Thursday, September 29, 2011

Where the Heck Have You Been?

Vacation.  Felt great.  Too short, but they always are.

At this moment I really don't have much to say.  I don't ever have anything that's going to really light up anyone's world, but I've got even less right now.


Check back later.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Something to Be Proud About?

Vermont got slammed in the most recent bout of hurricanes.  Flooded in a big way, there are a great many roads in Vermont that aren't actually in Vermont anymore.  They're just gone.

That's a problem when you're trying to get to work or to school.  It turns out that one school in particular has a bunch of kids who are only connected by a road or two, but in the wake of the storm there are no roads at all.

Enter the wooded path.  There's a convenient footpath through the woods from the remote neighborhood to the school that serves pretty well.  A half-mile of walking from one end to the other, while roads and whatnot are being rebuilt the path is patrolled by adult volunteers as kids make their way to school.  And some low-speed motorized traffic (think golf carts and utility vehicles) are shuttling back and forth carrying seniors and performing path maintenance.

A half-mile of walking is good.  Entirely too many people see a walk of more than two blocks as reason to break out some kind of wheels.  But for the principal of the school to call out the kids who are making the trek to laud them for their extra effort is, I think, inappropriate.

First of all, I walked a half-mile to school as an elementary student.  Second grade, every day, rain or shine.  No big deal.  And then when the day was over, I walked back.  As a high school student, I rode my bike about a mile each way every day.  No big deal.

In an age when we're wringing our hands over the increasing rates of obesity in children, walking to school isn't something that should be held up as praiseworthy.  It should be obligatory.  Or just take the Playstations and Internet connections away, force them to go run around outside and work off that last trip to Golden Corral. That they're doing it is good, that other kids aren't is pretty sad.

A teacher at the school in the news item said his GPS spent too much time displaying "Recalculating," and he turned it off and figured out the best route for himself.  I'm really disappointed by this.  First of all, the Global Positioning System device's default behavior is to assume that the user is only on roads and will need whatever directions it gives to be in the form of road directions.  Secondly, the teacher was relying on GPS.  It's also a point brought up by the article that these people were coming from "the dark side of the mountain," that they had no electricity.  Before long the batteries in the GPS will die and then what will the teacher do?

I've said it before: maps always work.  Even when they're incredibly old and out of date, the odds of the roads the maps depict being actually gone are next to zero.  And in this special case where roads really are gone, the maps still depict relationships of things to each other, and when the power goes out the map still works.  So if you can find any landmark and make a rough guess at what direction is north, you can fake your way until you find more concrete references or familiar territory.

I like to say that no matter how lost I am, I can't be too lost: there are still lines on the road.  Sweetie took it a step further one day: "How lost can we be?  There's still a road."  She was right, of course.  I've never been anywhere that someone else hadn't been there before me.

I think our pioneer forebears would look at our blundering, tenderfoot "making do" and shake their heads in plain dismay.  To them, the path would be like a broad, paved highway, a cleared and delineated route from one place to another.  So while it's good to see the kids determined to get to school and not letting the absence of roads hold them back, I'm not impressed that they're so proud of having achieved it.  It's just not that big a deal.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Frustrating Lie of the A-Lister Body, and Why It's Okay

Looking at Google News, skimming over the Entertainment section, I see photos of famous people who have famously maintained their shapes.

In spite of having three kids, Julia Roberts is still slim.  She's my age, plus a couple of months.  After a few kids and a few decades, the metabolism slows down, the body takes a little extra effort to keep it that trim shape that was so easy to maintain as a teenager.  How does she do it?

Easy.  She's a star.

You hear about A-lister celebrities, the ones whose very presence make whatever event they're attending somehow more important than other events.  I contend that that's a load of old tosh but Hollywood doesn't work that way.  People like Sigourney Weaver and Julia Roberts and Will Smith automatically get the flashbulbs going, even if all they're doing is just walking down the street.  Roberts and Smith are my age, Weaver is over 60.  And let's be honest, she looks great.  What all these people have in common is: they're wealthy, and they don't have steady jobs.

That leaves plenty of time and room in the budget for personal trainers.  If I was a movie actor, my face and body would be very large parts of my stock in trade.  As it happens I'm not tall, not especially muscular and a little funny-looking if I haven't shaved my head recently.  Thanks to genetics, my hair doesn't come in on top and if I don't keep the rest under control, it grows in a Bozo-like pattern.  So I'd have to go all Bruce Willis on it and just like Bruce, I'd have to spend time at the gym.  At 56, Bruce is built like an offseason hockey player.

So instead of five days a week, 40 hours a day (I know that came out wrong but I'm leaving it in, some days it feels correct) of holding down the desk, working the phones and email, running parts and turning wrenches, these people are spending time keeping toned for the next time the cameras roll.  Sometimes they can skip it for months on end, even years, and get it back when a picture comes around.  Schwarzenegger has been way off form lately (being governor of a big self-contradictory state can do that to you) but could - and probably will - pull himself back together ere long.  He's only 64.  He's got plenty of acting years left in him.

When I get home, I'm coming off a long day of doing whatever needed doing.  I'm just tuckered out.  Could I go another couple of hours at a gym, toning up?  Probably.  But I wouldn't enjoy it much.  I lift weights, a little, do some sit-ups and some push-ups, a little.  But I've done my bit - I want to rest.

It's ironic, isn't it?  Most of us work too hard to have an A-lister body.  I don't know many women who look as good in their mid-60s as Helen Mirren does.  But as a wealthy actress, she can devote a lot of time and effort to that physique.  That's great for her, and kind of frustrating for a lot of the rest of us.  The vast majority of everybody knows, "oh, she doesn't have a regular nine-to-five, she can spend all day every day at the gym keeping that shape."  But then you see shots of her in her pink bikini and intellectual rationale just goes away.  What's left is "dammit, I want to look like that."

Dammit, I want to look like that.  Okay, maybe not exactly like Helen - the bikini straps get wound up in my chest hair.  But I want to be a star.  But I also have to confess I don't need it.  And not needing it, I can live without it.  And if I want that appearance badly enough, I can lift more weights, I can do more push-ups.  I don't have to also tolerate the stresses of being an A-lister.

Can you imagine spilling your drink as an A-lister star?  Coca-Cola all down your front, and next thing you know it's in the tabloids.  What a pain that would be.  And God forbid you have an itch in a place you shouldn't scratch in public - there's nowhere private enough to deal with that when the paparazzi are climbing trees to get a better look at you.

Is it any surprise that Harrison Ford, another A-lister (whose presence on the A-list may not be warranted anymore) lives somewhere in the middle of 800 acres of Wyoming wilderness?  If I had to bust my butt working out to keep my butt trim into my 60s, I'd want privacy too.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

TV Thinks We Hate Smart People, and TV Writers Think We're Too Dumb to Know Why

Sweetie really enjoys the show House.  In fact, the boys do, too.

I'm the only one that doesn't like it.

Gregory House is supposed to be brilliant, in an aloof and dispassionate kind of way.  Hugh Laurie, the British actor who plays the American Dr. House with no British accent at all, achieves the dispassionate delivery very well.  Dr. House doesn't like anyone at all.  He doesn't appear to care for his patients, not for his colleagues, not anyone.  Of all the doctors you could have treat you, his bedside manner would be the only one you would remember.  Where any other doctor will have the usual platitudes and couch bad news in careful language, House just drags it out drops it on the floor.  Boom, bad news.  There it is.

The character is deeply flawed.  I can only say that his lack of impulse control and unrelenting destruction of relationships is so deep and so willful that it must be the result of some kind of neurological damage.  No one can be that hateful, can they?

Maybe they can.  Obviously someone imagined a doctor so disinterested in his patients, the patients themselves are only a vehicle that delivers the episode's puzzle to the main character.  The feelings of the patients are glibly rattled by Dr. House, disregarded when inconvenient, mocked when House has a minute or two to spare on the patient.  At least he's acknowledging their existence when he does that, most of the time he doesn't bother.  House is brilliant, diagnosing bizarre and contradictory constellations of symptoms, eventually arriving at (usually) the correct diagnosis and saving the patient.  But he does it the same way a bulldozer removes a tree: brutally, finally, with no regard for the environment in which it is performing its function.

Perhaps the single greatest miracle of House is how he manages to get through entire seasons without having been knocked cold by an angry patient or patient's spouse.  If I was in a room with him for any length of time, I'd probably measure his width and length on the floor with a big left jab.  Because he's a jerk nonpareil.

Big Bang Theory features three extremely intelligent young men and Sheldon.  Where the young men are the upper half-percentile on the intelligence scale, dreadfully clever fellows who theorize about quantum physics and design space station parts, Sheldon is smarter yet.  And he is utterly alone.  His wants are needs, and the needs of others rank below his wants.  He exists in a universe similar to our own, but incontrovertibly separated.

BBT also features Penny.  Penny is the attractive girl who lives in the same apartment building.  She is not especially smart except unlike Sheldon, she can drive a car, get a joke and sit in any chair, anywhere.  Sheldon might be very intelligent, but he is also woefully incomplete.

This is a recurring theme I've seen in TV shows.  People who are incredibly gifted have to also somehow be handicapped.  The writers of these shows seem to think that we, the viewers, have to be able to whisper to each other, "look, they're not perfect.  At least we still have _______.  We can do _________."  You fill in the blank.

It's entirely possible that we, the American TV viewing public, can handle being presented with someone who completely outstrips us in every measure.  Lord knows I got used to that in gym class, I can handle it.  I'm never going to be a superhero or have a headful of luxurious wavy hair or win the Nobel prize in any category.  I can accept that there are seven billion people on this planet, a great many of whom no doubt exceed me in any or many qualities.  It's okay, I can take it.

Stop trying so hard to be so diplomatic.  Like the ridiculous soccer games where every kid gets a trophy, even the kids on the losing team, it gets pretty insulting.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fun with Mice

At one time I had a coworker whose name I will disguise as Jane.  Jane was an extremely pretty, extremely well dressed, extremely passive-aggressive woman who was never satisfied with 'no' as an answer.  That emergent situations should take priority over her wants did not impress her, she would mutter under her breath and complain about a lack of responsiveness and an attitude problem.  She did this to a lot of people, not just me.

When you have a problem with all the people around you, consider the common denominator in each relationship: it's you.

But that's not what this story is about.

Jane had complained about mice in the basement of the building where she worked.  I asked how she knew about them, since I knew for a fact she could not be driven into the basement at the point of a gun.  It was, at the risk of a pun, beneath her.  She had been informed by others, and couldn't stand the thought of them, she said.  Fix it immediately, she said.

"Well," said I, "I'm on my way home.  In fact I'm a half-hour over right now.  But I'll be over first thing in the morning and leave you some traps to set.  It'll only take you a few minutes to set them."

"Oh, no.  I can't set the traps.  I'm not going down there."

"Fine.  It may be later in the day then, if at all.  My schedule is already very full."

I left, hearing her grumbling faint imprecations as I did.  And in that moment I hatched a plan.

At this time of my life, Sweetie and the sons were raising mice for fun.  In fact, Son #1 had won the county-wide science fair with his mouse breeding research project, so we had quite a few.  Mostly they didn't even faintly resemble wild mice with their beautiful gold coats or pink eyes, or white coats or even glossy black coats.  They just looked too good.

But there was one in particular, an affable little fellow who liked to putter around in my hands and squeak quietly to himself, who was perfect.  For his habit of constant little squeaks, we called him a "talker," and he's not the only one like that we've had.  His fur was the color of a squirrel's, and he had the dark eyes of a wild mouse.  If you held him up to a wild mouse you would see obvious differences between the two in the shape of the eyes, of the body and the size of the head, but all by himself he was very plainly just a mouse.

The next morning, just before I left for work, I slipped that mouse into a carry cage.  He had food and a very small crock of water, and I felt a little bad for making him ride by himself.  He was one of the more sociable ones.

When I got to the facility where Jane worked, I tucked the mouse into my capacious shirt pocket, picked up the stack of mouse traps and the jar of peanut butter plainly marked "BAIT" on the top, and went in.  I went downstairs to set the traps.  Then, as I came up the stairs, I gently pulled the mouse out of my pocket.

"Okay, Jane, I've set the traps for you..."

"And about time, too," she mumbled quietly, not paying attention as she fussed and flounced around the outlandish decor she was lavishing on the place.

"No, no...look!  I caught one!"  And I held that handsome little mouse out to her.

Jane's eyes popped wide open.  She opened her mouth and screamed.  She screamed like a smoke detector with fresh batteries.  She backed into the corner and was actually climbing the walls, she was trying to retreat from the mouse so hard.

Jane's supervisor came jogging down the hall.  "What in the world is going on?"

"Look, Mary, I caught one of the mice!"  I held him out to her.  She smiled.

"Cute,"  was all she said.  As I had expected, I might add.  Mary is a rather more levelheaded sort of person. "We're always glad when you visit, but we'd rather you didn't bring guests."  She went back to her office without commenting on Jane.

Jane resigned her position about three months after that.  I don't think that helpful little mouse had anything to do with it, but if he did, well.  I guess I'm sorry about that.  Maybe not as sorry as I ought to be.  She was, after all, a very unpleasant person.

The next mouse-related stunt came just last year.  We had allowed our previous population of mice to die out from old age, then started a new colony.  They're getting old and as of this writing only two still survive, truly geriatric mice each nearly four years old.  But last year I couldn't understand why Sweetie was so very serene in the pew one Sunday morning, smiling to herself and occasionally fidgeting with something in her pocket.  Finally, somewhere around the second hymn I asked her,  "What is up with you today?"

She drew her hand out of her pocket and laid it across the hymnal.  A black mouse sat up on its haunches and started vigorously preening itself, sleek and glossy in the autumn morning.

I was not able to finish the hymn.  I did not laugh out loud, but it was a near thing.  We played with the mouse through the rest of the service.  I have no idea what the sermon was.  I don't remember anything except Sweetie's broad smile and that cheeky little face peering up at us from the hymnal.

When the service ended, Sweetie tucked the mouse back into her coat pocket and after getting to the Fellowship Hall, handed her coat to Son #1.

"Take that back to the house, please."  We live very close to the church, just a five-minute walk away.  "And be careful with it."

"Why?"  He held up the coat.  "Something in the pocket?"

"Yes.  There's a mouse in there."

Son #1 looked doubtful.  His mother can be sardonic, and sometimes carries small artworks or other peculiar things in her pockets.  The mouse might be made of anything.  So he checked the pockets until he drew his hand back quickly.  "Is that...?"  He peeked into the pocket.  "Wow."  He didn't let it be known he was carrying a mouse, somebody might have gotten irrational and in the post-service crowd that could be risky. Some of our congregation's members are downright old and might not survive too rough a jostling.

But he had a big smile on his face as he carefully handled the coat on his way out the door.  I noticed him stop in the driveway as he headed homeward, fishing in that pocket.

The wild ones, sneaking into my house and eating holes in my bread bags, are pests.  But these sweet mice we've known and loved, they've been fun.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why Barack Obama Can't Be President

The numbers aren't there.

I will say right now that I had about 1,000 words that followed that first line, but I just now deleted them.  Here's why:

I can't make sense of our situation.  I thought Congress was utterly saturated with Republicans but it isn't.  The House has a Republican majority but the Senate has a Democratic majority (barely, and not if the Independents swing red).  So what you have is a Congress that can stalemate itself, which we watched happen during the debt ceiling bill issues at the beginning of August.

It just feels like it's soaked with Republicans because of the extraordinarily strident Tea Party representatives in office.  They're highly motivated, highly ideological, and extremely vocal.  No wonder it feels like there's more of them.  Anyway.

So with a Congress so closely divided, you have a President who has no clear direction to jump.  With a friendly Congress full of Democrats, he could pass whatever he wanted.  No sweat.  Facing a largely Republican Congress, he'd know from the outset that whatever came his way would be the result of carefully crafted compromise.

With a balanced Congress, there's little way of knowing exactly what will work out.  The way I understand it is, the debt ceiling bill that eventually passed had actually been introduced weeks before but was shot down that first time.  So we could have avoided a lot of hand wringing.

Let me get back to the numbers bit.  Obama's approval rating is only 20% right now.  Combine that with his Strongly Disapprove rating of 42%, and you see a President who's in the red by 22%.  That's got to stink.

There are things you remember when you go to the voting booth.  Things like, "he's the guy that was in the chair when S&P cut our credit rating," and "what do you mean we're not going to go back to the moon?"  He's got some scores in his favor too but, like the networks will tell you, good news doesn't sell like bad news.  You won't remember that Osama bin Laden was taken down during Obama's administration, you'll only remember that it took ten years to find one guy.  Never mind that Obama wasn't President for most of that time, that's not the fact that sticks.

Too many bad things have happened during his Presidency.  I haven't been able to keep close enough track of who was running the events, and how they might have been kept under control.  But I'm fairly certain that the frightening maelstrom in which we find ourselves can only bring Obama's campaign down.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Thinking About Cars: Subaru Forester

I've always been a quiet fan of Subaru.

For years, they were the peculiar little also-ran of Japanese carmakers in the North American market.  They were, if you will, the AMC of Japanese carmakers.  Unlike AMC however, Subaru has survived the crucible of the late 80s, and the next crucible of the middle 90s when Daihatsu and Isuzu decided they couldn't cut it in the hotly contested American market.  That Subaru made it is a bit of a surprise.

For years, Subaru didn't bring a lot to the party: odd little cars with odd little engines.  An unattractive sedan that was also available as an unattractive wagon, and you could have them with four wheel drive.  Weird.  There was also a peculiar little truck, entirely too small to be any use as a truck.  They called it a BRAT.
Image from Cars

As you can see the Leone looks like it was styled in the clay buck by someone who only had a cheese wire and a ruler.  And this is what came out.  The BRAT, from a slightly earlier generation than this, had somewhat curvier shapes.  The Justy, Subaru's very compact car, was a three-cylinder little shoebox that looked a bit like this did.  Interestingly, it also could be had with four wheel drive, which by itself cast it into a completely unique category: micro offroader.

Subaru will say that they were the ones to make the first crossover and they have some merit there - but I say AMC beat them to the punch with the venerable Eagle.  Desperate for a new product to rebuild customer interest, AMC went rummaging about in their parts bins, found lots of Jeep bits and the Concord chassis and somebody wondered aloud, what if we mix these up?  Eagles in good condition command impressive resale prices considering their age.  So do Subaru BRATs, for that matter.

Fast forward a few years and we find next to nothing actually moving in the crossover segment.  The Eagle is long dead as a model because AMC is long dead as a marque.  It's 1998 and Subaru has tested the waters with the excellent Legacy Wagon Outback and gotten good results.  There's lots of people that want a tallish wagon without having to go the full Monty on a minivan.  Enter the Impreza.

The Impreza is Subaru's capable compact car, also a full-time AWD offering like everything else Subie cranks out since 1996.  If you want front- or rear-drive only, look elsewhere.  Subaru drives all four corners on everything.  But anyway, there's the Impreza, a popular alternative to the Corolla, certainly with much greater sporting chops than the Corolla.  It's fairly roomy inside.  But some people want roomier than the the Impreza without having to move all the way up to the big, expensive Legacy Outback.  They want their outdoorsy capability, but not necessarily all that length and weight.

Subaru saw the need and got out the cheese wire.  The '98 Forester was born.
 Image from  But my car looks exactly like this
one - I've even removed the roof rack's crossbars like this one.

It's compact in length and breadth like the Impreza, the weight is a manageable ton-and-a-half, and the power is relatively modest at 165hp.  That power output, by the way, makes the Forester far and away the most powerful vehicle I have ever owned.

In its most recent iteration, the Forester has grown in every dimension.  That's the way things go: model bloat.  As a car model ages, it gets bigger.  Power usually goes up too, and that's the case with the brand-new-for-2012 Forester.  But the growth is modest.  A few inches in length and breadth and height.  Weight only goes up by 100 pounds or so, really not too bad, considering.  Take a look at what happened with the Scion xB in its second generation model: a weight increase of nearly 600 pounds.  Yipes.

So in 13 years of production, the Forester has only gained 100 pounds.  That's pretty good.  Engine output is up a bit in the new model to help cope with the added weight, and Subaru is retiring the aging EJ series of engines (including the trouble prone EJ25 that my Forester follows down the road) to introduce an entirely new range of engines, the FB25 will have similar output but deliver better fuel economy, eliminate the notorious piston slap of the EJ's big bore, and also return the valve timing duties to a chain instead of a maintenance-heavy belt.

Hopefully they've sorted out some other stuff, too.  My Forester came to me with some other issues, it's eaten its own head gaskets a couple of times now - I work for a charity Subaru, didn't realize it was you - and it billows smoke from under the hood when at rest.  That's rather embarrassing.  Maybe the next time I get the timing belt changed (goodbye money, come back when you can stay longer) I can ask the mechanic to root around under there and find what the heck is causing that.  Because I blinking well hate that.

That's the downside of cylinders not all in a row.  If you blow a head gasket, you replace them both.  Twice the cost, nearly.  To do the job according to the book on my car you have to pull the engine entirely out of the chassis, though my mechanic has figured out how to do the job without going quite to that extreme.  Good on you, mate.

The Forester hasn't been hard to own, despite its assorted failings.  We got ours used so some failures can't be blamed on the builders.  For instance, the stereo came with a couple of buttons not working, and more dropped out of the race as years went on. Since Son #1 and I found an excellent factory installed Pioneer stereo in a Legacy at the junkyard a couple years ago to replace the original however, the radio landscape inside the car is pretty entertaining.  And this radio, while badged at the factory as a Subaru unit, was never offered in the Forester.  So it's factory, but it isn't stock.  Funny.

The clock didn't work.  Looking around online, I found instructions on what to look for and how to fix it.  Whip out Sweetie's wood burning iron, sizzle sizzle, hey presto!  Fixed.  One of the few first-gen Foresters on the road with a working clock.  I'm still over the moon about that, and it's been a year since I did the repair.

The cargo cover was an optional item - one our car didn't have.  But wandering through the Knox Area Rescue Ministries Thrift Store one day, I noticed a retractable cargo cover.  I don't know what caught my eye about it, but I asked the manager if I could test its fit in my car.  As it turns out it's an original Subaru cover - just not the same color as my car.  But what the heck, the cover is grey and the car is beige - that's like the difference between store brand vanilla and Breyer's vanilla - they both still taste like vanilla.

That same Legacy that donated the stereo also provided a couple of new buttons for the dash, to replace original switches whose lights had burned out.  Can't replace the lamp, have to replace the whole switch.  But no sweat, it's a no-tools process, they just click in and out in a minute.

All its faults aside, I do enjoy the Forester.  In snow it's really quite a blast, leaving everything behind.  It's not especially economical but since we carpool, Sweetie and I don't worry about that too much.  25mpg isn't awful. And I like it's no-nonsense shape, a basic box with seats inside.  I like that simplicity.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Case Against "Green"

I've heard entirely too much about Green.

It's hard to say there's a Green movement.  There's a Green political party and after spending, admittedly, only a few minutes researching the Green Party, I find that it is an extremely progressive party.  It has some decidedly pro-environment (more on that in a bit) aspects in its cross section, but that is by no means the center of its platform.

I'd like to point out, since I'm talking about a socially progressive political party, that at one time (like around when Lincoln was running for office) the Republican party was that of the social progressives, the bleeding heart liberals.  How times change.

No, the Green I mean is that practice of changing one's behavior in an effort to minimize one's impact on the global environment.  This includes weighing the options of paper bags at the grocery checkout (kill a tree) versus the plastic bag (choke a sea turtle).  And one must also make allowances for the committed greenies, those who bring their reusable cloth bag.  Never mind that the cloth bag is made of synthetic fibers, nonbiodegradable, and manufactured in a Taiwanese sweatshop by underpaid minors.  But that's not my point.

I humbly submit we discard the term "green" to describe this school of thought and behavior.  In its place I suggest we adopt the term "environmental responsibilitism."  This describes a pattern of behavior and a philosophy, perhaps not too unlike Buddhism.  Where "green" behavior attempts to describe environmental responsibility, ER speaks more specifically to the unstated goal of which environment is being preserved.

What tree huggers and other "green" activists are trying to preserve is the global environment, but that's an awfully big concept, "the environment."  Which one?  Big planet you know, lots of different climates, regions and populations involved.  If you don't specify which one you mean, you're just talking into your hat.

The environment those people are talking about is the global human environment, the one in which we exist right now or, perhaps wistfully, the one of about twenty years ago.  People who are trying to preserve things want to try to rescue something that may already be dead.  Too little, too late.  But that's not my point.

I'm not speaking to the human environment in which we humans interact with each other, function and move around, but rather the human environment of things we dream about and wonder at.  To grow up watching National Geographic films about coral reefs and PBS Nature specials about the Serengeti is to form a romantic notion that there is a huge and beautiful world that has nothing to do with people.  You don't see people in those places.  There might be people in the films - scuba divers, khaki-clad rangers tearing across the landscape to tag a rhino for tracking.  But those aren't people in the environment any more than astronauts are native to the sky.  They can't stay there for long.  If the rhino wants the rangers gone, he slams his flanks hard against the Land Rover and wheels off in another direction.  Khaki shoulders shrug and the rangers call it a day.  The scuba diver has to surface eventually.  So while we can see our species in those strange and wondrous environments, we know that we aren't actually of that environment.  We know we can't belong there.  That environment has its own rhythm and flow, and places strong demands on the creatures that live there - demands humans can't meet for long.  Those environments are destructive to us.  We can't stay long.  We have to go back to where we can live.

Then we read in the news that human activity here is having destructive effects over there.  Water temperatures rise and the corals bleach, ejecting their symbiotic algae.  The coral reef dies.  The dreamlike palette of colors and textures goes away.  Where does it go?  We don't know yet.  It may just go...away.  As in, be gone and not come back.  The spring rains arrive weeks, then months late in the Serengeti, and go away again too soon.

My romantic side dreads that that might come to pass in an unescapable way, that there may be a future that has, for example, no coral reefs at all.  The images in old National Geographic magazines might be an abstraction to future generations, that they can only imagine that there was ever such a thing to see.  Under the ocean, all that might be left would be duller, drearier colors: grays, muted umbers, blues and greens.  Environmental Responsibilitism looks into that future, finds it wanting, and takes steps to stave off its arrival.  However mundane the steps taken, Environmental Responsibilitism is the motivation behind them.

So perhaps more than anything else, Environmental Responsibilitism isn't as much a philosophy as it is a practice of prophylaxis.  But that's not my point.

There's a lot of debate as to whether human activity is the root cause of global climate change - and even whether there is any global climate change.  I won't touch on that because I know entirely too many conservatives who rail loudly and with great conviction against it, and just as many liberals who take the opposite view.  (It's worth asking, why does it come down to opposing political views that also take these two opposing scientific views?)  But there can be no denying that human activity has environmental effects.  For instance, before white men settled North America and vigorously expanded westward, passenger pigeons were found in vast numbers, so vast that no amount of natural predation could reduce their numbers.  The passenger pigeon species had adapted a successful solution to the problem of natural predation: be fruitful, and multiply.  They bred in such huge numbers that all predators in the area were utterly sated and wouldn't take any more pigeons.  Lose a few thousand here or there, have a few thousand babies here and there, and it all works out okay.  The two populations were in stasis.

Human predation, however, wiped them out.  That's an entire population numbering in the billions, gone.  Human activity made it happen in about 120 years.  We've been doing other things since then, and we've tried to be rather less heavy handed with animal species, having sort of learned our lesson with a species we initially considered so prevalent that we could never use them all up.  Whaling, for instance, isn't the mighty industry it once was.  Of course drilling for oil on conveniently solid ground took a lot of wind out of the whaling industry's sails too, but the point stands.  Rather than use all the whales up, humans decided to stop using whales for anything (mostly).

Dang.  At this point Blogspot went all kerflooey and lost a bunch of stuff I wrote.  Let's see if I can reconstruct it.

Nope.  Fie on you Blogspot!  Okay, picking back up:

Where calling a product or activity "green" implies that it is somehow benign, it doesn't leave room for the fact that nothing is without ramifications.  Like my grocery bag example, the steps you take may be great one way, but not so great in others.  To instead use a label like Environmental Responsibilitism, we introduce the these products and practices in the arena of philosophy.  This puts us in a new place:

To say you're an environmental responsibilitist doesn't say you actually are environmentally responsible.  It's an aspiration, not an absolute.  I say I'm Christian, I don't dare claim that I might be Christ-like.  That's a goal to shoot for, but no one assumes I'll ever achieve it.

We can strive for environmental responsibility the way Buddhists strive for Nirvana, the way Olympic gymnasts strive for a 10.0 from the Chinese judge.  You might get close, but to actually achieve it simply cannot happen.  At some point, we have to accept - and this is where reality grinds its heel into the unequivocating label of "Green," - that we aren't going to become completely benign.  We do damage.  Eventually the global environment heals itself; that's what it does.  It may become something that we don't appreciate as much as the global environment we know now, or remember from the our own youth or the youth of human culture, but it does heal.

Environmental Responsibilitism, then, is the practice of trying to slow down the damage caused by human activity to a pace that doesn't exceed the rate at which the global environment can restore it.  And that's my point.  It isn't a movement, and not an absolute.  It's an ideal which may not be achievable, but that doesn't make it any less worth striving for.