The breaking point is near… the breaking point is here.

José Andrés, another famous chef, went to Puerto Rico immediately after Hurricane Maria, to help figure out how to feed the people. Instead of figuring it out, he and his associates found themselves simply doing it, from the moment they landed. Actually before they landed, in calls to as many chefs as he could reach there, the plan was, “Let’s not plan, let’s not meet, let’s start cooking!” FEMA didn’t grasp the urgency of it. It wasn’t about “how to feed the people in the weeks to come.” It was how to feed the people NOW.

I am learning about this from a TED Talk (“How a team of chefs fed Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria”) right now. I love TED Talks. They keep me sane.

So, the first Monday they were there, they did a thousand meals. By the following Sunday, they were doing 25,000. They kept outgrowing their spaces. 25,000 became 50,000. They moved their operation to the Coliseum. They became the biggest restaurant in the world. They were making close to 70,000 meals a day. From one location alone.

Volunteers showed up by the hundreds. At any given moment, 700 volunteers were working on feeding the hungry. This was not plastic food. It was real food, food that people recognized, food that brought comfort, as well as sustenance.

Get this: at one point, FEMA was actually asking him, “How are you able to do this? How are you able to get the food to prepare?” He replied, “Simple: by calling, and paying, and getting.”

And at this point in this Talk, I just paused and cried for a few minutes. I don’t like crying! But every day I’m simply stunned, at some point during the day, by what our current president and his administration are doing to this country. And what they are NOT doing FOR our country. And Puerto Rico is part of this country. What they did there should be enough for every one of them to be impeached at the very least, or perhaps sentenced to death. Instead, they skate by, lying their way out of one accountability after another.

When it comes to people, families, feeding people, making sure that people have roofs over their heads, that the sick are being cared for, that people have at least some glimmer of hope for a meal and a place to lay down their heads… these are the bedrocks of basic civilization anywhere, everywhere. And in this country? We don’t even think about these things, because we take them so for granted. So to look at these people here, in Puerto Rico, or the people (yes, people!) rounded up at the southern US border, separating parent from child so that we can then apply our “unaccompanied minor” handling protocol… these things are NOT the marks of a civilized country, they are NOT something to be proud of, they are NOT Christian or Muslim or Jewish or atheists’ values! They are an absence of values, an absence of morals or ethics, an absence of a backbone or a soul or a heart.

The things that our government is doing (or not doing) are not normal, not acceptable. Don’t be fooled! It’s not anyone else’s fault. It’s not Obama’s fault. It’s not the Democrats’ fault. It’s not the law’s fault. It’s the people in charge, and the people in charge right now, who are causing all of these things to happen, are Donald Trump and his administration, Paul Ryan and his party loyalists in the House, and Mitch McConnell and his loyalists in the Senate. These people don’t need to be impeached; they must be tried for treason, and, once found guilty as they are, sentenced to the same sentence given to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, or to Sacco and Vanzetti. Their crimes have already cost thousands of lives, and have perhaps irreparably harmed the nation’s economy (the real economy, the people’s economy), the environment, and the entire future of the United States.

At this point, there is no idly sitting by, watching it through a lorgnette. To paraphrase even George W Bush – demonized a few short years ago, who now looks like a saint by comparison – “Everyone has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with Trump.” There is no middle ground. There is no “Let’s wait and see,” no “give him a chance.” All of that is behind us now. The wait is over. The chance has been given. At every conceivable opportunity – and more often than not, even before we were aware that there was an opportunity – the path that leads the opposite direction from all grace and goodness has been chosen as the path all of us are by implication forced to take.

Are you comfortable being labeled as the generation, or the era, or the society, that allowed this to happen? I am not. I don’t want to get arrested, or lose my job, or lose my home. I don’t want to die. But I don’t want to sit on my fucking ass either, as if there is nothing to be done. At some point, in spite of the horrendous risks, there necessarily comes a point at which no more can be tolerated. I have a high tolerance, and a lot of trust in “the system;” trust that things will work out, eventually. But this is a terrific test we are being put through. I don’t know how much more bending the entire system can take, without actually breaking. I feel that we are getting precipitously close to that threshold.

When things finally do break, as they ultimately will, it’s never a pretty sight. It’s never better than it would have been had things been arrested just prior to breaking. It’s always better to stop when it’s still bending. But we have to accept that it’s going to break. We have to accept that we are at the limit. We can’t have some say, “No, I think we are not there yet. I think we can go a little further.”

Do we really have to wait till it actually breaks before we all acknowledge that the limit was reached? Granted, there’s still wiggle room while it’s bending. He said this, she said that. “We’re not that close. It’s still in flux. It’s still working. It’s still…”

SNAP!

Is that what we’re all waiting for?

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Save yourselves! No, really – save yourselves!

Slow sand filtration schematic

Slow sand filtration schematic

Don’t get me wrong – I very much care about health and living conditions in the more remote reaches of the globe. But I’m getting tired of seeing the PSA messages on TV where the teary-eyed children are shown collecting putrid water which, so the story goes, is all they have to drink. Enter well-intentioned white people who, through a charitable organization funded by similarly inclined people, are going to show up and save the day.

Really? There have been bio filtration methods available since the early 1800s* (and primitive forms of sand filtration even existed in ancient times!). You don’t have to be well-educated to look at nasty water and know that it’s nasty. Assuming that a community did not just spring randomly out of the soil, but was established in a particular spot, what reason would there be to establish it there? The presence of water would be a top one. If the water wasn’t very good, would the people of the community really not be able to figure out for themselves that it needed to be purified? Would no one among them be aware of any development anywhere else in the world that might offer a tenable solution to the problem?

There’s a big problem today with missionary zeal. In her book, “Dead Aid,” Dambisa Moyo writes, ‘Aid has been, and continues to be, an unmitigated political, economic, and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world.’ In short, it is (as Karl Kraus said of Freudianism) ‘the disease of which it pretends to be the cure.’

We need to get our New World sensibilities turned around so that, if anything, we’re helping others to figure it out for themselves. We can’t always just be about raising enough money to solve other people’s problems. We keep trying to maintain the illusion that we’ve got it all sorted out and we’re so ahead of the game that we don’t even have problems of our own. We go out and “solve” these remote problems, instilling a bit of the “American Way” out there. Once they derive the benefit, others soon believe they want to be like us, and eventually there’s a McDonald’s in the middle of Vanuatu.

If that’s what we really want the world to be, if that’s really the best idea we can come up with, then yeah, we’re on the right track. On the other hand, if we maintain that diversity is a good and necessary thing on a global-macro scale, then we have to stop rushing to fill the void whenever and wherever one materializes. There are more organic processes that can solve problems, over time, that offer more lasting improvement at less expense to the individuality of the community, and these I think are what we should be striving to promote and maintain.

If a community truly can’t solve its problems on its own, even over a certain period of time, sure, let’s send some help. Sometime however that help may be nothing more than a simple diagram, or a manual, on how to produce a slow sand filtration system, say, rather than raising millions of dollars to go there and create an advanced and energy-consuming system that would dramatically change the focus of the people’s lives.

We don’t always need mega-solutions. We have to get out of that mindset. “Small is Beautiful” is not just a slogan, or a book title. It’s a key to having a future worth having.

[* See Biosandfilter.org for the reference]

Kill the Bison. Woops, I mean Save the Bison.

I am becoming more and more convinced that nothing – not one single thing – is as it appears to be.

Take the American Bison, for example. I thought they were still “protected” in some way. Officially, they are not a protected species. But there do exist organizations (such as the Wildlife Conservation Society’s American Bison Society) that are actively engaged in the conservation of the species, in support of larger, free-ranging herds.

Compare and contrast that with the fact that bison in the so-called “Zone 2” outside of Yellowstone National Park are allowed to be hunted, within reason. The hunting of bison is considered a “herd management tool.”

There are conditions, however, that will cause hunting to be suspended, and the government takes over. The policy reads as follows:

6) Enact 24-hour hunting closures, when necessary, to implement other management actions such as hazing, capture, or lethal removal if:

a. Bison numbers exceed 100 in Zone 2 in the West Yellowstone Basin.
b. Bison continue to approach Zone 3 in the West Yellowstone Basin beyond Witts Lake Road or USFS Road 1731.
c. Unable to contain bison within Zone 2 in the West Yellowstone Basin. (Bison that breach Zone 3 will be lethally removed if initial hazing or capture, if attempted, is not successful).
d. Excessive bison egress from YNP, ongoing or imminent, due to snow conditions, extreme weather conditions, or stochastic events.

[From the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Adaptive Management Adjustments in Western Boundary Area]

“Lethal elimination,” if it’s not obvious, means killing. 7,189 bison have been lethally eliminated since 1985, by federal and state agencies. This, for such grievances as… looking like they’re about to head down out of the hills due to extreme snow conditions. You know, looking for food. That kind of offense.

Huh? Isn’t this like trying to fill a tub, with the drain open? Only, it’s not a tub, it’s a herd of bison, and it’s not water, it’s blood.

Ummm, people, if you want us to raise money for a cause, like “Save the Bison,” you shouldn’t have alternative programs going on to kill the bison. Or… before you give your hard-earned money to a cause, find out whether there’s some equally well-funded cause working exactly against what you’re trying to do. It may be that the money is better directed in other ways.

ACLU’s Complicated Worldview Confuses its Mission

The ACLU Facebook page makes the following statement regarding the recently disclosed massive information gathering on the part of the NSA: “Our surveillance programs are completely out of balance and Congress needs to fix them.”

This is the same ACLU, mind you, that sees “corporations and unions as legitimate participants in public debate whose views can help educate voters as they form their opinions on candidates and issues” [from the ACLU’s statement of support for the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission].

In other words, the “civil liberties” the ACLU is striving to protect could just as well be General Motors’s, or Microsoft’s, or the NRA’s, as yours.

In supporting Citizens United, the ACLU is refusing to acknowledge the soundness of SC Justice Stevens’ concluding remarks in his dissenting opinion:

“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

Consider this carefully when deciding whether to give your financial support to the ACLU. Turning a certain well-known phrase on its head: “Keep your enemies close, and your friends closer.”

Give, give generously, and do it now

I would like to encourage everyone to give, give generously, give recurring gifts, and to start now.

Many people have a portfolio of stocks, bonds and other investment vehicles. I find myself with a portfolio of charitable giving. I would really like to encourage you to develop a similar portfolio. Why? Because our “western civilization” has wreaked havoc around the globe, among those people not able to or interested in participating, and those non-human victims as well, including animals, plants, the environment.

Here’s my [partial] list. I hope it inspires you to look for ways to give also. There is a need.