Sunday, December 18, 2005

America's Turf Terror (IV)

The former members of the 9/11 commission said recently that the U.S. Congress and the White House have done a miserable job protecting the country from another terrorist attack. Especially harsh criticism was leveled against Congress for not securing chemical plants. Surprised? Why? The industry has been buying politicians for years, as well as deliberately misleading the public.

One of the national lawn care companies states in its sales brochure that it's got chemicals for early spring to deal with "winter stresses." In the early summer it has chemicals to help you "prepare" for the nasty summer. In the early fall the candy man has the elixir to help your sensitive mono-turf recover from the "stresses of summer." And of course they promise winter protection for your lawn's "winter survival." How did nature survive before humans developed all these chemicals and tools to create and protect our precious, artificially induced neighborhood turf? If it talks like a snake oil salesman....

It's legitimate to ask what did they know and when did they know it, as far back as the end of World War II. After the war the chemical companies reworked the original formulas. Lower doses were created to kill insects instead of people. The toxicity to humans, however, did not suddenly vanish. What did become more difficult was establishing cause and effect and the connection between symptoms and exposure. But fifty years later we've learned a lot about the cumulative and possibly long lasting effects of these toxins on the environment, on animals, and on people.

For many researchers and scientists it has already talked like a duck. A number of commonly used lawn pesticides may have links to cancer, kidney and liver disease, birth defects, and neurological disorders, to name just a few possibilities. Pesticides have been found in groundwater, and are toxic to birds, bees, fish and aquatic organisms.

DDT, the pesticide that was banned back in 1971, still turns up in animal tissue more than thirty years later, along with PCBs, chlordane, dieldan, and a host of other synthetic chemicals. A Canadian study sponsored by Environmental Defense, examined blood and urine samples of volunteers living in different parts of the country. All the volunteers had high levels of assorted chemicals, which included pesticides. The Center for Disease Control in the United States has also conducted similar studies and has come up with similar results.

The chemical fertilizers we pour on our lawns, and golf courses--a disturbing story all its own, are "stimulants." They wash away and increase concentrations of nutrients that can end up intensifying algae growth and decreasing dissolved oxygen in water.

We Americans clearly love our poisons. By some estimates at least 90 million pounds of pesticides are tossed on our lawns and gardens. We also tend to apply them more intensively than farmers do on their crops. Agriculture averages about 2.7 pounds per acre, while homeowners average somewhere between 3.2 to 9.8 pounds per acre for lawns.

The Audubon Society has estimated that a "typical" lawn might receive as much as 20 pounds of fertilizer and 10 pounds of pesticide a year. Finally, a one-third acre lawn could consume 170,000 gallons of water in a summer!

The Environmental Protection Agency has listed lawn mowers as an important source of ozone-causing pollution. In fact, the EPA found that lawn and garden equipment in metropolitan areas (where most of us live) increases air pollution in some cases by more than 20 percent. A member of the California Air Resources Board once said that using a gasoline-powered lawn mower for one hour is like "driving a minimum of 10 cars." This person also added it could be "up to 30 or 40" if you're using an old lawn mower.

Want a lawn that's fairway smooth? Sam Snead's voice whispers from the past. Well, not as much as we once did, Sammy ... fortunately. But we're still poisoning ourselves and our children to death. But don't worry. Trust us. Be happy.

There are plenty of alternatives to "plastic" lawns, as well as ways to change stupid laws. Just a few places to begin:

Wild Ones:
"When Cities Grow Wild":
National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns:
EPA, "Lawn and Gardens":
Refuse to Use Lawn Chemicals:
Lawn Mower Pollution:
Pesticide Action Network North America:

SourceWatch: A good place to find out about industry "front" groups.

About your friendly chemical industry:

Environmental Working Group:
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility: "What is CHEERS?"
Chemical/manufacturers top recipients:
AlterNet, "Open to Attack" 10/29/03

Saturday, December 10, 2005

America's Turf Terror (III)

We are watching the entire United States, but particularly the border states of New York, Connecticut, Maine, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Washington, for any activity relating to banning pesticides.
[Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, 2005 (pesticide/fertilizer lobbying group)]

What are the final pieces in America's multi-billion dollar "grass" trade industry?

Weed control ordinances started appearing in the mid-1940s, and over the next fifty plus years they arose in practically every metropolitan area of the U.S. Within a remarkable uniformity of acceptable appearance, there were also numerous differences. It was generally agreed that grass had to be kept short, but short could mean no more than 10 inches in some towns, 12 inches in others, 14 in some, and so forth.

Everyone agreed that "weeds" were bad, but what constituted a weed could vary considerably from one town to the next. Once you got beyond crabgrass, dandelions, and one or two other all-purpose villains, the weed menace got murky.

Penalities varied as well, from only a slap on the wrist to hefty fines for violations. The stated reasons for enacting these laws were numerous. For some communities weed control laws "protected" the public from neglectful homeowners. Sometimes it was because tall grass and weeds were considered a fire hazard or an attraction to rats and mosquitoes. In some cases weed control laws were enacted because weeds supposedly produced pollen and therefore caused suffering among people with allergies.

Once in a while the ordinance was thought important because it helped prevent the growth and camouflage of, er, possibly an illegal substance? The lawn and garden industry, in general, was more than happy to encourage and promote all the half-truths and outright fairy tales that have blanketed America, pretty much to the present.

It is not uncommon today in many communities across America, perhaps on a spring Saturday in June, to find the noise levels approaching mid-town Manhattan at rush hour. SUV-sized lawnmowers lumber across the grass, while the sound from the house next door might be the whirl of the omnipresent weed whacker, or better still, the screech of the leaf blower. Down the street someone with furrowed brow is clutching the gasoline or electric powered hedge clippers.

Finally, at the corner house, the lawn company truck pulls up. This time it's the chemical folks about to put down the "needed" spring fertilizer, the June herbicide, or maybe the quarterly fungicide. Next time it might be the lawnmower guy with his gargantuan machine. He'll race across the lawn, give a quick once over with the "whacker," and then hop back in his truck. Time is money. Turn on your lawn sprinkler and relax.

The devil--as we've often heard--is in the details. The details, as we're learning more and more, could be long lasting and quite unpleasant. But that's the next, and final, story.

The pesticide and fertilizer lobby in the United States may have to become even more vigilant. The Supreme Court of Canada recently upheld a Toronto pesticide ban, which permits Canadian cities to stop the use of "controversial" lawn chemicals. Croplife Canada, a trade association that includes pesticide producers, had been fighting the Toronto law for two years. Is it only a matter of time before these "dangerous" ideas seep across America's northern border and destroy our way of life? Thank goodness for Homeland Security and the Patriot Act.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

America's Turf Terror (II)

Somewhere west of Laramie there's a broncho-busting, steer-roping girl who knows what I'm talking about. This is the first sentence of the now famous 173-word advertisement for the Jordan Motor Car Company that appeared in the 1920s. The age of modern advertising began in this decade. Anything could be sold to the public these modern day alchemists told their clients ... and they were mostly right.

The 1920s proved to be a sparkling new era for American lawns and all it represented. The wealthy created gardens on large estates from the east coast to the west coast. The popularity of golf took off in the 1920s. As more and more Americans started playing the game, it wasn't long before a few perceptive businesses and advertisers started encouraging homeowners to create that golf course "look" with their own lawns. The Depression and World War II slowed things down but only momentarily.

The chemical companies had been kept busy during the war developing various compounds and mixtures, in the fight against fascism. What they had discovered and developed during wartime, they were determined to market during peacetime.

A "new" series of summer insecticides appeared in the 1950s. They included DDT, DDD, BHC as well as chlordane, aldrin, and dieldrin. Some of the phosophates included parathion, diazinon, and metacide. The list went on and on. Some "experts" even talked about the future for curing plant disease might be chemotherapy. Cancer patients were apparently not the only ones with some hope now.

A number of lawn care people recommended products that had been developed by military chemical warfare specialists--as a weapon against crabgrass. Chlordane was initially thought to be the most effective herbicide. Then came potassium cyanate, followed by lead arsenate and ammonium sulfate. One chemical company came out with a product that was advertised as the ultimate in the war against broad-leaved weeds, the now infamous 2,4-D. Some fifteen years later this became the main ingredient in the defoliant Agent Orange used in Vietnam.

What a glorious time! Farmers were spraying crops with all these modern chemicals, wherever and whenever they could. Don't worry. Be happy. Trust us. Homeowners put down new lawns, poured on water, fertilizer, and lime. We mowed the lawns, not letting the grass grow more than a few inches. Then we added chemicals to kill "weeds," insects, and those damn rodents. We rested a while. Then we started all over again and again, and again. A drug-addicted landscape rapidly spread across America. Don't worry. Be happy.

But someone spoiled the party in 1962. A little known marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service named Rachel Carson wrote a book entitled Silent Spring. Perhaps what we were doing to our planet might be very bad Ms. Carson suggested; the massive, indiscriminate use of pesticides had to stop if we wanted a livable environment. The lawn care industry, especially the chemical companies, did not like what Rachel Carson had to say. But of course the industry, then and now, knew only one way to deal with any critic. They attacked her. She was threatened with lawsuits, and accused of being unqualified and hysterical, among other things. But a lot of unquestioned beliefs were beginning to unravel in the 1960s.

Friday, November 25, 2005

America's Turf Terror (I)

What was the best "con" of the twentieth century? My vote goes to the worldwide diamond trade. Debeers and friends, who consolidated the markets in the late nineteenth century, secured a monopoly of truly remarkable proportions. Who in the world today doesn't know that a diamond is forever and is also a girl's best friend?

The "grass" trade in the United States may not be in the same league as the diamond monopoly, nor did it deliberately start out in its early days to convince all Americans that a weed-free, dark green lawn, of a certain height and texture was a sign of integrity and character; nevertheless, the industry eventually understood, at least by the late 1940s, there was a lot of money to be made getting people to believe in that one "correct" way. They succeeded beyond anyone's expectations.

This multi-billion dollar business, run by the chemical and lawn equipment manufacturers, and supported by the numerous lawn maintenance companies, garden furniture, etc., had not caught my attention for some time, until I came across a recent magazine article about the annual trade show for the lawn and landscaping industry, held in Orlando, Florida.

Over the past several years the industry has had some financial difficulties, because of the public's increasing awareness of toxic chemicals, pollution, local pesticide bans, the growing natural landscaping movement and finally, cultural changes. It seems, however, that the industry has decided to fight back by attacking its favorite straw man, the "environmentalists," while at the same time trying to revive the old time religion. Some of the same marketing strategies used fifty years ago are being employed once again.

In the 1950s the American lawn arrived. The Garden Club of America, the United States Golf Association, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture exerted considerable sway over standards and convinced a lot of Americans they knew what was best. In How to Landscape Your Grounds, published in 1950, wealthier Americans were told, "it is inexplicable why we have so many heterogeneous, unattractive and commonplace properties otherwise refined and cultured." Later in the same book we learn that "those in the lower and medium income groups" want the same refinement as the upper crust.

This was also the period when the U.S. was in the "cold" war with the Soviet Union. We had to be vigilant--toward the communists as well as our grass. Advertisements were full of words like never surrender ... sure to-kill ingredients ... take up arms ... and slaughter by chemical warfare. Famous golfers like Sam Snead helped advertise the new power lawnmowers. Want a lawn that's fairway-smooth? Sammy asked us. Get a Toro.

Now there was the deliberate promotion of an unnatural aesthetic conformity, which over time covered millions of acres requiring billions of dollars in equipment, chemicals and upkeep. A nice lawn was, of course, a sign of substance and gravitas. And we believed every word of this artificial--and ultimately harmful--dreamscape. This illusion definitely needs to be relegated to the ashcan of history once and for all.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


The well-dressed man, probably in his thirties and clutching his bible, stood on the street corner outside of an Irish pub quite literally screaming about Jesus, sin, and impending doom. I'd just come out of the movie theater. Across the street two college boys yelled at him to "go fuck" himself. Not a good thing to say to an aspiring martyr. It began to drizzle.

The Kansas State Board of Education recently mandated that "Intelligent Design" be incorporated into the state science curriculum. A well-known medical establishment in Kansas City has decided to take its multi-million dollar stem-cell research program to Massachusetts, a friendlier science environment. Bob Dylan once sang of the reincarnation of Paul Revere's horse.

After more than 40 years of protection and preservation, the U.S. Senate voted to drill in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Stupidity and corruption are a potent combination. Yet--a week later--the House of Representatives took the oil drilling provision out of the budget bill. A temporary reprieve?

I read recently that with only 5 percent of the world's population the United States generates 30 percent of the world's trash. Who said America's manufacturing base is deteriorating? We've set a high bar for China and India to emulate.

Hurricane Katrina has worsened starvation in Malawi, a country in Africa few people have heard of. When Katrina shut down New Orleans' shipping, the Japanese had to buy their corn in South Africa. The price of South African corn shot up and Malawi couldn't afford it. A picture in a local newspaper a couple of days ago showed 2.7 million bushels of corn piled up outside of a co-op grain silo in Iowa. The silo is full and presumably the excess corn will rot. Could someone actually use this "extra" corn?

There seems to be a shortage of water in the Brazilian Amazon, as hard as that is to believe. In the southwest Brazilian Amazon many lakes are going dry, tons of dead fish are strewn along empty riverbeds, and villages dependent on water travel have become isolated.

No one can say for certain, but rising surface temperatures in the northern Atlantic might have something to do with the drought according to some. But others suggest that the massive deforestation in the Amazon has eliminated forest cover, which has reduced moisture and rainfall. "Negative synergies" as the researchers might say but regardless; the daisy chain is unraveling.

What's to be done? Diane Ackerman said in her book, An Alchemy of Mind, that evolution must have a sense of humor: We have brains that can conceive of states of perfection they can't achieve.

This is the "mysterious" of the moment. Of course a a sixth mass extinction is possible; we've had five over the past 400 million years. Scientists estimate that at least 99.9% of all species of plants and animals that ever lived are now extinct. Yet, new technologies and new ideas are springing up everywhere, everyday, in different places.

Environmental scientists speak of fragmentation, where large units of habitat are broken into smaller units. Thus, a loss of habitat as well as the isolation of the remaining territory occurs. A problem can develop when the interaction between some organisms situated in these different fragmentary locations causes them to be, for all practical purposes, separate populations. How fast can we alter human fragmentation? What are we willing to do--to do it?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

A Druid Nation

The well-known reality is that 102 Puritans from England landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts on December 21, 1620.

But instead of Puritans, imagine the same number of Buddhist monks had arrived. Or, perhaps a boatload of Druids came ashore on that cold, miserable day in December. Envision the last remaining members of that mysterious priesthood, first mentioned in Julius Caesar's diaries in 55 B.C, standing on the beaches of North America.

Would the original inhabitants of North America have been treated better? Would there have been slavery? Would the United States have become, for lack of a better word, a more eco-friendly country from the very beginning?

Alas, the arrival of Europeans, or for that matter benign Buddhist monks, probably meant the civilizations of North and South America were fated from the start, almost from the moment the conquistadors clanked ashore in their suits of armor in the fifteenth century. But it was not because of guns, or horses, or organization, or corruption of the locals--or Christianity. The unstoppable enemy was disease, unwittingly brought (at least initially) by Europeans, of which "Native-Americans" had no immunity.

Because of Jared Diamond and others, we know that geography matters--and matters a lot. Unlike the early inhabitants in the Western Hemisphere, Europeans had domesticated animals such as oxen, cows, and pigs that did not exist in North and South America. Humans contracted diseases that jumped from animals to humans and over time built up a degree of resistance to them. Columbus, Ponce de Leon, Cortez, Pizarro and other Europeans traveled with the ultimate weapon--not gunpowder--but hideous viruses like smallpox, typhus, influenza, diphtheria, and measles. It turned out to be an unimaginable "ethnic cleansing" of entire civilizations. It may have been the greatest pandemic in human history.

A number of Christian fundamentalists in the United States, in their feverish fantasy of turning the country into some nonsensical theocracy, claim that the U.S. is a "Christian" nation: Christian only among the deluded perhaps.

What we know now--because of science and a readiness to consider other possibilities--is that North America (along with Central and South America) was not an immaculate, virgin forest, inhabited by a handful of primitive savages--"noble" or otherwise.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the continent was teeming with civilization, and religion, and diverse groups of people, and yes, even wisdom ... the kind that may still have environmental relevance in our present day. Grasslands had been burned for thousands of years to prevent the encroachment of forests; farming was common; villages and towns existed throughout the continent; trade and commerce had been flourishing for hundreds of years. (For anyone interested in some fascinating--and oftentimes controversial--theories about the Americas, a worthwhile read is 1491 by Charles C. Mann.)

The what if struck me again and again as I read Mann's book. And, while the winners may write history, we humans collectively enjoy our "soothing" songs, stories, and myths. More to the point, we don't like them questioned or challenged.

About a week ago one of the leading science advisory groups in the United States said the U.S. "could soon lose" its competitive edge in science. But, if even half the numerous polls and surveys are correct, nearly three-quarters of Americans believe in and are guided by magic. What if?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

In Me Believe (2)

If religious emotions can be elicited by natural reality--and I believe that they can--then the story of Nature has the potential to serve as the cosmos for the global ethos that we need to articulate
Ursula Goodenough, biologist

Carlos Castaneda, a New Age superstar in the 1970's, had revelations while sitting with his mentor Don Juan in the Mexico desert, consuming peyote cactus and other hallucinogenic drugs. Castaneda would talk to the animals and sometimes become a crow--literally. Carlos received a doctorate in anthropology from UCLA in 1972.

Kathryn Lindskoog in her 1993 book Fakes, Frauds, and Other Marlarky said, "The next time you come close to a crow, try calling out 'Hello Carlos!' If you are high enough on peyote, you might hear the bird answer."

Rational thought, critical thinking--and science--have always held on by the slimmest of threads throughout human history. It's nothing new. Thinking, and certainly science, is hard work. Science believes knowledge of the external world can only be determined from objective investigation and, most importantly, is accessible to everyone.

Compared with critical thinking, the prophetic voice and "divine" inspiration is positively enchanting, and easy. Above all, it promises personal salvation or eternal bliss. Science only points out what is: It's ice cream versus spinach.

Some of our religious tales would sound like a lunatic's rant if uttered by a lone person at, for example, my fictitious encounter in the Little Rock airport in the previous article. But collectively we are quite willing to suspend disbelief, no matter how absurd the story might be. One of the silliest yarns, right up there with Jack and the Beanstalk, is the "communion host" during a Catholic mass magically turning into the living body of Jesus Christ.

A collection of old men in the thirteenth century formally established this cock-and-bull belief. At this same meeting these wise Christian clerics agreed on the "rules" of torture and further prohibitions against the evil Jews. While Islam at the present time has a tenuous hold on first place for sheer benightedness, many Christians, especially in the United States, are confident they can once again achieve the top spot they held for so long.

What remains to be said about Islam at this point? One apologia after another appears almost weekly informing us "this doesn't represent Islam." But it really does though; time to stop pretending otherwise. The description of the Islamic paradise conjures up an upper class Victorian brothel, where the rich and wellborn would vanish for a night of "otherworldly" pleasure. But in an Islamic society, where sex is so firmly repressed, all those virgins waiting beside the unpolluted brook in the afterlife sound deliciously compelling.

For a couple of weeks on the nightly news I watched Israeli settlers in the Gaza strip being dragged off by clearly uncomfortable Israeli soldiers. The settlers were being forcibly removed from these illegal communities. Many glass-eyed and enraged settlers screamed into the television cameras that "God" had given them this land. I assume God is the Bronze Age sociopath called Yahweh. The same god that killed Moses' two nephews with lightning bolts. This was also the weapon of choice for Zeus. Apparently some humans didn't mix the incense correctly. All in all I prefer the Greek god; he simply had far more panache.

More than ever, I believe, our traditional religions have outlived their usefulness and have become positively dangerous to our well-being. If we can only get through another century--a big if--we might have a chance. But for the first time in human history we have begun to learn how the human mind functions, how it thinks, and how it creates stories, myths, and religions. We're starting to understand just how our brains are designed to find and hold onto the most "rewarding" view of things.

What we need to do in the meantime is not bemoan the existence of the assorted temple priests or complain about the "gullibility" of their followers, but start articulating alternatives that are equally compelling and that provide the same spiritual ( or mystical, or sacred, or divine, or new consciousness ) comfort. The first step is considering something else. After that we may be able to grasp that we are not separate and apart from all the rest of life.

Ultimately, all religions have to resort to a "magical entity." Even the Dalai Lama, the epitome of the enlightened religious leader, reverts back to gobbledygook when there is no scientific explanation. He explains it in terms of the Buddhist karma. It just is. But this is really no different from the views of the Intelligent Design crowd. Of course--as always--what happens when science comes up with a description that explains what was previously thought to be the work of some god? Religion tweaks the story: Maybe Santa doesn't exist, but your grandfather's ghost really does live in the attic.

Leonardo da Vinci is arguably one of the most extraordinary men in human history. While widely known for his famous painting the Mona Lisa, Da Vinci was also a proficient engineer and technical illustrator. His anatomical drawings, because of their accuracy, are still used today.

But what is of particular interest, I believe, and pointed out in a recent television program, was his astounding powers of observation and critical thinking. He discovered the closing mechanism of the aortic heart valve some 500 years before we in the modern world knew virtually anything about the heart mechanism.

In a recent experiment engineers in England built a "plane" based on a Da Vinci design, using only material that were available in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. Not only did this machine fly, but it also stayed in the air longer than the Wright Brothers' original flight in the twentieth century.

Leonardo throughout his life was obsessed by flight. His minute studies of birds and bats as well as the currents of water that fish swam in gave him the theoretical knowledge for his numerous designs and ideas.

The point of this is not that we can all become just like Leonardo da Vinci, but we all have the power to observe and to think and, most importantly, conceive of something else. We need no gods to explain our existence. That we know we exist is miracle enough.

Two books worth reading for anyone interested in some alternatives to the "old" world are How We Believe by Michael Shermer and The End of Faith by Sam Harris.

Graffiti discovered on a wall in Rome dating back to the second century depicts a man with the head of a donkey stretched upon a cross. Standing below and to the side is a stick figure of a man and underneath a caption reads, Alexamenos worships God. Little did the street artist know that in slightly more than 200 years Romans would be subject to punishment for not worshipping God. Time to imagine something else, minus the punishment.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

In Me Believe ( 1 )

So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end; it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?
Stephen Hawkins, cosmologist

As recorded in my private journal:

My car broke down when I once traveled through rural Mexico. By chance I noticed two individuals sitting cross-legged by some cactus not far from where I stood. When I approached the two men one of them appeared to be in some sort of trance. I turned to the other man, who informed me that "Carlos is talking to the animals."

Reported in 2005
A free-lance journalist on assignment in the Gaza strip had been observing a screaming Israeli settler being dragged off by two Israeli soldiers. The journalist's Hebrew was not good but he thought the settler had mumbled something about someone "very important" had given him the land--all of it. The journalist wondered why the Israel government, the only democracy in the region, would do this to one of its citizens?

An Arab-American businessman I knew slightly had been asked to meet someone in a small coffee shop two years ago in downtown Damascus, Syria. The nondescript stranger arrived a few minutes later and told this acquaintance of mine that he had a "once in a lifetime proposition." The man handed the American businessman four sticks of dynamite and a triggering device. The startled businessman went to stand up to leave, but this stranger pleaded with him to just hear him out. He informed the American that he could guarantee for all eternity a new Ferrari or Porsche every year, between 20 to 24 of the most beautiful women to satisfy his every need, along with an unlimited supply of money, fine homes, good food, and unimaginable luxuries--forever. The American businessman would only have to enter a grocery store in a nearby country....

Several years ago I was seated at an airport bar in Little Rock, Arkansas. Unexpectedly, a man beside me introduced himself and offered me one of the crackers he was munching on. I don't like crackers so I politely said no thank you. But taking a bite of his oval-shaped cracker, this stranger told me that he was "eating the body." Before I could get some explanation, the man sipped his glass of red wine, and informed me with a pleasant smile that he was "drinking the blood."

Seven years old
No Santa Claus! To this day I remember in almost every detail when my best friend told me there was no kindly, pipe smoking, overweight, bearded white man, who dropped down from the chimney or came in the back door to deliver my Christmas presents. It was a devastating revelation when my mother, a few minutes later, who was ironing clothes in the kitchen, confirmed this truth. To this day, however, I still like reading on Christmas Eve, It was the night before Christmas and all through the house....

Derrick Harley, a good friend of mine, in 1989 was visited by a large, spotted tree frog in a dream. The frog told Derrick to "go forth" and recruit 23 disciples. This he accomplished withing six months. Derrick was also instructed to self-publish a short monograph. The monograph outlined the basic tenets of the Grean.

By 1991 the disciples were proselytizing throughout the United States, Brazil and Western Europe. By 1992 there were nearly 2,000 followers of the Grean throughout the world. Sadly, a druken motorcyclist struck and killed Derrick while he was meditating by the side of the road in upstate New York in the summer of 1992. The movement collapsed. But what if Derrick had lived?
The writer Salman Rushdie was asked, in a recent television interview, what was the most important lesson he'd learned from the Iranian fatwa issued against him, and which lasted for nearly ten years, condemning him to death because of alleged blasphemy against Islam. Rushdie replied that you can not compromise with religious fundamentalism.

The former head of Bush's Council on Environmental Quality, as we eventually learned, "modified" reports on climate change. If you don't like the science--change it.

If it were only the theater of the absurd, but it's not. It really is zero-sum.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Cow Dung My Boy!

What a remarkable collection of ideas ( good, bad, merely interesting ) and technologies one can discover meandering through the numerous environmental blogs and websites.

At Ohio State University researchers have been experimenting with farm waste, attempting to develop fuel cells that can generate electricity from a chemical reaction. One researcher suggested the "hope" that farmers some day might be able to use the manure to ultimately generate sufficient power to run their business.

A few days ago I learned of a company ( ) that makes chocolate products; ten percent of the company's profits is donated to support the protection of endangered species. Anyone interested in how to choose the "right" chocolate, by avoiding those firms that harm tropical ecosystems, might check out Rainforest Relief at

Yes, there are numerous individuals, companies, and organizations throughout the world doing innovative things, and conceiving of what has not been considered before--and they deserve our support. But bear in mind....

More than one-quarter of the world's population ( 1.6 billion ) do not have electricity in their homes or a continuing source of safe drinking water. At least another one or two billion people are in debilitating poverty and have virtually no options at the present time. This means that approximately one-half of the human population on planet Earth is living a life of quiet desperation. But quiet for how long?

Now consider the approximately one-half billion people ( conservatively ) right now that want exactly what the middle and upper classes have in Europe, Japan, and North America. Think of all those ambitious young Indians, in all those call centers, spreading throughout all of India, wanting all the "stuff." And what about all those hard-driving, growing middle class folks in China? They want stuff too. Who wants to go to a friend's house on a bicycle when you can afford to ride in your own automobile. Shall we in Japan, Europe, and the United States tell them that all the stuff is really not what they ought to be striving for? Because some of those bits and pieces--at least for a while--will be electricity, fresh water, decent health care, education ... and choice.

The World Bank recently proposed a "new" accounting method that takes in natural and human wealth. It seems to me I heard this idea expressed more than ten years ago by an economist specializing in environmental economics. But better late than never. The report stated that governments need to consider, along with GDP and other traditional factors, such things as resource depletion and population growth to develop a "more complete vision" of a country's wealth. In other words environmental costs need to be considered.

Wangari Maathai from Kenya and the 2004 Nobel peace laureate said, "It is a pity the most important ministries are the foreign ministry and the defense ministry, yet the new enemy is the destruction of our environment."

Peter Seligmann head of Conservation International said, "Why do we have to go through the intellectual exercise of explaining why we need to protect the only place we can live on?" Why indeed?

Yesterday morning I discovered a small possum curled up asleep in my recycle bin on the back porch. He was lying between a plastic water bottle and a tin can. I returned back inside the house, closing the door as quietly as possible. Giving up is not an option I can contemplate.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

An End Beginning

Hurricane Katrina will be the ultimate rusty nail in the coffin--in a perfect society. The oil pimp buffoon that currently inhabits the White House would implode. The gangsters and incompetents that surround this "make-believe" president would be either in jail or in permanent exile. Darfur, Sudan would be the place I'd recommend. Refuge camps can always use water carriers.

The free-market idealogues and their assorted camp followers would become community jesters, required to live in the poorest parts of America for the remainder of their lives. Religious fascists, because Americans are a generous people, would receive a year of free psychiatric help. Those that are unable to overcome their debilitating illness would be institutionalized within the best facilities in the United States.

Special attention would be given to developers, chemical and oil company executives, as well as key politicians that aided and abetted these cretins. They would be required to perform manual labor at the current minimum wage repairing the coastal wetlands and the assorted environmental damage they have caused. Their needs would be basic because they'd live in detention camps--modeled after Guantanemo or Abu Grav naturally--at the worksite. We are not a cruel people; these criminals would be eligible for parole in 2015.

Quite obviously, the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans would pay a parasite tax for the rebuilding of America.

All of this will of course require an organized political opposition and an informed citizenry. Oh well.... In the meantime we must be generous to those who have lost so much in the hurricane.

Anyone interested in an organization that rescues animals in disaster situations can go to

This organization is called Noah's Wish.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Animals Need Not Apply

P.E.T.A, was reexamining its plans in light of the criticism they had received, according to an Associated Press article on 14 August. P.E.T.A. stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The organization had managed to offend the NAACP ( National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ) and earlier in the year some Jewish groups. I found the article worthy of note for what it did not say.

On a nationwide tour the group used images of animal abuse alongside pictures of black people in chains or being lynched, clearly trying to draw similarities. As well, PETA compared Jewish suffering during the Holocaust to what currently happens to "factory animals."

The NAACP was angered by what they claim was drawing comparisons between black people and animals, something that has occurred all too often in the U.S. and elsewhere for hundreds of years. Without a doubt this was not the most effective way to persuade people of the very real abuses inflicted upon animals--by humans. But does this bring to light an even larger, more important point? I think so.

More than thirty years ago Lynn White Jr., a professor of Medieval History, said, "We shall continue to have a worsening ecologic crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man." This one sentence in a short essay the professor wrote started a spirited debate. Sides can easily be staked out. Professor White went on to say that "Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny--that is, by religion." Of course.

The theological explanations are lengthy, the "spiritual" theme versus the "ecological" theme, meaning in simple terms those folks that can't wait to escape to the ether and commune with the entity, and those other people that believe God's presence can be celebrated in the world of nature--in the here and now--right on planet Earth. The latter would fall into the stewardship camp.

At the present time the stewardship crowd, certainly within Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, is largely invisible, impotent, and probably irrelevant. Professor White, however, believed that the "answers" to our ecological problems will likely come from religion, because these problems result from particular religious viewpoints. Hope does spring eternal.

Some 600 years ago Henry II of England said, in reference to his former friend and drinking companion Thomas a Becket, "Will no one rid me of this priest?" The rest is history. I would offer the following plea: Will no one rid this planet of putrid fundamentalism? We are all animals.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Searching for Enterprise

Have you ever looked at the F.B.I.'s Ten Most Wanted List? With the exception of Bin Laden, the current list is a miserable collection of child molesters, drug dealers, and common murderers, knuckle-draggers one and all. The fact that Bin Laden is on the list seems more for show than anything else. Cave boy deserves his own special site.

What prompted my curiosity was an article I read in AlterNet. Tre Arrow (born Michael Scaripilli) is an American currently living in Canada and fighting F.B.I. extradition back to the U.S. on charges that he is an eco-terrorist. He's alleged to have been involved in the bombings of logging and gravel trucks in Oregon three or four years ago. Mr. Arrow denies involvement in any bombing.

In 2003 Mr. Scaripilli was on the F.B.I's infamous list, with a $25,000 reward on his head. In the U.S. he currently faces a minimum of 40 years to life if the government can prove he was involved in the bombings.

But how did this Tre Arrow manage to get on "the" list? Did he murder ... torture ... kidnap ... maim--or attempt to kill anyone? No, but he apparently infuriated the "wrong" people. And where did the term "eco-terrorist" come from in the first place?

A few years ago Senator James Inhofe, Chairman of the Senate Environmental Committee and no friend of the environmental movement in general, held hearings in Washington. No one is going to accuse the senator from Oklahoma of having a scintillating intellect, but he'd scheduled public hearings because he knew there was "a growing network of support for extremists like the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front." These environmental activists were dangerous and had to be watched according to the numerous witnesses, including the F.B.I.

A couple of months ago an ex-F.B.I. agent, as reported in Democracy News, who had worked in the area of domestic terrorism, stated that white supremacists groups are clearly the major terrorist threat in the United States. Well, where to next?

Pick a search engine and type in "American free enterprise." I went to Goggle and pulled up more than 100,000 possibilities. You'll find everything from Ayn Rand to assorted militia groups, my favorite being the ones that are on the lookout for the omnipresent "black" helicopters sent by the United Nations to enslave America and, of course, take away our homes and our guns.

But by far, the most intriguing groups are the numerous "conservative" think tanks, specifically the ones who claim to be independent and guardians of American capitalism. Environmentalism appears to be one of their principal concerns and a perceived danger to our republic.

Further wandering through the labyrinth of the faithful, I came across the name Ron Arnold, possibly the man that may have coined the term eco-terrorist. The Boston Globe reported on January 13, 1992 that Mr. Arnold once said, "We are sick to death of environmentalism and so we will destroy it. We will not allow our right to own property and use nature's resources for the benefit of mankind to be stripped from us by a bunch of eco-fascists."

An interesting web site, for anyone curious about the money, is

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you (Woo, woo, woo)
[Simon and Garfunkel Lyrics Mrs. Robinson]

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Banana Republic Energy

The U.S. Congress has finally given America an "energy" bill. My only question is what percentage of our representatives are merely dull-witted and what percentage are simply corrupt? We can be grateful that drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge was taken out of this energy bill, but it will be voted on in a couple of months in a separate authorization.

Neither the House nor the Senate gave much thought to the obvious--increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. Choose whatever reason you want for this oversight. More than 9 billion in subsidies went to the nuclear, gas, and oil industry, even though a bloated predator like Exxon-Mobil had record profits this year. But these corporations do give our pretend legislators a lot of campaign contributions. In fairness, the majority in Congress--in an attempt to placate its literate minority--added a provision to encourage the development of biofuels, clean-coal technology, and carbon sequestration, but a very small sop. And before one thinks enlightenment has suddenly descended over the U.S., the executive branch will ultimately decide how much money they will put into this encouragement.

Should we be grateful for miniature favors? I think not. Energy dependence, global warming, environmental deterioration, and religious fascism are not the sort of issues that moving to Canada will cure. Time to get busy once again. Religous schools in Saudi Arabia are not the main problem.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Getting Back

Almost two months away from "talking" heads and general political hypocrisy and lies. What's going on in environmental politics? I don't know; I haven't opened the mail or paid attention to the latest disaster. Refreshing for a change. But then reality arrives: Religious fascism appears in London carrying four bombs. Some fool archbishop in Vienna wonders about the theory of evolution. What next? As Voltaire once said, "The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reasoning."

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Feet Are Made for Walking

It's worth contemplating. Dr. Vincent Macaulay, a geneticist from the University of Glasgow, thinks it is conceivable that a single froup of hunter-gatherers, possibly no more than 200 people, could be the ancestors of all the humans outside of Africa. This might have occurred some fifty to sixty thousand years ago. Our planet is four billion years old, so the journey beginning somewhere in southern Africa and heading north, in geologic time, happened only yesterday. Talk about serendipity: Did some disgruntled individual sitting around a campfire say, "Is this as good as it gets?" So what else have we got to do?

The 6.5 billion humans currently overwhelming the planet and sowing destruction likely owe so much to so few, and in a relatively short period of time. With the increasing sophistication of DNA analysis and additional archeological discoveries, it's possible to speculate that we all spring from an extremely small group of humans.

In fact, time seems to compress with every new discovery. The common ancestor of all humans and chimps might have lived in Africa 5-7 million years ago; protohumans could have existed in southern Africa some 2 million years ago. "Modern" humans appeared approximately 150,000 years ago. But what ultimately went wrong?

Any objective observer would have to agree that our beginning was promising and our rise rapid. Within 30 or 40 thousand years we developed language, recognized our own mortality, and constructed a vast assortment of creation stories. Species come and go and ours had more than a little luck at the start, but after a shaky commencement it appeared we were on our way. Finally, in the last 10,000 years, we constructed human civilization, one which we proudly extol as proof of our "superiority" and special place on planet Earth.

While it wasn't until the start of the nineteenth century that we managed to accumulate one billion people, it took us only another one hundred years to get our second billion. We are now the most abundant group of mammals on the planet. Shouldn't we be exceedingly pleased with ourselves?

Stephen Jay Gould, the late paleontologist and a leading spokes-person for evolutionary theory, believed that the human brain had not changed in 100,000 years. In other words, the same mind that started the migration out of Africa, created the extraordinary cave paintings, and developed language ... are the same humans that built cities, skyscrapers, discovered a polio vaccine, and sent men to the moon. But didn't something different happen--at least in our most recent past?

Evolutionary biologists in their oftentimes arcane world will argue and debate over how natural evolution supposedly works: Are there periodic and sudden bursts of evolutionary changes? Is it "adaptive" progress? Are changes gradual and cumulative? But regardless of the esoteric debates, overall evolutionary change is slow, at least in terms we humans can understand.

But in the last several thousand years remarkable transformations have occurred. If it's not due to natural evolution, what's caused it? Gould, among others, attributes it to cultural change. Fifteen or sixteen thousand years ago we did not have urban settlements or large, well maintained agricultural plots. But a few thousand years later cities developed, a division of labor was established, language was written down, and laws were promulgated.

Unlike Darwinian evolution, cultural knowledge can be passed on from one generation to the next. One tribe may learn of a new weapon from another group. They make improvements, then someone else ventures onto a new pathway, and so forth and so forth. The invention of the wheel, for example, is clearly a milestone in cultural development. It allowed more people to travel greater distances, exchange ideas, improve the dispersal of goods and services, and revolutionize warfare. As one adaptation built on another, these changes occurred more and more frequently. Which finally brings us to the present.

Is that marvelous human brain just not able to keep up anymore, make new connections or modify the last 100,000 years? Is the species called homo sapien sapien coming to some sort of evolutionary dead end?

Cultural change is fast and deliberate, while natural evolution plods along at its own pace. Of course, it's possible a new species is forming at this very moment and will replace us someday. Among a handful of humans right now, it is conceivable that a "different" brain is slowly taking shape, the kind that can more readily discern other shades and let go of worn out beliefs. It's possible someone will stand up and start walking again. But will there be enough time?

Saturday, May 14, 2005


I had never heard of the ivory-billed woodpecker. Once thought extinct, this bird has become a national celebrity in the United States since it was announced at the end of April that it still exists. Gale Norton, the interior secretary, recently declared that $10 million dollars will be made available to expand the bird's habitat. She said "that second chances to save wildlife once thought to be extinct are rare." Yes, Gale Norton is the same person who once referred to the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge as a "great white nothingness." She is also part of an administration that is arguably the worst environmental predator in at least a generation.

I am not a bird authority or even an amateur bird watcher, but I've gotten caught up in this Lazarus-like reappearance of a bird who, before last year, had not been seen in more than 60 years. Of course, we Americans love those mythic accounts of second chances, as well as the "rags to riches" stories. And, yes, this bird has some serious "grit."

For anyone that wants to learn more about this remarkable creature, you might begin by going to the Nature Conservancy link. As well, I'd also recommend a beautifully written article in the NY Times on May 3, 2005 by Jonathan Rosen entitled "The Woodpecker in All of Us." ( )

Literally and metaphorically, it seems to me, the ivory-billed woodpecker is about hope. I'd also toss in a little redemption as well. After all, it's we humans that destroyed the bird's habitat in the first place. The possibility of preserving and protecting this animal is likely up to us. In the process, we might end up helping other species ... including our own.

The title of this article comes from the ivory-bills vocalization that ornithologists transcribe as kent, kent, kent. Will it again become a common sound in the hardwood forests it once called home? We certainly can hope so

Sunday, May 01, 2005

What's Earth Day?

The comedian's timing was impeccable and his presentation very slick. He told the audience that only deadbeat dads who didn't pay child support lived in Alaska. I laughed along with the audience and the host of the show. Of course we have to drill in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge, the comic continued. We are not going to start driving rickshaws. More laughter. This guy was on a roll: Big deal, so the temperature has gone up one degree in the past one hundred years. It means our grandchildren will be living in a climate like Phoenix, that's all. More chuckles as the comedian strolled off stage. Millions just learned the sky wasn't falling. Not to worry. I opened another beer and started clicking through the cable channels. Could a world renown climate expert ever be half as persuasive ... or reassuring?

The environmental movement worldwide has been incredibly successful over the past thirty plus years. Awareness has increased, large numbers of people realize that clean air and clean water can not be taken for granted. Many of us now know we can't simply leave a healthy environment up to the "good" intentions of industry. Large numbers of humans apparently believe we ought not to slaughter other species simply because we can. Yes, many Americans, as well as people throughout the world, claim that a healthy environment is important....

A day or two before Earth Day celebrations on 22 April, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an energy bill that gives some $12 billion of assorted tax breaks and subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. It rejected a proposal to require higher fuel efficiency standards for cars. Once again it called for oil drilling in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge.

A lot of bright people are thinking about alternatives to petroleum use. So-called bridge technologies, such as gasification plants, are being studied. Simply put, this process stores carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, deep underground. This process also produces hydrogen, which could be used as a transportation fuel. Another possibility is a growth in biomass. Biomass refers to any organic matter such as cornstalks and certain grasses that could be used in developing biofuels--ethanol.

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory study suggests that by around 2020 it might be possible to have biomass "displace" petroleum consumption for transportation by approximately 30 percent. These are merely two examples of alternative technologies. What of course is needed is a genuine commitment and financial support from national governments for serious research and testing.

The Government Accountability Office in the U.S. reported on 22 April that the Bush administration has failed to include--specified by law--the necessary assessment reports regarding their energy change study due to be made public in 2007. The areas include biological diversity, energy, water resources, and agriculture. A Commerce Department official responded to the GAO finding by saying, "We may commission additional reports, if needed."

The climatologist from NASA called it a "smoking gun." New data from satellites and robotic measuring devises floating on the world's oceans have found that our planet is soaking up much more heat than it's "giving of." The atmosphere, in other words, is warming up. This energy imbalance is likely to grow, even if all the greenhouse gases were shut off tomorrow morning. Melting Antarctic ice sheets is probably not a good thing in the long run. Rapid temperature increases ( some "darker" scenarios show a 10 degree Fahrenheit rise this century ) will probably bring us an extremely unpleasant world to live in. Of course our little comedian may be right; it might just be a matter of getting accustomed to the warmer Phoenix climate. Not to worry.

What in fact do we really believe? I'm not speaking about our publicly stated beliefs, our civic utterances. No, I'm talking about the "deep" thoughts we have, the ones that take shape--and slip out--when the curtains are pulled down and the lights are off.

I don't think this planet's going to make it. The reason is we humans are, collectively, too stupid and too self-absorbed. This is not a civic utterance; this thought gathers in the dark. It takes shape more often now. Can I make it go away?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Holy Spirit Force

It seems a day doesn't go by when we don't have another example of the ever increasing distrust between the scientific community and the American government, clashes between science and politicians and--of course--religion. An AIDS researcher, David Celentano, was quoted as saying in reference to the political climate, "folks are worried this smacks of McCarthyism 50 years later." A government official reportedly said, in reference to the circuitous language often now employed by researchers to avoid problems, nor only with politicians but assorted traditional values groups, "Don't make me speak to you about this in public. There are spies everywhere!"

Recently, the American government, over the protests of leading geologists, allowed the sale of a book at the Grand Canyon National Park stating that Noah's flood--the one in the bible--created the chasm 4,500 years before. Scientists believe it's more likely that the "gorge" was created some six million years before. Maybe we could compromise on 2.5 million years?

Is it possible that ignorance has now become more emboldened in the world over the past few years? Yet, it does appear that rational thought and open scientific inquiry are still holding their own in areas of the world like Europe, Japan, and a few other locations. On the other hand....

This past March Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, one of the more powerful Vatican officials, directed Catholics not to read The DaVinci Code. According to the Cardinal, people might end up believing the book's "fables." Better safe than sorry.

A possible explanation is that the rapid acceleration of the idiot quotient in the United States may have served as an impetus for the noticeable increase in worldwide dumbness. Then again, it may just be only America that's scurrying to the bottom. Even Saudi Arabia looks as if it's making some effort to stagger out of the sixteenth century.

In the early fourth century some serious theological differences arose among the Christians regarding the "nature" of their God. This disagreement worried the Roman Emperor Constantine; his empire couldn't afford more turmoil. Constantine was the emperor that had proclaimed Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. He was the person that had begun the massive transfer of money and land from pagan institutions to the Catholic church.

In 325 he called together the Council of Nicea to settle the dispute. Some 200 or so bishops met in the town of Nicea on the Black Sea ( Iznik, Turkey today ) and decided on the nature of God. Henceforth any other nature would be declared a heresy and might be punishable by death. Constantine was pleased that the bishops had reached a consensus on God's nature. Some things were much simpler 1,700 years ago.

The DaVinci Code, as millions of people in the world now know, claims that Jesus married and had a family. It's a great plot. It's also a novel, as most people know. But, we can't forget that the bishops, some 1,700 years ago at a seaside resort on the Black Sea, determined the "nature" of God; they decided this Jesus was a man, the son of God, and God himself--one and the same, and clearly a virgin. Which fable is the right fable?

In the early seventeenth century, Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer, who discovered the laws of planetary motion, realized that "something" made the planets stay in orbit around the sun. Mr. Kepler chose to call this something the Holy Spirit Force. It was acceptable science in 1609.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

So What?: April 2005

Mercury has been used in certain religious ceremonies for years. The purpose is to ward off "evil spirits." Among practitioners of Voodoo and Santeria, for example, it is a common practice to sprinkle mercury near a child's crib as well as outside an apartment door.

The problem is that mercury vapor might remain in a house for many years. The vapors are absorbed through the lungs and can lead to such things as tremors and emotional changes. If enough mercury vapors are breathed in, serious kidney damage may result and even respiratory failure can occur.

Mercury has been listed as a "causative" factor in impaired neurological development in children, which might manifest itself in such problems as language delay, autism, attention deficit disorder, and various types of learning difficulties. It also appears that the developing nervous system of the fetus is more vulnerable to methymercury than the adult system. For more information on mercury poisoning go to Mercury Poisoning Project at

This past March it was reported that certain IMAX theaters--primarily in the South--were reluctant to show several science documentaries because it "might offend" Christian fundamentalists. A number of these IMAX theaters were located in science centers or museums, where science is presumably encouraged.

Some of these documentaries, such as Cosmic Voyage, Galapagos, and the Deep Sea, had the "audacity" to suggest such things as the earth could be more than 10,000 years old and life on Earth might possibly have originated in undersea vents.

A sufficient amount of people protested this timid, self-censorship and IMAX did show the documentaries. But the yellow streaks down the back of corporate America got a little brighter in March.

Approximately 15,000 children under the age of 6 manage to put rat poison in their mouth each year in the U.S. Residential rat poison most often uses blood thinning agents; this causes internal bleeding in the rats. It of course can have the same effect on children.

A number of years ago the Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ) ordered manufactures of rat poison to add two safety measures to the poison. But in November 2001 the EPA rescinded the requirements. They reported that they had come to a "mutual agreement" with the rodenticide manufacturers. Several months ago a New York advocacy group filed a lawsuit against the EPA.

Who loves you baby?

After a decline in the 1980's, there has been a resurgence in global fur sales. In 2002-03 fur sales amounted to $11.3 billion. Richard D. North, a fellow of Britain's Institute of Economic Affairs, said in reference to an endless row of caged minks and foxes, "They are treated better than farm animals. They are not moved to their slaughter. They are killed quickly in situ."

Now, don't you feel better.

Sunday, April 03, 2005


Would you want a humanzee living next door to you? Perhaps even dating your daughter no less!

It was pure coincidence. The same day I looked through the recently published Millennium Ecosystem Assessment ( ), I also happened to read an article by Jeremy Rifkin, the president of Foundation on Economic Trends. The M.E.A. study reported that Earth's environment is seriously deteriorating in a number of areas. Rifkin's article was about the new field known as chimeric experimentation.

That many of earth's ecosystems are in trouble is hardly a surprise to a great number of people. Several of the key recommendations have also been offered in other studies. But what was of particular interest, I thought, is the growing consensus among those who study these issues.

The question remains, however, just what are we humans--on a global scale--willing to do to reverse the trends. Clearly there is a point where it will likely be too late.

I thought Rifkin's article was especially pertinent in light of the findings in the M.E.A. report. Chimeric experimentation is about "crafting" hybrids out of different species. The first experiment of this type, a number of years ago, was the creation of the geep. The geep was born with the head of a goat and the body of a sheep.

But where the researchers want to ultimately take this is the crossing of humans and animals, to create some new kind of hybrid form. The reasons offered are many, some of which have been heard before; they include advancing medical research, testing new drugs, being better able to "model" the progression of human diseases, and harvesting tissues and organs for "transplantation" into human bodies.

As the article points out, this is not science fiction. In fact, some people are talking about the very real possibility of creating a human-chimpanzee species ... a "humanzee." Would a creature like this be protected by the U.S. Bill of Rights? Might Amnesty International, for example, publicize any genocide directed against humanzees? These are not unreasonable questions to consider. The fiction of film and literature is becoming the non-fiction in the laboratory and quite possibly the cities of the world.

What I felt though as I read this article was growing revulsion. Was I turning into some--perish the thought--simple-minded religious fundamentalist? Had I suddenly become a Luddite, afraid of progress? Was I now ready to join the mob and burn Galileo at the stake? And what was it about all of this that elicited--in me--so much disgust?

The next day, while standing in front of the mirror shaving, the word "narcissism" wrote itself across the glass. Rifkin remarked in his article about a common justification used by us; chimeric experimentation with these "almost" human creatures will benefit the human race....

And what exactly do we humans offer this planet? Whom do we Homo-sapiens benefit? Do we as a species think it's nothing more than "because we can."

Have you ever been fortunate enough to watch a group of female African elephants greet the matriarch of the herd? Trunks are raised and loud exclamations of joy are heard. An elephant herd is a large extended family, and all the cows assist in the care and the protection of the children. Like humans, knowledge is passed down from one generation to the other. The matriarch knows from experience where food is found, where the best watering holes are located, and how to watch out for danger.

Ivory poachers will generally kill the older cows because they have the longest tusks and can therefore bring the most money. This is disastrous to an elephant herd that depends on the wisdom of the older cows for its survival. But elephants have learned about human behavior. They've been observed in the wild to hide the tusks of their dead companions. Scientists believe the elephants know their tusks are a source of danger to them. The danger is from us.

There are 6.5 billion humans on this planet. Even under the most optimistic demographic assessment,we'll likely add another two billion people before world population begins to level off. There is no shortage of "us," now or in the foreseeable future.

Jeremy Rifkin does not support further research in human-animal fantasies. He's right; we are simply too childishly narcissistic, and far too primitive. We haven't demonstrated we can protect and preserve this planet. Considerable doubt exists whether or not we can preserve ourselves.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

A Choice

In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create but by what we refuse to destroy.
(John Sawhill)
On Wednesday 16 March 2005 a slim majority of U.S. Senators passed a resolution that would allow oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). There's still a ways to go before oil drilling can begin, but it is a victory for the proponents. Misguided and ignorant it may well be. Even "criminally" irresponsible many of us would claim. But the fact is that within a year, it is likely that hundreds, perhaps ultimately thousands, of humans with drilling equipment, diesel engines of all kinds, drums of chemicals, aircraft, ships, and tons of supplies to sustain these strangers will descend on a remote coastal plain, a place that some have called "America's Serengeti." We made a choice. Didn't we?

This American government has proclaimed it's about "energy independence." In this day and age who can argue with national security? Of course, the U.S. has been aiding and abetting religious fascism in the Middle East (of which terrorism is a part) for years, because we haven't had any American energy conservation policy, at least one created by the "elected" representatives for the citizens of the country.

Thomas Friedman, the N.Y. Times columnist, in a recent article, called the almost dysfunctional fixation on Alaska oil drilling "mind-boggling." His article was not primarily about Alaska but our growing dependency on China, and our decreasing leverage with the country most likely to be our major competitor--because of the dim-witted (my words) policies of the Bush administration.

Friedman believes any oil that may eventually come out of the Alaska Refuge will probably benefit the consumers of China and Japan more than the citizens of the United States, because of distances and refinery capacity. And, as oil demand increases in both China and India, prices will continue to rise for Americans--significantly. As the proverbial broken record says over and over again, a slight increase in fuel efficiency standards in the United States would offset any possible marginal gain from drilling in ANWR ... and might actually set us on a course of something that resembles a degree of energy independence.

The current American government has clearly decided that protection and preservation is not part of its energy policy. The current American government has clearly decided that America needs to remain an insatiable, reckless, world class drunk. Last, the current United States Senate has clearly decided they are nearly as irrelevant as the Roman senate at the time of the Empire. But it's our choice. Isn't it?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

You Calling Me Stupid

Could we Americans really be that uninformed? Of course the logical question then becomes compared with whom? And, uninformed about what?

A recent article in the Kansas City Star reported that many scientific researchers felt assaulted by various groups and individuals, regarding such topics as stem cell research, evolution, global warming, genetics, and a host of scientific activities.

History, however, has demonstrated that scientific thinking has always held on by the slimmest of threads. Brief periods have shined with critical thought, facilitated new inquiries, and encouraged learning as an end in itself. A few examples would include Greece in the 4th and 5th century B.C., the approximately 400 years that the Arab world and Baghdad was the center of learning (coming to an end by the middle of the 13th century), and Europe in the 18th century, the period known as the Enlightenment.

Scientific thinking is analytic and objective. Above all, it's frequently difficult. On the other hand, revelation, the prophetic voice, and a belief in the "rightness" of ones own words and thoughts is much easier and requires little or no training. It's subjective and does not require that the views of others need to be considered. Science, at its best, does respect thoughtful, diverse opinions. America, it seems to me, is slipping into an especially gloomy time for science, critical thinking, and learning in general.

One poll and survey after another point out that Americans are remarkably ignorant when it comes to basic knowledge, at least compared with residents of other "developed" countries. Two Gallup polls taken over the past several months state that nearly 50 percent of those polled do not believe in the theory of evolution or don't know what it is. The percentage in Europe and Japan is under 30 percent. Of course, what does it say about us as a country when the current occupant of the White House states that the "jury is still out" on the theory of evolution.

A National Geographic survey published two years ago pointed out that only 17 percent of those Americans surveyed could locate the country of Afghanistan on a map. This survey was done after U.S. soldiers had been there close to a year, some of whom were killed in combat.

Do you remember the Time-Life books, the series about Ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, the Age of Reason, and so forth? While looking up some information about Greece in the fifth century, I compared the book published in 1965 and the one published in 1997. In the 1997 edition I was told that "Zeus was the all-important god of the sky and weather." In the 1965 edition I learned that "at the center of the Greek outlook lay an unshakable belief in the worth of the individual man." The 1997 version might have been written for the average eighth grader. The 1965 version was written for literate adults.

Some 83 percent of Americans supposedly believe in the "virgin birth," and 68 percent believe in the devil. Our knowledge of world history, as well as our own history, is at best pathetic. American high school students consistently perform poorly on math and science tests compared with the rest of the world.

Anti-intellectualism has been a recurrent theme throughout the history of the United States, but it seems noticeably virulent in America today. The highest elected political leader in the country, the President, claims publicly he doesn't read newspapers. His wife later says that he does read newspapers. Perhaps political success, more and more in the U.S., necessitates the increasing need to pander to the uninformed.

Politicians at all levels sneer at "those self-appointed intellectuals." The chairman of the U.S. Senate's Environmental and Public Works Committee (James Inhofe) once said that global warming was the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." I suspect that many climate experts in the world may think the only real hoax is Senator Inhofe....

Ah, well. In the final analysis, what is the important question? Did Adam and Eve have navels--belly buttons? Martin Gardner, writer and debunker of nonsense science, suggests this is not a "trivial" question. If these two poster children of creationism didn't have navels, they couldn't have been perfect human beings. But if they did in fact have navels, well, would this suggest a birth they supposedly never experienced. Weighty matters to be considered.

This topic has been debated ever since the Book of Genesis was written. Ponderous treatises have been published over the centuries arguing for or against belly buttons. Paintings from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance show "with and without." In one form or another we are still debating these questions in the twenty-first century.

Scientists believe the average vertebrate species exists for 2 to 5 million years. Homo sapiens have only been around some 200,000 years. It seems inconceivable that we'll ever approach the two million milestone. I suspect that as long as we're infatuated with our own self-importance on the planet, magic in its various forms will hold sway for most of us.

We'll likely destroy ourselves before long, in geologic time--I hope, but we can wish that evolution in its serendipitous way will come up with something better to replace us on planet earth. In the meantime be happy, have some fun ... and fervently hope the spark of scientific inquiry remains alive somewhere. I've got an appointment with my urine therapist.

Friday, March 04, 2005

So What?: March 2005

Did you know there were a lot of hermaphroditic cricket frogs in the state of Illinois in the 1950's? So what?

Toxicologists and veterinarians at the University of Illinois spent some time examining the reproductive organs of more than 800 cricket frogs. These frogs had been collected in Illinois between 1852 and 2001, and apparently stored at various natural history museums.

Frogs with both male and female organs were plentiful in the 1950's according to the scientists. This was considered rare in frogs from the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Large amounts of chemicals, like DDT and PCB's, were used at this time, and researchers believe the evidence is increasing that pesticides and various industrial chemicals are able to alter the sex hormones of animals.

Because frogs go through metamorphosis and spend time in water, they are considered "sentinels" of major environmental change. More information can be found in the journal of Environmental Health Perspectives.

Some scientists are suggesting that the Arctic may not have any ice in the summer by the end of this century. Does it matter?

It could matter a lot. Ice is melting in a number of places in the world. Average temperatures are rising in the Arctic Circle and ice buildup is shrinking each year in the Arctic. The ice cap on Kilimanjaro in Tanzania may have vanished by 2015. Glaciers in South America are melting rapidly.

The largest land ice mass in the Northern Hemisphere is Greenland. If it were to melt completely, it could raise the planet's sea level by some 24 feet. If melting continues it could affect various plant and animal species, food supplies, available drinking water, especially in South America and Asia, economic development, and change regional climate patterns.

Last--but not least--as the ice melts less sunlight is reflected back in space and more is absorbed by land, increasing the warming effect further ... to what end we can't be certain. Ignorance, however, is not bliss, perhaps not even in the "short" run. Learn more about global warming and "melting" ice. It is not an environmental conspiracy.

The ozone layer is declining faster than some scientists expected. But who can worry about that?

While ozone at ground level is a pollutant, in the upper atmosphere it protects the planet from harmful ultraviolet radiation. A lot of this kind of radiation causes skin cancer. According to an article in the Denver Post, scientists last winter discovered that the Arctic ozone declined much faster than expected.

The scientists can only speculate at this point as to the reasons for this decline. A number of natural reasons such as solar storms might be a contributing factor, but human-emitted chemicals are a likely reason as well. Testing is now taking place.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Best of All Possible Worlds

The recently published article was entitled America values jobs over unproven restrictions. "Restrictions" are those required under the recently implemented Kyoto Protocol, the treaty to deal with global warming. The writers of the article are members of a Washington, D.C. think-tank. Out of curiosity, I located their web site.

The organization's guiding philosophy is letting the free market have its way. The best of all worlds would appear to be one where government plays little or no role and regulations are mostly an impediment to the "genius" of the market place. Right.

Of course, feudalism was at one time the "perfect" solution. After feudalism we discovered the "divine" right of kings--sacred, inviolate--which eventually disappeared in history's ashcan. I think it's time to lift the ashcan cover again.

Like the proverbial war and the generals, global warming ( and environmental degradation ) in the twenty-first century is too important to be left to global capitalism. Most certainly the kind espoused by the leadership in the United States.

Global warming is occurring and has the potential of becoming a very nasty crisis, far more serious than religious fascism and the "war on terrorism." The U.S., the number one emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, by not being a participant in the Kyoto Protocol, has clearly made itself a significant part of the problem.

In the U.S. the assorted opponents of the Kyoto Protocol have had three principal reasons: ( 1 ) it's an environmental hoax, ( 2 ) it would hurt the economy and cost jobs and ( 3 ) it needs more study before we can reach any decision. As well, a fourth reason is now popping up more frequently. Yes ... perhaps global warming is occurring, but after two centuries of industrialization, we can't do much about it now. Best we not build any more condominiums on Florida's coast though. This dysfunctional, cartoon capitalism needs to be confronted.

The science is not in dispute. No, we do not know all the possible causes of global warming. No, we don't know the exact extent of the human contribution to the problem. But that global warming is occurring, and faster than we perhaps once thought, is clear to the vast majority of scientists that study climate change. The chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change ( a group comprised of more than 2,000 scientific and technical experts ) stated recently that "we are risking the ability of the human race to survive."

The noise about global warming being some kind of a trick foisted on the American public is a common theme, often uttered by influential politicians like U.S. Senator James Inhofe--sadly--the chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, and one of the major recipients of campaign contributions from the energy industry. Industrial lobbyists and their various front groups are spending millions of dollars to thwart all serious efforts at dealing with the issue.

And there is the matter of "job loss" that continually comes up whenever someone talks about environmental protection. Much of this is short-sighted, self-serving drivel. In an ideal America government and industry would be working closely together to develop a new energy future; we'd be working out strategies, retraining our workers, and educating our citizens.

In an ideal America we would know it's not an either or situation, environmental or economic priorities. We would be making far more effort in the implementation of existing, clean, energy-efficient technologies. Without a doubt we would hurry up the development of renewable domestic energy sources. Certainly we'd be spending more money in both the public and the private sector in developing new technologies.

Improved energy efficiency standards would be common throughout the country, covering everything from better gas mileage to more efficient power plants. We could even see energy costs going down for both business and the consumer. Finally, we could become less reliant on parts of the world that are unstable and where hatred of America only festers and grows with our presence. During all this time we would be growing a new economy and creating new jobs.

Unfortunately, this is only an ideal America. This is still an America where the fossil fuel industry, not our elected representatives, write out energy policy. This is an America where the automotive companies have joined in a lawsuit against California's global warming law. These automakers want to prevent California from requiring a cut in global warming pollution in all new cars sold in the state, starting in 2009.

The idea that something like the Kyoto Protocol is not worth it because greenhouse gases are already in the atmosphere is a truly shortsighted and stupid rational for essentially not changing behavior.

Carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, stays in the atmosphere a long time. Scientists believe it can linger from 50 years to 100 years. What this means is that even if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, global warming would continue for decades. The important point, however, is that if we do nothing to reduce carbon dioxide, at some point it may be too late--to do anything. As well, we have to deal with other greenhouse gases like methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and carbon monoxide. They all contribute to global warming.

The Kyoto Protocol is merely a first step. Of course countries such as China and India, because of their rapid industrialization, must become part of the Protocol. It is also likely that the basic requirements to cut global warming gases by 5 percent below 1990 levels ( by 2012 ) is nowhere near enough. And the research has to continue.

The United States government, however, has demonstrated colossal irresponsibility. We have shown no leadership or set any worthy example. The most recent example of this took place at the world climate conference in Buenos Aires this past December. No substantive plans could be considered because the U.S. delegation blocked all attempts to come up with even the mildest proposal.

The United States, with approximately 6 percent of the world's population, uses 25 percent of the world's finite oil production. We have arguably the worst fuel efficiency standards among all the so-called "developed" nations, and we have no national energy conservation program. "Voluntary standards" on the part of industry is probably one of the most laughable phrases that the current American government has used. But of course it's the best of all possible worlds.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Absence of Rain (a short story)

The larger of the two male elephants wrapped his trunk around the four foot long ivory tusk lying on the dusty ground and deposited it in some nearby bushes. The tusk was all that remained of their dead comrade. He then turned to his companion, who nodded his massive head three or four times.
They lingered for no more than a minute and then the two bulls moved off across the barren, dry landscape of Etosha National Park in Namibia. A man and a woman waited quietly in their Land Rover until the elephants had nearly vanished from sight.
"I was nine years old when I saw that the first time," the woman said.
"I only saw it once before, in Botswana." The man put his binoculars under the seat.
"They know their tusks are a danger to them. They've learned from--" The woman hunched over, coughed, and pressed her hand against her chest. The skin around the corners of her mouth tightened for an instant.
"Let's go back," the man said placing his hand on the back of her neck.
The woman looked at him. "I love you, Robert," she said finally.
Robert Zimmer started the vehicle. They had not gone quite a quarter of a mile when the woman asked him to stop. They gazed toward the far horizon; the two elephants were gone. "They'll all be back in four or five weeks," he said.
"And I'll be here then."
Etosha National Park was about the size of the state of New Jersey. The central feature of the park was a huge salt pan surrounded by flat bush land. The minerals in the water that evaporated away completely killed the soil, giving the entire area a scorched earth look, devoid of life. But when the rains came, the pan provided water for all the wildlife that gathered in the area.
The woman and the man had been coming to this part of the huge national park for the past seven months, in order to complete their study of the shrinking, desert-dwelling elephant herds. It was about sound. It was about silence.
Their small cabin was more than an hour drive from this parched desert region. By the time they reached their destination, the late afternoon sun had touched the horizon.
Inside, the woman collapsed in a chair and stretched out her long legs. She closed her eyes and took shallow breaths. The man squatted down, untied her boots, and pulled them off. "Thank you," she said, her eyes still closed.
"Want something to drink?"
"Is there a Coke?"
The man studied the woman for a moment. She had gotten thinner in just a week he thought. She opened her eyes. "What?" The man shook his head and went to the small refrigerator.
Perhaps two hours later, as they sorted through some field notes, the woman said, "Did you get a letter from the university this week?"
The man glanced over at her. "Uh ,huh." He looked down at his papers.
"Jack wants to know my plans."
"Well ... I'll let him know."
"You'll let the head of the zoology department know what?"
"Do we need to talk about this right now?"
The woman sat up in her chair and dropped her papers on the floor. "Yeah, Robert, I'd like to. Communication is good for humans as well."
"Kam, I'm going to write him, when I decide what I'm doing."
"Decide what? Your sabbatical is over in three months, the research will be finished. And you go back to America."
"Maybe I'll stay in Namibia."
"Stay in Namibia? And do what?"
"I don't know yet." He stood up.
"Robert, I won't be here."
"You don't know--"
"I'll be dead."
"Shit!" He hurled his folder against the wall. The rage washed over him and then slipped away. Robert turned when he heard her cough. He knelt down and held her in his arms. Kamaria Grellmann, the woman he'd met fourteen months before, who now meant more to him than any living person in the world, was being consumed by ovarian cancer. "Kam, do you want your medicine?"
"Just hold me."
He watched his fingers slide across the back of her neck. When he had first met her at a cocktail party at the American Embassy in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, the first thing that caught his attention was the perfection of her cafe-au-lait complexion. Robert Zimmer was certain he'd never seen a woman so beautiful in his life.
He learned later that her mother had come from the Ovambo tribe and her father, Volker Grellmann, whose ancestors had arrived in what was then called Southwest Africa in 1900, was of German descent. Her mother had died when she was fifteen and her father was killed by elephant poachers while she was attending Cambridge University in England. She had just turned twenty-one when she learned of her father's murder.
On the day of her forty-first birthday, Kamaria learned she had inoperable cancer.
"I sent letters to Cornell and Cambridge last week."
Robert sat back. "Why?"
"I told them you would be handling everything from now on."
"Our research is nearly completed," Robert said.
"Robert, as long as there are elephants here..."
"Kam, I'm not a bioacoustics expert."
"No, but you're one exceptional zoologist. You can find other good people. And the training of Namibians must never stop."
"Kam, please--"
"Promise me."
Robert had all he could do to hold back his emotions at that moment. He nodded slowly. "Promise."
A smile spread across her face, the same smile that he had fallen in love with immediately. "Come here you."
It was midnight when they went to bed. Kam told Robert that she seemed to need less sleep lately. He knew that was not the reason.
"Do you know what the San people call Namibia?" Shadows from the moonlight skipped along the wall. Robert said he did not. "They call this country the land that God made in anger."
"Do you agree?"
"I don't know anything about God's state of mind. But I do know I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
"You'd miss your elephants."
"Yes. Would you miss them now?"
"My answer is important isn't it?" he said.
"The truth is I would miss them as well. I couldn't have said that even two months ago."
"When did you know?"
"When Zita's baby died five weeks ago, and we spent the day watching them all grieve. I experienced something I never felt before."
There was a long silence until Kam said, "This was always the best place to study them. Because survival is so difficult here. I knew it when I was a little girl, watching the elephants with my father. They had to be able to communicate over long distances. We humans just couldn't hear it."
"You can take a lot of the credit for this knowledge."
"Only some credit." Kam paused. "But will it make any difference? Will they survive anyway?"
"Yes what? All these elephants won't become little white carvings in jewel boxes?"
"Yeah, I think there's some hope."
"Is that just American optimism?" said Kam.
"More than that. We know a female is receptive only a few days every four or five years. And as soon as a female is in estrus, the males appear from practically nowhere. And, because of people like you, we understand how the communication works. More than two miles away--below the range we humans can hear--the elephants are speaking to one another, watching out for one another."
"And your point would be, Professor Zimmer?"
"The female will always know how to get her man. The elephants are going to survive."
The rains started within three weeks. At first, only dark clouds appeared on the horizon, then some sporadic rain drops bounced off the parched ground. A couple of days later the air smelled different, fresher, foreshadowing a change. Several wildebeests appeared not far from their cabin, then some zebras, a few kudos, and two giraffes. The rains began in earnest within the week.
At the end of the fourth week Kam and Robert rose early, packed what they needed, and departed. Because of the rain and the wet roads, it took longer than usual. They reached their observation point at 9 o'clock. Then they waited.
At 10 o'clock Robert saw something move on the horizon. "It's him," he said a minute later. The huge bull, at least 13,000 pounds, with two long ivory tusks, and a jagged scar on his left side, moved quickly across the scrub land, headed in their general direction. "Where's Masaku?"
Kam and Robert had always seen the two bulls together. Masaku, the smaller and younger of the two, always accompanied his larger comrade. Male elephants generally lived alone or in small bachelor herds, but once in a while one or two males would travel together.
"I know Masaku is all right. There's got to be a reason." She grasped Robert's hand. "I want to get out."
"We don't want to go too far from the Land Rover," he said. Kam pushed open the door. Robert hurried to the other side of the vehicle as she clutched the side mirror to steady herself.
The large bull was now close enough for both of them to see clearly. Suddenly, he half turned in their direction and raised his head. His ears spread out and he became perfectly still. "He's freezing," said Kam in a whisper.
Robert felt an incredible stillness all around him yet, at the same time, it was as though the surrounding air was now throbbing like distant thunder. Slowly he raised his binoculars and scanned the horizon. "Look," he said, handing the binoculars to Kam.
"I knew it." In the distance Masaku waited alone. Kam slowly scanned across the scrubland. "My god."
"What?" Robert took the binoculars. At first it was only a vague outline, but then he saw them. The herd was making its way toward them. Now the large bull began to sway from side to side, glancing occasionally in the direction of the herd. "Hell, he wants us to know." Robert started to say something to Kam, when he saw her tears. "You okay?"
"I need to sit down."
"I'm fine." Unexpectedly the large bull let out a loud trumpet sound, startling both of them. She began to laugh. "Yes, yes."
The male elephant looked in their direction for just a moment, then turned and started toward where Masaku waited. Kam leaned her head against Robert's shoulder. "You want to tell me."
"Just wait," she told him.
Slowly the herd came into view. The two bulls headed in the opposite direction. Kam's eyes were now closed and her breathing was labored. Robert raised his binoculars and then he understood.
In the middle of the small herd was a baby elephant walking beside its mother and the other females. The baby's father, along with his friend Masaku,had disappeared from sight. "He wanted to let us know," Robert said. "What do you think of that, Kam?"
He held her tighter because he knew she wouldn't answer. Several of the elephants raised their trunks as they passed by. The rain had stopped.