Monday, January 30, 2012

A Visitor

One recent dawn found us in the Bosque del Apache, shooting video and stills like crazy.

I've no time right now to create a post that does that place justice.  Late Wednesday afternoon we strolled down to the far end of a pond for a closer look at a Bald Eagle perched in a snag, looking down contemptuously at a few waterfowl, and suddenly glimpsed a coyote pacing the far shore in hopes one of the waterfowl might be his supper.  At sunset we were watching hundreds or thousands of sand-hill cranes fly in and land on another pond, keeping up a steady cacophany the whole time, then stroll into the middle of the pond, as far as they could from shore, for night safety from the coyotes.

Before dawn we returned.  The numerous cranes were far outnumbered by snow geese.  While most of the cranes still had their heads tucked in for a few more minutes' sleep, the snow geese made such a racket we wondered how the hell the cranes could sleep at all.   We watched and photographed them as they all prepared to leave then, in a huge swarm, took off to forage in fields all day.  Sight and sound were both pretty special.  Here's a bit of video that may provide some sense of the scene, although I still haven't ascertained how to post video to this blog with higher quality:

We spent the rest of the morning wandering around watching the cranes and geese and deer and eagles luxuriate in the Bosque.   Then a variety of other events kept Dael and me from arriving home until just about sunset Thursday.

From the truck we watched the bright red sun peek out from the narrow window between clouds and horizon, but were too tired and lazy to stop and shoot a picture.  As we stopped in front of the house, brilliant red clouds had appeared behind it, in the West.  We walked around back and discovered a creature had taken up residence on an electricity box on the western wall of the house and was surprisingly undisturbed by our presence.

Somehow I doubt he has an electrician's license

He didn't move, and hardly blinked
His position looked pretty uncomfortable, but I understood the roadrunner's placement of much of himself against the wall, which retains a good deal of heat from the afternoon sun.  I've touched that wall in mid-summer, and found it almost scalding.  It must be pleasant at dusk on a cold winter day.

Before realizing he was there, I actually backed up to lean against the wall while shooting pictures -- with my shoulder an inch or two from the roadrunner -- and didn't notice him until Dael glanced at me and cried out, startled.

Later I took him out a hotdog (soy rather than meat-based, because we don't eat meat) and left it on a small rock beneath him.  In the morning it was gone, as was he.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Two Cranes Watching Sunset
So what if the sunset was several weeks earlier and a couple of hours' drive South?  The cranes don't care.  They were in the Bosque when we visited recently.  I'm thinking of marketing this one as a Valentine's Day card -- though it could also be sent as a Happy Anniversary card.  Perhaps these two have been watching sunsets contentedly together for nearly a lifetime.   I don't know.  If I recall correctly, geese are monogamous and ducks quite the opposite, but I'll have to read up on sandhill cranes.

This one I sent to my aunt, who has just added Hospice to the resources helping her right now. 

I can't quite tell, though, whether it's best suited for a sympathy card -- or a card celebrating a young person's departure from the nest.   Or something else I haven't thought of yet. 

Note: unless otherwise attributed, all images and photographs -- and verbiage -- on this site are copyrighted.

Two Cranes Watching Sunset © 2012 Peter Goodman
Two Cranes Watching One Fly Away © 2012 Peter Goodman

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Should We Make Decisions Based on Science -- or Propaganda?

The Endangered Species Act requires officials to use the best available scientific information. Steve Pearce and his Chief of Staff, Todd Willens would like to do away with the law, but for now it is the law.

(Willens was legislative director for Congressman Richard Pombo, who received abundant supplies of oil and gas money and sought to repeal the Endangered Species Act. Pombo was on the Sierra Club’s "Dirty Dozen List" because of his ties to Oil and Gas, and was close to Jack Abramoff, who was later jailed for his illegal influence-peddling. Pombo lost his Congressional seat in 2008; but industry’s fight to eradicate the Endangered Species Act lives on, with Pearce playing a major role.)

A 2007 episode in Willens’s career is instructive: the Florida Everglades were on the U.N. World Heritage Committee’s list as an endangered site. A National Park Service report advocated keeping the Everglades on the list. Willens, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, led the U.S. delegation to the Committee meeting. He vetoed the scientific opinion of the Park Service and the Committee’s scientific advisors. He urged the Committee to take the Everglades off the list.

There’s a pattern here:

Responsible cientists advising the U.N. said the Everglades should stay on the "Endangered Sites" list. Willens got it removed.

Responsible scientists say that the dunes sagebrush lizard is endangered, and that "voluntary" agreements by some landowners won’t suffice to save it. Pearce disagrees, but without scientific support.

Responsible scientists – and the U.S. military – say global warming is a serious problem. Representative Pearce calls it "something that can’t be validated."

Where responsible science is inconvenient for oil and gas or Pearce’s other financial backers, he wishes it away.

The best example of this is Pearce’s ostrich-like reaction to climate change. (Maybe the Republican Party should switch symbols, from elephant to ostrich.) Pearce proclaims (on his peopleforpearce web-site) that "scientist Tim Ball . . . testified that the science is very unclear on whether the carbon in the atmosphere is manmade. The fact is that scientists are still deeply divided on the issue." Pearce proudly states that he called Ball to testify, and he claims Ball was the only real scientist who testified; but Ball’s lack of credibility is almost comical.

Ball is a Canadian climate change sceptic. He chairs the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Natural Resources Stewardship Project. Two of its three directors are executives with a lobbying company, the High Park Group, which represents energy clients on energy policy. Before that, he was with an oil industry-backed organization, Friends of Science.

Ball and his industry-backed sponsors are as careless with his resume as they are with science. Ball was a professor of geography at the University of Winnipeg between 1988 and 1996. NRSP has billed him as "retired professor of climatology at the University of Winnipeg." In 2006, Ball wrote a letter to the Royal Society identifying himself as "Professor of Climatology, University of Winnipeg." But that university had never had a climatology department; Ball has never been a professor of climatology; and his stint as a active geology professor had ended twenty years earlier. His affiliated groups have frequently called him Canada’s "first PhD in climatology" – but his PhD was in historical geography.

Space doesn’t permit further details here, but Ball isn’t the eminent scientist Pearce wishes he were. Ball has published only four pieces of original research in his entire career, none in the last eleven years. He has published in "Energy and Environment" described by one expert as "a journal skeptics can go to when they are rejected by the mainstream peer-reviewed science publications." In legal pleadings, the Calgary Herald stated that "The Plaintiff [Dr. Ball] is viewed as a paid promoter of the agenda of the oil and gas industry rather than as a practicing scientist." (Ball then withdrew his somewhat dubious lawsuit against the Herald.)

This is the industry hack Mr. Pearce dragged in to testify to a Congressional committee. This is the man Pearce cites as "scientific" authority for Pearce’s disbelief in climate change. Sorry, Steve. Not even close.

Ball’s just a guy who’s figured out how to make a decent living off saying what the oil and gas industry wants to hear – kind of like Steve Pearce, actually.

The present dunes sagebrush lizard issue is also classic Pearce.

I don’t claim to know whether the lizard is endangered or how best to preserve it. The experts say one thing. Pearce says another, because the scientific view doesn’t suit him – or his backers.

He can’t fight on scientific grounds.

Therefore, Mr. Pearce tries scare tactics. Apparently the lizard’s range overlaps about one or two per cent of the oil and gas leases in the Permian Basin. One or two per cent. Pearce screams that protecting the lizard could cost us "most of the oil and gas jobs in southeast New Mexico." (Government officials in charge of implementing the Endangered Species Act don’t agree, of course.)

"The delta smelt listing as endangered put 27,000 farmers in the San Joaquin Valley out of work. It shut them down cold," Pearce protests - inaccurately.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (not a bunch of environmentalists) has estimated that job loss was more like 5,000. Meanwhile, continued drought conditions cost 16,000 jobs; but Pearce can’t make political capital out of addressing the drought, which appears to be exacerbated by weather change due to greenhouse gasses we create.

If there are solutions to these complex issues, we’ll find them through honest examination of the scientific and economic facts, and reasoned debate.

Fear-mongering is a time-honored tool for demagogues. It’s a whole lot easier and sometimes more politically effective than serious examination of troublesome issues.

But it’s a lousy way to run a government.

[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 22 January, in the Las Cruces Sun-News.  It was the second of two on U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, who had published a column in the same paper portraying himself as an environmental moderate, despite his somewhat grim record with regard to the environment.]

Pearce will, of course, be up for re-election this year.   He will be heavily favored.  Particularly with Koch Brothers' money behind him, there's likely to be some pretty ugly PAC advertising on television if his Democratic opponent shows any sign of making it a close race.

Who will that be?  So far, I'm only aware of one Democrat seeking the nomination: Evelyn Madrid Erhard.  If she wins the nomination, it will be quite a David-and-Goliath scene.   We see her collecting signatures at the Farmers' Market, and talking with citizens.   If she's the nominee, she'll face a hell of a challenge.  Oddly, though, in theory she's just the sort of person Tea Party folks say they want: a regular citizen, about as far from a career politician as anyone could be; and a pretty good example of "family values" -- married to the same man for more than three decades.   At least at first glance, it seems as if she'd be a breath of fresh air if she could manage to unseat Mr. Pearce, who so richly deserves retirement -- though perhap not the lucrative lifetime pension and health care benefits all Congressfolk get.

So, let me think, what else did we see that we liked at Saturday's Farmers' Market?

A man and his dog . . .
. . .  a little love . . .

. . . and a man with no dog
We also watched a family supervise the sketch artist as he made a quick portrait of the son.  The boy maintained a very serious expression throughout, but seemed to approve of the result.

Also a honey bee . . .

. . . and a blues guitarist . . .

. . . and a couple of dogs who didn't much care for each other
-- though from the picture alone, they might be contemplating a first date.
Note: unless otherwise attributed, all photographs and images -- and verbiage -- on this site is copyrighted.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Jackal in Eagle's Clothing

Most politicians lie, and portray themselves more favorably than they deserve.

Few do so as blatantly as Congressman Steve Pearce, portraying himself as an environmental moderate in a recent piece in this newspaper.

Harmonizing environmental protection with other needs is a subtle and difficult set of choices. If tackled honestly, they are complex.

For Pearce, the choices are simple. He’s bankrolled by the oil and gas folks, and votes the way they want him to.

In the 2010 election cycle, Mr. Pearce raised nearly $2.5 million. His top four contributors were Yates Petroleum, Marbob Energy, Devon Energy, and Chesapeake Energy, and the fifth was a corporation owned by a right-wing billionaire. At least two more oil companies were among his top ten, along with a bank and an investment firm. So far in 2011-12, Oil & Gas represents his top contributor, at $55,500. "Automotive" is second and Banks fifth.

The petroleum industry got what it paid for. Groups from that industry give Mr. Pearce ratings of either 100% or very nearly 100%. I’m told that Mr. Pearce has received more than $1.2 million from the oil and gas industry during his career.

By contrast, Public Citizen rates him at eight per cent. Most environmental protection groups, as well as La Raza, the American Library Association, and the ACLU, rate him at 0 %. Nada. His League of Women Voters "energy score" is also 0%. In his own party, the "Republicans for Environmental Protection" gave him a generous 17% rating for 2006.

An environmental moderate doesn’t get a 0% rating from environmental protection groups. An environmental moderate looks honestly at the available choices, balances interests as fairly as s/he can, and votes based on what’s best for the people s/he represents, or for the country. Sorry, but that ain’t Steve Pearce.

There’s no doubt where Pearce stands. Folks who work for the petroleum industry obviously know it. So do folks intent on protecting the environment, and advocates of good government generally. Put simply: "Oil good. Wasting time on our environment, bad." It’s that simple.

It’s that simple for Pearce, and he says so to groups like the Anti-Endangered Species Act rally in Roswell.  He writes a different story in the Sun-News. For us, he writes, "I have always advocated balance" in such matters. He also disparages Washington lobbyists – even though he and his oil and gas clients work with some very powerful anti-environmental lobbyists. In fact, his chief of staff was formerly an anti-environmental lobbyist.

Pearce tells us that "no matter how many special interests attack me, I will not stop doing what is right for New Mexico"; but he is a creature of the monied special interests! This doesn’t make him wrong, just dishonest. A fair statement would be that no matter how many concerned groups and citizens attack him, he will not stop doing what is right for the Koch Brothers, Exxon, and Steve Pearce.

Of course, Pearce hides his allegiance behind copious references to working people and farmers. Like the worst of history’s demagogues, he musters support by fear-mongering, instead of honestly addressing difficult choices. Anything that will inconvenience his backers he casts as a devastating blow to employment.

Most dangerously, he advocates an end to awards of legal fees for successful public-interest lawsuits.
Naturally this is a biggie for polluters and corporations that don’t want environmental protection to cut into their profit margins even a little.

His attack on environmentalists as "interest groups" is sly. Unlike trade associations, labor unions, and industry lobbyists, they don’t represent the material interests of workers or businesspeople or ranchers or the elderly. They represent all of us, in a sense. Whether they are right or wrong in any particular case, they represent the Earth we live on, and the other species we share it with, as well as the trees that take poisonous carbon dioxide out of our air and return oxygen to it. (Even Mr. Pearce probably needs a little oxygen now and then.)

Mr. Pearce shrieks that sometimes the groups’ attorney fees get paid by the public. That’s true. What he leaves out is that they get paid if they win a case that is in the public interest. That is, someone who sues to make the government or an industry follow the law, and protect a river or stop poisoning the air, has done us all a favor and may get paid out of the public treasury.

They don’t get paid if they lose. They don’t get paid if they’re wrong.

Unlike the oil and gas companies, they don’t have abundant profits from which to pay lawyers to help them make more profits. Owls and lizards generally can’t afford lawyers and lobbyists. (Well, maybe the Geico gekko can.) The San Francisco River has no Law Department. Trees get paid well below minimum wage for helping maintain an environment we can live in.

Environmental groups only get paid for winning lawsuits that make government or industry follow the law. Congress made the laws; and most of the current U.S. Supreme Court justices were appointed by Mr. Pearce’s Republican allies, such as George Bush. The deck is pretty well stacked against advocates for the owls and trees; but even so, Mr. Pearce wants to remove their chance even to sit in on the game.

                                                             - 30-

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 7 JanuaryFor the benefit of readers who don't know, Mr. Pearce is a Republican Congressman from southernNew Mexico.]