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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Planet Under Attack

Our American wilderness and the animals that live there are under attack by the  Republican administration led by Donald Trump and his billionaire cronies.

Consider these facts:
  • The secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency has in the past filed 14 lawsuits against the EPA. Republicans would love to eliminate this agency entirely, and its programs to protect the environment.

  • Some 225 members of the US House of Representatives have voted to overturn a federal law developed over many years by professional wildlife managers at the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This legislation, if passed by the Senate and signed by Trump, will permit the killing of wolf pups in their dens, the killing of hibernating bears, using aircraft to spot bears so killers on the ground can slaughter them, and trapping grizzly and black bears with steel-jawed leghold traps, a barbaric practice that has been banned in many progressive countries. Worst of all, this slaughter would be allowed on our national wildlife refuges, specifically the 16 national wildlife refuges in Alaska.

  • US senators from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Wyoming have introduced the War on Wolves Act, a companion bill to legislation introduced in the US House of Representatives that would strip federal protections from wolves and allow trophy hunting and trapping of the species in four states. In addition to the states mentioned above, Michigan would also be included. These states have historically been determined to exterminate wolves through a variety of means.
  • Republicans want to cancel the Clean Power Plan -- the EPA’s program to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. Republicans dismiss it as part of former president Obama's so-called “war on coal”.
  • Several members of Congress, led by members from western states, want the federal government to turn large swaths of federal lands over to the states so they can be exploited by mining, timber and oil companies.
  • Trump has already approved the Keystone XL pipeline.

  • A bill recently proposed by Republican Congressman Paul Gosar would eliminate regulations related to oil and gas drilling, including fracking, in America's national parks. Under the proposed law, companies would not be held accountable for leaks and spills, and could build roads through national parks to reach drilling sites. 
  • Trump has directed the Interior Department to "review" the past 21 years of federal monument designations. Ryan Zinke, secretary of the department, has said that he will review whether monument designation of up to 40 sites should be "rescinded, resized or modified in order to better benefit our public lands."  A particular focus of Republicans' ire is the Obama-designated 1.3 million acre Bears Ears National Monument. And let us be clear -- this review is not about better benefit to public lands. It is about better benefiting oil and gas companies, timber companies and other businesses that see these protected areas as sources of huge profits.

Republicans see no value other than financial in our public lands, monuments, forests, national parks and wildlife. If it can't be exploited, it has no value to them. Republicans are threatening to eliminate the Endangered Species Act. They want to remove protections that help keep our waters and air from being polluted. Predators such as wolves and bears will face even more threats to their survival. 

Several environmental groups are gearing up to file lawsuits in federal court if any of these anti-environment measures passes. Millions of Americans are appalled by these abhorrent threats to our planet. We will not stand by quietly and let the Republican party destroy our planet. This is the only home we humans have. Will we let greed and ignorance destroy it. Is this the legacy we want to leave for future generations?


A German friend recently asked why Americans don't do something about the Trump administration's attacks on the environment, wildlife, women's and gay rights, healthcare  and many other areas. The question many are asking is "What can we do to stop this insanity?" 

Millions of us don't like the direction this country is heading, but we feel powerless to force it to change direction. Most of us are not rabid 'tree huggers.' But we are concerned about our planet. We do see value in open space, in wilderness, in wildlife. In a system that awards the highest office in the land not to the person who garners the most popular votes but who wins the antiquated Electoral College, it seems that we are screwed. Our voices are not being heard.







Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Nation of Dummies

I recently read a frightening article about the dumbing down of America, what the author calls "the cult of ignorance."

In an article on psychologytoday.com, Ray Williams wrote, "There is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectual elitism in American culture. It's the dismissal of science, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance, and deliberate gullibility." 

The really frightening thing is that this article was published in 2014, a couple of years before the Trump administration started its efforts to slash or eliminate funding for a variety of federal agencies that support science, the arts and the humanities. 

His budget proposal eliminates funds for, among others, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The budget would cut funding for the Environmental Protection agency by more than 31 percent, and eliminate funding for climate change efforts in developing countries, as well as for the Global Climate Change Initiative. The Department of Education faces a reduction of 13.5 percent. The big budget winner is, no surprise, the Department of Defense.

The statistics presented in this article (https://www.sott.net/article/313177-The-cult-of-ignorance-in-the-United-States-Anti-intellectualism-and-the-dumbing-down-of-America) are truly frightening. As one example, more than 40 percent of Americans under age 44 did not read even one book -- fiction or non-fiction -- during a one-year period. Or how about this: 25 percent of public high school biology teachers believe that humans and dinosaurs inhabited the Earth at the same time! 

I have seen television reporters ask college students which side won the Civil War, and most students couldn't correctly answer the question. And forget about Americans' knowledge of geography. How many people do you think can locate France or Iraq on a world map? Sadly, the percentage is very small. Many cannot even locate New York state on a map of the United States! Or consider this: Michael Reagan, a writer for westernjournalism.com, reported that a young, white Southern California businessman he met on the golf course couldn’t imagine why there would be an American military cemetery in Normandy, France. Both Trump and his secretary of state recently stated that the US was sending an "armada" of ships toward North Korea, when in reality the ships were heading away from that troublesome nation. Trump appeared to be unaware that there have been three North Korean rulers with the last name of Kim (a common Korean surname) and referred only to "the gentleman" heading the country. 

Williams points out that current trends have created a world of dummies that uses personal attacks, confrontation and repetition to assail anyone who dares to disagree with them. This was blatantly clear during last year's presidential election, with anyone who dared to question or disagree with Trump and his policies being called a 'libtard' or equally repulsive name. Intelligent, high-achieving students are referred to as dweebs, nerds or geeks, while the jocks (star athletes), professional athletes, singers and movie stars are held up as role models. It appears that beauty and athleticism, not brains, are most important.

As a personal example of the dumbing of America, I note the apparent inability of many Americans to speak proper English. And the quality of written English is even worse.

Consider these examples:
  • One of the stars of the American Pickers television show frequently says "I seen" something.
  • A candidate for mayor of a small town in Missouri noted that "People want a major who care" about them.
  • A reporter on the Albuquerque NBC affiliate repeatedly talked about 'osteoporisis' in a story about osteoporosis.
  • DJs on a local radio station repeatedly state that an 'extra long music set' is "comin' up." I heard lots of Texans drop the final g in words when I lived in Houston, but as far as I can tell, the DJs at this station aren't from Texas.
  • A contestant on a TV cooking show, after losing the competition, noted that: "I didn't win no money, but ..." 
  • A local meteorologist reported that the weather would soon be "more muggier." 

These are people whose native language is English. I would never criticize the English skills of someone for whom English is a second language. But those who have spoken English since childhood certainly should do better, particularly when they are supposedly professional communicators on the radio or on television. And I realize that even the most eloquent of speakers occasionally makes a mistake. But sadly, the examples above are not isolated occurrences.

What are we to do to increase the level of literacy and general knowledge in our country when the American president himself doesn't read, apparently is unable to read, and is barely literate and unable to speak in complete, coherent, well-put-together sentences? Where will we find the bright scientific and technical minds like those that have powered our nation's history of innovation and technology development? Where would we be without the brilliance of the people behind Apple, Microsoft, Intel and other technology powerhouses?

Our public education system has failed, and failed miserably, to teach our young people the importance of proper English, critical thinking skills and the necessity in our interconnected world of knowing about the history and geography of not only our country, but of the rest of the world as well. A recent ranking of the best education systems lists the US at number 20, behind such countries as Finland (number 1), Russia, Portugal and Singapore. A study by the Pew Research Center found that American students are in the middle of the pack, and behind those in many other advanced industrialized countries, in academic achievement.

I am lucky that when I went to school, science, history, geography, economics and civics were required courses, as was being able to read and write cursive writing. Young people today are so used to seeing printed words on their phones or computers that they find it difficult, if not impossible, to read cursive.  

I guess I am considered a nerd or a geek, as I place great value on education. I enjoy testing my knowledge in a variety of subjects. I continue to learn by reading (I love my Kindle!) and traveling, which opens my mind to different countries and cultures. I watch a variety of television programs about historical events and archaeological discoveries. I listen to BBC Radio to hear about the world from a non-US perspective. I read a daily newspaper.

I worry about a nation that is governed by uneducated, narrow-minded people. When enough of those people vote, as in the most recent presidential election, we end up with a president, cabinet and advisors patently unprepared and unfit to govern. And that should scare all of us.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Reaching Out

Today is the Saturday before Easter 2017. 

So this image, which was taken earlier this year in a large cemetery in Havana, Cuba, seems appropriate. There are, as you can imagine, many marble figures in this cemetery. There are sculptures of crosses and cherubs and angels. Although Cuba is a Communist, and therefore, atheist country, people are free to adorn their graves however they wish.

There was something unique and moving about these two sculptures. I wish I had paid more attention to the rest of the sculptures, but I remember that the figure on the left is of an angel. I was struck by how the hands are reaching out for one another. Their hands are almost touching. It is clear to me that the figure on the left, the angel, is reaching for the hand of the figure on the right, as if to say, "I am here. I will help you." I also was struck by the contrast of the white marble against the brilliant blue sky. I took several photographs of this scene until I got the composition just right.

Regardless of who or what the figures are, they are reaching out. And that is what drew my eye to the exclusion of everything else. For Christians, God reached out to His people in the form of Jesus Christ. Christ reached out to mortal humans as a flesh-and-blood human. And we are called upon to reach out to our fellow humans, regardless of where they were born, the color of their skin, their nationality, their social status, whom they love and how -- or whether -- they worship.

Happy Easter. Христос воскрес. Pascua feliz.



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Addicted to Popcorn

I have a confession to make. I am addicted ... to popcorn.

I'm not trying to trivialize the very real personal and public health crisis caused by addiction to drugs and alcohol. But lately, I can't get enough popcorn. My current favorite is SmartFood movie theater butter popcorn. I also like Trader Joe's movie theater butter popcorn.

The SmartFood popcorn has no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It is light and oh so tasty. I gave up making microwave popcorn because of all the chemicals and carcinogens it contains. Sometimes I make my own popcorn on the stove, using yellow corn and sunflower oil with just a dash of seasoned salt. But the butter-flavored stuff is much better. 

I come by this addiction to popcorn naturally, as my father loved popcorn. He always said that it tasted better when I made it, using a large, heavy pot on the stove. I used the same ingredients as my family did, but he always insisted that popcorn tasted better when I made it. 

Popcorn is just one of my food weaknesses. The other, which I also got from my father, is crunchy, salty things, such as crackers, peanuts, potato chips, tortilla chips, etc. My favorite crackers are Trader Joe's rice crackers, which are incredibly light, crunchy and in salt, and Blue Diamond Almonds' Nut-Thin crackers, which come in a variety of flavors. They are very crunchy, light and flavorful. 

My most recent acquisition in the crunchy foods department is barbeque-flavored protein crisps made from plant protein. They resemble potato chips and have a slightly spicy barbeque flavor. I like knowing that there is a wide variety of crunchy foods with at least a bit more nutritional value that the old standby, greasy potato chips.

I have discovered that I need the crunch of nuts or crackers to satisfy my palate. I put walnuts in my morning cup .of Greek yogurt. I usually have crackers or something crunchy with my bowl of soup. There just isn't the same satisfaction unless the meal includes some crunch. Celebrity chef and restaurateur Mario Batali has written that, "The single word 'crispy' sells more food than a barrage of adjectives. ... There is something innately appealing about crispy food." Some scientists believe that humans are programmed to prefer crunchy foods.

It's good to know that my predilection for crunchy foods has a scientific basis!



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Twelve Annoying Statements

Do you have certain words or phrases that really annoy you? I do.

My list includes such things as
  • Terms and conditions apply or 'I agree to the terms and conditions.'
  • The perfect gift 
  • Real people, not actors. (Are actors not real people?)
  • That's what I'm talking about.
  • Some assembly required.
  • What's your reaction? (As in, What's your reaction to finding out your family was just killed in a car accident?)
  • Only $699 (or some other number) a month
  • Lowest prices of the season
  • After the break (meaning, after 10 annoying commercials)
  • One size fits all
  • Like (I like was talking to a friend when like somebody like interrupted us).
  • Batteries not included
I got some other suggestions of annoying phrases from Facebook friends as well, but these are my top dozen ... until another one comes along. I realize that some, such as 'batteries not included' and 'some assembly required', are to avoid giving the impression that the item shown in the photograph or ad arrives completely assembled and with batteries. But 'real people. not actors' gets the award for stupid. I mean, why not simply state that those giving their on-camera endorsements are 'actual customers'?

My most hated phrase is "the perfect gift," something that is everywhere the months before Christmas, whether it is a television commercial or a print ad.  The $60,000 car is 'the perfect gift.' A pair of flannel pajamas is 'the perfect gift.' Some cheap junk made in China is 'the perfect gift.' You get the picture. What if 'the perfect gift' isn't, in fact, a thing, but an action or an experience?

I worked for NASA public affairs for 20 years, and I always dreaded the calls from reporters wanting to interview me or a senior manager for our reactions to a terrible accident, such as losing seven astronauts on the space shuttle Columbia when it disintegrated on reentry. What did they think my reaction was going to be? I was grief-stricken, horrified, incredibly saddened, shocked. I'm sure everybody who worked for NASA in any capacity had the same reaction, as did members of the public. I had worked that mission, and I had briefed the crew a few months before launch. What did reporters expect my reaction to be ... laughter? a high-five?  What a tasteless question. Yet I still see reporters on television news sticking a microphone in the face of a person who has just experienced horrendous personal tragedy for the 'reaction.'

Many years ago, when I worked at a large northern California humane society, I worked with a reporter with a small, independent television station. She was extremely thoughtful and caring in her reporting, which is probably why she left the station, moved to Nevada and became a Realtor. She reported the news without engaging in dramatics or tasteless questions.

My post about annoying phrases won't change anything, but it's nice to know that others are annoyed by inane statements, mostly in advertising, as well. Words have impacts both positive and negative, and it's good to be reminded of this from time to time.



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Being Neighborly

After several cold and windy days, yesterday was warm and sunny, with New Mexico's gorgeous blue skies above.

So I decided to take my dogs for a long walk -- a thought shared by lots of other people. As we were walking through a neighborhood in Corrales, a bearded man in the driveway of his house said hello. His three kids seemed curious about my dogs, so I stopped and he asked about my dogs, his young children looking on.

New Mexico doesn't have a large Muslim population, and I can't recall ever seeing anyone who is obviously Muslim in my nearly 7 years in this state, aside from a trip to a Turkish restaurant and grocery store a few years ago.

So my first thought upon seeing a man with a beard wasn't that he was Muslim. After all, many men have beards. And men with bushy beards aren't that uncommon. Several of my guides during trips to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks have bushy beards. So only when this man's wife arrived with a baby carriage, and dressed in black from head to toe, aside from her face and hands, did it become apparent that this family is Muslim.


The husband and I chatted briefly, then we went on our way. The family appeared to be getting ready to go for a walk as well. The kids were interested in my dogs, but stayed a respectful distance away. I know that many Muslims consider dogs to be unclean and to be avoided, so I did not invite the kids to pet my dogs.

I remember encounters with two Muslim families in my neighborhood in California. In one case, the woman glared at me every time she saw me, presumably because I was wearing shorts. When the kids saw me walking my dogs, they shrieked and ran away. In the other case, a Muslim mother, dressed in robes, asked whether her kids could meet my dogs. This happened a couple of times, and Tia and Jack were happy for the attention.

I would love to get to know this Corrales family and hear what they think about Trumplethinskin and his anti-Muslim policies. Last year when a boorish woman starting verbally assaulting a Muslim woman in a grocery store, several other shoppers and employees stepped up to defend her. The assailant was thrown out of the store, and the Muslim woman was escorted to her car to make sure she got there safely. A guy on a Facebook post by a friend of a friend told me I condone terrorism because I have a Turkish friend who is Muslim. What an absurd comment. My friend is no more a terrorist -- and is just as revolted by terrorism as am I and millions of others around the world -- than I am. The poster of the original comment (she is no longer a friend) stated that we should boycott Chobani yogurt because the company was founded by a Turkish Kurd who makes a point of hiring recent immigrants to the United States. Another absurd comment.

What I saw that spring morning was not a terrorist family, but a family taking their kids on a walk on a beautiful day. What the shoppers in Albuquerque saw was a woman going about her business and being verbally assaulted because of how she was dressed. Maybe if more people take a couple of minutes to chat with their neighbors, stand up when they see an injustice, and stop judging people by the clothes they wear or the place they were born, the world will become a nicer place.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Comfort Food

I had lunch with a friend earlier this week at a comfort food kind of place. 

I grew up in northern Illinois; she grew up in small-town Indiana. So we both have similar backgrounds. As I was enjoying my 1/2 'grown up grilled cheese sandwich' and a cup of tomato basil soup, I mentioned that for me, grilled cheese is the ultimate comfort food.  I found this definition of comfort food on the Internet: "food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any with a high sugar or other carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking."

Soon we were discussing the foods of our childhoods, some remembered fondly, some not so fondly. I hate tomatoes, possibly because my mother, who was an outstanding cook, used to make -- and make me eat -- breaded stewed tomatoes. Tomatoes with soggy bread. What's not to like? But I do like tomato soup, pasta sauces made from tomatoes, and ketchup. But leave the tomatoes out of my salad and off my sandwiches. 

Another childhood food I hated was liver and onions. My dog used to sit under the table near me, as he knew I would sneak him much of the liver. My parents both grew up in rural southern Illinois, and that was reflected in their food. My dad always liked picked pigs feet, and both parents enjoyed ham hocks and beans. Growing up just after the Great Depression, both parents were raised in an era when nothing went unused, or uneaten.  Even bacon grease was destined to be poured over a salad to make wilted lettuce.

My mother and both grandmothers were amazing cooks. When they were young, microwaves and prepackaged food didn't exist. So girls learned to cook. I don't remember too much about my maternal grandmother's cooking, as she died when I was a teenager. But I do remember that everything was made from scratch. My paternal grandmother and my mother also did most of their cooking from scratch.

Sunday's big meal was served at noon, after church, and consisted of such things as fried chicken, homemade mashed potatoes and corn. Or we might have pot roast with noodles and a vegetable. My mother would make homemade dinner rolls and the most amazing cinnamon rolls from time to time, and although she always said she couldn't make a decent pie crust, nobody else felt the same. She would can fresh peaches bought by the bushel basket, and green beans from our backyard garden. The foods we ate were clean and free of pesticides and other toxins, and prepared without preservatives.

I remember how my dad would sometimes take us to a local bakery on Saturday to get a loaf of fresh-baked bread, and how we would hurry home to eat it with butter while still warm. And of course, there was always a plate of sliced white bread on the table with every meal.

 My dad was a meat-and-potatoes and fried food kind of guy. For him, a meal without meat wasn't really a meal. He loved fried pork chops, and despite his diet of fried foods, he lived to be 87. 

My favorite birthday meal was lamb chops fixed in the broiler. Another favorite was hamburger meat spread on a piece of white bread and broiled. Yum!

Of course, I no longer eat pork or lamb, I rarely eat beef, and I try to avoid fried foods except on occasion. I also try to limit my consumption of carbohydrates, but I still enjoy the rare treat of a grilled cheese sandwich or some fresh bread from a grocery store bakery.

Our knowledge of nutrition certainly has come a long way over the past 50-60 years, but I wonder, do we really enjoy our food the way we used to? I miss the smell of food cooking in the oven or on the stove top. Microwaves are convenient, but they don't produce the same aromas with which I grew up. There is nothing quite like walking into a house filled with the smell of food cooking in the oven, or even in a slow cooker. And so many of our foods today are filled with artificial flavors, colors and preservatives.

I guess many of us do miss the foods, the comfort foods, of our youth. Restaurants like Cracker Barrel and Village Inn specialize in serving comfort foods, and many of the guests are from my generation. It is obvious that we won't soon get over our love of comfort foods, high carbs and fats and all. But I wonder, do people in other countries miss the foods of their youth? Do they patronize restaurants they serve comfort foods? Many of this blog's readers are from other countries, so I would love to hear from my international readers.