May the Circle be Unbroken

On a sunny day in July, a group of adjudicated teenagers in a Wolfcreek Wilderness program were having a blast going down the Chatooga River in canoes. Two other instructors and I had herded the group of ten down some fairly easy class two and three rapids, and we were relaxing, eddied out in a pool at the bottom of a run.

The kids were not novices on the water. This trip was a bonus rewarded to a group who had successfully navigated the Okmulgee/Altamaha from Hawkinsville to Darien, Georgia.  This was their first trip to the mountains. All but two were city kids; most from the Atlanta metropolitan area.

At the edge of the pool, a rock cliff rose about 50 feet above us. It was covered with lichens and ferns, and nooks and crannies that were meant to be explored, carefully, by teenage boys.

Unbeknownst to one intrepid explorer, the cranny he eyeballed was currently occupied by a two and a half foot, spring-loaded water snake who did not intend to stay put and be prodded by a canoe paddle.

So he leapt, our snake, and by leapt, I mean ejected, evacuated, and escaped at a high velocity directly at the two threatening eyes now approaching his hideaway.

With the reflexes of youth our lad turns aside just barely in time to narrowly avoid a collision with the serpentine arrow, and with the exuberance of youth he then very determinantly  steps out of the canoe and, I swear to you, walks on water a good three steps before sinking in. Into the water. With the snake.

I’ve never seen anyone moving that fast, or dog paddling that hard, around and around in circles, yelling at the top of his lungs but, we were relieved to see, somehow keeping his head above water.

We quickly got him to ground and calmed down, but I have to tell you something. You just cannot watch a guy jump out of a boat with a snake and  then dog paddle in a circle without laughing some. More likely laughing a lot. Right then and there, want to or not. And then again later, and then years later. What has been seen cannot be unseen.

Fortunately the only wounds were perhaps our young friend’s pride, and only for a moment. He was quite the good sport about it.

To some Native Americans the snake symbolized transformation. In the Torah and in the Christian Bible the serpent promised wisdom.  Among some Chinese there is the belief that the snake represents honor. But as long as you’re not the guy who jumped in a pool with a snake, the snake can also represent humor.

A funny thing, though. There are some pretty snaky strokes in the old symbols for karma in Sanskrit, and in the yin and yang of the Taoist. But in the North Georgia Mountains, judgement is mine, sayeth the Lord, and what goes around comes around.

It came around this very afternoon down by the creek. I was washing my hands at the edge of the water, on hands and knees, and the top of my head was about 6 inches from the rocky bank. When I looked up, there were two dark little obsidian eyes looking back at me from that same distance. They glared out over a little black tongue darting in and out like it was tasting the air.

I didn’t stick around to notice much more, and there must have been some kind of levitation involved in transporting me to the other side of the creek, without my knowledge or permission, that far and that fast. How quickly a large dose of adrenaline can set the body on automatic, autonomic pilot when the snake-to-face comfort perimeter is breached.

The snake never moved, but I certainly did, ejecting and evacuating from the scene, at a high velocity. So we have come full circle in a way. Laugh with me now, and help me pay the remaining balance on a laugh-karma loan that has been collecting interest for many fine years.  May the circle be unbroken.

 

Doomed

“We’re doomed,” said my wife, looking at the much discussed photo of Kim Kardashian standing next to the president in the Oval Office.

“Is there something worse than ‘doomed?'” I asked, pointing to an image of Dennis Rodman with Kim Jong Un over an article speculating about Rodman’s possible role in the upcoming summit in Singapore.

Perhaps there is some consolation in the fact that the reality TV star in the first photo (not the president, but the one standing next to him) was actually at the White House to promote a worthy cause. As for the second picture, maybe it takes a madman to understand a madman. But in a running mudslinging contest like the one that so often engages the public discourse in our time, we all too rarely slow down long enough to consider what we’re actually slinging or if it lands anywhere near the target. Everything becomes a weapon in the primitive, tribal conflict which we attempt to rationalize as a political contest.

In an argumentum ad hominem,  a fallacious attack is made on the character or motives of an individual rather than the point that person is trying to make. This type of fallacy, like so many others, is ridiculously easy to launch in our matrix of constant connectivity.  Fallacious arguments begin with childhood taunts on the playground when we don’t know any better, but they persist well past the time when we should, often for the rest of our lives,  and now leveraged by technology.

In practice, since our illogical fantasies are more or less equally arrayed under diametrically opposed political banners, things tend to work themselves out over time, as the pendulum of public opinion swings back and forth from one turning to the next. But not all fantasies are harmless.

If you watch corporate news or visit any number of websites, it’s hard to avoid an impending sense of doom. The competition for our attention is ruthless. We are presented with crime and misfortune, morning, noon and night. Breaking news is always urgent.  There is little escape in alternative news, which peddles conspiracy and apocalypse while thousands of people prep for the end of civilization itself.

Meanwhile, and contrary to the most popular narratives, across the globe life continues to improve for humanity according to just about every metric that we use to measure human progress. Yet in America, suicide rates have increased an average of 30% over the last two decades, and some sources say that depression and anxiety are at epidemic levels among teenagers.

There is nothing more profitable, or more useful for expediting control, than fear. It has always been so. When the Nazis burned the Reichstag in 1933, they blamed it on a Dutch communist. Adolf Hitler claimed that the fire was a “sign from God,” and this event allowed the Nazis to assume emergency powers to defend the nation against…whomever the Nazis said were enemies of the state.

It’s not hard to find parallels in history, before and after the events that led to WWII. Pick any part of the world at any time when despotism and the totalitarian state has grown to dominate people’s lives.  For decades North Koreans have lived in constant fear that an American attack was imminent. Americans have feared unemployed young muslims willing to blow themselves up in our midst for going on 17 years now.

But let’s consider a more recent example of the use of fear to further a goal. Just about every day now, corporate news and scores of websites remind us that there is a movement in America to, depending on who you ask, either disarm Americans or demand common sense gun laws.

The issue is immediately polarizing, and the political paradigm you follow is a good predictor of what your opinion is going to be on this, like so many other subjects.  In the echo chambers of our two dominant tribes the right parrots the notion that the left wants to disarm Americans in order to expand the coercive power of government. The left repeats the mantra that peace loving Americans will no longer tolerate the brutality of  deplorables clinging to a Constitutional right that has no place in the modern world.

A common denominator for both sides of the gun debate is the doom that awaits at the bottom of the slippery slope of their fallacious arguments. Both sides use fear to motivate support. But there is little truth to be found at the extremes of either left or right thinking on this subject, especially when a tragedy occurs such as the school shootings which have been so much in the news recently. In the face of horror the limbic system often takes over from the more rational parts of the brain.

Sadly, the issue has become another political football with both tribes seeking to use it to galvanize support in the upcoming elections.

Darkness can be banished by lighting a candle, and fear can be banished by fact. At least in the case of school violence, the facts, if they were widely known, might just serve to deflate this one political football.

In February of this year, Northeastern University released a study after crunching the numbers on school violence. The verdict:  Schools are significantly safer now than they were in the 90’s. According to James Alan Fox, one of the authors of the study, “Four times the number of children were killed in schools in the early 1990s than today.”

No amount of school violence that is acceptable, but what we have today is hardly the epidemic being presented. It is just the opposite – an outlier in a continuing trend toward decreasing violence. If we truly intend to continue that trend, rather than making this issue about politics, let’s look at what we have done to facilitate this improvement, and let that inform our future decisions.

There are many other areas where life is improving, contrary to popular opinion. In the coming weeks we will discuss more of them. So, despite the Drudge/Huffington title of this piece, we are not doomed. Not at all. But we got your attention, didn’t we? And attention sells newspapers, and elects celebrities to high office, and makes diplomats out of basketball players.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacrifice, and Those Who Require It

Another Memorial Day is behind us, and as the memory of the long weekend is carried away with the recycle bin full of beer cans, we hope, as we always hope, that we carry with us something of the occasion besides a few extra pounds. It is not enough. It is not nearly enough to pause for a few moments once a year to remember sacrifice, to click on a poppy or put plastic flowers on a grave, even when we do so in all sincerity.

My father served in the South Pacific in 1944 and ’45 and saw action at Luzon, the Solomon Islands and Leyte. He survived torpedoes, Kamikaze pilots and Halsey’s Typhoon, and then came home to take his place with the strongest and most productive generation of Americans to date. Like many of his peers he carried his ghosts close to his chest, and never spoke of the horrors of war until much later in life. Many sacrificed all, but the ones who made it home sacrificed youth and innocence. They carried the burden of memory quietly and without complaint for the rest of their lives, because they knew what it had purchased, and they would do it all again.

How many more have sacrificed since that greatest of all conflicts? How many still carry the ghosts of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan? But what comfort do they have in knowing what was purchased by their own sacrifice? It’s not so clear, is it? Since WWII we have had no clear victories, no great uniting causes.

Soldiers have fought and died bravely. Millions have served honorably and given their own youth and innocence. We tell them they are defending freedom, and we try to believe that ourselves. But believing that requires an ever lengthening leap of faith, and there is a nagging suspicion that sometimes our belief requires the suspension of reason itself.

Our better angels tell us that all humans are fundamentally the same. That idea is at the root of all that we believe as Americans. Conservative Christians tell us that the soul has no color. Spiritually minded liberals celebrate diversity and inclusion. So on this seminal issue we are all in agreement.

Building on that, we must assume that the vast majority of humanity wants the same thing that we want:  A roof over our heads, a modicum of comfort, and a safe and peaceful life for our family and friends. We want the freedom to choose our path as we see fit, with the caveat that we may do as we please as long as we harm no one.

Which brings us back to the question of defending freedom. If we bother to think about it at all, it’s quite a puzzle to understand why someone halfway around the globe would want to abandon the struggle to survive and provide for their own family in order to come here and steal our barbecue grills.

But it’s not that simple, is it? We are not the only ones being told that we are defending our way of life from hostile enemies. In fact, for much of the world, we are the enemy. Millions of people have been convinced by their own leaders that Americans wish to leave our own shores in order to travel halfway around the world and steal someone else’s livelihood.

Of course we know that’s not true and that we, as Americans, hold the moral high ground. It’s just that it’s difficult to make our case when there are no, for example, Libyan soldiers stationed at the edge of town, but there are, in fact, over 1000 American military bases scattered around the world, particularly in areas rich in natural resources and fossil fuels.

In just a few paragraphs here, we have mirrored the history of the world from the very first empire to our own. Average people who want nothing more than to live out their lives in peace are frightened, cajoled, threatened, or inspired by patriotic fervor to take up arms against strangers far away from home.

Congress, where less than 20% of its members are veterans,  just authorized the spending of almost $800 billion in American treasure to continue defending our freedom. For 60 years, since nuclear weapons were developed, the government has made plans for its own survival in the event of a nuclear holocaust. We are not included in those plans. Or if you want to look on the other side of the world, when was the last time a mullah blew himself up rather than sending some hopeless and deluded youth to do it?

But we never seem to get it.  War is easy when the leaders who send young people to die do not suffer from the consequences of their decisions. War is easy when there is profit for the people who rule the leadership.

Perhaps on Memorial Day, we need to do more than honor the sacrifice of those who served. Perhaps we need to keep in mind those who, without honor, caused the sacrifice to be made.

 

 

Dilute, Divide and Divert

The dew is heavy on the grass this morning and the creek is swollen from recent rain as the sun begins to peek over the mountain. The bees  are already busy carrying nectar from the poplars in full bloom. There is a sprayer full of a special mixture of neem oil and peppermint soap waiting by the shop door, and some young fruit trees waiting to be relieved of hungry aphids.

But that can wait until this coffee cup is emptied of its most excellent contents. Life is too short to drink bad coffee, or to drink any coffee in a hurry.

We’re about to venture forth, briefly, into the surreal domain of politics this morning, and before doing so we like to fortify our spirit with reminders of what is real and what is important.

What is important to us this morning is the sanctity and safety of this little mountain cove, the clean water in the stream rushing by the garden, the bees, able to gather their nectar and pollen without being poisoned and most of all, the ability of the beloved woman still sleeping soundly in bed to go forth into the world without being sickened by the pollutants and contaminants of “better living through chemistry.”

Our best protection from the toxic byproducts of the ongoing monetization of the human condition is in the choices we make. We don’t eat processed food. We don’t buy plastic that smells like burnt motor oil. And to pay it forward we don’t throw batteries into the trash can or flush paint thinner down the toilet. There are so many choices we make on a daily basis that can improve our chances in a toxic world.

But many people have considerably fewer choices than we do. In the monetized world, good health often depends on being able to afford it. Quality and the lack of contamination costs more. Many people drink tap water because they can’t afford expensive water filters. They eat processed food because organic produce is too expensive. They live in places where the air is filthy because they can’t afford to move.

If you haven’t detected any politics yet in this conversation, you’re about to. One of the primary (and one of the few legitimate) purposes of government is to provide for the common defense. We have, as a people, argued for generations about what that means. We continue to argue about it.

Since the Environmental Protection Agency was established by executive order of Richard Nixon in 1970, the EPA has endeavored to defend Americans from unsafe and unscrupulous practices that poison and degrade the environment. It has both succeeded and failed in that effort. As an expansion of executive power, it’s failures have arguably been directly attributable to politics. Like all of the agencies that have come under the control of burgeoning executive power, the EPA can be and it has been wielded as a political tool.

President Trump campaigned on the goal of releasing American business from the shackles of over-regulation. The EPA is, of all the agencies that exist in our behemoth bureaucracy, the one most despised by business. Either from lack of science or lack of ingenuity, a paradigm has long existed in many businesses that manufacturing healthy and safe products must be governed by profitability. This paradigm assumes that profitability depends on expediting the manufacture of products as quickly and as cheaply as possible, and therefore any rules and regulations which interfere with that are costly and to be avoided.

But Americans are more health conscious than they were when the EPA was established. It would be politically unwise to simply dismantle the organization. So what the Trump Administration is doing is instead dismantling the science which is at the root of the rules and regulations issued by the EPA.

The back story is long and involved and quite the story of political cunning. If you are interested, search the publications of the Union of Concerned Scientists regarding the EPA’s new “transparency” policy. In short, the “science” that will support the agency charged with protecting the environment will now be more like “tobacco science.”

The story of this maneuver is an opportunity for outrage. But here is where politics becomes most useful. We have already heard the condemnation from the left. “Those republicans are at it again!” (We have forgotten that the EPA, itself, was created by a republican.) “Trump is no friend of the environment!”

This is quite possibly true, but neither was President Obama a steadfast friend of the environment. Have we forgotten the 1500 offshore drilling permits issued by his administration, or the over 300 fracking plans excluded from environmental review? There are many more such examples if we look at the record through the lens of science instead of the political lens.

But herein lies the problem. Our objectivity has been so warped by the logical fallacies of political thinking that we can’t even agree on the weather without consulting our party’s talking points. Truth is now subject to political philosophy, and as far as the environment is concerned, when the latest degradation is revealed, we get trapped by attempting to understand the issue in political terms, diluting, dividing and diverting our outrage.

Long time readers, or anyone who remembers the republican/democrat bailout of the big banks, will remind us that “dilute, divide and divert” works for economic as well as environmental degradation.

 

 

Timeless

Someone asked me a long time ago why I put so much effort into making a garden when it would be cheaper to buy  produce at the market.

I don’t remember who said that. It’s likely that I’m no longer friends with that person. Anyone who could ask such a stupid question is not a likely candidate for long term friendship.

There are times, however, when I’m tempted to ask the same of myself. The question surfaces in the spring when I discover that the ground has yielded yet another bumper crop of rocks. Where do they come from? They certainly weren’t there in the fall. They must issue forth from the smallest of pebbles left behind as seed, watered by the winter rains and heaved to the surface by freezing and thawing ground.

Potatoes at the grocery store seem cheap when you’re humping a wheelbarrow full of rocks up a hill. But when you compare the taste of a grocery potato to a homegrown spud freshly dug, a potato quite remarkable for its tenderness and creamy consistency and it’s ability to absorb butter like a sponge, the grocery store variety would seem to be a different species entirely.

And while we’re singing the praises of the nightshade family, anyone who has grown tomatoes at home will tell you without hesitation that they taste nothing like the flavorless hybrids gassed in the truck on the ride up from Florida.

There are other tangible benefits of the home garden. We are reminded of one of them every time there is a new recall or an outbreak of food-borne disease. The quality of the produce you can grow at home is unmatched. Plus you simply cannot find the variety of flavors in the market that is available when you grow heirlooms at home.

In the age of wage slavery, however, the number of people who have time or energy to grow a significant contribution to their own larder is diminishing. But there are intangible benefits as well. “There is something very grounding about working in the soil,” quipped a friend of mine who likes to poke fun at talk show psychology. But he has a point. During the last two weeks of the planting season, we have enjoyed a profound sense of peace.

“That’s probably because we’ve been too tired to worry about anything,” says my wife. But there’s nothing wrong with being tired when you sleep like one of the many rocks we have birthed this spring. We’re spending more time outdoors. We haven’t watched the news very much, or worried about the elections or the state of the world. The sound and fury of the pixel world, so hungry for our attention while it schemes to pick our pockets, has quietened down to a murmur, and when I stood in the garden the other evening and watched the first stars appearing in the sky, the vanity of that thing we call civilization seemed but an eddy, a temporary disturbance on the surface of an eternal river.

I’m beginning to understand what my grandfather knew. I remember seeing him in his early 90’s, standing in his garden with a hoe in each hand. He would lean on one for support while he chopped with the other, and then alternate. Then he would stand in rapt attention looking, simply looking at the mountain. He didn’t use the word, “meditate,” but his attention was just as peaceful, just as profound, and timeless. And at 90 years old he could still push a wheelbarrow full of rocks up a hill.

 

 

Goodbye Old Friend

 

 

Kenmore is a Sears brand of appliances. They started making washing machines in 1927, and along with Coldspot and the Craftsman line of tools, the name was synonymous with quality for many years. We have a mid 1950’s Coldspot refrigerator that still works perfectly.

Today it is difficult to know what kind of hardware actually exists behind the Kenmore label. It could be Whirlpool, LG, Electrolux, Panasonic or Daewoo Electronics. Craftsman is now owned by Stanley Black and Decker.

Sears has been in trouble for quite some time. Walmart and Amazon were a one-two punch on the glass jaw of a company which failed to adapt to changing times. The shift to online shopping was inevitable, along with new software innovations and data-driven marketing. But Sears rested on its century-old laurels. Just a few years ago customers had to wait in line to make a purchase while employees wrestled with archaic text-based software at the register and an ancient inventory control system that seemed to struggle to find anything.

Some of us have tried to remain loyal to Sears. We grew up relying on Sears brands and our toolboxes are still full of Craftsman tools. Where else could we go on a Sunday afternoon without an appointment and get new tires or an oil change? But with each passing year we began to notice that there was less reason to shop at Sears. Inventories declined and electronics was replaced by, of all things, mattresses.

As customers, we did not know that a weakened Sears had been infested with tapeworms. Our Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, was on the board of Sears Holdings Corporation. He and his college roommate, Sears CEO, Eddie Lampert, helped to disembowel Sears by using the corporation’s line of credit to setup a REIT, and then transferred billions worth of prime real estate owned by Sears into the fund. Sears now teeters on the edge of bankruptcy with a hole in its pension fund of over $2 billion.

With declining sales and cash flow problems, Sears finds it increasingly difficult to stock  shelves, and long term relationships have ended with some vendors who are concerned about being paid.

Along the path of the decline of what once was an iconic American brand, Sears began to cannibalize itself to stay in business. It sold Craftsman Tools, Lands End and Sears Canada. Lampert is now pushing the battered company to sell the Kenmore brand (to his own company, ESL Investments).

A few years ago my wife and I bought a Kenmore washing machine that failed on its first day. We bought a tiller from Sears which we watched being loaded by a store manager who actually opened the crate to verify the model number. When we got the tiller home and opened the box ourselves, there in plain sight was a rat’s nest, and the rats had gnawed through the spark plug wire.

Still we tried to remain loyal. But we began to notice that something about the Sears “culture” and commitment to customers was changing. Last year we went to Sears first when we started shopping for two major appliances, but we did not buy from Sears. Sears matched the competitors’ price for the appliances, but the competitors wanted a fraction of what Sears did for an extended warranty – and they offered free delivery while Sears would have charged for it.

Six weeks ago we ordered a metal building from Sears. After waiting a month for delivery, we tried to cancel the order. What followed was a nightmare of miscommunication from customer support, which Sears has moved offshore to places where English is not the native language and it is very difficult to understand what is being said over bad phone connections. (We were able to understand that “Sally” at the beginning of one call became “Monica” by the end of the same call.)  It took days to correct a mistake Sears’ inventory control system made which indicated that the building which never arrived had already been picked up.

The most recent insult was our Kenmore washing machine, still under warranty but failing after less than a year. Two service calls failed to fix it and now we wait for a main board to arrive so we can schedule a third service call. The repair tech told us that the new board will probably fail also, but Sears refuses to exchange the machine, even for an upgrade where we would pay the difference. Instead they condescended to extend the warranty an additional three months. Amazon would already have shipped us a replacement.

After we complained to anyone who would listen, Sears eventually called us with what they said was a great opportunity. No, they could not replace the washer, but they would sell us an extended warranty for the washer (the one they can’t fix) at a discount. But first we would have to buy a separate warranty for our year old dishwasher, which would “activate” the discount offer on the washing machine.

When I finally stopped laughing I said, for the sake of clarity, “Let me see if I understand.  You can’t fix the washer. You don’t have the part needed to fix it. You don’t know when you can get the part. You won’t let me trade in my washer and pay you for an upgrade. But I can give you $200 and own a warranty on the washer that doesn’t work as well as the dishwasher that does?”

Sometimes laughter covers disappointment. When I started laughing again the young lady from Sears wished me a good evening and hung up the phone.

We adapt, or we decline. Sears waited too late to adapt, and when it tried, it was betrayed by its own insiders. It’s culture changed, perhaps from a sense of impending doom seeping into the awareness of even store level employees. Accountability was fragmented, compartmentalized and then widely distributed so that each person could say “there’s nothing I can do” when presented with a problem that could not be resolved to Sears’ advantage. The incidents here do not suggest a growing company investing in relationships to build a future, but a declining company acting in desperation.

Sears, you were our reliable companion during the height of American affluence. Losing you is like losing an old friend. We will miss you.

(Note: Sears Hometown Stores are independently owned and operated and are not involved with the operations of stores owned by Sears Holdings Corporation.)

Do As I Say

We fully support Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw’s decision to disallow painting on top of Bell Mountain.

It is with anger and embarrassment that we admit that some of our young people, having been entrusted with a responsibility to behave reasonably, would choose to demonstrate their contempt for our community with vandalism.

The original decision to allow painting of the exposed rock on top of the mountain was not without merit.  It was hoped that by giving official approval to something that was going to happen anyway, it would channel some of that destructive energy into something more manageable. One cannot separate from the young the natural desire to explore existing boundaries and push against them. There are many among the younger generations who push those boundaries by tagging and painting things. They even decorate themselves with ink and piercings. It is a form of self expression, and it is their right.

Vandalism is also a form of self expression when one wishes to express contempt, anger and despair. It is a problem as old as civilization.

But before we get too comfortable sitting in judgment, it might be wise to ask ourselves just how different we really are from the youth we can so easily condemn.

It’s true that, as adults in a civil society who have benefited from education and experience, we usually make better decisions than our children. We still have the same impulses as our young. We still get angry. We still feel contempt. We still have to solve the equations of risk versus reward on a daily basis. But our impulses have been more or less channeled into conformity, or institutionalized.

We condemn the miscreants who destroy and deface public property and natural beauty. But have we really done so much better as adults with the myriad ways we legally impact our environment?

Let’s start with the view from the top of Bell Mountain. Beautiful, isn’t it? Perhaps, if you look to the east at some of the remaining few ridgelines unspoiled by “progress” and “job creation.” There are a few among us who remember the Bell before the distinctive gash visible for miles was created. It was not done in an effort to make the mountain more beautiful.

Look to the west and we see a manmade lake completely surrounded by houses like a bathtub ring – a lake that covered some of the best and most beautiful farmland in the southeast – a declining lake polluted by excess nitrogen and phosphorous, poorly managed stormwater retention,  erosion and sedimentation from badly designed roads and developments, and leaking and failing septic systems.

Take a drive anywhere in North Georgia and look at the shoulders of the road so colorfully decorated by the bright blues and verdant greens of Bud Light cans and Mountain Dew bottles, punctuated with brilliant white highlights in Styrofoam.  The color combinations are very similar to what we see on top of the Bell, and the contempt is almost identical.

Do you like to go outside at night and enjoy the stars that light up the night sky? You may have to drive some distance for that pleasure now that our mountain valleys have been defaced with street lights, and empty houses broadcast their contempt for stargazing and diurnal cycles with floodlights on timers.

If you have driven any distance in America, you will realize that the problems just described of our still-beautiful area pale in comparison to what has happened in other parts of the country. Zoom out for a bird’s eye view and you will see pollution of all kinds, crumbling infrastructure, and the chaos of unplanned, unchecked development. Zoom out far enough and you will see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as big as Texas.

The chaos, the pollution and the ugliness, all of it, was rendered by responsible adults acting in a legally sanctioned manner, and yet the contempt and the ambivalence behind it is just as palpable as what we see on top of Bell Mountain.

Earth Day is just a few days behind us and a few of us planted a tree or picked up trash. Our culture is big on gestures and resolutions. But we’re going to need more than just a day if we have any hope of changing the behavior we have seen on Bell Mountain – or the behavior that continues to deface and digest the rest of the planet. So we should, by all means, condemn the vandalism which has occurred. We should seek to understand the anger and the contempt behind it, and what that says about our families and our civil society. But in our condemnation, we must also admit that we can only say, “Do as I say, not as I do.”