Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Global Warming, Part 1

I know you've been waiting breathlessly for me to fulfill my promise to tell you the truth about global warming, so I guess it's time to deliver. Here it is:

I find that being relatively old does have its relative advantages, one of which is perspective. And one thing my perspective tells me is that dire warnings of impending catastrophe (whether environmental or sociological) rarely turn out to be prophetic. Some examples:
  • When I was 15, The Club of Rome published a book called The Limits to Growth. This book apparently still holds the record for the best-selling environmental publication of all time. I read it and was told that by the 1980s or 90s the world's exploding population would deplete natural resources (such as oil) and the ability of the earth to produce enough food. It didn't happen, though there were plenty of reasons at the time to think it might.
  • A couple years earlier, Alvin Toffler wrote Future Shock, in which he argued that the pace of technological change had accelerated to such an extent that we could no longer cope psychologically and our brains were going to explode (OK, slight exaggeration). All this was before the widespread introduction of the PC, cellphones, the Internet, the Ipod, satellite radio . . . need I say more? The pace of change did accelerate, and if anything, we now clamor for more change, faster. (Speaking of which, where's my Windows Vista Service Pack release?)
  • Around the same time, the major media were running stories about acid rain and how emissions from factories were going to cause global environmental catastrophe. After a few years, the hysteria died away, and last time I looked, there were still trees in my backyard. Acid rain does exist, and steps were taken to curb it, but it doesn't seem to have been a problem of the magnitude that was portrayed at the time.
  • In 1971, Science magazine published a paper that suggested aerosol sprays and increasing levels of CO2 were very possibly going to usher in a new ice age. You can read an excerpt here. Other scientists apparently concurred. At the time.

All the above brings to mind the saying that, "Predictions are difficult, especially when they are about the future."

Of course, the failure of certain prognosticators in the past does not prove the inaccuracy of different prognosticators today. But it does lead one to think that maybe the sky isn't falling, after all, maybe the bandwagon is getting a bit too crowded, and maybe it might be worthwhile to listen to some contrary voices and alternate viewpoints.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Memento Mori*

Well, if one post on death was good, won't two be better?

I came across this quotation from Becoming Real, by Steven James. I haven't seen the book and can't vouch for it, but I find the following to be well-expressed:

Everyone dies in the midst of something. People die in the midst of going to the dentist's office or driving home from vacation or taking a shower or watching TV or mowing the lawn or barbequing ribs on the back deck or enjoying a good night's sleep. People die in the midst of arguments, grudges, dreams, plans, careers, headaches, heartaches, and courtships. People die in the midst of marriage and puberty and old age. Some die in the midst of being born. Or even before that.

We all die. And we don't die when we expect to die or after our dreams have all come true or when we've finally made it in the world. No, most of us die in the midst of pretending we'll never die. We die living as if tomorrow were guaranteed and this life will last forever.

When death stalks us or claims a close relative or friend, we weep in shock. How could this happen? It's so out of the blue! Death is never out of the blue. It's always there, right before our eyes. And soon after the tragedy, we go right back to living as if each moment didn't count for eternity.

Life is a gift. Death is a certainty. Dying is one thing we're all capable of, one thing we all ultimately succeed at.

I've often heard people say things like, you've got your whole life in front of you! That's simply not true. We don't have our whole lives ahead of us. We have our whole lives behind us. What we have in front of us is a mystery that could be over at any moment.

*Memento Mori is a Latin phrase meaning, "Remember that you will die."

(I took the top photo at a cemetery in a Naples convent; the one below is from a floor tombstone in a church in Malta.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Brewing Up Some Myths

More about my trip to Naples and Rome . . .
Some things are better in Italy: pizza.
Some things are worse: coffee.
It seems like every guide book you read gushes on about how good the coffee is in Italy. They even tell you who has the best coffee in each city (San Eustachio in Rome, Mexico in Naples).
It's all a lie.
For me, coffee is something to enjoy over a period of many minutes or even an hour or two. It's something that's synonymous with conversation, deep thoughts, and good times ("Let's do coffee").
But in Italy, coffee is a quick swallow. Nothing more. Sure, it tastes OK, sometimes even good. But one gulp and it's gone. There's always time for coffee in Italy, because it takes no time for coffee in Italy: in one minute you can order, pay, swig, and depart.
Starbucks has already moved into France and even Austria. When they get to Italy, they'll do just fine.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Albums That Didn't Go Platinum (#17 in a Series)

Eden's really gone downhill since that Adam guy and his wife moved out.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Datur Omnibus Mori

I'm back from two weeks in Italy (Rome, Naples) and Malta. You can't visit these places without viewing numerous churches, basilicas, and cathedrals - and even co-cathedrals and pro-cathedrals (really).
In most of the churches we visited, we walked all over dead people. They're buried under the floors, with their tombstones planted horizontally above them. In Malta, this practice is taken to an extreme, as you can see from the photo above. In Italy and Malta both, those who don't end up under the floor may end up somewhere in the walls, with a tombstone or 3-D marker on the spot.
Many of these tombstones have depictions of skulls or the grim reaper. It's common to see "D.O.M." on them, which is an abbreviation for a Latin phrase. Depending which authority you consult, the phrase is "Deo Optimo Maximo" ("To God, Who's the Greatest and Best") or "Datur Omnibus Mori" ("It is Given to All to Die"). In this context, the second version fits best.
The net effect of all this is that you can't go to church without being confronted with death. I find that salutary (pun intended). Every time you go to worship God with your fellow believers, you see grandpa in the floor and uncle in the wall and you're reminded that someday you'll join them.
"Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90.12). Each one of us will die soon - soon in terms of the span of recorded history, even sooner in comparison with the length of eternity. Yet how easily we forget that, especially in our teens and twenties, and think that, invulnerable, we will live forever.
Even in our country, we used to lay out the dead in the parlors of our homes and then bury them in the cemeteries adjacent to our churches. Every Sunday, you'd see the dead as you came to praise the Immortal. We've gotten away from that. My church is raising millions of dollars right now for expansion, but there's no cemetery in the master plan. And I haven't heard any of my fellow elders suggest we should start burying expired church members in the floor of the auditorium. Maybe it would be good for us if we did.
In Rome, some Capuchin monks took this message to heart. Five hundred years ago, they started preserving the bones of their deceased "monk brothers" and then began arranging them into various scenes, some rather whimsical. All told, there are now the bones of about 4,000 monks in this relatively small basement. Some would call it macabre. They would call it realistic: a sign posted there says, "What you are, we once were; what we are now, you one day will be."
"Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Rome Roam

I'm off Friday with my roommate Eric for two weeks in Naples, Rome, and the little country of Malta. If Vesuvius doesn't blow, we'll be back on the 20th . . . and maybe shortly after that, I can get back to this blogging thing. There are so many things I want to write about, and if I don't do it, who's going to tell you the truth about global warming?