30 September 2009


yesterday's earthquake, or more properly seaquake or submarine earthquake, which generated three separate tsunamis, set off all sort of alarms in my geologic, astronomic, and science-in-general brain. caused by a sudden slippage between tectonic plates in the earth's crust, such monumental events seize the imagination. i've experienced draught, a hurricane, a tornado, a total solar eclipse, blizzards, and a 500-year flood, but (so far) never a noticeable earthquake, tsunami or volcanic eruption. nor a meteor strike, come to that. please note that these are not among my fantasy events to experience!

back to tsunamis -- note the speed (up to 500 mph, or two-thirds the speed of sound) with which they move across the ocean. below is a map showing the travel times within the pacific basin. click to enlarge the image.

29 September 2009


who knew? in eastern europe there's a tv show called "Ukraine's Got Talent" -- you can predict the format, but never the sophistication and urgency of the sand animation of kseniya simonova. her work is in constant, fluid motion as she arranges and rearranges sand on a horizontal light table, shifting from scene to scene with grace and skill. unlike the intricate yet static traditional sand paintings of navajo artists, kseniya's work is constantly in motion, movie-like in its evolution of images.

for a compelling video of her during a competition, and the moving response among the audience and judges alike, click here.

28 September 2009


i was moved by this article in the NYTimes online, detailing how aging WWII veterans are able to visit the WWII memorial (click on images to enlarge) in washington, dc, through the help given by Honor Flight, a non-profit group of pilots and donors who transport vets to visit their memorial. since most aging vets cannot afford the trip otherwise, it is a worthy venture in a world where few think beyond their own lives or pocketbooks. my father is among the WWII vets whose numbers are swiftly diminishing through simple attrition. he is 84. while we have our differences, i will always honor him and his generation for the ready sacrifices that they made, literally saving the world from the depredations of a conquering madman.
it particularly pleases me that it is aviators, among whom i am one (if only in aspiration), who similarly demonstrate a selfless spirit in making the vets' visits possible. amid today's criminal greed and civil unrest, there is hope in gestures such as these.

27 September 2009


he's been out there soldier-in for a
fascist state, so don't ex-
pect too much fun on the
very first date, he'll be
missin the life, he'll be
missin the food, he'll be
goin around in this pe-culiar mood, wond'rin
how did he get back here in the World
with the freaked-out hippies and the
dopesmokin girls, and it's a

long trip out, from the Ia Drang Valley,
it's a sad bad ride, when you're far away
from the good ol' boys you left behind in-country,
where the only thing you want is
just another day . . .

well it may sound to you like a custom exhaust,
but that ain't what he's hearin and he's
flashin back, lost in the
middle of a night full of fire and fear, and he
don't even know who
he's hangin with here, and that
joint you been smokin that you thought would help
it's just makin things worse, you're even
foolin yourself, 'cause it's a

long trip out, from the Mekong Delta . . .
it's a last lost chance, when you need a friend,
and you're flyin on out of
Cam Rahn Bay at midnight,
and you won't know how to
get back home again.

~~~ from the novel Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon


101 years ago today, the first production Ford Model T was built in detroit -- revolutionizing industry with ford's vision of the assembly line, and forever shrinking the entire globe as family travel became affordable to all, and incidentally creating the need for a network of roads culminating in the interstate highway system.

26 September 2009


forty years ago today, arguably one of the twenty greatest albums of all time (measured in originality, production values, or impact on the music world) was released -- the beatles' Abbey Road. it was the last album recorded by the monumentally talented band, though another album, Let It Be, was the last to be released. the beatles are legendary as one of the most influential groups of the twentieth century, even though they were active as a group for a relatively short time, 1960-1970. john lennon, paul mccartney, george harrison and ringo starr produced multi-layered music and movies, and were at the center of controversy in their professional and personal lives, both as a group and individually.

25 September 2009


here are two views toward the center of our galaxy, the milky way. the first is an enormously zoomed-in image, a photomosaic taken from the ESO paranal observatory in chile, showing the intricate dust lanes, bright nebulae and star clusters scattered through the center's rich starfields. and the second is a zoomed-out view, an 800 million pixel photomosaic of images taken from exceptionally clear sites at the atacama desert in the southern hemisphere, and the canary islands in the northern hemisphere. click on each image to enlarge.

24 September 2009


periodically a film is released which purports to show what it is like to be a teacher, usually with troubled or rebellious teenage students. most such movies range from mundane to grossly saccharine, hopelessly idealized or just plain misinformed. examples of films which are profoundly WORTH seeing are Dangerous Minds, Stand and Deliver, Finding Forrester, Lean on Me, and (somewhat marginally) Mr. Holland's Opus.

enter The Class, winner of the palme d'or at the cannes film festival, based on the memoir "Entre les Murs" ("Between the Walls") by francois begaudeau, who played himself as the teacher in the film. mirroring life, in which lesson plans are often derailed by classroom crises or opportunities for spontaneous learning moments, the film's actors used the script only as a guide, a starting point for inspired improvisation. the result: layers of energy, subplot, nuance and expression which lent astounding credibility to the film.

i spent five years as a teacher (math, algebra, biology, environmental studies) and counselor at a private residential school for students diagnosed as SED -- severely emotionally disturbed. classes were relatively small, 12-15 students; and coed, with a ratio of 2 girls to 1 boy. i rarely bothered with detailed lesson plans, since any given class was guaranteed to be interrupted by heated debate, a fight, a thrown desk, a personal crisis, a runaway, and/or raging hormones, all compounded by most of my students being on psychotropic drugs -- a result of their having been physically, emotionally or sexually abused in their homes before being remanded by the courts to our care.

in such an atmosphere, i found it useful to maintain a loose mental outline of material to be covered, but mostly to teach off the top of my head. i had the material down cold, and thus was free to sieze opportunities to use a chance remark or question to take the class in a direction they would find both interesting and informative.

it is precisely this freedom to improvise which the film portrays so effectively. The Class was nominated for best foreign film at the u.s. academy awards, and should have won. very rarely do i rate a film with five stars -- for this one, my highest recommendation.

23 September 2009


the largest and most powerful launch vehicle ever made, the saturn v exceeded all other rockets in height, weight and payload. it was used by NASA's apollo and skylab programs from 1967 to 1973. at a mass in excess of 33,000 tons, and standing 363 feet (36 stories) tall, this monumental rocket (like its cousin in flight, the SR-71 blackbird) siezes the imagination and won't let go. whether launching manned lunar missions or components of skylab, the saturn v remains unparalleled in performance and service.

22 September 2009


on 22 september 1989, hurricane hugo made landfall on the continental u.s. my then-partner and i had just move to mt. pleasant, a suburb of coastal charleston, sc. as it happened, the path of the eye of the hurricane was precisely centered on mt. pleasant. hugo was the most destructive hurricane on record at that time, later surpassed only by hurricanes andrew and katrina.

joining several hundred thousand other residents, we obeyed the governor's order to evacuate inland. the single freeway was a maddening traffic jam, cars progressing by inches. hours later, we finally arrived at our motel (always call ahead to make reservations!!) in columbia, the state capital. there we waited for three endless days for the all-clear to return. when it arrived, we rushed back to see if our home had survived. the suspense was murder, as we droved through forests literally flattened by the force of the storm's winds (clocked as high as 160 mph), all the fallen trees pointing in the same direction -- downwind. what a relieve when we got back to charleston and found the cooper river bridge intact, allowing us access to mt. pleasant. debris was everywhere -- tree limbs and fallen trees, overturned cars, people's possessions ripped from their homes, sailboats carried far inland by the hurricane's storm surge. we were lucky -- our house was intact, save for a fallen pine tree lying across one corner of the roof. not even a broken window.

it was three weeks before electricity and water were restored, three weeks of camping out in one's own home. paradoxically, the hurricane provided me with a job, doing habitat restoration for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker with the u.s. forest service, in the nearby francis marion national forest. but that's another story.


i love the sciences -- biology, ecology, physics, chemistry, genetics, and of course, astronomy. today is the autumnal equinox, when the tilt of the earth's axis is inclined neither toward nor away from the sun. the moment of equinox this year happens at 2118 hours, UTC (greenwich mean time, or zulu time). the vernal and autumnal equinoxes are the two times of year when, around the globe, we experience an equal timespan of daylight and night.

it is the tilt of earth's axis with regard to the plane of its orbit around the sun, that is responsible for northerly and southerly latitudes having seasons. currently that tilt measure roughly 23.44 degrees. as you can see from the illustration above (click to enlarge), in the northern hemisphere when the north pole is angled toward the sun, we experience summer, centered on the summer solstice. when the north pole is angled away from the sun, we experience winter, centered on the winter solstice.

the earth's orbit is elliptical, meaning that at two phases of its orbit the planet revolves closer to the sun, and at the intervening phases it is more distant. some think mistakenly that it is this difference in distance from the sun that generates our seasons. but the distance effect is minimal, compared to the effect of our axial tilt. the changes in the angle of incidence of the sun's light and heat on the earth's surface, is the source of seasonal variations in weather, plant growth, and animal activity (including our own).

over geologic time, complicating matters is the fact that earth's axis undergoes precession, or wobbling, resulting in less or more severe seasonal variations, with consequences (in combination with other factors) as monumental as ice ages. not to worry, it takes about 26,000 years for the axis to describe a single cycle. any dizziness you may feel is psychological.

21 September 2009


on this day in 1937, j.r.r. tolkein's childrens tale The Hobbit was first published. the imaginative fantasy invented a number of characters and races of beings, which would later appear in fleshed-out form in tolkein's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, an epic work of staggering creativity which introduced an entire world, complete with written languages, histories, landscapes, traditions, and a vivid cast of characters. though lamely categorized as fantasy, LOTR is aimed at an adult audience. tolkien's stories generated a parade of copycat writers and a library of artwork, none of which comes close to the stunning achievement of director peter jackson's film trilogy -- The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), and The Return of the King (2003). (click on images to enlarge)

20 September 2009


as noted in my post on 06 september, wolves and humans have struck a dynamic balance with each other going back decades, in minnesota and michigan. when i taught biology, math and environmental studies to h.s. kids in suburban philadelphia in the early 90s, i explicitly recall discussions of where (at the time) the various sub-species (red wolf, gray wolf, mexican wolf) could be found in the u.s., and in particular the healthy acceptance of this intelligent top predator in the upper midwest.

once again, a recent article in the Missoula Independent confirms my position -- spelling out how the human-lupine coexistence came into being, and is maintained to this day. in the context of the virulent controversy surrounding the utterly needless murder of wolves in idaho and montana, propelled by bloodlust and myth-driven fear, the minnesota model for management is a progressive and enlightened paradigm shift. whether you love wolves or hate them, or just aren't sure what to think, please check out this brief but informative article. thanks !!

19 September 2009


in the excellent feature article of this week's Missoula Independent, writers skylar browning and r.c. hooker explore the notion of bypassing the obscenely expensive funeral industry when someone dies, and opting instead for green burial -- i.e. burial in winding sheets or a plain pine box. i have advocated for exactly this approach for forty years. we insolate the bodies of our loves ones in hardwood or metal caskets, preventing their components from rejoining the natural cycle of decay, soil enrichment, and nourishment of numberless plants and animals. this is criminal.

it became a fashionable (and still expensive) alternative in recent years to choose cremation. true, a cremated body takes up less room in overcrowded cemetaries. and true, there is a certain romantic cache to having one's ashes scattered to the winds, whether at sea, in the mountains, or from the air. but it still bypasses the natural cycle described above.

some states and municipalities actually have laws which specify the method of corpse preservation and burial, ostensibly for public health reasons -- though when it comes to environmental pollution, the overwhelming source is the coffins themselves -- but in the end serving to line the pockets of the funeral industry. if i lived in such a place, and knew that my demise was imminent, i would follow the example of the lost hiker in edward abbey's seminal memoir Desert Solitaire, a recollection of his summers spent as a seasonal ranger in utah's arches national monument. one year abbey was called upon to join a search party looking for a hiker who'd been missing for some time. eventually the searchers found the missing man, dead, seated leaning against a tree growing near a ledge with a spectacular view of the sandstone canyonlands (click on image above). abbey remarked that the man appeared to be completely at peace, surrounded by such beauty.

failing the availability of green burial, that is what i would choose -- to arrange all my financial and property affairs, find good homes for my cats, bid loving goodbye to my family and friends, and hike into the seclusion of a remote wilderness, there to allow myself to die in peace, and be consumed by microbes and bacteria, and recycled into shrubs and trees. what a beautiful ending, it seems to me, and one chosen, not forced into.

need further persuasion? check this out -- as noted in the article, according to the green burial council, the following materials accompany human remains into the earth every years:

~ 30 million board feet of casket wood, including tropical hardwoods.
~ 90,000 tons of steel, or enough to build the golden gate bridge.
~ 1.6 million tons of concrete, or enough to build a two-lane highway from new york to detroit.
~ 800,000-plus gallons of embalming fluid, or enough to fill an olympic-sized swimming pool.
and then there is the financial cost, which hits bereaved families when they are in a vulnerable emotional state (a feature of funerals that in particular reminds me of gathering scavengers). according to the industry's own national funeral directors association, a breakdown of average funeral costs looks like this:

~ $1,595 for non-declinable basic service fee
~ 233 for removal/transfer of remains to funeral home
~ 550 for embalming
~ 203 for other preparation of the body
~ 406 for use of facilities/staff for viewing
~ 463 for use of facilities/staff for funeral ceremony
~ 251 for use of a hearse
~ 120 for use of a service car/van
~ 119 for basic memorial printing package
~ 2,255 for metal casket
~ 1,128 for vault
~ $7,323 total cost

if the bereaved family weren't already shaken and grieved by the death itself, the cost of the funeral would surely be cause for depression. please take the time to read the green burial article. it provides information we all need to consider before that gruesome time of need.

18 September 2009


the other day i discovered quite by accident the existence of a species of wild felines entirely new to me -- the clouded leopard. i'd known of the african-asian leopard, and the snow leopard of central asia. the clouded leopard is the largest among small to medium sized cats in nature. it was so named because of the elliptical markings edged in black on its body, which sometimes create the illusion of shifting clouds. remarkably, clouded leopards are mainly arboreal hunters, and can hang upside down from tree limbs, as well as descend tree trunks head first.

the range of this elusive cat includes much of forested southeast asia. how i wish that i'd had the chance to see one, during my year in vietnam !!

it is a minor miracle to me that after centuries of humans marginalizing and destroying the natural world, still creatures of mystery remain. the feelings of wonder and discovery help to balance my grief over all the species and habitats that have disappeared just during my lifetime, not to mention the centuries preceding. there are too damned many humans on this planet, by a factor of at least ten, perhaps a hundred, maybe even a thousand. what to do? what to do?

17 September 2009


former president jimmy carter weighed in on the venomous opposition to barack obama by rabid conservatives in this country, most recently around the issue of health care reform. he spoke with news anchor brian williams, and made the connection which is obvious to most blacks, and to many whites who've given thought to the black experience in white america -- i.e., that there is a clear and disturbing element of racism among conservatives, which clouds what might be an otherwise legitimate expression of concern over health care. to illuminate the connection, consier this -- in the 2008 presidential election, in predominantly conservative states such as mississippi, louisiana and alabama, white voters chose obama by margins barely topping 10%, compared to the national white vote for obama of 43%.

jimmy carter was maligned during and just after his presidency (1977-1981), but he has earned the enduring respect of people from all political persuasions by living his beliefs -- by acting as a peace envoy to troubled nations around the world (earning him the nobel peace prize in 2002), by organizing and participating in habitat for humanity, and by voicing valid concerns over election reform, human rights, the death penalty, and a long list of other issues.

carter has never been afraid to call it as he sees it, in a manner calculated to encourage rational discussion rather than angry debate and name-calling (the hallmarks of recent conservative republican contributions to the public debate, illustrating the essential bankruptcy of their policies -- ad hominem attacks are the last resort in any civilized debate, when the speaker has nothing of substance to offer). thankfully, jimmy carter has always had ideas of substance to offer. click here to sample the interview he gave.

16 September 2009


i've been a railroad fan since i was a small child. my dad worked as an army brakeman on the railroads of france and germany during WWII, and i guess the gene got passed along. there's something hypnotic about riding the rails, being free to watch the passing countryside from a wholly different perspective than that found on a highway. equally fascinating (to me) are model railroads -- the elaborate setups created by clubs in larger cities are breathtaking in their detail and scope.

i came across this article and photo of the eritrean railway the other day on wikipedia. the photo alone (click on the image to enlarge) is worth the price of admission. eritrea is a country most americans couldn't locate on a globe to save their lives -- which makes the article all the more interesting to me. enjoy.

15 September 2009


i watched the womens' and mens' competitions of the u.s. open tennis tournament only sporadically over the weekend, so missed the climactic moment when a line judge called a foot fault on serena williams at the critical point in the final match, costing serena the match and the tournament. given that the official was sitting 75 feet away, and ostensibly seeing an infraction that involved fractions of an inch, it is understandable that a highly competitive and adrenaline-rushed athlete would momentarily lose her cool. video replays revealed that it was impossible to tell whether serena's foot had in fact touched the baseline. please check out this article for a fuller description.

here's what i find more fundamentally disturbing -- the kill-a-mosquito-with-a-howitzer reaction of tennis officials and the media was totally out of proportion to the event. a male player would not have been subjected to the sanctions that were imposed on serena. witness the historic (and often hysterical) antics of jimmy connors, john mcenroe, ilie nastase, or andre agassi. further, serena and other women tennis players labor within the good ol' boy, country club atmosphere which persists in professional tennis. they're still required to wear silly short skirts, and must perform to near-perfection to garner the attention paid to male players (the unspoken assumption: white male players).

so yes, gender bias and race bias still exist among us -- in sports, in politics, in every aspect of our lives. we've come a long way, baby -- but we have oh, so far to go.

14 September 2009


in 1990, while i was living in charleston, sc, i was privileged to board and explore a full scale replica of HMS Golden Hind, the galleon which the remarkable sir francis drake commanded on his circumnavigation of the globe (1577-1580). my fascination with old sailing ships aside, one of the salient features of the ship was that belowdecks the ceilings and doorways were so low, a graphic reminder that we humans have grown measurably taller in recent centuries. for comparison, a roman centurion from two millenia ago might have been considered quite tall if he stood at 5'6".

13 September 2009


special thanks to bill in chicago for sharing this with me. j.s. bach is one of a vanishingly small number of composers/musicians who genuinely deserve the description "genius". bach was a revolutionary giant, transforming western music in a paradigm shift that persists to this day. if one likens the structure of music to the vocabulary, grammar, syntax and semantics of language, as leonard bernstein did so eloquently in his six norton lectures (titled "the unanswered question", borrowing from charles ives) at harvard university, then bach was without peer. he was the master-of-masters at inventing and re-inventing the language of music, in subtle and complex layers of expression which remain potent and inspiring even today, even to those who have studied music for years.

as mark frauenfelder declares in the subtext notes, "this video of canon 1 and 2 from bach's Musical Offering (1747) being turned into a moebius strip, then played in two directions at the same time, would have been good to watch and listen to while i was reading the mind-bending Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid." to see what all the fuss is about, click here.

12 September 2009


for your political viewing pleasure, here is a video collection of seven encounters between political opponents from around the world, culminating in the recent moment when joe wilson made a public ass of himself by yelling at barack obama "you lie", during a presidential address to a joint session of congress which was televised to the nation. in this observer's never-to-be-humble opinion, the republicans are running on fumes, and simply have no material of substance to offer, other than screaming and name-calling. but hey, i could be wrong. it happens at least once a year.

11 September 2009


no, i haven't gone all woo-woo new age on you. it's just that by coincidence, a couple of facebook friends have adopted user names from their respective cultural legends. a woman of irish ancestry likes the name pookah, a figure in celtic myth who is a shape-shifter, capable of assuming dark and terrifying forms, but who does no real harm to those it encounters. a greek woman uses paramuthenia, a similar mythic faerie. (notice i'm not using the current spelling "fairy", to provide disambiguation from perjorative anti-gay slang, and also to lend an air of antiquity to the discussion.)

i've been fascinated with cultural mythology ever since my two years spent in high school latin class. we studied classical greek, roman and norse myths, relying heavily on edith hamilton's landmark text. it was both fun and informative, since those myths underlie cultural references that survive in modern english. and since the latin language is the basis for all the romance languages (italian, spanish, french) and much of english besides, that linguistic foundation has been most helpful to me over the years.

so thank you, mrs. o'brien, and here's to all you shape-shifters out there........

10 September 2009


fortuitously, an article appeared in NewWest.net, the alternative e-news source for missoula and montana, paralleling my thoughts on the wolf hunt being conducted in idaho and montana (see my post for 06 september 2009) -- complete with responses from hunters and non-hunters. check it out here.


from the insightful, tongue-in-cheek novel Empire Falls, by Richard Russo (made into an HBO miniseries) --

"in matters of affection, the rules of engagement at Empire High were detailed yet unambiguous, an extension of procedures established in junior high, a set of guidelines that couldn't have been any clearer if they'd been posted on the schoolhouse door. if you were a girl and your heart inclined toward a particular boy, you had one of your girlfriends make inquiries from one of that boy's friends. such contact represented the commencement of a series of complex negotiations, the opening rounds of which were handled by friends. boy's friend A might report to girl's friend B that the boy in question considered her a fox, or, if he felt particularly strongly, a major fox. those experienced in these matters knew that it was wise to proceed cautiously, since too much ardor could delay things for weeks. the girl in question might be in negotiations with other parties, and no boy wanted to be on record as considering a girl a major fox only to discover that she considered him merely cool. friends had to be instructed carefully about how much emotional currency they could spend, since rogue emotions led to inflation, lessening the value of everyone's feelings. once a level of affection within the comfort zone of both parties was agreed upon, the principals could then meet for the exchange of mementos -- rings, jackets, photos, key chains -- to seal the deal, always assuming that the seconds had properly represented the lovers to begin with ........

"the cutthroat savagery of high school romance inspired in nearly all adults a collective amnesia. having survived it themselves, they locked those memories far away in some dark chamber of their subconscious, where things that were too terrible to contemplate are permanently stored. the more skilled you were at the game in high school, the more deeply your guilty recollections were buried. this was the reason parents so often worried vaguely about their high school children, yet balked at inquiring after their social lives. heartbreak, they reassured themselves, was 'all part of growing up'."

09 September 2009


courtesy of xkcd, the most excellent webcomic with a new posting every weekday. as a trained biologist with some experience with punnett squares, i can relate................

07 September 2009


this is a 1906 photo (click to enlarge) of child laborers in a glass factory in indiana, taken by lewis hine for the national child labor committee, which formed after the 1900 census revealed that about one in six children between the ages of 5 and 10 were gainfully employed. hine's photos of children working in industrial settings resulted in a wave of popular support for federal child labor regulations put forward by the NCLC.

we've come a long way since then. and we have a long way yet to go. the u.s. version of capitalism, with its emphasis on monumental profits for CEOs and stockholders at the expense of the very workers who make those profits possible (low wages, abyssmal health benefits, restricted paid holidays, gruelling working conditions) ........ sucks. compared to the nations of europe and other progressive parts of the world, we are pathetic.

so beware the flag-waving hype, and remember how readily those in power will take advantage of those who toil to make a living. something like 95% of the nation's wealth resides in the hands of fewer than 5% of its citizens. this is enlightened democracy? these are the fruits of american capitalism? tell me that reforms are not needed, and i'll call you the world's most gullible fool.

06 September 2009


ever since the gray wolf was delisted as an endangered species in select parts of its range in the rocky mountain west, and responsibility for "management" of wolf populations in those areas was turned over to the respective states, rabid hunters and ranchers have been clamoring for a legalized wolf hunt, ostensibly to thin the numbers of wolves to a "reasonable" level -- which to most of them means zero wolves. sadly and predictably, idaho was the first to institute a legal hunt, and my native montana was right behind (though that effort is under appeal in u.s. district court).

on september 1, the Missoulian reported the first wolf kill (murder) in idaho under the now legal aegis of state licensing. the hunter, a real estate agent, took the day off work and dispatched his victim with a high-powered rifle and scope -- from 25 yards away. i'm thinking, for this you need a scope?? big brave hunter.

i'm also thinking, for the craven mentality that sees nature as something which humans must conquer, rather than as the source of our species' well-being and health, wolves (and indeed all large predators) will always be mistakenly viewed as a threat -- not a direct physical threat to human lives, but rather a threat to the ungulate game species (elk, deer, etc.) for which we compete, and/or a threat to the cattle, sheep and other livestock which we humans introduced into the wolves' historic range. never mind that there is a mountain of evidence which refutes this view. in the dark mythos which surrounds the wolf in our culture, pathological denial runs deep.

to the hunters i say this -- for millenia, wolves have enhanced the health of their prey species, culling the old and infirm from the herd. there has always been a dynamic balance in nature between predators and prey, long before european settlers brought their blood lust to north america. if you are a true hunter and take pride in your fieldcraft, trade in your rifle for a camera. you will still have to understand your target animal's daily and seasonal habits, the terrain, the weather, and your own limitations. any photos you bring home will be more worthy of pride than a macabre stuffed head mounted on your wall. i double-dog dare you to rise to my challenge, if you have the cajones. even better, become a guide for the growing numbers of ecotourists who would pay handsomely to photograph these magnificent, intelligent animals in the wild.

to the ranchers and stockmen i say this -- get over it. gray wolves in the upper midwest (minnesota and michigan notably) have gotten along fine with dairy and livestock farmers for decades, thanks largely to a program for reimbursement from governmental and private conservation groups for any animals legitimately lost to wolves (and there are many, many false claims of wolf predation made by those who would abuse the system), and thanks also to easy, common-sense protection measures taken by residents. there is nothing preventing similar programs from allowing you to turn a profit in the west, except your own stubborn, willful ignorance and false pride. education and cooperative effort is to everyone's advantage. simply saying "kill the goddamn vermin" will only eradicate them from the wild needlessly, as we did in the early 20th century.

i grew up in a hunting culture. as a boy i hunted small game, mostly pheasants. i take no great pride in this, it was simply how i was raised. as a thinking adult, i learned to question assumptions, and gave up hunting. i have no problem with those who truly hunt for subsistence, which in our culture is a rarity. but i have zero respect for those who hunt for trophy animals, or out of blood lust. i've been known to place my own body on the line in defense of hunted animals, and will do so again -- armed or unarmed. confrontation in defense of nature is no vice. murder in defense of profit is no virtue.

in followup stories, the idaho hunter is bewildered to have received angry phone calls and mail, denouncing his actions. time to get a clue, seems like. in the meantime, all you wolf hunters out there, you might want to keep a loose eye over your shoulder. you never know when environmental activists might be stalking you -- not to harm you, but to spoil your fun.

05 September 2009


on this day in 1972 at the summer olympics in munich, west germany, members of the israeli olympic team were taken hostage and eventually murdered by black september, a militant group with ties to yasser arafat's fata organization. the events of that bloody night, and the retaliatory hunt for the murderers by an israeli counter-terrorist team, was portrayed in the film munich. there exists controversy regarding the accuracy of the hunt, but none regarding the depiction of the massacre itself.

a sample film clip from the movie can be seen here. it is not for the faint of heart.

in memoriam.

04 September 2009


with regard to the virulent, irrational and downright twisted attacks on the adminstration's health care proposals, and in particular on the president's every word and move, WHY IS NO ONE STATING THE OBVIOUS -- rabid claims of obama's being everything from a socialist to a nazi are nothing but thinly disguised RACISM. if it were a republican making these proposals, the heavens would part and we would hear the sound of harps and trumpets -- just as it took a republican president, richard m. nixon, to finally establish relations with communist china, when such overtures by a democratic president would have resulted in his/her being tarred and feathered.

yes, i know that obama was elected by a significant majority. so what? the electorate was (and remains) in a state of shock and disgust over the excesses of the bush presidency, and in a rare fit of good sense, sent an intelligent and progressive man to the white house ... only to realize after the fact that "OMG, he's black !! he can't possibly have anything positive to contribute to the status quo."

i am sickened by the recent display of slander, lies and deceit by conservative politicians, talk show hosts and right wing wackos. the orchestrated torpedoing of public debate by organized screamers and liars drives me to homicidal ideation. is this the most enlightened discourse to which we can aspire in a democratic republic?

and where are the democrats? i've often thought of republicans as corrupt, and democrats as inept. i've seen nothing to dissuade me from this perception in recent days.

and the corporate media? utterly disgraceful --"reporting" on cheap hyperbole, rather than on the meat of the issue. i can only smile bitterly when i hear the term "liberal media". in the u.s. what passes for news has always been filtered through a conservative bias so effectively as to be nearly useless. anyone who believes in that particular red herring is either barking mad or deliberately delusional.

i believe barack obama to be an honorable, immensely intelligent and deeply perceptive man. i believe that the health care system in this country is driven by greed and profit, not by the desire to foster health. the u.s. has the most abyssmal health care system in the industrialized world, with the highest infant mortality rate, the highest incidence of "accidental" death in hospitals, the highest incidence of morbid obesity among both adults and children, and the poorest response to those in dire need. whether we're talking about pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies, hospitals, physicians, or any other arm of the for-profit system, the result is the same -- pay or die.

i can only hope that wiser, more thoughtful heads will prevail in this and other debates. the years since the reagan era have been ugly enough. it is long past time that we started to gather our wits and rationally plan for a sustainable future for our children, and for the planet which sustains us. the time is NOW.

03 September 2009


i just returned a few hours ago from a week-long family reunion in my home town -- my parents, me, my son and his wife and son. four generations. relationship dynamics are always interesting at these events -- as in the ancient chinese curse, "may you lead a long and interesting life". but there was also much joy, and regret in parting. no need to bore you with further details.

so starting tomorrow, my more substantive posts will resume. for now, let's spend a moment recalling that on this day in 1886, after more than 25 years of fighting against the armies of mexico and the u.s., the chiricahua apache warrior geronimo (1829-1909) surrendered at skeleton canyon in arizona. as often happened, the u.s. broke its promise to him that he could return to his homeland after two years' exile in florida. geronimo never lived to see arizona again.