Sunday, October 30, 2011

WE'RE DOOMED!!!!!!!!

 "(CBS News)  
The U.N. says the world's population will reach a milestone this Monday -- 7 billion people. Since 1927, our population has soared from 2 billion to 4 billion in 1974, and 6 billion in 1999. CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell talks about the population increase with demographer Joel Cohen of Rockefeller University."

The speed with which we have reached this number is staggering. According to Wikipedia, at the beginning of the first millennium BCE, the world population was around 300 million. Some say the maximum population that the world can sustain is NINE billion. How quickly will we get there? In the same Wikipedia article I took that 300 million number from predicted that the seven billionth person would be born in 2013. We are a bit ahead of schedule. The pressure of human population growth and resource use is already leading to water problems and a shortage of land on which food can be grown. There are millions of people starving in the world, and millions going hungry in the U.S., while Las Vegas and parts of Arizona take water from the water tables to their desert residential areas and golf courses to keep them green for their wealthy residents and the great casinos and twenty-four hours of electric lights in their cities. Here's the thing, though: there have been five mass extinctions in the four-billion history of earth. There are lots of arguments about what caused them, but climate change is said to have caused some of them-climate change caused by volcanic activity, or caused by things that we can't even know because there was no life form present to record what was happening. There are more extinctions to come. In fact, there are many taking place right now-human population growth is part of the reason. There are some creatures that no longer have a place to live because we have taken over their habitats, cemented them over, redirected the water they drink, and left them no place to go. Some animals are adapting to this pressure, coyotes come to mind, and some can't. Those animals will die off. Yes, I know that some of my friends and family don't believe in evolution, but evolution simply means the ability to adapt to one's environment in order to survive and pass on one's genes. 

This is exactly why I think humans are doomed. We've made ourselves soft. We don't adapt to our environment-we force our environment to adapt to us, which is not sustainable...nature will win out, and we will go extinct. Humans have a terrible arrogance about our dominance of the earth-many theists believe that our dominance was ordained by God, and have used this as an excuse to rape the earth and destroy unpopular species such as wolves. Science has consistently demonstrated that when top predators are removed from an ecosystem, that ecosystem is thrown out of balance and is harmed. Another reason humanity is doomed is because we put too much carbon into our atmosphere, and it is disrupting climate all over the world. This is causing droughts some places, and terrible floods in others. Both floods and droughts create problems with growing food, which is pretty tough when we are so close to such an astronomical population number. But another way of looking at the spewing of so much carbon into our environment is to look at how oxygen breathing life is believed to have arisen to begin with. The first life that appeared on earth did not breathe oxygen. It gave off oxygen as a by-product, just as we give off carbon when we exhale. So what is going to happen is that life forms will take over that use carbon, and we oxygen breathers will become extinct-taken over by plants, possibly just like in the horror movies of the 1950's. 

I get very annoyed at people who live in fear of bacteria. Yes, I wash my hands regularly, but I don't keep gallon jars of hand sanitizers on my desk and wipe my hands every ten minutes. I think it has been fairly well proven that our overuse of antibiotics has allowed the evolution of bacteria that can withstand the most powerful antibiotics we can come up with. But I still hear people at the first sign of a sniffle say,  "I've got to call the doctor and get some antibiotics." Antibiotics are given to our food animals, put in every soap on the grocery shelf, and given to us for mild infections, and even viruses, against which antibiotic don't even work. We are doing absolutely nothing but weakening our ability to fight off bacterial infections; we did evolve an immune system that is designed to help us fight infections. Fevers are one way that our bodies do that-but too many of us call the doctor when our temperature goes to 98.8. Our immune systems are lazy and weak, while the bacteria become stronger and more immune to our weapons against them. Bacteria are the largest biomass on earth; they were here before us, and will be here when we are gone. Bacteria paranoia is not making us stronger, it is making us weaker.  The Harvard entomologist, E.O. Wilson, in his book "The Diversity of Life," disagrees with the notion that evolution will take care of the damage we've caused with our environmental damage because it will not take place in any meaningful span of time that we can grasp-which may be true, but so is the original premise. If we ignore the damage we are doing, the human form as we know it will be altered dramatically. The thing is, there will be great suffering-starvation, diseases and wars over resources that will happen first. 

Our climate has been warming since the nineteenth century-basically since the beginning of the industrial revolution started spewing fossil fuel emissions into the air, then we added automobiles, etc, etc, etc. But even during that time, there have been hot and cold periods of the year. People of the past found ways to make themselves more comfortable-using hand held fans, building breezeways on their homes, wearing hats and scarves, natural fabrics that breathe, more clothes in the winter, less in the summer. But we have now created ways that we don't need to adapt to the weather-we have central heating and air, both of which contribute to climate change because of their emissions. When we have severe heat or cold spells, there are always deaths; there would be more deaths if we did not have these machines that both contribute to the problem and allow us not to adapt to our environment at the same time. This is also true of antibiotics and vaccines. Yes, I know that the death of any child to influenza or small pox or tuberculosis is a tragedy. But illness and death are also a part of life, and a way of controlling population. At the risk of sounding extremely cold hearted, if the weak were allowed to be culled from the population, and the strong, who can adapt to extremes of environment our population would be smaller and stronger for it. But our hearts and heads don't always act in concert-we like to play God and decide that the weak and sick should survive. And that will, along with our choice not to adapt to our environment, but to try and force our environment to adapt to us,  speed our extinction. I can only hope that in millions or billions of years, after the carbon breathers give off enough oxygen for the cycle to begin again, that we will have left something behind that will allow the next rise of humanoids to learn from our mistakes. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Don't Look Back...

"Driving down the road today I saw a deadhead sticker on a Cadillac. A little voice inside my head said  "Don't look back, you can never look back." Don Henley; "Boys of Summer" 1984

As I drove to work the other day I saw a Toyota Prius with a sticker on the back that said, "Paul Jr. Designs." I wondered if that bumper sticker seemed as incongruous to anyone else. Paul Teutle, Jr, and the whole Orange County Chopper family seem about the most anti-Prius group I can imagine. 

I hate the term "invasive species." Life as we know it originated in Africa. And invaded from there. We are all invasive species. When one species goes extinct, another one fills its niche. Sometimes an organism moves into a place that has no niche for it, and it drives out its competitors and takes over there niches. That's the law of the jungle, Folks. Kudzu and zebra mussels are only as invasive as their competition allows them to be. It is all about adapting to an environment, or adapting an environment to one's needs. It's not always pretty, it's not often kind, but the cycles go on. 

I've been seeing some disturbing commercials about the EPA and how it is killing jobs with its overarching regulations. I wasn't sure until the other day who was putting this garbage out-I figured it was one of the republican candidates for president-especially Rick Perry. Then I saw the end of the commercial a few days ago, and the sponsor was "The Coalition for Clean Coal." Sure, wasn't it cool when the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969. Actually, that river has caught fire thirteen times, but the one that sort-of triggered Earth Day and the current environmental movement was in 1969. Do we really want to go back there? Don't pregnant women get enough warnings about eating fish because of mercury poisoning? Don't enough babies spend time in the emergency room and hundreds of thousands of dollars in health care costs because of air pollution? America, do we really want to elect a bunch of people who think all regulations on industry are bad? They keep telling us that removing regulations will cause job creators to come back to the U.S. to put people back to work. Why not create "quality control" jobs that hire people to see that a company isn't poisoning us? If an industry can't live up to environmental protections, how about the government giving tax breaks or "stimulus funds" to companies that update their factories to improve their environmental impact? So you create jobs and a cleaner environment all at once. Then the "job creators" wouldn't be demonized, and wouldn't have to set aside so much of their income for lobbying. It all seems so simple to me.

Rick Perry stays on my mind a lot, and  I cannot help but comment on the story of how he shot a coyote that menaced his family dog while on a run. Everything about this story rings false. I know that coyotes can be a problem for small dogs or cats left outside unattended. I know that with urban sprawl, coyotes have fewer places to hide and avoid contact with humans. But the governor of Texas, running with a golden retriever, which would outweigh most coyotes by about thirty pounds, and a cadre of security men running with him...well, there is no reason whatsoever that safety was the reason that coyote had to be shot. Coyotes are afraid of people, and unless they are pack hunting, which is a rare event,  and fairly new evolutionary step for them, a solitary coyote would not approach a group like that-certainly not in a menacing way. Perry was trying to show what a tough Texas hombre he is. And from that point forward, no matter if he stopped every war, created a job for every American, paid down the deficit, and stopped all pollution in the world, I could never, ever respect him again. Yes, my reaction here is extreme, and says more about me and my attachment to wild animals and my fervent belief in their right to exist and survive than it does Mr. Perry. But I have also studied canines (all canines) and this is just camp fire talk from someone who thinks he is on a cattle drive from the nineteenth-century. I was born and raised in Texas, and I am familiar with the Texas macho ethos. It is an unnecessary, ugly anachronism. We certainly don't need it in the White House. 

Mitt Romney. Business man, job creator, executive experience. What he actually did is increase the bottom line for shareholders by sending jobs over seas. I can't imagine anyone voting for such a Stepford Candidate. But then, if I were a republican I would be in utter despair right now. But then, I'm not a republican and I'm in despair now anyway over the direction of the country. 

I remember hearing over and over and over about George W. Bush saying "nookyooler." Then I heard many, many smart people, including respected news anchor Bob Schieffer say the word "nuc-lear" the same way. So I've tried not to let that one bother me anymore. But I just don't know if I could ever vote for a candidate who wants to eliminate a "def tax." Not that I  knew we had a special tax on people who can't hear. 

In the meantime, I have a solution to the rich-poor divide. It seems that every single small company is actually owned by some giant corporation. So all that is necessary is to have that one big company-I'm thinking it's probably General Electric or Goldman Sachs, take a minor cut in pay, and cut the shareholder dividend by a tiny percent. Give the people below them a raise in pay, and cover a bit of their benefits. Problem solved. The business will still be profitable, but the salaries of the ninety-nine percenters would be better, they would be happier and we could be the UNITED States of America again. It is sad to me that we are all so angry at each other all the time. 

My husband has been off work with a worker's comp injury since February. He was recently told that when he goes back to work he will have a three-percent raise. Then he got a letter saying that his insurance rates will go up more than ten percent. In the last forty years, the poverty rates in this country have gone up, not down. In the last ten plus years the salaries of the so-called ninety-nine percenters have gone down seven percent. Fuel keeps going up thirty cents, and down two cents at a time. When fuel goes up, everything that is delivered by fuel-driven machinery goes up. So, why are people angry and protesting? I can't imagine. 

As anyone who knows me knows, I am an atheist. A few weeks ago I had a conversation with one of my sisters, who shares my non-theism. She was about to get married to a wonderful man, but was uncomfortable saying to me that she felt "blessed." Is it okay to say one feels blessed if one doesn't believe there is a magic man in the sky dispensing said gifts? I think it is perfectly understandable to feel "blessed " when something unexpected and wonderful comes one's way. I'm still not sure how I would be sworn in if I ever had to go to court. 

Well-I guess maybe we have to look back sometimes. 

"Ahh, these times are so uncertain, there's a yearning undefined and people filled with rage. We all need a little tenderness; how can love survive in such a graceless age?"  Don Henley 1989, song, "Heart of the Matter," album, "End of the Innocence."

***Based upon a 1972 movie, "The Stepford Wives," in which the women of a community are made robotically perfect by husbands who wish to be waited on by beautiful, "perfect" women.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Not All That Spins Becomes Cotton Candy

When I was a child, I hated naps. I suppose I was afraid of what I might miss if I slept in the middle of the day, Now it is my habit to take a nap on Sunday afternoon whether I'm tired or not. The problem with that is that if I'm not really tired I just lay there with my brain spinning. If I do doze a bit, it is full of dreams that sometimes spin  bizarrely as if to simplify chaos theory. Typically I can follow a line, however crooked or fractured, and connect the dreams to something that has happened recently-though that doesn't always explain some of the people who populate the dreams. Every single time I have a disagreement with my husband, I have a dream about my first husband. Why is that? My first husband and I have been apart longer than we were together, and there are almost no similarities between the two men. Recently I talked to my friend who has an Italian boyfriend, Frank from Jersey, and I dreamed I had an affair with one of the characters from the television series, "The Sopranos." (Sorry, Frank!) Once, when I was sick with a high fever I dreamed I was being spun ever tighter in some sort of cocoon-it turned out I was wrapped in my blanket. I'm not sure that dreams really mean anything, but they do connect to our daily lives. When I married my second husband, in January of 2000, we moved from the town in Texas where my family lives to a small house in a small town in Illinois where he grew up. He knew one thing about me-that I love dogs. To the extreme--to a point sometimes where some people have accused me of liking dogs better than people. Which is not exactly true-I love most dogs better than I like some people. But after living in this house without a dog for a little more than a year, I asked him if we could get a dog. This was in March of 2001. Time passed, and still no dog. I started going back to school, along with my full time job, my eyes open all the time to the right possibility of the right dog for our family. On September 11, 2011 we still didn't have a dog-but after the terrorist attacks of that day, there were suddenly other things on everyone's mind. But, as we were told by our president, if we didn't carry on our normal lives, the terrorists won. On November 6, 2011, I went to have a fairly normal thing done-getting my teeth cleaned. My husband and his son who lived with us were at the fall sports banquet celebrating the football season. As I was lead to the cubicle of the hygienist, whom I had never met, but who had known my husband since he was a kid, it was lined with photos of dogs. I asked if these were all her dogs, and she said that she was involved in dog rescue and fostering. I asked if she had any that were adoptable, and she said yes, she had two that had been orphaned by the 9-11 attacks. One she thought was ready for a home, and one might never be. Did I want to meet them? I was her last client of the day, and I "followed her home."

Years before I had picked a name for the next male dog I got; he was going to be "Nestor," after the character played by Antonio Banderas in the movie, "The Mambo Kings." The dog I took home with me that night had been called "Louie," since no one really knew anything about his history. He was beautiful-a border collie mix, with a full black mask instead of the Harlequin mask that one sees on many border collies, and much more white on him than black. I took him home, and when my husband and step son arrived home from the sports banquet, we were sitting in the floor of the living room. I had my arm around him, we had already begun to bond, and my husband said, "Did you get a dog?" Since we didn't have a fenced in yard Nestor had to be walked twice a day. Every day-seven days a week. That duty fell to me, since I was the real dog lover in the house, and we walked all over the little town. I lost forty-five pounds, and Nestor and I were attached at the hip. I was, no doubt, his human. We later did get a fence, and I injured my sciatic nerve, and had to have help with the walking, but Nestor and I were almost psychically, and probably in an unhealthy way, connected. If we were walking and met up with someone who would talk to me, unless it was someone else with a dog, Nestor would snap at them. He did also chase things that moved, like the bicycle of our next door neighbor's daughter. When he, in true border collie fashion, nipped at the back tire and caught her ankle, it caused a neighborhood kerfuffle, to be sure. I was not familiar with the breed before I had fallen in love with this dog, but had I known more about them in advance, I probably would have known that we didn't really have the lifestyle for such an active dog. Sometimes if he was left alone he would tear things up-like the blinds, not just papers and small things. We replaced the blinds several times. The lady I had adopted him from attributed it to boredom and possible separation anxiety, considering he had been orphaned by the 9-11 attacks. I often called him my little orphan boy. His biting became more serious, and despite the fact that he was healthy and had all his shots, he had to be quarantined four times because of biting people. Once I went to visit him at the vet when he was in quarantine, and the vet said that he had never once shown any sign of aggression. Then when I started to leave, he bit the vet. The vet looked at me and said, "This is about you." I was getting more and more hopeless that I would ever be able to stop this behavior. I contacted a trainer who advertised that she could help with aggressive dogs, and we agreed to bring him back. But in April of 2007, I noticed that when a UPS man knocked at our door, he went psycho. I knew that if there had been no glass between him and the delivery man, there would be some real damage done. A few days later, he bit the hand of the neighbor who lived behind us, drawing blood. I will say, that man was not very nice, and I'd been tempted to bite him myself a time or two. But I knew it was the end...I called our vet, and took him to be put down. We couldn't afford the liability of an aggressive dog-and we couldn't risk small children coming to the house and being bitten. He was also prone to nip our guests if they hugged me; I had no choice left but to put him down. We went to the vet, and were placed in a room while the tech discussed with the vet, seemingly forever, how this euthanasia was to be handled since he had just bitten someone. I was falling apart, he knew something was up, so he was going psycho-hound all over the room. The vet finally came in and gave him "the shot." He was wobbly, but still walking around-I was still hysterical, and told her that I was close to changing my mind. She said, "Boy, he's not going down without a fight." They had to give my little orphan boy twice the regular dose, but he finally laid down in my lap and went to sleep. That was the first time I'd experienced this. I'd had other dogs put down before, but I could never bring myself to be there. I'd say my goodbye, and wait outside. But with this dog, I had to be the one to do it.

At the time this happened, April 12, 2007, I was in graduate school; right in the middle of the big project. I can imagine that someone might think the death of a dog would be something to move on from, but I basically fell apart, and wound up flunking out of graduate school. My job was temporary-a grad assistantship that now had to be changed to an 'academic hourly' and would only last until January. My life, and family became very difficult as I tried to deal with the grief over Nestor, and the still unremitting feeling that I had failed him. Bad owners make bad dogs; there had to have been more that I could have done. We had adopted a lab, Maddie, to be his friend, and she and I were the only ones who really grieved for him. I didn't think I would be ready for another dog for some time, but I didn't expect her to be as sad as she was. In fact, I thought she would be happy as an only dog. But she wasn't. In January of 2008 I was out of work, and the economy struck Central Illinois WAY before it spread through the rest of the country, so I could only find part time work, which was not near enough to support our family. My grief and feelings of failure regarding Nestor and school had started to come between my husband and me-things were really spinning out of control. On May 31 I got on a train and moved home to Texas. Supposedly there were lots of good jobs in Texas, my family kept telling me. So I moved, not sure if my husband would join me, but he and Maddie moved down in August of that year. I was glad to be close to my side of the family, but it was hard for Jim to be separated from his side of the family, especially his three sons. Maddie died the following February-at the age of 12, which is pretty old for a lab. Life goes on.

On May 15, 2010 I wrote a blog post, "To Ian, With Pride." Ian is the son of my youngest sister. The night she went into labor, all my siblings were gathered at my house. At that time I was a practicing Christian, and Teresa, Ian's mother, and I were the only ones in the family attending the Episcopal church. As a result of that, and the particularly close relationship we had, my first husband and I w ere Ian's godparents. So, despite the fact that my religious world-view has changed completely, I have always felt a special bond with Ian. May 14, 2010 was the night he graduated from college and received his commission as a second lieutenant in the US Air Force. I remember telling my sister that night that one hope I'd had was that by the time Ian graduated from ROTC we would no longer be at war. Last Sunday, as I took my nap, we were preparing to go to a going away party for Ian, who left for the Middle East, his first post after tech school, on Tuesday. On Thursday the news media were announcing that it was the tenth anniversary of our invasion of Afghanistan. As I cried on the shoulders of my mother and youngest sister Sunday night about that baby boy whose birth is so etched into our lives because his placenta tried to come out first, and his birth was an emergency Cesarean, leaving my apartment where it all started looking as if an axe murder had occurred there, was a grown man, a military officer, going where it was WAY more than a couple of hours to come home for a visit. The spin of dreaming about my dog began to make sense. I wouldn't have had Nestor if not for the 9-11 attacks, because of the 9-11 attacks, we are still at war, and Ian was going to the Middle East. I will add that he is going to a friendly country, and has a fairly safe job-but suddenly it all made sense how much our lives have become defined by the terrorist attacks of 9-11-01.

So, we can take the events of our lives, blend them into the pensieve of our subconscious, turn on the spinnaker and the heat and spin a single thread into something that resembles a full life. It may be completely connected, but it won't always be sweet.

Pensieve-a device used in Harry Potter books, written by J.K.Rowling, which allow a person to see into the memories of another person.