This Is NOT Democracy

Our states are blocks of land created by artificial boundaries almost solely by political decision.  Only two, Alaska and Hawaii, wholly represent true geographic boundaries.  Initially, the 13 colonies that became states had comparable populations, primarily revolving around urban centers.  In the six months following the enactment of the U.S. Constitution in 1788, eleven states were ratified and by the turn of the century the number had increased to sixteen. As our citizens migrated westward, new states were ratified.  Most of these states had paltry populations in comparison that of the original thirteen.

Initially, two males of each state were chosen by each state legislature as senators.  It wasn’t until 1912 that the 17th Amendment transferred the election of senators to the people by popular vote.  But, the limitation of two per state remained.

In light of the unequal changes in populations in our fifty states and the U.S. Senate constitutionally having the final authority in matters regarding the most critical of our Nation’s business, we remain established in a “democratic” process regarding this body that lacks the democratic principles of equal representation.  The Senate can wage war, control federal legislation, appoint judges (and deny appointments through blocking voting), and, as now, excuse impeachable acts by a President.  Yet (as noted recently) it may not necessarily represent the sentiment of the majority of the US citizenry.

Current representation of the Senate per individual state gives the Republicans a 53% majority yet their members represent only 47% of the US population.  Even more sinister statistically, given current state population numbers, the lowest populated 26 states represent about 18% of the population and yet could control the Senate.  Such numbers should give one concern that maybe our “democratic” system is a bit out-of-whack.    And I didn’t even start on the Electoral College!

In essence, I believe the vote in Trump’s impeachment trial bears out Isaac Asimov’s assertion:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been.  The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

Where are the Good People?

There ARE good people in America, I know there are.  I’ve known many all my life; I meet them every day.  They are neighbors, store clerks, mechanics, plumbers, medical professionals, and civil servants.  They are caring parents, law abiders, have high moral standards, and abide by the Golden Rule.  I’ve worked with them, played with them, drank beer with them, argued with them and cried with them.

So where are they today?  Where are they when the elected President continually and purposefully reaches in their midst to bring the scum within their ranks to the surface; to support those without those values who believe their only responsibility  is to their immediate personal gratification, economically and morally.  Where are they when our government looks more favorably at the current economic and political polls than it does at the immediate and long-term health and safety of its citizens and their environment?  Where are they when their President publically blames ethnic groups for all the ills of the nation?  And where are they when they succumb to the 42 percent who approve of this philosophy?

It scares me to see them sitting in the front rows of the Trump rallies, waving placards and laughing when he condemns those of different ethnicity; different political views; different moral values; different religions because from all outward appearances they all look like the “good” people I described earlier.  It scares me more to see how many of them are accompanied by their children, obviously too young to vote but indoctrinated in the bias of hate their parents support.  And, what scares me even more is my realization that some of the “good” people I’ve known for a long time have successfully hidden from me their self-serving and ethnic prejudices and their self-serving interests over the rights of others.

We used to call them hypocrites.  No!  Hypocrites are those who believe in something but, at times, unthinkingly act oppositely.  The “good” people who scare me are like Jack Finney’s “Body Snatchers”, having taken over the appearances of rational people but professing a determination to move American society to a herd mentality, wishing a sameness in lack of morality and domination though physical and economic strength.

This has become an America I was not brought up to respect; not one where my eyes get teary when I hear the Star Spangled Banner; not one where I can continue to place my hand over my heart and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance.  This is a foreign…maybe an alien…country I never dreamed of residing in.  I’m scared!

We Are Blind

Maybe I’m just being too unassuming; too practical; too simple-minded.   But it just appears to me that if you keep poking yourself in the eye with a sharp stick you’ll go blind.  And maybe we have already gone blind; blinded by the now almost weekly mass shootings in our country. (“Oh…another one of those?  So what channel is the Raiders game on?”)  We’ve been blinded by the NRA (a.k.a. Not Responsible for Anything) telling us the Second Amendment protects us from tyranny and that we all must have our military weapons to thwart takeover by a foreign invader (who are currently using Facebook & Twitter??) or a tyrannical government when we long ago surpassed the point where a citizen army could compete against government forces.  We’ve been blinded by a do-nothing Senate who refuses to consider protections that are supported by 90% of Americans because it is against their lead party’s platform.  We’ve been blinded by a President who blames inner-city problems on the ethnicity of the mayors.  And, we’ve been blinded by our societal trend towards being only concerned over what affects “ME” at this moment in time; let the future generations fend for themselves.

It’s time to consider what the more progressive societies have done, as did New Zealand.  Ban private ownership of all military weapons; limit sporting weapon capacities to 6 rounds; require background checks and licensing of ALL firearm ownership.  I own 6 guns; two of them will have to go.  So be it.   Yes, there are hidden dangers, but minimal compared to where we are headed at this time.

OMG!  Let’s not mention the “P” word.

In his definitive essay on population, Tragedy of the Commons, published fifty years ago, Garrett Hardin wrote, “A finite world can support only a finite population; therefore, population growth must eventually equal zero.“  He goes on to assert that Bentham’s principal axiom to achieve “the greatest good for the greatest number” cannot be realized because it is not mathematically possible to maximize for two (or more) variables at the same time. Secondly, Hardin points out that for humans to maintain life, sustenance of 1600 kilocalories a day is essential (providing one just lie on their back and gaze into the sky). If one is expected to do any activity; work, play, etc. additional calories are required. Yet we, as a purportedly educable species, believe we can ignore these undisputed math and scientific facts and that through technology and, even worse, religion, we can continue to breed, occupy space and utilize finite resources.

In the recent letter to the editor (CNR July 18), Beau Grosscup made the argument that expanding populations are only a problem due to food being restricted by the capitalists to those who are starving.  Hmmm, interesting concept.  So, let’s look at two countries of equal area, Somalia and France.  Somalia’s arable lands are less than 5% of the land base and mostly relatively unproductive due to drought, lack of natural water and over-grazing. With a population of 15 million, today over 2 million are in peril of immediate starvation yet Somalia’s birth rate remains over 6/woman.  Conversely, France’s population is 4X that of Somalia, however, 33% of its land base is arable land, unaffected by drought.  Starvation is unheard of.  And, France’s birth rate is less than 2/woman.   Is Beau is proposing all would be well if France was sending its agricultural surplus to Somalia so that they can continue to exponentially increase their population?

In 1985 in a paper, The Heresy Trial of Richard Lamm, given to the Globescope National Assembly, Dr. Richard Lamm, then Governor of Colorado, speaking on population control stated, “I live in a world as I find it, not in a world as I wish it to be.  I urge solutions not because I want to, but because I have no other choice. A world without vision leaves only tragic choices. Truly, where there is no vision, people perish.  Whether or not ethics are relative, it is clear that solutions are time specific. The house fire that initially can be put out with a garden hose or even a pitcher of water cannot be put out by the entire fire department ten minutes later.”

Both Hardin’s and Lamm’s predictions resulted in tired yawns from the general public.  Even the environmental community buried these truisms under a barrage of politically and scientifically solvable issues such as saving California condors and desert vistas in Utah.  The proverbial three wise monkeys of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” continue to rule the day because addressing this as an issue might be contrary to someone’s frail religious beliefs.

I maintain the laws of physics will continue to prevail no matter what the politicians and evangelists say and it will continue to be physically impossible to put a gallon of glass marbles into a quart jar.  But I guess I can find solace in the probability that the “adjustment” is unlikely to occur during my lifetime.

End of Game Reverie

Sunday morning on Meet the Press a statement of a panelist during the End Game segment struck me personally. Speaking about the split in our nation’s citizenry it was noted that we had become a nation “where politics is our primary focus.” That statement hit home as I realized it had become almost all I think about, write about, follow on television. Gone were the lazy days of jogging after work; parties with neighbors; weekend picnics with the kids; watching Cheers, All in the Family and Seinfeld in the evening on tv and laughing until my sides hurt. I now only watch the news and political programs, and very little of that and then go to bed angry. I only read non-fiction, primarily history and haven’t read a good spy novel in 10 years. No wonder my blood pressure is high.

I ask myself, how did this happen? How did I not see the majority of American citizenry moving from a cohesive society with a multitude of humanitarian values and bent on doing good for the world into a society where only the “bottom line” was important and then, really only for “ME.”. My neighbor recently admitted me that, “The primary thing I base my vote on is how well my 401-K is doing!” Well, that about sums it up for much of our society, doesn’t it? Our citizenry writes it off in saying:

“So what if foreign parents are divested of their children somewhere along the border because it doesn’t affect me personally and it’s likely they deserve it.”
“Too bad about the hurricane in Puerto Rico, one of our protectorates but I like Hawaii better anyway. People there speak American (English)”
“What? Our voting processes have been attacked by the Russians. Well, It doesn’t affect me because I don’t vote anyway.”
“And our President lies on a regular basis to us and cheats on his wife? So, doesn’t everyone? Well, I hear he goes to church now on occasion.”
“Another school shooting? I sure wish those teachers could pack guns so as to stop these crazies before these things happened.”
“Not to mention those damn liberal scientists making up stories so they can get more grant money. God would NEVER let that phony global warming occur and…now where did I put that damn iphone? I need to check my Facebook account.”

In the early 19th Century Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill both wrote on the notion of the Tyranny of the Majority. It refers to a situation in which the majority enforces its will on a disadvantaged minority through the democratic process. We have witnessed this in so many ways recently: The Senate’s refusal to have hearings on Merritt Garland; the ramrodding of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanah through the system; widespread voter suppression in red states; ignoring public demands for gun legislation; etc. It appears that we have rapidly moved toward an oligarchy supported by the majority with a fascist dictatorship close behind and staring us in the face.

Another issue brought up on the Meet the Press segment by the conservative panelist was, “We had to suffer through 8 years of Obama’s trashing the Republicans!” What? Hello! During his term I never once heard him rally his party to hate Republicans, their elected officials, etc. He spoke of our differences but he never resorted to “Pocahontas” or “Dirty Hillary” comments and, remember, for the last 4 years he had a Republican House and Senate that made certain that NOTHING got done. And what’s this about giving Kavanah, Mueller and MBS the good ol’ American judicial standard of being innocent until proven guilty while he is whipping up his followers to chant “Lock Her Up!” directed at Hillary and Pelosi…they haven’t even been charged with a crime, have they?

A year ago the 20 top world political scientists met to discuss what appears to be the decline of democracies world-wide. They pointed to breakdowns in social cohesion (meaning citizens are more fragmented than ever), the rise of tribalism, the erosion of democratic norms such as a commitment to rule of law, and a loss of faith in the electoral and economic systems as clear signs of democratic erosion. Hey, look around you…isn’t this what’s happening?

So how did I let this happen to me? I’ve always voted…sometimes for a Democrat. sometimes for a Republican, sometimes for an independent. I’ve always paid my taxes on time, sent my children to swimming lessons and college, and paid the veterinarian to care for my dog. I’ve always felt I was an average Joe. For my entire life, both recreational and professional my focus was on making the world a bit better. Things that mattered were cleaning up the air with The Clean Air Act (I grew up in the Los Angeles Basin where we regularly were prevented from playing outside due to the unhealthy condition of the smog); protecting our lakes, rivers and ground waters with the Clean Water Act; protecting and preventing the degradation and/or extinction of our native species through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and The Endangered Species Act; protecting our natural resources, parks, monuments and natural heritage sites from destruction through the National Environmental Protection Act, the Antiquities Act.

I was proud that my country was known worldwide for its compassionate focus on the down-trodden; the first to set aside national parks that so many other countries followed; generous donations of foreign aid in the face of natural and unnatural disasters; supporting human rights world over; and knowing that everyone wanted to be like us.

I’ve watched all that disappear in two short years. Environmental protections have been trashed; our world leadership is a joke in many other countries; truth and compassion; and the application of the Golden Rule have been shoved under the carpet. I’ve seen how gerrymandering and voter suppression has become the primary tool of the governing party and now witnessed two recent presidential elections where the loser of the popular vote was inaugurated. What has happened to democracy?

Maybe I should I just say “That’s Life!” or, as my father used to caution me, “Things will turn around and get better, they always do.” Or maybe I should I be pissed and take it out on everyone else. Do I just want to wait until global warming so changes our planet that life as we now know it is an irretrievable memory and then gloat as I say, “I told you so!” Do I want to accept bankruptcy and eventual starvation if I have to use all my resources to treat a grandchild who acquires a serious illness? Do I want my grandchildren to face global chaos? That looks like the path we are taking but the sad truth is I’m becoming relegated to the fact that there’s nothing much I can do about it. It’s very likely my ashes will be mixing with the soil in some Sierra forest when the last coral reef expires or the Arctic becomes ice-free.

Most people I know really never thought much about abstract principles like free speech, the freedom of the press or jurisprudence (unless, of course, it affected them personally). They more or less expected that was just part of American life. But people have lost faith in the system. The social compact has been shattered. We’re left to focus on our racial and cultural resentments, which have paved the yellow brick road for a demagogue like Trump. We have become the Jedi versus the Galactic Empire.

But, whatever…my 401-K is doing great (if, indeed I really ever had one

Lying: The New American Distinguishing Character

We, as Americans, have learned to relish lying. We advocate it; laud it; and vote in favor of it. We attend rallies where lying is the primary element and wave our banners, flags and posters in support of it. Lying has become the ultimate process to dispute annoying scientific realities; to ignore history; to promote self-worth; and to increase corporate and personal wealth.

As lying has become the most valuable asset of those seeking to advance themselves politically and economically, we joyfully advance the most skillful liars to the highest of positions. Our citizenry is not only supportive, it is unduly proud of those who tell the most outstanding lies.

Given this fact, should we now develop university curricula to teach lying as a science; how best to apply it; when it is most affective; and toward whom it needs to be directed (e.g. Lying 1A and 1B)?

We fortunately have a President who is adept at this practice; Senators and congresspersons who fully support this activity; and now, 2 supreme court judges who have not only been accused of lying, but have been proven that they have done so under oath with impunity.

What has happened to us?

Raptorial Birds-Part 2

While Part One showed a part of the 51 species of raptorial birds native to North America, the number pales to the variety found in tropical climes such as South America and South Africa that have almost twice as many (Brazil and Ecuador 98 each and South Africa 81). And, due to the forested conditions and savannahs, finding and photographing in many of these areas depends more on luck than skill. However, I have been fortunate enough to photograph 31 of these on my excursions. Here they are:

Lappet-faced Vulture (South Africa)

Lapped-faced vulture 1

King Vulture (Costa Rica)

King Vulture 16

Black Vulture (Costa Rica)

Black Vulture 4

White-backed Vulture (South Africa)

White-backed vulture 1

Crested Caracara (Panama)

Crested Caracara 3

Carunculated Caracara (Ecuador)

Carunculated Caracara 7

Yellow-headed Caracara (Panama)

Yellow-headed Caracara 1

Harpy Eagle (Panama-captive)

Harpy Eagle 1

Tawny Eagle (South Africa)

Tawny eagle 1

Bateleur (South Africa)

Bataleur, Kruger NP, South Africa

Ornate Hawk-eagle (Panama)

Ornate Hawk-Eagle 3

Martial Eagle (South Africa)

Martial eagle 2


African Fish Eagle (South Africa)

African fish eagle 1

Black Hawk-eagle (Panama)

Black Hawk-eagle 1

Brown Snake-eagle (South Africa)

Brown snake eagle 1

Lizard Buzzard (South Africa)

Lizard Buzzard 1

Secretary Bird (Tanzania)

Secretary Bird

Variable Hawk (Ecuador)

Variable Hawk 3

Roadside Hawk (Brazil)

Roadside Hawk 5

Black-collared Hawk (Brazil)

Black-collared Hawk 8

Savannah Hawk (Brazil)

Savannah Hawk 2

Rock Kestrel (South Africa)

Rock Kestrel 1

White-tailed Hawk (Panama)

White-tailed Hawk 1

Great Black Hawk (Brazil)

Great Black Hawk 8

Plumbous Hawk (Panama)

Plumbous Hawk 4


Pale Chanting Goshawk (South Africa)

Pale-chanting Goshawk 1

Gray Hawk (Panama)

Gray Hawk 1

Pearl Kite (Panama)

Pearl Kite 2

Snail Kite (Brazil)

Snail Kite 4

Gray-headed Kite (Panama)

Gray-headed Kite 4

Striped Owl (Panama)

Striped Owl 3


Scopes Owl (South Africa)

Scops Owl 1

Mottled Owl (Panama)

Mottled Owl 1

Pearl-spotted Owl (South Africa)

Pearl-spotted owlet 3 copy

Spectacled Owl (Panama)

Spectacled Owl 2

Cape Eagle-owl (South Africa)

Cape Eagle-owl, Cape Town, South Africa