‘Reverence for All Life, Can Take us Out of Echo Chambers’

When species diversify by exploring new ecological niches, passing along novel behaviors, acquired knowledge and distinctive anatomical traits, we biologists call that adaptive radiation. Culture is the passing from generation to generation of learned and shared behaviors. Units for carrying such ideas, symbols or practices from mind to mind via speech, writing, rituals or other imitable ways are memes. Like genes in biological evolution, they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures. With so much rapidly transmissible misinformation, distortion of fact and conspiracy mongering, it’s time we Americans stepped up to the plate, pined less for the old, dysfunctional “normal”

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Don’t Give in to ‘Triangulating’ China

Next February marks 50 years since President Nixon and First Lady Pat visited the People’s Republic of China and, in an effort to underpin peace and thaw Sino-American relations, met with Mao Zedong. Perhaps no diplomatic overture in history has been as transformative or bold, nor could anyone but Nixon have pulled it off. His unassailable reputation as anti-Communist hardliner made him immune to criticism from anyone espousing conservative values. Yet Nixon, born in a Yorba Linda, California farmhouse, was a self-proclaimed “moderate reformer.” He revolutionized foreign relations, curtailed the Cold War, reduced nuclear and biological weapons, set cornerstones of

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If Hartford Isn’t Farsighted Enough for a Public Bank, I’d like to See One in New London County

In 1935, as Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield, comedian and Dickens scholar W.C. Fields underscored financial struggle: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds, happiness; annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds and six, misery.” Were this Dickens’ London, many of us would be in debtors’ prisons run by CEOs and shareholders the political establishment allows to rig and parasitize our economy. And the fault is not in retirement pensions or luxuriant public services (unless trolley systems suddenly reappeared in Connecticut last night) it’s in hardwired, politically entrenched two-party myopia. The pandemic not only exposed inherent instability of

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Jed Clampett’s Days are Numbered

With his flurry of four dozen or so executive orders to date, Joe Biden’s hit the White House floor running. Some reverse harmful artifacts of the previous administration. Nearly all acknowledge crises facing America and the world, paramount among them climate change, the pandemic, and asymmetric human migration. Using a few prudent strokes of the pen, approval ratings buoyant, Biden’s rejoined the Paris Accord, revoked permits for Keystone XL, and negated withdrawal from the WHO. By directing agencies to review and reverse 100 or so of Trump’s misguided attacks on the environment, he’s setting a tone for rational and progressive

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Trading of Water Futures — a Cause for Concern

Human beings, and virtually all other terrestrial animals and plants, need fresh water to live. We are water’s embodiment in myriad forms. But over 97 percent of Earth’s water is toxic to terrestrial organisms because of its salinity, and more than 90 percent of remaining “sweet water,” sufficiently low in sodium to sustain life, is deep underground or solidified as ice sheets and glaciers. A scant 0.0001 percent of the planet’s fresh water is readily accessible. The hydrologic cycle, which allows life-sustaining land-based and non-potable oceanic waters to evaporate, condense again, and fall as snow and rain, helps replenish that

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America Will Continue to Split Apart until Truth is Paramount

Because of four years’ epic mistakes and mishandling of crises, Joe Biden’s to do list is large. But I’m guardedly optimistic. At long last, we’ll have an overarching, national plan to slow the spread of COVID-19, one which entails federal mandates for mask-wearing and social distancing and aggressively uses the Defense Production Act to cover shortages of critical drugs and personal protective equipment. With once-assured serum reserves seeming a sham, coronavirus vaccine supply chains need immediate resilience, and hospitals, overwhelmed by infection rates, are in dire need of sedatives and neuromuscular blocking agents to help intubated patients on ventilatory support.

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No Nation can be a Personality Cult and Function as a Republic as Well

In 1910, long before television’s unveiling at the 1938 World’s Fair, Belgian information expert, Paul Otlet, and Henri La Fontaine imagined a global repository and distribution point for sharing the world’s knowledge. Their vision evolved into the League of Nations’ International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation (forerunner of UNESCO). In 1934, prescient of the World Wide Web, Otlet wrote about a “Radiated Library” connecting TV watchers to encyclopedic knowledge via telephone wires. The idea remained dormant until the 1960s, when J.C.R. Licklider, a psychologist and computer scientist, proposed linking the world’s computers into a network for scientific exchange. In the heart

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Poor Leadership is as Poor Leadership Does

Delivering a memorable line in the 1994 motion picture, “Forrest Gump,” Sally Field (as Mrs. Gump) gives motherly advice to her son, played by Tom Hanks. “Stupid is as stupid does,” she says comfortingly, a bromide turned ominous by COVID-19. Already America’s coronavirus cases top 22 million with 370,000 dead. Conservative models project U.S. fatalities will reach 560,000 by April. Sixty to one hundred thousand may die this January alone because of post-holiday surges. These totals, by far the world’s worst, were neither inevitable nor teleological. They happened because people ignored advice of scientists, the CDC and other medical advisers,

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Challenges Should Not Tear Us Apart

It’s a sad commentary on America that our greatest challenges – the pandemic, climate change, health, wealth and educational disparities, and racial injustice – not only fail to bring us together, but widen divisions. Both major parties have not only deepened those fissures, but given them orthodoxy. Now, democracy, once a serviceable impasse to candidates with dangerous ideas and disruptive impulses, no longer assures even semblances of progress. Sowing discontent, stoking hatred, and disregarding facts and science comprise a tactical lexicon for getting votes and undermining truth. And until reason and empathy “entangle” within our social consciousness, behaving in lockstep

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A 21st Century Moonshot

Plastic bags and packaging were introduced in the 1950s. Transparent cellophane wrappers enabled shoppers to rummage through pre-cut portions of food, already adulterated with waxes and dyes, less appealing sides of which could be hidden by grocers. For durable goods, plastic packaging posed obstacles to light-fingered customers, and giving illusions of grandeur to the smallest of purchases. From perspectives of profit, versatility and strength, plastics have been a lightweight, malleable, nonperishable boon. Contributing mightily to our glut for oil, they’ve been a cheap structural material in everything from toys to automobiles, aircraft components to medical equipment. In the classic 1960s

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Make ‘99% Herd Immunity’ Our Battle Cry

Disasters are usually avoidable. Weeks before Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii and Herculaneum (A.D. 79), Bay of Naples sea floors boiled and bubbled, streams and wells near the volcano went dry, and rats and other animals left both cities in droves. In 1985, a year before it exploded, engineers at Morton Thiokol warned about Challenger’s O-rings. At temps below freezing, they insisted, O-ring rubber could stiffen and rocket booster sections might not seal. When Bob Eberling, Roger Boisjoly, Arnold Thompson and Allan McDonald asked to delay the space shuttle’s launch for warmer weather, they were overruled. Bending to press and political

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A Rational Middle Ground For Today’s Global Crises

In America’s Coming-of-Age (1915) Van Wyck Brooks famously divided American culture into “high-” and “low-brow.” He imagined, however, a rational middle ground, an organic common sense which combined the passion and practicality of the low with the intelligence and foresight of the high. In my lifetime, the closest we’ve come to that ideal was the environmental movement of the 1960s. It combined self-preservation with realistic views that humans and other elements of the biosphere are roughly equivalent; that living and nonliving members comprise a single, moral, ecological community. So polarized are we now between intellectual and tribal extremes a cultural

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White Privilege is No Rapunzel

Like fossils of dinosaur tracks in ancient riverbeds the first Gilded Age and Victorian era left lingering imprints. White opulence, once hidden at English manors, Rockefeller’s Kykuit or Hearst’s “Xanadu,” became overt consumption of goods, in higher quantity or greater expense than practical, to display social status. Thorstein Veblen described such behavior as “conspicuous consumption” in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Expensive goods not only provided “serviceability,” but “honorific” value as well, the kind of outward display of wealth formerly reserved for aristocrats, nobility and religious leaders, virtually all white. Once corporatism, capitalism and oligarchy morphed into parasitism,

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Freedom of Speech isn’t a License to Deceive

Leadership, above all, is acknowledging reality. When politicians play fast and loose with facts, they immediately disqualify themselves from public service. When Apollo 15 landed on the moon, astronaut Dave Scott, paying homage to Galileo Galilei, dropped a hammer and falcon feather to test whether objects in free fall accelerate from gravity independent of mass. In a near-zero atmosphere, as Galileo predicted in the 17th century, they did, hitting the lunar surface at the same instant. Years ago, a forgery of “Sidereus Nuncius” deceived the world’s foremost bibliophiles. Galileo wrote the astronomical treatise in 1610, using his newly invented telescope

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