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The Lion’s Share

The Lion's Share

People around the world are revolted by the actions of Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer who while on a hunt in Zimbabwe, was involved in the killing of a lion. Not just any lion as it turned out, but Cecil, one of the most popular lions in the world and a tourist attraction for Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Cecil would have been safe had he remained on park grounds but he was allegedly lured out by Palmer’s guides, who tied an animal carcass to their jeep bringing the lion out onto the property of the ironically named Honest Ndlovu where Palmer shot the lion with a bow and arrow and 40 hours later finished off with a high powered rifle. Palmer then beheaded the lion and skinned him, taking them back to the United States as trophies.

Cecil, named after British businessman and imperialist Cecil Rhodes (for whom the British colony of Rhodesia, which later became Zimbabwe, was also named), was noted for his distinctive black-fringed mane. He often let tourists come within 10 meters of him to take photographs. Current estimates that the loss of the lion will cost Zimbabwe well over $10,000 a day in tourism revenue.

Cecil and another lion, Jericho, had GPS collars affixed to them by the Oxford University Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. It was they who were alerted that something was wrong when Cecil’s collar suddenly stopped sending signals on July 1. When the carcass was discovered, the GPS collar was missing and has as of this date not been found.

Comedian and late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel put my feelings succinctly when he said that he wasn’t against hunting; if you’re doing it to put food on the table, to thin out the herd when the population can’t be supported or for cultural reasons. However, to shoot an animal just to hang it’s head on your wall or drape it’s skin on your rug is abhorrent. Over the last couple of centuries we have hunted literally hundreds of species into extinction and many more to the brink, including the African lion of which less than 30,000 still roam in the wild.

Some might say and with some justification that nobody mourns for the animals that the lions kill, including Cecil, but Cecil nor any of the other lions killed anything for any other reason but to survive. They kill for food, or to defend their territory – that’s it. They don’t kill to display carcasses, or to compensate for small dicks. All of the people I’ve known who have gone hunting have gone hunting to get food – deer, elk, moose. Nobody I know hunt bears, or mountain lions, or anything else. They consume what they eat.

Killing for “sport” is wasteful and cruel. There’s other reason for it other than to satisfy some sort of egotistical urge. There have been far too many photos posted on Facebook pages of smug, happy white faces posing with the animals they have killed. Folks like Ted Nugent, who have come up in support of Palmer, have no conception of what they are inflicting on the environment. Perhaps in order to qualify for a hunting license, you should first be hunted – put in a forest without any weapons, and then allow the inhabitants to press a button which will napalm the whole mother flicking lot of them. It would be no great loss.

In any case, even Nugent would have to admit that Palmer’s guides used illegal methods to bag this lion. They have been arrested and charged in Zimbabwe already. Zimbabwe is already calling for Palmer’s extradition. Palmer himself has gone into hiding, having closed his dental practice and issuing statements of apology.

Sorry, no can do on accepting the apology, Walt. You need to be accountable for your actions. I think the only way he can redeem himself is to go to Zimbabwe and face the legal system there. Palmer claims that he wasn’t aware that anything illegal was going on; I find that hard to believe but he should be allowed to have his day in court and prove his innocence or have its lack thereof proven by the prosecution.

Of course, being a hunter used to taking down animals with weapons they don’t have any sort of defense against, the odds might not be to his liking. Maybe if we make sure that the prosecuting attorneys are either mute or only speak Aramaic and provide no interpreters than maybe the odds will be a little more like what he’s used to. Or do we have to nail them to their chairs as well?

In any case, even though the Internet has moved on to other things to get its panties in a bunch about, the Palmer-Cecil case remains disturbing on a lot of different levels. I’m not sure what sort of extradition treaty we have with Zimbabwe but I imagine that the United States government would be fairly reluctant to have a citizen, particularly a white professional citizen, delivered up to an African nation to face their justice system and, let’s face it here, the courts of Africa are not known for their fair and impartial proceedings. In fact, it might be more fair to say that the courts are Africa are more notorious for their corruption. Of course, American courts are far from perfect as well.

Besides that, the message that seems to be getting sent by those that agree with the Palmer supporters is that American hunters should be free to go to any sovereign nation anywhere in the world, hunt down their animals with impunity and by whatever means necessary without fear of consequences. That simply will not do. Did Palmer break any laws? I can’t say – I’m not an expert in international law or the laws of Zimbabwe specifically. He may well not have broken any laws over there, in which case he should be acquitted which I would expect to happen with the world watching. However, I do believe that there is an accountability issue here and many of those who are screaming that Palmer should be left alone are the ones who scream loudest about accountability when it comes to birth control and poverty. Dr. Palmer should go to Zimbabwe once more and be accountable for his actions, although I suspect he has no intention of doing so. I’m guessing his plan is to hide out in whatever rathole he is in and wait it out until the outcry dies down (it already has) and re-establish his practice once again, resuming his life where he left off. It’s a cowardly move if that is indeed his intention. Then again, it doesn’t surprise me; a man who would kill a living thing from a distance for no other reason than to hang its head on his wall as a trophy seems to have a deficiency of courage and morality.

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The Great Outdoors

Summer is the time we escape from our shelters and emerge, blinking heavily, into the sunlight. Off come the jackets and sweaters and on go the shorts and tank tops. The barbecue grills are pulled out from under their covers, and the tents are pulled from their storage places and dusted off for use.

We are meant to be outside. We have a connection to nature that goes back to our days dwelling in caves. We need to feel a part of the natural world as well as the manmade world. We tend to feel peace when in nature; it’s a place where we can cleanse our souls of the toxins of everyday life. It’s a place where we can feel wonder and awe.

We spend most of our lives hermetically sealed, locked in air conditioned offices, heated homes, cars that whiz by without seeing anything more than road signs. We literally don’t notice the trees sometimes, so intent are we on getting from one place to another. That’s the shame of it all; we lose our connection with that which centers us. It throws us off-balance and takes us out of our rhythms. We stop feeling our own essence in our mad quest to march to somebody else’s rhythm.

Unfortunately, we all can’t just hug trees and otherwise commune with nature all day – stuff needs to get done. That doesn’t mean we should ignore it altogether however. The need is deep within us, the need to feel a part of the natural world. Without that contact, we feel lost and alienated like a rudderless ship on the deep blue sea, relying on the tides to keep us in the right direction. Any sea captain will tell you that’s not a good position to be in.

We often bring the natural indoors in an attempt to make that natural world more accessible; indoor plants, flowers, pets – they are all part of our ongoing need to be part of nature. It helps, but a potted fern isn’t the same as being out in the sunshine among the trees and the grass. Parks help too but they are controlled usually and meant to be gathering spots for people more than places to connect with Mother Nature. No, we need wildernesses; places where the grass isn’t mown, the plants aren’t watered once a day and that aren’t neat and orderly. Nature is wild, and she calls to that part of our selves that is wild too.

That is why when the weather permits we flock to places where we can be part of the world. Beaches, forests, deserts, mountains, rivers, meadows – wherever we can find a place where the sun shines and there aren’t cars and buildings and people. We need that space from each other. Of course, sometimes I’ll see someone walking around a beautiful park with an iPhone glued to their ear, or texting and gaming while all around them is this awesome beauty. People like that are clueless; you wonder why they bother at all.

Of course, there are always those who don’t feel comfortable in nature; they are dedicated “city folk,” people who never venture into places that aren’t inhabited. There’s nothing wrong with that although personally I feel it must be really hard to maintain your center when you don’t know what your center is. I could be wrong about though.

As much as we need to be connected to each other, we need that connection to nature just as strongly. It is a part of our selves; it is a part of our soul. We are inextricably linked to the natural world as we are a part of it. We may have changed the world to suit our needs, but the world that we came from is still part of us. We ignore that part of us at our peril.

So put on your swimsuits and find a lake to plunge into. Put on your walking shoes and find a nature trail. Dust off that pup tent and head out into the wilderness. It’s summer time. Take advantage of it.

Fixing a Hole

For weeks now the news has been dominated by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The ramifications for life on the Gulf Coast – and beyond – are simply staggering. We’re looking at massive amounts of fragile wetlands contaminated beyond repair. We’re looking at massive die-offs of marine species, some perhaps to the point of extinction. We’re looking at the fishing and tourism industries, already hard hit by the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, tanking once again, putting thousands and maybe tens of thousands of people out of work.

And yet the consequences could be even farther reaching than we can imagine. Once the toxic crude oil gets into the water and food supply, what will the long-term effects be in the Southeastern United States? How far will the oil spill actually flow? Some say it will remain localized in the gulf, but there are models that have the oil encircling the Florida peninsula and heading north to the Carolinas and Maryland, while heading west into Mexico and even Northeast to the UK. Something tells me that the best case scenario, which seems to have not occurred at any time during this disaster, is probably the least likely to occur now.

There needs to be accountability and so far British Petroleum seems to only be accepting it on the surface. Let’s recap their role in this; on the day of the explosion, a corporate representative of BP ordered that the heavy mud holding the pressure down on the drill, be displaced with seawater in order to speed up the drilling process, which was behind schedule. This was done despite the objections of the rig’s toolpusher (effectively the operations manager of the rig) who felt it was too dangerous. This caused an eruption of mud, seawater and methane gas. When the gas ignited, the rig was bathed in a firestorm.

The safety measure, a blowout preventer was then employed but it failed. The backup that was supposed to have been on the rig had not been installed as a cost-cutting measure. The costs that ultimately got cut were the lives of the men on that rig – eleven workers on the Deepwater Horizon died in the explosion and its aftermath. Workers were unable to stop the oil from flowing from the pipe, and so when the rig capsized and sank, the oil continued to flow from the ruptured pipe.

Since then, BP has consistently shown an unwillingness to come clean (no pun intended) about the extent of the spill, their ability to cap it or mitigate it or their ability to clean up the mess. The extent of BP’s lack of integrity, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was so severe that President Obama has now ordered the attorney general to investigate the entire affair.

The longer this goes on, the worse it looks for BP. Half of the company’s value has evaporated on the market, and the cleanup costs escalate with each passing day. Certainly the company will pay fines in the billions; the lawsuits that come from this will in all likelihood total billions more. In recent days, the New York Times uncovered evidence that the Mineral Management Service – the federal agency regulating oil drilling – allowed oil companies to fill out their own inspection reports rather than conduct their own inspections, while officials of the MMS were given tickets to football games and taken on hunting trips by oil and gas companies. It’s not surprising, but during the Bush Administration the MMS was stacked with officials sympathetic to the oil industry. In the wake of these allegations, the Obama administration is quietly overhauling the MMS.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Some are criticizing the government for not reacting quickly enough, nor sending enough help to embattled officials in towns on the Gulf Coast who are gearing up for a major ecological and economic disaster. Some are looking askance at Haliburton, whose blowout preventer failed. Some say that the Coast Guard is relying far too much on BP to lead the cleanup and well capping efforts. Of course, most people are looking squarely at BP.

Much of the responsibility indeed lies with BP and much of the accountability should rest with them. What form that accountability takes remains to be seen. Certainly there will be a financial component, as I alluded to earlier. The question is, should there be a criminal component? Given some of the facts that are coming to light, that’s not out of the question. The attorney general’s task force, led in part by former Florida governor (and Senator) Bob Graham and EPA administrator William K. Reilly, will have to make that determination.

Given BP’s overstatement of the safety of their drilling operation, as well as their ability to clean up after it, I’m kind of hoping to see some of their executives receive jail sentences and not minimum security country club jail terms – I’m talking about deep-in-the-South hard time amongst murderers, thieves and rapists. They should feel right at home.

Big business needs a wake-up call that putting profits ahead of people is not acceptable and I don’t think that message is going to be received until we start seeing executives in the Big House, paying for their crimes. I agree with Rep. Pelosi that the cap on liability should be lifted on this occasion. BP needs to pay not only the cost of the clean-up but also compensate those whose livelihoods have been wiped out and should the cost of doing that cause British Petroleum to sink, well so be it. I understand that BP employees tens of thousands of people, and that these people’s livelihood would be just as effected as the shrimp fishermen in Louisiana but the difference is that the shrimp fishermen didn’t explode a ultra deep sea rig in BP headquarters.

We must also shoulder a portion of the blame for our own dependence on petroleum. It is past time to seek out safer, greener fuel sources. It is time to reduce our dependency on oil and plastic. It is going to take time for us to do this – it has taken more than a century to get to where we are – but it is something all of us are going to need to do.

What can we do now to reduce our dependence on oil? Drive less. Use public transit when possible, walk or bicycles when possible and when affordable, drive fuel-efficient or hybrid vehicles. Recycle everything, from paper to plastic to glass to aluminum. Use paper instead of plastic at the grocery store. When buying things, buy them in containers that are eco-friendly, rather than plastic.

It is up to us to demand better. We can’t expect that big corporations are going to look out for the best interests of the people and this planet – they have already demonstrated without a doubt that they could care less about our future. They are only interested in one thing – profit – and until we start hitting them where they understand the pain they won’t change. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us as responsible consumers to change first.

We also need to start using our voices. Write your elected official and let them know you’d like to see them vote for regulations restricting deep water drilling and demanding stricter safety precautions on the drilling that is going on. Ask them to vote for tax cuts for alternative energy use, as well as for incentives for developing the same. Support politicians who show a willingness to vote on green legislation; deny that support for politicians who would rather vote on the interests of big business. Whatever happens, don’t just sit on your ass and moan about how big the problems are and how you can do nothing about them. Get out of your comfortable rut – after all, if you aren’t part of the solution then you’re part of the problem and we’ve all been part of the problem for too damn long.

We Are the Green Team

It has been said by those far wiser than I that we do not own this earth; we are merely passing through. I would go a little bit farther than that; not only are we just passing through but we have been given a responsibility. We are more than just guests; we are caretakers.

As a species, we have not been very good custodians so far. In our lust for profits, we have despoiled the natural resources of our planet to the point where we are close to depleting her in some places. We have watched over the destruction of habitats leading to the annihilation of entire species. We could create mountain ranges out of our refuse and waste.

I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the green movement; the need to be completely vegan, and carbon footprint-free seems a little presumptuous to say the least. That doesn’t mean, however that there isn’t something to their ideas. We do need to live more harmoniously with our environment, and we do need to find ways to be less destructive. Living carbon footprint-free is unlikely – all things leave one. And while I applaud the commitment of vegans to their principles, most of us are carnivores at heart and certainly in my case, protein is a necessary part of the diet.

Global warming is certainly a concern, but I don’t think we have caused it as much as accelerated it. Our planet has been through extreme climactic shifts in its past, we know that as fact. To think that we’re responsible for those shifts is ludicrous; that doesn’t mean we haven’t helped it along with our gas emissions and the damage we’ve done to the ozone layer. However, I do believe that global warming is an inevitable occurrence and that thinking we can stop it from happening is simply wishful thinking. Climactic changes are always going to happen; we need to adjust, and we will. However, before you think I’m going all Republican on you, I also agree with Al Gore and the tens of thousands of scientists who believe it is in our species’ best interests to reduce carbon emissions and other greenhouse gasses that may someday render our environment toxic.

What does that have to do with me, you may wonder. While you can’t reverse the effects of pollution, you can take steps in your own home to make a difference. Recycle, for one thing. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to drop newspaper and plastic and glass containers into bins for recycling; most cities have some sort of recycling programs that you can take part in. The more we recycle the less need we have to cut down trees or manufacture new containers. This helps cut down on pollution and increase oxygen in our atmosphere.

Exercise more. Why does that help the environment? Walking and bicycling places reduces the needs for cars. Use mass transit whenever you can. While I agree most mass transit is impractical and inconvenient, not all of it is. When you are able to take a bus or a train, do so. It saves gasoline and pollution.

Use less electricity. Turn off items like computers, lights and appliances when they aren’t in use. Use energy-efficient appliances whenever possible (look for the EnergyStar symbol if you aren’t sure if your appliance is energy-efficient). Turn your thermostat a degree or two higher in summer and cooler in winter to use less air conditioning and/or heating. If you live in an environment where it is practical, use solar or wind turbine power at home.

Be aware of your waste. Use some of your garbage as compost; it helps your plants grow better and takes up less room at the landfills. Dispose of toxic items like motor oil and laptop batteries properly. Use pesticides sparingly and as directed if you must use them.

Eat organic. It is a little more expensive, sure, but it is also much tastier and much better for you. One of the major environmental abusers is agri-business; we need to turn our backs on factory farming, preservatives, dyes and efforts to squeeze money out of the food chain and turn towards small farms, natural means of farming and organic fruits, vegetables and meats that don’t harm the environment as much.

Be an activist. This is your home, and you deserve to live in a nice one. Write your representative and demand that bills like H.RES.29 are enacted quickly and that attention is given to legislation that requires that alternate energy source research be a greater priority, that EPA emission standards be made more stringent, that fuel efficiency on automobiles be increased more quickly, and on a local level, green building standards be made standard, that public buildings use fluorescent light bulbs to save energy, and that bicycle parking and bike lanes be increased to encourage bicycle commuting.

Be informed. Discover websites like wecansolveit.org, which has much more information on what can be done at home and locally to reduce our environmental impact, and pass that knowledge along to your friends. Encourage your children to learn about living green, and encourage your friends to join you.

We have a responsibility to those who reside here after we’re gone to leave this planet in a livable state. Our ancestors have left us an environmental mess and while we can grouse and complain about it, it is in our best interests and the best interests of our descendents to do something about it now. While I believe that certain climactic changes are inevitable and cyclical, that doesn’t mean that we can’t clean our own house.