Beware of Bambi

The anti-vaxxers of 2021 aren’t the first ones to spread misinformation to undermine public health. Vaccine hesitancy has existed in some form or another for nearly 200 years writes Tara Haelle, science journalist writing in “The New York Times” (Sept 2, 2021). Just twenty years ago anti-vaxxers contributed to stopping the use of a FDA-approved vaccine used to prevent Lyme disease, a crippling tick-borne disease. The three dose regimen called LYMErix was bashed by anti-vaxxers who stoked public fears including the untruth that it caused arthritis. The lies were responsible for poor sales which led its pharmaceutical manufacturer Smith Kline Beecham to take it off the market so writes Sue Halpern (no relation) staff writer at “The New Yorker” (August 19, 2021).

Lyme is a crippling, painful disease borne from borrelia spirochete, a bacteria carried most frequently by deer. Ticks are the size of a poppy seed yet can unleash great havoc on the human body. The symptoms: joint pain, fever, body aches, chills, heart palpitations, myocarditis and brain fog are many of the same symptoms which are common to those suffering from Covid-19. I find it amazing at how such a tiny, tiny being can cause such debilitating pain and suffering, let alone death, when untreated.

I admit it: I’m dreadfully afraid of contracting Lyme disease because of its devastation to the human body. Recently while vacationing in rural central Virginia I came prepared to prevent those little ticks from feasting on me. I wore my ex Offico pants treated with permethrin. I tucked the pants into my socks so no skin was exposed and made a conscious point to walk in the middle of the trail and not brush up against any grass or greenery. When I finished my hike and was back safely inside, I checked my body for ticks with a magnifying glass and had someone else check my back as well before taking a hot shower. Ticks don’t like hot water. I follow this protocol whether out walking for an hour on a trail or taking a short 100 yard stroll. A good friend younger than I can hardly walk up a flight of stairs today as he failed to take precautions when out mountain biking in Massachusetts; he was diagnosed with Lyme six months after the tick bite. The damage had already been done. I shudder to think what living with Lyme might be like for me.

Due to climate change the heat, hot and humidity which occasionally defines New England weather conditions has increased in number of days making New England even more attractive for ticks to thrive. Mosquitoes too like hot and humid weather. Deers may be beautiful graceful creatures but Bambi’s an innocent perpetrator weaponized to inflict great pain and suffering. Tick-borne diseases alone are bad enough but climate change also brings other debilitating diseases like Dengue fever to New England. (Dengue fever virus is in the same genus as West Nile virus, Zika virus and tick-borne encephalitis to name a few). Humans are the primary host for Aedes mosquitoes that bite and spread infection.

“As long as you live, keep learning how to live” says Seneca, a Roman philosopher born in 4 BC. Climate change is upon us and with it horrendous hurricanes, wildfires and drought and other threats to our health and well-being. Ticks are like terrorists. They’re out there and they cause harm and even death, but there are proven and effective treatments available to ward them off. No need to be paralyzed by their threat. But be informed of one’s surroundings.

Life is different today. There are new threats to contend with: terrorists, infectious diseases, hackers and scammers too, the blazing sun, drunk drivers, gun-toting vigilantes, lying politicians and salesmen, and misinformation spread by misguided bad actors.

Staying safe and living a meaningful and purposeful “good life” is not a binary choice between “freedom” and the wisdom borne out of science. That choice is just how anti-vaxxers circa 2021 have learned to frame the vaccines produced for Covid-19. They make it out to not be a health issue at all. It is a tragedy since death is largely preventable by simply following social distancing, wearing masks and receiving a vaccine, and being knowledgeable about how to navigate digital information. It’s a small adjustment to be made to preserve your life and your life with loved ones. I liken it to wearing a seat belt while driving, not drinking and driving, or wearing a helmet on a motorcycle or closing a match book while lighting a match. Pretty simple. It saves lives. It could be your own or your child’s.

The Original Social Distancing

Only after I bought my regular Old Spice stick deodorant did I read the copy on the back, above the list of chemical ingredients: CONTAINS ODOR-FIGHTING “ATOMIC ROBOTS” THAT “SHOOT LASERS” AT YOUR “STENCH MONSTERS” AND REPLACES THEM WITH FRESH, CLEAN, MASCULINE “SCENT ELVES”

Huh? Did Marjorie Taylor Greene or a Q Anon follower become copywriters for Weiden+Kennedy while I was cycling ? Weiden+Kennedy is the ad agency of record for Old Spice and is most famous for their excellence on the Nike account. They know how to separate money from consumers and build market share for their clients. But is this copy actually humor intended for Old Spice’s target audience, or an example of how influential unhinged, wacko, far right language has become mainstream and taken over American culture? I don’t know the answer. Maybe you can weigh in on it.

Atomic robots shooting lasers definitely grabbed my attention. I wanted to know more about how this messaging came to be so I wrote an email inquiry to the agency, but I haven’t heard back yet. Perhaps after a sprint in their Nikees they’re busy fighting off the atomic robots themselves.

Another two possible explanations for the Marjorie Taylor Greene-like copy was to take my mind off of the suspicious-sounding chemicals I had agreed to apply to my underarms by virtue of my purchase. For the first time in a long time I read the ingredient list and didn’t take much comfort in learning it consisted of chemicals I can hardly pronounce nor comprehend: Dipropylene Glycol, Propylene Glycol, sodium stearate, poloxamine 1307, fragrance, PPG-3 myristyl ether, Tetrasodium EDTA, Violet 2 and Green 6. Should I be worried about these ingredients moreso than the atomic robots?

I didn’t know what to do so I went back to the anti-perspirant aisle at the store and looked closer at the other brands and their ingredients: Arm & Hammer, Ban, Tom’s of Maine, Schmidt’s. I discovered no other brand had atomic robots or stench monsters, but Arm & Hammer did include Dipropylene Glycol. The Arm & Hammer brand has always struck me as an upstanding no nonsense brand, the type of product that “Consumer Reports” would approve. I felt a little better.

The truth is when it comes to deodorants there actually are conversations and controversies about ingredients as there are in many cosmetics, sunscreens and shampoos. There are honest discussions about whether plant and mineral-based odor fighting ingredients are superior to all other ingredients. There are claims that some chemicals in deodorants cause cancer or cell mutations. Others insist aluminum can be absorbed into the skin and increase one’s risk for breast cancer. (There are no credible findings that support these positions I read). But even these kind of controversies are still a far cry from “odor-fighting atomic robots” and “stench monsters”. I got to thinking …

When I was in high school in the 1960s, sweating (without protection from a deodorant) led to “body odor” or B.O. If you had it, 10 foot social distancing was the norm and more importantly, it would undoubtably ruin your chances of finding true love or getting your dream date for the prom. Now it’s 2021 and Old Spice has upped its game as the humiliation and scandal from B.O. is apparently no longer effective to selling deodorants. Advertising copy was more unadorned when I was a kid: “Old Spice brings superior protection power to an even higher level with a new formula for generating greatness … it delivers 48 hours of protection”.

Reflecting on all of this messaging brought me to this conclusion: words still carry a lot of weight in this video-obsessed world. They have power in the marketplace whether one is selling deodorants, political candidates or causes. I believe consumers need to be vigilant, educated and skeptical of what they read and hear because in today’s “attention economy” sensational attention-grabbing headlines are often created to simply “cut through the clutter”. While I thought the attention economy only applied to social media and online marketing, it apparently plays out in consumer packaging, political stump speeches and social causes too.

Remember “We’re going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it” ? If it sounds like something coming from the mind (or mouth) of MGT or someone else extraordinarily wacko, it probably is said to grab your attention through the latest media cycle. Don’t react! Check your sources, trust in those that provide news based on verifiable facts because there’s a sucker born every minute. Don’t be the next one.

Prout’s Neck

Maine is my new favorite place to be. Previously it was magical Martha’s Vineyard having spent four summers there during my college years following Sweet Baby James, working at the 20-bed Martha’s Vineyard Hospital pharmacy, celebrating birthdays at the Black Dog Tavern when it first opened up in Vineyard Haven. I remember swimming buck naked at Moonstone Beach near John Belushi’s house up island near Menemsha, smacking my lips eating the best key lime pie ever and romancing my first love.

In recent years, while many friends swarm in on the Cape during the summer months, we made Narragansett, RI our regular go to place only an hour away. Walking the town beach is the main draw for us, not baking in the sun. We enjoy the troubadours set up on the sidewalk by the beach after dinner or lunch after Crazy Burger.

Actually any time at the beach on the coast (any coast!) conjures up spirited memories of times past. Living on the water seems to be everybody’s dream unless doing so results in calamitous beach erosion, corrosive salt water causing debilitating rust to anything with a motor, flash floods, mudslides, hurricanes or torrential rainstorms washing away one’s safety, security and dreams. Water untamed can destroy, we know this for sure, even moreso as the planet warms up and disastrous weather events occur with more frequency and more destruction. Churning ocean water can destroy as well as be the subject for an oil painting.

Earlier this month we trekked up past Portland, visiting two sets of cousins and discovered new experiences of bountiful uniquely beautiful Maine. We enjoyed the good life on a sparkling 26 foot Mercury Marine boat tooling around Casco Bay with a crisp blue sky overhead saying good riddance to the grey clouds and dreary skies of Massachusetts from whence we came. If not for the soupy fog bank we wouldn’t have had to abort our trip to Eagles Island, off the coast of Harpswell, and the summer home of Admiral Robert E. Peary (1856-1920). He’s the same Peary known for scaling the Arctic and North Pole. He was the first of several venerable unsung Mainers we were to learn about that weekend.

Shortly afterwards, off the boat we walked over to the surprisingly rich Portland Museum of Art (PMA) at Seven Congress Square. We viewed other famous Mainers including the painter Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth (who had a summer house in Cushing, Maine) and his father N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations and paintings. Not all art on display was of Mainers’ creation, as the PMA displayed several world famous originals by Renoir, Monet, Gauguin, Picasso and others.

Winslow Homer, considered one of Maine’s treasures was actually born in Massachusetts. But our hosts drove us out to Prout’s Neck in Scarborough where Homer had a studio and eventually built a house. It’s a most private community with famous families that summered there for generations including members of the Rockefeller family and those of the Carnegies.

“Weatherbeaten”, a Winslow Homer painting proudly on display at the PMA looks like it was drawn from Prout’s Neck’s view of the sea with strong cresting foamy waves crashing against the large dark squared rocks. You could smell the briny and crisp ocean spray mixed with crinkly sea foam, feel the jarring yet rhythmic ebb and flow of the waves below. Multiple senses at play simultaneously: sound, sight, touch. It was this sensation that resonated, carrying me away to the other moments of ocean scenes from my past: waves crashing at South Beach in Katama after a storm, the Big Island in Hawaii, walking on Little Sands Beach in York, Maine, Duck Island in the Northern Outer Banks of North Carolina.

I guess the coastline of Maine provided a solace and relaxation with family that I sorely needed after the ravages of the past year and a half. It’s a place I’d like to return to again and again in person, to hang out in, to reclaim some of what’s lost by only banging away on my iPad. Maine 2021 had a feel to it that made me reminisce of the summers of my past, knowing full well that the summers of my youth are unlikely to occur again in the midst of climate change as the world is different and will become even more different as global warming continues unabated.

Getting away with murder

The world news was followed daily by everyone in our family. An occasional letter to the editor or letter to a State Senator was written in response. The newspaper was the media of choice moreso than TV. News of all kinds was followed: world news, Federal and State politics, along with business, medical/health, global trade, Israel, sports, the plight of the needy and poor, along with editorials, opinions and investigations too.

Over time it was the story behind the news story, the one that explains how the report all came together that really interested me. Hearing from investigative journalists who give voice to the voiceless and expose those in power making them accountable are some of the most compelling stories. I like learning how professionals plan and plot a strategy to dig up and expose the truth, and encourage readers to pay attention to the meanings of the story. It’s fast and furious yet painstaking and laborious. Good quality, fact-checked investigative reporting reveals how humans continue to act poorly with each other and with wildlife with which we share the earth. We continue to ravage earth’s beauty and bounty without consideration or mindfulness about what’s at stake.

This past month I watched a couple of presentations online: one in particular exposed the dangers of the wildlife trafficking industry. Yes, it’s an industry claiming over $10 billion in trafficking parts of animals: ivory, rhino horns and tiger bones in particular are in great demand as status symbols and alleged medicinal cures. The Chinese are considered big players in this phenomenon but they’re not alone with other southeast Asian countries and to a lesser degree America too.

Of the three investigative journalists profiled in the report produced by the Global Investigative Journalism Network ( the work of Jhesset Enaro of the Philippines Daily Inquirer, a daily English-language newspaper, spoke of the dangers inherent in exposing the poachers of endangered species in the Philippines. She spoke of the difficulties in building trust amongst the people who are witness to the atrocities and have threats made against them. Apparently Philippines is a known endangered species wildlife trafficking haven as it is both the source of and destination for endangered trafficked wildlife parts. But there is no agency within the Philippine government that tracks organized wildlife crime! Apparently there are too many people profiting from it for the government to get involved; what else could be the reason?

Because of journalists like Ms. Enaro and a number of non profit enterprises and news media monitors bring attention to the far-reaching problem. Ms. Enaro explained how the bad actors in wildlife crime tend to be the same criminals who are drug smugglers, money launderers and illegal arms traders. It matters to expose this reality and bring the poachers, smugglers and their salespeople all to justice because they’re raping the land, killing helpless endangered species and funding rebellious and illegal armed groups who in turn rape, kill, torture law-abiding people all over the world. These are not good people and they getting away with murder.

The endangered species are not the only ones endangered. Investigative reporters and photographers alike are threatened by their subjects and governments officials so reports others in the GIJN program. Rachel Bale, executive editor of National Geographic explained how to discover good stories and Foeke Postma of BellingCat, an independent international collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists using open source and social media investigation spoke of his work. BellingCat reports on subjects like Mexican drug lords and crimes against humanity along with conflicts worldwide. Mr. Postma explained how he used Instagram and other free social media accounts to investigate and expose the truth about the wildlife trafficking problem. This was pretty illuminating work that teaches others how to use social media to embark on investigative reporting on one’s own.

Of course investigative reporters like these three are a different breed than you or me. And they’re not the only ones who put their lives at risk to create a headline story, for journalists in mainstream media outlets are dispatched to war zones and trouble spots all over the world. Writers too like Ernest Hemingway are drawn to difficult locations to snag the inside story only possible by taking up residence in a war zone.

By listening and watching well-produced programs like those from GIJN I can continue to learn and grow. And by hearing from investigative journalists in the field, I can learn tips and new ways to handle old situations in my own research work. As a researcher I know everything is not found online and to get the story sometimes one has to get into the field, talk with people face to face.

It’s not all about raising awareness of course as there are organizations like the “Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime” that includes best practices to follow and experts to consult in order to expose and fight back against organized crime.

Overall, I like research and reporting but you won’t find me risking my life or limb for the sake of a story. But I really appreciate learning the means that investigative journalists like Jhesset Enaro and Foeke Postma go through to uncover the story behind the story connecting it to other broader and penetrating issues not evident at first. They’re providing a service that we can support and spread the word about.

Happiness, where are you?

“Happiness, where are you? Come out, come out, where ever you are!”

Though retired I’m still ambitious. I strive to accomplish a lot of things each and every day but find true, long lasting happiness eludes me. While happiness seems to be on everybody’s wish list, I wonder if it’s been made up by greeting card companies, politicians, consultants and marketers.

To believe happiness is something enjoyed on a regular basis seems ludicrous or wishful thinking, or just a cruel joke. That’s not to say that I’m morose, nor misanthropic. To the contrary, despite numerous obstacles and challenges (or perhaps because of them) I feel I’m the road to fulfill my rightful place in this world. I find that satisfactory.

But it takes me a lot of discipline, time and hard work to stay on track. Fortunately, many of the “toys” that society glorifies as tickets to happiness don’t do it for me nor have they really ever been of interest. The fancy big car. The latest big ticket consumer electronics technology. A hot new game. I don’t have it and don’t miss it. In fact I usually run the other way when they are first announced. Instead, I gravitate to new knowledge and new thinking having to do with well-being and faith. That way I can continue evolving and developing my being, beliefs and behavior.

I’ve been motivated to find “meaning” and “some comfort” in life. It has to do with some of my mother’s tough luck life I’m sure. So I sought out ambitious tech startups always in motion, always changing, with freewheeling cultures and with no processes in place. When I was working I also sought some financial success and I found that high tech startups paid better than traditional marketing positions. I worked to accumulate enough money and we generally lived below our means: just in case an unfortunate, unplanned emergency might be thrown our way.

But even those frantic activities in the startup work life has its limits where everything seemed so urgent and had to be immediately addressed. I had to be in three places at the same time. It seemed exhilarating …. but to what end?

Change occurs constantly and nothing is permanent say the Buddhists. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche writes in “The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness”:

“If you truly want to discover a lasting sense of peace and contentment, you need to learn to rest your mind. Only by resting the mind can it’s innate qualities be revealed”.

In Judaism, sitting with oneself enables inner healing (and awareness) and affirming one’s fundamental goodness says Rabbi Alan Lew in “This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation”.

As a young boy I gravitated to making art as a solitary activity and means of self-expression. Doing this was an escape from the competitiveness, criticism, teasing and demands faced at home and at school. I didn’t know what I know now that artwork was healing. At the time it just felt like a good, secure place for me to spend time.

Art allowed me to make a mark without comparison to anyone else. Art of my own choosing, my own creation, was something I could believe in and be proud of. And as it turns out I was pretty good at it.

As much as I enjoy completing artwork, it’s still challenging to break away to do the hard work of art be it hand lettering and calligraphy, or illustration/pen and ink drawings. I don’t do stone sculpture any more. I know the hard part – transferring the vision in the mind’s eye to the blank piece of paper or the block of stone – without making mistakes like an errant irreversible mark. Swiss sculptor Antonio Giacometti wrote about this sometimes paralyzing phenomenon during his career in the 1900s. So like Giacometti, I procrastinate and lie to myself until I feel “in the mood” before getting down to business and doing my art. Like the Nike advertisement: I wish I could “just do it”.

My wife has a simple unadorned printed 3”x5” card on her desk that says: “don’t be swayed by external circumstances”. I try to keep this foremost in my mind. The key to finding happiness in life is within if you make the time and have the courage to face it. A sense of happiness may be attained by cultivating self-awareness and resolve, being comfortable in one’s skin, maintaining a positive outlook in response to adversity. Others find a sense of happiness by providing compassionate care to others. Finding happiness is not simple; it’s complicated like so many things. At this age I’m learning the art of living and with it comes some happiness.

Not intelligent right now

Oh somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;

the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout:

but there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

The last stanza of the famous “Casey at the Bat” poem is fitting for me right now, as an embodiment of how I feel about America and Americans. Maybe somewhere there is levity, but for me, recent events and trends in our country have sent me into a funk.

The defeat of a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection is just another nail in the coffin of our democracy. Yurtle the Turtle disses the need for an investigation as he claims “no new facts will be uncovered”, though at the time, he was scared shitless like the other senators scurrying for safety when the insurrection occurred. Then he forget that he sold his soul to the devil and returned to being the spineless creature that he is.

I’m sick of the lies, the heated exchange of anti-vaxxers and unhinged Q Anon followers. I’m sick of the steady stream of state legislatures undermining our democracy by restricting the right to vote. Something is very, very wrong, and my being disheartened is a natural reaction. But that’s not all.

I’m sick of seeing empty plastic bottles and plastic straws, soda and beer cans and empty nips on the side of the road, accumulating again just weeks after being cleaned up into garbage bags on Earth Day. It’s been over fifty years people since the first Earth Day! Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand it’s not acceptable to trash the Earth? Don’t you understand it’s not acceptable to trash the Earth? Some days I feel like I’m becoming a curmudgeon like “60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney (on his bad days).

I’m sick and tired and saddened to learn that another dozen mass shootings occurred in just the last weekend, and innocent little children were killed again and again and again …. by the senseless shooting.

I’m sick of hearing how Americans couldn’t care less; as long as they have theirs, who cares. Most people only think of themselves. America was built as a racist country and many people don’t believe Black Lives Matter. I suggest you watch Spike Lee’s “13TH” and then you’ll learn of how the white man has enslaved and denied blacks their rightful place in society for decades and decades before – and after – the Civil War. I’m sick of the fact that Americans are killing themselves with food and drink and other substances. Four out of 10 Americans have diabetes or are obese and food companies hire chemists to create foods that addict people.

I’m tired of America. And Americans. I want to get away from the news that describes and defines our lives. I’m sickened by the fact that the freedoms we supposedly hold true are being trashed as well. I’m sick of the predictions of “experts” and the opinions of editorial boards. I’m sick of tweets and the twits who write them.

Speaking of tweets, when I want to get away from it all, I turn to nature and go cycling alone or with friends. My thirty five year old 10 speed Bridgestone bike works just fine. I cycle away for an hour or two, look at the sparkling greenery, stone walls and blue sky and turn my attention and to listen to the birds.

So many different kinds of birds merrily fly around the bike path. According to scientists birds are considered intelligent beings, rivaling some primates and humans too. Whomever came up with the idea of calling people “bird brains” if not terribly bright didn’t know what he/she was talking about. (One shouldn’t be surprised, really). Crows, ravens and parrots are considered the most intelligent birds. Crows can recognize human faces and “convey to other birds whether a person is dangerous”. Parrots can imitate sounds, repeat words and make sentences; they have demonstrated talents that require innate intelligence and aptitude.

According to David Allen Sisley, author of “What It’s Like to be a Bird” and Jennifer Ackerman’s “The Genius of Birds”, birds are pretty autonomous, socially astute intelligent creatures. Birds bob their heads when they walk to stabilize their vision; others can sense magnetic fields to aid long distance navigation. Some birds dance. Others sing and talk amongst themselves. (I wonder if they can sense that we humans are not particularly smart). Others can mimic (human) baby sounds and others make sounds to help attract a mate. Some birds have demonstrated the ability to solve three dimensional puzzles! Plenty of YouTube videos show how some birds like those known as keas play and act as jokesters.

Spending time in nature and getting more familiar with birds I now understand how and why some people make it their life’s business to study animal behavior and animal science. Not only is spending time with birds and nature a nice respite away from the insanity and cruelty of humans hurting and maiming and killing each other, but learning about natural history and the biodiversity all around us makes for a satisfying pursuit. It makes me wonder what it means to be intelligent because right now humans don’t seem to be terribly intelligent.

Saving ourselves from ourselves

When born in 1952, how was I to know that in a country I never heard of thousands of miles away there was a vicious war going on? The tanks and soldiers I played with were just make-believe. For me, reality was my play world, not the world blowing itself up outside of it. I was born in the midst of the “boom years” in America where peace and prosperity was all around us after World War II, “the war to end all wars” was over. So they said.

That country was Korea, and that war was the Korean War which started in June 1950 when North Korea (aided by China and the Soviet Union) invaded South Korea (aided by the United States) killing and wounding millions. It concluded three years later on July 27, 1953. Elsewhere, fallout shelters were first constructed as early as 1952 (though more common a decade later). This was an enclosed space typically below ground and specially designed to protect citizens from radioactive debris or fallout from a nuclear explosion. Nuclear war was possible even back then. Also in 1952, polio was raging, peaking at 58,000 cases; the Salk vaccine would not be available until 1954. In other news the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) started up committing nefarious covert operations in hot spots in Europe. Most of these operations were not well conceived resulting in many unnecessary and tragic deaths according to Scott Anderson in his new book “http://publishers The Quiet Americans”. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and United States was upon us.

Today, nearly seventy years later a divided nation is at war with itself economically, racially and environmentally. Even with effective vaccinations on hand many people aren’t getting vaccinated to the detriment of all. If people won’t get vaccinated in the present times to help themselves, how will they make adjustments in their behavior, in their actions to prevent permanent alteration of the climate and the world as we know it?

Unlike 1952 we have a climate emergency upon us. It’s the news that no one wants to hear. After the pandemic, I hear that we just want to live, get back to normal. So they say.

Worldwide we’re learning that carbon dioxide isn’t just approaching dangerous levels; it is already here. Unless immediate actions are taken – including shutting down coal plants as coal is the dirtiest of energy sources – the planet will be committed to change on a scale society WON’T BE ABLE TO COPE WITH (caps mine) so says James Hansen, NASA’s climate expert.

Can we save ourselves from ourselves? From our own self-interests, from greed, ignorance, vanity and denial? The health, safety and well-being of our communities hang in the balance.

More specifically, can Americans do what’s acknowledged to require dramatic changes in our society and rally the rest of the world to do its part as well?

To collaborate on climate issues with our enemies China and Russia ?

Can we act out of concern for the unborn and the disadvantaged?

To act based on empathy and concern for the welfare of other peoples who don’t look like us, dress like us, speak like us, work like us …. but are citizens of the world too?

Have domestic and global affairs ever been this bad?

We know some of the things needed to do: decarbonize, expand public transportation, accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, improve building energy efficiency, reduce manufacturing emissions. But some politicians only want to avoid or ignore policy issues, undermine our democracy, live in an alternate reality and dismiss the facts of science, of life itself staring us in our face!

As bad as things were nearly seventy years ago, today I believe with the climate emergency upon us, life is more perilous; this time the state of affairs is much worse.

The Paris Agreement called for “holding” warming below two degrees, while “pursuing efforts” to limit it to 1.5 degrees. At the current rate of emissions we have until 2030 to hit the goal, yet some believe catastrophic irreversible climate changes may occur as early as 2024. An Australian study predicts we’ll hit 1.5 in the early 2030s.

While there’s a constant stream of promising intentions, investments, green funds and technologies, there’s no “global war” on the climate emergency underway. China claims it intends to collaborate with the US but still has hundreds of coal plants in operation! Putin is testing US and European nerves while the Siberian permafrost is thawing ready to spew twice the amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. Meanwhile the the Arctic ice shield which is the centerpiece of our planetary cooling system is “wobbly” says Bill McKibben writing in the April 21 issue of the New Yorker. That’s what caused deep freezes in Texas last February, and is effecting wildfires in California.

There are well-funded industries that don’t want to change, and they don’t want to safeguard people’s health. Natural gas-powered plants cause asthma, cancers, respiratory problems and early death to those living near them.

Consider the Peabody Peaker Plant coming to Peabody, MA. (A peaker plant is only run on occasion when demand peaks and extra electricity needs to be supplied). The Peabody Peaker will be 68 MW of gas and oil and is slated to be constructed this year within 1/2 mile of two schools, near two environmental justice communities. It features a new 200,000 gallon oil tank, 90 foot smokestack and a minimum 2500 gallon tank to hold aqueous urea or hazardous gas, aqueous ammonia. (It can leak in an accident.) It will be situated within feet of the Waters River, and will send climate warming emissions of 51,000 tons of CO2/year. The plant will cost $170,000,000 and paid by Massachusetts tax payers over 30 years. The plant will be obsolete before then (given the cheaper cost of renewables or battery storage technologies) but taxpayers will still be on the hook paying for its construction. That’s crazy!

So where are we at? What can one do?

We the people can join our neighbors in grassroots and town-wide activities to support renewables, energy efficiency, sustainable living. One can vote locally, state wide and nationally based on one issue: the environment. Be an environmentalist in the way you feel comfortable: Align investments with socially responsible investments. Protect air or water from toxic emissions or lead paint in the walls. Donate to non profits and governments that protect the glaciers and oceans that regulate local climates. Eat less meat. Read Bill McKibben and other climate activists. Get educated about the problem. Listen to The Climate Minute podcast. https://mass climate-minute/Boycott retailers who don’t care about the climate. Talk with family, friends, colleagues as well as your kids and grandkids about the problem – and opportunity. Write, protest, attend public hearings, state your opposition to business as usual. Donate to the climate action group of your choice.

I believe there is no other choice than to be involved and to act as if your life and those you care about depended on it. As it does.

Eating, Drinking, Munching and Me

It was sometime in 1969 when my dental hygienist, an attractive, middle-aged single Italian woman who was also a family friend, peered into my molars and asked me if I was smoking pot (which I was but I didn’t want to confess to her). Immediately thoughts raced through my head: I am in trouble. My secret was out of the bag. My teeth were stained and she knew what caused it. I hadn’t thought about my teeth giving me away. She undoubtably looked into a lot of teenagers’ mouths and knew what I knew, but I hadn’t expected her to question me.

To my chagrin, I had to think fast and figure out how to maneuver out of answering her question because my mother was in the adjacent waiting room; she had driven me to the appointment. I didn’t want to admit the truth and compel the dental hygienist to tell my mother. My mother was the type of parent who had joined the PTA just so she’d be in the loop about the issues effecting her children, just like this one. This incident would put me in jeopardy.

So while still in the comfortable dental chair I didn’t directly answer the question; I promised the dental hygienist I’d cut back and do a better job of brushing my teeth if we could just make it our little secret. Leaving the room with Ms. C behind, she was true to her word; she smiled and with a twinkle in her eye said I was doing a fine job but had to cut back on the sweets or I’d have a mouthful of cavities in no time.

Whew, I dodged that bullet.

Pot was not the only thing I liked. And her warning didn’t really do much. I was already on my way to a mouthful of cavities. I really liked candy: NECCO wafers, Chunky, SkyBars, licorice and Milky Ways. (Chunky Candy: What a Chunk of Chocolate!). I was a regular at the drug store candy counter on the corner of Speen Street and Route 9 until I got caught stealing a couple of Chunkies. The store manager apprehended me and escorted me into the dark stock room behind the counter and threatened to call my mother unless I promised to give up my errant ways. He had me empty my pockets with the goods on his desk. Again, I had thought no one could apprehend me; my friends and I had been stealing candy with a scheme that would have made Whitey Bulger proud. Until I got caught and kicked out of the store.

I had a sweet tooth and sixteen cavities to show for it. My candy cravings might have been in response to the obsessive preoccupation for healthy foods that was intrinsic to my family of origin. Now that I’m older and no longer stuffing my face with chocolate on the sly, I look back and feel fortunate that I had been taught how to eat well.

We rarely went out to eat as a family; my mother was an excellent cook with a flair for healthy foods. She juiced broccoli into a refreshing drink and made her own yogurt nearly sixty years ago. My father was in the food business manufacturing snacks and health foods. Soy nuts. Fava beans lightly roasted. Pepitas. I knew about saturated fats, the evils of fried foods, the dangers of carbohydrates, the difference between whole wheat flour vs. the empty calories in Wonder Bread.

Eating and drinking and munching and talking was who we were as a family. Even professionally, everyone in the family except for me, seemed to work in occupations centered around the mouth – making their living through eating, drinking, lawyering, and caring for teeth. My first cousin sold liquor to bars and restaurants. My second cousin was a sales manager with a large East Coast liquor distributor and sold cordials. An uncle was a Pabst beer distributor in Maine; and sold cigarettes to American Indians in the southwest. I have uncles and their sons who owned and operated liquor stores and groceries. My grandfather was a dentist. My father manufactured snacks and health foods. My brother argued cases in court. My mother was a great cook.

And then there was me. I broke ranks as my occupation was not oriented around the mouth. But I did smoke a lot of pot, so I guess that qualifies me.

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