Category: Religion

Twenty years ago!

A tribute to that terrible event.

This is an hour-long video from YouTube.

It is about the role that dogs played.

This documentary reveals the unknown true stories of the working rescue dogs who saved lives at Ground Zero during the September 11, 2001 crisis and aftermath. Blind office worker Michael Hingson had to trust his seeing-eye dog Roselle on a treacherous descent of 78 flights of stairs to escape only moments before the towers collapsed. Lt. David Lim was called to duty with his dog Sirius. Genelle Guzman-McMillan was found by recovery dogs after being pinned under the rubble for 27 hours.

Once again, dogs come to the rescue of us humans, both physically and psychologically!

Origins of the Shih Tzu Breed

A Guest post from Rick Hatfield.

For the life of me I can’t recall how the connection between Rick and me was made; sign of the times! But Rick asked for a link to his website to go onto my blogroll and then offered this guest post.

So without any further ado here it is!

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Origin of Shih Tzu Breed

The shih tzu has enjoyed a long history, starting in its country of origin, Tibet. Although the exact date of the breed being recognized is not known, what is known is that a short, rather squat dog which fits the general description of the shih tzu was first recorded around 1000 BC. This means that it is possible to record the history of the shih tzu from that point forward, although it is believed that the dog was around for centuries before that time.

Tibet & China

While the exact origin point is not known, the shih tzu does appear to be from Tibet. You can see evidence of their presence with the famous statues of Tibetan “Lion Dogs” which are part of Buddhism. It appears that the shih tzu was bred to resemble lions, albeit in small form. In fact, the very name “shih tzu” means “lion”. Of the holy dogs that were part of Tibetan culture, the shih tzu quickly became the most famous.

It was not long before the breed spread from its origin point from the mountains of Tibet and into China itself. The fierce looking dog with the gentle nature quickly became a favorite at the royal courts of Chinese rulers. However, they would not gain their current appearance until a millennium later when trade was opened to another part of the world far away from China.

Change from Europe

Contact between China and Europe dates to the Roman Empire. And from such countries as Malta, Persia, Greece, and Turkey small dogs were provided as gifts to the Chinese rulers which in turn were bred to the “lion dogs”. The Pug and Pekingese were intermixed with other breeds and the shih tzu as we know it came about.

Although a favorite in the courts of China, their original purpose was as guard dogs that would warn the Emperor of people or animals that approached their presence. When they became smaller in size, the shih tzu was adapted to becoming a companion dog. When this occurred, it became rare for a shih tzu to leave China as they were so revered.

Explosion of Popularity

The shih tzu that we see today can be credited to Dowager Empress Cixi who had a kennel that included Pugs and Pekingese as well. However, when she died in 1908, the breed was seemingly lost as the kennels were dispersed.

But in 1930, a pair of shih tzus arrived in England. Over the next three decades, more shih tzus arrived which helped expand the breeding population. As this was happening, soldiers returning from the China theater during World War II brought the dog to America where it was quickly bred. Soon, the dog became extinct in China as they were expanding around the world.

While the breed was recognized in England in 1949, it would take another two decades before being officially recognized in the US. Today, the shih tzu is one of the most famous breeds in the world. A stark contrast to its near-extinction 80 years earlier.

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Rick clearly knows the history of the Shih Tzus as this fascinating account reveals. Fancy the history going back to 1000 BC! But of course the history of dogs being associated with humans goes back much beyond 3,000 years ago; to at least 20,000 years ago and there are reliable accounts of dogs going back, perhaps, another 20,000 years for a total of 40,000 years ago. What beautiful creatures!

Anyway, this was a lovely guest post as I am sure you will all agree.

The Queen’s Christmas message.

Can the Queen save Christmas?

Learning from Dogs is going to take a break. For a week. We will be back ‘on air’, so to speak, on January 1st, 2021.

The Queen has been broadcasting a Christmas message since 1952. I was just eight-years-old when she first broadcast her own message.

How very much has changed over those years. Beyond imagination.

The Conversation has an article about the Queen’s broadcast and it is shared with you all.

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Can the Queen save Christmas?

December 21, 2020

By

Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Aston University

At 3pm UK time on Christmas day, the Queen’s Christmas message is broadcast across the Commonwealth. Each year the format is largely the same, with the Queen giving her own account of the main personal, national and international events of the year and reflecting on the meaning of Christmas. As such, it has become an important part of the festivities for many families in the UK and beyond.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, fresh restrictions imposed and Brexit rapidly approaching, this year’s broadcast has taken on new significance as a source of stability and comfort, a constant in these difficult and uncertain times. Therefore, it is worth examining how the language used in the broadcast creates this sense of reassurance.

Since 1952, the Queen’s Christmas message has performed three ideological functions through rhetorical appeals based on faith and family.

Identification

The Queen shares personal anecdotes, which she often links to ordinary people’s experiences through the pronouns “we” and “us”.

On Christmas Day 1964, for instance, she told viewers that: “All of us who have been blessed with young families know from long experience that when one’s house is at its noisiest, there is often less cause for anxiety”. As most new parents would recognise this truism, it conveys the message that – in this respect at least – the royals are like any other family.

The first televised Royal Christmas message, 1957. The Royal Family/YouTube

The Queen is also aware that some families will be separated during the festive season and regularly expresses empathy for them. As she said in 1956: “I would like to send a special message of hope and encouragement to all who […] cannot be with those they love today: to the sick who cannot be at home”.

This message is made more poignant because of COVID-19, as the Queen recognised in her special address on April 5 2020. Indeed, it is almost inevitable that this year’s Christmas broadcast will include similar words of consolation for those who have been separated from their loved ones during the pandemic.

Continuity

Uncertainty is another recurring theme in the Queen’s Christmas broadcast, as she tries to make sense of the year’s events for the benefit of her audience. She gives her personal responses to national and global problems, which frequently involve the enactment of supposedly timeless (but predominantly Christian) values. On Christmas Day 1980, amid issues such as the Soviet-Afghanistan war and UK unemployment, she said:

We know that the world can never be free from conflict and pain, but Christmas also draws our attention to all that is hopeful and good in this changing world; it speaks of values and qualities that are true and permanent and it reminds us that the world we would like to see can only come from the goodness of the heart.

Among these values are faith, charity and compassion and, by praising them as a source of stability and the means for creating a better world, the Queen is perhaps seeking to strengthen adherence to them. Not only that, her appeals to Christian values and her emphasis on the family provide a sense of security for those who are disoriented by the rapid pace of social change. In turn, this sustains the monarchy by establishing the Queen as “a permanent anchor, bracing against the storms and grounding us in certainty”, as former British prime minister David Cameron said in 2012, marking her Diamond Jubilee.

Unity

The Queen’s rhetoric of unity is based primarily on the metaphor of the Commonwealth as a family, which recurs throughout the Christmas broadcasts. In 1956, for instance, she observed that:

We talk of ourselves as a “family of nations”, and perhaps our relations with one another are not so very different from those which exist between members of any family. We all know that these are not always easy, for there is no law within a family which binds its members to think, or act, or be alike.

Despite these differences, in 2011 the Queen described the Commonwealth as “a family of 53 nations, all with a common bond, shared beliefs, mutual values and goals”. As the head of the Commonwealth, it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the Queen is the matriarch of this family of nations, whose primary role is to keep the unit together and uphold its values. Indeed, the Christmas broadcast has been an important source of soft power since the end of Empire. As Sonny Ramphal, a former Commonwealth secretary general, put it: “without her presence, the Commonwealth will feel it is missing the captain from the bridge”.

With the UK government having tightened Christmas COVID-19 restrictions, as well as the introduction of bans on UK travel in numerous countries, this festive season will be very different. Perhaps more than ever, as families face separation or the disruption of their traditional plans, people will seek solace in the ritual of the Queen’s Christmas broadcast.

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I can’t find a copyright-free photograph of the Queen’s Corgis but this one will do. It is from Pexels.

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

So her Majesty The Queen is 94! Wow!

That makes her the oldest monarch to have reigned in Britain. Ever!

Queen Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death, in 1901. That makes Queen Victoria the second longest monarch to have reigned.

So with that, it’s time for a small break.

See you in 2021!

Elizabeth Ann Johnson-Murphree.

For the last day of August a very special post.

I came upon Elizabeth when she left a comment to my post on the 26th August, The science of dog learning.

This is what she wrote:

Reblogged this on The Last Chapter and commented:
Please visit Paul’s website, something new to read and learn each day. Thank you Paul for bringing your site to the blogging world.

Naturally, I replied:

Elizabeth, thank you for leaving your response, and thank you so much for your republication of my post. I read a little about yourself and, I must say, found it fascinating. And your poem The Last Chapter – wow!

Now I will hopefully republish The Last Chapter for another day. (And I have now heard that I have permission to republish it!)

But today, I want to publish the words of Elizabeth in writing about her dear, dear, recently departed dog.

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Mason Murphree

A tribute

Mason Murphee

Mason Murphree was born on January 31, 2012; what can one say about Mason, I bought him off the back of a pick-up truck, only two pups left out of the litter I held both in my hands as they lay upon my chest; one yellow and the other white.  I did not see their mother or father; I was told that the father was Bichon Frise and his mother Shih Tzu.  The white one instantly begins to crawl into my sports bra, nuzzled himself against my warm flesh and I was instantly in love.

I did not believe that he was six-weeks-old he was still wobbly on his feet when trying to walk.  I made him what the old folks call a “Sugar Tit”, a rag rolled on the end tightly and the tip soaked in warm sweet milk.  I fed him laying on his back in my hand for a week, the second week I started him on baby food.  Then, what I thought to be the seventh-week, he begins to walk with unsteady confidence and I thought was ready for the big world around him.

I found quickly that he had a set of razor-sharp teeth, yep, time for the hard bits of puppy food.  I took him to the Vet when I brought him home, and he was given an “A” in health.  But, I am getting ahead of myself.  When I brought him home I sat him on a potty pad he used until he was six-months-old, then he discovered grass.  I might add that in the nine years he was with me he never did his business in the house.

Alas, it was his six-month birthday, and his first time to the groomer, which I found that he had to be calmed down by medicine to get groomed.  It was not too long until the Vet announced that he was out of this world’s atmosphere with anxiety.  He had “MaMa” withdrawal big time when he was not with me.  He would bark for half-an-hour before settling down to wait for me to come back from the store, gym, or anywhere I had gone!  He disliked children, anyone less than teenagers.  He loved every adult he met.  He begins life attached to my hip and me to his.

Mason loved paper products; he would wait patiently to see if anyone would drop a Kleenex, paper towel, or napkin.  The pursuit would begin chasing a four-legged speed demon around the floor, me never winning.  We called him the Tasmanian devil, and he looked like it when he tried to defend his catch of the day.  It was impossible to go on vacation without him; he would stay with one of his two-legged siblings.  Of course, that was only for one day, he would accept his situation for about twenty-four-hours, then once again turn into the Tasmanian devil, the telephones would ring trying to find him another place to stay, he traveled back and forth from house to house until my return.  A chore to his brothers and sisters, but finally he must have thought he had caused enough trouble for me to return home, and he did.

He loved everyone he met except children, let me explain; when he was six-months-old I took him to the park.  On the playground were about a dozen small children, when they spied him, they came running.  He jumped up for me to protect him, and that was that.  He loved his favorite human friends and his family.

He was the best companion anyone could have; his personality was so individual those who would see him thought he would start talking at any moment.  He look intently at you when you were talking, always smiling.  He thought he was a Great Dane when in his protection mode, but a clap of lighting and boisterous thunder would send him under my feet.  He loved to walk; he loved all the trees on his block and several other blocks.

I won’t describe Mason’s death other than it was quick and painless, he got to spend one day saying good-bye to his two-legged brothers and sisters.  We covered our faces and our tears and sadness until we walked away, he knew.  As his MaMa, I watched him go from a lively, wonderful, sweet little dog to one that was holding on to every minute waiting for his family to arrive.  There are not enough words for me to describe the heartache and loneliness with him gone.

My heart feels much like a patchwork quilt, many little pieces sewn back together after being shattered.  Saying good-bye, he took a piece of my heart and soul with him.  I know that I will see him again, that is the only thing I have to hold on to this moment.   And, that is how I am living my life one moment at a time until I see my four-legged fur baby again.  He loved and he was loved.

Sweet dreams little boy.

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How we become so attached to our dogs. Elizabeth not only was beautifully attached to Mason but also wrote perfect words in her tribute.

So who is Elizabeth Ann Johnson-Murphree?

This is her biography but it doesn’t really tell me who she is; in a feeling, living, emotional sense. I suspect one has to read her writings to learn more.

Born in Alabama to a Native American father and an emotionally absent mother.
Raised by her father, her Native American Great-grandmother, her Aunt, and an African-American woman, all magnificent storytellers.  Her childhood was filled with listening to the stories her great-grandmother would tell about the grandfathers and grandmothers that perished on the Trail of Tears, of she and the grandmother living in the slave quarters in northern Alabama.
Aunt Francis needed a home when her son went to prison, she would tell the stories of her parents being slaves and how she survived the Civil War.  Aunt Vina, her father’s sister a fantastic storyteller; she could bring together characters and build a story that would have you at the edge of your chair, only to find it was all fiction.
As a child, Elizabeth ran free in the woods, fields, and the caves below Burleson Mountain where she grew up.  Elizabeth has been writing all of her life, seriously since 2010.  She has published a memoir about her daughter who passed in 2010; a small coffee table book filled with pictures of her precious Mason, and ten books of poetry.  Her poetry is filled with happiness, sadness, spirit, and anger. The memoir is the private life of her daughter, living with bipolar, and schizophrenia.  The books of poetry range from light to darkness that appeared during the creation of each book.

That is a special post, as I said at the start.

I look forward immensely to sharing with you Elizabeth’s poetry.

The Unknown Future.

The latest essay from Tom Engelhardt!

You all know that for a great percentage of my time I write about dogs and republish other articles about dogs.

For dogs are precious. Dogs are sensitive. Dogs read us humans. Dogs play. They sleep. And much more!

Pharaoh enjoying Bummer Creek, March 20th, 2013. He was born on June 3rd., 2003 and died on June 19th., 2017.

But just occasionally I like to republish an essay from Tom Engelhardt.

Maybe because years ago he gave me blanket permission to republish his essays. Maybe because he and I are more or less the same age. Maybe because in my more quieter, introspective moments I wonder where the hell we are going. And Tom seems to agree.

Have a read of this.

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Tomgram: Engelhardt, The Unexpected Past, the Unknown Future

Posted by Tom Engelhardt at 3:50pm, August 9, 2020.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Even in this terrible moment, TD does its best to continue offering an alternate view of this increasingly strange planet of ours. And I can only do so because of the ongoing support of readers. (I just wish I could actually thank each of you individually!) If you have the urge to continue to lend a hand in keeping TomDispatch afloat, then do check out our donation page. For a donation of $100 ($125 if you live outside the U.S.), I usually offer a signed, personalized book from one of a number of TD authors listed on that page and you can certainly ask, but no guarantees in this pandemic moment. Still, you really do make all the difference and I can’t thank you enough for that! Tom]

It Could Have Been Different

My World and (Unfortunately) Welcome to It
By Tom Engelhardt

Let me be blunt. This wasn’t the world I imagined for my denouement. Not faintly. Of course, I can’t claim I ever really imagined such a place. Who, in their youth, considers their death and the world that might accompany it, the one you might leave behind for younger generations? I’m 76 now. True, if I were lucky (or perhaps unlucky), I could live another 20 years and see yet a newer world born. But for the moment at least, it seems logical enough to consider this pandemic nightmare of a place as the country of my old age, the one that I and my generation (including a guy named Donald J. Trump) will pass on to our children and grandchildren.

Back in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, I knew it was going to be bad. I felt it deep in my gut almost immediately and, because of that, stumbled into creating TomDispatch.com, the website I still run. But did I ever think it would be this bad? Not a chance.

I focused back then on what already looked to me like a nightmarish American imperial adventure to come, the response to the 9/11 attacks that the administration of President George W. Bush quickly launched under the rubric of “the Global War on Terror.” And that name (though the word “global” would soon be dropped for the more anodyne “war on terror”) would prove anything but inaccurate. After all, in those first post-9/11 moments, the top officials of that administration were thinking as globally as possible when it came to war. At the damaged Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld almost immediately turned to an aide and told him, “Go massive — sweep it all up, things related and not.” From then on, the emphasis would always be on the more the merrier.

Bush’s top officials were eager to take out not just Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, whose 19 mostly Saudi hijackers had indeed attacked this country in the most provocative manner possible (at a cost of only $400,000-$500,000), but the Taliban, too, which then controlled much of Afghanistan. And an invasion of that country was seen as but the initial step in a larger, deeply desired project reportedly meant to target more than 60 countries! Above all, George W. Bush and his top officials dreamed of taking down Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein, occupying his oil-rich land, and making the United States, already the unipolar power of the twenty-first century, the overseer of the Greater Middle East and, in the end, perhaps even of a global Pax Americana. Such was the oil-fueled imperial dreamscape of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and crew (including that charmer and now bestselling anti-Trump author John Bolton).

Who Woulda Guessed?

In the years that followed, I would post endless TomDispatch pieces, often by ex-military men, focused on the ongoing nightmare of our country’s soon-to-become forever wars (without a “pax” in sight) and the dangers such spreading conflicts posed to our world and even to us. Still, did I imagine those wars coming home in quite this way? Police forces in American cities and towns thoroughly militarized right down to bayonets, MRAPs, night-vision goggles, and helicopters, thanks to a Pentagon program delivering equipment to police departments nationwide more or less directly off the battlefields of Washington’s never-ending wars? Not for a moment.

Who doesn’t remember those 2014 photos of what looked like an occupying army on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of a Black teenager and the protests that followed? And keep in mind that, to this day, the Republican Senate and the Trump administration have shown not the slightest desire to rein in that Pentagon program to militarize police departments nationwide. Such equipment (and the mentality that goes with it) showed up strikingly on the streets of American cities and towns during the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

Even in 2014, however, I couldn’t have imagined federal agents by the hundreds, dressed as if for a forever-war battlefield, flooding onto those same streets (at least in cities run by Democratic mayors), ready to treat protesters as if they were indeed al-Qaeda (“VIOLENT ANTIFA ANARCHISTS”), or that it would all be part of an election ploy by a needy president. Not a chance.

Or put another way, a president with his own “goon squad” or “stormtroopers” outfitted to look as if they were shipping out for Afghanistan or Iraq but heading for Portland, Albuquerque, Chicago, Seattle, and other American cities? Give me a break! How un-American could you get? A military surveillance drone overhead in at least one of those cities as if this were someone else’s war zone? Give me a break again. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d live to witness anything quite like it or a president — and we’ve had a few doozies — even faintly like the man a minority of deeply disgruntled Americans but a majority of electors put in the White House in 2016 to preside over a failing empire.

How about an American president in the year 2020 as a straightforward, no-punches-pulled racist, the sort of guy a newspaper could compare to former segregationist Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace without even blinking? Admittedly, in itself, presidential racism has hardly been unique to this moment in America, despite Joe Biden’s initial claim to the contrary. That couldn’t be the case in the country in which Woodrow Wilson made D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, the infamous silent movie in which the Ku Klux Klan rides to the rescue, the first film ever to be shown in the White House; nor the one in which Richard Nixon used his “Southern strategy” — Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater had earlier labeled it even more redolently “Operation Dixie” — to appeal to the racist fears of Southern whites and so begin to turn that region from a Democratic stronghold into a Republican bastion; nor in the land where Ronald Reagan launched his election campaign of 1980 with a “states’ rights” speech (then still a code phrase for segregation) near Philadelphia, Mississippi, just miles from the earthen dam where three murdered civil rights workers had been found buried in 1964.

Still, an openly racist president (don’t take that knee!) as an autocrat-in-the-making (or at least in-the-dreaming), one who first descended that Trump Tower escalator in 2015 denouncing Mexican “rapists,” ran for president rabidly on a Muslim ban, and for whom Black lives, including John Lewis’s, have always been immaterial, a president now defending every Confederate monument and military base named after a slave-owning general in sight, while trying to launch a Nixon-style “law and (dis)order” campaign? I mean, who woulda thunk it?

And add to that the once unimaginable: a man without an ounce of empathy in the White House, a figure focused only on himself and his electoral and pecuniary fate (and perhaps those of his billionaire confederates); a man filling his hated “deep state” with congressionally unapproved lackies, flacks, and ass-kissers, many of them previously flacks (aka lobbyists) for major corporations. (Note, by the way, that while The Donald has a distinctly autocratic urge, I don’t describe him as an incipient fascist because, as far as I can see, his sole desire — as in those now-disappeared rallies of his — is to have fans, not lead an actual social movement of any sort. Think of him as Mussolini right down to the look and style with a “base” of cheering MAGA chumps but no urge for an actual fascist movement to lead.)

And who ever imagined that an American president might actually bring up the possibility of delaying an election he fears losing, while denouncing mail-in ballots (“the scandal of our time”) as electoral fraud and doing his damnedest to undermine the Post Office which would deliver them amid an economic downturn that rivals the Great Depression? Who, before this moment, ever imagined that a president might consider refusing to leave the White House even if he did lose his reelection bid? Tell me this doesn’t qualify as something new under the American sun. True, it wasn’t Donald Trump who turned this country’s elections into 1% affairs or made contributions by the staggeringly wealthy and corporations a matter of free speech (thank you, Supreme Court!), but it is Donald Trump who is threatening, in his own unique way, to make elections themselves a thing of the past. And that, believe me, I didn’t count on.

Nor did I conceive of an all-American world of inequality almost beyond imagining. A country in which only the truly wealthy (think tax cuts) and the national security state (think budgets eternally in the stratosphere) are assured of generous funding in the worst of times.

The World to Come?

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the pandemic yet, have I? The one that should bring to mind the Black Death of the fourteenth century and the devastating Spanish Flu of a century ago, the one that’s killing Americans in remarkable numbers daily and going wild in this country, aided and abetted in every imaginable way (and some previously unimaginable ones) by the federal government and the president. Who could have dreamed of such a disease running riot, month after month, in the wealthiest, most powerful country on the planet without a national plan for dealing with it? Who could have dreamed of the planet’s most exceptional, indispensable country (as its leaders once loved to call it) being unable to take even the most modest steps to rein in Covid-19, thanks to a president, Republican governors, and Republican congressional representatives who consider science the equivalent of alien DNA? Honestly, who ever imagined such an American world? Think of it not as The Decameron, that fourteenth century tale of 10 people in flight from a pandemic, but the Trumpcameron or perhaps simply Trumpmageddon.

And keep in mind, when assessing this world I’m going to leave behind to those I hold near and dear, that Covid-19 is hardly the worst of it. Behind that pandemic, possibly even linked to it in complex ways, is something so much worse. Yes, the coronavirus and the president’s response to it may seem like the worst of all news as American deaths crest 160,000 with no end in sight, but it isn’t. Not faintly on a planet that’s being heated to the boiling point and whose most powerful country is now run by a crew of pyromaniacs.

It’s hard even to fully conceptualize climate change since it operates on a time scale that’s anything but human. Still, one way to think of it is as a slow-burn planetary version of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And by the way, if you’ll excuse a brief digression, in these years, our president and his men have been intent on ripping up every Cold War nuclear pact in sight, while the tensions between two nuclear-armed powers, the U.S. and China, only intensify and Washington invests staggering sums in “modernizing” its nuclear arsenal. (I mean, how exactly do you “modernize” the already-achieved ability to put an almost instant end to the world as we’ve known it?)

But to return to climate change, remember that 2020 is already threatening to be the warmest year in recorded history, while the five hottest years so far occurred from 2015 to 2019. That should tell you something, no?

The never-ending release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has been transforming this planet in ways that have now become obvious. My own hometown, New York City, for instance, has officially become part of the humid subtropical climate zone and that’s only a beginning. Everywhere temperatures are rising. They hit 100 degrees this June in, of all places, Siberia. (The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of much of the rest of the planet.) Sea ice is melting fast, while floods and mega-droughts intensify and forests burn in a previously unknown fashion.

And as a recent heat wave across the Middle East — Baghdad hit a record 125 degrees — showed, it’s only going to get hotter. Much hotter and, given how humanity has handled the latest pandemic, how will it handle the chaos that goes with rising sea levels drowning coastlines but also affecting inland populations, ever fiercer storms, and flooding (in recent weeks, the summer monsoon has, for instance, put one third of Bangladesh underwater), not to speak of the migration of refugees from the hardest-hit areas? The answer is likely to be: not well.

And I could go on, but you get the point. This is not the world I either imagined or would ever have dreamed of leaving to those far younger than me. That the men (and they are largely men) who are essentially promoting the pandemicizing and over-heating of this planet will be the greatest criminals in history matters little.

Let’s just hope that, when it comes to creating a better world out of such a god-awful mess, the generations that follow us prove better at it than mine did. If I were a religious man, those would be my prayers.

And here’s my odd hope. As should be obvious from this piece, the recent past, when still the future, was surprisingly unimaginable. There’s no reason to believe that the future — the coming decades — will prove any easier to imagine. No matter the bad news of this moment, who knows what our world might really look like 20 years from now? I only hope, for the sake of my children and grandchildren, that it surprises us all.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs TomDispatch and is a fellow of the Type Media Center. His sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2020 Tom Engelhardt

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This is such a powerful essay written from the heart of a good man.

I, too, wonder and worry about the next twenty years. Indeed, there are the stirrings of a book in my head. How that younger generation are reacting to the present and, more importantly, how they will react and respond to the next few years?

I’m 75 and really hope to live for quite a few more years. Jean is just a few years younger.

But much more importantly I have a son, Alex, who is 49, and a daughter, Maija, who is 48, and a grandson, Morten, of my daughter and her husband, who is 9.

They cannot escape the future!

Other inhabited worlds, and the implications of finding one.

This is profoundly important.

Well it is to me and Jean and, I suspect, it will be to many other people.

I am an atheist. So is Jean. We have been all our lives. I think that many of you who follow this blog know that. The love that we have for our dogs, and all our animals, plus the beauty that is all around us in nature is enough. (Now I am not naive enough to realise that there are many, literally millions, that don’t have the same fortune in their lives.)

The Conversation recently republished an essay by David Weintraub that was first published in 2014. It is at the core of our existence and I am delighted to have the permission to republish it for you.

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Is your religion ready to meet ET

By
 Professor of Astronomy, Vanderbilt University

November 5th, 2014

Square away your personal philosophy now; proof of life beyond earth is coming. Stargazing image via http://www.shutterstock.com

How will humankind react after astronomers hand over rock-solid scientific evidence for the existence of life beyond the Earth? No more speculating. No more wondering. The moment scientists announce this discovery, everything will change. Not least of all, our philosophies and religions will need to incorporate the new information.

Searching for signs of life

Astronomers have now identified thousands of planets in orbit around other stars. At the current rate of discovery, millions more will be found this century.

Having already found the physical planets, astronomers are now searching for our biological neighbors. Over the next fifty years, they will begin the tantalizing, detailed study of millions of planets, looking for evidence of the presence of life on or below the surfaces or in the atmospheres of those planets.

And it’s very likely that astronomers will find it. Despite the fact that more than one-third of Americans surveyed believe that aliens have already visited Earth, the first evidence of life beyond our planet probably won’t be radio signals, little green men or flying saucers. Instead, a 21st century Galileo, using an enormous, 50-meter-diameter telescope, will collect light from the atmospheres of distant planets, looking for the signatures of biologically significant molecules.

Astronomers filter that light from far away through spectrometers – high-tech prisms that tease the light apart into its many distinct wavelengths. They’re looking for the telltale fingerprints of molecules that would not exist in abundance in these atmospheres in the absence of living things. The spectroscopic data will tell whether a planet’s environment has been altered in ways that point to biological processes at work.

What is our place in the universe? Woman image via http://www.shutterstock.com

If we aren’t alone, who are we?

With the discovery in a distant planet’s light spectrum of a chemical that could only be produced by living creatures, humankind will have the opportunity to read a new page in the book of knowledge. We will no longer be speculating about whether other beings exist in the universe. We will know that we not alone.

An affirmative answer to the question “Does life exist anywhere else in the universe beyond Earth?” would raise immediate and profoundly important cosmotheological questions about our place in the universe. If extraterrestrial others exist, then my religion and my religious beliefs and practices might not be universal. If my religion is not universally applicable to all extraterrestrial others, perhaps my religion need not be offered to, let alone forced on, all terrestrial others. Ultimately, we might learn some important lessons applicable here at home just from considering the possibility of life beyond our planet.

In my book, I investigated the sacred writings of the world’s most widely practiced religions, asking what each religion has to say about the uniqueness or non-uniqueness of life on Earth, and how, or if, a particular religion would work on other planets in distant parts of the universe.

Extrasolar sinners?

Let’s examine a seemingly simple yet exceedingly complex theological question: could extraterrestrials be Christians? If Jesus died in order to redeem humanity from the state of sin into which humans are born, does the death and resurrection of Jesus, on Earth, also redeem other sentient beings from a similar state of sin? If so, why are the extraterrestrials sinful? Is sin built into the very fabric of the space and time of the universe? Or can life exist in parts of the universe without being in a state of sin and therefore without the need of redemption and thus without the need for Christianity? Many different solutions to these puzzles involving Christian theology have been put forward. None of them yet satisfy all Christians.

Mormon worlds

Mormon scripture clearly teaches that other inhabited worlds exist and that “the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (Doctrines and Covenants 76:24). The Earth, however, is a favored world in Mormonism, because Jesus, as understood by Mormons, lived and was resurrected only on Earth. In addition, Mormon so-called intelligences can only achieve their own spiritual goals during their lives on Earth, not during lifetimes on other worlds. Thus, for Mormons, the Earth might not be the physical center of the universe but it is the most favored place in the universe. Such a view implies that all other worlds are, somehow, lesser worlds than Earth.

Bahá’í without bias

Members of the Bahá’í Faith have a view of the universe that has no bias for or against the Earth as a special place or for against humans as a special sentient species. The principles of the Bahá’í Faith – unifying society, abandoning prejudice, equalizing opportunities for all people, eliminating poverty – are about humans on Earth. The Bahá’í faithful would expect any creatures anywhere in the universe to worship the same God as do humans, but to do so according to their own, world-specific ways.

Light years from Mecca

The pillars of the faith for Muslims require the faithful to pray five times every day while facing Mecca. Because determining the direction of Mecca correctly could be extremely difficult on a quickly spinning planet millions of light years from Earth, practicing the same faith on another world might not make any sense. Yet the words of the Qu’ran tell us that “Whatever beings there are in the heavens and the earth do prostrate themselves to Allah” (13:15). Can terrestrial Muslims accept that the prophetically revealed religion of Muhammad is intended only for humans on earth and that other worlds would have their own prophets?

Astronomers as paradigm-shatterers

Philosophers and scientists have forced worldviews to adapt in the past.

At certain moments throughout history, astronomers’ discoveries have exerted an outsized influence on human culture. Ancient Greek astronomers unflattened the Earth – though many then chose to forget this knowledge. Renaissance scholars Copernicus and Galileo put the Earth in motion around the Sun and moved humans away from the center of the universe. In the 20th century, Edwin Hubble eliminated the very idea that the universe has any center at all. He demonstrated that what the universe has is a beginning in time and that, bizarrely, the universe, the very fabric of three-dimensional space, is expanding.

Clearly, when astronomers offer the world bold new ideas, they don’t mess around. Another such paradigm-shattering new idea may be in the light arriving at our telescopes now.

No matter which (a)theistic background informs your theology, you may have to wrestle with the data astronomers will be bringing to houses of worship in the very near future. You will need to ask: Is my God the God of the entire universe? Is my religion a terrestrial or a universal religion? As people work to reconcile the discovery of extrasolar life with their theological and philosophical worldviews, adapting to the news of life beyond Earth will be discomfiting and perhaps even disruptive.

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Now I don’t really want to open up the subject of religion but I will say that WikiPedia have a great entry about the subject. My own view is that a few hundred years ago, when life was a lot more mysterious and uncertain, believing in life after death made some sense.

But we know a lot better now despite death still being a certainty.

Brandy!

Dogs don’t need religion!

It’s very quiet out there!

A deeply fascinating essay from an individual at the University of Oxford.

I have long read the daily output from The Conversation. It’s a very useful way of keeping one’s brain cells functioning in some sort of fashion.

Yesterday morning I read an essay put out by  a PhD Candidate at the University of Oxford.

It was fascinating and I am republishing it here.

Now it’s not for everyone. It is also long and it also has a number of videos to watch. And there’s not a dog mentioned!

But if you are interested in where we, as in human beings, are ‘going’, so to speak, then this is for you.

And I’m ready to admit that it may be an age thing; something that is of much interest to me because I shall be 75 in November  and one naturally wonders about the end of life. Both individually and of society!

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The end of the world: a history of how a silent cosmos led humans to fear the worst.

By
PhD Candidate, University of Oxford

August 7th, 2019

It is 1950 and a group of scientists are walking to lunch against the majestic backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. They are about to have a conversation that will become scientific legend. The scientists are at the Los Alamos Ranch School, the site for the Manhattan Project, where each of the group has lately played their part in ushering in the atomic age.

They are laughing about a recent cartoon in the New Yorker offering an unlikely explanation for a slew of missing public trash cans across New York City. The cartoon had depicted “little green men” (complete with antenna and guileless smiles) having stolen the bins, assiduously unloading them from their flying saucer.

By the time the party of nuclear scientists sits down to lunch, within the mess hall of a grand log cabin, one of their number turns the conversation to matters more serious. “Where, then, is everybody?”, he asks. They all know that he is talking – sincerely – about extraterrestrials.

The question, which was posed by Enrico Fermi and is now known as Fermi’s Paradox, has chilling implications.

Bin-stealing UFOs notwithstanding, humanity still hasn’t found any evidence of intelligent activity among the stars. Not a single feat of “astro-engineering”, no visible superstructures, not one space-faring empire, not even a radio transmission. It has been argued that the eerie silence from the sky above may well tell us something ominous about the future course of our own civilisation.

Such fears are ramping up. Last year, the astrophysicist Adam Frank implored an audience at Google that we see climate change – and the newly baptised geological age of the Anthropocene – against this cosmological backdrop. The Anthropocene refers to the effects of humanity’s energy-intensive activities upon Earth. Could it be that we do not see evidence of space-faring galactic civilisations because, due to resource exhaustion and subsequent climate collapse, none of them ever get that far? If so, why should we be any different?

A few months after Frank’s talk, in October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s update on global warming caused a stir. It predicted a sombre future if we do not decarbonise. And in May, amid Extinction Rebellion’s protests, a new climate report upped the ante, warning: “Human life on earth may be on the way to extinction.”

Meanwhile, NASA has been publishing press releases about an asteroid set to hit New York within a month. This is, of course, a dress rehearsal: part of a “stress test” designed to simulate responses to such a catastrophe. NASA is obviously fairly worried by the prospect of such a disaster event – such simulations are costly.

Space tech Elon Musk has also been relaying his fears about artificial intelligence to YouTube audiences of tens of millions. He and others worry that the ability for AI systems to rewrite and self-improve themselves may trigger a sudden runaway process, or “intelligence explosion”, that will leave us far behind – an artificial superintelligence need not even be intentionally malicious in order to accidentally wipe us out.

In 2015, Musk donated to Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, headed up by transhumanist Nick Bostrom. Nestled within the university’s medieval spires, Bostrom’s institute scrutinises the long-term fate of humanity and the perils we face at a truly cosmic scale, examining the risks of things such as climate, asteroids and AI. It also looks into less well-publicised issues. Universe destroying physics experiments, gamma-ray bursts, planet-consuming nanotechnology and exploding supernovae have all come under its gaze.

So it would seem that humanity is becoming more and more concerned with portents of human extinction. As a global community, we are increasingly conversant with increasingly severe futures. Something is in the air.

But this tendency is not actually exclusive to the post-atomic age: our growing concern about extinction has a history. We have been becoming more and more worried for our future for quite some time now. My PhD research tells the story of how this began. No one has yet told this story, yet I feel it is an important one for our present moment.

I wanted to find out how current projects, such as the Future of Humanity Institute, emerge as offshoots and continuations of an ongoing project of “enlightenment” that we first set ourselves over two centuries ago. Recalling how we first came to care for our future helps reaffirm why we should continue to care today.

Extinction, 200 years ago

In 1816, something was also in the air. It was a 100-megaton sulfate aerosol layer. Girdling the planet, it was made up of material thrown into the stratosphere by the eruption of Mount Tambora, in Indonesia, the previous year. It was one of the biggest volcanic eruptions since civilisation emerged during the Holocene.

Mount Tambora’s crater. Wikimedia Commons/NASA

Almost blotting out the sun, Tambora’s fallout caused a global cascade of harvest collapse, mass famine, cholera outbreak and geopolitical instability. And it also provoked the first popular fictional depictions of human extinction. These came from a troupe of writers including Lord Byron, Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley.

The group had been holidaying together in Switzerland when titanic thunderstorms, caused by Tambora’s climate perturbations, trapped them inside their villa. Here they discussed humanity’s long-term prospects.

Clearly inspired by these conversations and by 1816’s hellish weather, Byron immediately set to work on a poem entitled “Darkness”. It imagines what would happen if our sun died:

I had a dream, which was not all a dream
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air

Detailing the ensuing sterilisation of our biosphere, it caused a stir. And almost 150 years later, against the backdrop of escalating Cold War tensions, the Bulletin for Atomic Scientists again called upon Byron’s poem to illustrate the severity of nuclear winter.

Two years later, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (perhaps the first book on synthetic biology) refers to the potential for the lab-born monster to outbreed and exterminate Homo sapiens as a competing species. By 1826, Mary went on to publish The Last Man. This was the first full-length novel on human extinction, depicted here at the hands of pandemic pathogen.

Boris Karloff plays Frankenstein’s monster, 1935. Wikimedia Commons

Beyond these speculative fictions, other writers and thinkers had already discussed such threats. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in 1811, daydreamed in his private notebooks about our planet being “scorched by a close comet and still rolling on – cities men-less, channels riverless, five mile deep”. In 1798, Mary Shelley’s father, the political thinker William Godwin, queried whether our species would “continue forever”?

While just a few years earlier, Immanuel Kant had pessimistically proclaimed that global peace may be achieved “only in the vast graveyard of the human race”. He would, soon after, worry about a descendent offshoot of humanity becoming more intelligent and pushing us aside.

Earlier still, in 1754, philosopher David Hume had declared that “man, equally with every animal and vegetable, will partake” in extinction. Godwin noted that “some of the profoundest enquirers” had lately become concerned with “the extinction of our species”.

In 1816, against the backdrop of Tambora’s glowering skies, a newspaper article drew attention to this growing murmur. It listed numerous extinction threats. From global refrigeration to rising oceans to planetary conflagration, it spotlighted the new scientific concern for human extinction. The “probability of such a disaster is daily increasing”, the article glibly noted. Not without chagrin, it closed by stating: “Here, then, is a very rational end of the world!”

Tambora’s dust-cloud created ominous sunsets, such as this one painted by Turner, c. 1830–5. © Tate, CC BY-NC-ND

Before this, we thought the universe was busy

So if people first started worrying about human extinction in the 18th century, where was the notion beforehand? There is enough apocalypse in scripture to last until judgement day, surely. But extinction has nothing to do with apocalypse. The two ideas are utterly different, even contradictory.

For a start, apocalyptic prophecies are designed to reveal the ultimate moral meaning of things. It’s in the name: apocalypse means revelation. Extinction, by direct contrast, reveals precisely nothing and this is because it instead predicts the end of meaning and morality itself – if there are no humans, there is nothing humanly meaningful left.

And this is precisely why extinction matters. Judgement day allows us to feel comfortable knowing that, in the end, the universe is ultimately in tune with what we call “justice”. Nothing was ever truly at stake. On the other hand, extinction alerts us to the fact that everything we hold dear has always been in jeopardy. In other words, everything is at stake.

Extinction was not much discussed before 1700 due to a background assumption, widespread prior to the Enlightenment, that it is the nature of the cosmos to be as full as moral value and worth as is possible. This, in turn, led people to assume that all other planets are populated with “living and thinking beings” exactly like us.

Although it only became a truly widely accepted fact after Copernicus and Kepler in the 16th and 17th centuries, the idea of plural worlds certainly dates back to antiquity, with intellectuals from Epicurus to Nicholas of Cusa proposing them to be inhabited with lifeforms similar to our own. And, in a cosmos that is infinitely populated with humanoid beings, such beings – and their values – can never fully go extinct.

Star cluster Messier 13 in Hercules, 1877. Wikimedia Commons

In the 1660s, Galileo confidently declared that an entirely uninhabited or unpopulated world is “naturally impossible” on account of it being “morally unjustifiable”. Gottfried Leibniz later pronounced that there simply cannot be anything entirely “fallow, sterile, or dead in the universe”.

Along the same lines, the trailblazing scientist Edmond Halley (after whom the famous comet is named) reasoned in 1753 that the interior of our planet must likewise be “inhabited”. It would be “unjust” for any part of nature to be left “unoccupied” by moral beings, he argued.

Around the same time Halley provided the first theory on a “mass extinction event”. He speculated that comets had previously wiped out entire “worlds” of species. Nonetheless, he also maintained that, after each previous cataclysm “human civilisation had reliably re-emerged”. And it would do so again. Only this, he said could make such an event morally justifiable.

Later, in the 1760s, the philosopher Denis Diderot was attending a dinner party when he was asked whether humans would go extinct. He answered “yes”, but immediately qualified this by saying that after several millions of years the “biped animal who carries the name man” would inevitably re-evolve.

This is what the contemporary planetary scientist Charles Lineweaver identifies as the “Planet of the Apes Hypothesis”. This refers to the misguided presumption that “human-like intelligence” is a recurrent feature of cosmic evolution: that alien biospheres will reliably produce beings like us. This is what is behind the wrong-headed assumption that, should we be wiped out today, something like us will inevitably return tomorrow.

Back in Diderot’s time, this assumption was pretty much the only game in town. It was why one British astronomer wrote, in 1750, that the destruction of our planet would matter as little as “Birth-Days or Mortalities” do down on Earth.

This was typical thinking at the time. Within the prevailing worldview of eternally returning humanoids throughout an infinitely populated universe, there was simply no pressure or need to care for the future. Human extinction simply couldn’t matter. It was trivialised to the point of being unthinkable.

For the same reasons, the idea of the “future” was also missing. People simply didn’t care about it in the way we do now. Without the urgency of a future riddled with risk, there was no motivation to be interested in it, let alone attempt to predict and preempt it.

It was the dismantling of such dogmas, beginning in the 1700s and ramping up in the 1800s, that set the stage for the enunciation of Fermi’s Paradox in the 1900s and leads to our growing appreciation for our cosmic precariousness today.

But then we realised the skies are silent

In order to truly care about our mutable position down here, we first had to notice that the cosmic skies above us are crushingly silent. Slowly at first, though soon after gaining momentum, this realisation began to take hold around the same time that Diderot had his dinner party.

One of the first examples of a different mode of thinking I’ve found is from 1750, when the French polymath Claude-Nicholas Le Cat wrote a history of the earth. Like Halley, he posited the now familiar cycles of “ruin and renovation”. Unlike Halley, he was conspicuously unclear as to whether humans would return after the next cataclysm. A shocked reviewer picked up on this, demanding to know whether “Earth shall be re-peopled with new inhabitants”. In reply, the author facetiously asserted that our fossil remains would “gratify the curiosity of the new inhabitants of the new world, if there be any”. The cycle of eternally returning humanoids was unwinding.

In line with this, the French encyclopaedist Baron d’Holbach ridiculed the “conjecture that other planets, like our own, are inhabited by beings resembling ourselves”. He noted that precisely this dogma – and the related belief that the cosmos is inherently full of moral value – had long obstructed appreciation that the human species could permanently “disappear” from existence. By 1830, the German philosopher F W J Schelling declared it utterly naive to go on presuming “that humanoid beings are found everywhere and are the ultimate end”.

Figures illustrating articles on astronomy, from the 1728 Cyclopaedia. Wikimedia Commons

And so, where Galileo had once spurned the idea of a dead world, the German astronomer Wilhelm Olbers proposed in 1802 that the Mars-Jupiter asteroid belt in fact constitutes the ruins of a shattered planet. Troubled by this, Godwin noted that this would mean that the creator had allowed part of “his creation” to become irremediably “unoccupied”. But scientists were soon computing the precise explosive force needed to crack a planet – assigning cold numbers where moral intuitions once prevailed. Olbers calculated a precise timeframe within which to expect such an event befalling Earth. Poets began writing of “bursten worlds”.

The cosmic fragility of life was becoming undeniable. If Earth happened to drift away from the sun, one 1780s Parisian diarist imagined that interstellar coldness would “annihilate the human race, and the earth rambling in the void space, would exhibit a barren, depopulated aspect”. Soon after, the Italian pessimist Giacomo Leopardi envisioned the same scenario. He said that, shorn of the sun’s radiance, humanity would “all die in the dark, frozen like pieces of rock crystal”.

Galileo’s inorganic world was now a chilling possibility. Life, finally, had become cosmically delicate. Ironically, this appreciation came not from scouring the skies above but from probing the ground below. Early geologists, during the later 1700s, realised that Earth has its own history and that organic life has not always been part of it. Biology hasn’t even been a permanent fixture down here on Earth – why should it be one elsewhere? Coupled with growing scientific proof that many species had previously become extinct, this slowly transformed our view of the cosmological position of life as the 19th century dawned.

Copper engraving of a pterodactyl fossil discovered by the Italian scientist Cosimo Alessandro Collini in 1784. Wikimedia Commons

Seeing death in the stars

And so, where people like Diderot looked up into the cosmos in the 1750s and saw a teeming petri dish of humanoids, writers such as Thomas de Quincey were, by 1854, gazing upon the Orion nebula and reporting that they saw only a gigantic inorganic “skull” and its lightyear-long rictus grin.

The astronomer William Herschel had, already in 1814, realised that looking out into the galaxy one is looking into a “kind of chronometer”. Fermi would spell it out a century after de Quincey, but people were already intuiting the basic notion: looking out into dead space, we may just be looking into our own future.

Early drawings of Orion’s nebula by R.S. Newall, 1884. © Cambridge University, CC BY

People were becoming aware that the appearance of intelligent activity on Earth should not be taken for granted. They began to see that it is something distinct – something that stands out against the silent depths of space. Only through realising that what we consider valuable is not the cosmological baseline did we come to grasp that such values are not necessarily part of the natural world. Realising this was also realising that they are entirely our own responsibility. And this, in turn, summoned us to the modern projects of prediction, preemption and strategising. It is how we came to care about our future.

As soon as people first started discussing human extinction, possible preventative measures were suggested. Bostrom now refers to this as “macrostrategy”. However, as early as the 1720s, the French diplomat Benoît de Maillet was suggesting gigantic feats of geoengineering that could be leveraged to buffer against climate collapse. The notion of humanity as a geological force has been around ever since we started thinking about the long-term – it is only recently that scientists have accepted this and given it a name: “Anthropocene”.

Will technology save us?

It wasn’t long before authors began conjuring up highly technologically advanced futures aimed at protecting against existential threat. The eccentric Russian futurologist Vladimir Odoevskii, writing in the 1830s and 1840s, imagined humanity engineering the global climate and installing gigantic machines to “repulse” comets and other threats, for example. Yet Odoevskii was also keenly aware that with self-responsibility comes risk: the risk of abortive failure. Accordingly, he was also the very first author to propose the possibility that humanity might destroy itself with its own technology.

Acknowledgement of this plausibility, however, is not necessarily an invitation to despair. And it remains so. It simply demonstrates appreciation of the fact that, ever since we realised that the universe is not teeming with humans, we have come to appreciate that the fate of humanity lies in our hands. We may yet prove unfit for this task, but – then as now – we cannot rest assured believing that humans, or something like us, will inevitably reappear – here or elsewhere.

Beginning in the late 1700s, appreciation of this has snowballed into our ongoing tendency to be swept up by concern for the deep future. Current initiatives, such as Bostrom’s Future of Humanity Institute, can be seen as emerging from this broad and edifying historical sweep. From ongoing demands for climate justice to dreams of space colonisation, all are continuations and offshoots of a tenacious task that we first began to set for ourselves two centuries ago during the Enlightenment when we first realised that, in an otherwise silent universe, we are responsible for the entire fate of human value.

It may be solemn, but becoming concerned for humanity’s extinction is nothing other than realising one’s obligation to strive for unceasing self-betterment. Indeed, ever since the Enlightenment, we have progressively realised that we must think and act ever better because, should we not, we may never think or act again. And that seems – to me at least – like a very rational end of the world.

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I hope you have read it all. There’s much to engage one. And the message to me is very clear: We have to regard this race, correction: our race, as unique. As is put in the penultimate paragraph:

Enlightenment when we first realised that, in an otherwise silent universe, we are responsible for the entire fate of human value.

Now there’s a thought for an atheist on a Saturday morning!

It’s the dogs that are our connectors!

An unusual finding from a recent survey.

As Yves says: “Yves here. Wow, this is a finding I would never have expected. Shows what I know about dogs, or more accurately, dog owners.

She was commenting on a recent post published on Naked Capitalism.

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How Dogs Help Keep Multiracial Neighborhoods Socially Segregated

Posted on May 24, 2019
By Yves Smith
By Sarah Mayorga-Gallo, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Massachusetts Boston. Originally published at
The Conversation

Cities in the United States are getting less segregated and, according to a recent national survey, most Americans value the country’s racial diversity.

But the demographic integration of a neighborhood doesn’t necessarily mean that neighbors of different races are socializing together.

Diverse urban areas remain socially segregated in part because white gentrifiers and long-time residents have differing economic interests. And the racial hierarchies of the United States are simply not erased when black and white people share the same space.

White residents of multicultural areas tend to overlook inequality in their neighborhoods, studies show. That further reinforces racial barriers.

My sociological research in one such multicultural neighborhood identifies a more surprising vehicle of racial segregation: dogs.

‘A Very Doggie Neighborhood’

I spent 18 months studying Creekridge Park, a diverse and mixed-income area of Durham, North Carolina, to understand how black, white and Latino residents interacted with each other. Between 2009 and 2011, I interviewed 63 residents, attended neighborhood events and conducted a household survey.

I learned that white, black and Latino residents led rather separate social lives in Creekridge Park. Eighty-six percent of white people said their closest friends were white, and 70% of black residents surveyed reported that their best friends were black.

One black resident lamented that neighbors weren’t as “friendly as I had hoped and thought that they would be – or at least, this image I had in my head of what ‘friendly’ would be like.”

White, black and Latino people in Creekridge Park even had different experiences with something as seemingly innocuous as pet ownership.

Many white residents described friendships growing as a result of walking their dogs around the neighborhood, with chance encounters on the sidewalk turning into baseball games, dinners and even vacations together.

“It’s the dogs that are our connectors,” said Tammy, a white homeowner in her fifties. “That’s how a lot of us have gotten to know each other.”

Such positive interactions did not necessarily happen across racial boundaries. More often, I found, dogs reinforced boundaries.

When Jerry, a black homeowner in his sixties, stopped to chat with some dog-owning customers, who were white, in the outdoor seating area of a neighborhood bakery, the staff asked him to leave.

“I owned some dogs like that at one particular time. And I was just speaking to them. All of a sudden, I’m a panhandler,” Jerry said, incredulous and hurt.

Jerry is a black disabled veteran who was wearing his old army uniform that day. He figures they thought he was begging for money.

The dogs didn’t create the interracial boundaries at the bakery, which caters to a primarily white, middle-class clientele. In fact, the dogs presented an avenue to connect black and white neighbors. But they gave bakery staff a reason to intervene, to maintain interracial boundaries.

Neighborhood Watch

The treatment of dogs in Creekridge Park also divided neighbors of different races.

Tammy, the same resident who said dogs served as “connectors” in the neighborhood, disliked that her Latino neighbors wouldn’t let their dog into the house, leaving her tied up in the backyard.

Tethering dogs is a common practice in Durham, NC.

One day, when she heard her neighbor’s dog barking, she decided to monitor their backyard with binoculars, to make sure the dog was OK. When the father spotted her doing her surveillance, Tammy lied. She said she was looking at a different dog.

Tammy was not, however, embarrassed when recounting this story. She felt she was justified in considering the dog’s well-being. She offered the family a bigger dog house and began to take the dog on hour-long walks twice a day. Eventually, she adopted the dog as her own.

Tammy said that she always intervened whenever she saw dogs mistreated in the neighborhood. However, the only examples she shared during our interview involved Latino families.

Latino families are not the only Creekridge Park residents who tied up their dogs. The practice is common enough across Durham that a local group was formed in 2007 to build free dog fences.

Police Come ‘Almost Immediately’

Several white residents of Creekridge Park have even reported their neighbors to the police for suspected animal abuse.

Emma, a white homeowner in her thirties, called the police when she thought her neighbors were involved in dog fighting.

They “came almost immediately,” she said.

Generally, Emma told me, if she knows her neighbors, she will confront them directly about problems she perceives. Otherwise, she prefers to call the police.

Given how segregated friendship networks are in Creekridge Park, this seemingly non-racial distinction between “known” and “unknown” neighbors means that in practice Emma involved police in conflicts only with black and Latino neighbors.

Dogs can connect neighbors – but they can also divide them. Shutterstock

How White People Enforce Their Rules

This white willingness to report non-white neighbors for “unruly” behavior recalls numerous recent incidents nationwide in which white people have called the police on black people for perfectly legal activities.

In July 2018 a white woman in San Francisco threatened an 8-year-old black girl for “illegally selling water without a permit.” A few months before, a white woman dubbed by internet users as “BBQ Becky” called the cops on a black family barbecuing in an Oakland park for using an “unauthorized” charcoal grill.

Other examples of white people using police to enforce their unspoken social norms have occurred at Starbucks, a Yale University dorm and a Texas swimming pool.

In U.S. neighborhoods, middle- and upper-class white residents enjoy a privileged social position by virtue of their race and class. They understand that police, local businesses and government agencies exist to serve them – the same social institutions that often underserve or even target racial minorities.

By drawing arbitrary lines between right and wrong, insider and outsider – even good pet owner and bad – white people like Tammy and BBQ Becky use that power to try to shape diverse neighborhoods into their preferred mold.

As a result of white residents’ focus on their own comfort in diverse places, racial inequality can pervade everyday life – even, my research shows, when walking the dog.

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I have to say that it’s not entirely clear if dog ownership leads to social cohesion or the opposite.

I need to read the article again but what do readers offer.

Can we really avoid the ‘train crash’?

The idea that humanity will not prevent the approaching disaster is beyond belief!

One of the results of all you great people signing up to follow Learning from Dogs is that it encourages me to share things that strike me as so, so important.

Another of the results in there being, as of today, 3,349 following this place, is that I get the sense of what many of you good people also feel is important. Ergo, it is clear to me, clear beyond doubt, that caring and loving a dog or two makes you a person who cares and loves passionately this beautiful planet that is our home.

The emotion that is spilling out of me via these words to you is a result of having just read an essay published recently on The Conversation site and shared with you today.

Directly, it has nothing to do with our dear dogs. Yet, in a way, it does!

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7.5 billion and counting: How many humans can the Earth support?

By Associate Professor of Mathematics, College of the Holy Cross, July 9th 2018.

Humans are the most populous large mammal on Earth today, and probably in all of geological history. This World Population Day, humans number in the vicinity of 7.5 to 7.6 billion individuals.

Can the Earth support this many people indefinitely? What will happen if we do nothing to manage future population growth and total resource use? These complex questions are ecological, political, ethical – and urgent. Simple mathematics shows why, shedding light on our species’ ecological footprint.

The mathematics of population growth

In an environment with unlimited natural resources, population size grows exponentially. One characteristic feature of exponential growth is the time a population takes to double in size.

Exponential growth of world population

It took 127 years for the world population to double from one billion to two. By contrast, it took only 47 years, from 1927 to 1974, to double from two billion to four. Since 1960, world population has grown by about one billion every 13 years. Each point represents an additional one billion people.

[Ed: Text taken from a chart displayed in the article.]

Exponential growth tends to start slowly, sneaking up before ballooning in just a few doublings.

To illustrate, suppose Jeff Bezos agreed to give you one penny on Jan. 1, 2019, two pennies on Feb. 1, four on March 1, and so forth, with the payment doubling each month. How long would his $100 billion fortune uphold the contract? Take a moment to ponder and guess.

After one year, or 12 payments, your total contract receipts come to US$40.95, equivalent to a night at the movies. After two years, $167,772.15 – substantial, but paltry to a billionaire. After three years, $687,194,767.35, or about one week of Bezos’ 2017 income.

The 43rd payment, on July 1, 2022, just short of $88 billion and equal to all the preceding payments together (plus one penny), breaks the bank.

Real population growth

For real populations, doubling time is not constant. Humans reached 1 billion around 1800, a doubling time of about 300 years; 2 billion in 1927, a doubling time of 127 years; and 4 billion in 1974, a doubling time of 47 years.

On the other hand, world numbers are projected to reach 8 billion around 2023, a doubling time of 49 years, and barring the unforeseen, expected to level off around 10 to 12 billion by 2100.

This anticipated leveling off signals a harsh biological reality: Human population is being curtailed by the Earth’s carrying capacity, the population at which premature death by starvation and disease balances the birth rate.

World population projections

In 2020, the UN predicts that there will be 7,795,482 people worldwide.

[Ed: Text taken from a chart displayed in the article.]

Ecological implications

Humans are consuming and polluting resources – aquifers and ice caps, fertile soil, forests, fisheries and oceans – accumulated over geological time, tens of thousands of years, or longer.

Wealthy countries consume out of proportion to their populations. As a fiscal analogy, we live as if our savings account balance were steady income.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think tank, the Earth has 1.9 hectares of land per person for growing food and textiles for clothing, supplying wood and absorbing waste. The average American uses about 9.7 hectares.

These data alone suggest the Earth can support at most one-fifth of the present population, 1.5 billion people, at an American standard of living.

A man works recycling plastic bottles outside Hanoi, Vietnam. REUTERS/Kham

Water is vital. Biologically, an adult human needs less than 1 gallon of water daily. In 2010, the U.S. used 355 billion gallons of freshwater, over 1,000 gallons (4,000 liters) per person per day. Half was used to generate electricity, one-third for irrigation, and roughly one-tenth for household use: flushing toilets, washing clothes and dishes, and watering lawns.

If 7.5 billion people consumed water at American levels, world usage would top 10,000 cubic kilometers per year. Total world supply – freshwater lakes and rivers – is about 91,000 cubic kilometers.

World Health Organization figures show 2.1 billion people lack ready access to safe drinking water, and 4.5 billion lack managed sanitation. Even in industrialized countries, water sources can be contaminated with pathogens, fertilizer and insecticide runoff, heavy metals and fracking effluent.

Freedom to choose

Though the detailed future of the human species is impossible to predict, basic facts are certain. Water and food are immediate human necessities. Doubling food production would defer the problems of present-day birth rates by at most a few decades. The Earth supports industrialized standards of living only because we are drawing down the “savings account” of non-renewable resources, including fertile topsoil, drinkable water, forests, fisheries and petroleum.

The drive to reproduce is among the strongest desires, both for couples and for societies. How will humans reshape one of our most cherished expectations – “Be fruitful and multiply” – in the span of one generation? What will happen if present-day birth rates continue?

Population stays constant when couples have about two children who survive to reproductive age. In some parts of the developing world today, couples average three to six children.

We cannot wish natural resources into existence. Couples, however, have the freedom to choose how many children to have. Improvements in women’s rights, education and self-determination generally lead to lower birth rates.

As a mathematician, I believe reducing birth rates substantially is our best prospect for raising global standards of living. As a citizen, I believe nudging human behavior, by encouraging smaller families, is our most humane hope.

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This essay from Professor Hwang is one of those articles that one frequently sees online that comes across as really interesting but, in the end, only gets a skim read; at best.

So if you didn’t fully comprehend what the good Professor included then ‘Stop‘ and go back and read it all very carefully.

Don’t just be alarmed at Professor Hwang writing:

This anticipated leveling off signals a harsh biological reality: Human population is being curtailed by the Earth’s carrying capacity, the population at which premature death by starvation and disease balances the birth rate.

Or:

Though the detailed future of the human species is impossible to predict, basic facts are certain. Water and food are immediate human necessities. Doubling food production would defer the problems of present-day birth rates by at most a few decades. The Earth supports industrialized standards of living only because we are drawing down the “savings account” of non-renewable resources, including fertile topsoil, drinkable water, forests, fisheries and petroleum.

Be concerned that each and every one of us, as in you and me, can only prevent the train crash by making a change in how we live: Today!

Otherwise ….

In so many ways we are such a clever and inventive race, capable of exploring the farthest reaches of outer space and the innermost aspects of quantum mechanics. Surely we must learn to live sustainably on beautiful Planet Earth!

A plea for this planet!

I feel compelled to ‘bang the drum’!

The recent news that many scientists have signed an open letter warning about how soon it will be too late to “save Earth” has been widely broadcast; not that this stops me from republishing the version of the news story that I read on the EarthSky blog site.

Here it is.

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Scientists warn: Soon it will be too late to save Earth

By Eleanor Imster in EARTH | HUMAN WORLD | November 16, 2017
More than 15,000 scientists in 184 countries have signed a letter urging the world to address major environmental concerns. “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out.”

A letter to all of us, signed by more than 15,000 scientists (and counting) in 184 countries, warns that human well-being will be severely jeopardized by continuing trends in environmental harm, including our changing climate, deforestation, loss of access to fresh water, species extinctions and human population growth.

Entitled World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice, it was published in the international journal Bioscience on November 13, 2017.

In 1992, more than 1,700 scientists signed a World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity published by the Union of Concerned Scientists. But global trends have worsened since 1992, the authors wrote in the new letter. In the last 25 years, trends in nine environmental issues suggest that humanity is continuing to risk its future.

Read the letter here.

The scientists wrote:

Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.

The letter also says …

By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperiled biosphere.

The article was written by an international team led by William Ripple of Oregon State University led the international team of scientists who created the letter. Ripple said in a statement:

Some people might be tempted to dismiss this evidence and think we are just being alarmist. Scientists are in the business of analyzing data and looking at the long-term consequences. Those who signed this second warning aren’t just raising a false alarm. They are acknowledging the obvious signs that we are heading down an unsustainable path. We are hoping that our paper will ignite a wide-spread public debate about the global environment and climate.

Progress in some areas — such as a reduction in ozone-depleting chemicals and an increase in energy generated from renewable sources — shows that positive changes can be made, the authors wrote. There has been a rapid decline in fertility rates in some regions, which can be attributed to investments in education for women, they added. The rate of deforestation in some regions has also slowed.

The warning came with steps that can be taken to reverse negative trends, but the authors suggested that it may take a groundswell of public pressure to convince political leaders to take the right corrective actions. Such activities could include establishing more terrestrial and marine reserves, strengthening enforcement of anti-poaching laws and restraints on wildlife trade, expanding family planning and educational programs for women, promoting a dietary shift toward plant-based foods and massively adopting renewable energy and other “green” technologies.

Scientists who did not sign the warning prior to publication can endorse the published warning here.

Bottom line: A letter entitled World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice, urging the world to address major environmental concerns. was signed by more than 15,000 scientists in 184 countries.

Read more from Oregon State University

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As is the way with this modern inter-connected world it was but a moment to track down said William Ripple, find his email address and ask him what he recommended as the top things that you and I should be doing now.

Not just for you and me but for all the animals as well on this very beautiful planet.

Bill’s reply is part of tomorrow’ post. See you then!