May, 2014

Santa Barbara Monster

May 27th, 2014 24 Comments

Someone (or possibly several anonymous someones) takes me to task from time to time for my love of firearms and my support of the second amendment. I recently received an email on my “Comments” page that contained (in part) the following: “Have you seen the father of the boy who was killed in the Santa Barbara shooting? Have you seen him on television? How does he make you feel about your gun rights [sic]?”

(I am being persnickety about the “gun rights” correction, but guns are inanimate objects and have no rights. He or she meant second amendment rights.)

Yes, I have seen him, and my heart goes out to him. His pain and grief are unimaginable, and no one in their right mind could fault him for lashing out. I pray God will give him the strength to come through this and to eventually find some peace.

Having said that, I have to point out that his anger is misdirected. The gun didn’t shoot his son anymore the knife killed the three young men who had the misfortune to share an apartment with a monster, anymore than a BMW SUV killed (injured?) the bicyclist who had the misfortune to be on the street that night. Nor were craven politicians responsible, nor was the NRA. Nor were the police who obeyed the law and respected their own oath and the Constitution of the United States by not “doing more” (that seems to be the phrase I hear most frequently on the news) the night they went to the monster’s apartment. Nor were his parents. Nor were the mental health providers he saw. Nor was his Asperger’s Syndrome.

The young man who is responsible for the horror in Santa Barbara was a spoiled, narcissistic, jealous monster. He was evil, and there is no explanation for evil. Evil exists, just as good exists. Fortunately, there is far, far more good in the world than there is evil.

There are approximately ninety million gun owners in the United States, who enjoy sport and recreation with their firearms and never use them to commit any crime. More than that: legally-owned firearms are used defensively (to save lives and prevent crimes) approximately one million times a year in America. Those goods far outweigh the evil that is done.

Many tens of thousands of people (no one knows precisely how many) have Asperger’s and harm no one. Should we judge them all by the actions of an evil monster?

It is normal to cry out in pain, and it is normal to try and assign blame after a horror like this, but the blame lies solely with the monster. As my friend, gun-writer Dave Workman said in an email, “[He] had everything a kid could want, but nothing a young man needed: Character, self-reliance, a sense of responsibility, self-control, a sense of right and wrong.” No new laws, no further restrictions on the rights of gun owners or people with mental problems—or any other citizens—will ever prevent evil. We might just as well try to make ourselves feel good by banning BMW SUVs.

I read somewhere that over 2.2-million people have read the monster’s “manifesto” on line. I will not.

A Modest Proposal…

May 15th, 2014 25 Comments

…for the general improvement of our government at local, state, and national levels.

Gallows 2

We got a copy of our California Primary Election Guide in the mail the other day. As you might suspect, I take voting seriously, still naïvely believing it might make a difference in how things are done in my county, my state, my country. So I was a little stunned to see, on page six, the State and Federal Voter Identification Requirements section, with the following listed as acceptable forms of identification:

Driver’s license or state-issued ID card. (That’s good.)

Passport. (Very good.)

Military ID. (Good.)

Student ID. (Maybe. What if you’re an exchange student?)

Employee ID card. (Well, okay, that’ll do.)

Credit or debit card. (Say what? Any fool can get his hands on one of those.)

Insurance plan ID card. (Uh, I have some reservations about that one, especially given the push in California just now to provide free health insurance to all illegal immigrants.)

Health club ID. (Now wait just a damn minute. So some billionaire—George Soros or Michael Bloomberg on the left, or the Koch brothers on the right—could, in theory, fly a hundred thousand Chinese citizens over here, buy them all memberships in some health club, and swing the election whichever way he wants. You must be joking.)

Then the guide went on to encourage me to log on and find the full list of thirty acceptable forms of identification. I did. I wish I hadn’t. Here are some of the more ludicrous things the government will allow to ensure democracy in action:

A utility bill.

A bank statement.

Any document issued by a governmental agency. (Will an arrest warrant do?)

Discharge certificates, pardons, or other official documents issued to the individual in connection to the resolution of a criminal case, indictment, sentence, or other matter. (Oh. Well, I guess that answers the question about the arrest warrant.)

Vehicle certificate of ownership issued by a governmental agency. (So our billionaire could buy cars for some of his many Chinese friends that he flies over, just to compensate them for voting in our election. Well, that’s nice of him.)

Drug prescription issued by a government doctor or other governmental health care provider. (Uh, would that be for medical marijuana, maybe?)

This is the kind of governmental lunacy in action that makes you long for the classical Greek days of Periclean Athens, the Golden Age, where when a new law was proposed, the Assembly member who proposed it was held responsible for the results of its adoption, and if the results were seriously evil, the member could be fined, disenfranchised, or even—best of all—put to death. We need to bring that back.

Better yet, let’s go back an additional two hundred years to around 660 BC, when the Greek city-state of Locri, decreed that any man who wished to propose a new law had to do so with a rope tied around his neck so that he might be promptly hung, with a minimum of public inconvenience, if the people didn’t like his proposal.

That might have a salubrious effect on both our government and our legal system.

Sumer Is Icumen in…

May 12th, 2014 8 Comments

Western tananger 011 (Small)

…Lhude sing cuccu!

Groweth sed, and bloweth med,

And springeth the wude nu –

Sing cuccu!

 

They didn’t have spell-check in 1226 when that was written, but it’s the spirit of the thing that counts. My spelling isn’t much better.

For many years we marked the beginning of spring in the mountains by the arrival of the orioles, specifically the Scott’s oriole, a bright lemon-yellow fellow, who used to nest in the trees around the house. Scott’s orioles are shy birds, and the exceptionally dense foliage of our Raywood ash trees provided them plenty of privacy.

But over the past several years, for unknown reasons, we haven’t seen any, so when Darleen spotted a flash of yellow in the bitterbrush on the hill behind the house, she was delighted, assuming it was the orioles coming back late from their winter tour through Mexico. “Visit the historic towns of Old Mexico! Marvel at the ruins of Aztec temples! Enjoy local cuisine and the hospitality of rural Mexico! See old friends again! Relax in four-star accommodations!”

But it wasn’t. It was a Western tanager, also bright lemon-yellow and black, but he wears a red hat that makes him look very flashy indeed, rather like the motley fool of medieval times. In 1226, say.

Western tanagers are not particularly uncommon around here, but they are a coniferous bird, preferring pine trees to oak trees, and bark-beetle depredation has taken a toll on the old pines on our property. Old pines are more susceptible to bark-beetles, especially when stressed by drought, and California has had more than its fair share of drought this year. The result is that we have had to have four large old pines taken down. They don’t look good when they die, and they become even more dangerous than they are when healthy. Even healthy pines will literally explode into flame from the heat of an advancing fire (I have seen this happen) and when they’re dead, they explode much more easily, putting them on a par with sage and mesquite for being a fire hazard.

So the only old pines left on the hill behind our house are very high up, and there aren’t many of them anyway at this relatively low elevation, and as tanagers nest exclusively in pines and spruces (to my knowledge) I was a little surprised to see them.

And “them” is the operative word. It’s a trifle difficult for an amateur to tell one gaudy male tanager from another, especially at a distance, but there appeared to be at least four and perhaps as many as six males. And, I presume, their spouses, but in contradistinction to the human world, it the males who draw your attention.

Western tananger 031 (Small)

And it was the bitterbrush that drew the birds. It’s hard to imagine anything called “bitterbrush” being palatable, but they were feasting with gusto, cramming berries into their mouths as fast as they could, building up their energy for nest building at higher elevations. I miss our orioles, who are energetic singers, as opposed to the relatively quiet tanagers, but it is always nice to see summer visitors, especially anything as beautiful as a tanager.

Grimm News

May 7th, 2014 17 Comments

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Did you hear about Representative Michael Grimm? He’s the former FBI agent turned congressman from Staten Island most famous for once threatening to throw a reporter off the balcony of the Capitol Rotunda. Charming fellow. He is now achieving even more dubious notoriety for a wide range of charges of the very kind he used to investigate as an FBI agent: fraud, tax evasion, money laundering.

I neither know nor care about Rep. Grimm and his troubles. From the little I have seen of him on television (the Capitol Rotunda incident) he is an obnoxious bully of the kind I most despise, and his alleged crimes are simply a somewhat less subtle example of the kind of malfeasance or sometimes outright criminal behavior that nearly every single senator and congressman indulges in to line his or her pockets at the tax payers’ expense. Nor am I surprised that he has stoutly denied all accusations, damning them as a government-led witch hunt intended to derail his career and destroy his reputation and drive him out of office.

All of this is pretty much standard operating procedure in Washington, DC, the daily Commedia dell’Arte of government, where our public servants labor under the delusion they are our masters and play various kinds of games of varying degrees of illegality and get away with it. Nothing new here, folks, move along.

What did surprise me was my reaction when I saw Mr. Grimm’s press conference on the news, the one where he blamed all the charges on a government conspiracy against him. Even as I was listening to him and mentally saying, “Yeah, right, buddy-boy,” another part of me was thinking, “Hmm. Maybe that’s the real truth. Maybe he is being tarred and feathered by the government for some reason.” And that’s the bad part, the sad part, of this incident.

Forty years ago, even twenty, I would never have thought that way. I would have believed my government was doing its best, under frequently difficult and sometimes overwhelmingly complex circumstances, to protect the American citizen. Now, I wonder.

As a corollary, I found myself having the same reaction when the White House released the latest scientific studies on global warming—or, rather, climate change, as it is now called. I don’t doubt it’s happening; any scientist, hell, any historian can tell you the climate has fluctuated up and down all throughout the existence of our beautiful old planet. Heavy heat and humidity allowed the dinosaurs to flourish; great ice ages scoured and sculpted the surface of the earth; a mini ice age helped spur the development of the chimney as an architectural feature in northern Europe back around the 1300s. It has always fluctuated and will always continue to fluctuate. Nor do I doubt that man is contributing to it. As a small child, on brutal summer days my father used to drive us all out into the country just to get away the great heat of the concrete streets of Washington, DC, a tiny but memorable lesson in man’s effect on the environment.

But because the country has been lied to so many times before (“If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Period.”) I found myself wondering if some of the more dire and dramatic details of the study hadn’t been, shall we say, emphasized, at the government’s behest to suit its own ideology, its own agenda. I long for the day when some bright boy comes up with an alternative to oil or coal, so that we can stop spending all our money polluting the air and lining the pockets of nations that would love to annihilate us, but nobody’s come up with anything truly workable and affordable yet.

And so instead of rallying behind the call for a drive toward a bright new, greener and more energy efficient world, I find myself cynically wondering why, and if, and could it be, and what’s the motive? Is that because something has changed in America, in the ponderous and venal machinery of government? Or is it simply because I am less naïve than I was when I wore a younger man’s clothes?

Wendy Glenn

May 5th, 2014 12 Comments

Warner and Wendy (Small)

Wendy Glenn died the other day. Since almost none of you have any idea who she was, let me say that the Glenn family was when I met them, and still are today, in spite of the attrition of time and that implacable laughing jokester, Death, quite the most remarkable family I have ever met.

I first met Warner and Wendy and their daughter Kelly while working on a movie in Tucson. They were, and still are, ranchers on the Mexican border in extreme southeastern Arizona. This is the rugged, harsh, infinitely beautiful and infinitely delicate land of the Peloncillo and Chiricahua Mountains, home once to the last of the Apache Indians. Warner’s grandfather had started a ranch in the vast, empty land east of Douglas (Arizona)/Agua Prieta (Mexico) and with the stubborn endurance and hard work that once characterized America, he made a go of it. Well, he made it as successful as any man can make any ranch in a part of the world as vulnerable and unforgiving as that land.

One of the obstacles to ranching in that area is the ubiquitous mountain lion, just as the wolf is an obstacle in the northern-tier states along the Canadian border, and Warner’s grandfather imported some hounds from back East and hunted the cats to keep them in check. Warner’s father continued the tradition and was so successful that he began supplementing his ranching first with predator control for his neighbors, and later with guided hunts for hunters from other, softer portions of the country, where mountain lions are not as prevalent. So when I first met them, back in the early eighties, Warner and Wendy were running the ranch, while Warner and Kelly and Warner’s father, Marvin, were running their hounds for hunters to help supplement a rancher’s always uncertain income. I had never had any desire to hunt mountain lion, but I was so impressed with them that I signed up on the spot. And how could anyone not be impressed?

Physically, they are impressive. Warner is six-six or six-seven, with bones like steel girders and the body fat of a T-post. Kelly is at least as tall as I am, pretty as a picture—literally: she was for many years the Ruger Girl, the model and spokesperson for Ruger firearms. Wendy was the smallest, a mere five-eight or five-nine, with a smile like many stars grouped together, and that indefinable combination of qualities that made up the idealized mothers of television shows in the fifties: nurturing; complete but kindly honesty in every word she spoke; no-nonsense or misbehavior tolerated; everyone welcome in her home until the moment they crossed her lines of behavior, and then Nelly-bar-door. Others have described her as the glue that held the family together, but it is only true if you think of glue as a restless, endlessly busy, driving force as fiercely protective of her family and her piece of the earth as any of the cats that roamed the mountains and preyed on her cattle.

Personally, they were impressive. All of them, and Marvin too, when I later met him, had the easy, open, confident friendliness of people who know themselves and trust their own judgment of the world and its inhabitants.

Intellectually, they were impressive. I no longer recall if any or all of them had gone to college, but as Henry Fielding once pointed out, it is as possible for a man to know something without having been at school, as it is to have been at school and know nothing, and all of them had the kind of intelligence that enables people to see and recognize both opportunity and—equally important—the right and wrong within opportunity.

For that was how they most impressed me, back in my wild and arrogant youth, drunk with my own success in the riskiest crapshoot of profession there is, surrounded by oily opportunists on one side and smiling, smiling villains on the other. The Glenn family radiated a quiet integrity the way other people might radiate fear or danger. I knew, within moments of having met them, that if one of them had shaken my hand and agreed to do this or that or the other, all of them would have died before they let a promise made by any one of them go unfulfilled. That kind of bone-deep integrity.

And when Randy Hall, my stunt double, and I went down to hunt mountain lion at their Malpai Ranch the next spring, I discovered yet another quality that impressed me just as much, a quality that very, very few people in today’s world even comprehend, let alone have. I could sum it up by saying it is a deep and abiding love of their world, the land they inhabit and work and earn their living from, but it’s more than just that. It is love and curiosity and desire to learn and desire to preserve, all wrapped up in one.

Consider this: Warner and Wendy, probably Marvin too before them, discovered endless caves and hidey-holes throughout their land where for a thousand years or more Native Americans had left signs of their passing, or cached weapons and implements for some future need they never returned or perhaps even lived to see. Typically, being Warner and Wendy, they set about working with the University of Arizona to preserve these artifacts, donating their knowledge of the land, their time, their apparently inexhaustible energy, to help the university find and catalogue the wealth of the past. And more: at their own expense they built a small museum (small is a relative term; it is by far the biggest room in their house) onto their own home to house the overflow the university didn’t need or want.

Consider this: In 1996 Warner became the first person to see and document a Jaguar on American soil since the animal was officially declared extinct in America back around World War One. Not merely to see and document it, but—Warner being Warner—to document it up close and personal, so up close and personal that no one would have blamed Warner if he had shot it in self-defense. Instead, he risked his own life to get his hounds away safely and to let the cat go. You can read the account he wrote, Eyes of Fire, with the extraordinary photographs he took, by contacting him at P.O. Drawer 1039, Douglas, Arizona, 85608.

Wendy and Warner (Small)

But above all, consider this, Señor and Señora: Warner and Wendy, Wendy and Warner, two names for a single being, were the original founders and the driving force behind the Malpai Borderlands Group. All of you well-intentioned people sitting in your urban homes and dreaming idly of wild places and wild things, and naively donating your money to organizations that promise much and do little at best, and frequently more harm than good, know that the Malpai Borderlands Group has done more to preserve and protect more of the fragile southwestern landscape than any other single organization. They have achieved this through a unique and selfless collaborative effort that brings together ranchers, the US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of the Interior, the US Department of Homeland Security, a raft of state agencies and institutions in both Arizona and New Mexico, including scientists and biologists and fish and game departments and professors, as well as some other non-profit organizations, bringing them all together in a cooperative effort to protect and preserve what might otherwise be lost forever, from the perishable land itself to a predator as rare and mighty as the jaguar. If ever you dreamed of seeing the southwest, send your next earmarked financial contribution to the Malpai Borderlands Group. You can log on at www.malpaiborderlandsgroup.org and if nothing else look at the photographs of one the most magnificent and threatened places in America. If you send them money, I can guarantee it will be money well-spent. I can also guarantee Wendy Glenn will be pleased, and to have the approbation of a Wendy Glenn is worth more than medals or honors from a lesser family.

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