty square. Empty, that is, because each of us is doing the same somewhere else. No one’s listening, because we’re sure the world should be listening to us. 


(2) A reminder, courtesy of Jacob Bronowski, The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination:

Since [in this universe of ours]… every fact has some influence on every other fact, then it follows that any cut you make at all [to isolate one “fact” for investigation] is a convenient simplification. But in essence it is a distortion… And it is not surprising that while you keep on getting approximate good answers (the answers get better and better as you progress because [in your experiment] you exclude less and less), it is in principle out of the question that we should ever have an ultimate explanation. That would involve setting up experiments in which the whole of the universe was perceived from a God’s eye view.

Implication: somewhere inside yourself, you must keep saying, “I don’t really know anything for absolutely certain.”



Andy Goldsworthy

(3) Here’s something startling from artist Andy Goldsworthy. The colors at the base of the tree, in case it’s not obvious to you, come from his artful arrangement of leaves which he found nearby.


(4) And here’s a recommendation. My brother-in-law happens to be a public defender. This recent story from This American Life will confirm you in your view that in a free country, it’s truly essential that every defendant have adequate legal defense. For those of us who rarely come into contact with our judicial system, every detail in this story is a sober reminder of the debt we owe people who are working against great odds to keep true justice alive.


(5) Speaking of trees, did I ever tell you that I’m fond of them? Here’s a marvelous writer, Richard Preston, talking about the amazing coastal redwood.  You won’t regret taking 20 minutes to listen to his TED Talk.





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