Saturday, January 01, 2011

Emerson for the New Year's Day

"Since our office is with moments, let us husband them. Five minutes of today are worth as much to me as five minutes in the next millenium. Let us be poised, and wise, and our own, today. Let us treat the men and women well; treat them as if they were real; perhaps they are."

Friday, December 31, 2010


As the year ends, I remember some of those who died this year, whose work lives on: authors, icons of the 50s, 60s, 70s & 80s, and of classic science fiction films. Plus a contemporary, a memento mori as well as a memento.

For most of my life--from Duck & Cover drills in the 50s, Doctor Strangelove and Vietnam draft in the 60s, nuclear winter and ecotastrophe etc. in the 70s and 80s and...well, immortality of any kind seemed a strained concept. (I also personally never assumed I'd make it to 2010.) Now with the reality of the Climate Crisis and the very dim prospects, I see that the future may be foreshortened but it hasn't disappeared. Immortality may just be briefer.

Anyway, it takes all kinds--from fond childhood memories of mediocre television shows to books and movies that not only made a difference in their time, but continue to echo with meaning and emotion.

In my small way I am paying my respects--perhaps in a way that spins the meaning of that phrase a little harder. I invite you to join me for a click or two.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Slave Markets

I have an unsightly little thought with which to almost end this year and portentous decade. It's occurred to me with increasing frequency over the past few months.

And it is this: is capitalism even possible (or, if capitalism is the only viable economic system for large-scale urbanized populations, is civilization even possible) without slavery?

For large economies, including capitalism, have never yet existed without slavery. Even some smaller scale tribal economies and societies used slavery, if they did not absolutely depend on it.

But even today, with all the mechanization--including actual robot labor--that you might think would end this need--there is still slavery, and much of our economic life apparently depends on it. This is often characterized as child labor, but children and other more or less helpless groups are only among those exploited to such an extent that the term "slave" functionally applies.

All this of course raises moral questions, when we unknowingly (yet, how else are they so cheap?) buy clothes and other products made by slaves. But the dirtiest big secret may be that a world organized like ours, with the numbers of humans involved, cannot function as it does without slavery. And just what does that say about our pretensions and evasions. As well as our future.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago. (As usual with my photos, it looks much better when you click on it.) The branches of this Linden tree, which is in the yard of a neighboring house, are bare and black now. We can see this tree from our kitchen window. It is a large, beautiful tree, with big leaves. Deciduous trees aren't the rule hereabouts, but there are some that shed their leaves. The linden is both late to bloom and late to shed. So I'm usually surprised to see it still have leaves in November, and then there comes a day when I look out and the branches are bare. I never actually saw the process of it losing its leaves until this year---and I also saw why. The leaves just poured off this tree. It must lose the majority of its leaves in a single day. This was the day.

This Linden has a story, or maybe a myth. When we moved in here, the old woman who lived in that house said her late husband had brought it over from Germany many years before as a seedling hidden in his luggage. Just a few years later she died as well, and her sister moved in. Her sister soon began to decline--we found her crying on our walk one rainy New Year's Eve. She was lost and disoriented. We got her back inside her house, where much of the furniture was overturned. Margaret put her to bed, and I found the phone number of her brother, who said he hadn't seen her in months. Soon after that, she was under the care of a nurse who came every day. She also died a couple of years ago. Now the house is owned by a couple who live in a nearby town and rent it out. They had the tree trimmed back in the spring. The woman said she would have had it cut down and removed if it hadn't cost so much. Margaret told her the story of how it came to be there.

This Linden is likely to be 50 or 60 years old. The Linden tree can live a very long time--nine hundred years or more. It is a famous tree in England (where it's called the lime) and Europe (tilla), particularly sacred in Poland, and in German villages it was the tree under which meetings, ceremonies and other civic events were held, including dancing. Its flowers were used to make a medicinal tea. Perhaps somewhere they still are. I don't think this particular tree is doing very well since it was "trimmed." Until now, it's been one of the best things about this neighborhood--looking out the kitchen window and seeing that magnificent tree. You can tell just by looking at it that it could outlast us all. If it just survives us.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Emerson for the Day

“Is not the beauty that piques us in every object, in a straw, in an old nail, a cobblestone in the road, the announcement that always one road lies out to nature?”

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
John Muir

Sunday, December 26, 2010

By now, Olivia (shown at her fifth birthday party in November) and Persephone (being pushed on a swing a few days earlier by her father Matt) have opened their packages of Doctor Seuss books and Beatles CDs, sent to them by Captain Future: saving the culture, one little girl at a time. (Or two.)