Tuesday, November 22, 2005


I saw or heard a few things last week that got me thinking about environmentalism as a good example of single-issue thinking. It's not, of course, the only example of this mind set.

Bumper sticker: Friends don't let Friends eat Farmed Fish

This sentiment stems, I think, from the fact that many fish farming operations pollute their environments because of feed and fish wastes that are discharged to or accumulate in surface waters. This is a problem. The other side of the coin, however, is the steady stream of scientific and news reports about the depletion of fish resources world-wide resulting from increasing fishing and deteriorating habitat. There is also some concern about the future impacts to fisheries of global climate changes resulting from human-induced impacts to the atmosphere.

Fish and seafood protein is an important source of nourishment for the human population on this planet. It seems obvious that the oceans won't be able to meet the ever increasing demands of our growing population, and farming of fish and seafood species will become an increasingly important component of the food supply. Think about it; humans used to subsist on wild plants and animals, but we now rely mostly on farmed plants and animals for our meals.

So, instead of keeping our friends from eating farmed fish, we should insist that the fish farming industry develop methods that are sustainable and do no further harm to the environment.

Radio and newspaper ads: You Can't "Stand Tall" to Protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge when you Stoop to Vote for Oil Drilling in a Budget Deal

We can thank the Sierra Club for this ridiculous ad campaign against Oregon Senator Gordon Smith. Smith bucked the Republican Party and the White House when he refused to toe the party line that the ANWR should be opened to oil drilling. But in a tough vote last week, he voted for a budget deal that he thought would help protect social service funding, even though a rider was added to allow drilling in the ANWR. Smith explained this decision in an Op Ed piece in the Oregonian, stating that he is not a single-issue representative, and that he has to weigh all the issues and make tough choices. I respect Smith for his integrity and tough calls. But the Sierra Club is a single issue organization, and they are now spending big bucks on these ads. Drilling in the ANWR is not the real issue here. The real issue is the U.S.'s obscene consumption of petroleum and our reliance on foreign oil. I'm sure the Sierra Club is working diligently to change the energy policy of this country, so why are they wasting money on an ad campaign that isn't focused on the real issues?

News Item: Environmental Groups criticize Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for being "bought off" by industry.

Using money provided by industry groups, the Oregon DEQ developed new standards for turbidity in Oregon streams and rivers that will in some situations allow higher turbidity levels resulting from discharges. Environmental groups are claiming that this will allow more pollution of Oregon surface waters, and that industrial dischargers bought themselves a new license to pollute. Well, the truth is a bit different. First, the old turbidity standards for Oregon were unrealistic and could rarely be met.

I've had a number of consulting jobs for which my staff and I monitored turbidity levels and found that the standard could not be met the way it was written. I participated in a meeting with the DEQ in the early 1990's to discuss the standard, and I wrote a short paper examining why the standard needed to be changed so that it could be met by dischargers, including municipalities (yes dear readers, when you flush the toilet, your wastes don't magically disappear). So I, for one, am glad to see a new set of standards that can be realistically met.

But - hang on - industry paid for the studies and the staff, so doesn't that make the new standards bad? I suppose it does, if you believe that everything is a conspiracy. User groups funding government services is not a new concept, it is sometimes the only way to get things done (particularly in Oregon where most of our legislators seem to be stuck in Neanderthal mode). So instread of assuming the worst, and assuming that any change in the status quo must be bad, let's take a critical look at the whole picture and keep our minds open to change.

A final word to environmentalists and all the rest of us "ists" out there: let's try not to be single-issue focused. Let's look at all sides, at the big picture, and make informed decisions. And, last but not least, eat lots of fish - it's good for you (as long as it's not loaded with mercury, pesticides or other toxins)!

Friday, November 18, 2005


(Dear Readers: this post might be a bit long, so get another cuppa and settle in - thanks.)

Well, things are getting interesting on Capitol Hill. The debate of the day concerns the occupation of Iraq - should we "stay the course" or "cut and run?" The Axis of Weasels has brought in a damage control team to figure out how to win the war - no, not the war in Iraq, the public relations war being waged in the media. I just wish these guys would put as much effort into figuring out what to do with the mess they've created in the world.

A few quotes would be good here (thanks to Knight Ridder News Service):

The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. President Dubya, Nov. 11, 2005

We must be careful not to give terrorists the false hope that if they can simply hold on long enough, they can outlast us. Ronald Dumbsfeld, Nov. 15, 2005

Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing force against Saddam Hussein. What we're hearing now is some politicians contradicting their own statements and making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war. Darth Cheney, Nov. 16, 2005

Excuse me while I take a laugh break - this is just too much!

Well, I'm not a "politician," so I guess I can make all the charges I want and not be in the cross-hairs of the Bush team. The reality, as we all know, is that the invasion and occupation of Iraq had nothing to do with the "global war on terror;" in fact, this ill-concieved global blunder on the part of the U.S. has strengthened terrorism by providing a real-time training ground for jihadists where they can kill Americans (and everyone else in the neighborhood) or be killed trying, thus assuring their place in heaven.

Sending "the wrong signal to our troops" is exactly what the Bushies have been doing all along. And who has been using the war for "political plays" since it started? That's right, Team Bush. a central piece of the Bush re-election strategy was the war - I mean, after all, we have The War President in office (hey - turn down the fanfare, I can't hear myself think).

As for "giving terrorists false hope" - heck, those guys know that as long as Dumbsfeld is on the job, their careers are on solid ground. After all, he's the guy most responsible for sending in too few troops, who were equipment-poor, with no real strategy. (I guess sometimes you can't have the winning strategy you wish you had, you have to just go with the losing strategy you have.)

So, let me get to the point here: do we stay in Iraq or do we leave? My opinion: I don't know, but...

If you are really concerned and interested in this question, pick up a copy of the December 2005 The Atlantic magazine (maybe you can read it on-line). "Why Iraq has no Army" by James Fallows is a thoroughly researched piece of journalism that makes a compelling case for staying in Iraq, but changing the course. His thesis is that we need to change our military strategy to emphasize training the Iraqi forces. He provides details, based on interviews with U.S. military personnel and other knowledgeable people, about why our training efforts have failed so far, and what needs to be done to correct this. Fallows thinks that we can't simply pull out without risking a civil war and other consequences that would be worse than the present situation.

Then read "If America Left Iraq: the case for cutting and running" by Nir Rosen, a journalist who spent 16 months reporting from Iraq after the invasion. Rosen presents a compelling case for pulling out as soon as possible. The presence of American troops in Iraq, Rosen asserts, keeps the insurgency alive, and sets up a political tension between Sunnis and Shiites. Civil war in Iraq is already under way, he claims, because of the American presence. The role of al-Qaeda and foreign jihadists is an insignificant part of the insurgency, and the foreign jihadists are barely tolerated by the native insurgency as long as they are useful. Without American troops in the country, Rosen claims, the insurgency would end, and the foreigners would be rooted out.

So - which is it? Stay or Run? What's needed on Capitol Hill is a serious debate about staying in Iraq or leaving soon. If we stay, what's the Plan? How will we make this thing work? If we leave, how do we do that and what's the Plan?

The charges and counter charges raging in the headlines this week are nothing more than a red herring. The politicians are wasting time playing name calling, finger pointing games. The American public should demand - and in fact, I am demanding - that our elected representatives and the Administration have serious discussions about how to fix the Iraq mess. Both sides of the aisle need to tone down the rhetoric and get to the business at hand.

And if I believe they will do the above, somebody sell me a bridge!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


News Flash: In a statement oddly reminiscent of that by President Bill Clinton during the run-up to his impeachment, President George W. Bush made a defensive statement denying that U. S. personnel use torture on prisoners. Readers will remember President Clinton's insistent denial of having sexual relations with "that woman." The Bush statement, however, unlike Clinton's was almost instantly recognized as a bald-faced lie because of the concurrent actions of Vice President Dick "Darth" Cheney to place a provision in pending legislation that would allow torture of detainees in U.S. prison camps, jails, and other holding and interrogation facilities. With Bush's popularity and believability at an all-time low, his statement can only be seen as a result of extreme defensiveness in the face of the many failures of his administration.

In what the Administration most certainly saw as another blow to their credibility, the members of the former September 11 Commission issued a report of progress made by the Administration on recommendations made by the Commission a year ago - and their report is not good news for the Bush team. Although the Commission members had high praise for progress on a couple of goals, they were very critical of the lack of progress on many more. Among the goals that were reported as "unfulfilled" was that of developing a common approach with U. S. allies on the treatment of captured terror suspects. The Commission stessed that the Geneva Conventions regarding armed conflict should be applied to military prisons and secret detention centers. Commission member Richard BenVeniste referred to Iraq as the next terrorism training ground after Afghanistan, stating, "How much this trend has been fueled by the highly publicized reports of brutalization, humiliation and desecration cannot be measured accurately, but the flames of extremism undoubtedly burn more brightly when we are the ones who deliver the gasoline."

I guess when it comes to torture, it depends on what is is.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


We went to the preview event for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society the other night. The exhibit is a one-of-a-kind compilation of objects, written and graphic materials from a variety of private and public collections that document the amazing exploration that reached the Pacific Ocean 200 years ago.

It was early April of this year when Dave and I paddled up the Columbia River from Cathlamet on a perfect early spring river day. A grey sky, slight breeze, and occasional light rain accompanied us as we followed the tide upriver past the struggling river town. The land-water interfaces of big rivers tell many stories to those who choose to travel at the water's pace. Stories of commerce, stories of river life, and stories of history cling tenaciously to rotting pilings, sinking derelict vessels, and rotting wood shacks miraculously held afloat by algae-covered logs felled long ago in long-gone forests.

There is one reach of the river upstream of Cathlamet where the highway moves away from the river atop a high rock bluff and all of the usual and obvious signs of civilization disappear. A high waterfall cascades from the bluff, full from spring rains. Cedars, alders, ash and willow somehow manage to thrive near the water's edge, their branches pruned to a common height above the river according to the vertical range of the tides and seasonal water. The sound of river under the kayak and water-drip from the paddle is suddenly noticeable, until the waterfall overwhelms all other sounds with its constant roar.

I was momentarily overwhelmed by the realization that this is what the explorers of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the native people they encountered, saw and heard every day, and the thought shackled me with anchor lines, pulling at me to linger longer, to stay for as long as possible in this time before time.

As we left the waterfall reach, and entered another section where the highway ran along the shore, I was gripped with a dread feeling of nostalgic despair - and this is truly the only way I can describe it. In the time-speck of two hundred years, this magnificent river ecosystem has been altered almost beyond recognition by and for humanity.

Don't misinterpret this feeling I had. I'm very much a realist, and I understand that the human animal changes its surroundings to suite its needs. But try as we might, we are still part of the natural world, and we still carry imprinted in our genetic code an understanding of what came before. To its credit, nature is a tenacious force; plant and animal species that evolved in this system for millennia prior to the modern time remember the old ways, and struggle to carry on as before. The derelict boats and sinking shacks along the river edge also seem to understand and embody this natural persistence., and yes, there are even those among us humans who remember the old ways.

Friday, November 11, 2005


Once upon a time, in a galaxy uncomfortably close to here, the evil Emperor Dubya and his cadre of covert planners, known as The Axis of Weasels, led the former forces of good to the Dark Side. A leader among them was the dark Lord known as Darth Cheney, a master of the dark arts. The Lefti Knights and all others who were anything but Dark Siders were powerless against Darth Cheney and his brethren, falling like cord-wood before the Spin Sabers wielded by the Axis. Spin saber wielding was one of the darkest of dark arts, and the Axis had among it's brethren a Master of Spin, a small, yoda-like creature known as MachiaRovea. One by one, those who clung to the good side of the Force fell victim to the machiarovean Spin of the Dark Siders, castigated as traitors, accused of being soft on, or abandoning the War on Terror, ridiculed in the media until not one among them was left standing with any credibility. In this darkest of dark times, not one leader could be found who would stand and speak truth to lies. Instead, the remnants of the good side of the Force vowed to be more like the Dark Siders, a self-proclaimed brilliant strategy designed to win voters, particularly those "of faith." May the Farce be with us.

A simple fable for our times, perhaps. Fortunately, the Axis of Weasels appears to be crashing and burning by their own dark designs. Their play book, a blending of fairy tales (The Emperor has no Clothes) and prophetic novels (1984), is failing them. "We do not torture!" proclaims the Emperor while his top henchman, Darth Cheney, works to institute as law a green light for the use of torture.

Enough already. Let's work hard to hasten the fall of the Axis of Weasels. Let's get back to the core values that we all believe in, starting with democracy and truth. And let's remember to tell this fable to our children and grandchildren as a warning that democracy can't be taken for granted - it has to be protected from those who would destroy it.