Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Some Perspective

In response to Cody's post, A Nagging Sense.

Lili's first fish
I used to take my daughter fishing quite a bit when she was younger.  It wasn't about catching the biggest trophy fish as it is with many Florida fishermen, it was about getting as many fish as she could; quantity over quality, if you will.  We'd go down to the pond and fish with bread balls for blue gill.  Most fishermen enjoy the sport of the catch.  Many fish because it appeals to a primal "hunter, gatherer" instinct.  My daughter fished because she loved the fish; to see and touch them, to understand  their world and how it related to hers.  I know this because of the questions she would ask.  She wanted to know how they breathed under water and what did they eat.  Did they have families and could they get hurt in the water by gators.  Challenging questions for a father if he's not prepared, as I often wasn't.

One day she decided that it would be good to catch some fish and eat them.  We went to the pond late afternoon and dropped our lines in.  We must have caught forty fish in a matter of minutes.  We kept a dozen blue gill that were big enough to fillet, put them in a bucket of pond water, and headed home to clean, cook and eat our catch.  At home I grabbed a fillet knife and cutting board, asked my daughter to follow me into the back yard and help me prepare our catch.  The sun was setting and I wanted to get the fish cleaned before dark.  As I was dumping out the water from the bucket my daughter ran into the house.  I followed and found her in her room crying.  She couldn't watch me kill the fish.  In fact, she begged me not to do it, to go back to the pond and set them free.  I stood there exasperated, watching her cry, but you know what I did.  I went out back, got the bucket and drove back to the pond.  It was dark by then.  The fish flopped in about an inch of water and I thought their chance of survival was slim, but I had to try.  I dumped the bucket into the pond and immediately half of them swam off.  I reached out and touched the rest and three more swam off.  Three floated atop the water, not moving.  Knowing my daughter's disappointment if she knew three died, I grabbed one by the tail and moved it back and forth, hoping to get water into it's gills.  I did that with each fish and each one revived and swam off.  My daughter was very happy.

My daughter is thirteen now and a self proclaimed tree hugger.  If it weren't for her love of bacon I believe she would be a vegetarian, which would be very hard on me.  She's not overly zealous in her environmentalism, it has more to do with her love of animals and her desire to maintain their habitats.  I think that's pretty cool, even if I might not agree with every part of her stance.  She thinks to recycle and has voiced concerns over greenhouse gases, although I don't think she fully understands the global warming/climate change problem.  The funny thing is she never turns out a light when she leaves a room and she would love for her family to have a big truck.  Her understanding of environmental issues and the concepts and reasoning for conservation are limited by her knowledge of the issues and her personal perspective, which is based on her experiences and her personal desires.  I think this is true of many people, child and adult alike, when it comes to the issues of global warming/climate change and our understanding of stewardship of our planet.  Really, in most areas of life.

Cody, you're right about the fact that we need to be cognizant of our impact on our environment and resources. I believe that humanity will always adapt to the circumstances that will arise in the future, but that doesn't abrogate us of our responsibility to be wise stewards. In fact, I'd go so far to say that with the amount of natural resources being consumed today, we have a greater responsibility than any past generation.  Outside of cooperate entities, like the rightfully beleaguered BP, I believe this to be the consensus.

As to global warming/climate control, I think many are reacting to what I see as hyperbolic, apocalyptic rhetoric from politicians and celebrities much like my daughter did over the fish.  Although she could not bring herself to end those fishes lives, it doesn't mean we should end all fishing in the world.  This issue of global warming has a massive impact on the world's economy.  The fact that the Kyoto Treaty lingers in limbo proves the point.  The science for man made causation is compelling and warrants our deepest concern and our sincerest efforts, but also our desire to fully understand what global warming is.  Like I said in my earlier post, the scare tactics cause me to question the motivation of those pushing it.  If we accept every change that is considered necessary to combat global warming our lives will change dramatically as it impacts the very economies that make our lives possible today.  Doesn't that give you reason to think a bit of skepticism is healthy?

One last point.  My daughter recently came running into the house screaming that we had an alligator in our yard.  I went out, and sure enough, there was a two and a half foot gator by the house.  My wife wanted me to get rid of it, my daughter wanted me to save it.  I called our local animal control and they gave me over to an organization that deals with nuisance gators.  In Florida such an organization is necessary.  I was advised that since it wasn't being a nuisance I should leave it alone and it would instinctively find a body of water.  We all went into the house; my wife contacted people she thought would help get rid of it, my daughter and I waited.  Twenty minutes later my daughter and I went back out, and it was gone.  My wife followed us out of the house with instructions she received from a friend as to how to capture it.  None were needed, because the situation had taken care of itself.  Now, don't we think that the Earth will do the same if we humans screw her up too much?  Just sayin'.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Nagging Sense

by Cody Kilgore

I have spent a great deal of my life arguing and living both sides of the issues involved in ecological responsibility, and today I consider myself a Moderate Tree Hugger. That may warrant some definition.

A Moderate Tree Hugger is someone that admires the lifestyle, words, and deeds of those that are on the cutting edge of “green” living, but is unable to bring themselves to rise to that level of commitment. In other words, I would very much like to have little or zero impact on the ecosystem, but find that I lack the willpower and ability to sacrifice what it takes to do so. I’m too addicted, I guess, to many of the conveniences of modern life that make zero impact a near impossibility. Besides, I have a teenage daughter, which means my home houses one of the world’s most notorious consuming machines, where food, energy, resources, my income, and my patience is concerned.

So I resolve myself to do as much as I am able. It ends up being a blend that helps my conscience, and maybe in some degree, the environment. It is something likely not too different from what many of us do. I recycle what I can at home and work. I turn out lights whenever I leave a room. I turn off the water between shaving strokes and tooth brush rinses. I don’t let my PC run 24/7. I’ve traded the monster Expedition for a Grand Prix (Okay, so that was begrudgingly done more because of the divorce, but I can still claim it is a greener ride, can’t I?).

My point: I do what I can, given where I am in my life right now. I also tend to stay out of the arguments about whether or not global warming is either real or imagined or man-made or not. To me, that argument is too specific, and I would much rather see us debate whether or not humankind is negatively impacting the ecosystem, or positively.

I am not sure there is much argument on that idea; our very existence on the planet is going to impact and drain resources, even if we were all living at the basic level of hunter-gatherers of centuries ago. Our population volume today is itself a drain. I would not propose we do anything to reverse that, because I think the planet will one day do that for us, as one of the many miraculous cycles that it carries off, no matter our will or invention. But our subsistence comes at the cost of something, much in the same way other certainties of physics operate, like heat lost must be heat gained, water runs downhill, and teenagers must text. The trick, for the sake of our longevity, is in minimizing that cost.

So I do what I can. But, it has been a long and storied path that has brought me to this—at best—mediocre approach, because I worked for decades in industries that committed the worst of environmental crimes.

My first real job during summers at college, and for over a decade after leaving college, was with a railroad contractor that was hired to apply herbicides along the tracks to control vegetation. It was a company hired to do the right thing via the wrong methods. It is vitally important that there are no weeds in railroad beds; vegetation in the road bed holds moisture, which then can cause the rails and ties themselves to “float” along the top of a fairly hard subsurface. It is not a good thing to drive a vehicle of massive tonnage over floating tracks. They tend to go askew and veer off into any direction, and the end result can be wrecks, damage, and lost lives. Additionally, vegetation at points where cars and trains intersect needs to be kept low for the sake of visibility.

In those days of my career, we dealt with environmentalists, I think, just as much as many industries do today, thanks to Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. And, like many view environmentalists today, we saw them as radical whackos. We dismissed them. We convinced ourselves that we knew what we were doing, that we were doing it responsibly, and that we were a necessary evil. So long as we were professional and responsible about how we applied all those tons of herbicide, we thought we were doing mankind a service and not really causing the problem. We, in fact, pointed fingers at farmers, who at the time were applying way more than we ever dreamed of using.

Truth be told, within the industry, we were fairly cavalier about the whole thing. Sometimes we did stupid things for the sake of logistics and profit, all the while knowing it was not the right thing to do. I remember the practice of draining the residue from our tanks—which we always said was legal and not damaging—so long as it was within the boundaries of our customer’s right-of-way. I remember pumping herbicides high into the air on windy days when we were applying brush killer to trees, and telling ourselves that it was okay so long as the wind was in the right direction and we had enough drift-prevention additives in the tank to make the droplets too large to travel off target. I once watched one of the principals of my company take a drink of mixed herbicides in front of a reporter, just to prove the point he was trying to make that the massive spill we had just released was harmless to nearby residents. I myself took a dive in a tank car mixture heavy laden with atrazine and 2,4-d to recover an expensive tool that I needed and feared would lodge in and clog the valve system.

And then, one day, deep in my career with that company, I was called in to give a deposition about a family that lived near the tracks of a job I had worked on. I don’t want to go into the details of a case that has been resolved decades ago, but I remember it as a moment where my conscience first started speaking louder than my wallet. I left that industry not long after that, because of that conscience, some changes in the leadership of the company, and to get off the endless months of travel.

My next step was not much better, however. I became a manager in the lawn care industry. Again, I used, we all used, the same rationale for what we did. We were the pros and we were not the culprits, and we were necessary. But, by now I knew I was kidding myself. It grew harder and harder to believe my own rationalizations.

It was during this time that I started a family. Somewhere along the line my oldest daughter came home from school one day and started asking me questions about what my company did, and what it was doing to the environment. Where I could kid myself about what it was I did, and I could spout off all the propaganda to any customer, reporter, or “whacko” that I had to confront while in my business persona, I could not bring myself to answer her sweet innocence in the same way. That was the day I decided I wanted out.

Today, I feel like I am in a career that makes far less impact (retail), even though it may not be perfect. But, ours is not a perfect world. It is never going to be. It never was before us. We are ludicrous to think we can ever get there from here. It is not ludicrous, however, to think we can minimize our cost and extend our time on this planet, for the sake of those that will live on it after us. We just have to try to think outside the scope of whether or not it affects our own little piece of the world.

Most importantly, we have to be responsible on some very basic levels. By that I mean we cannot be criminal in our neglect, and cannot be reckless in our exploitation.

BP (you had to know this was coming) is a company that is both criminal and reckless, and represents the worst attitude and behavior toward our planet and all of the planet’s dependant populations. They profess they are acting in the best interest of everyone, when in fact they are only acting in the interest of their profits. They are willing to put the environment and their employees in harm’s way, and they are quick to spin their defense whenever challenged on what they do, or what damage they have done. They dismiss anyone critical of them and anyone that might get in the way of their profiteering recklessness. And they are only one example of the very worst of companies that brazenly exploit resources and tear up our ecosystem in the process.

I know these guys and how they think, because I used to be one of them. Nowadays, I feel fortunate to have learned not to be, even if I am not the best steward of the planet that I could be. But, I am an individual capable of change, where BP is instead an investment driven monster, motivated only by the profits it can generate for those investors and its executives. Change won’t happen for them unless forced.

I’m laughing a bit at the predicament that BP finds itself in because of the catastrophe in the gulf. The damage they have done is nothing to laugh at, mind you, but BP’s attitude and behavior that has been put in the spotlight as a result is comical to watch exposed. They have no defense for what they have caused, and nearly every turn they take at trying to rationalize their actions is more absurd than the last. My hope is that they are turned into an example of what will happen to a corporation that is willing to flirt with disaster, and that a larger part of the public is made aware of how widespread this type of corporate behavior is, all across the globe.

If not, then we return to being quietly complicit, and we lose an opportunity to affect some real change that could benefit us and generations after us. We can learn from this, or we can continue to spin our way around the solar system, whistling all the way.

Which (finally) brings me to my feelings about global warming, that I guess can be summed up this way: if enough evidence points toward the possibility, even without a certainty, then why wouldn’t we want to do what is possible to avoid causing more harm, maybe even dial it back a little? Wouldn’t it be more prudent to be cautious, rather than argue its reality? I would prefer we err on the side of caution, rather than find out, at a stage too late, we can’t reverse the damage. I worry about what our disagreements on the issue display, which I see as reluctance to admit we might be doing something wrong.

I’ve had that feeling before in my life. Just saying…

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Matter of Faith or Chicanary?

I've decided to post here a Sunday morning mulling posted earlier on my other blog, The Isle of Mulling, because I believe the subject worthy of further discussion.  Faith is a huge part of our societal framework and it's abuse, as I've noted in this post, should be questioned.  So, for your consideration:

The thing is, Benny Hinn knows he's a charlatan; the charlatan always does.  His chicanery has come up in many conversations I've had this week, as the topic of religion and faith has been some of this week's hot topics for me.  His claims of healings can't be substantiated, he makes ridiculous claims that even people of his ilk shy away from, and he lives a lifestyle on par with the wealthiest elites, and that because of the immense wealth he's bilked from followers while ostensibly working to spread the good news of the gospel. I'm telling you he knows he's a fraud.

I thought to pepper a post here with stats and such to give you a glimpse into the life of a phony, but NNDB.com does a better job than I ever could.  Check it out. I also found a video that I thought both  humorous and sad at the same time of Benny Hinn at his "miracle crusades".  Check it out:

The main point here is that I'm saddened that people like Benny Hinn have no compunction about preying on the faithful for their own personal aggrandizement  The idea that wealth is acquired by taking advantage of folks who honestly hope for answers or healing from their faith is beyond appalling or criminal; it's evil.  The fact that these "faith healers" jet around the world in private planes as some poor family "planted a seed" with their last dollar in hopes of being healed should gall everyone.  The fact that anyone would prey on the naivety of the faithful should be held accountable, but being that it is a matter of faith, it's nearly impossible.  It's hard to convince the hopeful that their "healer" is nothing more than a snake oil salesman.  What do you say of the person who wrings out every last penny they can get from your hope?  It's sad.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Is it Global Warming or Climate Change?

Yes, I'm a skeptic, and by Al Gore's assessment a pre-Columbus, nay-saying flat-Earther.  And that hurts a little.  It's not Al Gore's condescension that hurts, it's that so many others that I know might think the same of me (and I do so want you to like me).  Global warming (or is it just climate change now?) is still a pretty big topic, depending on how the political winds are blowing, and still comes up in water cooler discussions from time to time.  And you might be surprised at the nature of my skepticism and why I still hold to it in light of today's scientific consensus.  Believe it or not, I've given the topic as much thought as my limited, unenlightened brain can give it, and I still seem to hold a minority position.  What gives?

The subject of global warming (or climate change?) came up for me recently and I had to admit my doubt in anthropogenic causation.  That's a really big word that means man made (And it's fun to say! Give it go!).  In fact, after the Climategate debacle I had the opportunity to right about it on The Isle of Mulling in a post entitled, Michael Critchon was Right.  And like many skeptics, I have to admit that my earlier position was much more in line with the uber conservatives in denying every contention of those radical, left wing environmentalists and their desire to take away my freedom to own an SUV (although, I've actually never owned one).  That was several years ago and I've moderated my views, manly because of resources like the BBC's Earth: The Climate Wars (thanks for the tip coolname_123) and the preponderance of data pointing to the fact that the Earth has warmed up in the last hundred years.  Even staunch skeptics will grant that concession now.  And a circumstantial case for anthropogenic causation isn't far fetched in my mind, but I still have some reservations.  Let me try to explain my reasoning.

Not being a scientist and not well versed in scientific jargon, I can only say that scientists stand behind the battlements of their position and fight hard to win public opinion on the issue.  I'm aware there is consensus for the acceptance of global warming/climate change, but I can't imagine science being conducted by consensus, only by truth, so consensus has no sway with me.  I do find the the hyperbole from some of the more extreme elements of the  global warming movement to be telling, though.  When a parade of celebrities offer environmental doomsday scenarios that eventually come to naught, or I see politicians decrying the evils of those who oppose their environmental concerns, I have to wonder what motivates the movement?  Is it true concern for mother Earth, or is there a more personal motivator?  We saw with the Climategate e-mail release that global warming proponents will obfuscate, change, hide, and pretty much lie about data that doesn't support their contentions.  Politicians like Al Gore have bet their careers and credibility (not to mention Oscars) on the truth of anthropogenic global warming.  In these cases it's not always scientific data they use to persuade, it's name calling and condescension.  Does that make for a good argument?  Is there a clear enough scientific case made to lead so many people typically motivated by self aggrandizement to become so concerned for Earth?

Well, maybe.  I think that when you mix politics in with your science you have to scrutinize the motivation and the results.  I'm really willing to be convinced that my carbon footprint is dangerous to my and your future progeny.  But, I just can't help but to be skeptical when so many over-the-top statements are made in the effort to scare us into their corner.  I think there is room for some healthy doubt here.  Now tell me, am I wrong here?  Have I misread the global warming/climate change movement?  And which one is it, global warming or climate change?  I gotta know.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

I, Blogger

Having lived most of my life in a metropolitan area, I knew that a "tagger" was a graffitist, and that the phrase "Taggers Unite!" was some sort of rallying cry that never quite went much further than its painted expression. Around the time I left the big city, I had seen the phrase "Bloggers Unite!" similarly sprayed here and there. I did not know what a "blogger" was, and had little interest in finding out.

I later learned through the pop culture god that speaks from a cathode ray box, that a "blogger" was a person who felt some need to share every intimate detail of their daily life with the world at large, intimates and strangers alike. What a bizarre concept, I thought, and then thought no more of it.

Some time later, a young lady in my area approached me to solicit a modest contribution from my business to support efforts to send a local team to an international sporting event, in return for which my business would benefit from a mention and a permanent link on the team's "blog," which was nothing like the bizarre concept I had earlier imagined. My business was featured in a "post" and has a permanent link on the "sidebar."

Fast forward to last fall, when I took up the unusual sport of scambaiting. I was looking for an easy (idiot-friendly) and economical (free) way to show off my exploits, and I recalled that "blog" thing that my business had been featured on, since I knew it was free, and I guessed it was simple. Off I went to check it out, confirmed that the price was right and that it suited my needs, and Breakfast With Scammers was born. But I was not a blogger; I was just using the platform because it was easier and cheaper than setting up a web site.

From time to time I need some technical help. One thing led to another, and on the eve of my 47th birthday, I found myself in a strange corner of the googleverse known as the Coffee Shop. (I do not include a link here out of concern for your safety; if you should be there, you will find it.) There, I discovered (among other things) the world of blogging and bloggers. I also discovered that I missed writing for the sake of writing. There is certainly some creativity involved in the fine art of scambaiting, but it's just not the same thing.

So, one fine spring day, Stranger In a Strange Town was born, intended to be an excuse to write that would chronicle my experiences in this strange new virtual world. As my personal therapy at the Coffee Shop developed in its disturbing and effective way, I thought it might be cathartic to deal with some emotional issues creatively; thus Stranger became an extension to my therapy.

Each of my blogs is somewhat limited in its approach and content; it would be entirely out of place to post a political opinion or some other rant on either one of them. Thus, when The Muller invited me to join Opine Apparatus, I welcomed the opportunity, as I can now spout whatever ramblings I feel the need to express, without compromising the artistic integrity of my existing blogs.

I will warn you that my writing is often pretentious, overly verbose, and sometimes deliberately vague, and I have a very annoying tendency towards ridiculously long run-on sentences, with way too many commas, and at least one semi-colon; this allows the sentence to continue even further beyond the point at which it has served any useful purpose. If you can put up with this, you might not mind me so much.