Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ode to Logan

Yesterday evening we bid farewell to our best friend, Logan, a Sheltie mix that had blessed Heidi's life for fifteen years, and mine for the last four. We had a professional humanely euthanize him, and it might even have been a bit overdue. It was becoming more painful for us to watch Logan labor through his days, instead of truly enjoying life. He was 16 1/2.

This was my first real pet, in the traditional sense of cats and dogs, and I found it surprising how quickly I fell in love with him. I'm already missing him licking my nose; the soft sound of him shaking to fluff up his fur; the clinking of his tags as he trotted ahead of me on the leash. He rarely barked, but I think I even miss that.

When I first met Heidi, her answering machine greeting began "You have reached Heidi and Logan...." It took me awhile to recall instantly that Logan was the dog and not another suitor. In retrospect, I realize I had quite the competitor in terms of loyalty and unconditional love.

No matter how much my education in the sciences reminds me of the dominance of instinct in other animals, I can't shake the idea that Logan was more than that. Even if he wasn't, his endearing quirks and unique personality were captivating.

I am sure that for many days, even weeks from now, I'll stop myself and think that I need to go walk the dog, feed the dog, check in on him downstairs if I am upstairs. Logan was a rescue obtained from a shelter, and we are unsure what trauma, if any, he sustained before Heidi got him. He certainly got stressed out over the microwave, when he could still hear well. He was always reactive to strangers, though quickly settled down in the presence of our friends.

Logan won't be replaced any time soon. I mean, he won't ever be replaced in our hearts; but we won't be getting another dog in the near future, either. We might move, and wouldn't want to visit that stress on a pet. At the very least, the carpet needs replacing lest it drive another pet nuts from residual odors alone.

I'm not sure whether there is a Heaven, but if there is, I am confident that all other animals go there, too. I would not want any part of the afterlife if that was not the case. We are comforted a little by the idea that Logan is finally free of physical limitations to truly enjoy dog paradise. Rest in peace, sweet buddy.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Geometry

Chessboard clearcuts
With power-tower pawns
Protecting
Electric station queen.
Checkmate,
Progress wins again.

Nazca lines
Make no sense
Only cars know their destinations.
Circle fields
Rolling
Along tangent roads.

Bridges
Bisect rivers,
Span lakes.
Dams
Divide streams,
Diverted water is confused.

Eric R. Eaton, circa 1982.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hanging up the Phone

It dawned on me the other day that I do not like talking on the telephone anymore. The reasons for this are many, from technological "advances" to deteriorating hearing (mine and others), and the exploitation of the telephone for marketing purposes.

Our household land line (yes, we still have one!) receives very few phone calls directed specifically to us from friends, business associates and clients, and family. The overwhelming majority of calls are from charities telling us "We will have a truck in your area on (insert date here) if you have items to donate," political surveys, and, worst of all, pre-recorded messages also of a political or financial nature. Our favorite recurring recording begins "Fellow seniors...." Since I have been on the other end of phone surveys, I often comply with those requests if they are polite and I can understand the person asking the questions.

I do have a cell phone, and, as my wife will tell you, I loathe it. Were it not for the situation of being stranded at airports on a routine basis, I would dispense with a mobile phone altogether. I certainly don't feel the need to be "connected" at all times with the internet, or even friends or family.

I have a flip phone now because I kept accidentally dialing people with a newer phone; and I dropped the newer phone once and after that it would randomly display a useless, pure white screen preventing me from dialing out, reading text messages, etc. Oh, and even my flip phone has buttons on the side that do God-knows-what, that I inadvertently press simply by putting the phone in my pocket. My wife claims to call me, but I don't hear or feel the blame thing ring half the time.

I do call my mother every Sunday night, but I must admit that I don't always look forward to it, if only because I have to repeat everything I say at least once. Hearing loss is a part of aging, obviously, but it really becomes tiresome and frustrating trying to correct my mother's interpretation of the name of the place we spent the weekend, or whatever. But, mom does not have the internet, so I can't e-mail. She doesn't have a cell, so I can't text (and I am about the world's slowest texter anyway).

I am truly surprised, and perhaps a little disappointed, to admit that I would rather communicate by e-mail, or even Facebook messaging, instead of by phone or written correspondence. Don't get me wrong, though, I would still choose a face-to-face conversation over any of the above. I suppose that when fewer and fewer e-mails come from friends and colleagues, and politically-motivated e-mails start dominating my in-box, I may go back to the telephone and letter carrier, or cease to communicate altogether. I'm sure some people would be overjoyed by my silence.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The "History" in "Natural History"

Much is made of the need to conserve wildlife and preserve wildlands for the sake of future generations. I would argue that there is just as strong a need to be good stewards of the planet for the sake of past generations. We talk of “natural history” with an emphasis on “natural.” We practically ignore the “history” involved.

Here in the United States, we have a legion of icons who built the foundation for our modern environmental movement. Do we owe them nothing for their unique visions, legislative action, scientific research, and passionate protests? What about artists like Ansel Adams who brought images of wilderness to the masses who had never seen Yosemite? Aldo Leopold gave us a “land ethic.” Rachel Carson cautioned against the indiscriminate use of DDT. We would not be where we are today were it not for the likes of these heroes and heroines.

We can erect monuments to such people, honor their work in film documentaries and written biographies, but what better way to leave a legacy than to insure their efforts were not in vain? Yes, more wilderness has been preserved, more parks created, and more species discovered, but then there are challenges like the reintroduction of predators into parts of their historic geographical ranges.

The debate over wolf introductions is incredibly volatile, but I have heard no one speak of how doing so would bring history back to life. The national park system, at the very least, should be dedicated to preserving a historical spectrum of habitats and ecosystems. There is Colonial Williamsburg, there are civil war re-enactments, and countless other examples of “living history” in the human context of the term. What about the history of wildness?

Recreating in a museum diorama that which used to be is not enough. Resurrecting the mammoth, or even the Passenger Pigeon, may be a bit too much, as we also need reminders of our extreme human mistakes. Still, I feel impoverished that I have been deprived of even the opportunity to see a Carolina Parakeet, a Great Auk, or a Sea Mink. The California Condor once flew over the Columbia River, according to Lewis and Clark. We should consider restoring its presence there.

Once my own mentors pass away, you better believe I will remain dedicated to making sure their voices carry on, that their fights go on. I owe it to them. Another natural landscape destroyed by needless development, a dam, or pollution? Not on my watch. Allow another species to go extinct due to human greed or neglect? No way. I’ve got your back, John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Bob Marshall, Dian Fossey. Your missions didn’t die with you.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Birding While Black

© m.inmagine.com, Cupid Alexander (model)

The other day I found myself inside a Barnes & Noble, and picked up the latest issue of Orion, the quarterly nature magazine. One of the first articles that caught my attention was a one-page piece by J. Drew Lanham entitled “9 Rules for the Black Birdwatcher.” At first I thought it might be a comedic or satirical treatment, but it became very clear very quickly it was a rage against the status quo when it comes to “minorities” in a traditionally White recreational and citizen science pursuit.

I hope I am forgiven for laughing quietly to myself over a couple of the rules: “Don’t bird in a hoodie. Ever.” And “Nocturnal birding is a no-no.” They would be hysterical suggestions were they not a reflection of our tragic and obscene stereotypes of African American culture. And of course we are all too familiar with the horrific outcomes those assumptions can lead to: Shooting teenagers who can’t possibly be up to any good if they are in the “wrong” attire in the “wrong” neighborhood at the wrong time.

Dr. Lanham, who is a professor at Clemson University, goes on to express rightful indignation over the reluctance of the birding community at large to embrace diversity, and how the “they all look alike” bias of Caucasians toward Blacks spills over into a hobby that likes to consider itself more refined and sophisticated than average street folk. The Focus on Diversity pre-conference at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival is a landmark start, and Lanham has been actively involved in the event for its three years of existence.

We also need diversity in leadership positions. This also applies to the female gender. A recent blog post by Brooke McDonald, entitled “The Field Glass Ceiling,” revealed a mostly unspoken uneasiness felt by many women in the birding community. I am being polite, actually. Unspoken disgust is more like it. The dismissive attitude of some male birders is appalling. There are many accomplished female birders and ornithologists who could be outstanding ambassadors for the birdwatching community.

I must admit that, for the longest time, I myself stereotyped birders as mostly overly-affluent snobs who looked down their noses at anybody else recreating in the great outdoors. My attitude has been adjusted in the last decade or so, and not forcibly so. Kenn Kaufman gently nudged me to look beyond “bugs” again; and Jeffrey Gordon brings a welcoming persona to his role as president of the American Birding Association. The “new” generation of birders has a sense of humor, a sense of responsibility to bird conservation, and increasingly reaches out to young people. They even look at insects every once in awhile!

Back to Birding While Black. I do think that there is genuine concern over the lack of minorities in one of the most popular of all outdoor activities; and that sympathy extends beyond mere "tolerance" and politeness. The challenge lies in how we communicate better, and not sound patronizing or stereotypical. That applies to all parties involved. We need to get out of our comfort zones to accomplish real integration, but the rewards will be well worth the effort.

Note: A Google image search for "African American bird watching" turned up few results. The above image came from a "African American binoculars" search.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Crowdfunding


Image © Under30ceo.com

Crowdfunding online, through such avenues as Kickstarter and GoFundMe, has become all the rage these days. I was recently confronted by a situation that caused me to reflect on what I think of this new enterprise when a friend, who has relocated to Chile, broke her hand and needed surgery she could not afford.

I have to preface any further comments by noting the fact that my friend earns her living with her hands. She makes jewelry, and very good, unique jewelry at that. It was not an option to go without surgery and risk being handicapped for the remainder of her life. Obviously, even if she had health insurance, it likely would not have been honored in a foreign country.

So, I truly admire her creativity in appealing to her friends, actual and virtual, through Facebook. She set a goal, provided secure avenues for donations, and gave regular progress reports. I felt somewhat guilty for not sending funds myself, but I am without a regular income and nobody and no causes have received my financial blessing in quite some time.

At least I knew this was not a scam, which, unfortunately, cannot be said of everyone. It pays to do your homework on projects and people who you do not know personally. Witness the dubious validity of the ”Poverty Thoughts” essay.

What else figured into my decision not to give? I had not really thought about my philosophy toward crowdfunding until this circumstance presented itself, but I realized that I think crowd-sourcing should be about something beyond yourself. Funds raised should go to a greater good, a service or product or other creation that benefits more people than the individual seeking money for it.

I know plenty of people with outstanding ideas for which they lack financial backing to execute. Crowdfunding would be a great approach. Authors and musicians who have trouble getting contracts with publishers or recording studios can finally produce material and get exposure through crowdfunding. Indeed, that strategy also builds an audience for one’s work because they are aware of the process, even if they do not donate outright.

Is crowdfunding the future of artistic and creative enterprise? Perhaps it is. Anything that can legally allow for a person to become their own boss, or otherwise liberate themselves from the corporate-driven business world, I am all in favor of. A marketplace that is driven truly by small businesses, not by those of the Wall Street variety, is going to be more responsive, vastly more accountable, and hopefully a kinder, gentler economy.

Back to my friend in Chile. Her surgical procedure was successful and her physician is delighted with the progress of her healing. Someday, I hope to be in a position where I can make a tangible contribution to such friends in need, not sending only love and “good vibes.”

Friday, October 25, 2013

Let's Draft Congress


Image © CNN.com

I think it was during the last presidential election, with concurrent elections of senators and representatives, that I suggested to my wife that we should draft congressmen and elect people to go fight in wars. At the time I was joking, but the idea is growing on me with every 60 Minutes story of congressional abuse of power. If we truly want a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, then we the people need to step up and into positions of leadership.

The overwhelming problem, it occurs to me, is the co-opting of our congress by corporate interests that have only the interests of profit and shareholders at heart. That status quo is more than endorsed by both the Democratic and Republican parties. We need senators and representatives more connected to the average person.

We have had outstanding public servants in the past, but many of them have resigned in disgust over the current in-fighting between political parties and their various factions. There is little evidence this will change without a complete overhaul in how we go about choosing members of congress.

I propose that from local school boards on up to the federal level, we consider drafting people into those positions. At least draft two or three candidates for each position. Law enforcement officials, mayors, governors, and the President of the United States would be elected in pretty much the same manner as they are now, with appointments to Cabinet positions at their discretion. The benefits of drafting others to serve would be many-fold:

  1. No campaign costs. There would be a huge savings in campaign costs, and no need to campaign for re-election during the term you are serving. The media would be forced to do its job of researching a “candidate,” and learn that person’s values, employment history, and educational background. I should state that any person drafted would have the right to refuse service, much like jury duty.
  2. Redistricting would be rendered obsolete. Both political parties frequently attempt to secure domination in congressional districts through redistricting, changing the boundaries of the congressional district to include neighborhoods heavily weighted in favor of their party. This practice would be rendered moot if we draft candidates randomly.
  3. More diversity in political views. We are much more likely to get independent voices into public office by drafting people than by electing people because the current two-party system dominates through the financial backing of wealthy individuals and corporations (even certain non-profits). People who ally themselves with the Green Party, Libertarian Party, or some other affiliation, if any at all, would finally have an equal chance at getting into office. Yes, that would be a blessing or a curse, depending on one’s current affiliation.
  4. The infrastructure is in place. We already have the infrastructure to make this work. We also have the flexibility to create a hierarchy in the selection process. Perhaps we would start with those registered for unemployment compensation. Certainly the unemployed would have far more empathy for the middle-class than our current “leaders.” We definitely want to limit the pool to those who are registered to vote and who have demonstrated active participation in our current political process through a consistent voting record.
  5. More consensus in decision-making. I honestly believe that a body of average citizens is better at reaching a consensus on a given issue than are the elitist people currently in office (at least at the federal level). Again, I make the comparison to a jury. Sure, there are “hung” juries, but they make a more honest attempt at reaching agreement, and there are no corporate-driven agendas to fuel the fighting. The goal is justice, pure and simple. The current goal of congress is to provide security and profit to corporate interests.
  6. A more literate and informed electorate. Simply the fear of being drafted to a public office and appearing incompetent may be enough to drive the average Joe into learning more about our form of government and the responsibilities it has to the citizens. Once put into play, a draft system would also demand that citizens keep up to speed on things to insure accountability of their servants in office.

This idea of a political draft is certainly not flawless, but if it even generates a discussion on how we can refine our current system and put power back in the hands of the public, I’ve accomplished my mission. Our country and its citizens are too important to allow the continued gridlock and excesses that we see in today’s government.

We cannot continue on our present course of keeping the status quo. We know the hazards of natural resource extraction, for example. Clean energy cannot wait. We know there is “equal opportunity” in rhetoric only. We know we need to set a much better example for the world, while understanding there is no shame in borrowing ideas from the states, or even other nations. We should be fearless, but not reckless, in innovation, and fund basic research to make that innovation happen.

If public service is no longer something anyone aspires to, then it is time to turn the system on its head so that it at least has a chance at commanding the respect it once did. History can repeat itself in good ways as well as bad ways.