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Monday, June 29th, 2020

Cities Burn, Max Hikes

Monday, June 1st, 2020: Black Range, Hikes, Sawyers, Southwest New Mexico.

Is denial a river in Egypt?

We depend on news media for information about the world outside our neighborhoods. But news media are businesses within the capitalist consumer economy. News media reflect the dominant worldview of our society. The information they deliver is driven by their business agenda and prioritized by the dominant values of society – the values of elites: Eurocentrism, anthropocentrism, individualism, statism, imperialism, competition, etc.

This is okay with most of us, because we share that dominant worldview and we accept those dominant values. It’s what we were taught in the schools.

But is our worldview accurate? What might it be leaving out?

What about our history? Do we absorb the news in context of our history as brutal conquerors and enslavers? Do we assume that the past is past, problems are solved and errors forgiven? The Native Americans whose land our ancestors stole, upon whom they perpetrated genocide – all that’s in the past, we Anglos are the natives now. The fact that our great cities sit on the land of indigenous people and our children are consuming their resources – that’s just the way things are, you can’t turn back the clock. Besides, Native Americans weren’t that great – scientists say they drove Pleistocene megafauna to extinction. Anyone defending them is just naively romanticizing the noble savage, and this land is better off in our hands.

Lincoln freed the slaves, the civil rights movement of the 60s ended segregation, one day a year we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. – shouldn’t that be good enough?

In the media worldview, we live in a democracy, so when people seem to threaten that, we call them fascists. But how many of us are really aware that the U.S. maintains a worldwide military empire, with over 600 bases in foreign countries on every continent, and we’re actually still at war in Afghanistan? We don’t get to vote on any aspect of our military or how it is used, so from the point of view of our warriors and their victims, the argument of fascism vs. democracy is largely irrelevant – in a military sense, the U.S. is not a peaceful democracy, it’s truly a violent empire.

Nor do we get to vote on the U.S. economic and industrial empire, or on the implementation of new technologies that determine our future. A billionaire like Elon Musk can surround the Earth with tens of thousands of satellites, disrupting the entire planet’s night sky, without any public dialog, and without even making the news headlines. No wonder we’re so often shocked by the news – our main source of information leaves us clueless.

We have a justice system – everyone has the right to a trial by a jury of his or her peers. Really? How many of us are aware that local prosecutors actually decide the fate of the accused in most cases, single-handedly imposing punishment on people whose guilt is never proven? As our prison populations spiral out of control, are we aware of restorative alternatives to punishment and incarceration which were developed and successfully implemented by societies we’ve conquered and replaced?

Come on Max, be realistic. We have to deal with things as they are.

Sure, our society has problems. But they can all be solved by electing the right president, and implementing the right technologies. Space exploration will solve everything – as we know from Star Trek and Star Wars, in space all races can live together in harmony. Earth is obviously the source of all our problems. Screw the Earth – let’s colonize Mars! After all, colonialism has worked well for us Europeans so far. Our generation may have screwed things up, but our kids will do it right.

My generation, the generation that came of age in the 60s, was supposedly enlightened. Funny how as they aged, they gravitated toward more and more affluent, whites-only jobs and neighborhoods. Choosing a community of peers, they ended up in bubbles surrounded by like-minded people, unaware of how others were living, thinking, or feeling. Their kids went to private schools – one of them even chose a college formerly known as “White-Man College” for its near-complete lack of minority students. My friends seldom considered that they were helping to make our society more segregated than ever. As a result, their families are doing great – they’re completely isolated from people of color and poor neighborhoods. But that’s okay, because they have their trusted national media to keep them well informed.

So they believe in progress, and unless the news tells them otherwise, they think everything’s fine in the world. No conflict, no segregation, no discrimination, no poverty, no frustration, no suffering. My generation even elected a Black president! Sure, he was a half-white lawyer from the suburbs, not a son of poverty from the ghetto, but it was progress, anyway, right? That’s the important thing, we’re moving forward, away from that past where we made all those mistakes.

In the rural Midwest, I grew up with Black classmates, and I went to college amid the vast Black ghettos of Chicago’s South Side. Unlike many of my friends, as an artist and musician needing cheap studio space, I lived in dangerous slums and barrios among poor Blacks and Latinos most of my adult life, where I had Black colleagues, bandmates, friends, and roommates. My old hometown of Oakland prides itself on some of the most successfully integrated neighborhoods in the world, but much of it is also segregated, with a history of racism and racial violence. My current hometown in the rural Southwest has only a handful of Black folks, but unlike almost all of my friends, I live now in an integrated, relatively egalitarian community, in a neighborhood that’s half Latino.

In poor ethnic neighborhoods of West Coast cities, I’ve had police helicopters and SWAT teams surround my house multiple times. I was falsely arrested and spent a night in a jail cell with poor Blacks and Latinos. The cops have seldom helped me and often hurt me, and I reject all our institutions of “justice” and “law enforcement” as simply the destructive, coercive mechanisms of social control employed by the imperialist ruling class.

But I’m not immune from denial. It took two years of hard work to recover from my chronic foot injury, and another 18 months to build to my current level of fitness. Yet after my foot started to hurt again on Saturday, and I swore to take a break from hiking, I got up on Sunday and went out for a hike anyway.

I rationalized it because when I got up, my foot no longer hurt. And it felt fine for most of my hike. I hadn’t forgotten yesterday’s pain – I planned to take it easier than usual. This meant hiking closer to 10 miles rather than 15, and keeping my elevation gain closer to 3,000′ rather than 4,000′.

I was targeting the southern segment of the crest trail that normally takes me north to a 10,000′ peak. This southern segment sees less traffic, and those who hike it usually only go as far as the 9,600′ southern peak, which is 3-1/2 miles one-way. I figured I’d try the trail past the peak, although it traverses the heart of the 2013 wildfire burn area and there was no information on whether it’d been cleared of logs.

As it turned out, nobody else uses the trail beyond the peak. It’s unmaintained and abandoned. It’s overgrown and blocked by deadfall and blowdown, and the farther you go, the less evidence there is that a trail ever existed. I managed to get about a mile and a half beyond the peak, fixing landmarks in my mind and cutting arrows in the dirt to help me find the way back, before I gave up and turned back. But at least I was able to get a view of the southern part of the range as it trails off and subsides into the low desert.

This part of the mountains lies outside the protected wilderness area, and I’d seen old cowpies along the trail from the start. In fact, the abandoned segment beyond the peak is now used only by cattle. I glimpsed a lone bull in the forest above me when I sidetracked off the trail to climb the peak. And on the way back, I passed three cows grazing in lush grass at 9,000′ on a steep forested slope below the trail.

The New Mexico locust whose dangerous thorns I’d been contending with in other high-elevation burn scars were now blooming, and I’d been informed by a local botanist friend that the flowers were edible, so I sampled some and found them pretty good, with just enough sweetness on top of the sour base. Hopefully they’ll hold their blooms until the wild strawberries are ready and I can combine them.

It wasn’t until the last mile that my foot began to hurt, and when it did, it was so bad I couldn’t put weight on the ball of my foot and had to limp the rest of the way to the vehicle. There, I examined a historical plaque that explains the name of this high pass.

Like our news media, the sign leaves out most of the story. Lt. Emory was part of the Army of the West. This army was an early agent of the imperialism in which our white, Eurocentric society has replaced native peoples. The story is far too complex for most of us to keep in mind – first the Spanish came and conquered the Indians of the Western Hemisphere, then they established European colonies, then we Anglo-Americans conquered parts of their colonies along with what natives were left. And now we consider ourselves natives. What’s past is done, right?

Another aspect of the complexity we deny is that science accompanies our violent conquests – Emory represented science in the Army of the West, and we credit the scientific discovery of this place to that violent conquest. We deny how these things go hand in hand. No pleasant urban neighborhoods with their galleries, theaters, pubs and nightclubs, coffeehouses and bookstores, without the militarized police and the hidden military empire, without the violent conquests, the capitalist oppression, the consumerist exploitation of distant rural communities and habitats.

But you probably know by now what I see. I see that our society is perpetually in a state of collapse. Our cities are parasitic enclaves grafted unsustainably onto land stolen from indigenous peoples. Our police, our military, our presidents will fight their way to their own demise, and good riddance.

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News Media and the Public Discourse: A Menagerie of Blindness and Misdirection

Saturday, June 20th, 2020: Problems & Solutions, Society.

A Menagerie of Blindness and Misdirection

Whack-a-mole, submissive sheep, blind as a bat, red herrings, and sacred cows. There’s no shortage of animal metaphors to describe our behavior and our public discourse in a heterogenous society repeatedly shocked and increasingly divided by the revelations of the news cycle.


Whack-a-mole: a situation in which attempts to solve a problem are piecemeal or superficial, resulting only in temporary or minor improvement

News headlines: Black people are victimized by systemic racism in the police!

Public discourse: Government must do something about police brutality and racism now!

Weeks earlier: Global pandemic is spread by travel and physical contact!

Public discourse: Government must do something about the pandemic now!

Weeks earlier: Young people say we must do something about climate change!

Public discourse: Government must do something about climate change now!

Weeks earlier: Mass shootings in our schools and public places!

Public discourse: Government must do something about gun violence now!

Weeks earlier: Supreme court nominee is a sexual predator!

Public discourse: Government must reject this nominee now!

Weeks earlier: Government is separating immigrant children from their families at the border!

Public discourse: Government must stop this separation now!

Weeks earlier: Mass shootings in our schools and public places!

Public discourse: Government must do something about gun violence now!

Weeks earlier: White supremacists are rallying nationwide!

Public discourse: Government must stop racism and white supremacists now!

Weeks earlier: Opioid addiction is a national emergency!

Public discourse: Government must stop opioid use now!

Weeks earlier: Terrorists kill tourists worldwide!

Public discourse: Government must find a solution for terrorism now!

Weeks earlier: Mass shootings in our schools and public places!

Public discourse: Government must do something about gun violence now!

Weeks earlier: Powerful men in the movie industry are sexual predators!

Public discourse: Bring these men to justice now!

Weeks earlier: The President colluded with a foreign power to win the election!

Public discourse: Impeach the President now!

In retrospect, it’s easy to see how the news media keep us in a constant state of crisis, leading us by the nose, focusing our attention exclusively on a single problem for weeks at a time, then moving immediately to the next headline issue while the previous is forgotten, in most cases without any solution ever being reached. In this endless cycle, we news consumers and citizens of a centralized, hierarchical state are helpless whiners, powerless children continually demanding that our parental leaders fix things for us. If we reflect on this phenomenon, we can only conclude that it’s a messy but essential aspect of progress in a democracy, as we try to stay informed and hope the democratic process will finally work for us.

Led by the Nose

Virtually no one questions the need for nations and national governments. From earliest childhood, we’re taught that we belong to a great country, the purpose of which is to protect us and give order to our lives, from cradle to grave.

But the size of nations, their population and geographical expanse, requires a centralized, hierarchical government. We take this for granted, along with the fact that as citizens, the government knows us primarily as anonymous statistics.

We accept that we can’t know directly the members of our government, nor can we see, hear, or feel what’s going on in our country outside our local neighborhoods. We rely on the “press,” and with the advance of technology, the “news media,” to keep us informed about our leadership and the world around us.

But in order to maintain independence from government – the “free press” – and a measure of objectivity, the news media have evolved as a private-sector institution. Individual media outlets from Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp to PBS, NPR, and Democracy Now! operate either as businesses in the capitalist economy, delivering ad-sponsored information as a consumer product, or as nonprofit organizations, funded by the rich – wealthy individuals and their philanthropic foundations.

In either case, news entities must compete for our attention in the market. And news media must filter the news for us, taking the infinite number of stories available in the world at any time and selecting only the handful they believe will draw the biggest audience. And they all march in lockstep, delivering the same headline stories out of fear they will lose audience to their competitors. Thus all news providers have studied us and learned in detail how to manipulate us for their own agenda, for what they believe is best.

As can be seen from the whack-a-mole litany of stories above, the news media are eminently successful. They keep us hooked, leading us around by the nose like so many sheep, from week to week. In our public forums, from family and neighborhood gossip to online social media, at any given time, what most of us will be reacting to and talking about will be the latest crisis in the news media.

Blind Spots and Sacred Cows

In the “whack-a-mole” of our news headlines and public discourse, some topics seldom if ever arise, either because of sociocultural taboos, because they’re not considered interesting enough to be competitive in the rapid news cycle and the media bid for our attention, or because they represent universally-held core beliefs.

Progress: A History of Violence

We’ve all been indoctrinated in the story of our culture and society, tracing it back to the Ancient Greeks. It’s a history of violence, of the growth of nations and empires by violent conquest, the violent establishment of Eurocentric colonies on other continents, the oppression, enslavement, and genocide of indigenous peoples, and the destructive exploitation of natural habitats. But we’ve been taught to view this history as “progress,” in which the incessant wars, the colonialism, slavery, and exploitation, are simply natural growing pains, mistakes which we leave behind as we advance toward a better future for all. Europeans and their colonial powers justified their violence against traditional societies and indigenous people by painting them with a broad brush, portraying them all as warlike savages to be pacified and improved by European civilization.

Believing in progress, we tend to ignore our history, assuming that the past consists only of problems we’ve already solved. We’re taught that we are a fundamentally peaceful society, so we’re always surprised by exceptions to this, and rather than questioning our fundamental values and institutions, we seek “band-aid” solutions that don’t threaten our comfortable way of life.

But violence begets violence, and the harm, the injustice we’ve done in the past is never truly repaired. It lingers, generation after generation, in the communal memories and behavior of races and cultures we’ve conquered, enslaved, and displaced: the natives of former European colonies, including our own, and the descendants of slaves imported from Africa.

Competition, Dominance, Coercion, and Aggression

Aggressive, competitive behaviors have been so deeply embedded in our culture and institutions that we take them for granted and rarely even notice them. We honor competition in our organized sports – we consider sport to be an institution that brings us all together for good, clean fun, regardless of our beliefs, religious or secular, liberal or conservative. Competition, dominance, and coercion are legitimized in our Constitution and laws, and competition is the fundamental value in our “free market” economy, grounded in the small, local businesses that most of us treasure. Even in science, competition is enshrined in the Theory of Evolution. We never consider that our competitive bias may be causing many of our problems.

Europeans romanticize warrior culture, believing that war is a noble venture fostering courage in young men. When we look at other societies, we look for warrior culture whether it is there or not. Americans’ stereotype of Native Americans is the brave, fierce Sioux warrior, feather headdress streaming as he charges into battle. New Age mysticism has adopted the notion of the “spiritual warrior” from Buddhism, and the women’s movement romanticizes “warrior women.”

Industrial Society and the Consumer Economy

Where do our basic needs – air, water, food, clothing, shelter, energy, etc. – come from? How are they produced and delivered? What is their quality? Are they sustainably produced, is the source habitat being protected, are the providers well taken care of? In our industrial society, mines and factories, including factory farms, operate around the clock, across the globe, to supply our basic needs, which are ever-increasing as we adopt more and more labor-saving devices, from computers and smart phones to robots and self-driving cars.

Consumerism itself – the notion that all human needs are commodities to be bought and sold – is rarely even acknowledged, let alone questioned, in the media and public discourse. This is bound up with our belief in progress: producing and providing your own needs is backward and primitive – civilization elevates us above all that. In our society, producers are usually ignored, whereas consumers have “rights.” Even Karl Marx, in his advocacy of labor, was a firm believer in progress, industrial society, and consumerism.

The industrial underpinnings of our civilization are virtually never questioned in our news media or public discourse, except in isolated instances like environmental disasters – Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez – and labor scandals like Apple and Foxconn. But the production and delivery of our basic needs continually consumes massive amounts of nonrenewable resources, poisoning or destroying distant habitats and threatening the health and safety of distant communities.

What about the vast, global infrastructure that enables our mobility, the distribution of raw materials, products, energy and information, our water supply, and the removal and treatment of our waste? The superhighways, powerlines, pipelines, dams and aqueducts, ports, tankers, cargo ships, railroads, and satellites overhead? We only hear about infrastructure when it fails spectacularly, as in the case of big earthen dams or poisoned urban water supplies, and then it’s seen as an isolated environmental problem, not a failure of our way of life.

Affluent white people strive to live far from mines, factories, and waste processing facilities, so they can forget that these loud, dirty, smelly facilities even exist. The provision of our basic needs is “mere subsistence,” and through civilization and progress we rise above that, to enjoy the civilized arts and sciences. We don’t want to hear about what it takes to maintain that high standard of living.

The Military, Espionage, and Law Enforcement

We take “intelligence,””security,” and “defense” for granted as essential institutions of nations. But few of us ever acknowledge that as a global superpower, our nation maintains a global military empire, with hundreds of bases imposed on other countries. We live in denial of the nuclear arsenals that could render our entire planet uninhabitable. None of us is ever informed about the covert operations of our government, at home or abroad, except in rare cases that emerge long after the fact.

Countless times, American as well as foreign citizens have been spied upon, falsely incriminated and punished. Our private-sector arms industry is one of the big three multinational business sectors, distributing deadly weapons across the globe, including to terrorist groups that then use them against us and our allies. We take it for granted that we need these violent, coercive institutions, and their ongoing operation is never reported on in the news unless there is a momentary scandal or a new war starting somewhere. In those cases, we only want our lives to get back to normal so we can forget about our real spies, armies, and arsenals, and enjoy the fictional ones in our books and movies.

We romanticize the lone police detective in his search for truth, the spy as globe-trotting sophisticate, and the brave, selfless warrior defending our freedom. But in reality the police are there to control the unruly poor and the racially undesirable, and spies and soldiers exist to protect our empire abroad.

Justice, Punishment, and Incarceration

We take it for granted that those who commit violence or otherwise break the law must be punished, and in extreme cases removed from society through incarceration. This is the foundation of our justice system, and we are never exposed to non-punitive, restorative alternatives that may exist, or may have existed, in smaller, weaker societies that have been conquered and dominated by us. The operation of our justice system is only reported on in rare cases of scandal or crisis, and in those cases, we only want our lives to get back to normal so we don’t have to think about it.

For good reason, courts and prisons scare us. Unless we’re lawyers, most of us don’t even want to think about them. So the only glimpse most of us get is in fictional TV shows and movies. The fiction is not the reality. As outrageous as some of those shows are, the reality is much worse. Studies show that less than 6% of people jailed by the police are ever brought to trial – the rest are forced by prosecutors into plea deals that result in punishment without any form of judicial or peer review. In general, our justice system delivers anything but justice, because nation-states are inherently unjust, and the underlying values of our society are unfair.

Red Herrings

While much of what’s important is left out of the news cycle, there are some issues that repeatedly arise in our news media and public discourse. These are issues that are consciously or unconsciously calculated by the media to trigger emotional responses in their audiences. And over and over again, they distract us from their root causes in our fundamental values and institutions.

Racism and Diversity

As racially-biased police brutality moves temporarily into the media spotlight, Blacks and idealistic young people march in protest, and liberals react by reluctantly, ashamedly acknowledging that they may not yet be adequately “woke.” And conservatives react by again claiming that white people are actually being unfairly discriminated against, and racism is a myth.

But to both sides, racism is a complex, amorphous topic, intimately dependent on and embedded in the history of European imperialism. Racism was predominant in ancient Greece and Rome, and on the rare occasions when Native American, Latino, and Black prisoners are brought to court rather than sentenced extrajudicially, they’re typically tried in the ostentatious, intimidating architecture of imperial Greece and Rome, and the language of our law is the language of the Roman Empire.

The imperialists of the European Enlightenment, including artists and scientists, were motivated by racism in their conquest and appropriation of native societies and cultures in the Global South. Latin, the language of the Roman Empire, is the language of science, and white scientists continue to exhibit implicit racism as they isolate themselves in the all-white enclaves of their profession. After all, white Europeans developed science, and European empires brought civilization to brown-skinned natives. We may no longer call them primitive savages, but the assumption of superiority lingers unconsciously.

Traditional indigenous societies always have neighbors who are culturally or racially differentiated, and even societies that are relatively peaceful view their neighbors in ways that we would find racist, for example stigmatizing their neighbors’ diets or physical build.

The difference between these peaceful societies and ours is not that one is racist and the other tolerant, but that one – ours – is inherently violent, and the other is inherently peaceful. In peaceful, cooperative societies, the “other” may be gently teased, yet generally respected for their differences, but is never attacked.

One of the biggest red herrings in our culture is diversity. Native Americans didn’t embrace the diversity of Europeans in their midst as a benefit – we’d invaded them, perpetrated genocide, stole their land and their livelihoods, and displaced the survivors onto barren reservations. Black people, brought over from Africa as slaves, didn’t volunteer to be part of our great “melting pot” of cultures. The Asians and Latin Americans who have streamed into our country for centuries, opening the ethnic restaurants we’re addicted to, didn’t come here because they love being around white people and wanted to be part of a diverse community.

When affluent white liberals talk about diversity, they don’t mean integrating their safe neighborhoods. They love ethnic restaurants but don’t want brown neighbors. They don’t include blue collar workers or poor white trash in their vision of diversity.

What we celebrate as our society’s diversity is actually the tragic result of imperialism. We forced people off their traditional lands – that’s why we have cultural and racial diversity. Our heterogenous, pluralistic society is not the sign of progress toward global peace and tolerance. It’s a festering calamity born of centuries of aggression, oppression, and exploitation. The Rwandan genocide, the result of European imperialism forcing conflicting ethnic groups together in a “diverse” nation, shows what our “progress” is really capable of.

Humans thrive in small groups unified by shared beliefs, values, and goals, not in heterogenous masses with conflicting behavior and worldviews. Communities and societies thrive by forming a cohesive, distinct identity which is most clearly distinguished from that of their immediate neighbors, and neighboring societies are naturally vocal about their differences. In violent, competitive pluralistic societies like ours, in which distinct communities are forced together involuntarily by politics and economics, there is always tension between them, with the potential for sudden or systemic conflict and violence.


Terrorism is what happens when violent subcultures have been systematically oppressed by imperial powers…and then, unsurprisingly, strike back in violence. As noted above, we live in denial that our culture is imperial, and that it’s violent by nature – we ignore our violent history and coercive institutions and believe we are progressing to a peaceful norm.

Many weaker societies have been harmed by us but have not responded with violence. But in our news media and public discourse, the focus is always on the violent reactions – the Al-Qaeda and ISIS – and we are always shocked that people would want to hurt us. We tend to conclude that particular cultures – specifically Islam – are inherently violent, ignoring our own history of violence, our past conquests of Arab and Islamic societies, and our continuing interference, including “regime change” – in Middle Eastern cultures, governments, and economies.

The U.S. and its allies, particularly Israel, have practiced state terrorism since their very beginnings, in the brutal conquest of indigenous people and traditional societies. The atrocities of ISIS that have so horrified us in the news media were actually exceeded in 18th and 19th century America, perpetrated on indigenous people by American citizens known as “rangers” – the namesake of Texas Rangers, Army Rangers, and the Ford Ranger truck. These terrorist vigilantes were sponsored by the U.S. government. During the 20th century, the U.S. sponsored state terrorism in Central America, in which hundreds of thousands of indigenous people were tortured and killed. And since 2001, American Presidents have conducted covert terror campaigns against rural communities in the Middle East and Africa using missiles fired from remote-controlled drones, killing an unknown number of civilians, including women, children, and elders.

Our government has always practiced terrorism against its poor and minority citizens, from the anti-union labor massacres of the 19th century to the bombing of Black activists in the 20th. And the inherent violence of our European legacy is borne out in domestic terrorism, church bombings and mass shootings perpetrated by white supremacists.


Accepting our childhood indoctrination in the structure of our society, we never question the need for national borders and controls on immigration. Because we live in ignorance or denial of history, we forget that these borders were imposed by our government for political and economic purposes, in violation of natural ecological regions and the territories of indigenous societies, causing permanent stress and tension in border communities and forcing traumatic disenfranchisement, migrations, and alienation.

Virtually all nations outside Europe were originally created by Europeans as colonies, often in disregard of traditional boundaries. European institutions were put in place, and when these colonies gained their independence, the institutions remained and their native leaders were trained at European universities, where they were indoctrinated in European culture. This is as true of the U.S. and Australia as it is of Mexico or Nigeria. Every country in the Western Hemisphere, Africa, and the Middle East remains a European colony in all but name. The Eurocentric leadership of former colonies continues to oppress and persecute their surviving indigenous populations.

In the past, we imported slaves across our borders, and our political, military, and commercial oppression of foreign populations continues to drive waves of refugees and immigrants toward our borders, but we seldom acknowledge this. People of European ancestry are invaders in the Western Hemisphere, and even after centuries we remain colonists on indigenous land, failing to adapt sustainably to native habitats and ecosystems.

Unaware of how our global empires have forced people off their native lands, conservationists and population activists sometimes blame immigration for overpopulation. Thanks to our biased educational system and our misdirecting media, the most educated among us are often the blindest.

Gun Violence

Mass shootings are a recurring theme throughout our history, yet we continue to fail to identify their source in our aggressive, competitive, coercive culture. We continue to celebrate physical competition and dominance in our sports, and we crave violence in our entertainment – our most popular movie franchises are Star Wars and The Avengers.

When mass shootings occur, our only solution is gun control. But the right to bear arms against government tyranny was a fundamental value of our English founding fathers, which they institutionalized in the Bill of Rights and passed on to their descendants. So on the rare occasions when gun control is implemented, it is bitterly opposed and never lasting or fully successful.

Climate Change

Like many themes in our public discourse, climate change is a coded, emotionally-charged euphemism that accompanies a cultural and political divide in our society. When liberals talk about climate change, they use it confrontationally, to attack climate change deniers. They take it to mean a multitude of destructive human-caused changes in global climate due to carbon emissions which primarily come from the use of fossil fuels. But when mentioning climate change, liberals generally also imply particular solutions: transitioning to so-called “green” or renewable energy, which implies the electrification of industries and products which previously relied on other forms of energy. To liberals, climate change implies both a general technological problem and specific technological solutions.

To conservatives, climate change represents yet another controversial theory, perhaps a conspiracy or a hoax, by means of which liberals threaten our traditional way of life.

The irony is that taken literally, climate change is acknowledged by all. The weather constantly changes, and everyone recognizes trends in their local region. What is ignored by both sides is the underlying historical, social, and anthropological context for human-caused climate change and the proposed solutions. And both sides lack an adequate understanding of climate science or alternative energy technologies, which are actually anything but green or renewable.

The anthropocentric bias of European cultures ensures that we are more concerned with impacts of climate change on humans than on the rest of nature. When we talk of the “environment,” what we generally mean is the physical surroundings of most humans: their cities, their urban neighborhoods, their homes and workplaces. Our first priority is always going to be to secure the safety and comfort of these non-natural, artificial environments, our fortress from which we view nature as a hostile force.

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg naively urges us to “stand behind the science,” unaware that the industrial application of science – petroleum technology and the internal combustion engine – is something that caused the problem to begin with. Climate science represents only a tiny minority of all scientific research, which is mainly conducted for government and industry, in pursuit of capitalist and imperialist agendas.

And climate science is yet another of the reductive sciences that have triumphed over holistic science since the 1970s. We all talk about our carbon footprint, blaming climate change on fossil fuels, rather than acknowledging the broad complex of exploitative, destructive behaviors that are degrading nature and destroying our planet: our imperialistic expansionism, our industrial infrastructure, our accelerating demand for mobility, comfort, convenience, power, and speed that are cumulatively increasing our consumption of nonrenewable resources and spreading toxic waste and invasive species. Many of these factors overlap with climate change, but in the news cycle and the dumbing down of public discourse, climate change has become the only “environmental issue” that most of us are aware of.

The fundamental problem is neither climate change, nor carbon, nor fossil fuels. The fundamental problem is not a specific technology, but our overall way of life, our values, our institutions, accumulating in Europe and its colonies over thousands of years.

Democracy and Fascism

Whenever one of our leaders exhibits autocratic tendencies, liberals and idealistic young people can be depended on to cry “fascism!” and bemoan the eroding of our “precious democracy.” But democracy and fascism have come to be defined as flip sides of the modern nation state. In either case, the machinery of the state – the bureaucracy, the military, the economy – is much the same, and citizens have no role in decision-making.

We trace our notion of democracy to the ancient Greeks, and our notion of a republic or representative democracy to ancient Rome. Of course, neither were egalitarian. In ancient Athens, the slave-holding male gentry, a minority of the population, voted directly on both leaders and major decisions that affected the entire community. That was our archetype of democracy.

Majority vote is a notoriously unstable and unfair form of decision-making and electing leaders. Peaceful societies maintain small, accountable, face-to-face communities in which leaders can be chosen and decisions made via the unanimous consensus of all members – a much more fair and sustainable solution than our “precious democracy.”

“Liberty” and “freedom” are fundamental, universal American values believed to be at the foundation of our society and economy. But in the public discourse, they become vague, emotionally-charged euphemisms that imply the use of violence to defend individual rights. Peaceful societies exercise firm restraints on individual behavior, by group consensus, to ensure the welfare of the community. Unlike us, they understand that since humans are a social species, individual welfare only results from strong, healthy communities.

Poverty, Hunger, and Disease

Poverty and hunger were the primary targets of President Johnson’s “Great Society” programs in the 1960s, and the suffering of “developing nations” continues to inspire idealistic young people and guilty billionaires like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

But the poverty, hunger, and disease of indigenous and poor populations in former colonies have been directly caused by European and American imperialism, and are continually exacerbated by Eurocentric governments and our military and industrial operations. First Europeans conquered their societies and territories, then supported European businesses in the takeover of their productive lands, driving the people into urban slums. These newly poor people ended up living in squalor and vulnerable to disease.

After independence, European institutions and Eurocentric leadership remained, and as the former imperialists rushed to put a band-aid on the problem by feeding the poor and treating their diseases, we enabled population explosions that lead to overconsumption of resources. And finally, ignoring our role in the historical process, we view these poor third-world societies as the main culprits in the overpopulation of the earth. Why can’t they be enlightened like us?

Like most of our buzzwords, poverty is relative. In our capitalist consumer society, we pity people who get by with less, whether voluntarily or not. Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, we behave as if happiness is a commodity that can be bought. We believe money and technology are the solutions to every problem. Some of the happiest and healthiest people I’ve known are those who consume the least, and thrive in what others call poverty. And some of the unhealthiest are those caught up in the rat race of conspicuous consumption.

The world doesn’t have a poverty problem, it has a wealth problem. Global poverty only exists because of capitalism and imperialism, which lead to economic inequality. The lifestyle of the wealthy depends on exploitation of the poor, mostly in foreign countries where they are out of sight, out of mind. A minority is wealthy because many others are disadvantaged. And even the middle and lower classes in affluent societies depend on products and services that are affordable because they come from poor regions and depend on cheap labor.

Peaceful societies are egalitarian. Despite the rhetoric of the wealthy, white Founding Fathers, nations are by necessity hierarchical and generate economic inequality, which, alongside other causes, generates suffering, conflict, and violence. Our individualistic society, with its Horatio Alger myth that anyone can get rich, pits us against each other and victimizes the people who provide our products and services.

Space Exploration and Colonization

Among all the contentious, divisive stories that regularly make the news, space exploration is one topic that’s supposed to truly unite us, something we can all be proud of, the achievement that offers us hope in our future despite all the problems that challenge and divide us. We in the “advanced” nations proclaim space exploration as a noble effort that all humans can share in with pride, regardless of race or creed, wealth or poverty.

Expansion of our species into space is considered an inevitable consequence of the Progress we take for granted. But in our much-denied historical context, progress has involved the violent conquest of new territories and indigenous societies and the appropriation and exploitation of their resources. Exploration, in the European sense and the sense we now apply to space, is the vanguard of imperialism. First the brave white explorers use their advanced technology to travel to remote places, where they establish a beachhead. Commercial enterprises follow, to extract natural and human resources for the enrichment of their investors back home. Military forces accompany the businesses, to protect them from the natives. Colonial governments are set up to control surviving native populations, followed by white colonists who gradually displace the natives until they believe themselves the natives and the original natives the ungrateful outsiders.

Space, like the Antarctic continent, may lack indigenous populations. But like Antarctica, space is merely another target for exploitation by our aggressive, out-of-control consumer society, a place in which imperial powers can compete for advantage. And as in the exploration of Antarctica, space can only be reached by exploiting resources back home to build and power the vessels of exploration. The earth is sacrificed to get to space.

Science is used as a justification for exploration, but science is never purely a search for truth. The more expensive the exploration, the more science is guided by capitalism and imperialism. Space exploration teaches us nothing about how to take care of our habitats and communities on earth, which is by far the most important thing we need to figure out.

Humans evolved as part of natural, terrestrial ecosystems. We continue to thrive only with the help of our non-human partners in these ecosystems, which fill the gaps in our knowledge and perform services we may not even be aware of. Naive and ignorant space enthusiasts like Elon Musk believe in the myth of human exceptionalism: the misperception that as the pinnacle of natural evolution, humans deserve to expand throughout the universe.

Alienated from nature, proponents of space exploration are unaware that evolution has no pinnacle, and humans have no more knowledge or wisdom than our nonhuman partners. Space enthusiasts mistakenly believe science knows enough to manufacture “life support systems” from scratch, to “terraform” other planets, transforming them into human habitat. But only terrestrial organisms can create our habitat, and we need to submit to their nonhuman wisdom.

Humans are neither superior nor sufficient; our knowledge, skills, and wisdom are not enough. We need our wild, native, terrestrial ecosystems, and we thrive by practicing restraint, living within our limits. Exploration is part of expansionism. Space exploration and colonization are imperialism, plain and simple, the doomed products of hubris and aggression.

Think Locally, Act Locally

Whereas conservatives tend to reject intervention in foreign affairs, the specter of climate change has renewed the commitment of liberals to globalism. But as we can see from our analysis of news media and public discourse, we simply lack the accurate information to think globally.

The global way of thinking is just another conceit of imperialism. We first-world people who have the luxury to consider ourselves global citizens have the illusion that we know what’s going on everywhere, but we don’t even come close. Our news media leave out almost everything that’s really important, and traveling to learn about distant places is a wasteful luxury that can only give us snapshots.

Even our science betrays us – we only know the “planet” through expensive machines like spacecraft, airplanes, and scientific instruments, tools of the capitalist, imperialist elites. These instruments filter out context and leave us with decontextualized data which is only useful in our misguided, doomed attempts to engineer nature and society. The “planet” is a presumptuous first-world fantasy.

The only societies that live responsibly are those that tend to their local habitats and communities, ignoring the follies of the larger world, but keeping an eye out for threats that can be avoided. Many threats are unavoidable. The juggernaut of civilization has trampled and obliterated many sustainable societies. That’s the nature of humanity, and like most stories in the news, it’s not an edifying one.

No matter how many or how often moles pop up in the news to be whacked, people still cling desperately to what they believe are the benefits of their culture and their nation, partly because most people fear change, partly because they’ve been so thoroughly indoctrinated, but also because instead of valid alternatives, the filtered, curated news media keep showing them apocalyptic failures – the chaos of places like Syria and Libya. Compared to that, a nation of gun-toting racists seems like paradise.

Our local environment is the only one we can truly know. The more we can disentangle ourselves from the larger, inadequately known world outside, with its destructive infrastructure, greedy empires, and misdirecting news media, and the more we take responsibility for our own needs, the better we can take care of our communities, and the happier and healthier we will be.

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First Steps in the First Wilderness Part 11: Summer Solstice

Sunday, June 21st, 2020: Black Range, Hikes, Hillsboro, Southwest New Mexico.

The same day I was hit with the worst of my biannual back pain episodes, a lightning strike started a forest fire in one of my favorite hiking areas. While I was immobilized on pain meds, the fire grew to engulf the entire ridge, turning the beautiful north slope into a moonscape.

After two weeks the pain faded and I got back on my feet again, but, what with COVID-19, I wasn’t able to plan a solstice trip, or make any sort of plans for this special day. After another week of short walks and moderate strength training, I was anxious to find out if I’d lost any conditioning, so I returned to another one of my favorite trails, the ridge in the sky.

It was going to be a hot day and I hoped it would be cooler up there between 8,000′ and 10,000′. No such luck, but at the top, the trail passes through some shady groves of old-growth pine and fir, which provided some relief.

Despite the heat, the flowers were amazing, butterflies and other pollinators were everywhere, and it was great to be hiking again, on the longest day of the year. And I surprised myself by going up over the peak, down the back side, and returning the same way for 12-1/2 miles and 3,140′ of elevation. Not bad after 3 weeks off!

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Songs I Wish I’d Written

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020: Arts, Music & Dance.

Michael Gira by Andy Catlin

A Long Struggle

I began studying music in school when I was 9, learned the saxophone when I was 10, and started playing guitar when I was 11. I started a band with friends at age 12 and became the lead singer. I had my first poems published in high school at age 15, but I didn’t put words and music together, writing my first song, until I was 17. Believe it or not, I called it “The First Song.”

Writing songs was fairly easy for me as long as I followed the familiar formulas of American and British popular, rock, and folk music. But in the fall of 1980, inspired by punk, post-punk, and the incredible variety of music around me in the San Francisco underground, I woke to broader horizons. I began deconstructing everything I knew about music and experimenting in all directions. I had no preconceptions about song structure. I was interested in raw sound, ambient sound, free improvisation, rhythm before melody.

That was liberating for a while – I actually stopped writing songs and just improvised freely with my new band, Terra Incognita. But in 1982 I discovered African music. And that made it harder, because I took on the challenge of creating a new genre that would infuse my Appalachian roots with what I was learning about African music. Unlike what David Byrne was doing or what Paul Simon did years later, it wouldn’t sample or imitate African music. It would sound like nothing anyone had ever heard.

It was a long struggle. Finishing a song was incredibly hard, and they only emerged in bursts, a handful at a time, with years in between. I was seldom satisfied with them, and kept reworking them, re-recording them, performing completely different versions with different lineups of Terra Incognita. I believed the rhythm and musicality of the lyrics was more important than the words, but I agonized over the words for years anyway.

That’s one reason why I’m blown away when I discover that someone else has written a song that perfectly expresses something I’ve felt or experienced. Why couldn’t I write that? Why has it been so hard?

No Formula

What makes a perfect song? There’s really no formula. I love ambiguous, mysterious lyrics, but I also love lyrics that are simple, direct, and didactic, like “Nostalgia,” or even “Whole Lotta Love.” The didactic songs can become classics, but ambiguous songs can give us more over time, revealing hidden depths.

How do you write an ambiguous song? I don’t think you do. I think you write a song that means something clear to you, but is so personal that it seems mysterious to others. When I analyze the lyrics of songs that I like, I often find that it’s only the chorus, or a single repeated phrase, that endears it to me. The rest of the lyrics may seem like gibberish. After all, I love many songs in other languages that I can’t understand at all. I’ve believed for a long time that the overall musical impression is far more important than the lyrics.

I mostly shun the mainstream of pop music – Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Lady Gaga et al. But whereas I’ve tended to write songs that are obscure – about the ancient Moundbuilders or the geological decomposition of granite – some of my favorite songs are sappy pop standards from various eras, like Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Unchained Melody,” “Scarlet Ribbons,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and rock clichés like “You Really Got Me,” “Hang On Sloopy,” “Wild Thing,” and the Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love.” I definitely wish I’d written those.

Then there are traditional songs from my Appalachian heritage that I’ve covered with my bands and have been inspired by, but can never match, like “Working on a Building” and “Rank Stranger,” and songs in the Yoruba language like King Sunny Ade’s “Ja Funmi” and Paul I. K. Dairo’s “Mo Wa Dupe,” which have inspired me to venture outside the narrow focus of Western pop themes.

Leaving out the classics and hits most everyone’s familiar with, the traditional country repertoire and the African songs, here, in chronological order, is a partial sample of less well-known songs I wish I’d written.

Boomer’s Story (1972)

Written by early country singer/songwriter Carson Robinson and recorded in 1972 by Los Angeles musicologist Ry Cooder, this song is an instance of serendipity for me. It’s the story of an old hobo, and I began riding the rails myself in 1978, about the same time that my high school friends discovered Ry Cooder and his album of the same title. The lyrics perfectly capture the harsh romance of riding the rails and the premature but deeply-felt sense of world-weariness that we twenty-somethings had by the late 1970s, after coming of age during the Vietnam War, the environmental and civil rights crises, and Watergate.

Final Day (1979)

I discovered and fell in love with the Welsh post-punk trio Young Marble Giants at an underground arts festival in San Francisco in 1980. Their stark, minimal, artfully primitive sound showed that post-punk was never a coherent genre, but a broad spirit of deconstruction, exploration, and experimentation. They only lasted for two years, releasing one studio album, but their work continued to inspire me along with more well-known artists like Kurt Cobain.

Fear of the Bomb permeated my childhood in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the aftermath of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in 1979 that YMG produced the perfect song about nuclear holocaust. This was another serendipity for me, because when I first heard it in 1980, I’d just started having the nuclear holocaust nightmares that would plague me for decades.

Atmosphere (1980)

Today, 40 years after singer/songwriter Ian Curtis hung himself, people reference the short-lived British band Joy Division to prove their hipster cred. But when I was at California Institute of the Arts in 1979, writing songs and playing in a garage band, their first album had just come out on the tiny U.K. label Factory Records, and nobody in the U.S. outside of the top art schools and tiny urban punk enclaves was aware of them yet. The first Joy Division songs that stuck in my memory were “She’s Lost Control,” from that first album, and the single “Transmission,” both played and danced to over and over at CalArts parties that winter.

They were our contemporaries, just another crest in the waves of inspirational new music that followed from season to season in the wake of punk’s first appearance. Like us, they were inspired by the Sex Pistols, but like the Sex Pistols’ successor, John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd, they seemed like punk’s fateful, nihilistic next step, and we couldn’t get enough of them while they lasted.

This is not the only Joy Division song I wish I’d written, but I sometimes think it’s my favorite. Like so many great songs it’s completely ambiguous yet captures in powerful imagery the gamut of human feelings in a relationship, from tenderness to mistrust and fear.

I’ve included the video version by Joy Division bassist Peter Hook and Rowetta, because it perfectly captures the spirit of Ian Curtis’s original, whereas the imagery of the official video distracts from the lyrics.

Nostalgia (1982)

After Young Marble Giants broke up in 1981, singer Allison Statton formed Weekend, another Welsh outfit that wrote and played generally bright, ethnic-inspired pop music, released in one studio and one live album.

They also covered old standard ballads, and wrote the painfully didactic song “Nostalgia,” which has been one of my all-time favorites since Weekend was introduced to me in 1982 by my San Francisco loftmate and former best friend Tiare.

I’ve included the version from their extremely obscure live album, Live at Ronnie Scott’s, because it’s better than the studio recording.

Up on the Sun (1985)

My former songwriting partner Katie introduced me to the Phoenix area band’s breakthrough album Meat Puppets II when we first met in 1984. We listened to those punk-inspired tracks while driving around Los Angeles, then we listened to their more laid-back third album, Up on the Sun, when we drove out to camp in the desert.

I’ve started many songs while stoned, and I’ve worked on many songs while stoned, but I’ve never finished a song that’s as perfect a stoner anthem as this. What I love most about the Meat Puppets and Curt Kirkwood’s lyrics is that they so often evoke nature and living outdoors and the mystical sensations we campers and hikers share even when we’re not high.

Although the Pups are an awesome live band with a rabid cult following, I’ve included the album version because their shows are never recorded with an adequate audio mix.

Pictures of You (1989)

By the time this song was released, I’d been deep into my obsession with African music for years, and I shunned the vast majority of rock music, not to mention the goth subgenre The Cure came to be labeled with. It wasn’t until three entire decades later that I heard their poppy “In Between Days” on the radio, and digging deeper, I discovered “Pictures of You,” which made me a long-belated Robert Smith fan.

This English songwriter has penned a whole slew of tunes I wish I’d written, but this one so perfectly expresses the nostalgia I’ve felt, and unashamedly embraced, for lost love affairs. In my humble opinion there’s nothing more worth singing about.

The Maker (1989)

Whereas The Cure were completely off my radar in 1989, I was open to the Canadian Daniel Lanois’s album Acadie when a mutual friend suggested it to Katie, my former partner and bandmate, because its Acadian – our Cajun – focus fit into my fiercely traditional, mostly ethnic aesthetic. As a musician I’d heard of Lanois – he produced U2’s The Joshua Tree, one of the biggest albums of the late 80s, along with records by Bob Dylan and other big stars.

The lyrics of “The Maker” are almost too perfect an example of a modern gospel song, the kind of devotional confession I have tried to write with less success. It’s one of those that some people call the “greatest song ever written,” so it’s been covered by much more popular artists like Dave Matthews and even Jerry Garcia, and few even seem to realize that Lanois wrote it.

I’ve included the stripped-down live version because live is usually better and the official video sucks, and best of all, Daniel is playing a Fender Jazzmaster with clear finish, exactly like my first Jazzmaster, a now-classic guitar purchased for $75 back in 1978. But if you haven’t heard the perfect studio recording with Aaron Neville, check that out ASAP.

Breakdown (1993)

Scottish singer/songwriter Dot Allison and One Dove are examples of how worthless the consumer economy is at promoting and sharing things of real value. I’ve had hilarious conversations with music fans who get all huffy because I don’t worship the biggest pop stars, while much greater artists die without ever achieving significant recognition.

At least One Dove’s “Breakdown” made it into a movie, a corny 90s comedy that I’ve never seen. Dot Allison went on to have an equally obscure solo career, and I didn’t discover her work until 2011 after I resumed my own musical ventures. “Breakdown” is a better pop song partly because of how unpopular it is.

Get Me (1994)

Although the English duo (and couple) Everything But the Girl started during the early post-punk era, they weren’t big enough at the time to show up on my radar, and by the time they reached a wider audience, in the 90s, I’d driven my obsession with African music into the ground and was about to be turned on to grunge.

I was deep into the grunge thing when I joined Katie on her family’s ski trip in early 1995 and heard Tracey Thorn for the first time on Massive Attack’s hit album. You can keep your mainstream divas, your Annie Lennoxes, your Madonnas, your Lady Gagas, but I’ll take Tracey any day. Eventually, I went back and discovered her earlier work, and although Amplified Heart has several outstanding tracks, I picked this one, attributed to her partner Ben, because it never became popular, despite its perfection as a conflicted love song.

Blind (1995)

Los Angeles native Michael Gira seems to have been the classic troubled artist, growing up in an alcoholic family, spending lots of time in jail. As with a lot of my now-favorite artists, I discovered him after resuming my musical career in 2011 and only know about him after the fact, never having followed his early career and cathartic performances in Swans.

But I keep “Blind” in regular rotation in my playlists, because it’s one of those gemlike songs that express some essential realities of our species in a harshly beautiful nutshell.

Protection (1995)

This is an instance where I break my rule and include a song that became a fairly big hit – although never really in the pop mainstream. I believe it became such a big hit partly because the time was right for electronic pop music, but mainly because Tracey’s message is just what we all need, all the time, in our conflicted, violent, dangerous world.

Although Massive Attack’s studio version is perfect and their official video is cool, I’ve included Everything But the Girl’s live version because it’s a decent recording, and it has Tracey!

Ribbon on a Branch (2007)

Younger Brother is a somewhat obscure English electronic duo who took their name – one of my favorites of all time – from the mythology of a Colombian indigenous tribe. I discovered “Ribbon on a Branch” in 2011 and am reminded of it every time I hike a trail in our local wilderness and spot a pink ribbon on a trailside branch. It’s a love song in nature, something I’m always aspiring to write. Get outside, you alienated city people!

This live video has a long intro, but the sound is excellent so hang in there!

No Cars Go (2007)

Perhaps not as big as Massive Attack’s “Protection,”, “No Cars Go” was still a hit single by Canadian stadium rockers Arcade Fire, so it probably shouldn’t be on this list. But despite its bombast, I respect it because it not only trashes cars, it says space ships are uncool, too. What we all need is to get to a place without our machines, without our devices.

Like Radiohead on OK Computer, Arcade Fire are dissing a sacred cow of Gen-Xers and Millennials, which is ironic since both bands are heroes to those generations.

The Never Ending Happening (2012)

Bill Fay is an old English hippie from the 60s who has languished in obscurity for decades, like most great artists. It shows how irrelevant our sacred cow of progress is that he released this perfect hippie anthem in 2012. It’s like a modern, ecologically woke but painfully self-conscious version of the old gospel hymns that have inspired me. It’s liable to make me cry every time I hear it.

Black Monday (2016)

This urban anthem by an obscure SoCal band is a perfect post-punk song that should’ve been written in the late 70s or early 80s. I can never hear it enough and end up singing along and laughing every time I do.

Which video of this song to include was a tough decision! Hilariously, this live version used sound that is obviously dubbed from their studio recording – you can tell 2/3 of the way through when backing vocals mysteriously kick in on the verse, but nobody else in the band is singing. The official video has a bunch of clips that are supposed to add narrative value, but the band looks half-dead. Take your pick!

One With the World (2016)

Rambling Nicholas Heron is a Swedish folk singer/songwriter who writes and sings in English. I love his songs, but rare videos suggest that his sincerity might be tempered by a trace of irony.

No matter, this example, which has apparently never been recorded apart from YouTube, is another perfect gem of the civilized yearning for connection with nature.

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Year of the Butterflies

Monday, June 29th, 2020: Animals, Hikes, Holt, Mogollon Mountains, Nature, Southwest New Mexico.

It’s been going on since early springtime, and I can’t keep quiet about it anymore.

There are more butterflies this year than ever before! I have no idea why. Are their predators in trouble? I don’t even know who their predators are.

First the small ones, yellow and white, along the wilderness trails. Then the bigger ones, in my yard at home. By now they’re darting and sailing back and forth all the time – I often mistake them for birds.


I returned to my favorite local trail, the one with over 4,000′ of elevation gain that takes me to a peak with a view of the interior of the mountains. It’s more of a struggle each time, because more trees have fallen or been blown down across the trail.


Hectic time of year for birds, too! Turkey vultures and hawks circle overhead as mother quail shepherd their tiny young across the road. As I traverse stark burned slopes on the peak, the boomerang shapes of white-throated swifts rocket past my shoulder. And in the forest from canyon bottom to ridgetop, constant calls and song from a diverse community. Birds are less timid, often allowing me to walk right past them.


In the lead-up to our monsoon, as the heat rises, the air dries out, and the creek dwindles, the first wave of flowers reaches its peak.


On the way up the mountain, I just enjoyed the butterflies. But on the way back, in the canyon bottom, I suddenly reached a large clump of Monarda where butterflies were converging from all directions, and I stopped in their midst to photograph them as they ignored me and went about their business.

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