Friday, September 26, 2014

Good Grief!

How does one deal with the 21st Century?! I’m not talking about such rabid declines into corporate fascism as peaceful anti-war activists getting put on Hilary Clinton’s thuggish “Be On The Look-out” list (BOLO)[i] while serious Clinton-haters like Bundy’s Army[ii] not only don't get arrested and roughed up but are allowed to continue causing their homegrown brand of armed, terrorist mischief [iii] Maybe I should.
            But not today. Today, I’m upset about my own deficiencies, more specifically about my not being able to figure out these *&^%#$!#! websites and cyber-gizmos and such.
            To point: Several people have commented on my blog without “my” blog informing me. I’ve tried to fix it and, so far, I can’t. To be fair to myself, when I ask for advice from a tech-savvy person, their directions sound something like this to me: “Why it’s simple! Just go to New York City and turn right on 4th Street!”
            But never mind, I'm admitting that this is my problem, and that I’ve let it go on long enough. Therefore, to all of you who are wondering if I exist somewhere other than in the vacuum of cyberspace, here’s my own, personal, unencryptioned email address: .
I know, I know I shouldn’t do this. I’ve just publicly called Hilary Clinton a thug and a hypocrite (and maybe misspelled her name which I refuse to look up!), and look what happened to Ray McGovern for doing less than that. I'll probably get hamfisted now at some airport by one of those people who took advantage of that wonderful T.S.A. government jobs program. For the record, please check out the links below and see if you don’t agree that things are truly whacky, but for God’s sake don’t say it out loud unless you’re a teabaggin’ terrorist who fancies snakey flags while riding a horse and pointing loaded assault weapons at real federal agents! They, apparently, can get away with it. You, if you're the peaceful sort, apparently can't.
      I think we're far past the point of fearing our government...our government or of blithely saying "Oh, all that stuff doesn't effect me. I'm not doing anything wrong." I hate to point out the obvious, but by now rationales like that have allowed us to degenerate to the point where you're probably doing something "wrong" enough to get put on some thuggish list just by reading this.

Once again, to point, all I'm saying' is: 
  • To the N.S.A., Screw you.
  • To my friends and readers, please call.
Whatever you say say nothin'
When you talk about you know what
For if you know who should hear you
You know what you'll get
They'll take you off to you-know where 
For you wouldn't know how long
So for you-know-who's sake 
Don't let anyone hear you singing' this song.

You all know what I'm talking' about
When I talk about you-know-what
And I fear it's very dangerous 
To even mention that
For the other ones are always near
Although you may not see
But if anyone asks who told you that 
Please don't mention me.


You all know who I'm talking' about
When I talk about you-know-who
And you know who could hear me
You know what she'd do
So if you don't see me again
You'll know I've gone away
But if anyone asks you where I've gone
Here's what you must say.


That's enough about so-and-so
After mentioning such-and-such
And I better end my song right now
I've already said too much
For the less you say and the less you hear
The less you'll go astray
And the less you think and the less you do
The more you'll hear them say.

Whatever you say say nothin'
When you talk about you know what
For if you know who should hear you
You know what you'll get
They'll take you off to you-know where 
For you wouldn't know how long
So for you-know-who's sake 
Don't let anyone hear you singing' this song.
                                                         Words and music by Colum Sands, Elm Grove Music

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On Bats and Birds, Ebola and the Lungs of the Earth

                                                                                                                                                                                          Watercolor by Daniel LaCroix

I’ve been on the ash-handled end of ecological restoration work for decades. I’ve planted hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of trees and owned and operated a native plants nursery when family obligations kept me closer to home. I kept my hand in the game, saved more than a couple postage-stamp areas of habitat with reclamation techniques that were, in my opinion, the most enlightened for their day. So I feel qualified to share a few thoughts about the 1964 Wilderness Law, Senator Jon Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act”, which releases millions of acres of Montana wild lands for exploitation, and trees.

The most recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa is already ten times greater in magnitude than any previous outbreak and shows no sign of getting better before it gets a lot worse. Past outbreaks measured human deaths in the teens and hundreds. Large numbers of chimpanzees and gorillas also perished, but they’re hard for us humans to count. So strictly on our terms, which ecological events never are, this outbreak’s count is already in the thousands and climbing daily. One ecological factor strongly linked to Ebola outbreaks is forest disturbance and the resultant fragmentation of its canopy. Deforestation. The unsustainable killing of trees. Sound familiar?

Lyme Disease has a similar ecological amplifier of interest to the only Great Ape on the North American continent—us. As forest habitat is fragmented, like the Tester bill would do, and is otherwise destroyed through gentrification and suburbanization such as we’ve seen occur in the Adirondacks and countless other places, its species diversity declines. Usually that means the predators go first. Mountain lions and wolves, of course, but also the owls and hawks and various other forest creatures who keep the main actor in the burgeoning Lyme Disease drama, the White-footed Mouse, in check. You can have a verdant suburb with as many bushes and trees in your yard as suits your idea of “the country”, green belts nearby with cute little bears carved out of leftover tree stumps. You can be just down the street from a “conserved” patch of forest, two patches, three or even four, and your forest will still be fragmented, compromised, unable to support the rich array of species that it needs to keep such diseases as Lyme in check.

Combine this with another little tidbit of news, just in from the National Audubon Society. It reports that more than half of the 650 species of birds studied in the United States and Canada are at risk from global warming. Again, you can have your bird feeders, with plenty of bushes and non-native trees growing in your yard and in pretty patterns all over the countryside, patterns dictated not by Nature and her requirements but by property owners and theirs. You can have cowbirds and starlings, in other words, or no birds at all. How silly.

Can you imagine a world without birds? Rachel Carson could sixty years ago, when she kick started the era that birthed such political poetry as the Wilderness Law. And yet we continued on our merry way, didn’t we? We should have known better, and yet we have consistently acted as though we didn’t. And now look. So it goes.

Senator Tester’s so-called “Forest and Jobs Recreation Act” is another tragic example of saving a few pieces of wilderness and grinding up the rest for the sake of politics and money, which always fragments the whole and renders any “saved” parts effectively meaningless. Release language within the law opens vast tracts of wild lands to frackers, for instance, who look at trees on top of “their resource” as just the first, relatively minor sacrifice in their quarterly-statement game. That’s enough trees for you, the corporate operatives and their politicians say, and they say it over and over and over again. That’s pretty enough for you. We’ll take the rest.

Senator Tester’s a nice guy in the wrong game, because when energy executives talk about trees, they’re talking about killing them, whole hog, whole forests, no matter what fragments they say they’ll “leave us”, because what’s left are always, always by any ecological definition, fragments and not functional in terms of healthy systems capable of sequestering hardy viruses that will spill over into human populations and become, within an evolutionary blink of an eye, deadly to us and to the balanced ecosystems our lives depend on. 

Here’s a hard-won restoration secret of mine. Politics, by necessity, is the only true restoration project left to us, because trying to save postage-stamp pieces of land one at a time won’t do, and it’s a tremendous amount of work to try at all. My secret to all the siloed-up progressive organizations who, true to our species can’t quite see the forest for the trees, is that the politics that’ll save us has to be the poetic kind, the deep kind, like Howard Zahniser’s Wilderness Law, not the “forest and jobs” kind, which makes a mockery of the beautiful depths Zahniser pioneered for us. Don't be afraid, I think he'd say if he were around today, of holding your breath for a little while.

Here’s another restoration secret. You don’t have to be an infectious disease scientist to understand the connection between trees and our specie’s well-being. We should know better. As we diminish our forests, so we diminish ourselves. So please, do think twice before allowing politicians or energy moguls to convince you that we simply must cut down a few more of our remaining, irreplaceable, intact forests for the sake of jobs or whatever other excuse they’ll wave in front of you like a matador’s cape to make you a more-fearful and compliant actor in their staged eco-tragedies.

We still have large, relatively intact ecosystems in Montana that are not protected, and they are now at risk more than ever, with Tester’s bill, with fracking, with Global Warming and with whatever other human impudence you care to name. We as a species are demonstrably not capable of fully comprehending how much of our remaining intact ecosystems are enough for our children’s children to survive on this planet. We are simply capable of humility, of saying, and meaning, “stop destroying what’s left”.

A tiny bit of Universe in the perfect form of round blue water spins around a giant of fire, over and over again for billions of years while simultaneously supporting life. Notwithstanding the randomness of Nature that our scientists observe and accurately report on, how is a mere human supposed to make sense such things without a little poetry?

So here’s a little poetry, the political kind if you will: Balance is what the Land seeks and Balance is what She will achieve. For the sake of our kids and theirs, let’s strive much harder than we currently are to be a humble and thankful part of a balance that doesn’t necessarily have to include us.

Think Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. Think Ebola and Lyme Disease. Think relatively-intact ecosystems and the watershed laws that have successfully, though tenuously, protected them and us up until now.

How about it? Let's evolve.

(Thanks extended to David Quammen and his excellent book, “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic”, W.W. Norton and Co., 2012)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Say Hell No! To Walmart

Crosman MK 177 Tactical Air Rifle
Here's a little food for thought regarding the recent shooting at a Walmart store of a young man by police officers in Beavercreek, Ohio. Beavercreek is an affluent, mostly-white suburb of Dayton. The young man, who was not white, had picked up a BB gun in the toy department. It was apparently a Crosman MK 177 Tactical Air Rifle, pictured above (all the pictures on this post come directly from Walmart's website  

What in the world, you might ask, is a "tactical" air rifle, and what is Walmart doing encouraging children to acquire "tactical" weapons? Before I opine on that, below are a few other choices the young man, who was not white and who was shot dead by police (shades of skin unknown by myself), may have found in the toy department at this typical Walmart in a typical, mostly-white affluent suburb of a large city.

 What ever happened, you might ask, to BB guns that don't look like real-life assault weapons. Not to worry. Here's one below, part of a kit complete with human targets...for practice in case you want to grow up to be a police officer in a mostly-white, affluent suburb.
Given that these pictures are all proudly displayed on Walmart's own website and are worth a thousand tortured words, here's the next question you might ask: Does Walmart have any second thoughts about being the mass purveyors of such merchandise in a country already overcharged with an idiotic Teabag ideology's fixation on assault weapons and the resultant plethora of mass shootings with assault weapons? Well no, says a Walmart spokesman. Ohio, you see, is an open-carry state.

So you do see, don't you, that it's not only perfectly legal for Walmart to display and sell "tactical" BB guns, it's just as perfectly legal for a young man to be carrying a real gun in a Walmart store... if you follow the logic, which I hope you can't.

Because it appears by every measure that the young man's real crime was to be of the wrong color while carrying a gun--real or BB--in a Walmart store. So, as promised, I'll leave you with some food for all your thinking: Would it have been a shootable crime for the young man to have been carrying the BB gun pictured below, also sold by Walmart, while black?
Are we there yet? Can we start evolving now, or at least start talking like grown-ups?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Columbia River Song by Bill LaCroix

Well, I can't quite figure out how to link up my video to the proper tab on my page yet, but I think you can access my sample here. The fiddle player and back-up singer on this tune is the inestimable Tom Robison of Bozeman, Montana. 

Woody Guthrie was a shameless plagiarist, and I think everyone can agree that he advanced our culture inestimably. As Pete Seeger's dad once said, "Plagiarism is the cornerstone of Civilization." I agree, and I believe if Woody could see what they've done to his river, he'd probably change his tune a bit about singing the praises of the Bonneville Power Administration, too. 

So here's my version. Changed, just a bit. 

Note: If anyone wants the whole CD, or can offer tips on how one gets what one wants out of  these exasperating 21st Century gizmos, give me a call: 406-363-1329.