Thankful Thursday XIII – Conserving Nature

This Thankful Thursday, I’m thankful for the Nature Conservancy. They’ve recently been in the news for being the lead participant in saving some 230 000 acres (about 400 square miles) of tropical rain forest in Belize that is home to one of the few populations of jaguars left in the wild (the cats that is… it seems to me the cars have suddenly become very common!). In doing, it also protects any number of other animals that live in the jungle and helps keep rivers used for drinking water clean and helps the forest to keep churning out oxygen and doing its little bit to prevent climate change. Which is right “on brand” for them.

The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit that quite simply puts its money where its mouth is. Many organizations try to protect the environment, wildlife and natural habitat by educating and lobbying… admirable objectives. But the Nature Conservancy goes one better. They still educate and advocate, but their main modus operandi is to simply identify ecologically valuable lands which are threatened and buy them up to keep as parkland or preserves. Spending ten million bucks to lobby politicians to save a rainforest or the home of an endangered owl is not bad. Spending the money to simply save the land yourself is a more direct and effective route. To date, the organization has saved land in 72 countries including all 50 U.S. states – something in the range of 125 million acres and counting. Among their objectives are “protecting land and water” and “providing food and water sustainability.” At a time when governments tend to be cutting funding for parks and right-wing policies favoring corporate for-profit use of lands are gaining ground through much of the Western World, it’s an increasingly commendable and valuable function, and best of all it’s all funded through donations rather than your tax dollars.

I’ve been something of an environmentalist all my life I guess. I value nature for its own inherent beauty and, in my opinion, its right to exist alongside us. As time goes on we see more and more repercussions of not taking care of the environment – everything from landslides and out of control wildfires to increased damage to coastal areas in hurricanes, increasing numbers of endangered species at home and rising numbers of cancers and illnesses caused by poor air and water quality overseas. I’ve also worked in a limited capacity for governmental agencies formed to tackle such issues and have witnessed the difficulties they have getting through the bureaucratic red tape to get things done. So I’m always happy when concerned people take matters into their own hand and solve the problems. So on behalf of the jaguars, I thank you Nature Conservancy.

Thankful Thursday VI – Kudos Time

This Thursday, I’m thankful for “time”. In every way. I’m always grateful for time which I have to do the things I love, which never seem quite enough. It’s clear to me that you can make back money you lose or repurchase most items which break but there’s no getting back a minute of time once it’s gone. But for this day, I’m thinking of it in a different context – Time magazine.

It’s one of those pieces of Americana that seems to have always been around. (In fact, it’s been published for 98 years) It’s been a staple on newsstands for as long as I can remember … back to when there were newsstands, for instance! I remember seeing it and it’s distinctive red-bordered cover on the tables in the waiting room when I had to go to the doctor as a kid and coming through the mailslot week after week at home. Now that I’m an adult, our household still subscribe to it. I try to find the “time” to read Time somewhere along the line every week.

For the few who might not be familar with it, Time is the last of its breed. A weekly news magazine. Back in the pre-internet age, it was what you read to get the big picture and the in-depth look at the big stories of the past seven days. Sure, you’d read your newspaper too, but Time gave you more detail and covered stories your local daily probably overlooked. Ironically, that’s even more true today in the internet age with our 24-hour news channels and 20-page daily newspapers featuring mostly public service notices and wire stories about celebs.

Being an American publication, Time focuses largely on American stories, but it finds the room to look at global issues better than most of our other media. Australian elections, Italian landslides, African massacre, new disease in China – it probably is in the pages of Time, long before it catches the attention of your hometown news station. And it covers a variety of topics. Sure there’s the news – largely bad as is the nature of news – but there are also interviews with interesting newsmakers, entertainment updates, movie, book reviews and context. Why does that Aussie election matter? What causes the Italian landslide or new emerging diseases.?

Sure, I have my criticisms of the magazine. To me, it bends over too far to be politically correct and avoid any charges of racism, or sexism or ageism. You won’t lose a bet if you say that any issue of theirs with the “100 Most Influential People in the World” (which weirdly seem to change in their opinion each year) at least ten of those 100 will be Women of Color under age 40 who write about the experience of being young Women of Color. And like most other hard-copy periodicals, it seems to have shrunken somewhat in physical size (as in number of pages) and roster of contributors. All that said, it’s still the best one-stop weekly review I know of. In the past year alone, it’s covered the Covid pandemic more often and in more depth, with stories from those on the fronts of battling it, as well as those effected by it more than almost all other news sources I’ve seen combined. In the months leading up to last November, it had in-depth interviews with pretty much every major political candidate running.

A throwback to a “time” when people wanted to be well-informed and when a magazine didn’t have to be micro-focused in content to succeed. Good “Time”s indeed. I’m thankful to still have Time.

Will Big Money Biden Mean Burgers For Billionaires Only?

“I guess Biden’s gonna undo all the good Trump did,” a Republican said to me with a straight face on Inaugaration Day. I resisted the urge to query as to what in the U.S.’s decreased respect around the world or Covid death rate two and a half times higher per capita than neighboring Canada’s there was that was good. “He’s going to raise the minimum wage to $15, then it’ll be $15 for a hamburger.”

There are many things wrong with that assumption. Many, many things, but I find it is a fairly common assumption among the right-wing segment of the population, so I figured it was time to look at the theory.

To begin, let’s look at that idea that he’s bound to do so. While it is true several prominent Democrats like Bernie Sanders made a $15 minimum wage a major plank in their platform, Biden didn’t. And his rise to power was largely facilitated working as Barack Obama’s Vice President. Obama had eight years to increase the minimum wage and ended up raising it by … 70 cents an hour, or about 10%. For better or worse, the last Democrat president did very little to increase the pay of the lowest end of the workforce. It takes a leap of faith to assume that his second-in-command will thus radically change course and more than double it.

However, Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order today regarding a $15 minimum wage. But it won’t raise the national minimum wage to that amount. Instead it only mandates federal contractors to pay their employees at least that much. As long as McDonald’s or Dollar Tree aren’t federal contractors, they can continue business as usual, paying as little as $7.25 an hour in much of the country. Because that, $7.25 an hour, is the federal minimum wage, although a number of states like Florida and Massachusetts have raised their minimums state-wide with no ill repurcussions. In California, the minimum is already $14, so a $15 wouldn’t really make a great deal of difference. Even staunchly Republican Alaska recognize that $7.25 isn’t a living wage and have their floor set at $10.34. For a point of comparison, to the north, Ontario in Canada has a minimum wage of $14, which converts to about $11 when currency exchange rates are factored in, and across the sea, Britain’s is 8.72 pounds per hour, or around $11.75 American.

The $7.25 might have been an adequate, though mediocre, minimum wage when it was set – in 2009. Back in 1968, it was $1.60 an hour… but a buck sixty bought a lot more then than it does now. Back then, gas averaged 34 cents per gallon, the average American car to put it in cost $2800 and the house with the driveway you’d park it in would be in the range of $20-25 000. If the wage had kept pace with inflation since then, it would now be around $19.33 an hour. Little wonder there’s a common perception that the rich keep getting richer and the poor, poorer.

But what about that $15 hamburger? Who could afford that? Well, obviously that would be rather prohibitive and no doubt cut into the viability of fast food chains, if nothing else. But at McDonald’s the golden standard for these types of hypotheticals, I find, the cost of a Big Mac, their prize burger, is $3.99. So even if it doubled, along with the minimum wage, it would be around $8. Still pricey to be sure. But…

…that argument somehow assumes that the cost of your two all beef pattied, sesame-seeded lunch is determined by the wages of the cashier and fry cook and nothing whatsoever else. In fact, needless to say, many factors come into play – the cost of the food itself (beef ain’t cheap!), the rent or mortgage on the restaurant building, the chunk of money the franchisee pays head office to cover advertising, the electricity, and of course, if things work out properly, a tidy profit. In fact, in their fiscal 2018 year, the Golden Arches reported total revenue of $21.1 billion, with a profit of some $5.9 B. That’s a lot of french fries!

It’s also a 28% profit. Google tells us that 10.6% of the fast food giant’s expenses go to wages. Since after profit, 72% of their total money is money they have coming in ends up going out, that means about 7.3% of the total pie (an apple one, of course) goes to the employees. And that includes everyone from managers on down. Their usual starting wage in states with the $7.25 minimum is $8, and many floor staff make more than that. As you can see, even if the minimum wage was doubled overnight, it would still only increase the cost of your Big Mac by 7%, or about 28 cents. And that would be if all their workers were making minimum, which clearly isn’t the case.

So that $15 hamburger… don’t worry about it. In a worst case scenario your four buck Big Mac might become a $4.25 one. In places like Texas or Alabama. In California, the added cost would be far less since they already pay their people far more. But on the positive side, the Congressional Budgetary Office say some 17 million Americans would benefit from such an increase. That might be underselling it, because if 17 million low wage earners suddenly get substantially more pay, they’re going to go out and put it back into the economy. They’re not notoriously big on stashing extra bucks in bonds or 20 year term deposits. It will have a side effect of generating a lot more business for retailers and realtors, and create ripple effects from there. Stores selling more means more work for truckers, more warehouses being built, more warehouse workers being hired on, to spend more in stores…and so on and so on.

I’m not sure I actually would advocate a quick jump to $15 an hour, but a substantial increase is necessary. Perhaps to $10 right away, $12 next year, $14 the year after. It’s not only the kind thing to do, it’s the economically sensible thing. That’s my two cents worth… even if it means I might indeed need to pay about two cents more for every takeout coffee I get down the road.

Stimulus Cheques Aren’t The Only Thing That Will Be Out There

Fox Mulder must be grinning because, it seems, within six months the truth will be out there, to paraphrase The X-files skeptic.

Seems like it’s good not to tempt fate by suggesting “well 2021 can’t get any weirder than the one we just went through”. Because lost in the news static about the pandemic, the election passed and the one which was coming up (which is to say the Georgia senate) and all the other things, lost in almost 5600 pages of government snooze-talk was a little item which might just vindicate Mulder. And the real life champions of his TV cause. Because in those 5000+ pages of the Pandemic “Stimulus” bill designed to extend unemployment benefits and give taxpayers those beloved $600 cheques, there’s a directive to the Pentagon and “spy agencies” to spill the beans about aliens.

Nope, I’m not making that up. News agencies from Fox News to Yahoo all have confirmed there’s a bit in there telling the military and the “spy agencies” as well as the Director of National Intelligence to report within 180 days to Congress and the Armed Services. They are to basically tell them everything you wanted to know about UFOs but were afraid to ask. It should contain “detailed analysis of unidentified aerial phenomenon”, the current preferred term for “UFOs” or “little green men.” Apparently it managed to do what nothing else in the public forum these days did – namely have full “bipartisan support.” Wait – they can’t agree on the wording for relief payments to out of work people they both agree should happen, but they are all now A-OK with the story behind Roswell, the Phoenix lights and other things like that being revealed? 2021 can’t get any weirder? “Hold my beer,” the government says.

This perhaps should come as little surprise. In the past few years, the U.S. military has verified some videos taken by fighter pilots of UFOs deftly out-manueovring them, albeit still declaring them inexplicable. And already this year a senior Harvard professor put out a paper stating that our galaxy was visited by alien life recently when a large object at first thought to be a comet went for a fly-by and defied gravity by zooming at, then speeding away from the sun. The old “weather balloon” or “drunk hicks seeing swamp gas” explanations are wearing thin even for the types more like Mulder’s partner, Scully, denying anything’s out there to the moment she’s beamed into one of the spaceships.

Will it happen? Who knows? The government is great at few things, but stonewalling is one of them. And even if it does issue some sort of report, there’s no saying it will be made available for public consumption…. although its equally true that these days, if hundreds of politicians have access to the papers, one might expect at least one will leak them to a friendly media type.

Personally, I’ve been fascinated by the subject for a long time. I think a lot of “UFOs” are actually identifable – high altitude planes, military tests, shooting stars and what have you. I also think some are very impossible to explain any way other than mechanical devices controlled by intelligent life. Probably more intelligent than ours as humans. I figure when you go out in the country and look up at a clear night sky, and see those thousands of stars, each one might have planets circling around it, just like our sun, and for each one of those that we see, thousands more are beyond our eyesight or telescope range. It actually seems like some pretty big amount of hubris to think that we are the one and only lifeform out there.

Expect the unexpected. That might be the best bet if you are looking for a 2021 slogan. And, “the truth is out there.”

Everydave Life Hero Of The Year 2020 : Dr. A. Fauci

Why wait for Time magazine? While they are collecting suggestions for their “Person of the Year”, here at Everydave Life, we’re ready to announce our winner. Ta-da! We’re happy to announce our First Annual Everydave Life Hero of the Year for 2020 is…

Dr. Anthony Fauci.

When we look back at 2020, two things will probably long be seared into our memories : the pandemic and Donald Trump/the presidential election. Fauci was a beacon of hope in both news stories.

In case you’ve been lucky enough to have hibernated through most of this year, Fauci is one of the country’s leading doctors who suddenly vaulted into the public eye this spring as a member of Trump’s Coronavirus advisory team. He grew up the son of a couple of pharmacy-owners in New York, loving sports and medicine. As we saw at a Washington baseball game this year, we’re all lucky he chose medicine, becoming a doctor in 1966.

Before long he’d worked his way up to the position of the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, around the time Ronald Reagan appointed him as a medical advisor to the White House, something he’s been with every president since, Democrat or Republican. The previous Republican president, George W. Bush, thought so much of him he gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Fauci is, in the words of the New York Times, “one of the world’s leading experts on diseases.” He was important in pioneering the understanding of, and treatment of AIDS in the ’80s, and the fight against Ebola in Africa more recently. Little wonder he was an obvious choice to stand beside the president and try to inform the public this year when we were faced with the worst pandemic in our lifetimes.

Fauci was an inspiration during the dark days when Corona was beginning to conjure up images of something other than beer in our minds. He relayed information on what we all needed to do in order to stay safe and curtail the raging disease. He did so with a brilliant sense of calm, good humoredness mixed with deadly seriousness. A mix of the two things we needed to get through one of the darkest times in the recent history of Western society. Grace under pressure, something we assuredly did not see from the president or many of the other elected officials. He was on the mark far more often than not – he was an early advocate of wearing masks in public and social distancing for example – and would speak up and tactfully correct Donald Trump or others who gave blatantly false advice or information, such as suggesting the ingestion of household cleaners to cure Covid 19. For this, many extremists came to despise him.

If there was any doubt in my mind about Fauci being the type of individual we needed in charge this year, that was erased this fall when former-Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon (a man out on bond while awaiting trial on federal charges for fraud) called for his beheading, saying his head (and that of the FBI director’s) should be stuck on a “pike” as an example of what happened to anyone who disagreed with the president. We presume he meant “spike”, since a large fish would be very odd with a doctor’s head on it. Many would have fired back or called the police on the provocateur. Fauci merely looked a little perplexed and said it was “really kind of unusual” and that having “a public figure calling for your beheading …that’s not the kind of thing you think about when you’re going through medical school.” Grace under pressure.

Fauci will turn 80 this month but has agreed to be Joe Biden’s Chief Medical Advisor when he takes office in January. For that we congratulate both Biden and Fauci.

Anthony Fauci. A voice of experience, a voice of calm in the chaos. A voice who reminded us that it’s usually best to listen to science, not mock it. The Everydave Hero of the Year for 2020.

The Aliens We REALLY Don’t Want

A few stories over-shadowed by the big ones ( pandemic and social unrest due to racial issues) have caught my attention in the past month or so. Stories about immigrants, of good and bad sorts. It makes me think the U.S. has the right issue but the wrong targets.

My sweetie loves Youtube videos about decorating and crafting and one favorite of hers is a young guy who makes, well, somewhat over-the-top centerpieces, mantel decorations and wreaths using dollar store goods. He’s called Ramon at Home, and even if I don’t share his enthusiasts delight in all his lavish designs and all things burlap, I must admit the young man is quite charismatic. He has a strong Hispanic accent, and he shared a story of how he grew up poor in Mexico and looked forward to nuns coming around with such simple gifts as new toothbrushes and toothpaste. He came to the U.S., taught himself English and now seems to have a beautiful house and thriving online community following him. Lately he’s been spearheading a campaign to get children’s clothes and hats for low-income kids at Christmas. It’s hard not to be inspired by that or get behind a person like that. Of which there are so many in the land.

So it surprised and pleased me to hear of George W. Bush’s upcoming book. Out of Many, One is going to be a book of portraits painted by the former president; 43 different immigrants accompanied by essays he wrote about them. It’ll be his second book of paintings, coming after Portraits of Courage, pictures of U.S. military personnel he painted. You can take that – a book celebrating immigrants to the country – how you will in terms of the commentary about the current government and its policies. Bush says “there are countless ways in which America has been strengthened by the individuals who have come here in search of a better life,” and adds “it should be (an idea) that unites us.”

Right you are, George… and I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be saying that about Mr. Bush’s writings or beliefs about 15 years back. There are stories in the news though that do suggest America has a real problem with immigrants… just not the kind Washington is worried about. Invasive species.

When environmentalists talk, lately “climate change” gets the attention. The spotlight and the hand-wringing and the sparse money that is to go around to implement change is directed towards what Al Gore referred to earlier this century as “Global warming.” But it seems like a number of unwanted visitors are ruining our environment and country a lot faster than a few added degrees on the thermometer ever will.

To start, more Asian hornets have been found this year in Washington state and nearby B.C. in Canada. The giant wasp dubbed “murder hornet” by the media showed up in a few locations last year, found noticed when beekeepers near Seattle and Vancouver found some hives decimated. The 2” long hornet has one of the most powerful stings of any insect, and is said to kill about 50 people a year on average in Japan.

This is disturbing. I have allergies and am at risk around stinging bugs. So too are an increasing number of people. In fact, an average of 62 people a year die from stings in the country annually, and that number has begun to rise sharply in the past decade, according to the CDC. People worry about sharks when they swim or rattlesnakes when they go walking but bees and wasps kill several times more people than those critters combined. An even bigger, more dangerous wasp isn’t going to help that any!

Experts add that the Asian hornets aren’t aggressive… unless you stumble upon their nest… which people undoubtedly will, since they bury their nest underground rendering them more or less invisible until you step on it. But even if their non-aggression is the case, they are concerned that the hornets have a real taste for eating bee heads like we might snack on popcorn. A single one can eliminate a hive of honeybees within a few hours. The repercussions for agriculture could be monumental should they get a foothold, even if only along the Pacific coast.

One of the reasons the number of people being rushed to hospital, and at times dying, from insect stings is a similar story. Although “yellow jacket” is essentially a rather non-scientific generic term for a number of wasps, the ones we usually mean when we say “yellow jacket” – the ones which menace our picnics and have never met a beer or soda they don’t like – are actually European ones brought into the continent in the 1970s. Maybe they came over on ships or planes accidentally as the Asian hornets likely did; maybe some misguided farmers imported a few to try and control other bugs (when a yellow jacket can’t find some McDonald’s or Miller to share with you, they’ll happily chow down on other bugs including smaller wasps). One way or another they started showing up in the Great Lakes region in the mid-’70s. Now they’re considered a major pest as far afield as the towns of Dixie and the Canadian Rockies.

Stinging insects aren’t the only unwanted six-legged intruders. Spotted Lanternflies have been, well, spotted, in Pennsylvania this year. It’s an Asian moth which actually looks quite attractive. But, says the state, if you see one, “it’s imperative to immediately report it (and) kill it! Squash it! These bugs will lay egg masses of 30-50 eggs each.” The adults will not only enourage poisonous mold to develop on the plants, but also eat the leaves and can destroy fields of plants including grapes, apples and hops.

You won’t confuse the spotty moth with another recent Asian arrival – the Ash Borer. That colorful green beetle from Eastern Asia recently showed up in the northeast around 2002 and has managed to do some $280 billion damage so far. “An ecological catastrophe,” the American Forestry Association calls it. The beetles lay their eggs exclusively under ash tree bark, and when the larvae come out, they feed on the wood, quickly killing off the tree. Entire forests of ash trees from Quebec to Kentucky have been wiped out already. Ash is not only one of the most common types of forest tree in the East, providing homes for many birds and animals, it’s a popular shade tree in gardens and commercial one used for lumber (and baseball bats.) One of the suggestions to control them is – I kid you not – to bring in more, different Eurasian wasps to see if they can, because North American wasps aren’t eating them in any appreciable number. More foreign wasps? What could go wrong there?

Of course, the problems aren’t limited to insects. Florida is having to wage war against … pythons! Someone probably had a few Burmese pythons at one time as pets and perhaps thought they were getting too big. They dumped them in the Everglades. Within the past two decades, they’ve multiplied and spread throughout the southern part of the state, growing precariously close to the 26-feet, 200 pounds they can reach in their native southeast Asia, eating almost anything that gets in their way.

While attacks on people are rare, they’re not unknown (and expected to become more common if the numbers keep growing and they invade places like Miami and Orlando in any significant numbers), they’re doing huge amounts of damage to the ecosystem. The babies eat rabbits and rodents, but the adults can eat animals as large as deer! The state says since they’ve been found in Florida, there are 99% fewer raccoons and opossums in the Everglades and adjacent areas, 87% less Bobcats (probably as much because the pythons are eliminating the cats’ food as much as eating the Bobcats although that can happen as well) and lowering bird populations while rabbit and fox populations have almost disappeared. They spent $142 million last year trying to get rid of them, both by directly trying to catch and euthanize, as well as implant radio devices to track them and hopefully root out nesting sites and colonies of the huge reptile. Even though snakes have no legs or arms, so far, it seems the pythons have the upper hand. Although Wild boars, yet another invasive running wild, do sometimes manage to tear them up… along with anything else in their path, plant or animal.

So yep, seems like there is a problem with some unwanted foreigners coming into the country. Only thing is, they’re generally winged, or scaly or furry, not people.

Making The Boys In Blue Better

Remember when we were kids and were taught that the policemen were our friends? Good guys? Watching the news lately, one wonders what happened. If you believe a lot of news stories and critics these days, the cops are the criminals and the ones good people should be terrified of. Hell, shows like Cops have been canceled to placate the riled and a widely-circulated article online called Olivia – champion of women victims in the long-running Law & Order, SVU  show a “bastard” simply by virtue of her character being a police officer. It’s a tough time to be a “boy in blue”. Or girl in blue for that matter.

Watching the isolated video clips, there’s little wonder to be surprised. The death of George Floyd was clearly heinous and a blatantly criminal over-reaction to a minor crime he apparently committed and the only thing more reprehensible than the Buffalo cops shoving 75 year old Martin Gugino, causing him to smash his head and suffer a fractured skull, was the other riot police walking by him ignoring the bleeding senior. Or maybe the president defending them suggesting Gugino was a terrorist waving some magic wand that could eliminate all police communications systems.

It’s all a lot for me to take in. I always figured there were bound to be a few bad cops – a tiny minority – but for the most part they were honorable, hard-working people devoted to the common good. But watching some of these videos and seeing reactions like the entire Buffalo riot squad resigning in support of their violent comrades and some police hide their ID tags to prevent being identified makes me rethink how few and far between bad ones are.

It’s sad. I come from a slightly (only slightly, but still) calmer, more peaceful country, Canada. We’ve seen cops do some bad things there too, but such reports are definitely less common than on this side of the 49th Parallel. I grew up near Toronto, in a county (or “regional municipality” as we call it) that had two large cities within its borders plus a fair expanse of rural farmland.The area had a population of over 600 000 and was growing fast, and was serviced by one regional police force. They had to deal with calls that ranged from bar brawls to biker gang rallies, bodies washing up on the Lake Ontario shoreline and coke smuggling to ice fishermen falling through the ice on rural lakes in winter and the occasional bear wandering into a town.

A friend – actually a girlfriend’s big brother at the time – joined the force and soon was on their Swat team. Outside of work he was easy-going, fast with a smile and able to get along with people of any number of backgrounds equally well. A good guy, and I presume, a good cop. I had a job for over a decade in a pro camera store and lab which had the contract with the police to provide their camera gear and develop their films. We had to be vetted, and no wonder. Through the years there, not a murder happened that I (and most of us in there) didn’t end up seeing photos of – crime scene, victim, weapons, autopsy, accused, you name it. We developed film after film of car accidents, assaults, robberies, suicides and anything else that asked for a police documentation. I was told that it was as good as a “get out of jury duty free” ticket since we all had such intimate knowledge of the big cases, much of which never made the news wire stories, we’d never be approved to be on a jury. Over the years, I got to know a lot of the cops. Many of the “Soco” officers (Scene of Crime), the patrol officers with cameras that would handle basic B&Es, minor car accidents and the like as well as the entire “Ident” (Forsensic Identification Unit) crew of specialized investigators akin to the TV CSI people. I knew the homicide squad by name,loaded supplies into their trucks.

And what I found was that they were good guys. I say “guys” because the vast majority of them were male, although there was a female homicide cop – a rather pretty one truth be told, although unlike a Hollywood version of her kind, one who went to work in baggy cargo pants and body armor instead of Dior dresses and heels! They were different – some were a lot younger than me, some were a decade or more older and nearing retirement, and their personalities were varied as would be with any group of dozens of people. A few were very intense and hyper, some had wicked senses of humor and wouldn’t leave without sharing a joke. Many brought in pictures of their home . Wives, kids, weekends fishing, photographing birds or working with body builders or redoing old car bodies. Some would talk about the cases and what they saw, others avoided the topics completely. But the one through and through feature was they all seemed like absolutely decent people working to make the area better and safer. Guys you’d be very relieved to see drive up if someone was trying to get into your back door at night, or happy enough to have a coffee with if you ran into them at the Tim Horton’s.

It makes comprehending the current American situation more difficult for me. I don’t have an easy solution to make the situation fine or ensure that police are all wonderful, or at least as good as the ones I used to rub shoulders with. But a few things seem to me like they’d be helpful .

First, an obvious one. We need the body cams and dash cams most forces already have. They should be on every police unit dashboard and clipped on every shirt or vest of an on-duty officer. The car ones should be triggered as soon as the warning lights or siren are activated and the cops should be instructed to activate the body cams every time they leave their vehicle on a call. Disabling the cameras would be grounds for termination of their employment. Even an honest person can lose track of exactly was happening in a chaotic situation and the camera can show us better what went wrong, or right for that matter. The dishonest one of course, will realize they’ll have less chance of getting away with misbehavior if they’re being recorded.

Speaking of their cars and shirts or vests, I think having fewer unmarked or undercover people and cars would benefit all. Obviously, there are situations where undercover work is necessary. Police couldn’t infiltrate, say a street gang that robbed stores and sold crack around the neighborhood if they were dressed in uniform and driving cars with a fancy blue light array on the roof. But more and more police work seems to be undertaken by people in street clothes driving unmarked cars and trucks and as a result we see more stories like shootouts at raids where the inhabitants claim the police stormed in with no way of being identified as police as opposed to street thugs. If they’re wearing the blue or black shirts with the badge and drove up, lights flashing, there’d be little defence for them being shot at.

In Ontario, there’s a Special Investigations Unit. It’s a government branch which is automatically called in to police the police, if you will, any time a civilian dies in a police operation or other serious incidents (like car accidents ) occur involving on duty police. The local force have to step aside and let the SIU investigate to see if there was any wrong-doing. There are several “teams” for the province, but usually they aren’t from the same town they are investigating. It’s not perfect. For one thing, the majority of people hired to the SIU are former cops themselves, which has led to calls of bias. But the idea is valid and if the investigators would include a wider cross-section of the populace, would be a great way to ensure that police negligence or worse, crimes, weren’t covered up. States should have the same sort of investigators.

Finally, the concept of being a police officer needs to change. In parts of the country at least. It is a vital function for society. It is a trying job with gigantic responsibility. It calls for wisdom, good physical conditioning, great communications skills and a moral compass pointing squarely north. It needs to be seen as an important career, not just a job for any Joe. As such, the country needs uniform minimum standards to be a cop, and in most locations, the bar needs raising. More training is needed, which should include psychological courses and testing, cultural studies, anger management courses as well as studies of the law and weaponry and driving under adverse conditions. It might take a couple of years before a young person was qualified to be a policeman or woman, but we’d be relatively assured of having high quality individuals doing the job when they graduated. And that, I might add, may well require paying them more. Not every prospective cop would like that added training, and not every taxpayer would like being faced with potentially increased municipal taxes, but in the end, if our streets are safer, are downtowns aren’t being burned down and the police aren’t suffocating citizens on the streets, it should be a trade-off we’re willing to make.

Gone With The Winds Of Political Correctness

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” So said Spanish philosopher George Santayana in a famous quote that made such an impression on Winston Churchill that he echoed it in British Parliament just after the end of World War II. Some might want to keep that sentiment in mind if they don’t want 2021 to look suspiciously like 1921. Or 1821 even.

This came to mind today upon hearing that HBO was pulling Gone with the Wind from its newly-launched streaming service. The reason? Some people complain that the 1939 movie about the Civil War in Georgia is “racist”. The Black people are portrayed as slaves, people subservient to Whites and in general not as smart (at least in conventional educational terms) nor as revered or wealthy.

Which would be a problem if it were a movie set in the present day. Especially if it was one which was deemed to be a documentary rather than a work of fiction. In the context of mid-19th Century Dixie, however, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. In fact, any other presentation would seem phony and ridiculous. History people!

I haven’t seen the film actually. I guess it just isn’t my theatrical cup of tea, given that it came out more than two decades before my birth I could have. It has been readily available for years on VHS and then DVD, not to mention quite a few TV showings. Turns out I’ve only seen 26 out of the AFI’s (American Film Institute) “100 Greatest Movies of All-time”. I mean, how can we be talking “greatest films” and not have Groundhog Day there? But that doesn’t stop it being a widely-loved and important movie. The Film Institute ranked it as the fourth greatest of the 20th Century. In their latest list, it comes in as the sixth best ever. The Academy back in the day agreed too, giving it eight Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Director. So popular has the three-hour plus film back then that the Governor of Georgia declared a special state holiday on the day it opened back in 1939; so popular has it been since that day that it’s said to be the highest-grossing film of all-time when box office tallies were adjusted for inflation. That’s big. That’s history in itself, in fact.

But despite all the love for it, HBO – who undoubtedly had to pay some pretty pennies to buy its rights – now think it too dangerous for people to view. They say the movie depicts “racial prejudices that were wrong then and are wrong now.” They fail to see that any depiction of the American South set 160 or more years ago inherently must depict racial prejudice for it to have any value whatsoever.

We’ve been through this all before, with libraries which wanted to pull Huckleberry Finn from their shelves and schools which stopped teaching To Kill A Mockingbird for the same reasons. The latter of course is all the more galling given that the main character is a White man who goes against the prevailing beliefs and norms, not to mention the Ku Klux Klan of his early-20th Century Alabama community and legally defends an innocent Black man. But that wouldn’t stop the most sensitive types from complaining that the Black people in those novels weren’t universally held in high regard in their Southern communities nor holders of prestigious positions.

I don’t subscribe to HBO Max, and if I did I’d probably prefer to spend 220 minutes binge-watching nine episodes of Friends than watching Gone with the Wind. I mean, sorry but Vivien Leigh is no Jennifer Aniston and in all likelihood Clark Gable’s “Rhett” isn’t as witty as Matthew Perry’s “Chandler”. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think the movie should be there for those who want to view it. Actually, if I had signed up after viewing ads they ran showing it as a feature you’d get, I’d probably be a bit P.O.’d if they pulled it.

What happened to George Floyd was terrible, cruel and criminal. That’s obvious. So too was the fact that slavery was alive, well and revered in the South many years ago. What isn’t terrible or cruel is telling the stories. So I say HBO, bring back Gone with the Wind. If you decide to have the family watch it, go ahead and explain the context of Georgia and the Confederacy in the 1850s. Talk about the Civil War with the children, why people felt it was necessary to fight their neighbors to the south. Talk about equality and our nation’s values. If you actually think that Gone with the Wind perpetuates inequality, talk about that too in context of it being a hugely-popular film that’s been watched millions of times over 80-plus years. But go ahead and watch, and go ahead and talk about the issues.

Watch it or don’t watch it. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. But I do care that we have a chance and a choice. And if you don’t want to speed a repetition of history along, you probably should too.

May Hooray 5

Rock musicians get a bad rap at times. Of course some are dumb as posts, but that could be said of many professions from truck drivers to store clerks to senior politicians as well. Many however have a lot going on. There are ones who’ve worked as teachers (Sheryl Crow, Bryan Ferry and Sting to name just three), ones who’ve written books, ones who are pilots (Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden has worked as a commercial jet pilot in his down time from the band), others that have turned successfully into other arts like painting (John Mellencamp, Richard Butler of Psychedelic Furs) or photography (Michael Stipe, Chris Stein of Blondie).

One of the quirkier characters in the field is David Byrne, the former singer of Talking Heads. He formed the band while studying art and design at university in Rhode Island and put together some of the most unusual and ground-breaking rock of the late-’70s and early-’80s. He wrote a movie (True Stories) and as eclectic as the band was, found them too confining. He quit and has worked on other movie soundtracks, (one of which won an Academy Award for Best Original Score), several Broadway plays, formed his own record company to promote obscure World Music largely from Africa and published a book of botanical sketches he drew. And he’s an avid cyclist and has worked extensively to make New York City more bike-friendly. Whew! Writing it makes me feel a bit lazy for sitting around at night saying “OK, one more re-run of That 70s Show before cleaning the dishes.

Anyhow, he comes to mind because I was writing about him a few days back on my music blog. Another blogger there, Msjadeli brought another project of Byrne’s to my attention. A website, designed to help us feel a bit more optimistic in these trying times. The name says it all – Reasons to be Cheerful.  Subtitled “News for when you’ve had too much news”, it’s an interesting site. There’s a a hodgepodge of stories that do indeed lend one to seeing more light at the end of the tunnel; stories of smart urban planning, good health news, social good and a whole lot more. Give it a look!

Creative thinkers like Byrne – one more reason to be cheerful!

Time To Be Like A Crow

A CNN headline grabbed my attention this week – “Birds that learn new behaviors less likely to go extinct.” Being a birder and environmentalist, I  was hooked. I read it and found that a study by people at McGill University in Canada found that birds which adapted their diet or hunting techniques to the situation they were in did better and were less endangered than ones which didn’t. It cited examples like crows, which have been known to pick up nuts and drop them on roads so cars would run over them, with the birds eating the innards when the coast was clear, and cormorants which would follow fishing boats in hopes of getting some of the catch the boat would drop or throw away.

My first reaction was “duh!”. My second was “how do I get in on research money to do a study like that?” Maybe I could spend a few years getting paid finding that “people prefer cuddly kittens to feral rats for pets” or “people prefer a nice breeze to tornadoes ripping the roof of their houses.” I mean it seems abundantly obvious enough, doesn’t it?

Maybe I felt a bit jealous. Not to toot my own horn… oh, OK, “toot toot”… I said exactly the same thing about five years ago in my first e-book, The Mockingbird Speaks. In that, I suggested that many life lessons could be learned by watching Mockingbirds and one in particular was that the adaptable thrive, be they birds or people. I pointed out that the birds were expanding their range and increasing in numbers at times when many other birds were becoming scarcer by the year. Mockingbirds eat almost anything – I’ve personally seen them consume everything from wasps to wild cherries to millet seeds at feeders and records show they won’t turn down cut up oranges, baby lizards if they find them, suet, and almost any kind of berry known to man or Mother Nature. They’ve learned to live in our city gardens, the edges of forests and along the weedy right-of-ways along rail lines. That’s adaptable.

Similar success stories are birds like the Cooper’s Hawk and Pileated Woodpeckers. The hawks have skyrocketed in population since DDT was banned in the 1960s partly from that helping their health but also in part due to a sudden change in habitat. The bird-eaters used to live almost exclusively in dense woods. In the last thirty years, they’ve somehow come to realize that they do equally well in suburbs. Feeders and populations of city robins, sparrows and pigeons ensures them a steady food supply and as long as there are a few big trees around for their nests, they seem to thrive. The Pileated Woodpecker is similar in that they’ve somehow changed from needing vast tracts of forest to living in and feeding in neighborhood trees in green towns and cities.

Contrast that with well-known endangered species like the Ivory-billed Woodpecker or Kirtland’s Warbler. The woodpecker, a larger version of the Pileated, lives – or lived – in dense, old southern swamps eating pretty much just one type of beetle found in decaying trees of a certain age in only certain floodplain trees. When most of the forests that fit the description were felled, their populations crashed and now a record, even if accompanied by grainy video, is viewed with a lot of skepticism.

The colorful little Kirtland’s Warbler is similar. For whatever reason, they seem to only eat select insects that inhabit only Jack pine forests of a certain age. That type of forest only occurs in a small area of northern Michigan and a few hundred acres in Ontario. One large fire could potentially wipe out the species. The individual birds, I’m sure aren’t being obstinate or dumb… they aren’t making a conscious choice to only eat one type of bug and saying “I’d rather die than live in a different variety of tree”… they were just dealt a bad genetic hand.

The implications, to me, were obvious. Birds which adapt do well, those which didn’t were not much better than doomed.

By extension, the message carries over to us. As I put it, yesterday’s expert typewriter repairman is today’s chronically unemployed person. We need to adapt to changing times and situations. If a type of food becomes scarce, we need to be able to substitute something else for it in our diet. If our employer goes belly-up, we need to be able to take our skillset to new ones. Needless to say, the more we can learn and adapt our skills (be they job related or personal ones), the better off we are. It was a message that made sense in 2015. It’s imperative now.

This pandemic is challenging all of us, and I don’t think anyone is liking it much. Maybe it’s doing your 9-to-5 at a bedroom desk, maybe it’s getting shopping done before work instead of late at night. Maybe its shopping less and being less picky about what brands of soap or toilet paper we’ll accept. Even when this eventually calms down and we go back to a new “normal”, adaptations may be called for. Dr Fauci already suggests that business meetings won’t be opened by everyone shaking hands in the future. Some stores won’t throw the doors open again after Corona virus is a distant memory and maybe the person coughing and sweating away across the corridor from you at work won’t be considered an admirable example of work ethic and rather, a selfish sickie down the road. It’s hard to say.

What isn’t hard to say is that we need to be flexible. Need to be able to adapt like a crow. Or Mockingbird.

I’m off to round up some fuzzy little kittens and angry rats…