What art was always meant to be

In my old-fashioned opinion, much of the art of the 20th Century was about meaninglessness of life and the arbitrariness of the world we live in.  This frame of mind touched literature, painting, music, sculpture, dance, and theater.  Sanctioned responses included despair, depression, rebellion, hedonism, (at best) a detached, wry snicker, (at worst) violence.  It is the art of cynicism.

Where is the art that celebrates the hearts of beautiful people, and the splendor of the planet we live on?

Where?  I’m glad you asked.  You have to look no further than Yann Arthus-Bertrand for art that makes you glad to be human, makes you want to reach out and hear the stories of 7 billion heroic human souls, inspires you to rise up and protect our living Gaia.

Arthus-Bertrand’s most inspiring work is shared freely on the internet.

Yann-Arthus Bertrand was born this day in 1946


Trees are people, too.

Some say that trees have sentience and an inner life, perhaps one in which a moment of time is hours or days in length.  Maybe

Trees have something like a nervous system, sending electric signals from leaves to the trunk and back.

Farmer’s study doesn’t mean that plants have neurons, or brains, or anything like the systems that animals use to communicate. We don’t do justice to them when we try to put their fascinating, alien biology into human terms, he said. But we may have dramatically underestimated their capabilities. As researchers begin to learn the language of plants, they are starting to get a whole new view of the leafy green world we live in. — Quanta Magazine

Trees talk to each other underground and exchange nutrients via fungal webs, sometimes with unrelated trees of an entirely different species. New Yorker article

Trees communicate with one other via pheromones in the air, tiny quantities of powerful signal molecules that can warn of disease or insect invasion.  Youtube video

Whether or not they can return our love, many of us find it easy to be sentimental about trees.  Trees can be majestic.

Majestic Tree by Philippe-Albanel

Trees are patient and persistent.  Trees are courageous and long-suffering.  Trees can be beautiful.  Trees can be poignant and contorted.

Wind-swept Jeffrey Pine

Trees can entwine with one another in a life-long embrace.

Entwined #baobab #Tree

In Melbourne, people write love letters to trees.

Happy Arbor Day.

What are viruses good for?

It’s viruses that can make us sick with a cold or flu, chickenpox or shingles, herpes, and hepatitis.  Some viruses increase risk of cancer.  You knew all this.

But viruses are very specialized to attack just one particular kind of cell.  Most viruses, in fact, are specialized to attacking the most available life forms, and by far the largest biomass on earth is bacteria.  A virus that attacks bacteria is called a bacteriophage.

In a journal article published yesterday, scientists at Yale reported the first use of bacteriophages to cure a patient of bacterial disease.  We have known for decades that bacteria are evolving resistance to our antibiotics faster than we are developing new antibiotics.  If humanity is to avoid a return of diseases banished long ago, we will need a new weapon against bacterial disease.  Bacteriophages may be an answer.

A Connecticut doctor suffered from an infection after he received an aortic arch replacement operation and required massive doses of antibiotics to keep him alive. But the bacteria infecting his heart, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, had developed a resistance to drug treatment. His physician, Dr. Deepak Narayan, was then contacted by research scientist Benjamin Chan who had been screening natural samples for bacteriophage to see if these viruses might be effective against drug-resistant infections. He told Narayan that a virus-hunting expedition at Dodge Pond in Connecticut netted a bacteriophage with affinity for Pseudomonas aeruginosa and suggested that experimental phage therapy might be used to combat the infection.

Read more at ScienceBlog


Oliver Wendell Holmes was a scholar and a poet and a philosopher, sitting on our very own Supreme Court. It was a time when there was some overlap between culture and politics.

“Utilitarianism” is the secular moral philosophy that says there are no absolutes of right and wrong, but society’s managers can seek to arrange things so as to promote the general welfare—“the greatest good for the greatest number”.

Holmes uses the word “bettabilitarianism” to describe “the idea that the world is loose at the joints, that indeterminism plays a real role in the world.” It’s derived from utilitarianism plus the idea that we need to play the odds, recognizing our ignorance about the way things will unfold.

“We can never know anything for certain; we can only place bets one way or another. Like any gambler, however, we should gather as much information as possible before wagering our money or our lives. Only then can we be confident in the bets we have made”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was born on this day in 1841.

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Half the Earth

E. O. Wilson has been a friendly, expert voice championing species conservation for more decades than I can recall.  He has initiated a project to catalog the estimated 10 million species that our planet harbors, most of them still unknown and unnamed.

This week he explains his plan to set aside half the earth as a wildlife preserve.   And it can’t be the half that’s least useful to us!

Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life
Read from the New York Timeselephants_at_amboseli_national_park_against_mount_kilimanjaro

We are playing a global endgame. Humanity’s grasp on the planet is not strong; it is growing weaker. Freshwater is growing short; the atmosphere and the seas are increasingly polluted as a result of what has transpired on the land. The climate is changing in ways unfavorable to life, except for microbes, jellyfish, and fungi. For many species, these changes are already fatal.   …Read more


Life evolved in the sea (so we think) and moved much later to land.  For 160 million years, there were fish, but no vertebrates on land.

Lungfish were a narrow bridge from the water to the land.  A bottleneck from the vast diversity of fish to the equally vast diversity of amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds.  Lungfish moved to the land about 370 million years ago, but remarkably, there are still a few lungfish hanging around.  They live in Australia, South America and Africa.


Lungfish are fully equipped with gills, and breathe in the water like any self-respecting fish.  In addition, they are equipped for dry spells.  Maybe the pond where they lives dries up during the summer, and they burrow into the mud to tough it out.   Their fins look a bit like legs, so they can waddle around on land.  They have air sacs—primitive lungs—that let them breathe air during this time.  Remarkably, when they are in air-breathing mode, their gills don’t work.  You can drown a lungfish if you immerse it in water without sufficient time to re-acclimate!

Berkeley Biology article