Wednesday, May 4, 2016

“The time has come,” the walrus said, “to talk of many things.”

“I’ll believe a corporation is a person when Texas kills one”

A Note to Montana Democrats

All of us in rural Montana who have organized meetings and strategy sessions around issues to the left of Attila the Wall Street Speculator know the feeling when we look around the room and calculate the average age. It’s usually around 60, isn’t it?
That’s why a now-common political slur is annoying me so greatly. I won’t footnote the year’s worth of “left”-leaning talking heads who’ve repeated it in one form or another, so I’ll just distill down to its simple essence:
People are pissed because the Wall Street crooks got away with their heist, so they’re supporting “extreme” protest candidates like Trump and Sanders.
It’s not that “old” progressives like myself are thin-skinned about such gratuitous dismissals coming from unexpected places. Remember Obama’s mantra “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” when he reneged on his campaign promise for a “public option”, when majorities of Montanans were showing up at Baucus’ dog-and-pony shows demanding healthcare reform not health insurance reform and the Democratic elites responded by substituting one Rube-Goldberg-get-rich-quick scheme for the already-rich with another? Cutting off the legs of your base after you get their votes with the rallying cry of “what choice do they have!” has been common scheme for Democrats in power for a long, long time. So “old” progressives like myself aren’t surprised with backhanded dismissals from “the center” when we are no longer seen as useful. We’re used to it. But guess what? All those young people whom Bernie has finally engaged, whom the Democratic Party needs so desperately to remain a viable movement as well as a party, aren’t.
This election cycle is, if it’s nothing else, different, and Montana Democrats are in a uniquely favored position to appreciate that difference. The divide between those who believe that the Edge of the World where dinosaurs live with humans is just south of Darby and those who don’t believe that is as self-evident as whether your septic juices flow into the Pacific or the Atlantic. So let’s take a minute and examine this canard that those who believe a better world is as possible than incremental slides toward dystopia and those who believe in the Edge of the World are peas from the same “protest-vote” pod. Ready? Go…
            …There, that didn’t take long, did it? Now let’s consider what will happen to the Democratic Party if their leaders and activists stick to and act on such mind-numbingly-incorrect analyses.
            Rudely dismissing a whole generation of young people so desperately needed for so very long in every fight Democrats claim as theirs is inexplicably self-destructive. For one thing, once they’re dismissed as starry-eyed, unrealistic Trumpians of the Left, you can bet they’ll disappear, and you can talk until you’re blue in the face about how they should show up and vote for Hillary anyway, but you know a lot of them won’t, and for good reason. Worse, they won’t show up to vote for the other progressive politicians on the ticket needed to really change the chemistry in Congress and the state legislatures, the ones who’ll do the heavy lifting of taking on Wall Street, the war machine, college debt, grade-school funding, the heathcare crisis. It won’t matter then, whether their Chosen One gets coronated or not. We’ll be in same politically-dysfunctional mess we’re in now for another four, or eight more years.
Worst of all in the opinion of a progressive who’s been active in one of our small, rural towns for many years: the saddest effect of condescendingly dismissing smart young people whose political dander is finally up is that when we take stock of our tiny local progressive “activist” lists in a few years, the average age will 70.

Monday, October 5, 2015

News Flash

Note: to anyone still visiting this page since my last post, I should explain that I have been directing all of my working time on a book and have obviously been neglecting this site. Oh, well, if apologies are necessary, I do, although I’m not sure what the proper protocol for such things in our digital age are, or if such protocols even exist. But there you have it: an explanation, and a sincere thank-you for visiting this page!

Here’s a news flash. A group of American scientists have just published a study called “Functional mismatch in a bumble bee pollination mutualism under climate change”[i]
A very brief synopsis of the study is that in the last 40 years high-altitude bumblebees that used to specialize in pollinating deep-corolla flowers have evolved shorter tongues in order to become less specialized. That’s apparently because plant species are generally colonizing higher altitudes, the higher altitudes warming relatively faster than the lower ones, and so the flower mix available to the bumblebees is changing to shorter-corolla ones. In the words of the scientists:

“We see broader bumblebee foraging niches, immigration by short-tongued bumblebees, and shorter tongue length within resident bee populations as floral resources have dwindled,” and “In remote mountain habitats—largely isolated from habitat destruction, toxins, and pathogens—evolution is helping wild bees keep pace with climate change.”

So, at least in the protected high-altitude areas the scientists studied, the bumblebees have had a chance to evolve to meet the challenges of a warming climate. The flowers? I’d guess that maybe the long-corolla ones the bumblebees favored will develop shorter tubes, or maybe they’ll slowly get crowded out by their cousins moving in from below. If they do survive, the relationship between the flowers and the bumblebees will be forever changed, which is kind of like a death in the family, or a divorce, and is sad enough. In either case, in the face of what we are doing to their planet, species still have their best chances in the last-remaining protected habitats.

Furthermore, this new knowledge was essentially the result of 40 years of data collection and study, and the data is just now being observed, understood and published. What else is out there that we don’t know about?

Wilderness is “so sixties”? I don’t think so.

(Common Dreams has a good short article on this study[ii])

Thursday, April 2, 2015

On Toads Singing Unexpected Songs

Petroghlyph Lake, Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, Southeastern Oregon

If you’re ever on a jaunt in Southeastern Oregon and driving down Highway 20, stop in for gas and a Hampton Burger at the Hampton store. The store is located along an ancient trade route that the People used to travel to reach Celilo Falls, where they would meet in truce to socialize and to trade with the coastal and river peoples, salmon for obsidian, seashells for slaves. That community, at Celilo Falls, has been there for ten thousand years, and is the oldest known site continuously inhabited by human beings on the North American continent. Hampton Store, for its part, is just a little north of Glass Butte, which has been one of the main sources of trade obsidian for the People throughout the region from time immemorial, and for that reason alone it’s worth your while to grab a Hampton Burger on your way through. The burger, if not immemorial, is big and relatively cheap, and the gas, if the owner happens to have five gallons that day to sell you, is your last chance until you reach Riley, forty miles further east down the desert road.
            You’ll know you’re in Riley as soon as you’re able to read the homemade sign that says “Whoa you missed Riley!” Like Hampton, it’s another one-store town, and probably has good burgers, too. But Riley, unlike Hampton, was in the national news recently by virtually the only way a desert town like Riley ever makes the national news, by archeologists who have unearthed an interesting thing. At an excavation site nearby called Rimrock Draw Rock Shelter a scraper was found, under a layer of ash from an eruption of Mt. St. Helens that occurred almost 16,000 years ago, long before the Clovis people supposedly graced the North American continent with the human species. These archeologists have yet to go through the meticulous and critical peer-review process that Science rightfully hangs its hat on, but they plan to, and in the meantime Logic, a softer branch of science not necessarily limited to peer-review, opines that since the scraper was underneath the 16,000-year-old ash, there’s a good chance that it’s older.
            Scientific knowledge is, by definition, incomplete and will always remain so. At one point Science tells us that humans have been on the continent a mere 13,000 years despite what the First People say about their having been here forever. Then it tells us, no, make that 16,000 years, or maybe 20,000 or 50,000, but not forever. And so on, which is the necessary, peer-reviewed language of Science. This makes it a poor substitute for Earth Wisdom, but it’s the only one we have for jumpstarting ourselves down the path toward the kind of knowledge we so desperately seek and need right now, the kind of wisdom that’s taken so for granted by those who have known and understood it by virtue of the simple fact that they and theirs had been around these parts long enough to hear it, to know it, and to understand it.  
But as our Science wends its way with us in tow, I think I see it heading toward a slow and reluctant intersection with that Earth Wisdom that will tell us, Indeed! Coyote did it, or something else equally un-peer-reviewable, and by the time it gets to that inevitable point it will be called something other than Science, and we are going to have to deal with its new name, which in our contemporary parlance may end up being called Humility, and that’s going to be hard, very hard indeed.
It’s not a contradiction, though. Rather, the realization that this intersection is about to occur is nothing if not a perfect opportunity for us to critically measure a few delusions we suffer under in these times, the trite and dreary songs we hear repeated so much these days, of how we should either deny outright the mess we’ve made or, equally obnoxious, of how we can mentally twist or geo-engineer our way out of the consequences we have created for ourselves and our world. In a modern sense, the recognition of this intersection is counter-intuitive, seditious if you are one of those who lean toward the ever-trendy fascist persuasions we seem to inflict ourselves with such sickening regularity, but there it is. I’ll try to explain.
            The Blitzen River drains the backside of Steens Mountain in Southeastern Oregon, which is the magnificent mountain for those of us who love mountains. It’s forty miles long and rises in sheer drama over a mile above the Alvord Desert, one of the driest places in America. The small river, as well as the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge which it flows into, owes its riparian existence to the snowmelt coming from the high country off of this one, single mountain, and that is phenomenon enough. But go ten vertical feet above the surface of the river’s riffles and you’re back in the desert, and it was here I heard a toad high up in the dry, basalt talus that defines the river’s desert canyon when I camped along it last week. It seemed unusual, to hear a water-prone animal in such a place. But more unusual still was her voice, modulated in cadence and tone unlike the monotonous chirpings we tend to expect from toads, as though she were literally singing to the mountain behind her. I was sure that, contrary to the majority of life forms we share the Earth with whom we know nothing about, most animals who insist on being so vocal have been tagged with a genus and species by now, and that this toad probably had one of each. I knew that there were those who could identify her just from her voice and even say a few more interesting things about her. I could even climb up the talus myself and make the intrusive identification. But I satisfied myself with standing still and listening until I heard another toad answering from the river, also singing, and this was a cause for wonder, not just at what I imagined they might be saying but at those new-baked academics among us who would respond to Global Warming by claiming that we modern humans know enough about the Earth now to not only understand what this toad is singing, but to “manage” her in a garden of our own purpose. Not to worry, they say. It's all good.
Ironically, Steens Mountain is named after the Army major who chased the Paiutes— those who probably could tell us exactly what our toads were singing—off the mountain. But that’s just irony. The point is, the toads are still there, singing to the mountain which has also been there long enough to understand.
             This experience repeated itself in reverse when I got back to town after my camping trip. The milk I'd left in my refrigerator had “gone cultural”, which in this case meant that the various microorganisms, some of which scientists have labeled as such and some of which they hadn’t, had matured. It was the consistency of cottage cheese, and after my jaunt through the drama that is the naked geology of Southeastern Oregon (no trees to get in the way of your geology) I thought this milk smelled unique, unlike anything I’ve ever quite smelled before in my many decades of experimentation, and I found it interesting. But at the same time I knew that action was needed if I were to have my morning coffee the way I wanted it, and so I went shopping. When I got to the checkout area I was presented with a choice: interaction with a human being, who had a waiting line, or with a checkout machine, who didn’t. Being caffeine-deprived and therefore impatient, I chose the latter, and as the mechanical woman’s voice thanked me ever so much in her modulated tone programmed to sound like...a singing toad!...I received that dystopian jolt we all experience from time to time no matter how much we deny its existence, the realization that we have not only successfully trained ourselves off of the toad’s song but that we are allowing those who think only in one-and-two-dimensional terms to use infernal, ubiquitous, even automated insults--with our active acquiescence, mind you--to train us off of ourselves. I was sorry, for the toads at least, because of the question this all presumes. If there’s none among us who are at the stage of Earth Wisdom where they can say with any measure of accuracy what it is that talus-bound toad has been singing to the Mountain for a million years, and if Science can't get us there--which it can't--then who among us can presume to claim we know enough not to be humble, and to therefore not leave the toad's world as alone as we possibly can while we meander down our own tedious course of learning to listen?


Poker Jim Wilderness rising above canoe route through the lakes of Warner Basin, Fourth Year of Drought
Southeastern Oregon

 Petroglyphs Lake, Fourth year of drought, Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge

Petroglyph Lake

Alkali Butte area in vicinity of Mary Harris' gravesite, Meek's Cutoff, Oregon Trail

Blitzen River, Southeastern Oregon

SunriseWarner Basin, Southeastern Oregon

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Stand and Fight

 “Think of this as an endless war,” Rick Berman told a roomful of gas and oil executives a few months before yesterday’s scorched-earth elections. “You can either win ugly or lose pretty.”

We suspect the Sons of A.L.E.C.[i] say such things to each other when they don’t think anyone’s listening, but we shouldn’t be surprised when a bit of the green zombie fluid that passes for blood in these creatures oozes through for us to gawk at. Snake oil is as American as P.T. Barnum and J.P. Morgan. In fact it's a hybrid of the two and has been around since at least as long as those rich, dead, white guys walked the Earth. 

Rick Berman, a Big Oil lobbyist, made the above comments while giving a pep talk about the infinite, patronizing wisdom of Big Oil’s handful of billionaires using dark money to throw elections. Oddly, his message was also meant to comfort the consciences of some of these extremely rich energy elites, some of whom apparently were feeling a bit queezy about participating in such a massively cynical and destructive con scheme as buying politicians for the sake of denying Global Warming. Some of these guys have kids, after all. To these executives whose souls haven’t yet been ossified in some tar pit, Berman’s message was: Not to worry!! Now that the Supreme Court has been firmly deep-pocketed by your boss, the Beast, you executives can relax. You, like the courtiers of King Louis the 16th, no longer need any stinking public opinions. Winning, as in plutocracy, is the only game in town now. Ask any rich football player. With enough money, you can beat your wife and beat the rap. Ask Louis the 16th. It’s just business.

Obviously their hubris will kill them, and we should all hope for their speedy and painful end. But if we don’t stand up to the gangrenous challenge tossed our way in the form of yesterday’s stolen elections and fight, it’ll kill us, too. We shouldn’t be surprised.

The only reason we know about Berman’s pep talk to these captains of Big Oil’s Scum Fleet is because one of those captains allowed his guilt to get the better of him and he leaked the contents of Berman’s message to the “liberal” press (full transcript) who dutifully buried it. Heard of Rick Berman? Probably not. Case closed, but the scum still leaves a sheen on the water that no one, not even the professional deniers, try to deny anymore.

If any American to the left of Attila had any doubts before yesterday’s elections that our country is being held hostage by filthy-rich sociopaths and downright psychopathic corpo-terrorists enabled by their bigoted, idiotic teabag “electorate”, these “election” results should disabuse them of their fantasies.

We have no democracy left in our elections. They have been sold to the highest bidder. Until we can effectively kill the flesh-eating zombie the corporate Supreme Court unleashed upon us—the Supreme Court that opines that zombie drool (and money) is speech—this will not only remain the case, but we will rot in our body politic until we match the foul appearance of its murderer.

This does not mean we are without democracy. It means that, notwithstanding notable and heartening exceptions, by and large Democracy does not reside in elections anymore. It lies in direct action. For the next couple of years, putting your bodies on the line for the sake of what you believe in and for what you hope your children will believe in is your vote.

Direct action does not mean violence. It does not mean the gunnut-style threat of violence. It means nonviolent civil disobedience. Placing your bodies, en masse, in front of the coal trains, the fracking rigs, the limosines carrying the zombie fodder to their next corporate feel-good power point seminar. It means placing yourself in the position of surviving Hurricane Katrina--that perfect metaphor of what these corpo-terrorists would like to do to all of us if given half the chance--and asking yourself “where can I be most useful?” It means saving lives. It means being creative. It means being brave, being very brave.

Direct action does not mean not voting. If boycotting elections to prove a point were going to work it surely would have by now. God knows we’ve given that approach plenty of chances. Progressive politics are our collective statement that we believe in Democracy and in civil society and that, as soon as we purge their filthy money out of our elections, we will have both. Until that happens, don’t look at rigged elections as the path to power. Look at them as statements. They know that we’re still out here and onto them, they know we're the majority and they fear us. Why else do they have zombie pep rallies with the likes of high-paid shills like Berman if they didn’t? Why else would one of those corporate elites have leaked his speech? They won't admit it but their actions, as always, belie their hearts, such as hearts are in their kind. 

Look at it this way. Capitalism, as these rich wingos define it, is dead. It's continued destructive existence can therefore only mean that the creatures who still adhere to it are flesh-eating zombies. That this is extremely problematic only clinches my point, because it's a fact that there’s nothing more fun than putting fear in the heart of a flesh-eating zombie.  Ask any Hollywood movie mogul. Zombies are, at best, conflicted beings and they wriggle so satisfyingly when they're distressed. Remember: we are the majority. They know that and are confused. They're wriggling. It's a fact. I rest my case.

There are those in America who don’t give a second’s worth of consideration as to whether snake oil is actually good for you or not. They gulp it right down because that’s what they’ve always done and because that’s what their momma and their daddy have always done and if it’s good enough for them and…etc. They are the minority. On the other hand, if you are the kind of American who has been around since long before the robber barons and their public relations scumbags tried to sell you the lie that you are not the majority, the kind of American who actually does place high value on freedom and democracy and who will stand and fight for those values, you should first of all be angry at this, another stolen election. You should be very angry. And then you should get ready to vote with your body, your direct action. Now is the time if there ever was one. There are plenty of opportunities. Look for them. Be creative. 

We haven't lost. Stand and fight.