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Friday, November 17, 2017

Is This the End?

All great civilizations eventually lose their power and grandeur, and.then they collapse.

Ancient Egypt. Ancient Rome and Greece. China. The Mongols. All eventually lost their power to other, more powerful, civilizations.

The US, it seems, it just the latest in a long line of world powers that is on the verge of becoming a once-great nation. Already some are calling Germany, not the United States, the leader of the free world. China's economy is now the second greatest in the world. The US has a tremendous deficit as it continues to spend more than it takes in. We have trade deficits with every country with which we trade. Our country has never in recent history been more divided politically, economically and racially. 

The current administration is doing everything possible to undo the legacy of former President Barack Obama. The latest attacks are on the environment -- rolling back protections to keep our air and water clean, to shrink the size of several national monuments, to allow the shooting of hibernating bears, and to allow mighty hunters to bring into the United States the heads, feet and other body parts of elephants from Zambia and Zimbabwe. With elephants facing extinction due to the insatiable Asian demand for ivory trinkets, this action will further the decline of an already shrinking population of elephants. Why? So Drumpf's kids, Donny Jr. and Eric, can pursue their sick passion for killing endangered animals?

Roy Moore, who is running for US Senate from Alabama, is a well-known (albeit unconvicted) pedophile who preyed on teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Yet his supporters remain steadfast in their desire to see him elected. Like-minded people voted for Drumpf despite his long history of sexual assaults on unwilling women and girls. Many of his supporters call themselves 'conservative Christians,' something they most certainly are not. Their words and actions couldn't be more unchristian.

The much-touted Republican tax reform bill, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, not only will add trillions to the national debt, but it will actually raise taxes on Americans earning less than $70,000 per year. Who gets the tax cuts? Who else but corporations and the very wealthy.

Overspending on the military, government corruption and political instability, ineffective and inconsistent leadership, and the loss of traditional values have been cited as some of the reasons for the collapse of the Roman empire. Drumpf is proposing a huge increase in military spending. His administration is the most corrupt in recent history. His 'leadership is ineffective and inconsistent. And traditional American values have largely been replaced by a 'me first, whites only' mentality. Urban crime is rampant, and gun violence grows more common by the day. 

The rich get richer. The poor and middle classes struggle just to survive. The environment is under attack by those who want to use it for profit regardless of the damage done. The voice of the 'little guy' is ignored. Voters blindly follow their party allegiance and often vote against their best interests. Millions of Americans feel unheard and powerless.

I have little hope -- baring a major uprising and demand that elected officials actually listen to their constituents -- that America will not continue its decline. I'm just glad I won't be around to live my life in what until now has been a great country and a beacon to the world.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What Has Happened to Us?

What a world we live in.

Consider these recent events in the news:

  • In Spain, police beat voters in Catalonia who showed up to vote in an independence referendum opposed by the Spanish government. 
  • The US territory of Puerto Rico, decimated by a category 5 hurricane, is visited by the American president, who complains about the cost of helping the devastated island recover. Meanwhile, the people continue to go without housing, food, water, electricity and medical care.
  • In Las Vegas, a man possessing 49 weapons, some of them semi-automatic rifles converted into machine guns, fires for nearly 10 minutes on a concert crowd, killing 58 people and wounding 500 others. 
  • In Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), half a million Rohingya, a Muslim minority, have fled persecution and attacks by Myanmar authorities. 
  • The US Congress is working hard to remove designations that protect several national parks and national monuments, opening the areas to mining and other extractive operations that will destroy those areas.
  • The Endangered Species Act is under attack by Republican members of Congress.
  • Despite frequent mass shootings in the country, the Congress is so deeply in bed with the NRA that it refuses to even consider passing laws to help curb gun violence. This is not about taking guns from people, but rather, passing legislation to prohibit the sale of devices that make it possible to turn semi-automatic rifles into machine guns.
  • Poachers throughout Africa continue to decimate elephant, rhinoceros and lion populations to satisfy the superstitions of the Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asian countries.
  • A US senator who has received money from the NRA is now blaming the victims of the shooting in Las Vegas for not "taking precautions" and "getting small." What kind of precautions were these concert-goers to take, don a Kevlar helmet and bullet-proof vest? This clown is typical of the state of American politics. 
  • Neo-Nazis and the KKK held a rally in Virginia, carrying Nazi flags and chanting Nazi slogans against Jews and blacks. 
  • Scientists are warning that we are facing the sixth mass extinction of plant and animal species. 
  • Increases in the Earth's temperature threaten low-lying coastal towns. The current administration's response? Label it 'fake science."
  • A gunman with a semi-automatic rifle enters Sunday morning church services in rural Texas and slaughters 26 people, nearly half of them children.

Rather than being advanced in our thinking and in our stewardship of Mother Earth, we seem to have reverted to our pre-human ancestors' way of thinking. Take what you want, and when you are finished with it, just toss it aside. 

I have already lived the majority of my life, and for that, I am grateful. I do not like what our world has become -- overpopulated and lacking a moral compass. The only thing that seems to matter is money. We can't eat money when the farmland is gone. We can't drink money when our water sources are too polluted. We can't breathe money when the air is too dirty to breathe. We can't enjoy magnificent wildlife or forests when they are gone forever.

Aren't we humans better than this? Are we really willing to let greed and hatred take over our world? Have we not learned that there are ways other than killing to solve disputes and disagreemens? Do we still not realize that we humans are much more alike than different? Have we learned nothing from the centuries of war and destruction? Sadly, it appears we have not.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

For Sale -- Your Personal Information

I'm a big user of the Internet. I shop online. I get directions and business reviews online. I compare prices online. I have an online blog that features a weekly photograph, and I offer photos for sale online.

But lately, I have felt that my personal space is being invaded just a bit too much. If I search for a new camera lens, for example, an ad for that lens will soon appear on my e-mail and Facebook pages. My new Samsung phone now includes an e-mail section called 'promotions' that is nothing more than ads of Web sites I have visited (but never provided any contact information to). jI get e-mails from businesses that claim that I 'opted in' to receive their spam e-mails -- something I never do. I always uncheck the box that has conveniently been pre-checked for me that says I want to receive ads and other information from the company. But that doesn't matter; I still get spam from the company.

Not too long ago, I spent many hours scouring the Internet for information about myself. I did this after I found one site that included far too much personal information about me, including my name, street address and even a map showing the location of my house. So I started checking sites that offer to sell personal information -- name, address, age, phone number, e-mail address, previous places lived and possible relatives -- about anybody. I contacted each company by e-mail (there usually is a way to contact the company, although it isn't always easy to find), and stated that the company had no right to publish, sell, barter, trade or give away my personal information, and to take it down at once. Every company did. And now when I search for myself, I find only references to my blog and my Facebook page. 

Nobody should have the right to sell my personal information. It isn't about the money these companies make. I realize it's all about money, no matter the wishes of the customer. It's about their collecting my personal information, including my unlisted phone number for which I pay an extra monthly fee, and selling it to anybody for any purpose. With identify theft running rampant, why would I want so much personal information to be available to anybody who wants it? 

And consider this: the Republicans have passed -- and Trump signed -- legislation that allows internet service providers to collect and sell an individual's personal browsing history without consent or notification. Here is a link to the story:.

There is nothing bad or embarrassing in my browser history. But I strongly object to the information about what I do on my computer -- unless the government has indications of a threat to security -- being shared with others who have no right to it. I am tired of personal information about my, my Web browsing habits, where I shop online and which pages I visit, being offered for sale without my consent.  

I contacted my ISP to ask what its policy is regarding distribution of its customers' browsing history. In response, I was sent a link to a lengthy document that appears to say that the company, while making vague promises about protecting personal information, can share the information with other companies for marketing and business purposes. The document never directly answers the question about browsing history.

I suppose there is nothing anybody can do about this, especially this sell-outs in Congress have decided to reward their masters in business and ignore the rights of individual citizens to keep their personal information just that ... personal.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Seeking Beauty

I spent yesterday working on a flower calendar because I need to replace the hatred and negativity that is everywhere with something beautiful. 

Following my third retina repair surgery since spring, I am facing the possibility that vision in my right eye may never be the way it used to be. While I can 'see' with that eye, I only see shapes and colors, with no details. I am unable to read with that eye, even with a magnifying lens. And my tar and gravel roof has started leaking, resulting in damage to the ceiling in the pantry. So times have been a bit rough for me lately.

So I decided to focus on things of beauty -- flower photos. I put together a calendar that is now for sale for $22, domestic postage included. Proceeds will go to the Elephant Crisis Fund to combat elephant poaching and the trafficking of ivory. As I looked at these photos, several of which I took last year in Costa Rica, it was as if I saw them for the first time. The colors seemed so vibrant!

This morning, I awoke to news of the slaughter of 58 people and the wounding of more than 500 others in Las Vegas.

With all the ugliness and anger in the world, I find myself turning more and more to nature for comfort.

"Nature is not a place to visit. It is home," wrote.Gary Snyder. And right now, we need more nature, more beauty, more reflection, more peace. 

I find peace and relaxation in nature, whether walking along a river, hiking in the mountains, sitting on my patio or photographing wildlife in Africa or in Yellowstone National Park. Nature is where I go when the worries and fears of the world threaten to overwhelm me. 

Wherever you find peace and beauty, I hope you visit often. Find what brings you peace, whether it is music or literature or through the lens of a camera. Find it, cherish it and make it an important part of your life.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Fall Has Arrived

Fall officially arrived two days ago, and Mother Nature has taken notice.

This morning the temperature registered a chilly 48 degrees F, cool enough for me to forego shorts and pull out a pair of capris. My fleece jacket is also at the ready for my walk with my dogs. And yesterday we were blessed with a good amount of much-needed rain. 

Fall is a good season and it provides something for all our senses. The morning air feels crisp and cool. Warm clothing and flannel sheets feel cozy against the skin. 

The air smells different. In New Mexico, the smell of roasting green chilis is a common aroma. In some areas, where it still is allowed, burning wood in fireplaces and fire pits fill the air with smells. Fallen leaves have a smell all their own. I get the urge to bake and perhaps make a pot of soup to fill the house with wonderful smells. 

We don't get a lot of changing colors on the trees here in the high desert, although the aspens and cottonwoods will soon be adorned with beautiful golden leaves. Clothing colors move from brights and pastels to browns and darker colors. Low clouds over the mountains will provide beautiful sunrises. The amazing blue New Mexico sky will look even cleaner and bluer than it usually does.

Soon I will hear the calls of thousands of sandhill cranes as they migrate to their wintering areas. The sounds of the propane burners lifting countless hot air balloons into the clear New Mexico sky will fill the morning air.

Even the flavors change with the change of the season. Pumpkin-flavored products proliferate. Three years ago, I noted that Trader Joe's was selling 44 different pumpkin-flavored items. And this year, pumpkin Cheerios made their appearance. This is all lost on me, of course, as I lost my senses of taste and smell more than a year ago. But it's still a nice reminder that fall is really here.

It's what comes after autumn that I dread -- cold temperatures, perhaps a bit of snow and early sunsets that make the days drag by. My arthritic hands will not be happy in the cold morning air. I don't like 4 p.m. sunsets.

But for now, I will make the most of the beautiful fall weather and just perhaps, venture into the kitchen to bake a batch of black walnut oatmeal cookies.

Monday, September 11, 2017

May We Never Forget

Thinking back to this date 16 years ago, I, like so many others, was numb and in disbelief. A plane hit one of the Twin Towers. It must have been a terrible accident, I thought. And then news came of the second plane hitting the other tower. This was no accident.

I worked for a federal agency in the San Francisco area that shared property with the military. Immediately after the attacks, all the access gates were closed, with only the main gate remaining open. Every vehicle entering was searched inside and out and underneath for explosives, and our IDs were carefully checked. We also were quizzed about where we were going. 

I was among a few employees who stayed at work to handle the deluge of requests from local news media wanting to interview our senior managers for their thoughts and "reactions." So I and a couple of other people arranged interviews, coordinated our efforts with headquarters in Washington, D.C., and developed talking points.

This went on for several days, with little time to mourn the horrendous loss of life. Finally, on a day off work, I had time to process what had happened. As I sat in my favorite chair in the living room, watching the endless replays of the airplanes striking New York's Twin Towers, and listening to the non-stop news media coverage, the tears started. And they would not stop.

Life has changed in so many ways since that day, when cowards perverted their Muslim faith and used it as justification to kill innocent people. Now we must remove our shoes, coats, belts and sometimes our watches before we can board an airplane. We go through multiple document checks and are subject to patdowns, scanning and swabs for explosives. We are advised that if we "See something, say something." Security has been drastically increased at federal buildings, airports, stadiums and other places where large numbers of people gather. 

The would-be terrorists continue to change their approaches to killing and maiming innocent people. But American and other intelligence agencies and police departments, along with private citizens who are quick to report anything or anyone suspicious, are fighting back.Terror leaders have been captured or killed, terror cells and plots have been interrupted, and people are willing to get involved in the fight against terrorism on land and in the skies.

Sept. 11 should, in my opinion, be made a national holiday. Cancel Columbus Day, which is a minor holiday celebrated by the federal government but not by anyone else. And it is a growing source of irritation to Native Americans who resent having to honor a man who enslaved and killed so many of their ancestors.

Let us instead honor the thousands who died on that beautiful autumn day in 2001. Let us also honor those first responders who rushed in to help the victims. And let us honor the survivors who will forever carry the physical and emotional scars of that day.

Above all, let us never forget.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Finding Joy in a World Gone Mad

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt."
-- John Muir

A Facebook friend recently posted that in an attempt to find joy amidst the crazy, hate-filled world in which we live, she took a walk in nature.

That is precisely what I need to do -- spend more time in nature, or at least, outdoors. I'm just back from a wonderful three-week safari in Kenya, where I had limited wi-fi and internet access. There were no newspaper. It was wonderful being essentially out of touch with the terrible news at home. 

I've been home for just more than two weeks, and that 'vacation' feeling has been gone for a while. In addition to the news about the violence and hatred in Virginia, I have had to deal with two dogs in need of veterinary care, and my air conditioner died on a Friday when the outside temperature was 90 degrees. So my stress level has been pretty high lately.

What I need to do is go for a long walk in the bosque, a wooded area that runs along the Rio Grande. Or I could dust off my bicycle, pump up the tires and go for a ride. Being outside, enjoying fresh air, sunshine and exercise, is the best way to have a mini-escape close to home.

I also escape by reading. My Kindle has more than 60 books on it. I recently finished a book by Hitler's last secretary, and and then I read a book about a couple and the dogs that showed up at their rural home one morning. Reading has always been a great way for me to escape. My current read is by a Holocaust survivor.

Photography is another fun escape, whether it is taking pictures, editing them or designing calendars with them. Looking at photos from my trips, whether domestic or international, brings back vivid memories of those trips and elicits the same feelings I had when I took the images.

 Listening to music on my iPod is a great way to relax as I walk. I listen to all kinds of music -- classic rock, pop, classical and ethnic music. I also listen to a local FM station when I'm working in the house, rather than having the television blaring its nonsense.

I have greatly reduced the amount of time I spend on Facebook with its never-ending items about the latest escapades of the Trump administration. Stepping back also spares me the onslaught of stories about trophy hunters and animal abusers.

I am trying to spend my time in more pleasurable, less-stressful pursuits. Even trimming rose bushes and hedges in the back yard, accompanied by my dogs, on a nice day is relaxing.

Our nation as a whole is very divided, very worried and very stressed. We all need to take a step -- or more -- away from the electronic bearers of bad news and spend some time in the healing power of nature. There is joy to be found in our world. We just have to look for it.