Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Tick bit!

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A visit to the doctor this morning confirmed that I have Lyme Disease, officially making this my Summer of Viral and Bacterial Love (or SVBL, as medical professionals prefer to abbreviate it). Apparently, "mono" and related viruses make their hosts more susceptible to other infections for as many as six months after symptoms subside. With luck, I should be able to nail the trifecta and get a West Nile infection before the summer ends.

Photo credit: Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria responsible for Lyme Disease; Nature, International Weekly Journal of Science

Monday, July 25, 2005

Monday Morning News Blues

- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report stating that American citizens, particularly children, have high concentrations of pesticides and toxic compounds in their bodies. The report attributes the high toxicity levels to our indiscriminate use of pesticides and other hazardous chemicals.

- In a related, but separate report, scientists found that many mothers in Hong Kong have high DDT levels in their breast milk, even though the pesticide was banned in China over twenty years ago.

- An editorial in the Los Angeles Times addresses questions of genetic engineering, highlighting some alterations about to hit the market...and the moral questions attached to genetic "design."

- As I get dressed for work, I turn on NY1, a twenty-four hour local news channel. This morning, "on the street" New Yorkers are asked to weigh in on the increased security checks and random bag searches conducted by the NYPD in public transportation facilities.
"We're going to have to give up some of our freedom if we want to be safe."

"I feel more safe when they're monitoring us."
You feel more safe when Oceania is monitoring you, lady? Sanctioned surveillance always makes me a little uneasy, but excepting the legitimate questions of racial profiling, I'm not that concerned by the city's recent security measures. I do cringe, though, when I hear that people are so eager to trade "freedom" for safety. High school history books provide us with plenty of frightening precedents; states in which security is placed above freedom have a way of trending far to the right.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Spray-On Mud!

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Are you worried about your soccer mom image? Do you want to make yourself appear more outdoorsy and adventurous without risking exposure to creepy-crawlies or horny rednecks? Well, Spray-On Mud is the answer for you!

And the absurd circus continues...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

More Bad Science: Grazing Regulations

Two days ago, I highlighted recent reports released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). These reports detailed the Bush administration's manipulation of research related to offshore fisheries. This morning, I received more bad news.

Biologists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) warned the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that new livestock grazing regulations are detrimental to wildlife populations and water systems.(1) These warnings first landed on the desks of BLM officials last year, when the BLM requested professional critiques of the proposed regulations.

Concerned about the impact of these new regulations on wildlife, the USFWS issued a 15-page formal report, stating that the new rules could "have profound impacts on wildlife resources." When the document was completed, the three western regional USFWS directors requested an audience with the BLM. None was granted. The comments were submitted anyway, but the USFWS received no reply.

According to the BLM, the comments were ignored because they were in draft form and therefore "did not represent the agency's official position." Tom Gorey, spokeman for the BLM, asks, "Where is the official Fish and Wildlife position? We've never seen it."

Perhaps the BLM filed it in the waste basket? The USFWS claims they followed federal submission protocol; if so, there is no good reason that the document should have been ignored. Steve Williams, ex-director of the USFWS, stated, "The fact that the process didn't follow through, and the comments of the service and other agencies weren't able to be incorporated, that does bother me. We take the time to put the comments together."

The EPA focused on potential water contamination, suggesting that the new regulations would make it much more difficult to act should contamination occur. It may come as a surprise, but apparently the scientists at the BLM agreed with both the EPA and the USFWS. Unfortunately, their written assessments were edited by folks in Washington. The changes were not subtle.
"The original environmental analysis warned that the new rules would have a 'significant adverse impact' on wildlife, but the scientists' language was altered to read that the grazing regulations were 'beneficial to wildlife.'"
From adverse to beneficial? Wow. The White House sure waves its magic wand with impunity. Even though one of the BLM's biologists calls the "final product a 'whitewash,'" the BLM seems unfazed.
"Bureau officials said editing and review were standard. Further, they said the new grazing rules changed existing policy relatively slightly and said the regulations more fairly balanced the needs of plants, wildlife, water and other resources with the rights of ranchers to use public land."
Sounds great, doesn't it? If only it were true. For more on the new plan, you can read the BLM factsheet.

(1) A distressing primer for those readers unfamiliar with the impact of grazing regulations (and most of us on the eastern seaboard are): Over 50% of all United States land (excepting Alaska) is used for agriculture and cattle grazing. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 56% of all agricultural lands are used to produce beef. In other words, over half of all agricultural land in this country is grazing land. As such, the impact of cattle grazing is staggering; the regulations associated with the practice are of vital importance to ecosystem maintenance. (Giving up meat - particularly beef - would not only free many millions of acres for the Conservation Reserve Program, but also allow the 90% of crops currently grown to feed animals destined for slaughter to be instead consumed by humans, significantly reducing world hunger.)

Photo credit: Box "R" Ranch

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Gay fruit flies?

It's not news that some folks find the theory of evolution unsettling. While the stereotypical denialist of evolution is a Bible-beating, trailer-owning bumpkin, there are an increasing number of thoughtful, educated individuals that do not accept the claim that humans evolved from single-celled organisms. Even more "outrageous" to these denialists is the claim that, eons ago, our ancestors may have resembled fish or, God forbid, apes.

But another hotly contested debate preoccupies my thoughts this afternoon: Nature versus Nurture. The case for Nature, if choosing between the two, relinquishes our individual destinies to our genes. Critics of the Nature argument insist that it reduces Homo sapiens to automata. At the very least, humans tumble a few notches down the scalae naturae; we are rendered but one more brute species.

Most people who follow the debate, professionals and amateurs alike, agree that Nature and Nurture play important roles, but increasing evidence seems to place more emphasis on proteins and, as this research appears in popular journals and newspapers, outrage on the part of the Nurture loyalists may be imminent.

Nicholas Wade's Science Times article, "A Gene for Romance? So It Seems (Ask The Vole)" (Tuesday, July 19, 2005, New York Times) got me thinking about the popular reaction to genetics research (and the associated scientific claims). The research Wade describes will not surprise anyone who reads scientific journals such as Nature or Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), but these are specialized publications with an audience generally limited to scientific professionals. In the NY Times piece, statements such as, "Researchers discovered how the gene is naturally modulated in a population of voles so as to produce a spectrum of behaviors from monogamy to polygamy, each of which may be advantageous in different ecological circumstances," are likely to make some readers squirm. It is, however, the gene dubbed "fruitless" that will capture the fearful imaginations of most casual readers. "The gene is called fruitless because when it is disrupted in male [Drosophila fruit flies] they lose interest in females and instead form mating chains with other males." Biologists have isolated the gene and are able to manipulate it successfully, changing fly sexual preferences.
"Fruitless serves as a master switch of behavior, just as other known genes serve as master switches for building an eye or other organs. Are behaviors and organs constructed in much the same way, each with a master switch gene that controls a network of lower level genes?"
I showed the Times article to a gay co-worker. Like him, I believe that homosexuality is largely genetic, but new research suggests that environmental factors must not be dismissed.
"'Among mammals,' Dr. Meaney and colleagues wrote in a report of their findings last year, 'natural selection may have shaped offspring to respond to subtle variations in parental behavior as a forecast of the environmental conditions they will ultimately face once they become independent of the parent.'

A full understanding of these behavior genes would include being able to trace every cellular change, whether in a hormone or pheromone or signaling molecule, that led to activation of the gene and then all the effects that followed. Dr. Robinson has proposed the name 'sociogenomics' for the idea of understanding social life in terms of the genes and signaling molecules that mediate them."
Sociogenomics? Accurate though the name may be, I'm sure many readers will associate the term with genetic engineering; my co-worker and I certainly did.

Curiously, he was most concerned by the notion that one's environment can cause chemical alteration of proteins, thereby changing the genetic makeup (and behavior) of the individual. "If people believe there is a certain way to raise a kid so that he isn't gay," he worried, "then many parents will do their best to eliminate homosexuals." True, but why stop there? If biologists can "flip" the fruitless gene in Dropsophilia, I assume a similar gene (or series of associated genes) in Homo sapiens will one day be isolated. Given this, a "GATTACA"-like scenario is no longer very fanciful. Fortunately, humans don't make the best test subjects and are more prone to serious complications than either voles or fruit flies. Even in Drosophilia flies, removal - as opposed to "flipping" - of the fruitless gene results in fly death.

For the time being, though, I like where we stand. We're beginning to realize just how influential genes are on human behavior, psychology and physiology. It's exciting...even if we need to society to work against any outliers who see genetic-engineering as an opportunity to rebirth sanctioned eugenics.

Photo credit: Tracey Chapman and Linda Partridge

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Bush's Pseudo-science

The Wildlife Conservation Department, an email newsgroup that I subscribe to, brought this Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) news release to my attention and, a couple of days later, The Mantis emailed me a related piece, excerpted below, from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
"Joining a growing number of scientists deeply troubled by the Bush administration’s distortion of science for political ends, scientists at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service report that agency science is suffering under political manipulation and inappropriate influence of special interests. According to the survey released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the agency is increasingly unable to carry out its charge of protecting imperiled fish, seal and whale populations from extinction."
No matter how judicious a reporter's account of such "distortion," our guts remain a fair judge. When I first read the PEER and USC reports, I felt helpless and angry. Science builds upon successes and mistakes alike; hypotheses are only as good as the experiments designed to test them, and the data produced in these experiments is only as good as the methodology and technology applied. As a result, findings are often wrong or inaccurate, but rarely intentionally so. To ignore or alter findings is not only corrupt, it is also dumb; manipulation of scientific findings benefits no one and harms many.

Regrettably, once politics is married to money, the impetus to cook the books is great. There's no doubt that the Bush administration has done more selective editing or outright ignoring of scientific research than any other administration in memory. I can only hope that George W. Bush and his cronies will be held accountable one day, whenever that may be. (It can't be soon enough.)

Monday, July 18, 2005

Long Island

I spent this past weekend in Northport, Long Island, visiting friends. It was a pleasant getaway. Like my recent trip to Washington, D.C., however, this weekend escape made my dissatisfaction with New York City living more acute.

My father spent a good deal of his youth on Long Island. In the 1940s and 1950s, when the island peninsula's many small towns were buffered by undeveloped land, he would break down his shotgun, place it in his bike basket and pedal his way to the local landing. He hunted ducks in the tidal marshes and fished in the sound.

Today, little of Long Island remains undisturbed and few residents are philosophically or professionally attached to the land. Like northern New Jersey and southwestern Connecticut, suburban sprawl has claimed much of the island. The effects of sprawl extend beyond habitat destruction, perverting the perspective of everyone who grows up among the 7-11s, subdivisions and cinema multiplexes.

My friends and I crashed a party comprised mostly of born-and-bred Long Islanders. Several of the guests talked excitedly about real estate, property taxes, SUVs and Florida retirement. I felt as though I'd walked into a Todd Solondz film.

When I commented to the host that the view from her second story patio, surrounded on three sides by tall trees, was pleasant, she replied, “I hate nature. Pave it all over and the world will be a better place.” I smiled at her and waited for a knowing wink or some other signal that she was joking. None came. After some long seconds she resumed the cheerleading conversation she was having with an old friend. “Be Aggressive! B-E-Aggressive!,” they shouted between laughs. Shocked into a brooding, drunken silence, I excused myself. “Material Girl” was playing on the stereo and the host’s sleepy five-year old daughter was half-watching ”Finding Nemo” on the television.

Fortunately, suburban ugliness has not claimed everything on Long Island. I enjoyed my visits to area parks. On Saturday morning, my friend Philip and I wandered around a salt water estuary near King’s Park. I was happy to see great egrets (Casmerodius albus), snowy egrets (Egretta thula), herring gulls (Larus argentatus), killdeer (Charadrius vociferous) and bank swallows (Riparia riparia). Even the invasive mute swans (Cygnus olor) were a welcome sight (though I still advocate extensive control measures given their destructive tendencies). A striper (Morone saxatilis) fisherman crossed over a small island as he waded to shore, sending several unidentifiable plovers scurrying. On a nearby mudflat, clams and mussels betrayed their location by shooting geysers of water high into the air as they burrowed beneath the surface to feed. Taking all this in, I felt good about life.

After an hour spent walking the beach, Philip and I moved inland and entered King’s Park, proper. This park was, until 1996, a psychiatric facility. Wandering the abandoned grounds is eerie but pleasant. There is a strict prohibition on photography (made explicit by a grounds keeper), but Philip and I did peek through some broken windows to study the buildings’ interiors. One can’t help but imagine these decaying rooms as they once were, filled with patients, many of them shell-shocked members of the “greatest generation."

In a few years, these buildings will all be destroyed and King’s Park turned into a luxury condominium development. No longer will area teenagers slip into the abandoned buildings at night to drop acid, smoke pot and spray-paint “Get Blunted” on the walls. Such is progress.

Cinnabar-red Chanterelle (Cantharellus cinnabarinus);
identified by Garrett Herth

Sunday morning, walking on a trail closer to my friends’ apartment, we came across some grape vines that were infected by two different types of parasite. One parasite I later identified as grape phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae), a common parasite that leaves circular, whitish-green galls, a type of sore or growth, on the leaves, but only rarely does serious damage to the plant. The other parasite is pictured below. It was later identified [by Garrett Herth in February 2008] as a Grape Tube Gallmaker (Cecidomyia viticola).

On the Long Island Rail Road return trip, I had the misfortune of sitting in a car with a screaming baby. The mother was determined to ignore the baby's wails, a technique I usually advocate, but after five minutes of uninterrupted howling, I began wishing that she'd adopt a new tactic. Fifteen minutes later, I abandoned my efforts to read and instead studied the passing towns, each of them indistinguishable from the last excepting the name on the water tower.

I recalled the spike-like parasite on the grape leaf. How remarkable the evolution and success of such creatures! How admirable, if disturbing, is the lifecycle of a nematode or tick! The baby continued to cry. As we neared New York City the buildings grew taller and the advertisements larger.

Photo credit: all images, Hungry Hyaena, 2005

Friday, July 15, 2005

Virtual misdeeds and nonvirtual deaths

I meant to comment on this Los Angeles Times article weeks ago, when Organic Matter first brought it to my attention. In March, when I first learned of John Lockwood's online business venture, I wrote "Hunting JFK." Fortunately, LA Times journalist Nancy Vogel wrote an informative piece entitled, "Online Hunting Firm Is Now The Quarry."

Lockwood's ingenuity, if you want to call it that, allows, say, an obese, potato-chip eating kid in New York City to "virtually hunt" online. With a click of his mouse, this sedentary urbanite can kill a real animal in Texas. This assumes that the kid in question is a responsible individual. He or she could just as easily opt to "kneecap" the deer, much as an adolescent gamer might "jack" a cop car or beat a prostitute to death in "Grand Theft Auto." After all, there are no consequences in the "real world" when you flaunt Mosaic Law in the virtual world.

But Lockwood has created something far more sinister than "Grand Theft Auto." "GTA" is merely a video game that encourages licentious behavior. Lockwood's "game," on the other hand, is real life-and-death. The knowledge that the "virtual hunter" is remotely firing an actual bullet at a living creature might actually increase the twisted delight some gamers feel when doing something terrible in the virtual world.

I used to love video games and, in virtual worlds, my avatars regularly engaged in unethical behavior. Playing the "Ultima" series, for example, I often resorted to thievery to keep my bag o' gold full and my armor strong. In the "Civilization" series I frequently made international treaties only to buy time enough to position my navy and army units. Once ready, I would stage simultaneous attacks on allied cities, wiping out their culture, burning down their churches and stealing all their science advancements. Most recently, playing "Fable," my character preyed on innocents who seemed (to me) corrupt in some way, not unlike Kevin Spacey's serial killer in the movie "Seven."

All of these virtual misdeeds do have a negative effect on the "real world" me, whether I like to admit it or not. "Oh, it's only fun and games," gamers say with a smile, but such immoral role-playing is more "real" than we realize. Part of the appeal of creating a "bad" character in a video or role-playing game is the knowledge that such actions are unacceptable in this world. You are acting out, but doing so via 1s and 0s rather than glocks and nuclear launches. What happens, then, when you combine the two worlds?

In "Hunting JFK," I wrote:
"Murder, even for our soldiers in Iraq, is becoming an abstraction. From fist to blade, blade to spear, spear to arrow, arrow to bullet, bullet to...what? How can you describe a system whereby the man-boy assassinating JFK on the computer screen might as well be gunning down Iraqis with a SWORDS [unit] or knocking off a big buck on a Texas game farm? For that matter, is not the murder of the pixel proxy similar to the pricking of a voodoo doll? A clear association is made by the gamer; the digitized image on the screen - your quarry - represents a flesh-and-blood human. When you pull the plastic trigger and assassinate JFK, that's that. You can turn off the gaming console and hit the sack. No police will show up at your door. No posttraumatic stress disorder will accompany your return to civilian life. No bang. Just a click.

The disconnect between animal and meat on the plate is but part of the problem; with every passing month, the disconnect between hand and killing becomes more ingrained in our culture and, as I see it, such a trend does not bode well for empathy. With less empathy in the world, abstraction of the 'other,' already a natural inclination, becomes that much more easy. This leads, of course, to more violence."
The concerns I described in that post are deserving of rumination, but there is a more immediate problem with Lockwood's scheme, though it can easily be extended to all "ranch hunt" scenarios, virtual or otherwise. Lockwood tells Vogel that, "The only difference between an Internet customer and one who visits the ranch to that the electronic customers can't walk the land and their view is limited to a narrow camera viewfinder." As I see it, this ignores the most essential difference; the individual is "hunting" for thrill rather than food. Of course, I am giving too much credit to any yahoo who would opt to hunt on a "real world" Texas "game farm," but as I see it, hunting is about the relationship between the animal, the killer and the exchange of energy that comes from eating a creature you took the life of. Predation should be a humbling experience for humans, not a cause for high fives or triumphant photo shoots.

Lockwood is quick to defend his arrangement, pointing out that "meat processing" is available. Theoretically, you can use your mouse to kill an animal and have the meat shipped to you in clean, plastic-wrapped containers. In fact, Lockwood says "he has received inquiries from soldiers in Iraq and Spain, including one who said he was less interested in hunting than in getting meat to his family." Oh, really? Unless this soldier shares my dietary restrictions, I don't see why he couldn't use the money he would spend on the "virtual hunt" to buy his family some dinner.

Anyway, rather than my rambling on about this infuriating subject, I recommend linking over to the Vogel piece and reading about Dale Hagberg's experience. Lockwood uses Hagberg's case to justify the business. For me, Hagberg's ecxperience is absurd and sad. In fact, the picture painted is a thorough condemnation of our base desires. Hell, if Hagberg and Lockwood were characters in "Fable," I'd behead them and steal their money.

Photo credit: screenshot from "Fable" courtesy; John Lockwood photograph, Jack Plunkett /AFP/Getty Image

Thursday, July 14, 2005


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote "Silly Rabbit, Tricks Are For Kids," a post exploring my reaction to intelligent design. I wrote then,
"No biology teacher tells his or her students that evolution is proof of God's absence and many respected evolutionary biologists are devout Christians. Faith is a matter of individual choice, not biology class...I have no real beef with I.D. when it isn’t claiming to be a science. The notion that the universe must have been fashioned by a higher being is not new and is one many people, particularly Americans, still hold dear. I see no reason why this should change. However, such 'theories' belong in religious schools or the family living room, not in the biology classroom."
Last night, a good friend of mine told me that his father, the dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, had written a letter to the New York Times in response to the recent article, "Leading Cardinal Redefines Church's View on Evolution" (front page, July 9). I decided to post the letter here.

In a more eloquent and succinct fashion, Reverend Alan Jones communicates something of what I was attempting to say in my post.
"To the Editor:

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn muddies the waters with his statement concerning evolution. The issue is that both 'believers' and 'scientists' tend to trespass on each other's turf.

When a scientist says or implies that life is without meaning, that's trespassing. When a believer claims that 'intelligent design' is scientific, he has stepped over the line. Both start with presuppositions that cannot be proved.

As a believer, I take on faith that there is intelligent design. The scientific evidence tells us that while it cannot be proved, it isn't unreasonable to believe so.

How much longer are we going to be talking at cross-purposes?

(Very Rev.) Alan Jones
San Francisco, July 9, 2005"
While Reverend Jones and I may feel differently about intelligent design, we are both banking on faith. Those folks, like Cardinal Schonborn, who continue to argue over the scientific validity of I.D. or evolution's place in the church are missing the point.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Individual and Collective

Reading through the posts at Sustainablog's "Blogging Round the Clock" event, I came across this entry by Dave Roberts, of Gristmill renown. "Hold the Misanthropy" is worth a read; Roberts rightly highlights some of the weaknesses inherent in the ecological footprint concept.

The concept of an ecological footprint is most useful as just that, a concept. Roberts reminds us that the "science" of determining an individual's score is vague, but as a general marker the score will serve its purpose, giving each of us an idea of where we stand relative to the world at large. Like Dave Roberts, my score is a 16 and, barring cessation of plane travel and my swearing off any packaged food products, I doubt I could lower it. (When I last took the ecological footprint quiz, my score was 9, but I have since discovered that my apartment is over 500 square feet; that makes my score jump significantly.) But so what? The fact that I am conscious of my footprint and approaching life with sustainability in mind is a good beginning. If I can become more involved in local conservation projects, I will be well on my way to making a difference, however small it may be.

I find the thrust of Roberts's post agreeable, but one statement didn't ring true.

"Matter of fact, as I'm fond of arguing, individual environmental virtue is at best a curiosity, at worst a distraction."

Most of us have come across at least one loud-mouth egomaniac on a Napoleononic eco-crusade. This breed of environmentalist is a distraction and, though there are not many of them, they garner a disproportionate amount of news time. When I see such people on television or read something they have written, "individual environmental virtue" doesn't spring to mind so much as "insecure publicity hound."

On the other hand, I know plenty of folks who are taking simple, quiet steps to lessen their negative impact. Is the individual who uses canvas tote bags at the grocery store really missing the point? What about the person who swears off automobiles and relies on public transportation or my own vegetarian-unless-I-kill-it-myself diet? I believe such choices should be celebrated; they give individuals something to do other than cheerlead by sending money to conservation and environmental organizations.

Roberts's statement is not entirely inaccurate, though. Individual choices can be (and often are) deemed overly important by those who wish to feel better about themselves. How many times have I left the grocery store feeling superior to the "plastic baggers" all around me? Such a feeling is regrettable, but not uncommon given the "inklings of the divine," as writer Jack Hitt puts it, associated with the environmental movement. Furthermore, the environmental impact of one individual is, as Roberts makes clear, relatively minimal.
"If I could remove my ecological footprint entirely, the earth would endure 0.000000000000167% less insult (or assuming I have five times the average footprint, 0.000000000000667%)....Big whoop."

"Despite the near-obsessive focus of some environmentalists on "what you can do," it is collective action that will make or break our future. Changing group behavior -- through advocacy, activism, politics, research, however -- is our calling."
Taking these considerations into account, the personal choices can seem vain, even irrelevant, when compared to "deep structural changes in our material and social milieu," but individuals can and do change/lead by example. If Seinfeld taught me anything, it's that eating a candy bar with a fork and knife can become the socially accepted norm, even a sign of sophistication. The structural changes that Roberts calls for are aided by "individual environmental virtue," not hindered.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Purple Line

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The nation is polarized, red and blue, heartland and coasts, small town and city. Not a day goes by without a talking head making mention of the “growing cultural divide.” A few commentators respond angrily to such an assessment, pointing out that the populace has more in common than the media would have us believe. About the time you begin to think this may be the case, some other war of words is reported and the purple line appears anew. Having grown up in a small, southern village, I find myself loyal to many “red state” values and sensibilities, but my politics and philosophy – not to mention my living in New York City – make me very much a “blue stater.” This push-pull relationship weighs on me, but one aspect of the “us versus them” context is particularly vexing: hunter versus environmentalist.

Firstly, I should state that I do not believe hunters and environmentalists occupy opposing poles. As outdoor writer Ted Williams put it in his excellent 1996 Sierra Magazine article, “Natural Allies,” “Hunters and anglers have a long history of protecting and restoring fish, wildlife, and habitat.” Unfortunately, most environmentalists and hunters view one another as the enemy. One of my good friends - a proponent of animal rights – points out that “there is such stridency on both sides of the aisle that it’s virtually impossible to fashion an argument that either side couldn’t cram into their rubric.”

Many members of the Sierra Club were outraged by Williams’s suggestion that environmentalists should work with hunters to protect the ecosystem. Letters poured in to Sierra Magazine, condemning Williams for his “Neanderthal form of recreation,” and stating that “no matter how politically correct you portray the mind of the hunter, killing for pleasure is sick.” Comments like these miss the point. Killing for pleasure is sick, but I know hunters who view the kill as an unfortunate part of the experience, myself included. (The Neanderthal comment is just plain ignorant; Homo sapiens out-competed our extinct relatives, in part a result of our superior aptitude for hunting.)

“Hunter is a term that can include everyone from the fire-power yahoo who is simply out to kill something to what Stephen Kellert calls the “Nature Hunter,” who knows a great deal about wildlife and wildlife habitat and is deeply conscious of the paradox inherent in killing these creatures he loves and respects. Indeed, many of the most vocal and articulate critics of hunting abuses are hunters themselves.”
-Robert Kimber, Living Wild & Domestic

For many anti-hunting environmentalists, though, the "Nature Hunter" is a lie. To kill is to be subhuman and disrespectful.(1) Such an attitude is common at the extremes of the animal rights movement. Longtime People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) spokesperson, Cleveland Amory, was influential in this regard. He believed that “all animals should be protected – not only from people but as much as possible from each other. Prey will be separated from predator, and there will be no overpopulation, because all will be controlled by sterilization or implant.” Amory’s utopian ideal is an expensive exercise in futility and it betrays his God complex, albeit one birthed of good intentions. In 1990, U.S. News & World Report published a cover story entitled, “Should Hunting Be Banned?” The two dissenting “voices” were that of Cleveland Amory and my father, George Reiger. Their debate was a familiar one. My father argued that hunting is not about “pleasure killing” and that “sportsmen” – a term I loathe – foot the bill for most United States conservation programs. Amory argued that hunters are barbarians who should be locked away. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Hunting proponents like to cite the excise tax on hunting equipment, be it guns or ammunition, and the revenue from hunting licenses, pointing out that hunting and fishing continue to pay for more conservation projects than all environmental groups combined. Anti-hunters respond by suggesting that similar taxes on binoculars and camping equipment would make up for money lost if hunting were prohibited. Such back-and-forth bickering is unproductive and unfortunate, but Ted Williams sensibly suggests that the marriage of these two forms of taxation could do a world of good in the meantime, providing many more millions of dollars “a year for ecosystem management.”

Returning to Williams’s 1996 plea in the pages of Sierra Magazine, I realize how incredibly vital his message is. In fact, it is more pertinent today than it was nine years ago.

“More than 50 million Americans fish, and 15 million hunt, yet environmentalists have made scant effort to forge any lasting alliance with them to protect land and water that sustain wildlife. ‘Environmentalists don’t reach out to sportsmen,’ says Chris Potholm, a professor of government and legal studies at Bowdoin College in Maine. ‘If they did, they’d be invincible. Whenever sportsmen combine with environmentalists, you have 60 to 70 percent of the population, an absolutely irresistible coalition.’”

In case the relevance of Potholm’s point is missed, he continues:

“The biggest mistake enviros make is they always look to the Democrats first. If I can get the sportsmen on board, then I get them to bring the Republicans.”

Bingo. In a country divided, bringing both political parties to the same table, in support of the same agenda, is a rarity. Backroom “nuclear” avoidance discussions aside, bi-partisan legislation has been the exception to the rule in the last six years. When it has occurred, it has often been the result of Republican voters, particularly “red staters,” calling on their representatives to act in the interest of the environment.

“Cowboys Are Their Weakness,” another Sierra Magazine article (Marilyn Berlin Snell, July/August 2005), tells the story of Karl Rappold, a Montana cattleman who traveled to Washington, D.C. to demand better protections for the Montana Rocky Mountain range when it was under threat of development for natural gas exploration. Rappold hasn’t had an easy time of it. At home, he is viewed with ambivalence. On one hand, Rappold is from a long line of traditional cattlemen and he is widely respected in the community. On the other, he has put much of his ranch into conservation easements and he freely associates with folks from the Nature Conservancy and other environmentalist groups. “He notes that in Montana ‘the word wilderness sends fear through people’ because they worry that it’s just land seizure by the federal government.” Such red state distrust of environmentalism will die hard, but Rappold’s involvement, and that of others like him, is cause for celebration. When he met with his representative in Washington, he was heard out because of who he is.

“’We were his people,’ says Rappold. ‘We weren’t environmental people. We were grassroots people from the Montana Rocky Mountain Front, the people who live and work there.’”

Why is it, though, that so many red staters distrust environmentalism? It goes beyond their states’ rights concerns. Ted Williams describes how hunters, fishermen, ranchers, farmers and rural folk alike have been wooed by developers and the energy industry.

“While environmentalists have been ignoring or alienating sportsmen, developers and their hirelings within the wise-use movement and Congress have been seducing them by dressing up in camouflage and flouncing around at photo-ops with borrowed shotguns. For example, the 50 senators and 207 representatives of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus loudly profess to defend fish, wildlife, and sportsmen but consistently vote to destroy habitat….These voting records make perfect sense when you check some of the funders of the caucus’ money-raising tentacle: Alabama Power, Alyeska Pipeline Service, Dow Chemical, International Paper, Weyerhaeuser, Champion International, Mead, American Forest and Paper Association, National Cattlemen’s Association, Olin and Phillips Petroleum.”

Even some of the “sportsman” publications have been turned into mouthpieces for the moneyed development interests. Leading up to the 2004 election, Outdoor Life published a “Voting Guide” for hunters and fishermen. Not surprisingly, it recommended voting for George W. Bush. The Texan would fight to protect your right to hunt and own firearms, whereas New Engalnder John Kerry would “take your guns away.” The accusation is patently false; though Kerry did support gun control legislation, none of it dealt with shotguns or bolt-action rifles, the primary firearms used by hunters – and we all know just how beholden Bush is to the energy industry. More than any other United States president, George W. Bush has rolled back the clock on environmental progress. Whether either group wants to admit it, this means he is adversely affecting both hunters and environmentalists.

It’s high time the purple line becomes the purple core, bringing together rather than dividing.

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(1)Many of my friends think a conservationist who chooses to hunt is a hypocrite. How can you kill animals if you want to protect them, they ask? I distinguish between preservation and conservation. A preservationist who choices to hunt is a hypocrite in my mind, but a conservationist is not. Many environmentalists advocate the extermination of invasive or “alien” species in order to better conserve biodiversity. A preservationist believes this is wrong, and that Nature will right any wrongs in due time. The preservationist is right, if considering only the geologic clock, but conservation is about making the world suitable for the greatest variety of life now, not long after humanity and countless other species have expired.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Home Again, Home Again...ppfffffttttttt

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I returned from Washington, D.C. last night. The trip was a good one. It featured a baseball game - Mets and Nationals - and a trip to the National Botanic Garden, but the highlight was a leisurely hike in Prince William Park. In the course of the hike, we came upon many different species of plant and animal, but an eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina), a young beaver (Castor canadensis) and a pair of yellow-billed cuckoos (Coccyzus americanus) particularly excited me. The box turtle was male - the plastron depression and red eye coloration communicate as much - and the yellow of his skin was so startling that I was able to spot him in the forest shadows. He was about ten feet off the trail, ambling by a small birch tree. I reverted to little-boy-mode and scrambled over some downed limbs to photograph and observe the handsome fellow. He was very cooperative (see below).

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Though I kept my eyes open for copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix), one of my favorite North American snake species, I didn't see any. More disappointing still, I found no snakes and few amphibians, even near stream banks. I rolled quite a few fallen trunks in my search, taking care to return them to their original position, but found little of note save some curious insects. I didn't have my insect field guide with me and I wouldn't be surprised if many of the species are absent from the book anyway. One day, perhaps, a truly comprehensive insect field guide will be available.

Frustratingly, I was unable to fight off a familiar sinking feeling on the train ride back to New York. Whenever I escape to rural areas, I find my spirit buoyed. I must extricate myself from the Tri-State area or risk early onset madness. Whereas I once imagined living in New York City until my late thirties, I no longer have much interest in doing so. I do want my art career to be stable before I flee to New England (or wherever I end up), but I don't think I can put in many more years here. This is not to say that I don't appreciate the city, with its spectacular electricity and intellectual energy...I just don't much appreciate living here.

Photo credit: both images, Hungry Hyaena, 2005

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


I’m off to Washington, D.C. tonight and I won’t be back until late Sunday afternoon, so no new posts until then.

I thought I’d sign off with the picture above. My friend James (a.k.a., Robin), a very talented photographer, and my boy, Mr. Misi (a.k.a. The Bat Cat), team up to take back the streets. I’ve no idea why this seemed like the thing to post, but there you have it. Take care.

Photo credit: Hungry Hyaena, 2003

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Perpetually Lost

I feel a twinge of shame when reacting negatively to an animal rights mailing. After all, I generally find the perspective agreeable and think that some of the movement’s voices are exceptionally articulate and sensible. The fact remains, however, that most animal rights activists and environmental extremists are young, confused idealists. There is nothing wrong with youth or idealism, but when one combines such naive energy with an ignorance of reality, the result is senseless noise. The “manifestos” written by kids who count themselves among the movement’s disciples are often troubling documents.

Recently, an animal rights advocate, who is also a member of a conservation group I support, sent out a group email detailing the plight of Chris McIntosh, a twenty-two year old activist who set fire to a McDonald’s restaurant in Seattle. The action was jointly “claimed by” the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. The email sent to me included a note written by McIntosh, excerpted below.
“I am a Green Anarchist who believes in freedom for all life, by any means necessary, and a return to the "old way". There should be no compromise with a system that has no respect for nature, that worships shiny metal and green paper instead of the mother from whose womb we are sustained. I no longer see the use or satisfying results of petitions and demonstrations. The truth is the crunch has come, and it's time for a feral rampage in everyone's heart! Whether its wreaking drunken havoc upon the civilized pillars of society or some other way that gets you off, we are the barbarian hordes. Let's sack Rome!

When I was 16, I dropped out of and took off into the unknown to discover a life of freedom (until the pigs interfered). It had its hardships, but the good outweighed the bad. I have been educating myself with real knowledge since then.”

“What I'm into reading is anti-civilization theory, stuff about early european pagan beliefs. Anything along those lines or a simple letter goes a long way too.

Thank you and no compromise in the fight for the earth and animals!”
Reading this pedestrian rhetoric, I recall “Notes From Underground: Among the radicals of the Pacific Northwest,” an article by David Samuels, published in the May 2000 issue of Harper’s Magazine. Samuels addresses the surreal combination of energetic commitment, disillusionment and boredom endemic in extremist groups. How can we take seriously the well-intentioned kids dressed in Adidas track suits and Nike sneakers as they pry off the sign at Seattle’s Niketown to protest capitalism's cruel dominion?
“What the pictures from Seattle captured was an anger whose true sources had less to do with Nike’s treatment of its labor force or other objectionable practices than with a broader, more unreasoning sense of being trapped in a net…the more general principle that someone should be held responsible for the feelings of absence and compulsion that overwhelm us all at some point or another in our lives and that are not our fault, or even the fault of our parents, but are rather the products of the addictive vacuum that has manifested itself through the combined karmic energies of millions of cathode-ray tubes and digital cables.”
The “objectionable practices” do provoke anger, but I think that what separates the quiet activists – those that concentrate on changing their own lifestyles to lessen impact – from the Chris McIntosh variety is the ability to consider one’s actions thoughtfully, recognizing that personal choices do matter and that arson attacks, for example, only further misunderstanding and backlash.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Celebrate America! Buy Now!

When painting, I listen to one of three things. I tune in to National Public Radio, shuffle the tunes on my iPod or, during the summer months, turn on the television and “half-watch” baseball games. This Fourth of July long weekend, I have been doing the latter, enjoying meetings of the New York Mets and Florida Marlins (loss) and, today, the Mets and the Washington Nationals (win). Unfortunately, I must suffer through the commercials; by the end of your average ballgame I've reached the saturation point. The various corporate slogans – “I’m Lovin’ It.” – are stuck in my head and, in some cases, I can recite the commercial voiceovers long after the television is been turned off.

This holiday weekend, the commercials were especially irritating. “Hurry to IKEA for the Summer Sale, ending July 4th!” “Come to P.C. Richard & Son by the 4th to receive big discounts!” “Buy a new Verizon phone by Independence Day and save big!” If I judged the holiday by the television commercials, I would be forced to conclude that the Fourth of July, like Memorial Day, is just another national spending day, or “Freedom Sale,” as one particularly shameless company puts it.

Taking in the commercial frenzy, I feel fortunate that my idea of a good weekend is confined to the studio or a day-trip somewhere relatively unsettled; this way I can avoid the crowds and the angry frustration that sweeps over me when I watch people excessively consume.

A month or so ago, I purchased a scanner at a mid-town Best Buy. While standing in line to swipe my credit card, I watched music videos on televisions hung tactically above the switchback checkout line. Some angry young rockers dressed in grotesque costumes thrashed around on screen – I think this was Slipknot – and I found myself considering our culture's disillusionment. It occurred to me that it wasn’t so very long ago that I stomped around a college campus in combat boots, pierced and angry, listening to Tool and Nine Inch Nails on over-sized headphones.

My gaze drifted from the televisions. On a nearby rack of video games, a display intended to provoke impulse buys, there were more options than I'd had in the early days of Nintendo. Roses, the rural department store near my hometown, usually presented me with four or five gaming options and I would carefully compare each before deciding how to spend my lawn mowing money. Today, by contrast, I’m overwhelmed by the array of choices.

I looked back up at the screaming rock band. Too many options, I thought, have resulted in existential dissatisfaction. The man-children acting out above my head were representative products of the consumer culture. There was a term for this, something I’d learned in Macroeconomics 101, but it escaped me. “Next on line, please.”

The term I had in mind remains a mystery to me, even after many Google searches. What I did find instead was a wealth of similar phrases or terms, such as “the tyranny of choice” or the “choice paradox.” Swathmore College psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that society is sick as a result of the expanding choices.

Whereas the average super-market in the 1950s had around 3,000 items in stock, today the average number is 30,000 items. Ultimately, more choices lead to lost time and confusion for the consumer, as well as impatience and a lack of brand loyalty. These days, video games have limited lasting power and we change toothpaste and fabric softener brands every few months.

Some companies defend themselves by pointing out that “American consumers love to try new things.” The spokespeople use this “fact” to justify the creation of new product lines. Actually, the American “taste test” approach is a result of the plethora of products, not the reverse. Given only three options, consumers will typically pick one and stick with it. Given one hundred options, we’re bound to “try out” different products and we're less likely to stick with any one in particular. Our satisfaction is more difficult to measure. Yet most Americans still believe variety is a good thing, mistaking more choices for better choices and more price points for savings.

I recently requested a free trial subscription to Vitals magazine, just to see what it was all about – I can always use style help – and was horrified by what I found in my mailbox. At once pretentious and superficial, the magazine is a condemnation of both consumer culture and the American upper middle class (the apparent target audience).

In the summer 2005 issue, Daniel Chun, a “humor writer,” includes a silly piece about online shopping, entitled “Shipping & Handling is Stupid and Horrible.” The editorial is meant to be funny, so I won’t suggest that Chun is, in fact, a stupid and horrible man, but one line jumped out at me.
“I’ve gladly forgotten the days when ‘Amazon’ meant a river teeming with wildlife and not a website teeming with value.”
Chun intends to poke fun at the consumer mentality, but his line is only funny because it’s true for most people, if not also for him!

Harper’s Magazine published a round-table discussion between several leading economists in the June 2005 issue. (“The Iceberg Cometh: Can a Nation of Spenders Be Saved?”) Peter Peterson, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and the current chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, had this to say of American consumer obliviousness and the corporate atmosphere of the day.
“We’re somehow in a political system that is all gain and no pain, all get and no give. Anybody who suggests that we should give up something is immediately attacked. So first, the American people must be told a lot of hard truths so that they understand what the problem is.”
His recipe for successful change? Higher taxation, less corporate control and “major cuts in entitlement spending.” Of course, mere mention of such “fixes” will see you branded an unpatriotic socialist. Paul Krugman, economist at Princeton University, called for a politician brave enough to take the heat, one willing to tell Americans what their rampant consumerism and willful political ignorance portends.
“[...] To solve our deficit problems, there would have to be a politician grown-up enough to sacrifice something.”
One day...maybe?

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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Still Playing In The Sandbox

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“Historical parallels are slippery,” Karl E. Meyer observes. These days, casual comparisons of the United States, circa 2005, to Nazi Germany are commonplace. Conscientious citizens note the zealous nationalism, political bullying and corporate control present in our great nation and perhaps see in this combination the seeds of fascism, but to suggest that the United States is becoming - much less has become - an entity as diseased and confused as Nazi Germany is premature. Why then are so many liberals eagerly embracing the comparison, lampooning themselves as reactionary alarmists in the process?

Meyer realizes the dangers of making such explicit parallels, but his “Forty Years in the Sand: What happened the last time freedom marched in Iraq” (Harper’s Magazine, June 2005), makes clear how remarkably similar Britain’s position in Iraq at the turn of the last century is to that of the United States, one hundred years later. The “quagmire” that the Brits found themselves in – both in the Middle East and in India - precipitated the recession of their colonial reach and, in turn, their imperial status. “Why did it all end so badly?,” Meyer asks. His answer: governance proved impossible.

A few months ago, I watched “Lawrence of Arabia” for the first time in a decade. As a child I had been impressed by T.E. Lawrence’s ability to, for lack of a better word, understand the Arabs – played by western actors covered in dark makeup – and lead them to victory. Watching it today, though, I felt very differently about his role. This is no champion of the Arabs, I realized; Lawrence is just another colonial engineer, concerned principally with obtaining control of the region for Britain. After the movie ended, I wrote, “Whatever the reality of T.E. Lawrence’s life may be, this film presents us with an egomaniac who accomplished little for the Arabs he so urgently wished to lead to freedom.”

Karl Meyer condemns Lawrence further, merely by including selections from Lawrence’s journals.

“I could see that if we won the war the promises to the Arabs were dead paper. Had I been an honourable adviser, I would have sent my men home, and not let them risk their lives for such stuff.”

“…our immediate aims, the break-up of the Islamic ‘bloc’ and the defeat and disruption of the Ottoman Empire…The Arabs are even less stable than the Turks. If properly handled they would remain in a state of political mosaic, a tissue of small jealous principalities incapable of cohesion, and yet always ready to combine against an outside force.”

In other words, with British guidance the former Islamic “bloc” could be made into an oil reservoir, albeit one requiring colonial babysitters. Lawrence of Arabia charged across the desert with his Arab army at a time when World War I was reaching its zenith. It wasn’t but a decade earlier that Britain sent their military men into the Middle East (Persia) to begin prospecting for oil. The British empire needed the oil because they were switching from “coal-burning ships to faster, oil-fueled vessels” and were already too dependent on “scattered coaling stations.” That the fight against Turkey could be combined with Lawrence’s “break-up of the Islamic ‘bloc’” served the empire all too well. It was of little surprise, then, that 1918 saw “The Big Three” – President Woodrow Wilson, Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau – parcel the Middle East into various countries, Iraq being the most curious (and ill-considered) of provincial marriages.

“The British created Iraq in 1918, confident it would become a beacon of enlightenment unto the Middle East, that it would nurture moderate Arab regimes, that its monarchs would serve as peacemakers between Zionists and Arabs in Palestine, and that it would anchor the region in the wider interests of a far-flung empire.”

This is beginning to sound familiar, but Meyer makes the comparison more explicit still. George Nathaniel Curzon, a leading British political figure of the late nineteenth century and later the foreign secretary and viceroy of India, described Britain’s work overseas as God’s will. “The Empire was ‘under Providence, the greatest instrument for good the world has seen.’ Speaking in Crawford, Texas, in August 2002, President George W. Bush inadvertently echoed Lord Curzon: ‘Our nation is the greatest force for good in history.’”

Britain spent 40 years trying to make Iraq into all that they had hoped for. Eventually, they were forced to pull out and the country collapsed, allowing the Ba’ath Party to rise and install Saddam Hussein. But Meyer closes his excellent piece with a reminder that historical parallels are only that. The failure of the Brits does not mean the United State's future in Iraq has already been written. “The United States is not bound by destiny to fail in Iraq. But to repeat British strategies and expect better results is the essence of folly…That is the promise of history.”

Note: all selections included in this post are taken from the Meyer article.

Friday, July 01, 2005


Birthday boy, Recon, of Monkeys for Helping fame, "infected" me with this meme. In honor of his 28th year, I will agreeably respond to the questions...then I will pray for no further meme infections.

1. What were three of the stupidest things you have done in your life?

I'm not sure if these are really the three stupidest things I have done; I've done some profoundly stupid things in the last 27 years, as we all have, and many are perhaps more stupid than the three below, but these are at least amusing.

1) Four or Five years old: Zipping up my foreskin in Winnie the Pooh one-piece pajamas. Shocked and awed, I decided screaming and tearing at the fabric made more sense than unzipping. I still shudder when I think of the experience.
2) Ten or eleven years old: Missing the bell jar top with the knife, instead plunging the blade in one side of my hand and having it emerge on the other. I was making a temporary home for catepillars. was worth it and, frankly, I wish the little scar was more pronounced.
3) Seventeen years old: Electing to change the trajectory of an orange launched from my window via three-man slingshot. Instead of sending the fruit far out over Noxontown pond, I aimed it down into a crowd of teens playing volleyball, striking a large football player squarely in the back of the head. His baseball hat lept forward as he fell, unconscious and tree-like, onto his face. Within minutes, every spectator knew where the orange had come from and who had aimed it.

2. At the current moment, who has the most influence in your life?

No one person is profoundly influencing me "at the current moment." Instead, I would have to post a long list of all the individuals who continue to have an impact on me, whether through prose, painting, actions or friendship. I'm too lazy to do so.

3. If you were given a time machine that functioned, and you were allowed to only pick up to five people to dine with, who would you pick?

This is a tough question. I fear that many of my dead heros wouldn't be as interesting in person as I prefer to believe. Their written, remaining thoughts are those that have been filtered and more carefully considered. For all I know, if I sat down to dine with Benjamin Franklin, much of the visit would be spent discussing the cooking skills of his staff or his having vomited on his most recent trans-Atlantic crossing. As a result, I'm changing the question. Below are five people I would like to interact with, but in different settings.

1) Adolf Hitler - for observational purposes. I want to sit quietly in the corner and study him as he paints or writes, prior to his move toward politics and the terrible performance art that is his legacy. I'm fascinated by people consumed by ambition, particularly those willing to do whatever it takes to achieve fame, even if it may be infamy. (I know some readers will suddenly think I'm a racist Nazi, but I assure you this is not the case. I may be guilty of a macabre and off-center sensibility, however.)
2) Vladmir Nabokov - to assist him in his butterfly studies, whether on the mountainsides of Europe or indoors with his cataloged collection.
3) Charles Darwin - to assist him in the Galapagos, sharing in his passion and excitement.
4) Either a male or female Homo erectus - just as they transition into Homo sapien, I want to observe them for several weeks; I assume this gives me a window of several hundred thousand years.
5) Edward Hoagland - dinner and a lengthy conversation would be fine.

4. If you had three wishes that were not supernatural, what would they be?

1) I'd like to say that I'm above wishing for riches, but if we're avoiding the supernatural here, I can't very well wish for multiple lives or "all the time in the world." So money will have to buy me time in which to focus on painting, traveling and writing. Also, if wealthy enough, I could pour a lot more money into social and environmental projects than I do now.
2) This will sound super-cheesy, but it is something I have actually wished for many, many times. I wish that all those people I care about and respect will have fruitful, productive lives which ultimately make them happy...the sort of happiness I imagine one feels as death approaches and you consider your accomplishments and choices.
3) Finally, and most importantly, I wish the species Homo sapien would learn how to live sustainably, focusing on the betterment of all species and our shared home.

5. Someone is visiting your hometown/place where you live at the moment. Name two things you regret your city not having, and two things people should avoid.

1) Public bicycles and plentiful bike racks, Netherlands style. Sadly, I fear we Americans would just steal all the bicycles.
2) Better recycling. As is, there is no way to confirm that what I put in the paper recycling bin gets recycled, either at work or at home. In fact, I often see the superintendent's crew throwing all the bags into one big pile on pick-up day and the university custodian dumping the contents of my paper bin into the bigger trashcans. This drives me crazy. I would prefer the city install special dumpsters for recyclables throughout each neigborhood, just as many rural communities do. That way, I can sort the glass, paper and metals myself, ensuring these items find their way to the appropriate place...even though I still can't be sure they will make it to the recycling plant.

1) Raccoons that amble through Central Park during daylight hours.
2) Mid-town Manhattan.

6. What was the last movie you saw?

"Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story." I had to cat sit for a friend when he left town for a wedding and, while playing with his cat, I noticed the DVD in his collection. In lieu of money, I accepted a borrowed DVD. Not surprisingly, it wasn't very good - I haven't enjoyed any of the recent comedies that Stiller, Wilson, Vaughn and company have produced or performed in, even though I enjoy all of their personalities in the abstract. There were some very funny moments, though, and the first fifteen minutes had me chuckling consistently.

7. Name one event that has changed your life.

There have been several events which left me notably changed in some way. Some of them I don't feel like discussing in this venue; they are better left for conversations with close friends and loved ones. Others I have touched on in previous posts, particularly those dealing with the emotional impact of killing. I'll only mention one event here, though, as it was very formative. In the interest of time, I've "cut and pasted" the text below from a comment I made over at The Vitriolic Monkey months ago.

For me, those lessons sank in when I was visiting Nicaragua, just after the Iran-Contra excitement. I was around twelve years of age, accompanying my father and a group of journalists up the San Juan river to Managua. The country was hoping to alleviate some of the financial and political fallout of the recent conflict by building an eco-tourism industry. Our trip upriver introduced this young American to many new things - though I had already spent some time in Central America, this was my first taste of real poverty and subsistence living - but my profound transformation occurred mid-way through the trip. On one of our side treks, we came out of a jungle path and approached an open, unplanted field. A farmer living near the field explained that it was a live minefield. One of our translators asked if we could send a cow ahead of our group. The farmer informed us that his cattle were too valuable, but that he would send one of his children. And so I found myself nervously walking through a minefield with a little Nicaraguan boy walking ahead of me. If he blew up, no big deal. If the little American blows up, big deal. Had I been less shy back then, I would have embraced him once we were safely through the field and back in the jungle. My embrace would not have been meant as a thank you, but as a horrified apology and repentance.

8. If you had to be one character from Bill and Ted's excellent adventure, who would you be and why?

This will upset some people I know - maybe even a lot of people I know - but I've only seen "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" once. I was twelve years old at the time. I used to go to a summer camp in Greenbrier, West Virginia and on rainy days they would show movies. I was annoyed that I couldn't practice archery that morning and devoted only half of my attention to the movie and the other half to the clouds, hoping for a break in the front. None came.

9. Tag 5 people.

Na gon' do-it. Despite my love of biological and cultural memes, I'm not sure the blogosphere/email variety counts. Here's what I'll do instead. If you want to grab this meme and run with it, please do. You can say you were voluntarily infected.