Archive for the 'Thought Provoking' Category



03
Jan
08

If Nature Had Rights ?

If Nature Had Rights – What would people need to give up ?

In a different kind of justice system, a lawyer might advocate on behalf of an aardvark, or a river, or an atmosphere. What might we have to give up if nature had rights ?
by Cormac Cullinan & Drawings by Amy Falstrom

Read an extract from the author’s book –Wild Law.

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IT WAS THE SUDDEN RUSH of the goats’ bodies against the side of the boma that woke him. Picking up a spear and stick, the Kenyan farmer slipped out into the warm night and crept toward the pen. All he could see was the spotted, sloping hindquarters of the animal trying to force itself between the poles to get at the goats—but it was enough. He drove his spear deep into the hyena.

The elders who gathered under the meeting tree to deliberate on the matter were clearly unhappy with the farmer’s explanation. A man appointed by the traditional court to represent the interests of the hyena had testified that his careful examination of the body had revealed that the deceased was a female who was still suckling pups. He argued that given the prevailing drought and the hyena’s need to nourish her young, her behavior in attempting to scavenge food from human settlements was reasonable and that it was wrong to have killed her. The elders then cross-examined the farmer carefully. Did he appreciate, they asked, that such killings were contrary to customary law? Had he considered the hyena’s situation and whether or not she had caused harm? Could he not have simply driven her away? Eventually the elders ordered the man’s clan to pay compensation for the harm done by driving more than one hundred of their goats (a fortune in that community) into the bush, where they could be eaten by the hyenas and other wild carnivores.

The story, told to me by a Kenyan friend, illustrates African customary law’s concern with restorative justice rather than retribution. Wrongdoing is seen as a symptom of a breakdown in relationships within the wider community, and the elders seek to restore the damaged relationship rather than focusing on identifying and punishing the wrongdoer.

The verdict of a traditional African court regarding hyenacide may seem of mere anthropological interest to contemporary Americans. In most of today’s legal systems, decisions that harm ecological communities have to be challenged primarily on the basis of whether or not the correct procedures have been followed. Yet consider how much greater the prospects of survival would be for most of life on Earth if mechanisms existed for imposing collective responsibility and liability on human communities and for restoring damaged relations with the larger natural community. Imagine if we had elders with a deep understanding of the lore of the wild who spoke for the Earth as well as for humans. If we did, how might they order us to compensate for, say, the anticipated destruction of the entire Arctic ecosystem because of global climate change, to restore relations with the polar bears and other people and creatures who depend on that ecosystem? How many polluting power plants and vehicles would it be fair to sacrifice to make amends?

Continue reading ‘If Nature Had Rights ?’

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27
Oct
07

Window of Possibility

Why the Hubble Ultra Deep Field is the most incredible photograph ever taken
Why one particular photograph should be in every classroom in the world.

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Hubble Ultra Deep Field Photo: NASA and STSCL

We live on Earth. Earth is a clump of iron and magnesium and nickel, smeared with a thin layer of organic matter, and sleeved in vapor. It whirls along in a nearly circular orbit around a minor star we call the sun.

I know, the sun doesn’t seem minor. The sun puts the energy in our salads, milkshakes, hamburgers, gas tanks, and oceans. It literally makes the world go round. And it’s huge: The Earth is a chickpea and the sun is a beach ball. The sun comprises 99.9 percent of all the mass in the solar system. Which means Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, etc., all fit into that little 0.1 percent.

But, truly, our sun is exceedingly minor. Almost incomprehensibly minor.

We call our galaxy the Milky Way. There are at least 100 billion stars in it and our sun is one of those. A hundred billion is a big number, and humans are not evolved to appreciate numbers like that, but here’s a try: If you had a bucket with a thousand marbles in it, you would need to procure 999,999 more of those buckets to get a billion marbles. Then you’d have to repeat the process a hundred times to get as many marbles as there are stars in our galaxy.

That’s a lot of marbles.

So. The Earth is massive enough to hold all of our cities and oceans and creatures in the sway of its gravity. And the sun is massive enough to hold the Earth in the sway of its gravity. But the sun itself is merely a mote in the sway of the gravity of the Milky Way, at the center of which is a vast, concentrated bar of stars, around which the sun swings (carrying along Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, etc.) every 230 million years or so. Our sun isn’t anywhere near the center; it’s way out on one of the galaxy’s minor arms. We live beyond the suburbs of the Milky Way. We live in Nowheresville.

But still, we are in the Milky Way. And that’s a big deal, right? The Milky Way is at least a major galaxy, right?

Not really. Spiral-shaped, toothpick-shaped, sombrero-shaped—in the visible universe, at any given moment, there are hundreds of thousands of millions of galaxies. Maybe as many as 125 billion. There very well may be more galaxies in the universe than there are stars in the Milky Way.

So. Let’s say there are 100 billion stars in our galaxy. And let’s say there are 100 billion galaxies in our universe. At any given moment, then, assuming ultra-massive and dwarf galaxies average each other out, there might be 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in the universe. tThat’s 1.0 X 10 to the twenty-second power. That’s 10 sextillion.

Here’s a way of looking at it: there are enough stars in the universe that if everybody on Earth were charged with naming his or her share, we’d each get to name a trillion and a half of them.

Even that number is still impossibly hard to comprehend—if you named a star every time your heart beat for your whole life, you’d have to live about 375 lifetimes to name your share.

Continue reading ‘Window of Possibility’

20
Oct
07

Art- Space, Time & Matter

Paul Cézanne , devoted a lifetime to studying the relationship of space, light and matter, he also eroded single point perspective by introducing the notion that a painting can have multiple perspectives points of view. Cézanne viewed his objects as if seen from the entire periphery of vision instead of restricting them to a detailed scrutiny by retina’s focal point.

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A minute in the world’s life passes! To paint it in its reality,
and forget everything for that !
To become that minute , to be the sensitive plate ….
give the image of what we see,
forgetting everything that has appeared before our time…

– Cézanne on his work

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Paul Cézanne
French Post-Impressionist Painter, 1839-1906

13
Oct
07

Mark Twain on Fountain Pen

None of us can have as many virtues as the fountain-pen, or half its cussedness; but we can try.Following the Equator

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1904 ad for Paul E. Wirt Fountain PensWith a single Wirt pen I have earned the family’s living for many years. With two, I could have grown rich.

– Letter to Wirt Fountain Pen Company, October 11, 1898

13
Oct
07

Science of Climate Change ?

Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain

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In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen.

There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

– Mark Twain – Life on the Mississippi

12
Oct
07

The Two Clocks

Logic is neither a Science nor an art, but a dodge.
-Benjamin Jowett- (1817-1893 )

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Read this paradox

Which is better, a clock that is right only once a year, or a clock that is right twice every day?
‘The latter,’ you reply, ‘”unquestionably.’ Very good, now attend.

I have two clocks: one doesn’t go at all, and the other loses a minute a day: which would you prefer? ‘The losing one,’ you answer, ‘without a doubt.’ Now observe: the one which loses a minute a day has to lose twelve hours, or seven hundred and twenty minutes before it is right again, consequently it is only right once in two years, whereas the other is evidently right as often as the time it points to comes round, which happens twice a day.

So you’ve contradicted yourself once.
‘Ah, but,’ you say, ‘what’s the use of its being right twice a day, if I can’t tell when the time comes?’ Why, suppose the clock points to eight o’clock, don’t you see that the clock is right at eight o’clock? Consequently, when eight o’clock comes round your clock is right.
‘Yes, I see that,’ you reply.
Very good, then you’ve contradicted yourself twice: now get out of the difficulty as best you can, and don’t contradict yourself again if you can help it.

You might go on to ask, ‘How am I to know when eight o’clock does come? My clock will not tell me.’ Be patient: you know that when eight o’clock comes your clock is right, very good; then your rule is this: keep your eye fixed on your clock, and the very moment it is right it will be eight o’clock. ‘But—,’ you say.

There, that’ll do; the more you argue the farther you get from the point, so it will be as well to stop.

Lewis Carroll: ca. 1850 In: The Rectory Umbrella, M.S. First published 1898.

11
Oct
07

The Astronomer’s Drinking Song

This is a delightful drinking song from the old Mathematical Society of London, which seems to have been sung at a meeting around 1800. It was published in “A Budget of Paradoxes” by Augustus de Morgan. (1806-1871) who was a mathematician of considerable merit, a brilliant and influential teacher, a founder, with Geroge Boole, a symbolic logic as is developed in England, a writer of many book, an indefatigable contributor to encyclopedias, magazines and learned journals.

He was an uncompromising advocate of religious liberty and free expression, an insatiable collector of curious lore, anecdotes, quaint, and perverse opinions, paradoxes, puzzles, riddles and puns; a bibliomaniac, a wit and polemicist, a detester of hypocrisy and sordid motive, an impolitic, independent, crotchety, overworked, lovable, friendly and contentious Englishman.

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Whoe’er would search the starry sky,
Its secrets to divine, sir,
Should take his glass – I mean, should try
A glass or two of wine, sir!
True virtue lies in golden mean,
And man must wet his clay, sir,
Join these two maxims, and ’tis seen
He should drink his bottle a day, sir!

Old Archimedes, reverend sage!
By trump of fame renowned, sir,
Deep problems solved in every page,
And the sphere’s curved surface found, sir:
Himself he would have far outshone,
And borne a wider sway, sir,
Had he our modern secret known,
And drank a bottle a day, sir!

When Ptolemy, now long ago,
Believed the earth stood still, sir,
He never would have blundered so,
Had he but drunk his fill, sir:
He’d then have felt it circulate,
And would have learnt to say, sir,
The true way to investigate
Is to drink your bottle a day, sir!

Copernicus, that learned wight,
The glory of his nation,
With draughts of wine refreshed his sight,
And saw the earth’s rotation;
Each planet then its orb described,
The moon got under way, sir;
These truths from nature he imbibed
For he drank his bottle a day, sir!

The noble Tycho placed the stars,
Each in its due location;
He lost his nose by spite of Mars,
But that was no privation:
Had he but lost his mouth, I grant
He would have felt dismay, sir,
Bless you! he knew what he should want
To drink his bottle a day, sir!

Cold water makes no lucky hits;
On mysteries the head runs:
Small drink let Kepler time his wits
On the regular polyhedrons:
He took to wine, and it changed the chime,
His genius swept away, sir,
Through area varying as the time
At the rate of a bottle a day, sir!

Poor Galileo, forced to rat
Before the Inquisition,
E pur si muove was the pat
He gave them in addition:
He meant, whate’er you think you prove,
The earth must go its way, sirs;
Spite of your teeth I’ll make it move,
For I’ll drink my bottle a day, sirs!

Great Newton, who was never beat
Whatever fools may think, sir;
Though sometimes he forgot to eat,
He never forgot to drink, sir:
Descartes took nought but lemonade,
To conquer him was play, sir;
The first advance that Newton made
Was to drink his bottle a day, sir!

D’Alembert, Euler, and Clairaut,
Though they increased our store, sir,
Much further had been seen to go
Had they tippled a little more, sir!
Lagrange gets mellow with Laplace,
And both are wont to say, sir,
The philosophe who’s not an ass
Will drink his bottle a day, sir!

Astronomers! what can avail
Those who calumniate us;
Experiment can never fail
With such an apparatus:
Let him who’d have his merits known
Remember what I say, sir;
Fair science shines on him alone
Who drinks his bottle a day, sir!

How light we reck of those who mock
By this we’ll make to appear, sir,
We’ll dine by the sidereal clock
For one more bottle a year, sir:
But choose which pendulum you will,
You’ll never make your way, sir,
Unless you drink – and drink your fill, –
At least a bottle a day, sir!

(c) Source : The World of Mathematics by James R Newman




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