Labor Day Rant

WE HAVE TO STOP HIM!  The subject line of a recent plea from the Democratic Governor’s Association appearing in my internet in-box.  If I were to click on the Add Your Name box I’ll likely get forwarded to a site asking me to donate.  Add this to the myriad of daily requests for funding from Donna Brazile, Tom Perez, Bold Progressives, and a bunch of Senators and Congresspersons and you’ll find that if only I’d kick in $50 (better yet, $50/month) all will be well but, if I can’t, how about $5?  Remember, it only takes money to win elections, right?  Money, money…lots of money!

I wonder if Jeb Bush supports this concept anymore?  Or Hillary?  Maybe the problem is the Democratic “Platform(?)” of “All things good…” does not resonate with Middle America.  It sure doesn’t with me.  Maybe we would like to see a more detailed plan for resolving our deteriorating infrastructure; a detailed plan to fix the imperfections in ACA; maybe we’d even like to see a detailed spread sheet on trade-offs such as taxation and public services (how much less police and fire protection are we willing to live with for more money in our pockets?)  Maybe we’d like to see our kids get out of college without making loan payments the rest of their lives (and maybe we’d like to see how it could possibly be paid for!)

I’m no longer a Democrat…haven’t been one since Clinton’s second term (I left the Republican party when Nixon did).  I realized that partisan politics was destroying the country and I bowed out.   I don’t hang my head in shame admitting I’m a Progressive as that’s not a party; it’s a philosophy that believes advances in science, technology, economic development, and social organization lead to the improvement of the human condition.  Money is simply a small piece of the issue.  And for all of you who will say, “A Progressive is really just a Democrat” than I can assume you don’t buy into ANY of the tenants of this philosophy so tell me yours.   (No…please, “more money” is not a philosophy, it’s a disease.)  I can’t say I’ve ever met a “conservative progressive” but there are a few (Joe Scarborough comes to mind) that come close.

Our problem is simple…we’re spoiled brats!  We want all the good things; nice beaches, National Parks and Forests to recreate on; fresh clean drinking water; cheap electricity and gasoline; cheap (large) homes; and enough money in our pockets and plenty of time to enjoy all these things…it’s just that we want someone else to pay for it.  We want to drive a nice new car (but dump it as soon as BMW comes out with a really great new sound system).  We want McDonalds to go back to 25 cent hamburgers and the minimum wage of their employees to fall accordingly (unless, of course, that’s where we work and then we want higher wages, health coverage, retirement benefits, and lots of paid vacation time).  We hate insurance but always want someone else to cover for us when weather, health or accident problems arise.  But, we sure as Hell don’t want to pay any taxes!

Well, folks…you’re in luck because Trump has told us all this is possible…just give him carte blanch to run things his way.  We’ll build a wall so there will be plenty of jobs open for the middle class picking fruit, mowing lawns and pumping septic tanks.  We’ll eliminate the illegal immigrants so that if you can’t land a $100K/year white-collar job after graduation there’ll be plenty of janitorial and housekeeping positions open to you.  We’ll warm your home and create electricity with bigger and better coal-burning plants so there will be a few jobs left in the coal mines tending to the mechanical technology that replaced most of the laborers of the 40’s plus a large increase in production the anti-pollution mask industry.  And, best of all, we’ll eliminate all abortions and come up with unique methods for disposing of the unwanted children that we definitely do not want to feed, clothe, house and educate.

Of course the other choice seems to be “All things good…”

Hmmmm?

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To the Pantanal!

Leaving the Amazon and back on the bus we headed south to the Pantanal for the remaining days.   The pavement ended quickly and it was 100 miles of dusty abraded dirt road to the lodges and the Cuiaba River

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The speed bumps were replaced with bridges that humped over the numerous sloughs and water areas that made up these vast wetlands.  These were filled with a variety of bird species and caimans, thus the slowing down provided much desirable viewing.

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In the more elevated areas that are not prone to annual flooding, large termite mounds rose from the surface of the ground. Most of these were abandoned as the colonies grew in numbers requiring more and more sustenance and then, when energetics required more energy to acquire the food than to maintain the colony, it collapsed and the remaining animals sought new areas where food was plentiful.  Maybe we, as humans, should take heed to the termites’ plight.

Termite Mounds 4

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Our first lodge was Pousada Pival on a 7,000 acre cattle ranch.

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There were good numbers of birds on the open cerrado, flooded wetlands, and in  patches of tropical forest.

Wood Stork 1

Wood Stork

Bald-faced Ibis 1

Bald-faced Ibis

Sunbittern 1

Sunbittern

Limpkin 2

Limpkin

Wattled Jacana 1

Wattled Jacana

Rufescent Tiger Heron 1

Rufescent Tiger Heron

Red-legged Sireinna 2

Red-legged Seriema

Rhea 1

Rhea

Shining Cowbird 1

Shiny Cowbird

Ferruginous Owl 2

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl

Chaco Chachalaca 3

Chaco Chachalaca

Rufous-tailed Jacamar 1

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

A highlight was a trip on a tractor-pulled wagon through the wetlands to a major roosting area for many species of birds.

tractor ride

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Caimans were everywhere where there was water

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Caiman 1

…as were Capybaras, the world’s largest rodent.  I wrongly visualized these critters to be the size of beavers but found that the adults weigh upwards of 150 pounds.

Capybara 3

Capybara 1

Roost Tree 1

Heron/Black Vulture Hotel

Snail Kite 1

Snail Kites were the most common raptorial species in the wetlands…

Savannah Hawk 2

…the Savannah hawks frequented drier sites…

Roadside Hawk 1

…and the Roadside Hawks took advantage of both.

Crab-eating Fox 2Crab-eating Foxes were regularly seen in the area…

Red-capped Cardinal 2

and Yellow-billed Cardinals were everywhere!

After two days at Piuval we were back on the road to Pantanal Norte and the Ciuba River.

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Panatal Norte 2

Here we found so many birds right on the lodge grounds and it was the jumping off spot for the boat rides up the river looking for jaguars, otters and lots of birds.

Buff-necked Ibis 1

Buff-necked Ibis

Southern Caracara1

Southern Crested Caracara

Hyacinth Macaw 6

Hyacinth Macaws

But it took a boat to look for the critters along the river; jaguars, otters, etc.

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The critters we found was a group of Giant Otters who swam along the banks catching the numerous fish in the river.

Giant Otter 9

Giant Otter 6

Giant Otter 4

Then coming around the bend we encountered an armada of boats…

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A Jaguar had been found!

Jaguar 2

He as pretty bored with all the too-doo…

Jaguar 3

And finally decided to leave.

Jaguar 13

Back at the lodge the bird-life was incredible.

Southern Screamer 2

Southern Screamer

Hyacinth Macaw 5

Hyacinth Macaw

Rufous Cachalote 1

Rufous Chachalote

Toco Toucan 2

Toco Toucan

Bare-faced Currosow 1

Bare-faced Curassow

Guira Cuckoo 1

Guira Cuckoo

Purplish Jay 1

Purplish Jay

Black-fronted Nunbird 2

Black Nunbird

Our last day was at the Mato Grosso Lodge where raptors, kingfishers and jaribou stocks waited along the river for the guides to toss out fish.

Great Black Hawk 3

Great Black Hawk

Gray Hawk 1

Gray Hawk

Black-collared Hawk 4 - Copy

Black-collared Hawk

Ringed Kingfisher 2

Ringed Kingfisher

Jaribou 7

Jaribou Stork

Jaribou 8

Local patches of forest had several additional bird species.

Rusty-margined Flycatcher 1

Rusty-margined Flycatcher

Little Woodpecker 4

Little Woodpecker

Crimson-crested Woodpecker 1

Crimson-created Woodpecker

But. like all good trips, it was time to leave the Pantanal and go home.

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Dictator in Training

There are basically two principal steps in the establishment of a successful dictatorship.  The first is to ensure that your supporters need not abide by existing laws as long as they continue to support your objectives.  The second is the imprisonment and/or disappearance of those who do not support your objectives.  We have now noted the first principal has been implemented, both in the selection of the cabinet and now in the courts; can the second be far behind?

It is laughable to see the hand-picked crowds at the political rallies holding up posters (obviously handed out at the door), t-shirt slogans, and a plethora of “Make America Great Again” ball caps acting like trained seals, barking on cue.  And they are too stupid to realize they are the very people who will get the short end of the stick when the dictatorship gains its full power.   As our future dictator likes to Tweet…”Sad!”

To Brazil for the Birds!

Brazil

“So how big is Brazil?”, someone asked me.  I had also wondered when I decided to venture there.  Having been to several Central and South American countries and I knew it was bigger than any of them but I didn’t know how much.  I wondered if it was as big as Texas.  Big surprise!   It’s a little bigger than the ENTIRE CONTIGUOUS 48 STATES COMBINED.  Over 900 miles of coast; almost 210 million people; 8th largest economy in the world; and it’s hard to find anyone who speaks English!  But my interests lay elsewhere than the human altered areas (and there is a lot).  My interest was in the birds of the Amazon and Atlantic forests and the Pantanal, the largest wetland in the world.  Birds, birds, birds!  And a lot of other things too.  So, I signed on with a group of bird watchers on a tour run by Jim and Cindy Beckman (Cheepers Birding) and traveled for 36 hours via United Airlines to Sao Paulo, the largest city in the southern hemisphere (and 12th in the world) where we began our tour.

As I ended up with good images of over 110 species (and a lot of bad ones of many more as I shot almost 10,000 frames , I’ll have to do this blog in 2 parts to let you have time to rest your eyes.  Thus, it will begin with the Atlantic and Amazon forests and then on to the Pantanal.

Atlantic and Amazon Forests

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Initially we traveled on freeways equivalent to those in the USA; then onto local roads where the government has significantly reduced urban and sub-urban traffic deaths by requiring speed bumps between 100 and 400 meters apart (you just never know until you see the sign).  The max here is 40 km (25 mph) and you basically come to a stop over the bumps.  Therefore, it’s very slow going.

Speed Bump 1

Of course, no trip is complete without a few misfortunes and we had one or two.

Tire Repair 2

Tire Repair

Blown Tire

 We began at the Ype Lodge in Itatiaia National Park where there were a large variety of forest birds and mammals.  The lodge maintains several fruit and nectar feeders that attract a variety of birds.

Hotel Ype

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Some of the species I was able to photograph at the lodge and vicinity included:

Green-headed TanagerGreen-headed Tanager 3

Brazilian Tanager

Brazilian Tanager 1

Red-necked Tanager

Red-necked Tanager 3

Olive-green Tanager

Olive-green Tanager 1

Magpie Tanager

Magpie Tanager 1

Golden-chevroned TanagerGolden-chevroned Tanager 3

Maroon-bellied Parakeet

Maroon-bellied Parakeet 7

Saffron Finch

Saffron Finch 2

Chestnut-bellied Euphonia

Chestnut-bellied Euphonia 3

Blue Dacnis

Blue Dacnis 1

Red-breasted Toucan                                                                     

Red-beasted Toucan 4 copy

Brazilian Ruby

Brazilian Ruby 1

Gray-necked Woodrail

Gray-necked Woodrail 2

Red-rumped Cacique                                                                     

Red-rumped Cicque 2

Golden-winged Cacique

Golden-winged Cacique 3

Chestnut-collared Sparrow

Chestnut-collared Sparrow 1

Tufted Capuchins

Tufted Capuchin 7

Tufted Capuchin 2

After 3 days we traveled to the coastal city of Ubatuba that reminded me of the Southern California beach cities where I grew up; lots of surf board and dive shops and many bars, restaurants and tourist lodges along a beautiful beach.  (But it was weird as THE SUN ROSE OUT OF THE OCEAN!!!!)

Ubatuba, Brazil

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Following our time in these  coastal areas  we returned to Sao Paulo and boarded a plane for Cuiaba, capital city of the state of Mato Grosso and considered the geographical center of South America.  From there we headed north to the edge of the Amazon rain forest.

Our first lodge was the adjacent to Chapada dos Guimaraes National Park.  But the weather turned rainy and cold so we had limited success there.  We did go to Veu de Noiva waterfall, the face on which red and green macaws roost but none came close enough for images.

Veu de Noiva Waterfall

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But, there were a few cooperative birds around,  such as:

Orange-winged Parrot                                                           

Red-shouldered Macaw 6

Peach-faced Parakeet

Peach-faced Parakeet 2             

Ruddy Ground Dove

Ruddy Ground Dove 1

Blue and Yellow Macaw                                               

Yellow and Blue Macaws 4

White Woodpecker

White Woodpecker 2

Rufous-bellied Thrush

Rufous-bellied Thrush 2

On to Gardens of the Amazon, a lodge on the Rio Claro River.  I spent my time on the lodge grounds while the birders went up the river in a boat.

Gardens of the Amazon

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Birds I found included:

Rusty-margined Flycatcher

Rusty-margined Flycatcher 1

Amazon Kingfisher

Amazon Kingfisher 1

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck 1

And then it was on to what had drawn me to Brazil,  the Pantenal!  That’ll be chapter 2 in a few more weeks.

Quality of Life and America’s Flawed Value System

“Quality of life is subjective and multidimensional, encompassing positive and negative features of life. It’s a dynamic condition that responds to life events.” (Forbes Magazine). Yet we as Americans have been conditioned by our capitalistic principles that quality of life is primarily defined by economic factors, factors that affect our pocketbooks personally for the present.  In our current mind-set, if we can only afford one automobile, quality of life sucks; if we can afford two, it’s a bit better; two, plus a boat is good and add an RV and a 3,500 square foot home in the suburbs and it’s great.  Then if we can retire at age 50 and ride around in our RV on cheap gas, go on cruises, and buy everything on credit…well, that’s how it should be.

While both political factions in our country follow this philosophy, the conservative bent basically (or at least, currently) ignores the existence of any other contributing factors while those of the liberal bent just whine.  That is until disaster strikes; a hurricane, flood, epidemic, cancer, etc., then the big RV doesn’t matter that much and the question is “why wasn’t this prevented?”  But, until that time we cast our votes primarily based on a single issue, “Does it mean more money in my pocket for the immediate future?”  Effects of a degraded infrastructure, health and safety concerns, increases in pollution levels are afterthoughts…things to deal with when we have all the bells and whistles commerce advertises we must have to be happy in the steady stream of commercials on our 72 inch television screens.

I wonder about my current quality of life.  Sitting here in my dark living room with the air conditioner on full throttle because the temperature is 105 outside and has been that way for over a month (one day the thermometer hit 115) does not please me.  Will I again be able to sit out on my deck and enjoy my evening glass of wine as I did much of the summer 15 years ago when I moved here?  When…in November?  Does my future now fear the summer months rather than looking forward to them?  Do I fear driving across the highway bridges or have to wonder if the dam above my home will collapse and wash it away?  How about the effects on my aging lungs from breathing the smoke from wildfires regularly blocking out the view of the valley?  Do I really have the same quality of life I enjoyed as a child?  I certainly have more “stuff” but in actuality maybe there’s more than dollars to quality of life, at least for some of us.

Mad Dog Blues

On your morning walk to work each morning you pass a house that has a vicious dog tied in the yard by a rope.  As you pass it races towards you, snapping and biting but the rope holds it but as it is only a puppy , you ignore it.

As months pass the puppy grows larger and larger into a full adult dog but never ceases to race at you, teeth bared and snarling loudly, hitting the end of its rope, but the rope holds it in place.  However, as time goes on you not only note the dog continues to grow and gain in strength, rope is beginning to look frayed with broken strands showing.  Still, it prevents the dog  from reaching you and since you must pass this way, you pray it continues to hold.

But, at some point you realize the size and strength of the dog and the weakening of the rope will eventually result in the dog breaking free and attacking you.  What is the solution?  You can sneak in while the dog is asleep and replace the rope with a chain but it is likely you will wake it.  You can remove the dog’s food dish in hopes its owners won’t notice so it will starve and grow weaker.  You can shoot the dog before it attacks but you may only wound it and stimulate it to break free and attack.  What is a logical solution?  I can’t think of one, can you?

BTW, the dog’s name is Kim Jong Un.

Ugly American

In 1958 one of the most politically influential novels, The Ugly American, was published.  Of the books’ core revelations the one that was most renowned was that of a foreign journalist who had lived in the US and said, “For some reason, the people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States.  A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They are loud and ostentatious.”

Well, folks…times have changed…or not?  The “Ugly American” is no longer limited to the loud and ostentatious living pretentiously (although Mr. Trump certainly fits nicely into that description).  No…today’s Ugly Americans are the people who gather to yell at Hispanic and Asian school children, “Go back to your country!” and scratch swastikas on cars they deem might be owned by non-Christians.  They’re the people who hated Obama because he was black but complain if their disability check is a day late as they had planned to go 4-wheeling that weekend and need the money for beer and cartridges for their AK-47s.  They’re the ones who prefer “Christian home schooling” for their kids who never learn enough to fill out an application at McDonalds.  They’re the folks who wouldn’t stoop so low as to picking fruit or working farm fields for wages but blame those who are doing it as their reason for their inability to find a “decent” job.   They’re to ones who want to get rid of “Obamacare” but claim they’d definitely support an Affordable Care Act.  They’re the ones who believe the “American Dream” is something to be handed to you for free on your 21st birthday and after that you just lay back and life is a breeze.

Yep…ugly is as ugly does!