American Experience: The Big Burn

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American Experience: The Big Burn

***

 

We need to Save the Trees!

Deforestation has ravaged our once great forests. The dwindling tree population is choking the oxygen-starved atmosphere.

Sorry, environmentalists: I’m being sarcastic. Every word of that last paragraph is false.

First, a solid majority of new atmospheric oxygen is produced by water-dwelling pytoplankton. If you love trees and walks through the forest, that is perfect understandable. Scientifically speaking, however, we don’t need trees to survive.

Second, North America has way more trees than it had at the turn of the 20th Century. Right here in Central Vermont, deer sightings used to make the newspaper. Hubbard Park was a big, treeless field.

What happened? Did Conservationist save the day? Nope: the automobile was invented.

In the 19th Century, millions of acres of arable land were used for fields to feed horses. As horses were replaced by Model Ts, those fields became forests. Tree-Huggers should pause to hug a Ford Focus; it did more to save the trees than the US Forest Service.

Indeed, “The Big Burn” shows that the US Forest Service has been misguided from the very beginning.

In 1905, The US Forest Service was founded by patrician Progressives who valued idealism more than common sense, and trees more than people.

The fledgling Federal agency sent intrepid young men far and wide. US Forest Rangers even found their way to the remote Bitterroot region of Western Montana and Northern Idaho. When Rangers told the hearty locals that they were no longer allowed to use the vast forest for clearcutting and strip-mining, they were furious.

As the PBS documentary “The Big Burn” reluctantly admits, the Forest Service’s rules that chose trees over people ended up being a disaster for both trees and people.

 

The summer of 1910 was bone dry in the Bitterroot. When a heat-lightning storm ignited a dry patch of trees, the largest fire in the history of the Hemisphere began.

Despite its remote location, America quickly recognized the size and the seriousness of the blaze. Women and children were bustled out; Federal Troops rushed in.

Desperate men aboard the last train out of town were forced off their cars at gunpoint. Uncle Sam needed them to fight the fire, the soldiers said.

But those men were just being sent to their deaths. There was no fighting The Big Burn. By the time the blaze burned itself out, a layer of soot coated the ground as far away as Iceland. Ships in the Pacific Ocean couldn’t navigate because the air was so thick with smoke.

The only thing that could have stopped this fire in its tracks was a stretch of barren, treeless land. You know, the kind that you get when you allow people to clear cut a section of forest or build a strip mine.

In the end, the greatest boon to American forests was the invention of the internal combustion engine. And the greatest disaster was made worse by the myopic machinations of the US Forest Service.

We don’t need to Save the Trees. Take a drive down I89 and look around you. They are doing just fine without our help.

 

An Open Letter to the Nitwits at ESPN

Image result for hank williams jr ready for some football

An Open Letter to the Nitwits at ESPN

 

Not so long ago, Sports Center was a clip show. Each morning, a couple of sharp-witted gentleman presented highlights of last night’s games. During the clips, the producers played upbeat music and the hosts told the viewers what happened, tossing in a few well-timed quips and catch-phrases.

It was perfect. To me, Sports Center was The News. I had to watch it once a day or else I would be an ill-informed man.

Last month, ESPN laid off one hundred people.

Hey, Sports Center: are you wondering how you went from the center of the sports world to an embarrassing public blood bath? I’ll tell you.

 

  1. You didn’t focus on the sports that guys care about

I don’t know where the ESPN producers got the impression that sports fans are interested in golf, X-Games, and the WNBA. But, I assure you, we aren’t.

I have had a thousand conversations about sports with guys at work over the years. Exactly zero of them have been about X-Games(, obviously).

 

  1. You didn’t focus on sports at all

When Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe, the sports media covered the story. That made sense. Since then, though, sports journalists should have stayed the heck out of the personal lives of athletes. Leave that trash to the tabloids.

ESPN has a very different philosophy.

Tiger Woods’s wife went after him with a golf club? I don’t care, ESPN, that’s none of my business. LeBron James flirted with a model on Instagram? I don’t care, ESPN, that’s none of my business.

Aaron Hernandez might have had a jailhouse lover. For shame, ESPN. I don’t care. It is none of my business. That has nothing to do with sports. By covering that story, you have diminished your brand. And probably diminished your chance of passing through the Pearly Gates.

 

  1. You went out of your way to offend your core audience

At some point early this century, the bigwigs in your company decided that every Conservative working for ESPN needs to be completely silent about his political beliefs or be fired.

That would be a perfectly sensible business decision if ESPN were a non-profit organization dedicated to saving the Striped West Virginia Ground Sloth from extinction by trying to ban fracking.

But you run a sports network and your core audience is American guys. Newsflash, ESPN: we tend to lean Right. Shaming and censoring Conservatives on your network was a bad idea.

It kind of made sense when you pushed Rush Limbaugh out the door for making comments about race on the air. It made less sense when you fired baseball analyst Curt Schilling for his social media post about transgender bathrooms.

As hard as I try, though, I can’t figure out what you were thinking when you fired long-time Monday Night Football theme-song singer Hank Williams Jr. after he made an offhand remark about Obama on Fox & Friends.

Mr. Williams’s job was simply to put on a cowboy hat and sunglasses and sing “Are You Ready For Some Football?” once a week. Did you expect him to pretend to be a Progressive?

It’s hideous decisions like that that cost you your viewership and led to the 100 high-profile layoffs last month. “But it wasn’t our fault,” you plead, “our lower ratings are the result of new internet technology.” Partially perhaps. But that doesn’t explain why I hate your channel. If you run a sport network and guys loathe you, you have messed up.

I am one of the millions of people who pulled the plug on ESPN last year. And I don’t miss it at all.

     

 

You Don’t Really Have to Move to Canada

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You Don’t Really Have to Move to Canada

 

Okay, the Presidential election is over and your side didn’t win.

I’m sorry. It’s painful. I know how losing feels. I’m a New York Jets fan.

If you want to be sad because our country elected a childish, unqualified sexist who knows less about geography and history than I do, then go ahead. That’s fair.

If you want to be sad because you think President Trump will outlaw abortion, oppress the LGBT community, and put Spanish-speaking people in internment camps, then go ahead. But be aware that you are being ridiculous. The President has neither the power nor the inclination to do those things.

I predict that President Trump will be unable to accomplish anything significant during his four years in the White House.  However, just by winning, I think that Trump has already changed our country in three significant ways.

  1. Trump Has Made the Democratic Party Liberal Again

Millions of primary voters and the entire Democratic Party leadership chose Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. It’s not because they all love globalization and Goldman Sachs. It’s because they assumed that moderate Clinton was more electable than progressive Sanders. Whoops.

For a generation, the Clinton family has ensured that the Democrats are the party of Wall Street, wealth concentration, and war. Principled Progressives are rightly angry. All the rigged primaries and Super Delegates in the world aren’t going to be enough to stop the Democrat electorate from nominating an actual liberal for President in 2020. We may actually have a two-party system again.

  1. Trump Defeated Big Money

“I turned down a meeting with Charles and David Koch. Much better for them to meet with the puppets of politics. They will do much better!”

-Donald Trump on Twitter (july 30th)

Since the beginning of the primary season, Donald Trump has faced one heavily-funded candidate after another and triumphed over them.

Trump wasn’t David defeating Goliath. He was David defeating all of the Goliaths. Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz. He annihilated the Bush dynasty. And then he annihilated the Clinton dynasty.

Trump’s campaign war chest was half the size of Clinton’s and it was filled mostly with the small donations of private individuals. Sec. Donald Trump defeated Citizens United with his force of will. He proved that fame, charisma, and passion are more powerful than mountains of dirty corporate money.

  1. Trump Humbled the Media

The happiest thing for me about Trump’s triumph was imagining all of the miserable journalists.

Every journalist who does not, in fact, work for Breitbart.com attacked and defamed Donald Trump. They woke up Wednesday morning in shock. The election of Trump proved that voters do not read their propaganda. Or even better: people still read the propaganda but they see right through it.

For the record, I’m not talking about the Liberal Media; I’m talking about the Establishment Media.

National Review, The Weekly Standard, and the Atlantic were every bit as hard on Trump as CNN and Michael Moore. If not harder.

The Establishment Media can no longer pretend that they are respected and believed. That makes me gleefully happy.

 

I’m not going to convince you to like Donald Trump. And I’m not trying.

I’m just observing that Trump’s election has changed three things, probably for the better.

Candidate Trump was a powerful bringer of change. President Trump is a neophyte moving into a gridlock-paralyzed city where both sides hate him. He’s not going to be able to change anything else. You don’t really have to move to Canada.

The Columbian Exchange

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[History Book Review]

The Columbian Exchange (1972)

By Alfred W. Crosby Jr.

****

 

Thank you to our legislature and to the Vermont Retail Grocers Association for mandating that companies label all foods that contain GMOs.

Thanks to this new practice, we will certainly be saved from the ill-health and certain doom of consuming food products that have been genetically modified by man.

Sorry, natural food aficionados. I am being sarcastic. While I respect the fact that your ethos requires you to believe that everything humans do is inherently unhealthy and destructive, history proves that this is not the truth.

For those readers out there who are on the fence about whether or not GMOs are dangerous, I recommend the short history book “The Columbian Exchange.” It will enlighten you. And save you a lot of money on groceries.

We are all taught that Christopher Columbus discovered the New World in 1492 and began the process of eradicating the native human population and replacing it with people of European and African origin.

But, according to “The Columbian Exchange,” the other exchanges of flora and fauna between the Old World and the New World were even more dramatic.

Before the white man arrived, the largest domesticated animal in the New World was the Llama. Llamas are good for encouraging you to download the Bank of America mobile app. But little else.

European cattle and horses were introduced by Columbus and they promptly conquered the Americas. Huge packs of wild horses made it through Central and North America a heck of a lot faster than the white man. Pueblo and Comanche Indians discovered and tamed the white man’s horses long before they ever saw an actual European.

For every domesticated cow that was turned into cheap steak for Argentines and Brazilians, several more were roaming free and grazing, changing the landscape of South America forever.

By the way: cows, as they exist today, have been selectively bred to be larger and more docile than the first cattle that were domesticated in Asia Minor 10,000 years ago. In a very real way, every cow you see is a GMO.

To nourish themselves, Europeans relied heavily on wheat and, to a lesser extent, barley. The Columbian Exchange brought new high-yield crops like corn and potatoes to the Old World.

Just as there are anti-GMO fanatics today, I’m sure there were some kooks who argued that growing corn and potatoes in Europe is “unnatural” and therefore dangerous. But eventually, of course, the truth won out.

“The Columbian Exchange” features some neat contemporary drawings of corn and potato plants by fascinated 16th Century Europeans. One can’t help but notice that the corn and potatoes of their time were significantly smaller and less bountiful than the ones we see today at Shaw’s.

Industrious humans selectively modified the genes of New World plants to make them more efficient and more palatable to the hungry masses of the Old World. Thanks to GMOs, famine due to crop failure has been almost entirely eradicated.

Farmers selectively alter food plants to increase crop yields and suit our needs and desires. This is not only natural, it is a basic attribute of human civilization. You can only separate GMOs from other foods if you pretend that human history began on the day that Monsanto was incorporated.

You basically have two choices, Vermont: you can either live in paranoid fear of the GMO bogeyman. Or you can read “The Columbian Exchange” and learn that there is nothing particularly scary or dangerous or new about what is on your dinner table. (Except dessert).

 

Thank You, Police

           

 

                           Thank You, Police

 

          In general, I am not inclined to respect institutions of authority and power.

I think that the entire criminal justice system should overhauled and radically simplified so that judges, lawyers, and prison wardens have less control over our society.

Every criminal case should have exactly one question: are people in the defendant’s community safer and better off without him. If the answer is yes, he should be immediately moved to the new penal colony on the large island of Hawaii.

I think that all prisons need to be closed immediately.  

Prisons aren’t unusual punishment anymore; but they are definitely cruel. No animal more intelligent than a hamster should ever have to live in a cage. “Judge not, lest ye be judged” applies to criminals, too.

If a man is deemed too dangerous to live among us, he should be shipped to the isolated Hawaiian penal colony to make a new life away from polite society. He should be encouraged to work and thrive. We should wish him the best. If his wife wants to move there, too, that’s wonderful.

“No way, max! I want revenge against the guy who stole my wallet,” you say. Of course you do. But, remember, your feelings of wrath are every bit as sinful as the criminal’s greed. Learning to forgive is more productive than sending everyone we don’t like to jail.

Every year that I live and observe the world, I have less respect for courts and prisons.

But I continue to gain respect for the police force.

Courts condemn people who can’t afford the right lawyer. Prisons dehumanize people and turn them into violent animals.

The police have one simple goal: keeping communities orderly and safe. It’s a very wholesome mission. And they are doing an amazing job.

I have lived 40 years. I have gone out to bars at night several hundred times. And I have never gotten into a fight. I have never been harmed. I have never been threatened. I have never felt unsafe. Not once.

CNN tries to make us think that this country is a frightening war zone. But the truth is that most Americans live their entire lives in security and tranquility. The police are so great at keeping the peace that we take them for granted.

Obviously, this column was partially inspired by the furor over the two terrible incidents this month in which police officers killed men for virtually no reason. I offer no defense for those two awful officers.

The police unions, unfortunately, spend way too much of their resources defending bad cops. That should be the exact opposite of their job.

When an officer does something unacceptable, like that cop in Minnesota, the union should eagerly work to get him fired immediately. And they should make sure that the salary from the fired cop is used to increase the pay of the many good cops on the force.

          The goal should be police departments that are a little smaller but filled with honest, honorable officers who are compensated well for the challenging, important job that they do.

          This goal shouldn’t be hard to accomplish. Most police officers are indeed good cops. And they are doing a great job of keeping us safe.

In a world full of authority figures who don’t deserve our respect, the police are the ones who have earned my allegiance and trust and gratitude. Thank you, police.

         

Relax, Hillary Clinton Will Never Be President

 

Relax, Hillary Clinton Will Never Be President

All the money in the world can’t turn lies into truth or villainy into heroism. That’s why Hillary Clinton will never be President.
Clinton never had a chance just based on her personality. She appears to be an uncomfortable, unlikable, bitter phony. And Americans don’t elect Presidents like that (not since Nixon, anyway).
But the ultimate reason why Clinton can’t win is that her political record is bad. I mean really bad.
By now we all know that Senator Clinton voted to declare war on Iraq: a sure sign that her commitment to the military industrial complex is stronger than her commitment to good sense and humanity.
As Secretary of State, she made more errors in judgement than I have time to list. The most glaring was her State Department’s decision to use American force to oust Muammar Qaddafi. Due to Clinton’s actions, Libya went from a secular dictatorship to an anarchic hotbed of terrorism.
To this day, candidate Clinton talks about Iran like she truly believes that George W Bush’s 2002 Axis of Evil speech is true. I can’t tell if she is really that foolish and pro-war or if she is simply letting the Saudi monarchy write her foreign policy speeches.
Saudi Arabia is the most barbaric, repressive, misogynistic, and pro-terrorism regime in the Middle East next to the Islamic State. But the royal family has donated millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation, so you’ll never hear Hillary criticize the Kingdom.
“We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it…” Really, Senator Clinton? That’s like saying you’re opposed to bridges while you’re crossing a bridge and then burning the bridge as soon as you reach the other side.
By signing NAFTA and repealing Glass-Steagall, President Clinton and his co-president Hillary transformed the Democrats from the party of Roosevelt into the party of Wall Street scoundrels.
Bill Clinton was known as the “first black President.” But the truth is that the Clinton Administration was a calamity for black America. Free trade and unchecked globalization sent millions of blue collar jobs overseas. Meanwhile, Clinton’s Omnibus Crime Bill – with federal funding for more prisons, mandatory minimum sentences, and “three strikes, you’re out” – put many more people behind bars.
When Clinton came to power, a black man had a decent shot of working a wholesome factory job for a living wage. When Clinton left office, those same black men had a disturbingly high chance of working for 20 cents an hour at a privately owned prison. And now $millions of profits from those private prisons are being used to fund Senator Clinton’s Presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, the poor women left at home had to struggle even more to survive thanks to the cruel timing of Clinton’s welfare reform.
Bill Clinton did more harm to the freedom, dignity, and well-being of black Americans than any President in history – except for the ones who actually owned slaves.
And has candidate Hillary Clinton apologized to the black community for all the harm her husband did to them? Nope. She is assuming that black people don’t know all of this, calling Civil Rights activist Bernie Sanders a racist, and cynically counting on the black vote.
The first Clinton Administration crippled the working class and transformed the Democratic Party into a clone of the GOP. I can’t imagine the horrors of Clinton II.
I don’t really have to, though. Relax, Hillary Clinton will never be President.

The Candidate Who Disqualified Himself From the Presidency

The Candidate Who Disqualified Himself From the Presidency

“We’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that, frankly, if they were there and if we could have spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems…we would have been a lot better off…
“We have done a tremendous disservice not only to the Middle East — we’ve done a tremendous disservice to humanity. The people that have been killed, the people that have been wiped away — and for what? It’s not like we had victory. It’s a mess.”
-A Candidate for President

Which candidate said that? Rand Paul? Bernie Sanders? Nope. That was Donald Trump. He said that last month during the CNN debate, in front of largely unfriendly audience filled with hawkish Republicans.
Trump supporters like me know that the billionaire real estate tycoon is one of the more reasonable candidates. The quote above – about the Iraq War – is indicative of a man who is sensible, humane, plain-spoken, and living in the real world.
But Trump haters only read the headlines about his most provocative announcements and assume the worst about him. If you only read what the mainstream media reports, it’s easy to believe its conclusion that he is nothing but a racist megalomaniacal blowhard.
The candidate certainly does say ridiculous things sometimes. He clearly isn’t going to build a wall across the southern border and force the Mexican government to pay for it. I will respect your opinion if you are rooting against Donald Trump.
I am infuriated, however, that anyone agrees with the White House’s official opinion that Trump has disqualified himself from the Presidency when he proposed a temporary ban on Muslim immigration into the United States.
You can darn well disagree with it, but you can’t say that it is any more extreme or outrageous than the other major candidates.
Ted Cruz said that he wants us to bomb the Islamic State until “sand glows in the dark.”
Chris Christie wants to institute a no-fly zone over the Islamic State (which doesn’t have an air force, by the way) and to shoot down Russian planes that enter Syrian airspace, effectively risking World War III.
Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq war and presided over the disastrous final years of the conflict as Secretary of State. And she actually supports Christie’s no-fly zone proposal even though she’s smart enough to know better. (I wonder how much Raytheon and Northrop Grumman are paying her).
Those three truculent turnip-heads are perfectly respectable candidates and Donald Trump is disqualified? I find the concept pro-war, anti-human, and offensive.
Barring new Muslims from the country may be xenophobic, but it doesn’t actually kill anyone. It doesn’t actively promote Islamist hatred of us like 50 years of activist, colonialist foreign policy clearly has.
And it is worth pointing out that Donald Trump has no choice but to make outlandish public statements sometimes. That’s the only way he can get on TV.
The other major candidates – especially Rubio and Clinton – have huge campaign organizations that are paid for by wealthy donors and corporate-backed Super Pacs.
Donald Trump, to his credit, is trying to bypass the plutocracy, thwart the Republican establishment, and get his message straight to the voters. The best way to do that is to say things that are so amusingly outrageous that the media can’t help but publicize them.
The very reason why you don’t like Trump is the reason why you should respect what he is doing. By grabbing headlines with his bravado and brash proclamations, he is proving that you don’t have to be a pro-Wall Street corporate puppet to be a major political player.
If the White House, Hillary Clinton, the RNC, and the Koch Brothers agree that Donald Trump has disqualified himself from the Presidency, that only proves to me that he might be the most qualified of all.

A Man Named Martin

A Man Named Martin
***1/2

In this most Evangelical of countries, it’s odd to me that there isn’t more reverence for the founder of Protestantism.
With all due respect to the great Dr. King, the most influential guy named Martin Luther in world history is definitely Martin Luther. Luther didn’t just found a Christian sect, he saved Christianity itself from excess and oblivion.
In 1500, Roman Catholicism looked more like a corrupt Italian extortion scheme than a religion.
Pope Alexander VI was a member of the notorious Borgia family and he was anything but a holy man. In order to fund his building projects, his wars, and the lavish lifestyle he wanted for himself and his family of illegitimate children, the Pope squeezed as much dirty money as he could out of the church.
Pope Alexander VI appointed bishops and cardinals based on who could pay him the most. And, even worse, the pope doubled down on the sale of indulgences.
Indulgences were certificates issued by the Church that promised to forgive sins and dramatically reduce the amount of time you or your dead loved ones spend in Purgatory.
Purgatory, by the way, was the made-up place where the Medieval Church said your soul goes after you die. A soul spent years – or centuries – there in torment as it slowly worked off its earthly sins.
Unless, of course, you forked over your money and bought an indulgence. As the best German indulgence salesman John Tetzel announced: “when a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs!”
None of this – including the very existence of Purgatory – was even remotely justified by scripture. But it was against the law to read the Latin Bible and punishable by death to translate the Bible into your local language, so people had no way of knowing how badly they were being duped.
A pious, educated German monk named Martin Luther had had enough. When he nailed his 95 theses to the cathedral door, Luther assumed that the church would realize they had gone too far and simply cut down on the selling of indulgences. He was wrong.
When other reform-minded Christians published Luther’s arguments, the monk became a hero to Christian Germans and public enemy #1 in Rome.
“A Man Named Martin” is an historically complex documentary made by passionate Lutherans to explain why they revere Mr. Luther and follow his teachings.
Luther didn’t mean to start a war but he certainly was ready to fight one. Luther argued that the Church was wrong to prohibit people from reading the bible and he translated the new Testament from original Greek into German.
Luther argued that the Catholic Church was flat out wrong about the road to salvation. In the Latin bible, it reads “do penance…and you shall receive the holy spirit.” In the Greek, Luther discovered, it reads “repent…and you shall receive the holy spirit.”
That may sound like a minor edit, but it’s a huge practical difference. It means, Luther concluded, that you don’t need the pope or cardinals or bishops or Mass or confession or indulgences or purgatory to get to heaven. All you need for salvation is a humble, faithful heart and the touch of the holy spirit.
Luther was condemned as a heretic but he ultimately triumphed over the Medieval church. Not only did he found a new Christian faith that survives to this day, but before long the Catholic Church itself conceded that Luther had some good points. The Counter Reformation was Rome’s sincere effort to cut down on corruption and greed.
You don’t have to be a Protestant to acknowledge Luther’s monumental contribution to Christianity. I propose that we declare Tuesday, January 19th Martin Luther Day. I could use a 4-day weekend.