Living in a cemetery gives me the opportunity to observe a nice diversity of lichens. I went out this evening to see some of this diversity; my camera served in stead of a hand lens.

This crustose lichen, covering an area about the size of a quarter, was growing on a marble gravestone. The magnification of the photo shows how the lichen has etched an indentation into the stone. To make an accurate identification of crustose lichens, I’d need both a microscope and far more knowledge than I currently have. But this may be in the genus Caloplaca: “The 25 to 30 species [of Caloplaca] reported from California … occur very widely on trees and mostly calcareous rocks. Caloplaca saxicola is common and one of the first crustose lichens collected by beginners” (Mason E. Hale Jr. and Mariette Cole, Lichens of California [Berkeley: Univ. of Calif. Press, 1988], p. 190).

The foliose lichen above, about an inch across, and found on a piece of granite, may be in the genus Xanthoparmelia. According to Hale and Cole, “Xanthoparmelia is by far the dominant foliose lichen on granites, schists, shale, and other non-calcareous rocks throughout California…. Two species, X. cumberlandia and X. mexicana, are common and collected almost everywhere in the state.”

If I were to get serious about identifying lichens, I’d need to go out and get the K, C, and P reagents, an inexpensive USB microscope, and a few other things. Then I’d have to get serious about studying them: dissecting them, looking at them under the microscope, etc. Is it enough to just look at lichens without identifying them? or do I want to engage in more serious study of them? Heraclitus advised that “those who are lovers of wisdom must be inquirers into many things indeed” (DK35); but how deeply should one inquire into each of those many things? One only has so much time in this world; a serious in-depth study of one topic means less time to inquire into the many other things.

Another approach to the ethics of eating

Had I seen that it was in the “Ethicist” column, I would have skipped over the announcement in The New York Times Magazine; the ethical issues raised in that column are typically less interesting than the ones raised in “Dear Abby,” or, for that matter, in “Savage Love.” But the headline had already caught my eye: “Defending your dinner.” The columnist claimed that while it was easy to find ethical arguments against eating meat, it was difficult to find ethical arguments in favor of eating meat. And so the columnist was soliciting such arguments from the readers.

From my perspective, there is an obvious argument stating why it is ethical to eat meat — or at least, why it is just as ethical to eat meat as it is to eat any organism. So I quickly wrote up a brief outline of that argument and sent it off, where it will no doubt be lost among the deluge of such arguments submitted by other overzealous readers of The New York Times Magazine. Rather than waste my efforts, I figured I’d share my argument with you here on this blog:


If we say we’re not going to kill animals to eat, we have to look at where we draw the line in our killing. If there’s an aphid on your broccoli and you eat it by mistake, is that OK? Most Americans would say that’s OK, but some Jains would say no. And if it’s not OK to raise animals to eat, is it OK to kill an animal that’s eating your garden? Henry Thoreau, a committed vegetarian, killed the woodchuck who ate his beans, then felt bad about it afterwards. Modern agriculture kills animals through habitat destruction, monoculture, release of pesticides and fertilizer into the ecosystem, etc., all of which kills animals — is it OK to kill those animals in order that we have vegetables to eat? In other words, should today’s vegetarians, like Henry Thoreau, feel bad that the agriculture they depend upon kills animals? Continue reading “Another approach to the ethics of eating”