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Friday, June 23, 2017

Too Connected to Everything

Every so often, I travel to a place where cell phone and Internet service is limited or nonexistent.

After a few days of feeling somewhat lost without instant text messaging, e-mail and Web access, life returns to the way it used to be, before electronic communications took over. And that, I have learned, is a good thing. 

Being device-free definitely lessens the stress I feel. No longer am I bombarded with the latest bad and sad news from around the world. No longer am I faced with a never-ending barrage of pleas for donations to 'go fund me' pages and charitable organizations. No longer do I feel a need to keep up to date with everything. A self-confessed news junkie (most of my professional life was spent working with the news media), I like to feel 'in the know' at all times. But having no or limited access to the news is a very freeing feeling. Whatever happens will happen whether I am aware of it or not. And there is little, if anything, I can do about whatever happens.

Lately I have been really frustrated by my electronic world. First, it's the passwords. I'm told not to use the same password for more than one account. Don't write passwords down. Be sure not to use anything that is easy to guess. And make it a combination of numbers and letters. Of course, this is impossible for me. I have far too many accounts to keep track of every password in my head, especially for accounts I seldom use. I constantly have to hit the 'forgot password' button and create yet another password that I will forget the next time I need it.

My Dell laptop, which is probably 5 years old, is frustratingly slow. Sometimes it freezes and the cursor won't move. This requires unplugging the device, turning it over and removing the battery, then restarting it and waiting forever for the browser to load.

This week I decided to dump my expensive DirecTv service, which claims to have 150 channels. In reality, half of them are nothing but infomercials for some vacuum cleaner, copper cooking pans or 'best sex ever.' One of my favorites (I saw it in the channel lineup but didn't look at it) was "Do you poop enough?" And I'm paying how much every month for this nonsense?

So I purchased an Amazon Fire TV stick that allows me to stream a variety of channels without the need for cable or satellite television. I'm still getting used to it, as I have had cable of satellite television for decades. But I'm sure that after a while it will seem normal to me. Of course, then I had to call DirecTv to cancel service. As expected, I got the usual high pressure sell of why don't I block the infomercials (I would still be paying for them), why don't I use DirecTv streaming, etc. I finally told the woman to stop arguing with me and just cancel the service. Naturally, I'm getting hit with a $240 'early termination' fee, but that's still considerably less than I would pay if I kept the service for another year. So goodbye, DirecTv!

Technology does have a good side, of course. I like being able to use my cell phone to call for roadside assistance if my car gets a flat tire. I like being able to get directions with a simple click or two. I love being able to compare prices and to order things online, and to use a small e-reader to carry 30 books with me when I travel. I can share photographs from my trips, and technology allows me to write and share this blog. My car has a navigation system that gets me to my destination, if not always the best route to take.

I remember spending hours in the college library doing research, and hoping that the books I needed hadn't been checked out by another student. I remember struggling with a paper map or road atlas to find my destination. Now I can do research online.

 I guess it's too late to disconnect completely. That would be a very difficult step to take, and it would present issues of its own (online banking is a real convenience).

Still, I am looking forward to my next trip and the escape from technology it will offer.








Monday, June 19, 2017

Staying Right Where I Am

One of the reasons I love to travel is the opportunity to learn about new countries, people and cultures.

But last week I learned something from a domestic trip. I spent a fun week visiting a friend in South Carolina (and neighboring North Carolina), my first visit to those states. And that trip helped clarify something for me.


We visited Ashville, Old Salem and Blowing Rock, NC. We had dinner with some of her friends, and I spent some time photographing their horses. We had lunch at the new Sierra Nevada brewery, where I enjoyed a half pint of orange-infused beer. I did a bit of walking (5 miles most days) and ate way too much. I helped take care of her four dogs (her father died recently, leaving behind his two chihuahua brothers). I walked the streets photographing the small town on whose outskirts she lives.

I enjoyed the greenery, which is lacking here in the high desert of New Mexico. There are trees everywhere in the Carolinas. What I did not enjoy was the humidity, which ran in the 90 percent range. Combine that with temperatures in the upper 80s to low 90s (both humidity and temperature will get worse as the summer goes on), and just being outside was very uncomfortable.



My friend drove me to a new subdivision on the Catawba River, hoping that I would like it and want to move there. The houses, while lovely, are on tiny lots just feet from each other. They are all two-story, which I don't want. And they are expensive. 

I would love to be nearer to my friend. We get along really well, we have much in common, and it would be nice to have someone to help out when I need it. I also would like to be there to help her when needed. But the heat/humidity combination is just not to my liking. Going for a walk at 6:30 in the morning, when both temperature and humidity were lower, left me feeling hot and sticky. And conditions went downhill from there.

What I learned from my week in the Carolinas is that I can scratch those states off the list of possible places to move to. I realized -- not for the first time -- that I love the warm (OK, hot), dry climate in which I have lived for the past seven years. I loved the warm, fairly dry climate of northern California where I lived for 28 years. I love being near, but not living in, the mountains. 

So I will happily stay right where I am. I love my house, my yard and my views of the mountains. I love the 300+ days of sunshine every year, the amazing crystal blue skies and the lack of humidity. I plan to visit my friend again once she gets moved into a new house. 

Just as the heat and dryness of the high desert aren't for everyone, so the heat and humidity of the American southeast aren't for me. I will admire its greenery during visits, but for now at least, my heart -- and home -- will remain where they are. 



Copyright Ann Sullivan 2017.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Help Save Victims of Puppy Mills

I just watched a dog die on video.

The dog, named Iris, was a nine-year-old Chihuahua rescued just the day before by the wonderful folks at National Mill Dog Rescue. Iris, who was named following her rescue, spent nine years making puppies to feed the greed of the operators of the puppy mill in which she spent her life. She was nothing more than a puppy-making machine.

Those cute puppies you see in mall pet stores? They come from commercial breeding operations. Many puppy mills are in the Midwest (Iowa, Kansas and Missouri), as well as in Nebraska, Arkansa, Oklahoma and South Dakota. The Amish are big puppy mill operators in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio. The Amish treat these animals the way they treat livestock, or worse.

Puppy mill dogs typically receive no veterinary care, their feet never touch the ground, and they never know the kindness of humans. They may have a number, but never a name. They spend their sad lives packed into wire cages until they get sick or are unable to produce any more puppies. Then their worn out bodies are tossed into the trash.

Here are a few facts from the NMDR web site (www.milldogrescue.org):
  
Dog Facts


More than 11,800 dogs rescued to date

Rescue average/year: 1,067 (Past three years)

Average number of dogs at kennel: 110

Average age of a puppy mill survivor: 7 years

Typical number of dogs in foster care: 60

Average number of adoptions per month: 51

Average rehabilitation time: 6 to 8 weeks
Rescue Facts


Trips: 2x per month, average 44 dogs per trip

Rescue mileage: Approximately 28,500 miles per year

Expense Facts

Kennel expenses (mortgage and utilities): $6,400/month
Food for entire kennel: $100/day
One rescue mission: $16,000 (includes dog care expenses)
Basic veterinary care: $300/dog (includes spay/neuter, extensive dentals, heartworm testing and treatment, vaccinations, microchipping
Specialty veterinary care: $13,000/month average. Roughly 1/3 of our dogs require specialized treatment.

Our community embraces thousands of donors, supporters and volunteers from around the world. To follow us online, go to:

My golden retriever Tia was from a southern California puppy mill. She and a dozen other goldens were rescued by a California rescue group and adopted to new, loving homes. When Tia was rescued, she took with her a small log, her only possession and source of comfort. She was seven years old when my daughter and I adopted her. She was thin but otherwise healthy. It appears her growth had been stunted, most likely from being forced to produce puppies when she herself was still just months old. We had Tia for five years, until we lost her to brain cancer.

Please, NEVER BUY A PUPPY FROM A PET STORE OR ONLINE!! We must stop this institutionalized abuse. Animal rescue groups and humane societies often have purebred dogs, if that's important to you. I have adopted five golden retrievers -- each one a wonderful dog -- from humane societies and rescue groups. 
 
Puppy mills are chambers of horrors. A little Chihuahua named Harley (check out his Facebook page) lost an eye when his cage was pressure-washed with him inside. His broken body was found in a pail. Iris died the day after she was rescued, being cradled and loved for the first time in her life. These are just two of the dogs of all breeds and sizes that spend their lives producing puppies to make money for greedy, heartless people. 

If you can't volunteer (NMDR is in Colorado), consider sponsoring a kennel or signing up as a monthly donor. And please, educate yourselves about the evils of puppy mills, then spread the word. And check out the wonderful dogs available for adoption. NMDR's teams of veterinarians, groomers and rehabbers prepare each dog for its new life of freedom as a beloved family member.

YOU can help NMDR save more dogs and YOU can help bring an end to puppy mills. For more information about NMDR, please visit its web site or e-mail customerservice@nmdr.org

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What To Do With $1,500

What can I do with $1,500?
  • I could pay rent for one month in some US cities. 
  • I could buy a fancy 4K television. 
  • I could buy a nice camera or a decent telephoto lens.
  • I could go shopping and buy some nice clothes.
  • I could buy a couple of the latest smart phones.
Or, I could change a life by making a charitable contribution to the Save the Elephants scholarship fund. This will pay for one year of high school for a deserving student in Kenya. This is what I have chosen to do.


My $1,500 annual donation helps provide education, uniforms and supplies for a young lady named Jecinta, who was left orphaned when her parents died of AIDS. She was taken in by an older brother with a family of his own. The brother can't afford to send Jecinta to school. If she doesn't go to school, she will spend her life herding goats or cattle. She might be married off at a very young age and end up taking care of a husband and several children. Instead, she is attending high school.

This young lady has dreams of a better life. She wants to work in the medical field, hopefully as a doctor. If she can't get into medical school, she wants to become a nurse or a pharmacist. Despite the challenges of going to a new school and having to learn twice as many subjects as in her primary school (including physics and chemistry), her first semester grade average was B-. (Kenyan schools typically start in early January). She wasn't satisfied with that grade, however, writing that "it was very painful" for her to get that grade. She has promised to work even harder the next semester. She also has joined her school's wildlife club and vows to work to protect Kenya's wildlife, particularly elephants.

So far 129 students have completed their secondary school education under this program, with 10 currently in college. One, who completed his secondary education in 2005, emerged as the top student in his district. With the help of the program and his sponsor, in 2013 he completed his 6-year medical degree at Nairobi University and is now a doctor in that district. Another, the program's first-ever scholarship student to get straight ‘A’s in his final exams, has graduated with first class honors in geospatial engineering at the University of Nairobi, a path that has led him back to studying the very elephants that brought him his education.

I can think of nothing more worthwhile on which to spend $1,500 than providing an education for a deserving, intelligent student. I chose to sponsor a female student because opportunities for girls are fewer than for boys. 

One day I hope to meet Jecinta in person. Because her school is in Samburu, in northern Kenya, I likely won't get to meet her during my next trip there. She will be in school. But I have bought five books, a photo album (with pictures of me, my family and house) and a New Mexico T-shirt that I will give to a Save the Elephants representative in Nairobi to give to her during their next meeting. I also will send a letter of encouragement to this blossoming young scholar. 

For more information about sponsoring a deserving student, go to http://www.savetheelephants.org/project/elephant-scholarships/






Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Remembering D-Day

Today, the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day invasion of the beaches of France, please take a moment to remember the soldiers and sailors from the United States, Great Britain and Canada who fought a fierce battle for freedom on Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. Other countries taking part in the battle were Australia, Belgium, France, Czechoslovakia, Greece, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland.

Despite a series of failures and missteps by the Allies, these brave men fought against the odds and the big guns of the Germans, and by the end of the day they had gained two footholds on the coast of France. The defeat on D-Day was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.
Remnants of one of two temporary harbors built to support the D-Day invasion can still be seen off Omaha Beach.





I stood on Omaha Beach and visited the American military cemetery on the bluffs above the beach just three weeks ago. In my small group were three other Americans and an Australian, plus our French guide. No words can describe the emotions we experienced as we reflected on the horrors and death of that day. Some 2,499 Americans are confirmed to have died that day, along with 1,914 from other Allied nations. Many more were killed in fighting after June 6.

I caught a glimpse of Utah Beach, where my father, just 19 years old, served as a gunner's mate second class on the USS Corry, the lead destroyer of the Normandy invasion task force. The Corry was sunk and 24 of his crewmates were killed. After more than two hours in the cold (52 F) waters of the Atlantic, he was picked up by a British warship and went on to serve in the Pacific. 

I have always been aware that June 6, 1944 was D-Day, but I never truly grasped the significance and sacrifice of that day until I visited the beach in person.
My father didn't talk much about his wartime experience, but I wish I had tried to get him to talk about it. He is gone now, so I won't get to hear his account of the battle.

I would love to return to the beaches of Normandy for the 75th anniversary of the history-changing battles that took place there. I can think of no more fitting way of honoring those who sacrificed so much.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Glad To Be Old

I am glad I'm old.

I'm sure this sounds odd to many people, particularly when our modern culture values youth above wisdom. After all, who wants to deal with creaking bones, arthritis, dimming eyesight and all the other things that happen to our body as we age? But with the way the world, especially the United States, is going, I am glad I won't be here to face the aftermath of the wholesale destruction of the planet currently taking place.

I don't want to live in a world where all the apex predators such as lions, tigers, bears and wolves have been exterminated, whether for 'sport' or loss of habitat or because they might pose a threat to the cows that are overrunning our planet. I don't want to live in a world devoid of elephants and rhinoceros to feed the insatiable Asian demand for ivory trinkets and 'magic virility potions' of rhino horn, which, by the way, is made of the same material as human fingernails. 

I don't want to live in a country that sells off its public lands to corporations for drilling and mining. I don't want to live in a country that refuses to participate in a global climate agreement signed by nearly 200 other countries. I don't want to live in a country that seeks to remove protected status from national monuments and wilderness areas. I don't want to live in a country that rolls back environmental protections that keep our water and air clean and safe. And I certainly don't want to live in a country that allows the slaughter of hibernating bears and their newborn cubs in their dens, or of mother wolves and their pups in their den.

I have spent my whole adult life being an environmental activist and an animal activist. I recycle everything that is recyclable. I keep a supply of reusable grocery bags in my car and cringe when I see people roll their shopping carts through the parking lot filled with plastic grocery bags. I pick up trash as I go about my daily walks. I drive a car that gets great mileage. I have owned two hybrid vehicles. I consume as little as possible. I refuse to buy anything that is endangered or threatened. I do my best to avoid buying anything that includes palm oil (due to the destruction of palm tree forests that are habitats to endangered orangutans). I stopped eating beef to protest cattle ranchers' ongoing war on wolves and bears. I won't wear wool clothing or socks for the same reason.

The current administration and its storm trooper followers, not to mention the entire Republican party (with the possible exception of Sen. Susan Collins) care nothing about anything other than getting as much as they can in profits for themselves and their corporate masters right now. Forget about the future. 

They give not a damn about the average American citizen, international alliances, the environment or anything else. And they better not utter another word about how 'pro-life' they are. Anyone who is truly 'pro-life' would not destroy our children's and grandchildren's futures. Anyone who is 'pro-life' wouldn't remove millions of people from having health insurance. Anyone who is 'pro-life' wouldn't slash benefits from the most vulnerable among us -- children, the disabled and the elderly. 

So yes, I am glad I won't be around to face the barren, polluted, wildlife-free planet we humans call home. Once the planet is destroyed, it will be too late to do anything about it. What a sad legacy we 'advanced' humans will leave behind.




Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Postcards from the Road

I travel a lot, but I never send postcards. It's a quaint custom that seems to have lost its allure in this age of electronic, nearly instant communication.

Souvenir shops in France had a lot of postcards for sale during a recent visit, but I didn't see anybody buying them. Even if I had bought postcards, I would have had to find someplace that sells postage stamps. And I don't know many people to send them to. It's easier and faster to text photos from my cell phone, or to upload them when I'm someplace that has a wi-fi connection. 

So rather than postcards, I will include some digital postcards -- photos I have taken -- from the road. I have visited some amazing places -- some more than once -- and I love photography. So some digital postcards from a few of my favorite places seem appropriate. They won't get lost in the mail. It won't take a week or more for them to be delivered. And best of all, no postage is required. 

Yellowstone National Park
 
Botswana
 
Near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Yellowstone National Park

Montana Grizzly Encounter, Bozeman

Yellowstone National Park
Vermont

South Africa

London

Yellowstone National Park

Botswana

Yellowstone National Park
Kenya
Omaha Beach, Normandie, France
Normandie, France

Costa Rica


C

Monday, May 29, 2017

Pause. Remember. Reflect. Honor.

                                             Pause. Remember. Reflect. Honor.



As the United States today marks Memorial Day, please take a moment from your activities to Pause -- Remember -- Reflect -- and Honor the men and women who sacrificed their lives in service to our country.  

Our troops have gone to war in countries from Europe to Asia, in wars and actions both popular and reviled, and many never came home. Many were young people who never got the chance to get married, have a family and grow old. Many volunteered, while others were drafted but nonetheless did their service.

According to today's Albuquerque Journal, 1.3 million members of the US armed forces have lost their lives while defending our country:
 
Revolutionary War — 25,000
War of 1812 — 20,000
Mexican-American War — 13,283
Civil War — 625,000
Philippines — 4,196 (1899-1902)
World War I — 116,516
World War II — 405,399
Korea — 36,516
Vietnam — 58,307 (398 New Mexicans)
Iraq — 4,519 (47 from, or with close ties to, New Mexico)
Afghanistan — 2,396 (19 from, or with close ties to, New Mexico)


So today, pause whatever you are doing. Remember those who paid the ultimate price. Reflect on the lives lost, the families left behind and the sacrifices made. And honor them in whatever way is meaningful to you.




Friday, May 26, 2017

Not Just Another Holiday

Like many Americans, I typically have seen Memorial Day as little more than a day off work. Sure, I knew the meaning of the day, and I did give a silent thanks to those members of the US military who died in defense of our country. One year I took a guided tour of a local cemetery in California on Memorial Day. But that was about it.

Then I went on a wonderful hiking trip to France, and that trip changed everything.

France is a beautiful country known for its cuisine (the pain au chocolate -- a flaky pastry with chocolate inside -- is my favorite), its wines and cheeses, and its fashion. I ended my trip with two days in Paris, but I enjoyed the countryside regions of Normandy and Brittany much more.

The most moving part of the trip -- and my primary reason for going -- was a visit to Omaha Beach, where Allied forces won a hard-fought battle against German guns, land mines and machine guns. The D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, changed the course of the war.

At either end of Omaha Beach are 300-foot-high cliffs of rock. Due to a series of errors by the Allies, the first troops to reach the beach were mowed down by German machine gun fire. Bombs had missed their targets. Tanks sank in the ocean. Engineers tasked with clearing the beach of land mines were unable to complete their mission. Soldiers deployed in deep water found themselves sinking under the weight of their 80-pound packs. Guns got wet. Reports were that it was impossible to walk on the beach without stepping on bodies. But by the end of the day, the Allies were able to gain two tenuous footholds on the beach. 

Our French guide did a great job of explaining what happened on that beach. A German gun emplacement was visible nearby, as was a fortified machine gun nest. Because the tide was out, we could see remnants of a temporary harbor. The brainchild of Winston Churchill, the harbor is considered one of the greatest engineering feats ever. Two temporary harbors were built, one on Omaha Beach for American forces and one on Gold Beach for British and Canadian troops. This harbor allowed 220,000 men, 50,000 vehicles and 600,000 tons of supplies to be landed on the French coast, according to a Daily Mail story. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2297365/Port-Winston-harbour-built-Normandy-D-Day-uncovered-seabed-69-years-on.html#ixzz4i9JJvYdJ)  
Parts of a temporary harbor constructed for the D-Day invasion are visible off Omaha Beach
 

As we walked along the beach, the four members of our group became quiet as we learned details of the battle and reflected on the bravery and sacrifices of the young men who fought there. Nearby, I could see a bit of Utah Beach, where my father -- a young sailor of 19 in the US Navy -- had taken part in the battle. His destroyer was quickly sunk by German fire. While some of his shipmates perished, he was picked up by a British war ship after spending some time in the cold waters of the Atlantic. 

That afternoon, we walked along part of the path that US troops had used on their way inland. We then had a couple of hours on our own to explore the US military cemetery at Colleville, high on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. 

The cemetery, on land donated by the French government in perpetuity, contains some 9,387 headstones -- either white marble crosses or Stars of David -- each inscribed with the name, military branch and dates of a service man who died during the invasion or ensuing military operations. Many of the graves are merely symbolic. Some of the deceased were repatriated to the US, while others were never found. Some headstones honor a soldier whose remains were never identified.

The cemetery is a place of sadness, knowing how many young lives were lost. And it is a place of beauty, with manicured lawns and a view of the beach where so many died. I was very moved as I walked among the headstones and through the visitor center. Although none of my family members perished in the war (both my father and uncles served), I nonetheless felt a great sense of sadness, as well as a sense of gratitude for their sacrifices. Our guide noted that during a previous tour of Omaha Beach, a veteran who had fought there commented that "I wasn't killed here, but I died here."

We have lost most of the D-Day survivors during the more than 70 years since this history-making battle. Estimates put the number of surviving veterans at between 5,000 and 10,000. In a few years, there will be no one left who took part in the horrendous battles on the beaches of France. 

I hope the passage of time will never erase the sacrifices of those men from several countries whose bravery marked the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany. Please, take a moment this Memorial Day to remember those who paid the ultimate price, during World War II, the Korean conflict, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Iraq and all the other armed conflicts. Fly the American flag. Go to a parade. Thank a member of our armed forces. 

However you choose to mark Memorial Day, please take a moment from your grilling or picnics or baseball games, and remember those who went to war and never came home.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Sounds in the Night

It has been a very long time since I slept well, so I spend a lot of time awake, listening to the sounds of the night.

Because I live on the edge of a city of about 90,000 people, in an area where the lots are all 1/2 acre, I seldom hear my neighbors. And the roads in this part of town are unpaved, so traffic, such as it is, usually moves fairly slowly.

One recent night found me awake at some ridiculous hour. My bedroom window was slightly open, so I could hear coyotes howling. Their howling started neighborhood dogs barking. Fortunately, my dogs were sound asleep and didn't respond to the howls and barks. I heard traffic on the big street a few blocks away, and then a jet overhead. Later that night (it was actually very early morning), I heard a train whistle as it sped along. I also heard one of my dogs whimpering in her sleep. 

I love the sounds of a peaceful night. When I lived in northern California, it seemed there was always a jet flying overhead (I was only a few miles from the San Jose airport), and blocks from a busy expressway. Even late at night I heard racing motorcycles, speeding cars and squawking ambulances or other emergency vehicles. And like many in northern California, my house was just a few feet from my neighbor. She was in her 80s and hard of hearing, so her television volume was very loud.

My most unusual, and startling, night sound happened a couple of years ago in Botswana. The first camp a friend and I stayed in was just outside Chobe National Park, and it had no fence around it. (Some African parks are surrounded by electric fences, but most are not). Animals were free to come and go. One night I was blasted out of bed by a single, very loud and very near trumpet of an elephant. I must have levitated about 2 feet above my bed. It took a while for my heart to return to its normal rhythm. After talking with another guest at breakfast, we decuded that the elephant must have been between our tents.

Last spring I was on safari in South Africa, again in a camp with no fencing. As I lay in my tent waiting to fall asleep, I listened to the roaring of nearby lions and the trumpeting of elephants. During my first safari, in Kenya, I could hear zebra and hippos nearby. Camp was located near a river, and hippos leave the safety of the water after dark to feed on vegetation (and any crops they can get to). And in Tanzania, one of the camp staff was walking me to my tent after dinner and scanning the area with a large flashlight. "There's a buffalo beside your tent," he said quietly. "Don't worry. Just keep the flaps down and you'll be fine." I got ready for bed very quietly that night. The buffalo also remained silent. 

It's always a bit unnerving to think that nothing more than a canvas tent (albeit a sturdy one) separates me from some potentially dangerous animals. But it's so nice to know that some of our planet's wonderful wildlife are so close that I can hear them going about their business.



Friday, April 28, 2017

Living a Joyful Life


Layla, a 10-year-old papillon
I have three dogs, two of them small and one medium size.

These are probably the least favorite of all the dogs with which I have shared my life. They, especially the small ones, are very high-maintenance. They also bark a lot. They have a great deal of nervous energy, even at 10 years old. But they still receive the same care and treatment as all my dogs have received over the years. I spend a lot of time with them, and they eat premium dog food and receive excellent medical care.

Bailey, a 10-year-old papillon
One thing I enjoy about these (and most) dogs is their joyfulness. As soon as they hear me turn back the blankets on my bed each morning, they are up and ready for a new day. They can barely contain themselves as I switch on the light and put on my house slippers. Oh boy! Breakfast! This food is sooo good!

After their trip into the back yard to relieve themselves, they rush inside for their traditional morning 'rubbies.' Each dog vies to be the first to receive the morning body scratch. Benny, my golden retriever/corgi mix, usually is first. I scratch him all over, paying particular attention to the area at the base of his tail. Then either Bailey or Layla, my papillon sisters, arrives. Each of them receives a scratch along her back, sides and chest. Once the morning rituals are complete, they happily go back to sleep, either in my bedroom or in my office.

Benny, a 6-year-old golden retriever/corgi
Since I am retired, I spend a lot of time at home, although I make frequent trips outside to put items into the recycle bin or to just hang out in the back yard. The dogs accompany me on every trip. 

Each foray outside is met with great enthusiasm, no matter how many times I ask if they want to go outside. Each trip outside is an opportunity for a grand adventure. Benny in particular races outside. If the back door is opened, he charges into the back yard. His favorite activities are searching the lavender bushes for lizards, barking at the resident Cooper's hawk or just relaxing in the sunshine. Bailey is the explorer in the family, searching under bushes and hedges for anything she can (and shouldn't) eat. Layla is more laid back, enjoying a nap in the sun. My dogs aren't very playful, especially the females, although they do get wound up when we get ready for our morning walk. Benny will get the zoomies sometimes, usually with one of his soft toys in his mouth.

I wish we humans would learn a lesson from dogs and learn to live more joyfully. Imagine what it would be like to greet each new day with enthusiasm, to look forward to each new opportunity, to relish the food set before us, to run and play and love life. Of course, dogs aren't burdened with the travails of everyday life. They have no worries about work or money or interpersonal issues. They don't worry about the economy or the threat of war or attacks on our civilization. But we can't do much about many of life's worries, so why not be joyful?

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.
  • Trump plans to sign an executive order to allow increased oil drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. 

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?" 

Trump is busily working to eradicate Obama's legacy of environmental protections. Never in recent history have we had such a hate-filled, incompetent president. 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.