Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Facts? We don't need no stinkin' facts

Good grief, but this is annoying. Apparently the new fad is to excoriate Al Gore for how much power his Nashville residence uses. So, you see, we should not listen to anything Gore says because he's a hypocrite. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!!

Except, not. Think Progress summarizes the Vice President's response:

Gore’s family has taken numerous steps to reduce the carbon footprint of their private residence, including signing up for 100 percent green power through Green Power Switch, installing solar panels, and using compact fluorescent bulbs and other energy saving technology.

Having thus reduced his footprint, Gore also purchases carbon offsets to reduce that footprint to zero. Here is my favorite explanation of the concept of carbon offsets, from Real Climate. In relevant part:

The idea behind carbon offsets is built upon the foundation of carbon emissions trading established by the Kyoto Protocol, a scheme called cap and trade. Carbon emissions for industries are capped at some level by regulatory permits to emit CO2. If a company is able to cut its emissions below that level, it can sell its emission permits to another company. The cuts in emissions are thereby steered, by the invisible hand of the market, to the cheapest and most efficient means. Cap-and-trade has worked well for reduction of sulfur emissions in the U.S., that are responsible for acid rain. CO2 emission is intrinsically even better suited for cap-and-trade, because it is a truly global pollutant, so it matters not where the CO2 is emitted.

The carbon emissions market requires a certification process to verify any reduction in carbon emissions. and the other similar operations take donations from people like me and use the money to pay for renewable energy sources like solar cells or wind farms, that would not have been built otherwise. For these efforts, they receive credits for reduction in carbon emissions that are certified as valid, and therefore eligible for trade in the emissions market. Instead of trading that emission credit, “retires” it, so that it isn’t used to balance higher carbon emission from another source. The certification process from the emissions market has an unintended benefit of providing an independent way to verify the carbon impact from sending money to organizations like It's a nifty idea.

I can think of little else that better exemplifies the intellectual bankruptcy of this sort of gotcha! bullshittery than this manufactured controversy. It could not be clearer that these howler monkeys have made no effort to understand carbon offsets.

And the traditional media is falling for it, of course. Jake Tapper's article covers three pages online, buries Gore's response several paragraphs in and contains no explanation of carbon offsets and little acknowledgment that Gore's actual carbon footprint is zero.

And I don't expect much from Fox News, but this is Grade A idiocy:

Al Gore's posh home in the Nashville suburbs might be "carbon neutral," but it still uses a lot of power.

Yeah. In other words, Al Gore's household contributes less to global warming than any one of his detractors, but so what?

Why let the facts get in the way of a good smear?

Monday, February 26, 2007

What year is it again?

This just takes your breath away.

A geneological study done for has revealed that an ancestor of Rev. Al Sharpton was once a slave owned by a relative of now-deceased South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, once an ardent segregationist.

"It was probably the most shocking thing of my life," Sharpton said of learning the findings, which were requested and published Sunday by the New York Daily News. He called a news conference to respond publicly to the report. "I couldn't describe to you the emotions I have had . . . everything from anger to outrage to reflection to some pride and glory."

I can only imagine the impact of such a revelation on Rev. Sharpton.

But what made my mouth yawp hopelessly open was the reaction of some of the present-day Thurmonds.

While some of Thurmond's relatives contacted by the Daily News expressed skepticism about the report, Doris Strom Costner, a cousin of the late senator, said Sharpton should be proud to know his family's connection to hers. "He's in a mighty good family," she said by telephone from Edgefield, S.C. Asked how she feels to learn of evidence that her family owned slaves, she said: "I can't help it. I'm 74 years old, and I certainly can't help it. I don't feel one way or the other."

Let's put aside for a moment that she can spare not even the slightest bit of regret for the practice of slavery and that her ancestors engaged in it. He ought to be proud that his ancestor was owned by a "mighty good family"? Or she insinuating that the Rev. Sharpton himself is actually a part of the Thurmond family merely by virtue of that fact? Slavery ended more than 140 years ago. I don't think one ought to assume that, in 2007, a black American is automatically part of a white family simply because his ancestor was a slave owned by the forebears of that family. That confers continuing validity on an abhorrent practice that ended long ago. And it's an unseemly appropriation of the familial identity of black Americans.

But okay. She's a 74-year-old southern woman. I picked up my jaw from where it had landed on the desk, swallowed hard and moved on. Then I read this:

Thurmond's niece, Ellen Senter, said she would speak with Sharpton if he were interested. "I doubt you can find many native South Carolinians today whose family, if you traced them back far enough, didn't own slaves," Senter, of Columbia, S.C., told the Daily News.She added: "And it is wonderful that (Sharpton) was able to become what he is in spite of what his forefather was."

I believe she means white native South Carolinians. Or are those the only kind of native South Carolinians? But it's the last line that really, really bothers me. In spite of what his forefather was? What, a child molester? A murderer? Or a man who survived the unspeakably cruel institution of slavery and raised a son who became a small business owner and supported 17 children? One of which was the parent of an activist minister who ran for President of the United States?

That line -- what his forefather was -- really, really grates on me. My objections are two-fold. First, the phrase has an unsavory tone that bespeaks an indignity, and therefore fails to accord enslaved peoples the human dignity that is their due. A second and related objection is the use of the passive voice. What he was. Not the conditions under which he lived, the obstacles he surmounted, or the limitations he endured. But what he was. "Just" a slave.

This, people, is as fine an example as you are likely to find of the principle that words mean things. Both of these folks probably meant to express, in their own way, some benevolent sentiment to Rev. Sharpton. And I can certainly understand how things might not come out as well as one might wish while speaking to a reporter. But the words, even if said off the cuff, are revealing. These comments are shot through with faulty assumptions, condescension and a kind of clueless privilege.

Now, I have a relative by marriage whose family is from rural South Carolina. She grew up on the plantation her family has owned since the mid-eighteenth century. Nice gig if you can get it. When she got married, she simply went to the cellar under the "Big House" and pulled out a bunch of 120-year-old antiques, had them refinished, and furnished her home.

During one visit, she showed me a number of historical items they keep in a glass case, including a register of all the slaves that lived there during one particular year. "Isn't this awful?" she asked with a shudder.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

I'll have the supersize calamari, please*

Now this is timely, at least for me. Last night the husband and I were discussing doing some dives off the Oregon coast.

"We've been here for more than two years," I said, "and we haven't even tried diving here yet." Then an odd exchange occurred, given the fact that I've been feeling like a weenie these days, particularly compared to him.

"I don't know about diving the Pacific," he said in an uncharacteristically quavery tone. "There's big stuff out there."

"You think there isn't big stuff on the reefs in the Atlantic?" I asked. "There is, and yet you plunge blithely in every time, while I have to work a lot harder to manage my nerves. What gives?"

"No, I think there's bigger stuff out here."

Guess we won't be diving off New Zealand any time soon. Even if it wasn't interested in me, I still wouldn't want to see this joe coming at me on a dive:

*Yes, I do understand how uncreative that title is. Cut me a break. I'm only halfway through my coffee.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A book group

I'm pleased to say that I've joined an environmental reading and discussion group. We'll be reading and discussing The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community by David Korten.

I'll make an effort to discuss the book from time to time here.

Link Herd

Al Gore announces 24-hour concert series to take place on seven continents to raise awareness of global warming:
With a powerhouse lineup of acts from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Snoop Dogg to Bon Jovi, what's being called "Live Earth" aims to gather more than 100 of the world's top musicians on July 7 — and attract 2 billion viewers, most of them via television, radio and the Web.
In other Gore news, Fox host Sean Hannity attacks Gore for "global warming hypocrisy." The charge? Flying on private jets. Think Progress has the story, plus the following information from Vice President Gore's office:
-Gore lives a strict carbon-neutral lifestyle both in his work and private life. That means he tries to reduce his emissions as much as possible, and then purchases carbon offsets for the remaining emissions.

– In his private life, Gore tries to reduce his emissions as much as possible. He drives a hybrid, flies commercially whenever he can, and purchases green power. In the few instances where work has demanded that he travel privately, he purchases carbon offsets for the emissions.

Yellowstone air quality continues to improve in the wake of new requirements that snowmobiles meet certain noise and emission standards.

Large new under-ice lakes have been found in Antarctica. "[T]he slippery motion could have serious implications for the way ice sheets respond to global warming. Ice is continually sliding off Antarctica and into the sea. In ice streams, inland ice speeds into the ocean more than ten times faster than the rest of the ice sheet."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

But did they do it on a horse with no name?

Congratulations to these three people who make the word "indomitable" actually mean something:
Despite the preparation and drive to finish, the runners said they often questioned — mostly to themselves — what they were doing. Zahab described stopping one recent day for a bathroom break only to discover the wind was blowing so harshly that he couldn't keep the sand out of his clothes. "And I thought to myself, 'What the hell am I doing?'" he said.
Now go take a nap or something, guys.


This photograph is from a grove of old growth western red cedars in northwest Montana. I took this photo in mid-August, after an extremely dry summer. (It was 2003; fires were raging all over the whole state, including one within half a mile of this grove.) Quite a few of the trees in this grove had strips of bark hanging from them. I haven't noticed the same phenomenon since, though I can't recall if I've been to the grove again at precisely that time of year.

Can anyone explain what's going on with the bark coming off this tree? Is it something that happens ordinarily with western red cedars? Or does it have something to do with drought? Disease? (I should note that the trees in the grove generally appear to be fine today.)

Internet research has revealed nothing. Anyone have any ideas?

Away and back again

I've been awol from the blog world for much of the last week, only peeping in occasionally here and there. These days, when I have a big work project to finish on a hard deadline, I can concentrate on nothing else. (Primarily because I have such a difficult time concentrating on work.) Legal writing and reading, for me anyway, kill almost every other creative endeavor.

But the project is largely finished, aside from tweaking, so the blogging will be a welcome change.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Why not?

I have an affinity for people who make epic journeys for no particular reason other than "it was there." I have a long-term goal myself to thru-hike a long-distance trail -- either the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, or the Pacific Crest Trail. (I'm section-hiking the PCT in Oregon, so it probably will be one of the other two.) Though it may seem patently silly to hike, bike, run, ski or swim an outrageous distance just to do it, I can't help but feel that, like art, sometimes an epic journey ought to be undertaken for its own sake.

That's why I'm following this guy.

Piranhas, toothpick fish and a tidal bore called the pororoca are upcoming obstacles. Yikes.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fear and its discontents

Jennifer over at Under the Ponderosas has written a post that resonated with me. I'm glad I read it. It was a relief to see someone else address something that troubles me under the surface, and that I'd not really figured out how to talk about. And like all good posts, it made me think about the issue in my own terms as well.

It's about fear. First, go read her post.

Jennifer and I have two things in common: we both moved west from a place "where the mountains are rounded," and we grew up in suburbia. I rather obliquely referred in this post to a harrowing experience that illustrated the difference between the seemingly benign place I grew up and where I live now. You know, sometimes I think this place is constantly trying to kill me. The very rawness of it is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying.

The fear in my life has two points of origin: the birth of my son, and my move west. Before that, fear was never much of an issue for me. Yeah, I'd always have a few butterflies just before plunging into the ocean for a dive, and I remember feeling abject terror during a couple of specific, dire situations -- one involving a bear on a backpacking trip and another involving a man I encountered on a different backpacking trip who unquestionably wanted to do me harm.

But my overarching philosophy was, "Eh, if I die I won't know about it and it won't really matter, so wheeeeeeeeee! Let 'er rip!" I was never as fearless a person as my freewheeling, cliff-diving, rock-climbing, car-racing husband with his everything-will-work-out-just-dandy attitude, but fear didn't make a deep indentation on my consciousness. I backpacked through all kinds of bear territory, I hiked alone, I went scuba diving on the reefs, I kayaked through alligator habitat and I regularly walked alone at night on urban streets that were probably not as benign as they seemed. And I just didn't think much about it.

Part of me desperately misses those days. Sometimes I'm astonished at how completely different a person I am. These days, fear is actually one of my governing emotions. I don't mean to suggest that I sit in a corner cowering and refusing to leave the house. But doing some of the things I used to do without a second thought now requires a lot more mental work. There's always this nagging little fear that something will happen to me, and what will become of my son?

There's a certain irrationality to it, particularly when you examine what does and doesn't make me fearful. My son was only a year old when I spent three days hanging around Glacier National Park, photographing the 2003 wildfires. (He wasn't with us, of course.) It didn't occur to us that we should probably be afraid until we zipped through the Apgar entrance -- just ahead of the emergency vehicles -- five minutes before they closed the park entirely. Going back now and photographing the burned spots, I feel like a bit of a dumbass when I realize how close we were.

Contrast that bit of idiocy to last April, when I was in a state of agitation for two weeks before Mr. T and I left for China together. My warm, competent and extremely loving mother-in-law was going to spend the week doting on her grandson, but I couldn't shake the fear. What if the plane crashes? He'll be damaged for life! What if something happens to him while I'm half a world away!? That drumbeat never stopped entirely until I cleared customs in Portland on my return.

And last summer I came to the reluctant conclusion that I will not backpack alone, or do much hiking alone anymore. There's too much anxiety involved in that sort of thing now, and it's no longer pleasurable. Plus, I've made a rational decision that there's just too much at stake to put myself to much risk.

In short, I've become a weenie. And worse than that, I've realized I feel a bit ashamed about it. I look at someone like my sister-in-law, who took off for a month-long canoe trip in the Alaskan wilderness when she was three months pregnant, and I think, "is she insane or am I just a complete nancy?"

Maybe both. At least, I'm almost certainly a complete nancy. Some of it's rational, some of it's not. Much of it is undoubtedly tied up in issues of control and vulnerability; now that I have a child, I'm at risk for the worst kind of pain I could ever imagine -- losing him or inadvertently harming him, emotionally or physically. For me, that's the emotional dark side of parenthood.

So, yeah, freedom really is just another word for nothing left to lose. And sometimes, I miss it.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Cryptic fair use snippet of the day: If it were only this easy edition

When it all goes crazy and the thrill is gone, 
the days get rainy and the nights get long
When you get that feeling you were born to lose,
starin’ at your ceilin' thinkin' of your blues
When there’s so much trouble that you want to cry,
the world has crumbled and you don’t know why
When your hopes are fading and they can’t be found,
dreams have left you waiting, friends have let you down
Just remember I love you, and it’ll be all right
Just remember I love you, more than I can say
-Firefall, circa 1977

I don't feel old just because this is a song from my childhood. At all.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I and the Bird #42

The current edition of I and the Bird is up at Neurophilosophy. Go take a look.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A little cheese with that whine

Though the two-year old residing within me does not understand why we cannot spend all our time traveling, exploring, and writing about this natural phenomenon or that environmental issue, my mortgage company plainly does.* This means that I must put on the other hat today -- the one that makes money.

Which is a shame, because it occurred to me this morning that I've spent very little time in the desert. A too-brief weekend in New Mexico a few years ago isn't much more than a tantalizing taste, is it?

And let's not get started on the long-distance trail obsession.

*I'm quite ashamed to say that my inner two-year old is even more short-tempered and demanding than most real ones. After years of wrangling, maneuvering and arduous work, I now get to spend a great deal of time doing what I enjoy, and should be quiet about it already.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Not too shabby

For his work bringing attention to the climate crisis, Al Gore has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. It's not a secret that I think global warming is the most critical issue the world faces, and I don't think I've concealed my admiration for Mr. Gore. I'm delighted with this nomination.

And I enthusiastically concur with this sentiment from Shakespeare's Sister:
Cool. And now think about how he was supposed to be our president and try not to collapse into a wailing heap with a great gnashing of teeth and dramatic fist-clenching.
I grieve that, deeply. But I haven't given up yet.

That's a topic for a whole other post, of course.

Festival of the Trees No. 8

Is up at Ginkgo Dreams. Kelly has created a really beautiful edition of the Festival. Get thee to her pad forthwith.