Kicking Tires

How We May Spend Our Lives
Before Something Else Happens

Socrates got it. A great number of scientists get it. Even Christians, Muslims and Jews often get it too. Most of what we do from the moment we wake up to the moment we go back to bed is a disguised effort to shield us from one thought: we’ll all going to die, regardless if in fifty years or right after we finish this anguishing sentence.
But cheer up; such desire of winning over the inexorable impermanence of our days on Earth may only lend meaning to our achievements as a species. From forming a family to building a tower, from writing books to curing diseases, we’ll all outlive our flesh and blood by the sheer reach of our deeds, and the ability to live on through our kin.
While our faith in the future is conditioned by what we choose to believe, either being the elaborate dogma of religion, or the unwavering pursuit of a notable life, we’ve been around the block a few times to know when such beliefs are enough to give our lives depth, and when such invisible power ceases to have any relevance.
It’s futile to complain about the brevity of our time here. Much wiser is to contemplate the miseries of the human body when it grows old and frail and sick. For our experience to last longer, we can always borrow that of those who came before, and turn them into our own shared Continue reading

Safe Arbor Clauses

Three About Trees &
a 5,000 Year Old Truck

Buddha sat under one. Sumerians have crossed oceans on ships built with them. Many species disappeared, or exist only in old depictions, paintings predating the modern era. Yet defying all odds, trees still grace our world, and stun us with their girth, height, and vigor.
That’s why a man in India has planted whole forests of them, and the Brazilians plan to count those in the Amazon. Now, as the world’s biggest trees continue to grow, according to botanists, an editor at NOVA begs new architects: please, stop placing them in skyscrapers.
In New York City, where the latter thrive, though, trees are subjected to more mundane afflictions of street life, such as dog pee, rusted chains, and cigarette butts. That’s why the Treedom Project is halfway through a quest, which ends May 26, to ‘liberate them’ from such indignities.
But without being the cradle of ancient trees, or having a forest to call its own – never mind the woody wilderness of upstate New York – the city is still home of one of the gems of modern urban green architecture: Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s Central Park.
Carved and carefully planted at the heart of the city, it’s a wonder that neither its 800 acres plus nor its incredible variety of species haven’t felt to the axes of powerful real estate moguls. If the park’s been the setting of a few bloody crimes, it’s also been the very reason many a resident haven’t yet lost his or her mind.
Still, for all their majestic and soothing presence in Manhattan, no Central Park tree comes close in age to Methuselah, a fittingly-named truck which, by some accounts, is the world’s oldest. The bristlecone is said to be 4,844 years old, a thousand years older than any other on Earth, and it’s been living all this time at a pine forest in California.
The good news, at least if you’re a tree, is that many of the big species are still growing, just like what you’d wish your mind were doing right now. A Humboldt State University research team found that 3,200-year old giant sequoias, for instance, actually grow faster later in life than in their ‘teenage’ years, when all they’ve got is a few hundred summers imprinted on their rings.
One of nature’s best recordkeepers, trees can report back to us our entire walk on this planet, better that we ever could. They may not Continue reading

Beyond the Grave

The Mormons’ Unrequited (But
Contested) Post-Death Conversions

Among the many questions not being asked the Republican Party’s presidential candidates, those concerning religion shouldn’t occupy the front burner and, in fact, so far they haven’t.
But, it’d be fair to expect the same scrutiny about personal beliefs that Senator Barack Obama faced in 2008, on frontrunner Mitt Romney. Will he ever be asked about the Mormon Church’s conversion of dead people?
First, some housekeeping. It’s a established fact that the Founding Fathers of this nation went through great lengths to separate religion from matters of state.
All strident spinning by extremists of all faiths not withstanding, the very First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
In fact, religious pluralism and freedom is a basic tenet this country was founded upon and one of the reasons it’s became a beacon to the world. Period.
In practice though, the actual realization of such principles is not as simple. Time and again, attempts have been made to establish a U.S. theocracy based on the preposterous assumption that this or that denomination has the hegemony over faith.
Despite a vibrant non-believer and science-based debate over personal choice and the nature of spirituality, an equivalent to a backwater alley of the thought, the obscurantist, tolerance-averted Continue reading