Thursday, November 9, 2023

Time For A Just Peace

Just over a month ago Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israeli settlers shocking in its brutality. Hundreds including women, children and the elderly were taken hostage as missiles rained down on Israeli cities. Casualties were in the thousands. The following day, Israeli Defense Forces began a bombardment of Gaza that has killed many more thousands, burying civilians with no place to flee beneath the rubble of a ruined city starved for potable water, electricity, food and medical supplies. The cost in suffering has been enormous.

The roots of this conflict are ancient, as people of different faiths and ethnicities (Jewish, Palestinian, Muslim, Christian, Druze, Bahai, and more) struggle to live side by side on a small piece of real estate that three major world religions claim as holy ground.
Warfare is not the answer, for while religious extremists espouse violence, the core teaching of all great faiths counsels a peaceful co-existence for the world's peoples founded on justice and mutual respect.
For hostilities to cease, the Palestinian people need a path toward an unoccupied homeland, with viable borders and self-determination. Israelis need security and an assurance that their neighbors are willing to accept the permanent presence of a Jewish state.
The Hebrew Bible envisions a time when swords will be beaten into plowshares, when each shall live beneath their own vine or fig tree, and none shall make them afraid. It is time for world leaders to step back from the precipice of wider war and begin a process of reconciliation that will end the bloodshed and bring about just and lasting peace.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Why Celebrate the Fourth?

 This weekend, millions of Americans will enjoy the fireworks, but others will take a knee on Independence Day.  Why celebrate? 

In her Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project,  Nikole Hannah-Jones argued that the primary purpose of the American Revolution was to promote and preserve slavery.  But it’s important to get the history right. 

 In 1775, Virginia’s English Governor, Lord Dunmore, proclaimed that slaves who deserted their American masters would be welcomed into the British army as free citizens.  Multitudes did so, and soon Dunmore had a black regiment at his command to quell unrest in the colonies.  It was only then, Hannah-Jones’ argument goes, with the prospect of losing their enslaved property, that delegates in Philadelphia put their signatures to the parchment declaring independence from King George.

Yet the skirmishing began long before Dunmore’s provocation. Prior to that, there was the Tea Party.  There were Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill.  Because muskets were so inaccurate in those days, the Continentals were instructed “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”  In the melee at Bunker Hill, the redcoats were savaged.  Over a hundred of the American soldiers that day were of men of color 

You may have learned in high school that Harry Truman was the first President to integrate the armed forces.  Actually, George Washington was.  Over 5000 African Americans served in uniform during the Revolution.  Blacks were there at every major engagement.

They absorbed the ethos of their compatriots.   “Self-evident truths” became part of their moral vocabulary.  They came away with ideas that were even more explosive than their flintlocks.  Men of color who fought and prevailed against the mightiest empire on earth walked with a new confidence.  They weren’t full citizens yet, but they were warriors.  And having fought to create the new nation, they had a deeper investment in its founding ideals.  

America would never be the same.   In her book Standing in Their Own Light: African American Patriots in the American Revolution, scholar Judith Van Buskirk observes that before 1760, very few Americans questioned the institution of slavery.  It was a fact of life, like the weather.  But in the space of a generation, something happened. “By 1790,” she observes, “the northern states had put slavery on the road to extinction … Abolition societies and aid societies sprang up in the north and south.  What happened between 1765 and 1790?  The American Revolution.”  Slavery would never again go unchallenged. 

It would take generations to see the effects.  It would take the Civil War.  It would take mass movements, Montgomery and Selma and Black Lives to pass the torch forward.  The flame faltered at times.  It flickers now, as our nation faces white nationalists and resurgent hate.  But none of this should keep us from celebrating July Fourth.  For despite his recent coronation, Charles is not our king.  Our nation is founded on principles quite different from those of the hereditary right of some to rule over others.  A nation that still clings to the ideals of freedom and equality.  

Those ideals are fragile, always in danger.  So protest if you like.  Practice your right of free speech and assembly.  Our nation began in protest and needs healthy dissent.

Because America’s is an unfinished revolution, a revolution in progress.  Learn your history and then earn your history.  Fly your flag right side up or upside down or not at all, but know why you do it. Educate yourself.  We have no need to renounce or censor our past, nor any need to romanticize or gloss over it either.  For all its imperfections, it’s a heritage worth remembering.  

Monday, July 3, 2023

What Stuff Weighs

 A single blue whale can weigh 400,000 pounds.  But suppose you could put every kind of mammal on your bathroom scale, not as individual organisms but as a species. Cattle would physically weigh the most, according to a new study by the Wiezman Institute of Science.  In a paper titled “The Global Biomass of Wild Mammals,,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science last March, researchers determined that dogs–our family pets–collectively weigh about as much as all 4,805 wild species of mammals combined.  Cats tip the scales at double the tonnage of savannah elephants.  

Watching Nature on PBS, with its migrating wildebeests, foraging bears and wallowing hippos gives a seriously distorted impression that the earth teems with wildlife.  In fact, human beings (weighing in at 390 million tons) and cows (totalling altogether 420 million tons) represent almost all of the globe’s mammalian biomass.  Adding in sheep, pigs and other animals cultivated for meat or dairy means that  livestock outweigh all wild mammals by a factor of thirty-fold.  

In a related study, the scientists recently determined that what they call “anthropogenic mass” (the total of human made artifacts like cars, coke bottles, skyscrapers and disposable diapers) has passed a tipping point.  People are producing or consuming the equivalent of their own body weight every week, on average, and this total is doubling roughly every twenty years.  In 2020, our species’ “anthropogenic mass” outran the sum of all the world's living biomass - not just overtaking the tonnage of mammals but of fish, forests, fungi, and all  other lifeforms.

Calculating the human footprint on nature by weight is just one measure of our impact, alongside extinction rates and loss of biodiversity.  But “The Global Biomass of Wild Mammals,” coming on the heels of demographic reports that the world’s population surpassed eight billion late last year, is a shocking indicator that nature’s scales have gone seriously out of balance.

Lead author Ron Milo, who  holds a PhD in Biological Physics and was the first fellow in Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School before joining the Department of Plant & Environmental Sciences at the Weizmann Institute, says “It is definitely striking, our disproportionate place on Earth. When I do a puzzle with my daughters, there is usually an elephant next to a giraffe next to a rhino. But if I was trying to give them a more realistic sense of the world, it would be a cow next to a cow next to a cow and then a chicken.”

Solving this puzzle starts with what’s on our plate.

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