Fifty years ago I picked up a copy of Look magazine, which had in it photographs taken during the just completed voyage of Apollo 8 to the moon. Look magazine was the “also-ran” to the more famous Life magazine, both being large glossy magazines full of color photographs. I was then a fifteen year-old science fiction fan, so naturally I anticipated eagerly the photographs from Apollo 8 that I knew would be in the magazine.
There for the first time I saw the photograph since known as “Earthrise”, which shows the Earth in the distance, surrounded by an endless black nothingness, and in the foreground the desolate and forbidding lunar landscape. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. To a science fiction fan, Earth was the place you left, a kind of boring classroom globe, minus the national boundaries, of course. Instead, I saw something that sent a chill up my spine that I still remember.
Over the past half century, at times I’ve pondered why that picture struck me so. I’ve come to the realization that the best explanation is in an analogy. It is as though I had been blind from birth, and had at some point gained my sight. For the first time, I had seen the face of my mother.
And she is beautiful beyond words.
“Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the Earth, catching the breath, is that it is alive.” So wrote the biologist Lewis Thomas, words quoted at the start of James Lovelock’s book “The Ages of Gaia”.
During the beginnings of the space program in the 1960s, Lovelock, also a biologist, had been hired by NASA to help with the search for life on Mars. While working on that, Lovelock realized that life on a planet could reveal its presence indirectly via its atmospheric composition. Earth’s atmosphere contains an enormous amount of free oxygen, which couldn’t be sustained over time without its being part of the life cycle. Why not? Because oxygen is a very reactive element, meaning that it sort of “wants”, very badly, to be combined with other elements into chemical compounds (the best example being water, H2O).
It is life that continually sustains the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. And that isn’t the only way that the presence of life affects the Earth. Without here going into the details (plenty of books etc. out there on the subject), life doesn’t simply adapt to its environment; on a planetary scale, it also adapts the environment to itself, helps to render the Earth a place where life can not only exist, but thrive.
This view of the Earth and the biosphere as an inextricably bound-together whole Lovelock named Gaia, after the Greek Earth goddess. This idea was slow to gain acceptance, especially in the scientific community, and it remains controversial. What isn’t controversial is that, even in the minimalist view of the idea, the biosphere does exhibit feedback mechanisms that act to regulate the environment in ways conducive to life.
When people look at the Earthrise photograph, many tend to remark on how fragile the Earth looks, like some beautiful but delicate Christmas ornament (an appealing image perhaps because the picture was taken on Christmas Eve). It’s therefore unsurprising that the photograph was an inspiration to the budding environmental movement of the time. The Earthrise photograph helped to foster the idea that human beings with their out-of-control pollution were threatening the delicate biosphere depicted in the photograph, and that we needed to work to heal the natural world. Others mocked the idea that human activity was affecting the environment, or that we could threaten the existence of life itself.
I’m here to tell you that both attitudes are wrong, because both proceed from a flawed premise. Nature isn’t something that stands apart from us, because we humans ARE PART OF IT. Therefore, of course human activity affects the environment, our common environment.
But does human activity threaten life itself, as some environmentalists claim?
No, and here’s why. First and foremost, the fragility of the biosphere seen in the Earthrise photograph is illusory, a product of judging things by comparative size. In the Permian extinction event 250 million years ago, 96 percent of all marine species, and 70 percent of terrestrial vertebrates, were wiped out. Many scientists think this extinction event was caused by the unexplained release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (much larger than the current human contribution). Compared to the Permian extinction, the die-off after the asteroid collision that killed the dinosaurs was a mere blip.
And yet, in both cases, life survived. The biosphere, it turns out, is a lot tougher than it looks. And we humans are a lot smaller in the scheme of things than we like to admit. The biologist Lynn Margulis once remarked, “The planet takes care of us, not we it.” Far from the biosphere, Gaia, being something we need to protect, “we need to protect ourselves from ourselves … Gaia, a tough [expletive deleted], is not at all threatened by humans.”
Quite the contrary, and here’s the point of revisiting Earthrise a half century later, and both the insights and the illusions that famous photograph fostered. As we’ve seen just this past year with massive wildfires and monster hurricanes, global warming caused by our pumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is not only real, but poses an increasing danger, not to life on Earth, but to HUMAN life on Earth.
And that’s the takeaway point. We must stop pumping carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the environment, not because it will destroy life on Earth, but because it will ultimately destroy US.
Remember that Gaia acts, through feedback mechanisms, to foster the continuance of life. Not, it must be emphasized, human life alone.
Meaning, long before we humans are able to destroy life on Earth, Mother Earth WILL take care of us.
When I was in 7th grade in the public school I attended in the South, I was targeted for bullying – and worse – for being gay.
Thing is, I wasn’t gay. Not then. Not now.
But I was somehow “different”, mostly because I was an unathletic bookworm. (The best picture of the “reasoning” involved can be seen in the courtroom scene in the movie Idiocracy, a movie I cannot recommend highly enough.)
Did that make me sympathetic to non-heteros? Sadly, no, at least at first. In fact, it reinforced in me the latent homophobia imprinted in my psyche by the prevailing culture. In a story, sadly, all too common among gay people themselves, I was determined to show to others, and myself, that I “belonged”, that I wasn’t one of “them”.
What brought me out of that dark place was nothing special. It’s called growing up, and lived experience, and education. Looking back, the best way I can describe it is a certain enlargement of the heart, like what happened to the Grinch in the end.
That personal history informs my feelings about the race for Minnesota Attorney General. I really wish it didn’t. For one thing, that race has compelled me to read up on the history of a certain Doug Wardlow. That’s something I rarely do, since I usually try to steer clear of reading about Republicans, given that doing so nowadays tends to make me nauseous.
And it turns out it’s a good thing I hadn’t had to until now. Because when I did, because of my personal history I got a taste of what a lot of women felt listening to Brett Kavanaugh.
Now a lot of you know that some have tried to turn Wardlow’s DFL opponent Keith Ellison into some Democratic version of Kavanaugh. What I found in my research is that Wardlow fits that bill far better. In fact, not only are the allegations against Ellison pretty thin, the allegations against Wardlow are actually better attested than those against Kavanaugh (not that I don’t credit the latter).
Last Saturday the Pioneer Press reported that interviews with Wardlow’s classmates when he attended Eagan High School in the 1990s reveal him to have been a homophobic bully. He especially targeted his classmate Ryan Durant, who at one point attempted suicide (Durant himself doesn’t blame Wardlow for that, although he does call him the “worst” bully of the group that targeted him for his orientation).
According to the newspaper, Durant’s “account is corroborated by several other students.” They include a female friend of Durant, whom Wardlow attacked with lesbian slurs, “even though she was not gay.” Among Durant’s tormentors was a then friend of Wardlow … who it later turns out IS gay, and who has corroborated Durant’s account in every particular.
I think now you can see how this really, really resonates with me personally.
Durant admits that people can change after high school. Yeah, also sounds familiar. But Durant goes on to say that Wardlow’s public positions on gay rights show that his views have NOT changed.
Item: While clerking at the Minnesota Supreme Court, Wardlow authored a conservative blog which asserted that “marriage should be reserved for the union of one man and one woman.”
Item: Wardlow was elected to the Minnesota House in 2010, and there supported a Republican-led effort to amend the state constitution via referendum to define marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman. That referendum lost in 2012, and Wardlow lost his seat.
Item: And as if all that weren’t enough, Wardlow was recorded earlier this year as promising to fire every Democratic attorney in the AG office as his first official act if elected.
Naturally, Wardlow has denied everything except the last. He’s also tried to downplay – or refused to discuss – his earlier public record on LGBTQ issues.
In other words, Wardlow is just one more lying, hypocritical Republican.
Maybe I’m showing my partisan bias here, but in comparing Wardlow and Ellison, I have no problem identifying where the preponderance of damning evidence lies. And it infuriates me when I hear that some Democrats are considering not voting in the AG race.
Really? Is your memory so short that you don’t remember where the purity police got us in November 2016?
All you readers of this post, I’d like you to ask yourself, and anyone you know on Facebook or in person who is OK with such foolishness, the following question:
If, due to your “principled” refusal to choose in the Minnesota AG race, you help to elect him to the AG office, thereby turning that office into a bastion of hard-right Republicanism …
If you contribute by your action or inaction to that result, tell me, was your “purity” worth the price?
Democrats value diversity. Republicans want us all to be the same, a nightmarish version of themselves.
That’s why I say vote next Tuesday, not just to make a difference, but to KEEP a difference.
By Phillip Wynn, SD 41 member
The last two years have been an overwhelming trial for many Americans. It began with the surprising, and disastrous, election of a sociopathic criminal to the highest office in the land, a man – if we dare dignify him by such a term – as devoid of competence as he is of respect for our democratic institutions. His administration – if we dare dignify it by such a term – has since featured one rank indecency after another, while its “leader” and his fascistic enablers in the Republican party have celebrated each successive atrocity with sadistic glee.
The decent people of this country, including some Republicans, have regarded this carnival of depravity with mounting horror. As there seems no one able or willing to curb the madness, emotions among these decent people have run the gamut from shocked disbelief, to helpless anger, and, for many, hopelessness in the face of apparently unstoppable evil.
The last emotion has particularly affected many women who watched, horrified, as a man credibly accused of sexual assault was elevated to a seat on the highest court in the land, while his accuser was not only deluged with insult and vituperation, but even forced to flee her home with her family out of fear for her life. Her searing testimony before a kangaroo court of unsympathetic and hostile men reawakened in millions of women excruciating memories of their own past sexual traumas.
So it’s no wonder that many Americans, that many Democrats, feel depressed and angry as we count down to election day 2018.
All the more reason, I say … to ACT!!!
Action is the cure I promised in the title. Here I know personally whereof I speak. I have known both anger and depression – and a bit of past trauma as well.
And, as many a clinician will tell you, and as I am telling you now – based on personal experience – ACTION is one of the best treatments available to everyone.
But what can I do, you say? In a minute. But first, at the risk of rubbing your nose further in what is depressing you, let me remind you that YOU, all of you, are called to action not just for yourself. That is the Republican way.
No. You are challenged to look beyond yourself, to ACT because of:
The victims of sexual assault, whose reluctance to come forward has just now been shown to be fully warranted; the millions cruelly victimized by our health not care; the mentally ill and disabled, often cast aside like so much garbage; the millions who have to work two jobs, or more, in an often vain effort to check their slide into poverty; the people of color who can get shot, in their own homes, for the crime of existing; our own children – our CHILDREN! – who now at their school have to worry more about getting shot than passing a test; the children torn from their families by a fascistic police force motivated by a crude, nightmarish dream of white supremacy; and many, many other things, the last but not least being the climate ravages that are currently sweeping the globe, while our “leaders” stick their heads in the sand and muse on how much more money can be given to the rich.
THEY are the ones for whom you must soldier past your anger and your depression. THEY are the ones on whose behalf you must direct your anger in a good cause, a righteous cause.
So, for those in Senate District 41 who want to act, I have a suggestion. This Saturday, starting at 11 o’clock, at the home of our state representative Connie Bernardy (2810 Linden Drive in New Brighton), she and other DFLers running for office, including my representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, Betty McCollum, will be gathering for a door knocking in our district.
If this isn’t your thing, there are other ways you can contribute. For instance, my wife Pam will be cooking a dish for that event. You could do that, or something else. Because there’s always something a volunteer can do to help the cause, in this what is, beyond any doubt, easily the most important election year in my lifetime, bar none.
Don’t let the events of the last few weeks leave you so discouraged that you feel it’s too hopeless to do anything. That’s exactly what Trump and the Republicans want you to feel. Do you really want to do what THEY want you to do? That being … nothing?
Remember the words of Martin Luther King: “We must at times accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
If not this Saturday, find a way to act before November 6. Build up your hopes to overmatch the sum of your fears. You will be better for it … and so will your country … and so will your fellow Americans.
— Phillip Wynn
By Jonathan Rehlander
Unless you were the bully in grade school, you had at least one kid growing up that made school miserable sometimes. They would tease you, trip you, threaten to beat you up after school. There was an apprehension that came when you would see them, hoping they didn’t see you. In my case, I had one of these kids who make crude nicknames, hit me with his shoulder when he passed me in the hall, “stack my locker” so my books would fall out when I opened it.
One day, I was hanging out with my friends when this bully said he was riding my bus after school to fight me. One million thoughts flashed through my mind; I considered telling the teachers which would have meant bringing in parents, the principal, and likely more ridicule from the bully and peers. I considered actually walking home, no small task since it would take an hour. The possibilities swirled until one word crystallized in my mind: Enough. I had had enough.
I took the bus home as usual; the bully looked surprised to see me. I didn’t talk to anyone during the ride; I looked straight ahead and waited for my stop. When we got off the bus, he looked like he expected me to run, anything to avoid the conflict, but I just stood there waiting for him. The clash that followed left me with a few scrapes, but one moment still sticks in my memory; I landed one solid shot right to his nose, the kind of shot that makes the head go back and stagger the receiver. That one shot to the nose changed my life. I was no longer the victim, and I showed I could give as well as I got.
I am not saying fighting is always the answer, and I have certainly encouraged my children to follow the example I try to set on a consistent basis; be the better person, don’t get yourself in trouble or a reputation as a troublemaker, but I also tell them they should never have to back down to a bully or feel like they can’t say something clever to turn the tables on whoever is tormenting them. I have also told them that if circumstances don’t let them peacefully disengage, they have every right to defend themselves.
Women who have been through sexual harassment have known this feeling forever. They were ridiculed for calling men on their lewd behavior, labeled too sensitive, and made to feel they had no right to suggest things should be otherwise. Victims were blamed for encouraging or inviting behavior and made to question what they could have done to prevent it rather than the attacker. Democrats had been treated largely the same way; ‘Democrat’ and ‘liberal’ had become synonymous with ‘wimp’. As a character in the television series the West Wing put it, Democrats ended up curling in a ball and saying, ‘Please don’t hurt me’. Then last week, both women and Democrats threw a punch and hit the bully right in the nose. You could see it in the defensive, ludicrous performance by Kavanaugh after Dr. Ford gave her courageous testimony. That Dr. Ford went into the lion’s den at all had shaken the GOP members of the Judiciary committee already; they hid behind their ‘female assistant’ rather than take her on themselves. Sure, they ranted and raved later when Kavanaugh was being questioned, but they didn’t dare take on the woman who didn’t run, didn’t hide, and with a quavering voice brought the boys club to its knees.
Her voice perhaps shook at times, but Dr. Ford was the personification of the word ‘resolve’. She knew there was a good chance her testimony would change nothing in regards to Kavanaugh being confirmed, and she was already taking the slings and arrows from faceless cowards before she even got to the microphone. To borrow a phrase, and yet she persisted. I don’t know if I have seen a delivery this brave in my lifetime. Dr. Ford’s time at the microphone was all the more powerful for her vulnerability and authenticity. The contrast with Kavanaugh’s testimony later made it that much more clear.
The man who clearly felt and still feels he is entitled to the position raged against any and all who might dare to deny this man of privilege his station in life. He took the punch straight to the nose, and his testimony showed he was reeling. It brought his true nature to the surface as he belligerently challenged Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar. That one moment, and the disdain with which he grudgingly accepted his obligation to answer to her, spoke more clearly than his free-range rambling in his prepared statement. Lashing out at the Clintons, Democrats, conspiracies and women in general, it was an unraveling of composure to rival the worst performances of the man who had nominated him for the position.
So when Senator Lindsey Graham, President Trump, and others like them talk about how unfair this process has been to Kavanaugh just remember this: When the bully gets punched in the nose by the kid they were trying to bully, the first thing they usually wail is, “No fair!”