Thursday, July 26, 2012

Singles Ad

Me: Mature female who spends most of her time alone underground, avoiding the desert sun. 
Distinguished (named for Gen. Darius Nash Couch, my family's been in the Smithsonian since the 1850's)  but lonely. 
Wonderful rain got me up out of the ground last night, for the first time in ages, but I saw no one! 
Where were you?  I saw only a couple of funny-looking bi-peds carrying little boxes that shot sudden bright lights at me every so often!  Not sure what they get out of that.

<----  Anyway, here's my beautiful back, wonderfully camouflaged -- as if you really care!  
You: male Couch's Spade Foot capable of a hot time in the wet desert -- no questions asked.   The rain won't be here forever. 
Hurry!  Even though my eggs will hatch within a couple of days, the water might dry up even faster!
In a pinch, will consider a Plains Spadefoot.  Too horny to care right now, but I'm no Texas horned toad!  

When this goes down, I'll meet you by the dead agave!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Of Ranches, National Monuments, Calves, and City Councillors

While the City Council was considering the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument resolution Monday, I was at a branding, on a remote ranch many hours north of Las Cruces.

A small group of people, aged 10 to 70+, were working hard on a hot day, gathering cattle from a large pasture, then roping, vaccinating, branding, and neutering them, all the while trying to avoid getting kicked. The adults exercised skill with the horses, ropes, and calves – and patience with the kids, for whom it was a learning experience. Together they were a team, with the same spirited mix of praise for a good move, teasing about a weakness, and self-deprecating humor you’d find on a good baseball team.

It was challenging work. I’d reckon it wasn’t much fun for the calves. Still, each calf got up and trotted off afterward, giving every appearance of having already forgotten the incident. (The cows scored occasionally: one knocked over the stove holding the branding irons, and a couple knocked over men.)

The ranch was miles from town. From a distance, the windmill flanked by home and barn made a lonely triangle. Inside, friendliness and good humor – and good food. Outside, vast pastures. Fences stretched toward each horizon through fields dotted by occasional small trees. Trucks and tractors were scattered about, some rusting.

"There ain’t a thing on my ranch you couldn’t start up and drive off tomorrow," one rancher remarked.

"You could start everything here, but I’m not too sure you could drive it off," said our host.

"What about that tractor?"

"You could start that – if Joe would return the carburetor."

The conversation touched on rattlesnakes, fences, and stories of roping deer, antelope, wild pigs, and even bear.

"Now what would you want to go and rope a bear for?" asked our host.

"Because it’s there. And I’m there, on a horse, with a rope," said the friend who’d brought me there.

"Then what are you gonna do with it?"

"That’s not part of the equation," he grinned. The stories about roping deer ended in victory for the deer, except one: a rancher’s teenaged daughter roped a big buck, then kept a tree between her horse and the buck’s antlers until the deer was tied to the tree.

I like the people and respect the life – of ranchers who actually work their ranches full-time. (Not folks with capital who merely own ranches.)

Driving toward Las Cruces, I wondered how the City Council meeting was going. My only discussion of the Monument proposal had come around dawn. I asked my friend what he thought of it. He said he couldn’t see the point in it, and thought "a bunch of knuckle-headed environmentalists came to town and felt like they had to do something."

I think there is a point in it. (No disrespect to my friend, who’s smart and goes to great lengths to make sure his cattle live as free and unstressed as possible and eat only what’s natural.) Although the land is already under BLM control, the BLM can sell or trade it. Monument designation would guarantee protection of natural and cultural treasures, and provide at least some boost to tourism and the local economy.

The Monument designation will also protect existing grazing rights. (Arguably, by locking in existing uses the designation might help preserve the ranching heritage.)
I empathize with the ranchers’ concerns. If I’d spent generations or decades of sweat and muscle building a going concern in the middle of nowhere, I’d be against anything with the slightest chance of endangering it.

I can’t sympathize with anti-Monument leaders (primarily anti-government, although many of them live off that government) who lie or mislead people. Some who know there’s still grazing on every sizeable National Monument on BLM land in the West keep saying designation will end grazing. They talk of the Monument grabbing private land, which wouldn’t even be legal. Others decry "giving away the land," as if someone were making the land a Chinese colony. Others tell half-truths or cite a weak and ideologically motivated study supposedly showing that monuments hurt local economies, when more robust studies show the reverse.

Similarly, the "People for Our Western Heritage" acknowledge only their own version of that heritage. Last week we spent three hours with Paul Taylor at his home. The Robledos, which the Monument would protect, were named after Pedro Robledo, an ancestor of his who died there in the 16th Century. Mexican and Anglo, like our state, Paul grew up on a farm near Chamberino. He is our western heritage – and strongly supports the Monument.

Too, I regret that so many ranchers support politicians who serve the oil and gas interests.

The threat to local ranching isn’t the Monument. It’s drought, with or without climate change. We’re over-developing a parched desert. More development, more pecan orchards, and continuing inattention to rapidly worsening environmental problems will leave more and more people fighting over less and less water.

Up at the ranch, when the talk at lunch turned to politics, I got teased for my liberalism (and for not eating meat) but we all agreed that folks deeply involved on different sides of these issues should cooperate more.

Maybe our biggest danger is people whose ideologies, careers, economic interests, or plain stubbornness make them take and hold positions, their ears closed to contrary evidence and conflicting needs.

[The foregoing column appeared today, Sunday, 22 July, in the Las Cruces Sun-News.]

For those who don't live around here: there's a grass-roots movement to ask President Obama to proclaim the Organ Mountains and certain other beautiful or historically significant places in our county the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.   A strong majority appears to favor this proposal; but within certain specific groups, including ranchers and the Tea Party, solid majorities appear to oppose it. 

The City Council meeting I missed was a loud one, with probably more than three houts of public comment on the issue.  At least one somewhat overbearing gentleman appeared to threaten the councillors -- at which two of the councillors commented that they did not respond well to threats.  Apparently not.  The vote was 6-0 to express the Las Cruces City Council's support of the Monument proposal.  One councillor, an environmentalist who works with a group backing the proposal, did not participate or vote.  The local newspaper, the Las Cruces Sun-News, has also expressed support for the proposal editorially as has the County Commission.

I was content where I was, hours away from Las Cruces.  Good people, quiet countryside, interesting conversation -- and a close look at an aspect of ranch life I hadn't witnessed before. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tobacco is Great for your Health!

Widespread record high temperatures and record storms suggest a question to ask Steve Pearce or his people:
Does Rep. Pearce recognize yet that our climate is changing in dangerous ways and that our activities at least contribute to this change?

The last time I looked, Pearce called climate change "something that can’t be validated." As support for that view, he offered a clown from Canada whom the Calgary Herald accurately described as "a paid promoter of the agenda of the oil and gas industry rather than a practicing scientist."

Since then, some interesting things have happened.

One was a conference in Santa Fe sponsored by "Global Warming skeptics." Global warming skeptic and prominent scientist Richard Muller reported on a two-year study he’d done that was partially funded by the Charles Koch Foundation, a major funder of global warming deniers and tea party groups. (The Koch brothers run a large company that produces sizeable greenhouse gas emissions, and they oppose governmental efforts to limit or regulate those emissions and dent their sizeable fortunes.)

Muller was troubled by "Climategate," the flap over hacked e-mails of British scientists that seemed to cast doubt on their objectivity. Using climate-change-skeptic theories, Muller retraced their measurements to disprove them – but found out their measurements were right. His numbers match those of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

The skeptics’ theories involved claims that weather stations’ unreliability and the "heat islands" created by cities were creating an inaccurate appearance of global warming that accurate measurements would disprove. Muller now says that while those were reasonable questions, his figures validate previous figures showing the earth has warmed significantly since the 1950's.

That is, a reputable scientist motivated by his skepticism about climate change, and funded by folks who hoped he’d poke serious holes in the general view, took a hard look and found that the scientific numbers were right.

The U.S. military has charged ahead with plans to deal with and/or mitigate climate change, including preparation for the impact of climate change – and reduction of its own greenhouse gas emissions. Plans include solar technology so that Navy SEALs can power equipment or purify water while on the move. Military leaders see climate change as a threat to national security and an "accelerant of instability and conflict." The Navy is particularly vulnerable, with coastal military bases vulnerable to rising sea-levels and more frequent and severe storms.

The Republic of Kiribati, a Pacific island nation, is working out plans to buy land on Fiji so as to escape its own low-lying islands, doomed by climate change.

On June 26, June the second highest court in the U.S. found that heat-trapping gases from industry and vehicles endanger public health. The U.S. Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit called the EPA "unambiguously correct" that the Clean Air Act requires the federal government to impose limits. It rejected industry arguments that the science of global warming wasn’t well-supported, calling one key industry rationalization "little more than a semantic trick." In 2007 the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA had a duty under the Clean Air Act to determine whether Greenhouse Gasses endanger the environment – and, if they did, to regulate them. (The right-wing Court – on which five justice recently bought an argument against the Affordable Health Act that was almost universally laughed at before oral argument – might overrule this new decision, but it can’t overrule the climate.)

Even Exxon-Mobil, which spent millions trying to sweep climate change under the rug, has finally admitted that human-made emissions are contributing to change in the planet’s climate. Instead of denying climate change, Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson essentially says "Get used to it." Tillerson points out that humans have long adapted to change, and "we’ll adapt to that. It’s an engineering problem and it has engineering solutions." (The company at least now supports taxing carbon emissions. Does Mr. Pearce?)

One thing that has not happened is the publication of a peer-reviewed paper undermining the scientific consensus on the subject.

Of course, scientific consensus can be wrong. Most reputable scientists in 1902 doubted man would ever be able to fly, electric shock therapy is no longer the go-to treatment for emotional problems, and eggs are either terribly dangerous or wonderfully healthy depending on the decade.

Still, there’s no apparent reason to suspect the kind of scientific conspiracy some of Mr. Pearce’s allies allege. Unlike the days when science said the world was flat, the Catholic Church doesn’t have an Inquisition terrorizing scientists who might wish to dissent. Further, although Mr. Pearce’s allies like to claim scientists hew to the majority view to get grant money, the real money is on the other side. Pearce backers such as the Koch Brothers will fork over vast sums to anyone who can concoct a remotely viable objection to the scientific consensus that climate change is a serious and imminent problem.

With an impressive array of scientists on one side, along with the U.S. military, and few or no credentialed scientists on the other, one naturally wonders why Mr. Pearce still doubts global warming. Equally naturally, we notice that his position, while unsupported by the evidence to date, is a convenient one for his most powerful financial backers.

Fact is, Representative Pearce is beginning to look like some North Carolina Congressman still insisting that tobacco is harmless to smokers.

-30-[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, June 8th.  As always, it represents my views and not necessarily those of the newspaper.]

I hope I'll come to regret the adversarial tone of the column.  I hope that Mr. Pearce will exceed our low expectations of him and announce soon that he has changed his views (and at least some of his probable future votes) on climate change.  I hope he'll make a fool of me. 

Our representatives need to suck up their ideologies, stand up to their wealthy contributors, and look climate change in the eye.  

But then, I've long expected the Republican Party to replace the Elephant with the Ostrich.

Meanwhile, a couple of additional pieces of information / sources mentioned in the column or published since I wrote it nearly a week ago:

Here's a July 3rd piece from the Indianapolis Star on this summer as a suggestion of global warming to come:

Here's a recent NY Times piece on the subject, noting that "an increasing body of science points to rising dangers from the ongoing buildup of human-related greenhouse gases -- produced mainly by the burning of fossil fuels and forests."

one observer's take on climate change and fires:

The Court of Appeal decision was published after I'd already drafted the column, but I inserted a paragraph on it. 

In rejecting the industry argument that the EPA couldn’t rely on scientific assessments by the Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Research Council, and others, the court wrote "This argument is little more than a semantic trick. EPA did not delegate . . . any decision-making to any of those entities. EPA simply did here what it and other decision makers often must do to make a science-based judgment."

The unanimous opinion continued, "This is how science works. EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question."

As mentioned in the column, there's no knowing what the present Supreme Court will do.  (If legal precedent were any guide, we wouldn't have seen, in the Affordable Health Care Act case, 98% of the serious legal experts saying there was no way the Court would accept such a nutty argument about the Commrce Clause, only to see the four dissenters and Chief Justice Roberts all buy the argument, despite a couple of centuries of precedent.)

However, the present appellate decision is based squarely on the Supreme Court's 2007 decision in AEP v. Connecticut.   In that case, utilities were being sued by Conn. and other states.  The Supreme Court held that the EPA occupies the field and that therefore states couldn't sue based on their own regulations.  The opinion stated  that the EPA had a duty under the Clean Air Act to determine whether greenhouse gasses endanger the environment – and, if they did, to regulate them.  The EPA appears to be doing just that. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Moving the Snake

I had to move a rattlesnake the other morning.

Last year I killed two of them.

I didn’t like killing them. I’m not real keen on killing much of anything. The first one was near the wheelbarrow out by the goat-pen. Our neighbor had made a noose which, at the
end of a safely long pole, could be placed around the snake and tightened, so that we could move the snake further from the house. It worked fine, except for two problems: when I tightened it the wire cut into the snake, wounding him; and there was no way to loosen it without putting my hands right where the angry snake was. I had no choice but to pull the noose tighter, and eventually just cut the snake into two. One half kept writing for a surprisingly long time.  Dael cried.  I shot video.

A few months later there was another snake right by the back door. It was dusk, and he startled me. I decided he was just too damned close to the door, and beat him to death.

I didn’t like doing that.

Well, part of me probably did like it: the snake had startled me, he was a potential danger to us. Take that! But mostly I didn’t like it. Felt oddly sad.

Later I reread Keith Wilson’s poem about the old prospector and the rattlesnake living beneath the prospector’s hut:

. . . . . . . . Kill him? Why the hell
do that? He’s got a right to live, ain’t he?
Besides, I always know he’s there, down under
the boards, hear him move every once in a while,
and there’s worse critters than snakes
lots worse than snakes . . ."

Our neighbor takes that view. The neighbor just beyond him, who says they’ve seen eight rattlers in three years, takes a different view. He shoots ‘em. Can’t blame him; but we’d prefer not to, if we can avoid it. Then again, he’s got a dog to be concerned about.

This morning Dael called to me that the cat had found the rattlesnake again. This had happened a couple of times in the last few weeks. The snake coiled and hissed, and the cat studied him quizzically, looking too dumb to be afraid but just uncertain enough not to pounce.

A few weeks ago, under the wooden deck, watching the cat
We couldn’t chance letting this happen again, so I borrowed the neighbor’s new and improved snake-noose. Dael had placed an overturned plastic garbage can near the snake, because sometimes a snake will go into the can, seeking safety in its relative darkness. This snake wasn’t having any of that, though. When I tried to encourage him by prodding him with the end of the snake-noose, he started moving pretty fast toward the rocks.

I tried to get the noose around him, but he was too quick. The other time, the snake was simply moving slowly in a straight line, and placing the noose in front of him, so that he slithered into it, was a piece of cake. Not this time.

When he reached the rocks he turned and coiled again, rattling his usual warning. I had to try several times, but eventually got the noose on him, about a foot or so from his head, and held him up. Dael set the garbage can upright, and I dropped him into it, loosened the noose, and put the top on. The snake wasn’t real happy, but he was very much alive.

Dael and the neighbor discussed where I ought to take the critter. Experts say rattlesnakes don’t travel more than about a half-mile from where they’re born; and unless the snake is young, taking him outside his known territory will kill him. I’m not too sure why, but that’s the generally-accepted wisdom of folks who know more about it than I do.

But a half-mile in any direction would put him in someone else’s yard, which was also not too good an idea. I thought about driving him over to Dripping Springs Road, and up that until I was nearly on a line with our place, which would be a six-mile drive but only put the snake a mile or so from home, as the snake slithers. I got outvoted. They suggested I just move him into the big arroyo at the other end of our property, and hope he’d be happy there. If he came back over here, I could take him further away the next time.

So I hulked the garbage can across the desert as directed. I took off the top and put the can on its side, with its open top facing away from me. When he didn’t immediately emerge, I picked the can up and swung it so that he’d fall out, a sufficient distance away from me that neither of us would feel compelled to do anything drastic. He landed in a defensive coil, hissing at me. I told him he’d be all right where he was, and walked back to the house.

A friend says that snakes recall where they were captured, and the snake won't return to the same portion of his territory.  The friend's wife says he will, because we feed birds and attract critters, indirectly providing a buffet for the snake.   Me, I don't know.

I do reckon that every home in the New Mexico desert oughtta have two things: that volume of Keith Wilson’s Collected Poems and a snake-noose.

For those who may be interested, here's the full Keith Wilson poem:

            The Old Man & His Snake

The two lived there, almost together –
he in the shack, the snake below under
the warped floorboards in the cool darkness
cut by rays of light from the lamp above.

A thick Diamondback, nearly six feet long,
it moved out in moonlight to stalk rabbits
and rats. Out his window the old man pointed;
"There he goes, not enough to feed him around
here no more. Ain’t had a rat or a mouse
in near two years. He’s the reason, Old

The two of them, growing older, keeping
careful distances from each other, geographies
of agreement (the old man stayed in at night,
the snake never went out in the day . . .)

The old man pointed to his chamberpot. "Bought
that to keep from tangling with him. Can’t use
the outhouse at night. Kill him? Why the hell
do that? He’s got a right to live, ain’t he?
Besides, I always know he’s there, down under
the boards, hear him move every once in a while,
and there’s worse critters than snakes
lots worse than snakes . . ."

                                              – for Lem Lyons

Reading it this time the name at the end sounded familiar, because I’d just leafed through several poems on the way to getting this one copied in here. One was:

                       Lem Lyons

When I get as old as he was,
I sure hope I hang on to the same graces.
Prospector, hermit, he always made me
welcome when I hiked across the mesa.

Fixed me coffee, keeping one blue eye
on the falling sun and just on time
he’d say I’d better be heading home
and I always made it – as the shadows
led ahead of me I would see the light
in my mother’s window, the pale aura
of her coaloil lamp on dusty glass.

I don’t know when he died. I was gone.

So the old man, Lem, was an old man when Keith was a boy, 80 years ago or so.  Now Keith is more than two years dead.   

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Madness is in the Air

Marooned for five days in Phoenix last week, I had the same feeling I’ve had in certain foreign countries – frustrated by this or that custom or characteristic then suddenly warmed by a stranger’s unexpected kindness.

The Arizona Heart Hospital and Arizona Heart Institute are among the kind strangers. They exude competence and professionalism, and seemed to take good care of the 81-year-old friend we drove to Phoenix from Las Cruces on Sunday.

Our last morning there, he and the nurses had had a rough night. His account was that nurses and their friends had been partying loudly on the ward and in his room, with loud music and lots of drinking, and had pushed him on the floor, beaten him badly, and tied him to a bench with canvas straps. Their account involved him insisting on getting up (as we’d seen him do, trying to go get a forbidden sleeping pill out of his suitcase while a blood transfusion tube was still sticking into his arm) even though he was dangerously weak and confused.

"I thought Tim was one of them when he first came in this morning, but then he started talking normally," our friend said of the male nurse. Tim had a gentle way and is particularly good with temporarily troubled patients. He’d been born in Arizona, but lived most of his first 18 years in Tepic, Mexico, where his folks were missionaries. He remains deeply religious, but is properly reserved about discussing his faith with patients, who he realizes may not share it.

That same morning we read the Arizona Republic.

The Maricopa County Supervisors and Sheriff’s Office were bickering over a deputy’s $10,000 trip to Hawaii at county expense.

It seems the volunteer sheriff’s posse team spent nine days in Hawaii investigating President Obama’s birth records and (according to the morning paper) "needed a sworn deputy’s services there to protect the investigators as they went about their work."

Hunnhhh? I’ve been to Hawaii a couple of times, and never felt the least need for a bodyguard. Do the Posse volunteers suppose the authorities in Hawaii are both so devoted to Obama and so corrupt that they might toss these "investigators" into the volcano?

You might reply, "What’s the surprise, these folks are nuts."

True, but they’re also holding offices in Arizona. What kind of morons think a team of "sheriff’s posse" volunteers are going to find something in the public records that hasn’t yet been found? Is there a reason, other than Hawaii’s obvious charms, to send a team of eight, plus the deputy? What kind of taxpayers stand still for a sheriff’s deputy going on a $10,000 trip to Hawaii on this sort of silly errand?

Actually, it gets sillier. They "saw potential threats on the island" and couldn’t carry weapons, under Hawaii law. Said one of the posse volunteers (Mike Zullo), "We were fortunate enough to work with HPD (Honolulu Police Department), where they changed our names in the hotel registry so they couldn’t find us."

"That was enemy territory, so far as we were concerned," he added.

Evidently they found nada, since "Zullo would not elaborate on the results of the trip."
Or maybe they found that Obama was born on Mars, and were warned by Martian spies that if they said anything the Martians would attack Phoenix.

How Obama’s birth is a matter within the Maricopa County Sheriff’s jurisdiction is one of the many unanswered questions about this boondoggle.

At least a sizeable contingent of sane human beings attended the commission meeting and successfully argued against letting a belated "private contribution" retroactively erase this misuse of public funds from the record.

Meanwhile the Arizona Secretary of state, Ken Bennett, is trying to explain away his statements that he would keep Obama’s name off the ballot if he couldn’t be confident Obama was born in the U.S. (Just how he could be confident, when repeated looks at Hawaii birth records appear insufficient to convince him, isn’t readily apparent.) This month he said he thinks Obama was born in Hawaii but lied and said that he was born in Kenya to get some unspecified sort of benefit in college. Then he said he didn’t mean Obama lied, but only that maybe Obama lied. Got it?

Reading the newspaper article, both Dael and I thought immediately of our friend in the hospital. Maybe it wasn’t the sleeping pills or an after-effect of the anesthetic. Was there something in the Phoenix air?  We wondered whether we should invest in oxygen tanks and breathing masks. Mostly we were laughing.

Writing this as a possible column, I started getting a little frightened. If the authorities in Phoenix were this nutty and paranoid, what might happen to us if I expressed this somewhat disrespectful views of the local authorities?   I was glad any publication would occur after we were safely back in New Mexico.