In response to the blog post of a friend who is understandably bemoaning the state of the nation, I got a wee bit windy.
I know, I know – it’s hard for anyone to believe that I – moi – would spew opinions unrestrained against the drums of ears attached to mouths that were asking rhetoricals, not practicals. Nevertheless, I have the answer, and if the president would only sit down and pay attention to me, all the country’s problems – yea, even all the world’s! – would be solved.
The economy is not going to be fixed overnight, and right now Obama is listening to the experts who advise throwing more money at the economy in all the wrong places – at least IMHO. But, in response to those who are nodding sagely, saying “We told you that Obama would bring socialism and liberalism to the country, but did you listen? Nooooo,” I say that (ahem) this started on the Republican watch. Obama inherited this disaster; he did not create it. And since no one has ever dealt with such a staggering world-wide economic crisis before, that means he is inventing this wheel as he goes along. Will he get it all right? Of course not. But he won’t be likely to get it all wrong, either.
From what I hear and read, the economy isn’t going to start upward on any consistent basis until at least next year, and maybe not until 2011. Whenever in history the economy has tanked as suddenly and as severely as it did last summer and fall, the recovery has always been slow. That’s why they call them “depressions.”
Consumer confidence is badly shaken, and as more and more jobs are lost and more and more foreclosure notices are mailed, it’s not as if Dick and Jane are suddenly going to decide to splurge on that vacation home, lavish gifts for their status-conscious kids, or a pricey new automobile. Their businesses aren’t going to be hell-bent to hire new employees, either, because if sales are down, and no one is getting the services they offer, the employers simply can’t justify it.
The economy is, believe it or not, depressed. And Economic Abilify has not yet been invented.
My opinion (and one or two of you might possibly be aware that I have one or two opinions, even though I rarely mention them in polite company) is that Obama would be better off to give stimulus money to the people and entities that are best in a position to turn this thing around, i.e., all of us, but in different ways.
Money should go to the homeowners trying to stave off foreclosure as a condition of and part of the debt renegotiation with the lenders – that way the lenders get paid directly by the government on behalf of the homeowners, the homeowners and their children aren’t sleeping on the streets, and the banks don’t own homes they can’t sell.
If a home is undervalued for the debt the homeowner has against it, the government should pay the difference as soon as new terms for the remainder are worked out between the borrower and the lender. If the borrower can’t afford to continue making the original payments – not the juiced-up interest payments – then there can be a second tier of incentives for the lenders to extend the debts to a 40 year amortization as opposed to the customary 30 year schedule.
And NO MORE INTEREST-ONLY long term debt! Whose idiotic notion was that, anyway? “Here, Joe Bob and Sally Sue, take this money that you never have to pay back. Just pay us interest and we’ll all be happy.” The hell, they say! Morons.
Next, apply stimulus funds to the remaking of the American infrastructure, especially rural and smaller urban areas without reasonable public transit. Make light rail, high speed rail, and buses reach more places and serve more people on better schedules. One of the worst things we ever did was allow our railroads to be dismantled in favor of three cars in every driveway and five lanes on every freeway. Refurbishing and improving our infrastructure will employ hundreds of thousands of people in various positions throughout the country. From engineers to draftsmen to laborers to porters, we can get this country moving at a much more economical rate, and faster, if we’ll commit the funds to do it. And those jobs won’t go away when the projects are complete – they will need to be maintained, too.
Simultaneously, pour money into scientific research and development of alternative energy as well as into to cleaning up and maintain the environment. I’m not talking about just reducing greenhouse gases, although that is certainly a big concern, but (for example) about making reasonable accommodations for heavy metals that are the by-product of mining and drilling. A rocket laden with nuclear waste, arsenic, mercury and lead headed for the dark side of the moon might not be a bad use of NASA’s funding.
Put people to work cleaning up the environmental damage we’ve done to the planet, and making sure we’ve still got a planet to leave to our great-grandchildren. Clean water, clean air, and fewer chemicals artificially enhancing the soil and crops will go a long way toward making us all healthier – not to mention the possibility that our grandchildren might be able to play with frogs in their back yards some day.
And while we’re at it, quit giving chickens and cows all those damn hormones! I have yet to meet a teenage girl whose double-D’s don’t put my paltry gifts to shame. Why are their adolescent mammaries the size of a Holstein’s udders? Hormones!
Reduce the employer’s share of employment taxes. With the matching amounts that employers pay for health insurance, medicaid, unemployment, and social security, the cost of hiring an employee is a lot more than just what the employee sees in his check. This would be a real, dollar amount of savings for employers and would probably allow businesses to hire more workers across the board and at all levels.
Nationalized health care? Bring it on. Insurance companies will always provide coverage to people who choose to pay more for less care. Those of us who have survived cancer (twice, thankyouverymuch) or who are on certain costly medications can’t get health insurance without staggering pre-existing conditions clauses that make our health insurance worthless and excruciatingly expensive – if we can get it at all.
When health insurance benefits dictate whether a parent can open a business of his or her own or must stay with an employer who provides health coverage the family can’t get elsewhere, entrepreneurialism is stifled. This country is dependent on small business and entrepreneurs. We absolutely must break down the barriers that prevent people from making an attempt to achieve their dreams. I don’t know about you, but I work a lot harder for myself than I do for someone else. I don’t think failed businesses should be propped up by the government (Detroit, are you listening?), but when something like paying for childbirth determines whether a family can start a small business, there’s something desperately wrong.
Where, O Where will the money come from to do all this?
(clearing my throat)
The same place the last two trillion dollars came from. And the next trillion will actually make a difference. It will put people to work, shore up the foundation of the country, and stabilize the economy. It will also have the added benefit of making the world a better place. And if any of you out there are thinking there won’t be more stimulus money forthcoming, you just hide and watch. It’ll come, I promise, whether the president takes my incontrovertible advice or not.
Now that I have solved the problems of the environment, the economy, health care, and reliance on fossil fuels, are there any other problems you’d like me to take a look at? My rates are reasonable, and I’m in a spewing mood.
Spring is a miserable time of year.
First, there’s the weather. The damnable, changeable, hot-then-cold-again weather. The tornado, thunderstorm, wildly fluctuating barometric pressure, what the hell do I wear today, blustery, windy, knock me on my ass, fifty degree temperature spread in a day weather.
Then there’s the plants. You think it’s warm. There has been a recent series of beautiful warm spring days so you go to the local nursery and buy plants. You know, those tender annuals or baby herbs or vegetables just sprouted that make your mouth water with the promise of zucchini to come and tomatoes heavy on the vine. You put them in your car. You ferry them home. You place them where you want them and tamp the cool soil around their delicate stems, and after spending a day soaking up natural Vitamin D you go to bed, tired but fulfilled from a day playing the farmer, only to wake up shivering because you turned off the heat and the indoor temperature now matches the outdoor temperature of about 27 degrees and all the work you did yesterday is for naught. You vow next year to give it a week even after the frost-free date before you buy so much as a single packet of parsley seeds, knowing full well that spring’s siren song of false seduction will lure you to the nursery for that fateful waste of valuable money on plants doomed to die by the next sunrise.
The very worst part of spring, though, has to be the trees. Tall, bare-limbed, they stretch themselves and shake off the winter by emitting tentative tendrils of leaves, and before even the first leaf is full formed, the oaks go into full rut.
Oaks are horny bastards.
Because of the oaks, heinous fuckery most foul is visited upon me. Each fall the acorns hit my deck sounding like scatter shot, someone’s Daisy BB gun with an automatic clip, a terrorist squirrel at the helm of a acorn-grenade launching Gatling gun, firing hell bent for leather at my precious darling deck which never hurt anyone. Acorns are the demon-spawn of oaks. To create those diabolical children, the oaks engage in a springtime orgy that makes Bacchus himself blush at the pure wanton sex those oaks put out there for all the world to see.
The mighty oaks are masculinity personified. Baring their knotted chests, in Spring they take a deep breath and grimace, and from every pore pop squiggly spermatozoa, wiggling and waggling at other oaks, daring the other oaks to take a breath themselves and shoot back tentacles of spermatozoa in a war of silly string battle-inspired posturing and thrusting. It is indeed heinous fuckery most foul, as the foul squigglies waft their pollen and fill my unsuspecting gutters with their decaying carcasses.
Victims of these oaken battles of male dominance are cars, covered in a greenish yellow dust that hides the metallic grays and greens and reds. Victims also are the furniture, helplessly stationary in their designated positions, the flat planes of which act as a breeding ground not for acorns but for that same greenish yellow film that coats unprotected patio furniture and wafts into the cracks of car windows someone forgot to roll up.
Victim also are my sinuses, and Jack’s, and the sinuses of my receptionist (who I think has had a sinus condition since November). The virile oaks seek to splash their splooge on every available surface, in hopes that all the world will turn into acorns proving their masculine Darwinian fitness. In Spring, we walk through breezes of tree splooge morning, noon and night. Those damnable trees believe, like so many Arab IMers, that the world is a woman, open and panting for their splooge to fall fertile on something and make an acorn of it.
There is a scene in Christopher Moore’s classic Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings in which a pair of female oceanographers are studying sperm whales, and upon seeing a mating pair are delighted at their rare good fortune – until, that is, the female whale moves one way and the male moves the other just at the moment of his ecstasy. The two women are drowned in a sea of sperm whale splooge and instantly turn lesbian, seeking never again to encounter such a substance again.
That is also the novel in which I first encountered the term “heinous fuckery most foul,” uttered by a caucasian Rastafarian surfer called Kona.
My nose is stuffed so much I can’t sniffle. My cough barks deep within my chest. Today, I identify totally with those two female oceanographers. If I never experience tree splooge again, it will be too soon.
The oaks are virile indeed.
Despite Geraldine’s Ferraro’s possible claims to the contrary, there is no racism among cetaceans.
There’s a bottlenose dolphin called Moko who frequently splashes and plays with swimmers at Mahia Beach on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, in a region known as Hawke’s Bay.
Hawke’s Bay is sort of the Napa Valley of New Zealand. The region is famous for its wines and fine accommodations. The peninsula is a scenic reserve, complete with hiking trails and camping.
Moko the dolphin is a real-life “Flipper.” She plays with swimmers, pushes kayaks through the water, and comes close to boats so the people in them can pet her. Although dolphins don’t normally seem to be afraid of humans, interactions between humans and dolphins in the wild is fairly rare. Conservation Department workers speculate that Moko is isolated from her pod and gets her social contact through her interactions with the bathers and boaters off Mahia Beach.
Moko the dolphin does more than just play with the bipeds in Hawke’s Bay, though. She’s a true hero, and Monday she proved it.
On Monday, a 12-foot mother pygmy sperm whale and her 4-foot calf became stranded in a shallow area frequented by swimmers at Mahia Beach. Conservation Department workers did their best, but could not get the whales pointed in the right direction. They got a sling under the mother and the baby, pulled them off the sand bar, and pointed them to deeper water. The whales were frightened, though, and kept getting beached. They were apparently afraid of the shallow waters near the beach and could not find their way amid the many sand bars back to open water.
The animals kept getting beached on the shallow sand bars that surround the swimming area. The Conservation Department workers freed them four times, but each time the whales to become grounded again, unable to swim to deep water and safety.
Malcolm Smith, who had been in the chilly water trying to free the whales for well over an hour, described the rescue by Moko as “amazing.” “I was starting to get cold and wet and they were becoming tired. I was at the stage where I was thinking it was about time to give up – I’d done as much as I could.”
Giving up mean euthanasia. If stranded whales cannot be freed and sent back into open water, the Conservation Department spares them the long, agonizing death that results from the whales being impossibly stuck on a beach or on a sand bar.
Suddenly, though, apparently in answer to the whales’ distress calls, Moko the friendly dolphin showed up. Juanita Symes, a Conservation Department worker and rescuer, told The Associated Press that “Moko just came flying through the water and pushed in between us and the whales.”
The dolphin and the whales communicated. The rescue workers saw Moko’s actions and heard her whistles, and heard the audible response of the pygmy sperm whales. Moko then led them about 200 yards along the beach, through a narrow channel, and out to the open sea.
London’s Daily Mail quoted Smith as saying, “Moko is a real heroine because there is absolutely no doubt she learned of the whales’ plight through some kind of telepathy and then got them out of trouble.” Moko led the whales about 200 yards parallel to the beach, then turned into a narrow channel the whales had not been able to find on their own. The whales followed Moko to open sea and have not been seen since in the Mahia Beach area.
The mother and calf were extremely lucky. Most of the whale strandings at Mahia Beach end up with the whales having to be euthanized. Perhaps when other whales become disoriented and stranded in the shallow waters, Moko will again come to the rescue.
America – both the Americas – were not so much settled by Europeans as they were invaded.
Sixteenth and seventeenth century European attitudes toward the “virgin” land of the New World implied that they believed that the continent was theirs for the taking, as if it had been waiting millennia for some white people to come along and civilize it. This attitude persisted until very recently, and may not have been annihilated even yet.
The idea behind the Crusades in the eleventh century still held for the sixteenth and seventeenth century Europeans. Any war fought for the purpose of expanding the Church was considered justifiable (jihad, anyone?), and with European attentions turned to the American continents came the profound realization that there were more savages who needed to be exposed to Christianity.
Christians tended to view the indigenous Americans as non-religious because they did not recognize elements of their own religion in the environmental religions of the natives. American Indian religious myths, legends and rituals emphasized the peoples’ relationship to the environment.
For awhile, the natives and the European colonists found a use for one another. The basis for the relationship was trade, and trade was something neither side wanted to lose. Indians were enthralled by the wonders of steel blades, guns, and European textiles. Both sides wanted each other’s support against hostile neighbors. In the beginning the Europeans required the assistance of the natives just to survive in what they perceived as a wilderness. They also wanted pelts, wampum (which was accepted as currency in the colonies), handcrafts, and the personal service of the natives. Most of all, though, the white people wanted land.
As Indians realized what wonderful objects they could obtain through trade with the Europeans, intertribal trade decreased. Since the white people demanded furs in trade, native energies were devoted to acquiring more pelts than the next tribe down the trail. Overkill disrupted the balance of nature. The Indians’ diligence in getting furs for the Europeans resulted in self-destruction as they wiped out the wildlife upon which their lives depended.
White populations grew, and so did the demand for land. The colonists and their sponsoring governments believed that American soil was lying unused. They believed that since the same ground could support a denser population of white people that somehow the white people had a more valid claim to the land. They disregarded the fact that disease brought to America by Europeans had effectively depopulated the Americas; in fact, had they acknowledged such a thing it might be seen as God’s judgment upon the heathen savages, and further proof that the land should be in the possession of those who would put it to obvious use rather than those who would allow it to remain largely untouched.
At the root of all native-colonist relations was the hunger for land. Colonists believes that the natives did not utilize land to its utmost because there were, as the Europeans saw it, vast tracts of land left wild, uncontrolled by agriculture or towns. The European colonists did not consider that the indigenous people obtained a great deal of their food from hunting and gathering. To assure the presence of game , the game’s habitat must be preserved. Only with the practice of conservation would the game continue to multiply.
Something the colonists did not understand then, and which has largely been ignored in history, is that the native Americans farmed to feed their people. Although many foods were gathered as they grew wild, and animal husbandry was introduced by Europeans, agriculture was widespread in both of the Americas. The natives grew surplus crops and stored them for the winter.
Had the Plymouth colonists not stumbled upon stores of these surpluses, and then been given more, they would probably not have survived their first winter. Jamestown colonists were also kept from starving by gifts and purchases of surplus crops already grown and stored by the natives.
Arrangements between Europeans and Indians to share the land were made with the ultimate intention of the part of the white people to dispossess the natives. When land was conveyed to an European, whether by a deed or by some other kind of agreement, the European assumed that the tribe gave up rule over the area in question. Imagine a Dutch family buying a home in New York City today and claiming that the law of the Netherlands, and not of the United States, prevailed! This is exactly what the Europeans did, though. Furthermore, when Europeans claimed land in the Americas, they would claim that the natives living in that territory as their subjects.
Wars fought between white and native peoples were generally fought over land rights. Whether the disputed land was claimed by both natives and Europeans, or by competing European countries, the Native Americans ended up fighting, either to support their own claims or to support the claims of the European community with which they did the most business.
Effectively Indian populations became the vassals of the colonial governments and then later of the American government. They never saw themselves in this light, however. Sovereignty became the single major issue between white and native populations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and was an especially bloody concerning the Iroquois, whose lands were claimed by the new governments of State of New York and the United States.
The colonists abused inter-tribal feuds for their own purposes, too. They spread rumors about enemy tribes among friendly ones in order to cause suspicion and war. After the tribes battled, the Europeans moved in to enjoy the spoils.
The colonists also used the spread of Christianity to pit the natives against each other. As different European nations established colonies, the religious men of those colonies taught the nearby natives their own brand of Christianity, ultimately pitting Catholic against Protestant. Once again, when the bloody battle was over, the white man moved in to enjoy the spoils.
The French and Indian War is an obvious and famous example of how useful the native was for European warfare. French and English traders bought the loyalties of different groups of natives then threw them into battle against each other. It was a war for European dominance that the Europeans barely had to fight. They could be relatively detached and observe while the natives unwittingly substantiated European claims to what was actually native land.
Europeans saw the natives as lawless. They did not recognize the form of government under which the indigenous peoples lived. They saw the chiefs and sachems as tyrants, or they discerned only anarchy from council gatherings. For example, the Iroquois did not recognize a central authority as a governing device. Consensus, in a very democratic manner, created the authority by which the tribes operated. On the other hand, Europeans saw sovereignty as a means to an end. The goal was control.
At first, the colonists paid little attention to native protocol in intergovernmental relations. As they became more accustomed to Indian ritual, they adapted themselves to the native style of diplomacy. Treaties in the northwest portions of New England eventually followed the government model of the Iroquois Five Nations, and eventually the colonists, in their break from monarchy, adopted a mix of European and native democratic protocols.
Because the native governments did not conform to what the Europeans historically understood to be government, the colonists felt justified in forcing their values and institutions on the natives. They considered the Indians uncivilized and therefore outside the sanction of law and morality, so they were not ridden with guilt as they extorted the Indians’ lands from them and subjected them to an alien form of government.
The Europeans went to great extremes to bring the natives under colonial jurisdiction. Often natives would sign away their lands without understanding the terms of the treaties. Colonists would deliberately mislead the natives as to the content of the agreements, making certain that the tribal leaders or individuals they treated with did not comprehend the meaning of the papers they signed. This practice was continued by the new government of the United States.
Some of the more nefarious practices included not informing the natives of the terms of the treaty, then penalizing them for violation of those terms or of terms which the white men retrospectively wanted the treaty to include. The Europeans would extort great sums of currency from the Indians knowing the natives could not pay, then loan them money with the land as collateral. When the tribe failed to come through with payment, the colonists would confiscate the land and declare the tribes on it to be under colonial jurisdiction.
It is hardly remarkable that upon entering a reservation today, the sovereign Native American nation posts a sign explaining that those who enter are subject to tribal law rather than to American law.
White men later extorted money from natives in other ways. When Charles A. Eastman, a mixed-race Indian activist and lobbyist around the turn of the 20th century, learned that the United States government had shorted the Sioux nation by about $10,000.00 on a treaty payment for their land, the government called in an inspector. The inspector agreed with Eastman’s assessment. The Bureau of Indian Affairs elected to discredit the inspector’s report, however, and sent another inspector. This inspector found no wrongdoing, and the tribe was denied its money. In yet another case, the Sioux were to have received payments over a period of fifty years for their tribal lands. Only nine payments were ever made.
Propaganda to the contrary, tribal customs in war were not nearly as brutal as those of the Europeans or their American children. Indian war philosophy was not constructed along plans of conquest and subjugation. At the next peaceful meeting of the native tribes, gifts would be exchanged and the other side would be honored. Only after repeated exposure to European-style warfare did the natives engage in mass slaughter. European warfare, on the other hand, was always about wiping out the enemy and taking all that he had, rendering any survivors unable to survive for long.
The indigenous warriors tended to kill only in battle and stopped fighting after relatively few deaths. European soldiers had no qualms about massacre as long as they were using it against the natives. Prisoners of war were treated with much more compassion among the Indians than among the colonists, and the use of torture in all its depravity was more common among the English than the Indians until the English use of it became so widespread that the native captors employed it as well.
The tribes did not tend to destroy crops during warfare. When they fought intertribally, they were steeling feuds with people, not wildlife. However, white soldiers routinely burned crops and stole livestock.
Part of what Europeans mistook for native lawlessness was that Indians recognized fewer crimes and therefore punished fewer. If a white person felt he had been victim of a crime committed by a native, he normally insisted that the native be brought to justice under the terms of the white government. If a native were the victim of a crime committed by a white person, though, he could not hope for justice to be delivered to the offender under the white government. If a white man asked that an Indian be punished under tribal laws, he was much more likely to get results. The tribal leaders were all too aware that if the white person was not satisfied with his redress, he would be avenged on the native’s entire town or tribe.
After learning to live in the alien land of the Americas, Europeans began to distribute the tools that made survival a part time job. Traders knew that the goods most in demand were practical ones. The natives were just as happy to receive these tools as the whites were to receive pelts. The difference lay in the fact that the Indians taught the white man their techniques of preparing hides, but the white man neglected to show the Indian how to make his own blades, guns, and other factory-made products. The white man came out ahead once again, and the Indian destroyed his livelihood by over-hunting to be able to purchase the goods he could not make himself.
Inter-tribal trade was also transformed by the new goods available through the Europeans. New commodities replaced the old. The collapse of inter-tribal trading increased the hostilities because tribes began competing with one another for European products instead cooperating with each other for mutual survival.
Trade and loyalties to opposing groups of Europeans are only a part of what disrupted harmony between tribes. Following the example specifically of the English, Indian sachems such as Uncas of the Mohegans became territory-hungry. Contact with Europeans added new motives for war, introduced new weapons, and increased the number of wartime casualties drastically, even in wars the Europeans did not fight.
The Colonies often moved without the permission or even the knowledge of their sponsor governments. Each colony was autonomous and competed with its neighbor for claims to lands to the west, for the best locations for trading posts, and for tribute from local tribes to buy the peace. There were vicious disputes between colonies for land, and the real losers were the real owners.
When the first serious English settlers arrived in North America in the 1620’s, many sachems welcomed them. Schoolchildren today are taught about the kindness of the Wampanoag chief, Massasaoit, to the Pilgrims when they first arrived and were starving. That initial kindness was not returned by the Englishmen, as can be seen in the sequence of events leading to the struggle for dominance in the Connecticut Valley.
This was the land of the Pequots, and both the colonies in Massachusestts and Connecticut coveted the land. What resulted were the Pequot Wars, in which the Massachusetts colonists paid the Narragansetts to fight against their neighbors, the Pequots. The Narragansetts agreed, unaware that no warriors would be in the Pequot village when they arrived. The women, children and old men left in the Pequot village were massacred, mostly by the Englishmen accompanying the Narragansetts. The English depravities horrified the Narragansetts, and the surviving Pequots fled north and west to tribes friendly to them. An entire tribe was now out of the way and English settlement could proceed.
The natives did fight back, but never very successfully for very long. Natives were eventually herded onto reservations that became smaller and smaller over time. Resettlement was another option the U.S government pursued. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, thousands of natives were sent hundreds of miles away from their homelands to places like Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wisconsin. They became refugees at the mercy of the United States and host tribes. Displacement of the native population contributed not only to physical hardship, because the people were forced to adapt to a smaller and sometimes alien territory, but to mental anguish as well.
During these times some natives responded with religion. The Ghost Dancers among the Sioux and their neighbors, and the followers of the Code of Handsome Lake among the Seneca were prominent. Especially during the nineteenth century, many native prophets and messiahs appeared. Their teachings were peaceful and advocated a revival of native customs that had been ignored, forgotten, or neglected. They were nevertheless perceived as threatening to the United States government. Ghost Dancers disappeared after a paranoid against mistook their celebrations for an uprising and called in soldiers, who massacred an encampment at Wounded Knee Creek.
The Code of Handsome Lake survived the test of time, though. It still has followers on Iroquois reservations in the United States and Canada. Handsome Lake, brother of the great Indian chief Tecumseh, taught the old Seneca ways. He also advised his followers to take from white society things that could benefit Indian society. He began a revival of Seneca religious traditions and rituals and at the same time he lobbied for education and agriculture.
Now the Native American lobby is gaining power. Will the wrongs ever be redressed? It is highly unlikely. Money and education may help, but I doubt anyone one can imagine a North American continent in which the descendants of the Europeans are displaced and the descendants of the indigenous people control the government and the economy. Well, perhaps we can imagine it, but we expect it will stay “safely” in our imaginations.
Charles A. Eastman, From the Deep Woods to Civilization (Little, Brown, 1916)
William M. Fowler, Jr., Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763 (Walker, 2005)
Patrick Huyghe, Columbus Was Last: From 200,000 B.C. to 1492, A Heretical History of Who Was First (MJF Books 1992)
Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America (Norton, 1976)
Robert Leckie, “A Few Acres of Snow:” The Saga of the French and Indian Wars (Castle Books, 2006)
Malcolm Margolin, The Ohlone Way, (Heyday, 1978)
Ted Morgan, Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent (Simon & Schuster 1993)
Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War (Viking, 2006)
Arthur Quinn, A New World: An Epic of Colonial America from the Founding of Jamestown to the Fall of Quebec (Faber and Faber, 1994)
Daniel K. Richter, Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America (Harvard University Press, 2001)
Edward Spicer, ed., A Short History of the Indians of the United States (Van Nostrand, 1980)
Christopher Vecsey and Robert W. Venables, American Indian Environments (Syracuse University Press, 1980)
Anthony F.C. Wallace, The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca (Random House/Vintage books, 1972)
It’s almost August in Arkansas. That means it’s hot and the air is so heavy and stands so still I can lift a chunk of it in one hand and cut it with a knife.
How can someone who hates hot weather keep cool? She gets creative. In addition to tall glasses of sweet iced tea, sun dresses, and air conditioning cranked so low you could hang meat from my ceiling, I decided to pull out an old favorite: a book about dog sledding that I read a few years ago. There’s nothing like the thought of the Iditarod to put ice in one’s blood, now is there?
This isn’t a book review, although if you want to read more about the serum run the book I read is an excellent choice.
Pull up your chairs and settle in. Let me tell you a story about what really, truly happened one long wintry night in Alaska – where winter nights last for months.
Map of the January 1925 Serum Run along the Iditaraod Trail from The Cruelest Miles
Prior to reading The Cruelest Miles, a fabulous book by Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury about the legendary inspiration for the annual Iditarod dog sled race, my own knowledge about the Serum Run came from the news reports of the Iditarod, most of which I ignored, and my son’s old videotape of the animated feature, Balto, which I watched and listened to ad nauseum when he was a little guy. Although I suspected that the children’s movie had taken liberties with the facts, I was compelled to buy the book because of it as much as by the chance to read another vignette from American history. And yes, the movie did take generous liberties with the facts. Apparently, so did the creators of the statue of Balto that sits at the Children’s Zoo in Central Park in New York City.
The 674 mile trek was endured by brave Alaskan dog-sledders to stop the Nome diphtheria outbreak in the dead of winter, 1925. The Salisburys’ book is altogether readable and informative not only about the desperate race against the disease, but also about dog-sledding, Alaskan topography and climate, the personalities and temperaments of the sled dogs themselves, and of the score of determined men who accepted the challenge to risk their own lives to save a town of dying children at the top of the world almost 100 years ago.
Suspense gripped the entire world during each leg of the desperate race to get the diphtheria anti-toxin to Nome in time to save the town. The book intersperses fascinating facts and asides which leave the reader hungry for more, but not impatient with the interruptions of the dramatic unfolding of events. The story has great flavor because of the fullness of its telling. As each team of dauntless dogs is hitched to their sled, the anti-toxin’s epic journey is punctuated with the unfolding crisis back in Nome.
When an Eskimo family brought one of their four children to him in the fall of 1925, Nome’s local doctor, Curtis Welch, did not immediately suspect diphtheria, nor did he realize that he was seeing an epidemic in its infancy. He believed at first that he was dealing with tonsillitis, inflammation of the tonsils and throat caused by a virus or bacteria. None of the other children in the family were ill, and the parents reported no other instances of sore throats back in their village. Since diphtheria is highly contagious, it was unlikely that only one child would be affected, and in the decades he had been practicing medicine in Alaska’s northwest, no cases of diphtheria had been diagnosed. The Eskimo child died the next morning, though. Although Welch first concluded the cause of death to be from tonsillitis, which was rare. After the cases of diphtheria began making themselves known, though, Welch changed the death certificate to reflect diphtheria as the child’s cause of death.
That fall and winter Welch noticed an unusually high frequency of tonsillitis and sore throats. On Christmas Eve, he saw a seven-year-old girl with a severely sore throat. Her Eskimo mother would not permit him to examine her fully without the child’s Norwegian father present, and the father had left the area on business. The little girl died four days later. This was now the second death from tonsillitis. Deaths from tonsillitis did occur, but even in days before antibiotics they were extremely rare. When news came that four other native children had died after suffering from sore throats, Welch began to suspect that something was amiss.
Diphtheria is an airborne bacteria that thrives in the moist membranes of the throat and nose and releases a powerful toxin that makes its victims tired and apathetic. In two to five days, other, more deadly symptoms would appear: a slight fever and red ulcers at the back of the throat and in the mouth. As the bacteria multiplied and more of the toxin was released, the ulcers thickened and expanded, forming a tough, crusty, almost leathery membrane made up of dead cells, blood clots, and dead skin. The membrane colonized ever larger portions of the mouth and the throat, until it had nowhere left to go and advanced down the windpipe, slowly suffocating the victim. [The Cruelest Miles, p. 36]
On January 20, a three year old boy, Billy Barnett, displayed the characteristic gray membrane of diphtheria. Dr. Welch was no longer just guessing. Since the diphtheria antitoxin his hospital had on hand had expired, and the fresh antitoxin he had ordered during the summer of 1924 did not arrive before the Bering Sea froze completely that fall, Dr. Welch had no choice but to watch the tiny boy die. Then the day after Billy Barnett’s death, an Eskimo girl with obvious diphtheria died.
Dr. Welch was aware of the significance of the problem. During the influenza pandemic of 1918, the native population had attempted to flee the disease and instead spread it further. If a panic occurred, the disease would not be limited just to Nome’s population of about 1500. Diphtheria is highly contagious and the bacteria was capable of living for weeks outside a human host. Panicked flight would guarantee the spread of the epidemic faster and farther, and containing it, especially during northwest Alaska’s brutal winter, would be impossible.
The town council met and were informed of the dire circumstances. Nome had been devastated by the flu pandemic six years before, losing more than half its population. Of 300 orphans created by the flu pandemic in Alaska, 90 of them were in Nome. The men were well aware of the seriousness of the situation.
The decision was made to quarantine the town and to prohibit any group gatherings. Children, the ones most likely to be affected by the disease, would not be permitted to leave their homes at all. Two urgent telegraphs were sent. One went to the US Public Health Service in Washington, DC. The other was an all-points bulletin for the entire of Alaska.
Nome’s medical care team was quickly overwhelmed by sick children exhibiting the same symptoms. Not only was a deadly epidemic spreading rapidly through the town and neighboring villages, but Dr. Welch’s medical facility, the best in the region, was cut off from the rest of the world by pack ice and the harsh arctic winter. While this might be good inasmuch as a quarantine was concerned, no one would survive the epidemic to tell about it unless a delivery of antitoxin got to Nome fast.
Keep in mind, now: it’s the dead of winter two degrees below the arctic circle. The sea is frozen. There was no rail service within 700 miles of Nome. Even today there are no roads in or out of Nome, and in 1925 truck transport over such a distance, without roads, was completely out of the question.The only available airplane was a World War I model with an open cockpit – this was 1925 – which would have been almost certain suicide for the pilot in the dead of the North Alaskan winter.
The only way to get the serum to Nome was by dog sled, if serum could even be found.
To be continued…
Tragic factoid about this Wench of Aramink: her skin is so pale it’s translucent, and she’s never had a suntan in her life.
It doesn’t bother me until someone says something like, “Dang, girl! Didja just crawl out from under a log or somethin’?” Or, “You need a little color to look healthy.” Or, “Put on some pantyhose. Those legs are blinding me!”
Every year I let myself get bullied into going to the beach the week after school breaks for the summer. It’s not hard to bully me into it – I love the smell of salt water and I like to snorkel. In fact, I like swimming so much that I’m going to put a pool in my back yard. The plans are drawn and the bids are rolling in! I feel a little inadequate next to the already-tanned sun worshippers surrounding me. Slathered in sun block I play in the surf and then I hide in the shade under the beach umbrella to read my book. Since even the reflection from the sand can give me a burn, I can’t stay out long. I head to the condo and read some more, and sleep, and feed my 360 addiction.
Sometimes I just feel a little silly spending money for a week at the beach when I can’t be in the sun more than a couple of hours a day without getting second degree burns. Even with SPF 5000 I can only stay out an hour or so at most without painful results.
I have ended up in the hospital with second degree burns from the sun on not just one but two occasions. For that reason, I am really, really careful.
The first time it happened I came down to Fort Walton Beach, Florida, with a couple of friends from college over spring break. It was my sophomore year of college. From Hamilton, New York, we drove first to Arkansas. These two friends of mine were from Auburn, New York, and Springfield, Massachusetts, and had never been in the South at all. We stopped in Memphis and went to Graceland, which had just been opened to the public for the first time. We toured the Sun Records studio and went to Beale Street, home of the blues. Then we crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas.
Several things of note happened to my friends in my hometown. They ate fried catfish and tasted okra for the first time. They were surrounded by southern accents and for a change it was their way of speaking that make people say “huh?” And they met Bill Clinton. It was primary season, and after losing the office two years before he was running again for his second term as governor. My dad was a rather influential politico even though he never ran for office himself, and Clinton stopped by my parents’ house while we were eating pizza. He joined us and we had a great visit talking about the difference between college life in the Northeast and real life in Arkansas, education, and what we all wanted to be when we grew up. Not surprisingly, Bill said he wanted to be president.
Ten years later when Clinton won the New Hampshire primary, one of the girls who had come home with me that year for spring break called me. “Isn’t that the same guy we ate pizza with?” she asked.
“That’s the one. Remember he said he was going to be president someday?”
“Yes! I didn’t think he really meant it, though!”
“Oh, he meant it. He’s always meant it.”
But I digress. On with the sunburn story:
From Arkansas we headed due south to New Orleans, another one of my favorite places in the world. I showed my friends what live oaks look like when their spreading limbs are hung with Spanish moss, and what Bourbon Street sounded like before the street musicians were banned. We rode the streetcar down St. Charles Avenue and strolled in Audubon Park. We saw cockroaches so big they sounded like 747s when they flew at your face. We went to Cooter Brown’s to sample some of the exotic beers. Then we headed back east along the coast for some quality beach time.
We bypassed the Mississippi and Alabama gulf shores and headed across the border into Florida. We stopped about 40 miles into Florida and pitched our tent in a state park on the beach. I showed them what sea oats were so they’d be sure not to pick them. They were amazed at the whiteness of the sand and at the whiteness of my skin.
We hit the beach early our first morning there. We only had two days to spend in Florida before we had to head back to school. The ground back at Colgate would be white, too, but with snow, not with sand made of quartz crystals. We wanted to make the most of our time.
After about four hours on the beach, we decided to find food and a movie. I changed from my bathing suit into shorts and a t-shirt. I was a little pink, but not red. By the time we finished eating I was shivering. By the time the movie was over I was nearly crying with the pain. We went to sleep in the tent and the next morning I woke to see a blister the size and shape of a baseball had grown on my upper left arm.
The three of us spent that morning in the emergency room of the local hospital. Every inch of my exposed skin was bubbly with burn blisters. After declining the doctor’s invitation for me to stay as his guest in the hospital, we decided to head back toward Colgate a day early. We stopped in three more emergency rooms on the way back. Each time my skin was punctured, drained, smothered in salve, swathed in bandages, and treated as gently as possible. Each time I was granted stronger painkillers. Each time I was advised to check in for an extended stay. Each time I declined.
We got back to Colgate in the midst of a blizzard. Clad only in my bathing suit and unable to put on shoes, I limped from the car to my apartment through the wind and snow. I missed a week of classes and finally went to the campus medical clinic. Once again, I was punctured, drained, smothered in salve, swathed in bandages, and treated as gently as possible. This time I was given antibiotics as well as painkillers. My entire body was puffy and swollen from the burns.
After another week I was able to put on clothes and go to class. I swore I was done with the sun. Anything that could hurt me that much was to be avoided. I came out of the experience with lots of new freckles and a permanent hypersensitivity to the sun.
I didn’t remember for long, though. The summer between my junior and senior year in college, my friend from Auburn, NY and I loaded a couple of backpacks and headed to Europe with our Eurail passes and our passports. On the Amalfi coast of Italy, near the Island of Capri, I did it again. My friend and I had separated to travel with different people we had met along the way and were going to meet up again at Brindisi, Italy, where we’d cross into Greece. I sent her a telegram at the American Express office, the place we had agreed would be our contact point: “REMEMBER FLORIDA STOP I DID IT AGAIN STOP MEET YOU IN VENICE TWO WEEKS STOP”
No, I don’t mind all that much that I don’t have a suntan.
I appreciate the comments on the first installment of my blog on Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. The second installment on this book is the more interesting, in my opinion. Why? Because it explains part of the mythology of our culture by retelling two important stories we all know. Both are stories from the Book of Genesis.
Although I may draw the ire of Bible literalists when I say this, I think the explanations Quinn gives of the Fall of Man (Adam’s banishment from Eden) and of the story of Cain and Abel make supreme allegorical sense. The explanations opened doors in my mind.
All of us are familiar with the story of the Fall. God tells Adam that he can eat from any tree in Eden except the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam eats from it so God banishes him from the Garden. (I am deliberately leaving out Eve and her role because the word “Adam” means “mankind, ” and mankind is what Ishmael is concerned with.) Most of us are taught that this act of disobedience was something God could not tolerate. When Adam ate the fruit of the tree he realized he was naked and was ashamed. Hello, instantaneous cultural mores!
Ishmael explains the story from a slightly different perspective: that of the gods. The fruit of the tree gave knowledge of good and evil, but it did not impart the wisdom of how to use that knowledge in the long term. Knowing that something is good in the moment does not mean that that same thing will be good in the future. Also, what is good for one may be evil for another. Mankind is too selfish to make that distinction: if something is good for Man now, then that is Man’s choice. If it results in later harm, well, Man will choose to deal with the consequences later. Just like someone commented on yesterday’s blog, humans want instant gratification.
The example Ishmael gives is of predator and prey. If the lion kills the gazelle, it is good for the lion and the lion lives to hunt another day but it is bad for the gazelle, which dies. If the lion misses the kill, it is bad for the lion because the lion starves to death, but it is good for the gazelle which lives for another day. By controlling his ecology and his world, Man has assumed the mantle of choosing which lives and which dies in this scenario. Although man has the gods’ knowledge of good and evil, Man does not have the gods’ wisdom to choose correctly every time. Man’s poor choices result in an ecological imbalance.
The knowledge of good and evil is therefore something entirely situational for Man. Man only chooses what is good for him at the time. Man does not choose what is good for the world at all times. He cannot. Man’s arrogance and his mistaken belief that he has both the power and the wisdom of the gods is his own undoing. It will cause his own destruction.
The second Genesis tale Ishmael relates is what we know as the First Murder. The sons of Adam, Cain, a farmer, and Abel, a herder, both make sacrifices to their god. Cain is jealous because the god prefers Abel’s sacrifice, and kills him. Cain is banished from society as a result and carries a mark that identifies him as evil.
Ishmael tells the man that although the Hebrews preserved the story of the brothers, it was a Semite story to begin with. The Semites were a culture that predated the Hebrews and the Arabs. The Semites lived on the Arabian peninsula and in the fertile crescent of the Tigris-Euphrates valley. As Leavers, they took only what they needed and left the rest alone. The were hunter-gatherers and later nomadic herders. In years of plenty, humans and other animal and plant species flourished. In years of famine, the numbers of all species diminished. They would flourish again when food became plentiful.
Agriculture is believed to have begun in the Fertile Crescent. When Man began farming, animals were no longer allowed to graze on farmland. The farmers produced much more food than they needed, and times of famine became less frequent. The species that had lived where the farmers were cultivating land moved elsewhere. As more land was put under cultivation, the farmers, now a Taker society reshaping the world to suit themselves, pushed the nomadic Leavers from their lands. The story of Cain murdering Abel is the story of the northern Taker Semitic tribes murdering the southern nomadic Semitic Leaver tribes to make room for more agriculture. It is a story of war.
The gods prefer Abel’s way of life, which allows all living things to flourish in good times and which means all living things suffer equally during lean times. Cain is banished from living in the hands of the gods because he has assumed the mantle of the gods by reforming the world to his own purposes. The mark that identifies him as evil is his arrogance and continuing destruction of the very planet he needs to maintain in order to survive.
Basically, Ishmael explains, Takers believe that the world belongs to Man, whereas Leavers believe that Man belongs to the world. Takers see themselves as running the world. Leavers allow the gods to run the world. The gods, of course, prefer Leavers, and Leavers are sustainable. Takers are not, and will eventually destroy themselves along with their world in contradiction to the gods’ intentions.
In his final lesson with Ishmael, the man asks for a program to save the world. Ishmael tells him,
“The story of Genesis must be undone. First, Cain must stop murdering Abel. This is essential if you’re to survive. The Leavers are the endangered species most critical to the world- not because they’re humans but because they alone can show the destroyers of the world that there is no one right way to live. And then, of course, you must spit out the fruit of the forbidden tree. You must absolutely and forever relinquish the idea that you know who should live and who should die on this planet.”
“Yes, I see all that, but that’s a program for mankind to follow, that’s not a program for me. What do I do?”
“What you do is to teach a hundred what I’ve taught you, and inspire each of them to teach a hundred. That’s how it’s always done.”
“Yes, but . . . is it enough?”
Ishmael frowned. “Of course it’s not enough. But if you begin anywhere else, there’s no hope at all. You can’t say, ‘We’re going to change the way people behave toward the world, but we’re not going to change the way they think about the world or the way they think about divine intentions in the world or the was they think about the destiny of man.’ As long as the people of your culture are convinced that the world belongs to them and that their divinely-appointed destiny is to conquer and rule it, then they are of course going to go on acting the way they’ve been acting for the past ten thousand years. They’re going to go on treating the world as if it were a piece of human property and they’re going to go on conquering it as if it were an adversary. You can’t change these things with laws. You must change people’s minds. And you can’t just root out a harmful complex of ideas and leave a void behind; you have to give people something that is as meaningful as what they’ve lost – something that makes better sense than the old horror of Man Supreme, wiping out everything on this planet that doesn’t serve his needs directly or indirectly.”
I shook my head. “What you’re saying is that someone has to stand up and become to the world today what Saint Paul was to the Roman Empire.”
“Yes, basically. Is that so daunting?”
I laughed. “Daunting isn’t nearly strong enough. To call it daunting is like calling the Atlantic damp.”
“Is it really so impossible in an age when a stand-up comic on television reaches more people than Paul did in his entire lifetime?”
The above quotation is taken from Daniel Quinn: Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit (Bantam, NY (1992)), pp 248-249.
Yesterday’s Earth Day post drew some interesting comments and left a burning question in my mind. If “going green” isn’t enough to slow the global climate change and stave off apocalypse, what can we do?
I want to tell you about a novel I read recently. Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, explains why human beings are such poor stewards of our planet. We have destroyed our world because we believe ourselves to be gods. We change our surroundings to suit us and we kill anything that gets in our way.
Quinn is a radical Neo-Tribalist, and he lays out the philosophy and the reasons for Neo-Tribalism in a Socratic dialogue between a telepathic gorilla and a man. Neo-Tribalism is a theory based on the writings of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (the “Noble Savage” guy) and anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (the god of structural anthropology), among others. The idea is that modern culture will result in annihilation of the human race. Overpopulation and abuse of resources, coupled with the idea that mankind has a right to use up the planet as it sees fit is what modern man does, and is it not sustainable. We will survive only if as a species we return to a hunter-gatherer existence, living in harmony with the planet and the other species on it.
Quinn’s novel Ishmael contains more than ecological philosophy, though. It is a dialogue between man and ape. It is social philosophy. It is religion. It is profound. It shifts paradigms. It moves the cheese. This book has changed lives.
The human protagonist in Ishmael responds to a newspaper ad: “Teacher Seeks Pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in Person.” When he applies for the pupil position, the man must grapple with the surreal discovery that the teacher is a telepathic silver-back gorilla who calls himself Ishmael.
Finally, in answer to Ishmael’s question of why he seeks a teacher, the man admits that he wants to understand “how things came to be this way.” The man feels that something is wrong with the world, that there is a Great Lie being told, but he can neither identify what is wrong nor identify the lie.
Ishmael begins teaching the man about his own species and his own cultural biases. First, the man must understand that many of the things he believes to be true are part of a mythology. The most important myth to recognize is the myth that the world was made for Man to do with as he pleases.
Ishmael divides mankind generally into two groups: Takers and Leavers. Takers are those who take from the world and from the other creatures around them. Takers take all they want, which is more than what they need. They believe the myth that the world exists for their kind, and they brook no argument otherwise. We are Takers.
Leavers are the people we call primitive. They do not farm, they do not take more from the world than they need to survive. They are hunters and gatherers. Very few Leavers continue to exist, because the Takers plant the Myth wherever they go and convert the Leavers to Takers.
Once the man understands that the notion that humans are the pinnacle of creation is a myth, he is better equipped to understand “how things came to be this way.”The great lie is that man can do as he pleases to change the earth. The lie is based on the myth.
Ishmael’s student comes to understand that Man, in his guise of Taker, is the only creature on the planet to believe the myth and the lie. Other species compete within the ecosystem; man changes the ecosystem to suit himself without regard to the consequences for other creatures or even, ultimately, for himself. Leavers and the rest of the species on the planet compete for survival, but they do not “wage war” against the planet or other species to do so. Takers wage constant war against the earth and against the species Takers perceive to be competition. The competition may be the way a river flows, the existence of an insect, or plants Takers consider to be weeds in their gardens.
To live sustainably, Quinn argues, “you may not hunt down competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food.” By killing our competition (the pests that invade our crops, the wolves that hunt our sheep, the swamps where we want to build our cities, the Leavers whose way of life is alien to ours) we Takers wage war against the world.
Think about this. Tomorrow I’ll tell you more about this amazing book and its philosophy.
Since April 22 falls on Sunday this year, and all good Bible Belters are in church even if they subsist on wheat germ and granola, they had the big First Annual Earth Day Extravaganza down at the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library a day early this year.
Bill wasn’t going to be there so I saw no need to attend. It wasn’t a command performance for us former interns. Anyway, Hillary seems to be wearing the pants in the family these days. Oh, who am I kidding? She always did. Bill couldn’t keep his up.
There. The requisite Bill-and-Hill-bashing is done and out of the way. Whose thunder did I steal?
Let me just say that the festivities at the Inconvenient-Truth-Al-Gore-Was-My-Veep Presidential Library were remarkable. In fact, they were so remarkable I’m about to embark upon remarking on them right here in my very own blog, for all the world to behold. According to the Clinton Foundation, it was a “carbon-neutral event,” whatever that means. I guess they ate their hot dogs raw, since cooking them over an open flame meant releasing CO2 into the air, and even microwaving them would use energy derived from some polluting source.
About noon yesterday I was getting my pearl necklace (from the jewelry store – get your sick minds out of the gutter – I’m a Virgin, dammit) when another customer mentioned that she was heading downtown for the event. Not because she believed in global warming or anything, she assured us. “I just like to watch those hippies dance around. They just look so funny.” She giggled in that cute, helium-brained way certain women of melanin-challenged hair have.
I stood there in my socially conscious and politically correct hand-batiked cotton sun dress made by some woman in an unpronounceable third world village and sold to the rich (all things are relative) American for about ten times her annual income. Wait a minute, I thought. I used to be one of those hippies!
After my freshman year in college I lived in a co-op called Peace House. We operated a soup kitchen once a week for all two of the homeless people in Hamilton, New York. (They were students who were crashing in someone else’s dorm room for the semester.) We knew people in the Peace Corps and people who played sitars; we wore organic skirts and were interested in other organic things that I won’t discuss in detail in a public forum, even if the statute of limitations has run.
We had no knowledge of AIDS or global warming back then, but we wanted the CIA out of Nicaragua and we were utterly appalled that an actor was in the White House. I finally managed to get a bit jaded on the whole shtick when the student who led the soup kitchen’s weekly bread-baking marathon said, in my hearing, “I love minorities. They’re such colorful people.” She was dead serious. And she was a brunette. GAH!
Social and political issues were important to me when I was 19. They still are. And there few things more important, socially or politically, than our continued social and political existence.
Yes, that statement has to do with Earth Day.
Before anyone reminds me that earth’s climate has changed in the past and will change in the future, let me go ahead and say it myself: the average temperature on our planet has been both much colder and much warmer than it is now.
But something different is happening. Something the scientific community is screaming about. While there are those in the scientific community who disagree, the overwhelming majority are in accord: Global warming is real, and it is caused in considerable part by us, and it is happening at a rate faster than climate change has ever occurred in the history of our planet.
The cataclysms thought to have caused the mass extinctions in the past – at the end of the Devonian Period, when most species on the planet disappeared, and the end of the Cretaceous (the K-T extinction), when the non-avian dinosaurs died – caused massive climate change. Yes, climate change caused by an event of apocalyptic proportions is believed to have been instrumental in those mass extinctions.
In 1998 the American Museum of Natural History issued a press release regarding the results of a survey of biologists pertaining to global climate change and the continuation of life as we know it. It stated in part:
The survey reveals that seven out of ten biologists believe that we are in the midst of a mass extinction of living things, and that this loss of species will pose a major threat to human existence in the next century.
According to these scientists’ estimates, this mass extinction is the fastest in Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history. Unlike prior extinctions, this so-called ‘sixth extinction’ is mainly the result of human activity and not natural phenomena.
The American Museum of Natural History is not prone to histrionics. When 70% of the people who study life say that it is disappearing at such a phenomenally rapid rate, and that human abuse of the planet is the main reason, it seems to me to be a wake-up call.
Climate change and extinctions go hand in hand.
What is causing the climate change? It’s not just fossil fuels. It’s deforestation, both of temperate and of rain forest. It’s water pollution. It’s surface mining. It’s planting crops and digging them up and wiping the dirt clear of brush and planting a crop again. It’s the way we abuse our planet.
Two weeks ago the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that was unequivocal: human activity is a significant contributor to global climate change, and it may well kill us all. Hundreds of scientists from all over the world participated in the studies on which the IPCC report was based. I strongly encourage anyone who cares about this issue one way or another to read the report.
The IPCC report wasn’t released when it was supposed to be. There was political maneuvering as to how to word the report. Who was doing this political games playing? Not the scientists who composed the report. The scientists were outraged that some of the the governments involved were “watering down their warnings.” Specifically, diplomats from China and Saudi Arabia demanded that the authors reduce the confidence level they said they had in the report’s conclusions. In other words, these two countries did not want the warnings to be as dire as the scientists believed they should be.
What a travesty for politicians to dictate scientific conclusions.
The report says that if things continue at their current levels, by 2020 global temperatures will rise one degree Celsius or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. That doesn’t seem like much until we understand that one-sixth of the world’s population will be affected by widespread famine and lack of water.That’s a billion or more people. By 2050, fully a third of the population of the planet will be in these famine conditions, and fresh water will be even scarcer. Twenty to thirty percent of the species on the planet will become extinct. According to the report, the estimates of one degree Celsius over the incremental periods of time are conservative estimates. The third world human populations will be hit hardest by the temperature increase. Equatorial countries will see their fresh water supplies dry up even as more temperate countries reap the benefits of longer growing seasons.
We can’t stop global warming. It is a crisis, and we as a species will have to adapt. It won’t be pretty.
The Bush administration has steadfastly maintained its ostrich-like response to this crisis, as it has to other scientific matters. Perhaps when ostriches and bushes of all varieties become extinct, whomever among us is left will pull our heads from the sand to see a vast desert not unlike Mars. At least at the equator. The populations of coastal cities in temperate zones, which will be flooded much like New Orleans was after Katrina, will have to cope, too.
I just hope when that coastal flooding happens, FEMA doesn’t commandeer back the trailers we’re using for dorm rooms at the Virgin Training School. Now that would be a catastrophe.