Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Deep Desire to Live Somewhen Else


Many people are not happy with the place where they live. Maybe the neighborhood is bad. Maybe the climate does not agree with them. Maybe they are just restless. I have concluded that I would rather live in a different time. I have no desire to return to my childhood. This is not about a re-do on a personal level. We make the best of the cards we are dealt. This is about something bigger. This is about a longing for what was never allowed me because it was gone before I was born.

There is increasing evidence, if only anecdotal, of an "insect armageddon," which suggests the abundance and diversity of insects and related organisms are plummeting. We have already lost many once-populous species to the greed and ignorance of previous human generations. A planet devoid of even insects raises a specter that I am unwilling to contemplate, and a life I would not be able to endure, psychologically if not physically.

That is the thing about history. You will eventually learn about what you will never have the opportunity to experience.

You better believe I am angered that I have been deprived by my forefathers of the vast flocks of Passenger Pigeon, the antics of Carolina Parakeets, and the jaw-dropping icon that was the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I can only see Bison on preserves and ranches, and on the ranches one suspects it is actually the hybrid "beefalo" that one is seeing. Meanwhile, I have a hard time looking at a salmon or trout without seeing a fish hatchery. There are still California Condors, but so few that each bird is fitted with huge, numbered tags, radio telemetry devices, and who knows what else. The bird's "recovery" is not a success story. Maybe it will be once they are no longer wearing the accessories of science, and are truly free to fly.

We have not just tamed the wild, we have diluted it beyond recognition in the name of risk assessment and public safety and public grazing, to name but a few agents of wilderness simplification. The national forests are national tree farms, and it should come as no surprise that the U.S. Forest Service is in the Department of Agriculture rather than the Department of the Interior where it ought to be.

Back to the past, the long ago that I long for. It would be wonderful to know the truth of the landscape that surrounds me today, to see what a riparian corridor looks like without Russian Olive everywhere. What is a foothills meadow without mullein? What is your eastern deciduous forest without an understory of Japanese Honeysuckle? Do I wish we could resurrect mastodons and mammoths? No. I draw the line at being a potential meal for a saber-toothed cat or a Dire Wolf. Furthermore, those were the days when our ancient ancestors were just surviving, without understanding of the ramifications of their actions.

Naturally, I would still want to bring my binoculars, digital camera, first aid kit, and waterproof jacket on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Perhaps I am guilty of romanticizing the age of the old growth hardwood bottomland forests with their gargantuan oaks and hickories before we started logging and draining the good kind of swamp. Old photographs and artwork paint pictures that are hard not to idealize when you are passionate about the natural heritage of this country. That is the thing about history. You will eventually learn about what you will never have the opportunity to experience.

Ah, but what would I give up in exchange for that bygone era? I do believe I would sacrifice the internet, television, maybe even electricity, especially because I would never know those innovations were on the horizon. Naturally, I would still want to bring my binoculars, digital camera, first aid kit, and waterproof jacket on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Sure, I would likely have a shorter lifespan, but at least I would enjoy that life more fully. Today, instead of California Condors gracing the skies, I am subjected almost daily to extremely loud military aircraft overhead. I would gladly trade noise and neon and traffic and the illusion of choice in the marketplace for something a lot simpler, with fewer losses of species.


We can reverse some of this, turn back the clock if you will. The grand experiment of reintroducing the Gray Wolf to Yellowstone National Park proves decisively that Mother Nature has a memory, and that when you bring back a piece of the puzzle, the whole thing fits together tighter and smoother. We need a historical spectrum of nature, from the initial stages of succession to the "finished" product, because we know there is no such thing as a permanent climax ecosystem. Even natural communities are ephemeral, but until now there have been multiple, continuous habitats that feed each other. They are now so isolated that there is no transfer of species and so invasives take command. We need to link the wild spaces with corridors to facilitate healing of the landscape.

It remains to be seen if I can continue to be as resilient as that landscape, how many times I can come back healthy, vibrant, committed to making the world a better place, acting on my vision of wholeness in every sense of the word. For now I am misplaced, a pioneer naturalist and writer in a domain that I had no conscious hand in architecting.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

No Help For You!


Among the many stories related to the recent (ongoing?) wildfires here in Colorado was a tragedy of neglect and misplaced priorities that graphically illustrates the failure of private enterprise to respond properly to a public crisis. This will continue happening as long as we allow corporations dictate public policy at all levels of government.

Colorado Springs, where I live, is full of military bases with airports. One of those bases is home to an enormous plane known as the "Global SuperTanker." It is a Boeing 747-400 jet modified to carry and drop nearly 20,000 pounds of fire retardant at a time. It can fly as fast as 600 miles per hour, so it can reach any given destination quickly....but only if you have a contract with Global SuperTanker Services, LLC.

There is the rub. The plane remained grounded during our worst conflagrations in part because the landowners affected by the blazes did not have a contract with the SuperTanker company. This attitude is akin to a childish actor whining "where's my motivation?" How about decency and humanity? How about that for motivation? What are you, the firefighting version of the "Soup Nazi?"

Wildfires do not respect geopolitical boundaries, but neither do publicly-employed (government) firefighting crews. Why should the Global SuperTanker be any different? It is different because it is a private corporation that has the freedom, if you can call it that, to do as it pleases and make decisions on where to respond based on who can pay, if not "who can pay more." What do you think will happen the next time, when there is more than one fire, in different states? The plane will be deployed to whoever can provide the greatest financial return. That is the gravitational pull of money in the private sector. It is a big "FU" to any jurisdiction that is too poor to pony up.

Meanwhile, corporate media did a magnificent job of portraying government red tape as the real villain in this scenario. If only there were fewer regulations, the story seems to go, then the plane would be airborne already. Don't you believe it.

Not every fire can be fought with the huge aircraft, and the U.S. Forest Service may be behind in its approval process for new tools in its firefighting arsenal, but to suggest that bureaucracy is the sole problem here is to refuse to address the broader issue of profit-above-safety and resource protection.The solution? We citizens should own the SuperTanker. It should be government property, not a private tool with profit ahead of public safety.

Government's biggest problem may be that it has terrible marketing. It fails to explain how many public benefits we enjoy, from schools to parks, to public roads to...emergency response. The other problem is that government as morphed into a quasi-business itself whereby our public officials are now looking out only for private big-business interests. Lawmakers are actively replacing government with corporate rule.

Some elected officials have done an amazing job of convincing us that government programs are a waste of taxpayer dollars; that we as citizens have no choices in anything but the "free market." The free market is of course rigged itself and government is poised to fail because our tax dollars are subsidizing private industries instead of the public good. The only people who benefit from this kind of corruption are the lawmakers (I use that term loosely) themselves, corporate executive officers, and shareholders, all of whom are already wealthy. They are not earning their money, they are siphoning from the gas tank of you and me. Taxpayers are viewed as the "supertankers" from which money needs to be sucked up and deposited into the coffers of the elite. Call it class warfare if you wish, but it is an unmitigated tragedy that will continue until consumers and the labor force decide they will no longer participate in the system.

Vote your sensible neighbor into public office. Run for office yourself. Shop local every day. Go off the grid as much as you can. Reward excellence and scaled-down business enterprises in your consumer choices. Your dollar-spending votes in the marketplace speak even louder than the ballot box.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Is The Melting Pot "Full" Now?

© Valley News,

The United States of America recently celebrated the 242nd anniversary of its Declaration of Independence from British colonialism. Since that time, our greatest assets have been the individuals and families from less fortunate nations that we continue to welcome, and a collective sense of empathy and compassion. The "rude" French even sent us a statue commemorating our ability to embrace everyone regardless of economic circumstance, religious belief, race, or gender. What happened to that?

We are suddenly a nation of intolerance, willing to literally wall ourselves off from the rest of the world, believing that what used to be our greatest strength is now our most pressing problem, our greatest weakness. We have already built walls around our hearts, hardened ourselves to misery greater than we will ever experience. We look around us and no longer see people who look like us. We no longer understand the words in conversations carried out around us. We feel eerily isolated in neighborhoods that have become unrecognizable. The houses look the same, but the occupants are different. It does not compute. Our accustomed level of comfort is becoming highly unstable, even if none of "them" are terrorists.

The extremely wealthy and powerful have taken note of our unease and amplified it into irrational fears as a way to manufacture an unnecessary political divide. This wedge being driven between us allows the continued redistribution of wealth to the very top of our economic food chain. We are told there is not enough to go around, and the problem is "those people" streaming across our border and "stealing your jobs."

No, the problem is in your corporate boardroom where you draw up plans to lay off your workforce if not take away their benefits, raid their pensions, and otherwise make the lives of labor intolerable such that your shareholders and executive officers reap obscene profits.

Those of us whole toil away at unpaid overtime, without union representation, doing the jobs of three other people whose positions were not renewed, are now left to our own devices. We are told we should get a second job, sell some of our belongings, continue to sacrifice for the good of the company. That is, after all, the kind of loyalty that built our most esteemed companies.

No, it is not. Henry Ford is widely acclaimed for having paid his employees enough that they could own the vehicles they were building. Loyalty is a two-way street. There is a reason there is an annual best-companies-to-work-for list.

So, given our personal economic woes, it is no wonder we are falling into a Kick the Dog Syndrome. Men, especially, want to express the pain and angst they feel, and do so inappropriately by inflicting pain on someone else. Maybe it is their spouse. Maybe it is their kids. Maybe it is the Mexican neighbors or those "uppity" Blacks down the street. We want to make tangible the intangible emotional pain that we carry hidden. How is anyone else to know our inner turmoil, our guilt at being unable to provide for our families, our utter failure to advance to the American Dream?

The answer, of course, is that the American Dream created unrealistic, if not outright false, expectations. The melting pot is only full if you believe that you are entitled to the spacious house, the white picket fence, the two-car garage, and all the other material amenities we were promised in the 1950s. We now have a segment of our population that believes they are entitled to mansions (several, in fact), private jets, private banking, and luxury at every turn. They "earned" that, naturally, from your labor, your blood, sweat, and tears. They hardened their hearts to you long before you hardened yours to today's brand of immigrants. Remember that. Stop participating, as much as possible, in the system that is disempowering you. Look for employers who are interested in seeing all of their employees prosper, not just the ones at the top. Become your own employer. Drop your bank for a credit union. Stop aspiring to excessive affluence and invest in organizations that help the less fortunate, protect consumers, the environment, and all of those things we hold valuable above money.

We need all the allies we can get to improve our collective society and culture, and those fellow soldiers are the new immigrants you want to blame for everything. Recognize your misplaced resentment and hostility. Channel it into something better for yourself and the other downtrodden.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Americans Must Define 'Great' and Who it Applies to

Has the President of the United States lived up to his campaign promise to "make America great again?" The answer may depend upon whom you are asking. Looking at the advertisements for the midterm primary elections, it is glaringly obvious that the divisions we see in the electorate are largely manufactured by our two major parties, designed to pit us against one another such that the status quo of prosperity for the few is maintained. Citizens need to ignore political rhetoric and keep chugging along, as we have always done.

Let us start with immigration since that is the hot-button issue of the day in the wake of images of children sleeping under sheets of silver mylar inside fenced areas resembling cages. Children. Forget everything else. They are vulnerable human beings first, and every other label second, if applied at all. Speaking for myself, one of the facets of this nation that I believe makes it great is its desire to comfort the afflicted, as so perfectly worded on the plaque beneath the Statue of Liberty.

I did not know that our sentiments had an expiration date. When you are fleeing for your life and seeking safety, you do what you have to do, "legal" or not, to get yourself and your loved ones out of harm's way. This is not criminal behavior, it is a heroic example of one's obligation to oneself and their family. The United States can compound the problem, or it can do what it does best and create new and unique solutions that do not further traumatize people who are already victims.

One must also recognize that the U.S. does not exist in a vacuum, "America first!" chants to the contrary. Immigration is a global crisis. Withdrawing from United Nations Human Rights Council, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the Paris Agreement (on climate change mitigation), and other international bodies and treaties only exacerbates issues with immigration and other forces that impact U.S. citizens. One of the great historical aspects of the U.S. has been its willingness to cooperate in global peace endeavors. We are now abandoning our obligations and abdicating our world responsibilities.

Some will argue that previous presidential administrations have abandoned obligations to our domestic citizenry, especially in rural areas where fewer voters are dispersed over vast expanses of agricultural landscapes. The current Commander-in-Chief has managed to convince those folks that he can make them great again, when in reality it is business as usual, with more mom-and-pop farms, ranches, and businesses going belly-up or being gobbled up by multinational corporations. There may be an immediate infusion of cash into rural economies when a company purchases land, a business, or equipment, but it is a quick fix that will leave that community begging again in another few years, though hopefully not before the next election cycle.

Economic prosperity, this writer would argue, is not what makes America great. It should be a byproduct of greatness, if anything, something that comes as a tangible reward for selflessness, not greed. Aspiring to material excess is what empires do, and we know from history that such greedy pursuits end badly.

What is truly making America great right now is the stubborn determination of Americans to succeed in spite of government, regardless of what political party is in power. We come home after a long workday and rail at the television newscasters bringing us stories of want, war, and woe; but we go to bed, get up, and go to work again.

That work may be volunteering at the food pantry, for Planned Parenthood, the local chapter of the Audubon Society, or any number of other organizations doing what we believe the government ought to be doing. Bless each and every one of you. Whether your neighbor agrees with your "agenda" or not, you are making society great, and that transcends borders, politics, religion, race, economic status, and all the other things that supposedly divide us. It is that daily commitment to participating in things greater than yourself that makes you great, and by extension makes America great. Not "again," but still.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I Once Had Good Hearing


My eyesight has long since deserted me, but I pride myself on having excellent hearing. Well, I once did, anyway. I desperately want to avoid the stereotype of the hard-of-hearing old fogey who is pitied, barely tolerated, and written off as irrelevant. It is a bit more complicated than what the aging process contributes, though. Up until now I have not admitted as much, not even to myself. Confession time.

Here is an honest-to-God example of one of my more recent telephone conversations. Mind you, I was on my cell phone, inside a storage locker, inside a building, and deaf in my left ear from a recent airline flight. That said, I had the phone to my good ear....

Woman: "Hi, I'm calling from Speed's Towing. We just picked up your deceased father's car which you kindly donated to Oregon Public Broadcasting? Well, turns out we do need that Power of Attorney before we can transfer it elsewhere."
Me: "Steve's Towing? I can do that, but it will have to wait until I get back to Colorado next Friday."
Woman: "That's fine, but it's Speed's Towing. You can just mail the POA when you get home."
Me: "Ok, good. So let me get the name again, and the address."
Woman: "Speed's Towing...."
Me: Ok, I got that, Steve's Towing...."
Woman: "No, Speed's Towing."
Me: "Alright, let me spell out what I'm hearing: S-t-e-v-e apostrophe 's'...."
Woman: No, two 'e's'...."
Me: "S-t-e-e-v-e 's?"
Woman: "It is S-p-e-e-d-s. There is no 'e' on the end."
Me: "Steed's Towing?" A horsepower-themed towing company did not seem like a stretch....
Woman: "No."
Me (sighing heavily and pausing): "Ok, can I get the address at least?"
We manage to agree on the street location, city, state, and zipcode.....
Me: "Ok, let me try spelling this out one more time: "S as in Sam, T as in Tom, e-e, d...."
Woman: "No, it is S, p as in Paul...."
Me: Oh, Speed's Towing, as in going fast!
Woman: "Yes!"

I cannot believe I did not remember the name from the logo on the side of the tow truck, but I was trying to keep all the paperwork organized, so I'll stick to that story of trying not to be distracted. Meanwhile, had the woman merely said something like "Speed's, like going fast, vroom-vroom!," we might have not exhausted all the minutes on my Tracfone.

I still pride myself on being able to track down katydids and crickets from their songs, but even a few years ago a fellow entomologist was pointing out the song of a certain katydid species....and I could hear nothing. The frequency of the song was too high. Last year I found another katydid with a flashlight, and observed his wings moving at high speed, but again I could barely make out a sound.

I have some tinnitus in my left ear in particular, and occasionally it loudly asserts itself, but overall I am more bothered by external noise than I am unable to perceive it. I am wishing right now I could tune out the noisy neighbor kids who insist on shouting and shrieking during their play right outside in our closely-arranged townhouse complex. Apparently the architecture amplifies sound. Lucky us.

Most of us men will not admit it, but more than half of our "hearing" problem, especially when it comes to our spouses, stems from the fact that we are not very good at listening. It is sad to realize that as I age I care less and less about what other people have to say, much of the time anyway. There really is a steady stream of dialogue that literally goes in one ear and out the other, or vanishes somewhere in a sea of neurons in the auditory lobe, never registering in our cerebral cortex. When we are halfway paying attention, then our translation of the sentence or monologue can get scrambled.

For example, on one occasion my wife was reciting to me the hour that our upcoming airline flight would be leaving. She said something to the effect of "Our departure time is eight-thirty AM...." My appropriate and respectful response? "What about The Partridge Family?" I now have a ringing sensation in the other ear, and I may need to see the dentist, too. Honey, I'm only kidding. Honey?

Monday, May 28, 2018

Can Stacey Cunningham Humanize Wall Street?


No. I could leave it at that one-word answer, but then this would be a very short commentary. While it is about time that the New York Stock Exchange had a woman at the helm, she would not be there if she promised anything but business as usual.

Judging by the reactions of other women in leadership positions, this historical appointment (the NYSE is 226 years old and Cunningham is the first female president) is barely significant in achieving the goal of gender parity in the financial services industry, let alone any other kind of milestone. As Kathryn Kolbert of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies was quick to point out, the fact that we are still celebrating every newly-minted woman CEO shows how rare this phenomenon remains. According to Kolbert, you need to reach at least a thirty-percent threshold for critical mass, when the good 'ol boys business model begins to transform and truly accept gender equity in terms of leadership roles.

The NYSE may in fact be eager simply to change public perception of itself as a stodgy institution of greedy White men with little concern for the average American citizen who is increasingly "minority" in every sense of the word. Well, good luck with that. We are not so easily fooled into believing that a fresh face, female or otherwise, is anything more than a facade for what some would call the most destructive entity in our economic sphere.

Public enterprises on the NYSE, Dow, and other registers have succeeded largely by exploiting labor, eroding consumer protections, and lobbying for deregulation to absolve themselves of harm to the environment. Did I mention they have also cannibalized each other in mergers that are permitted by lax anti-trust laws? No? Well, they do. Wall Street should add a dog to the bull and the bear because it is a dog-eat-dog world they have created. The only survivors, the only constants, are shareholders. Shareholders are people wealthy enough to invest in public companies. The fast majority of us, if we called a financial advisor, would be laughed at and then hung up on. We don't matter. Never have, probably never will.

Changing that callous culture is what we all want from the next appointed leader, regardless of what gender they identify as. One would like to be optimistic in this case, but feminism has created something of a monster. Young women have been taught that if you want to succeed in a man's world, then you must behave like a man. You must set aside your sentimentality, your desire for compromise and cooperation, and be ruthless to be accomplished in the business world. No room for warm hearts here. What a shame. What a failed promise of feminism to heal the wounds of economic warfare, to make businesses more humane. Indeed, to make society more accountable and trustworthy.

Do not get me wrong. I have not met Ms. Cunningham, and have no personal axe to grind. She may be a truly gentle human being. I will even assume so. It is just that I fail to see why anyone of either sex would want anything to do with an institution so hell bent on concentrating wealth into fewer and fewer hands. Wall Street is symbolic of greed because it enables a financial model that creates and rewards greed. This is what has to change, and anyone who advocated for a system that was more fair would not be granted a leadership position. They would be sent packing.

It may simply be the scale of Wall Street that has become the greatest part of the problem. A similar model scaled down to the size of a local economy, with vastly lowered investment thresholds, might work just fine. The more shareholders the better. The less exclusiveness, the better. The more diversity, the better.

Cunningham is likely to be the continuation of the problem here, not because she could not change Wall Street for the better, but because her affluent constituents have no will to do so. They are being served already. Well, let them all be served with this notice: the revolution is coming. You will know by our lack of participation in your transactions as we turn to local commerce, and invest not in products and services but in experiences, charitable organizations, and assign more value to intangibles.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A Wedding, Wealth, and Masculinity


It is perhaps tragically ironic that we have prom season and the royal wedding setting up the perfect storm of inevitable disappointment for the average high school male bent on wooing his dream girl. When you aspire to fantasy, have unrealistic expectations, and are more concerned with how you stack up to other male students, it is not going to end well for you. Meanwhile, women are collateral damage.

Our collective obsession with the royal nuptials Across the Pond is troubling if not disturbing. We revel in pomp and circumstance, and I dare say long for the rigidity in standards for what constitutes "marriage material" in stodgy old England. We want rules to be explicit, if only so we know when we are breaking them, but often because we have failed to properly construct our own moral compasses. We rely on externalities instead. America has few formalities, and even those may vary from state to state.

Consequently, our young men are left to their own devices, their own warped perceptions of idealism in the female form. How boys and men handle their romantic defeats is what should make you a gentleman or a loser. Here in the U.S., we do not learn how to deal with those perceived setbacks in any positive, meaningful way. At best our male students simply become more determined to achieve victory in the socio-romance game, and maybe set their sights on college coeds once they graduate high school. That simply perpetuates the cycle of reducing women to prizes to be won, by any means necessary.

The tragic part is that for men like this, women are a means to an end, the end being enhanced status for the guy. There truly is a trophy wife mentality whereby men measure each other by the....what, "hottness" of their spouse or girlfriend. Women cease to be anything more than an accessory to this kind of sorry excuse for a man. This is how we ruthlessly objectify women, and it does not even have anything to do with women. It is all about the male hierarchy.

At some point in our evolution did this become a strategy for becoming the alpha male? The accumulation of food and other necessary resources certainly made some males more desirable to females, but eventually there was enough to go around thanks to agriculture, improved weaponry for hunting, and the ability to preserve collected foods. What separates us now, then? We created the unnatural resource of money, currency that is not perishable, wealth that demonstrates you have risen above mere survival. We announce the existence of our fortunes through expensive automobiles, luxurious homes, second homes, yachts, jewelry, and other rare and precious commodities....and attractive, younger women.

Mating strategies in the animal kingdom are often complex, and none more so than in Homo sapiens. We point derisively to other cultures that rely on arranged marriages, that eliminate a woman's dignity through genital mutilation, or reduce her worth to her dowry, or enslave her in any number of ways by prohibiting her education and disallowing her consent to anything, but are we any better? American men who cannot achieve wealth, or cannot achieve it fast enough, try and bypass the implied route of success and just go for the hot chick. If he can get her, other men will assume he has something they do not. Women are the facade in the male social-success game. Debt is the facade we all use to project that we are wealthier than we are. We must stop kidding ourselves.

Let me repeat that: We must stop kidding ourselves. We must stop believing that we should be aspiring to great individual material wealth and the flimsy social status that comes with it. When we do that we start dropping pretense. We stop pretending. We start being comfortable with who we are. We start recognizing the matrix that is our unsustainable style of living and relating to each other. We stop shaming others. We stop feeling guilty for our excesses because we have realized the futility of indulging in them. We start having meaningful relationships with the opposite sex.

The revolution will be a long one. Men will not go quietly, willingly giving up the power that they have accumulated through greed and womanizing. We will have to overcome our biology and our social expectations, without the help of media and advertising that will even more stubbornly stick to the status quo, the old school rules of engagement. We have an opportunity here to advance civilization to a level of respect it has perhaps never enjoyed. Failure will mean its total collapse.