Regarding Flynn, Hsu gets it (more) right: We've mentioned at least three different trees during these pandemic Saturdays.
We've mentioned sacred Thoreau's "sympathy with the alder." We've mentioned Anne Frank's "bare chestnut tree glistening with dew," which left her "so moved and entranced" that she couldn't speak.
We've mentioned the pear tree just off our own back deck, which forms part of this morning's review of the Michael Flynn case. We haven't yet mentioned Frost's "window tree," perhaps the most perfectly rendered tree in our brief human history:
Vague dream head lifted out of the ground,So now we've mentioned it too.
And thing next most diffuse to cloud...
Our pear tree loves to grow. Extending to the west, it has formed a canopy over the deck. Extending to the south, it is now forming a canopy over the stairs to the deck.
Pandemic seclusion has encouraged us to consider this tree in the way we always should have.
Why do such living things grow at all? With this question in mind, we returned to a book we perused when it appeared back in 2016:
A Brief History of Creation: Science and the Search for the Origin of LifeHow on earth did life begin? Right in their preface, before they get started, Mesler and Cleaves tell us this:
We still don't know how life began. No one was there to witness the event, and almost all the geological record of that period has long since been erased by billions of years of constant geologic change.As best we can tell, this book wasn't reviewed by the major newspapers, except for the Wall Street Journal ("thoroughly engaging"). For the Science magazine review, you can just click here.
What we do know is that by at least three and a half billion years ago, a single-celled living organism appeared on a sterile Earth. We don't know how it got there, but we can infer that it emerged from nonliving matter...
At any rate, a living organism somehow emerged from rocks and water—and from the presence of "energy," whatever that familiar term might actually mean. From there, we moved ahead to trees, and onward to such living organisms as us humans.
How did we get from rocks and water to something that's alive? For a question which may be even harder, how did we get from single-celled organisms to organisms possessing consciousness, even analytical skills?
We'll only say this—as a general matter, it's easier to get from consciousness to matter (or to the belief in matter) than it is to get from matter to consciousness. At any rate, this is just a way to praise the Washington Post's Spencer Hsu for getting it (more) right than the New York Times recently did.
In this morning's Post, Hsu offers a profile of Emmet Sullivan, the judge in the Michael Flynn case. The New York Times beat the Post to this mark, profiling Sullivan in Thursday morning's editions.
In this matter, slower but steadier won the race. Hsu's profile is generally positive, but it's much more balanced than the fan-person profile which appeared in the Times.
The profile is generally favorable. Hsu stresses Sullivan's "intolerance for official misconduct." As he closes, he tells us that Judge Sullivan "loathes double-talk," no matter where it comes from.
The profile is basically favorable. But along the way, Hsu cites a dew examples of Sullivan's occasionally unusual conduct, telling us that some observers have "griped about the judge's bluntness."
As if to torture blue tribe readers, Hsu even tells us this:
HSU (5/16/20): In 2016, Sullivan roiled the political waters when he criticized Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address while secretary of state, at one point during a public records lawsuit decrying the “drip, drip, drip” of revelations about her email use. “When does it stop?” he said.Admittedly, that's an extremely fuzzy account of what Sullivan did in that instance. Still, though, "first, you cry."
In our view, Hsu's profile was much more balanced, and much more informative, than the piece which appeared in the Times. We're never told that Sullivan is fiercely or ferociously independent, let alone that he is both.
For our money, there's a conceptual problem which appears early on, a conceptual problem which tilts the scales against Flynn's current position. Still and all, this profile might even help us understand that the world consists of many imperfect players, that it isn't always angels v. demons all the way down.
Somehow, we got from rocks and water to living things, even to living things with analytical skills. That said, we haven't perfected those skills as yet. In our view, it's important to remember that fact when watching "cable news" TV shows or even when reading our high-end newspapers.
As for trees, one of the great souls offered the passage shown below during her own enforced seclusion. It appeared in the version of her diary which she had rewritten during her final year:
SATURDAY, MAY 13, 1944Our analytical skills remain imperfect; that' an important point which we should keep in mind. Morally, we have a very long way to go. Many people are living in very cramped quarters, with no pear tree out back.
My dearest Kitty,
Yesterday was Father's birthday. . . and the sun was shining as it's never shone before in 1944. Our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It's covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.
Father received a biography of Linnaeus from Mr. Kleiman, a book on nature from Mr. Kugler, The Canals of Amsterdam from Dussel, a huge box from the van Daans (wrapped so beautifully it might have been done by a professional), containing three eggs, a bottle of beer, a jar of yogurt and a green tie. It made our jar of molasses seem rather paltry. My roses smelled wonderful compared to Miep and Bep's red carnations. He was thoroughly spoiled...
That said, teenagers were already able to see in the way that passage suggests, even in 1944. The chestnut tree was even more beautiful that year. We'd see that as something to build on.