It's an El Niño year, and so despite the fact that we're in a long term drought here in the Southwest, it's been a rainy summer. Photographer David Rankin chases flash floods in Southern Utah, and captured this one on August 30th as it came down a normally dry wash and emptied into Lake Powell at the entrance to the Grand Canyon.
We're certainly back to "normal" if your idea of normal is mass delusion. For a couple of days we got a brief glimpse of what's really happening to the global economy, and then everyone went back to fantasyland. So yes, we're "O.K." – until it happens again. Which it will.
Here's what's going on to the best of my understanding:
All along the road, people stop to get photos of themselves standing next to one or other of these strange formations, known as hoodoos. Then it’s back in the car or the bus and on to the next viewing spot.
But as we check off the “natural wonders” on our bucket list, we’re not really rediscovering our connection with nature; we’re just drifting further from any true understanding of our place in the scheme of things. Which leaves us helpless to take meaningful action when the real world of nature begins to take apart the artificial construct we call civilization.
The Australian government has announced a new plan to protect wildlife by killing two million feral cats by the year 2020.
The plan calls for baiting, shooting and poisoning the cats, along with setting up "safe havens" for dozens of the most at-risk kinds of mammal, bird and plant species.
"Over 120 [kinds of] Australian animals are at risk of extinction from feral cats," Gregory Andrews, Australia's first threatened-species commissioner, explained, adding that although "we don't hate cats," we must declare "war" on them.
Will killing the cats actually save these other animals? Many mainstream conservation groups say yes, but some of the most knowledgeable wildlife experts say it can only make the situation worse. Here's why.
At least Walter Mitty didn’t harm anyone in his fantasies of a heroic life. The same can’t be said for Walter Palmer, a nonentity who imagined that killing animals larger than himself gave some heroic quality to his utterly mediocre life cleaning people’s teeth.
Political theorist Hannah Arendt spoke of “the banality of evil”, applying this to men like Adolph Eichmann who managed the Nazi holocaust. Evil, she argued, is not generally the province of overt monsters; it’s more usually practiced by unexceptional little men like Walter Palmer.
July 30th: Justice Barbara Jaffe has issued her ruling on whether the two chimpanzees held captive at a Stony Brook University laboratory have the legal right to be set free and sent to a sanctuary. Bottom line of her 33-page decision:
“For now,” she says, she is bound to follow what a state appellate court wrote in the case of another chimpanzee, Tommy, whose case is now before the New York Court of Appeals. And she concluded that she cannot herself free Hercules and Leo, however much she sympathizes with their situation.
Remember the 2004 movie The Day After Tomorrow, where fresh water from melting polar ice pours into the North Atlantic, pushing down the warm salt water and causing ocean currents there to stop flowing, thus initiating a global catastrophe?
Lots of people laughed at the premise. But if James Hansen and 16 other top climate scientists are correct, we may indeed be seeing the first signs of a complete shutdown to the circulation of the world's oceans.
On December 25th, 1991, the hammer and sickle flag was lowered over the Kremlin, and the Soviet Union came to an end. The communist system that had controlled much of the world imploded and the whole construct simply collapsed.
The door was now open for the flip side of the global economic coin, capitalism, to strut its stuff and show us all what it was made of.
Communism had promised a "workers' paradise" to all who sacrificed personal gain for the greater good of the State – a state that proved itself to be nothing more than a dead weight around the necks of its people. Capitalism held out the promise of "freedom" and happiness through the acquisition of more stuff and without personal sacrifice.
One generation later, we have seen the fruits of unfettered capitalism, and we can sum up those fruits in two words: mass extinction.
In the name of freedom, we are all locked in to a system that takes freely from the Earth but gives nothing back, whose articles of faith are the twin doctrines of "growth" and "progress", and where anyone who questions this belief system is viewed as a heretic, even a traitor. That's because capitalism depends on continuing growth – i.e. making stuff and selling it. And growth depends on the ever-expanding rape of the Earth and all its living creatures (or, as the system describes them, "resources").
Two dolphins who died more than 10 years ago after becoming stranded on a beach in North Carolina have just given a team of scientists some remarkable new information about how dolphins process sound.
It’s hard to drum up a lot of sympathy for people like 20-year-old Benjamin Miller, who required three hours of surgery last February after being gored by a bull at Ciudad Rodrigo’s Carnaval del Toro in Spain.
Or for the four thrill-seekers gored so far this week at the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.
Each morning of the week-long "religious festival", six bulls and a steer are driven onto the streets with electric prods and sharp sticks and then goaded on by thousands of largely drunken onlookers until they reach the bull ring, where, that same afternoon, each of them will get stabbed and jabbed by picadors and banderilleros to sever their neck muscles before a dancing, prancing matador tries, often unsuccessfully, to ram a sword into the bull's heart.
Injured participants like young Ben Miller, a student from the U.S., are helicoptered out to waiting hospitals, but for the terrified bulls it always ends the same way.
The churchgoing people of Pamplona dedicate this horrific event to their Patron Saint Fermin, a Christian convert who was martyred in the year 303 CE. Ironically, the man who baptized him, Saint Saturninus, was tied by his feet to a bull and dragged through the streets.
It's not that this isn't important. But right now we have a bigger problem. Much bigger. Bigger than anything we can even imagine. And every week the news media and the political establishment manage to grab our attention with the latest terrorist attack or mass murder, or sports scandal – anything to divert our attention from the catastrophe that's gradually engulfing us.
This week, we learned that our fellow animals are going extinct at a rate that's up to 114 times faster than if we humans were not impacting their lives and their homes.
"We can confidently conclude," the authors of this new study write, "that modern extinction rates are exceptionally high, that they are increasing, and that they suggest a mass extinction under way."
Those who say that the Pope shouldn't get involved in the issue of what's happening to Planet Earth and all its inhabitants are either very stupid or very afraid. Or, in the case of the political establishment, both.
They have good reason to be afraid. Francis's encyclical, Laudato Si, is much more than a commentary on climate change; it's a sweeping indictment of the entire global capitalist system that's wrecking the planet.
Not that the Pope is a Marxist, as some of his critics like to label him. Far from it. The whole miserable Soviet system that promised a "paradise" to the working people of the world collapsed of its own dead weight in the early 1990s, leaving the field to its great competitor. But 25 years later, one can only conclude that globalized capitalism is no paradise either. It's turned out to be every bit as much a monster, leaving us in the early stages of an unfolding catastrophe.
"Mother Earth," the letter begins, "burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she 'groans in travail' (Romans 8:22).
"We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters."
But that, of course, is hardly how we treat them in return. Pigs are typically viewed as things to be born in cages and kept in cages until they're ready to be processed into pork chops and sausages.
Two scientists have now concluded that pigs are indeed extraordinarily complex animals, and that they share many of the characteristics we admire in, for example, dogs, chimpanzees, dolphins and humans.
How do you put together these three items in the latest news about chimpanzees?
- For the first time ever, a judge in the United States orders a research facility into court in New York City to explain what legal right it has, if any, to be holding a pair of chimpanzees in captivity and conducting medical experiments on them.
- At the same time, just a few blocks uptown, the New York Blood Center, which has been using 66 captive chimpanzees in a laboratory in Liberia for biomedical research, decides to stop paying for their care. The chimps now face starvation.
- And scientists at Harvard and Yale publish a paper demonstrating that chimpanzees understand the concept of cooking and will even hold back on eating a piece of raw food in order to cook it first.
This week, the Nonhuman Rights Project goes to court to argue before a judge that Hercules and Leo, two chimpanzees being held captive for locomotion experiments at a research lab at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, have the legal right not to be imprisoned and that they should be set free and sent to a sanctuary.
New York's Attorney General will be defending the right of the university to keep them imprisoned. The A.G.'s office calls the suit a "radical attempt" that could lead to the undermining of the factory farm industry in that it "could set a precedent for the release of other animals ... housed at a zoo, in an educational institution, on a farm, or owned as a domesticated pet, and enmesh New York courts in continuing litigation."
Animal welfare groups are jumping for joy over Walmart's latest animal welfare announcement. But it's hard understand why.
The company is asking its suppliers "to engage in improved reporting standards and transparency measures regarding the treatment of farm animals" and to adopt animal welfare standards that include sufficient space and easy access to food and water.
You might reasonably assume that the red line in this diagram illustrates what happens if humankind takes no action at all on climate change. But no, what the red line actually shows is what happens if we simply continue with all the plans and policies that we've put in place or are already planning.
In other words, if we do everything we already intend to do to mitigate climate change, we're still on course to see global warming go through the ceiling, and then through the roof, and then through the sky, before the end of this century.
Foster Farms, a factory farm outfit that's responsible for the worst salmonella outbreak on record, was the subject of a major investigative report by PBS's Frontline this week.
Frontline did a sterling job of showing how public health officials have been dealing with outbreaks at Foster Farms for ten years. But the one thing the show didn't mention was that this chicken factory carries the seal of approval of the American Humane Association, which calls the company "the most trusted brand of poultry in the Western United States."
The general public is overwhelmingly against the use of these crates, and the state legislature gave it overwhelming bipartisan support.
Christie, however, saw a big red light, since one of the states with the most factory farms for pigs is Iowa, and the Governor was planning a presidential campaign.
This week, we learned the specifics of Christie's veto. So, was he just trying to suck up to Iowans in general? Or was he sucking up to a big donor?