Archives for posts with tag: Environment

My Grandmother’s Radio

My maternal grandmother’s radio was a fascination of my beginning years in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Out of this mysterious box, which was about as big as I was, came “The Lone Ranger Rides Again” and “The Shadow Knows.” I waited every night with bated breath, as if on a magic carpet, to be swept away on some surprise adventure.

Like some creepy Cyclops, the radio had a single eye. It seemed to follow me no matter what corner in our living room I attempted to hide. My gosh, the eye even turned colors!

We were the beneficiaries of this wonderful entertainment because my grandparents were living with us. One day I asked my Mom why they didn’t have a house of their own. After all, I was always told of their business acumen. They had owned a small shoe store. I got a two-word answer. “The Depression.” It was followed by, “They lost everything.”

I grasped the answer easily. I had the evidence in front of me. My grandparents once had a large house on the south side of Waterbury, Connecticut. Now, they lived in one room of our rented apartment in the working class north end. Economics 101. Easy.

 

What I came to know gradually over decades is that both my grandmother and that radio held some other important historical lessons. For more context let’s zoom ahead to 2006.

I was fortunate to be in Oxford, England for a gathering of science educators from all over the world. My wife and I met a Japanese couple whom we exchanged life stories. We were riveted to the woman’s story from her youth.

Tiffany was kept in an interment camp during WWII. She did not dwell on it but the stories made a lasting impact on me. (Don’t miss the impact of the camps on a crew member of the Starship Enterprise https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeBKBFAPwNc   ) My mind drifted to my grandmother, an immigrant of Italy.

In the early 1940s, I’m told secret service agents visited our home. They confirmed my grandmother’s immigrant status. The agents then proceeded to solder a section of the radio’s dial that could pull in foreign signals. Apparently they were concerned Mussolini’s fascist diatribes would reach our families ears. I can imagine my grandmother’s horror and dismay. Did she feel responsible for the chaos and invasive action of those agents?

What those agents didn’t know was that my grandmother was apolitical. She once implied that the Kaiser (See previous blog.) was the reason she left Italy. That’s it. I don’t recall another political utterance.

The latest immigrant scapegoats are followers of Islam and Mexicans. Protecting them is one aspect of save-guarding the constitutional rights of all of us.

The husband of that Japanese couple is, besides a botanist and educator, an accomplished plant photographer. We received a wonderful gift from him. It was a picture of a series of flowers.

Every time my eyes glance at that photograph, I also see Tiffany and sense some of the indignities experienced in those camps. I see my grandmother. Then the millions trying to escape the ravages of war and climate change from Africa, Syria, and points eastward, come into view.

Can we call ourselves human beings if we just continue with our daily lives in face of these human and environmental disasters? Do we sit idly by while a sad and dangerous character, who wants to promulgate all these, walks the halls of the White House?

That’s the misogynist who says he doesn’t believe in climate change as if science was a belief and not about data and theories that congeal out of that data. Climatologists don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change. They accept the inferences that flow from data. The burning of fossil fuels is causing rapid climate disturbances.

Yet the President of the United States does not believe in climate change. In the background, I hear Pete Seeger singing, “When will they ever learn.”

There are many marches and demonstrations now in our country. It’s not just what people know, it’s how quickly they will come to know and act on that knowledge. Much to do.

Generals, billionaires, along with the Alt-Right, are marching into the administration of our country. Smelling the political air, this essay made its way to the surface.

Running With Iron Heels

This past spring I was camping and hiking in the Taconic range with a good friend. We walked and talked while soaking in the beautiful terrain of those green mountains.

Such excursions are important. They transport us physically. They also transport us mentally. The humdrum of everyday life fades as rolling hills and valleys come into view.

We are lucky in Connecticut. Beautiful, green woodlands, rivers, and an ocean surround us. We can choose the company of beautiful, caring people.

What can slip by almost unnoticed is that others are out there. They have a different view of what surrounds us. They see ugly everywhere.

African Americans are shot down, with regularity, in our streets. Some see injustice, others see genetics. Some see the continuance of hundreds of years of oppression and struggle. Others let fear consume them.

Fossil fuel pipelines ram through lands, from New England to Indian sacred spaces. Some see centuries of stealing land, religious violations, environmental degradation, and fight-back. Others see maintaining a lifestyle. More dangerously, the 0.1% sees major profits threatened with protests of the former.

Bombs are dropped an ocean away. People migrate. Some see state terror, a humanitarian disaster, and struggle. Some hear only “terrorists” and seek revenge.

People see, and maybe feel, these differences. The “others” handle them in different ways. A peek into our family’s 20th century histories may elucidate some of this. Let’s try mine.

In 1907, two sets of people made there way from the Apennine mountain range above Naples, Italy, to the USA. One, the Ciarlone’s, had a business orientation. The other, the Iannielli’s, was among the vast peasantry of those times. In relative order, the Scarpitti’s and Summa’s completed each set of the pairings. Children arrived, eight to be exact, from each pairing. Included among those offspring were my parents.

Why did my grandparents leave their homeland? After all, it’s not an easy do. Ever get that uncomfortable feeling when away from the familiarity of home? That sense of place comes into play. No. Not easy.

As a youngster, I asked that question. My maternal grandmother gave me a hint with a wonderful Italian inflection and waving an open hand in the air. It consisted of two words. “The Kaiser!”

That two-word answer and the move across the big pond took a bit of time to grasp in any full way. My experiences on the home front during the U.S. War in Vietnam helped. (For more on those experiences see

https://www.createspace.com/4330714

 

Later I got an assist from famed biologist Stephen Jay Gould. Here’s what I learned.

Before World War I (1914-1918), Vernon L. Kellogg was an entomologist (insects) at Stanford University, California, a pacifist; he became an official in Belgian relief work. In this capacity, he somehow ended up being among the German high command, including the Kaiser. Wilhelm II was the last Emperor (Kaiser) of Germany and King of Prussia (Parts of Germany and much land heading eastward).

Many of the German officers were involved in higher education before the war. They saw the war as a natural outgrowth of human behavior. These officers saw natural selection, a la Charles Darwin and evolution, as dictating violent competition among peoples.

The group of people representing the highest evolutionary stage, in their minds Germans, would prevail. Kellogg was so sufficiently horrified that he abandoned pacifism and supported the war against Germany as the only way, in his considered opinion, to stop them.

What Kellogg stumbled on here is one of the best examples of the perversion of evolutionary theory. It resulted in a crude form of social Darwinism. In other words, war erupts from our DNA.

We now know that redivision of the world for colonial plunder was a driving force for both sides of those wretched trenches. In other words follow the money, or better, the profits. When normal politics could not settle differences, war followed.

History had more to unfold, especially in Germany. In the years following World War I, much of the above crude social Darwinism became incorporated into Nazi ideology with a vengeance. That ideology, mixed with racism, ran amuck with extreme nationalism.

The Nazi Party actually started in the mountains of Germany in the 1920s. They nurtured a crude form of nationalism born of the disaster of WWI, social Darwinism, and with a questing religious fervor. The crash of 1929, unemployment and disgust with “big” government brought them into the cities and looking for a savior. They found Adolf Hitler and bankers willing to solve problems with an iron heel. WWII followed.

 

There is a fundamental difference in the mindset of the groupings of people mentioned at the beginning of this writing. Some hope to peacefully and thoughtfully grabble with war, racism, environmental degradation, and the injustice of it all. Others? They run with iron heels.

Politically, one outlook says let’s protest nonviolently, dialogue, and peacefully negotiate. The others say let’s protest violently, take people off voter roles, and stomp on those fighting injustice with that iron heel, including the use police/military force.

The iron heels, the fascist axis that took state power in Germany, Italy, and Japan in the 1920s and 1930s, were defeated in WWII. Its cost was 60 million lives and many fragmented ones. But hints that the outlook guiding those iron heel states had penetrated the USA were around us. The twin ideological weapons of fascism were at work.

The Soviet Union, an ally and friend during WWII, quickly became labeled an enemy, then later an evil empire. Anyone remotely associated with the recent ally was considered part of the “red menace” and a spy. U.S. State institutions pursued communists with a vengeance as well as others interested in peace and social justice.

Japanese living in the USA, and Japanese Americans, were treated differently from German and Italian immigrants. Internment camps were set up. (Don’t miss this! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeBKBFAPwNc ) African Americans remained under intense segregation, with lynchings and other violence visited upon them.

 

Let’s go back to bucolic Connecticut. We bathe in the suave of greenness. We need the caressing arms of nature. We need the company of caring people. The point here is that we can’t get lost in it.

We have to engage other outlooks. Some don’t want the iron heel approach to solve problems but don’t see the danger. We need to revisit the 1920s and 1930s, and shake out the causes, and lessons, of WWII.

There is hope all around us. We do have to take the time to see it. I met a welder recently who had drawn healthy lessons from her work experiences. She adamantly opposed Trump.

A fisherman once told me, “they make you not want to care.” This woman went in the opposite direction. She cares. My hiking friend ventured to Ohio to block Trump mania. We have to find bits of caring among our people and help develop a willingness to fight for caring core values.

We are going to need to put that caring into action. Too many times we didn’t do that when the Obama Administration, and also peoples’ movements, made forward-looking decisions e.g. halting the X-L Pipeline. When that same administration brought backward proposals to the table, as they did in Libya, Syria and elsewhere, a confusion and paralysis followed.

Ask yourself, “What do I care about?” Then ask yourself, “How do I show it?” It means getting outside of our comfort zone.

Here’s two ways. Go out and talk to those who did not vote, those who voted for Trump, and those coming of voting age. Use history, especially intertwined with personal stories, in a calm explanatory way. Then gather with like-minded friends and those who are learning.

We need to walk the talk.

P.S. My Grandmother (Scarpitti/Ciarlone) didn’t totally escape the discrimination meted out during WWII. More on that with the next blog.

It was a disastrous election. There’s no doubt about it. We need to make sense out of the mess in order to move forward. Here’s just a beginning.

The Rs pursued a classic tactic. As soon as Barack Obama was elected in 2008, they declared noncooperation. Massive gridlock followed. These reactionary forces then pointed to Washington D.C. and said, “See. It isn’t working.”

The Rs pursued more antidemocratic approaches. They set up the American Legislative Action Committee (ALEC) and moved at the grassroots and state-level. Taking people of color off voting roles was a major weapon nationally.

There are names that go along with all this. John Piscopo, State assemblyman from Thomaston, Ct, is a former president of ALEC. Assemblywoman Rosa Rebimbas of Naugatuck, Ct, scrupulously followed the ALEC agenda to the tune of a 55% voting record on the environment.

The political agenda had ideological components. Talk radio led the way. A visiting nurse from Watertown, Ct, told me that, “Obama lives in a black house.” Anyone supporting the environment was called an “elite.” And on and on the racism and anti-environmentalism went.

T.V. supplied Donald Trump with ample exposure, no matter how negative. A CNN executive admitted that Trump was good for “ratings.” Ex CIA, ex FBI, and retired generals supplied an analysis that justified every USA invasion and bombing run. Talk radio supplied vile Islamophobia and anti-Mexican rhetoric.

While Hilary won Ct, Trump’s vote total here was 2% higher than Romney’s in 2012. That kind of erosion probably cost State Senator Dante Bartolomeo her election to reactionary Leonard Suzio (R) by 300 votes. Bartolomeo had a 100% voting record on the environment and was very good on union issues.

Now, some rays of sunshine. Myrna Watanabe (D) challenged reactionary John Piscopo (R) for his State Assembly seat. She lost but in the process raised a very progressive agenda, including on the environment.

Maine won ranked choice voting. For example, you could vote for the Green Party. If no candidate wins a majority of votes, in a second round of voting your second candidate choice comes into play with the two top vote-getters. LePage (R), the Tea Party Governor, would never have been elected under this system. (See http://www.fairvotemaine.org)

Lastly, all us gray hairs have to pass on to the Millennials what happened in those rock & roll years of the early 1970s. Richard Nixon (R) won reelection by a landside in 1972. I well remember the impeachment march through downtown Waterbury, Ct, in 1973. Nixon was driven out of office in August of 1974.

Pass it on.

 

 

If there is no struggle, there is no progress.

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

  • Frederick Douglass

I want to thank those who stopped and conversed with me at my recent book signing at Stop & Shop, Naugatuck, CT. Sold out in 75 minutes! Whether my latest book, Hurry Down Gunntown, or my memoir, Moon Shadow of War, it shows interest is high in history and in the environment.

Here are some current events, including an environmental battle in Naugatuck with a successful ending.

___________________________________________________________

Bullies – In & Out Of The Shadows

Have you ever heard “Nobody likes a bully”? It is not true. Some people are attracted to bullies. Why? They appear strong, decisive. They win adherents. They display a shoot from the hip or shoot from the lips demeanor. It is a form of arrogance that attracts the unaware.

The problems bullies spawn escalate if they are not stopped, especially on the local level. There are different kinds of bullies. Quite often the environment is their target. Here are three examples.

The take-over of the wildlife sanctuary in Oregon stands out. Did you think the take-over of the National Wildlife Refuge was a spontaneous act? Think again. It was planned and executed by those in the 3% movement. These are gun toting, so-called super patriots, who claim only 3% of colonists took part in the fighting during the 1770s – 80s.

I checked out the facebook page of one of these self-righteous, armed guys. Guns, big ones, are on display as is the flag. The slogan “Despite what your mom told you, violence does solve problems” is clear. Itching for a fight would be an understatement. There is much bravado amid surface content. Facebook

There are other ways the environment is impacted without the above bravado. This is from Rev. Jim Conn, California, and Capital & Main.

“Most recently, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) upended its mission to clean our air. First the old Democratic majority opposed its staff’s recommendation for tougher rules that would govern the fossil-fuel industry. They watered them down. Then two months later, and with an even more pro-business Republican majority, the board went into closed session and fired its long-time executive officer. Praised by environmentalists, even though they often disagreed with him, he had faithfully pursued the AQMD’s goals while balancing the impact on industry. That was, apparently, not good enough for the fossil-fuel lobby.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the looser rules benefiting oil companies that the AQMD adopted came from a two-page memo written by the Western States Petroleum Association and other business groups. The new plan postpones the installation of expensive air cleaning devices and other efforts to control emissions.”

For our third example, let’s go to Naugatuck, Connecticut. The youngsters killed at the Sandy Hook elementary school are being honored through floral plantings, particularly to attract pollinators. The Wingman program, as it is called, is a noble one. However, worthy causes are often manipulated for ignoble ends. Watch for what lurks in the shadows.

A few anti-environmental elements attempted to misuse this program to make inroads into a passive park and nature preserve with inappropriate activities. One tactical move was not to list an important proposal and vote on the local Park Commission agenda. An alert environmental group, by exposing this anti-democratic activity, prevented the worst results while still supporting the wingman concept. Democracy and the environment won.

Of course, one might conclude that as long as these local bullies are in the shadows – fine. Not so. The challenges that they raise must be met least they emerge energized by the likes of demagogues like a Trump or a Cruz. We’re seeing some of this with the above examples.

Senator Ted Cruz (R) is ready to carpet bomb Muslim towns abroad and ghettoize Muslim communities here. He is responsible for some of the worst Tea Party inspired opposition to any legislation proposed by the Obama Administration. This political maneuver has been a standard Republican tactic for years. Dangerous waters for sure. Cruz was able to grandstand in the senate, run for the presidency, and poison the media for months. We’ll save some historical examples for the next blog.

One key to prevent bullying on a growing scale is by meeting these challenges at the grassroots. No blinking allowed. Whether confronting big bullies, like a Trump (R) or a Cruz, or little power abusers, Fredrick Douglass’s guidance above makes for good advise.