Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Couple of "Wild" Ideas

When I lived in Cincinnati in the 1990s I learned of a truly unique enterprise aimed at helping research biologists in developing countries. I was reminded of this just the other day when I was made aware of another such effort through a different organization. The holiday gift-giving season seems a perfect time indeed to let you all in on these two secrets.

Idea Wild is a non-profit organization founded in 1991 by Wally Van Sickle. Since that time the non-governmental organization has grown steadily in the number of projects it has facilitated, the number of developing nations it has established relationships with, and in the dollars donated to its cause. That cause is to furnish field, laboratory, and office equipment to research conservationists for use in their native lands.

There are myriad ways you can help Idea Wild continue its mission, but chief among them are donating dollars and your (gently) used equipment. If you think I’m a good salesman for this outfit, you should meet Wally! He has inexhaustible enthusiasm for the projects he undertakes (or, rather, the projects being conducted by those wildlife biologists in their native countries). He campaigns tirelessly on their behalf and the results have been phenomenal. Please check out the Idea Wild website, “like” them on Facebook, and tweet away on Twitter.

”Cameras for Conservation” is a campaign of Reptile and Amphibian Ecology International, another non-profit with a wildlife conservation mission. I became familiar with them, and their founder, Paul S. Hamilton, at the Tucson Reptile Show back in September. Paul is an awesome photographer in his own right, but he is just as excited about fostering the work of other field photographers. He has also captured the power of the web (Reptiles and Amphibians.org) and social media.

I know I’m going to see what materials I can donate to these two fantastic enterprises, and I hope you will, too. I can’t think of a better way to empower scientists in other lands.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Berries encased in ice,
Frozen delights on a stick
That children lick,
But without synthetic spice

Berries embedded in ice,
Frozen delights on a stick
That birds can't pick,
But other seeds will suffice

Monday, December 6, 2010

Our Eco-econo Logical Survival

Last night I made sure to watch 60 Minutes because of the advertised interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but it was the conversation between Scott Pelley and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that got my attention. Homo sapiens is perhaps unique in not only having to address its ecological survival, but also its economic survival. After hearing Bernanke’s prognostication for our immediate financial future, I’m beginning to wonder if we are not in peril on the economic front as well as the climatological one.

I have to say that I trust Ben Bernanke to not make dishonest statements about short-term and long-range economic forecasts as he perceives them. That is why it was truly sobering to learn that he does not anticipate any great decrease in the unemployment rate for a minimum of four or five years. From the perspective of our American society at large, I am confident we can weather the storm and doldrums, but on an individual level I am feeling a bit shaky.

My part-time employment will end around the first week of May, 2011, and the unemployment compensation that is supplementing that income will no doubt expire even sooner. Having only a high school diploma does not heighten my chances of re-employment at any meaningful wage, as Bernanke mentioned in his interview.

When Scott Pelley pointed out that the gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. is the greatest it has been in some time, Bernanke laid the blame largely on a disparity in education levels. For those with a college degree, unemployment is about 5%, said Bernanke, adding that unemployment is almost double that for people with only a high school diploma. While I personally think this is mostly a sorry excuse for an explanation of inequitable distribution of wealth, the implicit message was even more disheartening and unrealistic, if not irresponsible.

Bernanke’s apparent solution for the unemployed and underemployed is to go back to school and get new skills or enhance existing ones. In other words: go into debt to get ahead. This is in part what got us into trouble in the first place: personal debt. No worries, Bernanke plans to keep the lid on low interest rates, encouraging borrowing (while rendering savings accounts, Certificates of Deposit, and other responsible financial behavior worthless).

I am by no means an economist. I didn’t even do very well in that course in college. All I know is that the current banking establishment and financial administration reigning from the Fed are *not* operating in my best interests. Literally! Interest on my savings is appallingly low. There are no products that keep my assets liquid in case of emergency, while offering any kind of return on my investment….but I digress.

Most people cannot afford to return to school in any sense of the word. They can’t afford it financially, and they can’t afford the time out of the workforce (though most adult students work at least part-time while going to school, this wears one out physically, emotionally, and intellectually). We need to resurrect an apprenticeship approach to re-employment. The “guilds” of the Renaissance sound mighty appealing about now. The idea that one could produce something meaningful and useful while accruing new skills is also what the old WPA was all about. We need a “new” New Deal.

This is where we could also address our ecological survival. Train people to produce and install solar panels, rainwater harvesting cisterns, and other sustainable technologies that lead to a more sustainable, less consumer-oriented society. Make peace profitable. Hire defense contractors to begin disarming our nuclear weapons. Start with the hair-trigger ICBMs that still loom in silos, one false-alarm away from throwing us into nuclear winter. Make community gardens a priority so that neighborhoods can take back ownership of their diet, nutrition, and food quality. Build affordable housing. We can have a bright future, but we might have to buck the system to achieve some of it. The finances will follow, though, as our collective will prevails.

Full disclosure: I am personally debt-free, have no credit cards, and do not own a private vehicle. I rent an apartment. I have an account at a bank and a credit union. Were ATMs more convenient through the credit union, I would not have an account at a commercial bank.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

WOW Arizona and The Oasis B and B

Back on October 3, I was invited to help lead a nature walk at the Oasis Bed & Breakfast (also known as "WOW Arizona" for Wild Outdoor World). This little gem is located in unincorporated Tucson, Arizona, just east and north of Oro Valley. Christopher J. (C J) Vincent and MaryEllen Troy Landen run this establishment, a true haven for Sonoran Desert wildlife.

The Oasis manages to cater to a wide variety of clientele, from mountain bikers to amateur naturalists. The grounds are a virtual Eden and the hosts know every resident plant and animal. The water and flowers (mostly native, some ornamental) attract an enormous diversity of wildlife from butterflies to birds and mammals, making it a great place to become familiar with Sonoran Desert flora and fauna while being as comfortable or adventurous as you would like to be.

C J picked me up after work on October 2, so I got to have dinner and stay the night, too. I like the cozy, "contemporary-rustic" feel of their home. The decor includes spectacular images of the wildlife seen and photographed by C J on the scenic grounds. I slept like a baby, and woke up to.....

More food! C J and MaryEllen are very conscious of the differing nutritional needs of their guests. I'm lactose intolerant and they had lactose-free milk. That never happens! The entrees are delicious, a great treat for a "meat and potatoes" guy like me, yet still "gourmet," just not pretentious. Pleasing folks with your menu is a tough task, but The Oasis does so perfectly. Outside the dining room the bird feeders were drawing a variety of fine feathered friends, like this Curve-billed Thrasher.

A little searching revealed one of their resident rattlesnakes, Cartman. He’s quite a heroic specimen of a Western Diamondback. Most of the organisms on the premises are not nearly as dangerous as this, but I like the fact that C J and MaryEllen welcome all forms of life, not just the cute, cuddly, and charismatic (though I personally find rattlesnakes to be quite charismatic in their own right).

C J recently acquired non-profit status for WOW Arizona, so it is now a certified environmental education organization. They hosted a class from Pima Community College a week before our October nature walk, and C J was still raving about the transformation of the students from urbanites a bit intimidated by the wild desert to fascinated people anxious to learn more.

I heartily recommend The Oasis B & B to anyone visiting southern Arizona who wants to avoid crowded parks, see wildlife up close, and enjoy captivating conversations with the proprietors over a great meal. You can get an online introduction at the WOW Arizona website and blog, and follow C J’s posts on Facebook, too. Check it out!