How Not to Be a Doomer

I have recently learned a new term: “doom-scrolling.” Doom-scrolling is obsessively scrolling through your phone or computer reading news stories or social media posts about catastrophic events—climate change, mass shootings, hate crimes, political strife—the list goes on. Covid has made this worse. During the two years of Covid we had to include reading all the terrible stories about crowded hospital wards with people on ventilators gasping for air. I confess that on bad days I have yielded to the temptation to doom-scroll, and had to hold myself back from the habit and give myself a news holiday.
Now it seems … Read More

Our Obsession With Growth Must End

Back in the 1980s, Small Is Beautiful, a book by contrarian British economist E.F. Schumacher, became trendy among counterculture intellectuals. Schumacher posited that the conventional understanding of capitalist economics, based on ever-increasing growth and wealth creation, was wrong and would lead to planetary degradation. That was over forty years ago—before the internet, before social media, before climate change and all the planetary crises of today that made Schumacher look like a prophet and sage. As it often is with prophets, his salient words were largely ignored. It’s interesting how some forward-thinking ideas have cachet for a brief time, and then … Read More

The Ocean Floor is Our Unconscious

It isn’t major news, it doesn’t hog the headlines. It’s just one of many news stories about how we are polluting the whole planet. But it can now be said that even in its remotest corners, the ocean floor is littered with junk—fishing nets, sunken ships, machinery parts, fuel tanks—the list is endless. According to a recent National Geographic article, the strait between Sicily and Italy is the most polluted area of marine litter in the world. Some areas there have a density more than a million objects per square kilometer. The article goes on to say that the … Read More

Is Meditation Still Possible?

To answer the title’s question: of course meditation is still possible, even desirable, but perhaps not in the way people often think of meditation. I was introduced to meditation through Buddhism in the 1960s, when the Beatles sang, “Meditation gives you peace of mind.” That’s what we thought then, that meditation could do that. And the youth of that era had a lot of anxieties to content with—the Vietnam War being just one of them. We were also anxious about nuclear war; I remember marching down Fifth Avenue in New York with a million people in the Nuclear Freeze march … Read More

Medical Miracle, Medical Privilege

I am alive today because of world-class medical care. In the 1980s I was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer that used to be 100% fatal within six months. But I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, home to some of the world’s best hospitals and medical schools. My cancer cell type was identified by a pathology professor at Stanford who wrote the textbook on diagnosing the disease, after first being mis-diagnosed at my local hospital. My cancer doctor had sent a tissue sample to him for a second opinion. Without his second (correct) opinion, I would be dead. I … Read More

Hamburgers, Lawns, and Golf

Here’s a fact you may not know: Americans eat 50 billion hamburgers a year. That’s billion, not million. That comes to about 3.5 a week for every individual, or somewhat more if you exclude very young children (and maybe we shouldn’t, children love hamburgers). Do you eat 3 hamburgers a week? I don’t. Some other Americans must be eating our hamburgers to make the average work. In fact, it may be that, excluding people who don’t eat hamburgers, the weekly average of people who do is closer to 4 or even 5. Worldwide, annual hamburger consumption is 130 billion. These … Read More

The Heat Is Killing Us

I recently attended a wedding in the Sierra foothills region of Northern California.  It was hot.  To get there we drove through the Sacramento valley, where temperatures were over 100 degrees.  At the wedding, held in late afternoon, the temperature was in the 90s and we were all seated outside in the bright summer sun.  As the ceremony began, a minister approached the canopy where the couple stood. Suddenly the canopy collapsed, there was a commotion, followed by an urgent appeal for a doctor.  The minister had fainted.  As a small crowd surrounded the fallen minister, holding up a sheet to shield him from the sun, we … Read More

Men, Guns, and Identity

I’ve been reading a lot about guns and gun ownership lately.  Since we have just had two major mass shootings 10 days apart—one in a supermarket, one in a school–this is not surprising. And then we had about 10 more. The media sees guns and gun ownership as a topic of compelling interest right now. That said, I was surprised that, according to a Pew Research Poll, only 30% of Americans own a gun.  I thought it was more. Juxtapose that fact with the statistic that there are over 300 million guns in private hands, and that means some gun owners … Read More

Tribalism and our Primate Brain

It’s happened again.  Another mass shooting by a teenager with a gun in Buffalo, NY, this time livestreamed on social media by the shooter as it happened. He had a manifesto, as they often do—180 pages written, apparently, over months and posted to his private social media site.  We hear the hackneyed responses–“thoughts and prayers,” “this violence must stop,” “we must get these guns off the street.” These gestures are limp, without real effect. They go nowhere. Nothing will happen.  The funerals will go forward.  Lawsuits will eventually be filed. Memories of lives lost will torment the families of the victims forever. Elsewhere life … Read More

Live to be 200! On Mars!

I read recently in The Week about a new scientific breakthrough where scientists “made the skin cells of a 53-year-old woman look and behave like those of a 23-year-old.”  According to the article, this process “could be used to shave decades off organ cells.”  Another technology to lengthen lifespan, along with Silicon valley pipedreams of bionic brains and cryonic freezing.  Recently I read about one space entrepreneur’s continued fascination with going to Mars.  He said recently that he wants to die on Mars.

I wonder if any of these tech geniuses have really thought about what it would mean to human society if we … Read More