American journalism has begun to catch up with the news about child and young adult refugees from Central America, about 57,000 of whom have tried to find a new life in the U.S. this year, in many many cases to escape murder and terrorization by the the gangs who dominate their neighborhoods.
An excellent story in the LA TImes this week on the subject began this way:
By the time Isaias Sosa turned 14, he'd already seen 15 bullet-riddled bodies laid out in his neighborhood of Cabañas, one of the most violent in this tropical metropolis. He rarely ventured outside his grandmother's home, fortified with a wrought iron gate and concertina wire.
But what pushed him to act was the death of his pregnant cousin, who was gunned down in 2012 by street gang members at the neighborhood gym. Sosa loaded a backpack, pocketed $500 from his mother's purse, memorized his aunt's phone number in Washington state and headed for southern Mexico, where he joined others riding north on top of one of the freight trains known as La Bestia, or the Beast.
Crossing the Rio Grande into Texas, Sosa was apprehended almost immediately by Border Patrol agents as he desperately searched for water.
After a second unsuccessful attempt to enter the U.S. last fall, he now spends most of his days cooped up at home, dreaming of returning yet again.
"Everywhere here is dangerous," he said. "There is no security. They kill people all the time."
"It's a sin to be young in Honduras."
Last month a deeply informed New York Times story on the wave of young people from these regions found kids leaving these different countries for largely different reasons. From Honduras, they left to avoid being murdered.
“Basically, the places these people are coming from are the places with the highest homicide rates,” said Manuel Orozco, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based research group. “The parents see gang membership around the corner. Once your child is forced to join, the chances of being killed or going to prison is pretty high. Why wait until that happens?”
A confluence of factors, including discounted rates charged by smugglers for families, helped ignite the boom, he said. Children are killed for refusing to join gangs, over vendettas against their parents, or because they are caught up in gang disputes. Many activists here suggest they are also murdered by police officers willing to clean up the streets by any means possible.
The trauma makes the hatred shown to these youngsters all the more painful to bear.
A friend named Rain Perry, a classy singer/songwriter, for her wonderful monthly semi-improvisational Song Game, rewrote Woody's classic on the same subject, Deportee, for today, and touchingly so. I'll post the full lyrics below, for the curious, but here's the chorus and a concluding verse, which just kill me.
Is this the best way we can secure our borders? Is this the best way we can fight the drug war? Screaming at children who have crawled through the desert In a country build by...refugees.
Fleeing the streets of my Chamelecon Was like jumping from the window of a building in flames They're sending the first ones back to Honduras All I can think is to try it again
And, in tribute to Woody Guthrie in his 102nd year, here is a page of Woody's notes. Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame, who was part of the Mermaid Avenue group that put to music some of the many songs Guthrie never finished, told NPR that being allowed to go through his diary and notes was like being allowed to touch a sacred historical object, comparable to the Declaration of Independence.
Which raises the question: Well, how dangerous is the methane that is emerging from the Arctic? Is it just blowing holes in the permafrost, or does it presage global atmospheric doom?
It's not a small volume of methane, after all, and we know that methane in the short term is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2-- about 30x more potent, to be exact. So the concept of a "methane time bomb" that will set off the greatly feared runaway global warming seems plausible at a glance.
But look closer, says RealClimate, with lots and lots of data. (From last week.) They conclude:
...the future of Earth’s climate in this century and beyond will be determined mostly by the fossil fuel industry, and not by Arctic methane. We should keep our eyes on the ball.
A show at a new (or semi-new) Ojai gallery introduced me to an artist named Britt Ehringer, who appears to have something to say about Southern California's beach culture. In this show (if not all his others) I thought he found a true wildness, a connection between punk and surfing, that was raw, edgy, and beautiful, both in composition and material.
"Southern California has a way of lulling people to sleep with the always sunny, euphoric beach mentality, but under the smoggy haze is a very different reality," Ehringer said (in a release). "There's a grit to Southern California that is a direct contrast to the almost transparent and light-hearted beach culture and the two contrasts make a very interesting artistic dichotomy."
When I was growing up in Mill Valley, California, our local record shop -- the late great Village Music -- had a prominent bin of miscellaneous and often odd (but spectacular-looking) LPs entitled simply: "Sometimes a cover is enough."
And such is the case today. The story on this remarkable young "jookin" dancer who goes by the name of Lil Buck, is excellent, as we expect from the NYTimes...but....
Barack Obama is universally known, but these days, if you have a conversation at the dinner table about him, the real topic is going to be something like health care or the unemployment rate. We’re so aware of his enormous responsibilities, we’ve sort of lost interest in Obama as a person. He may try to be diverting with the odd comment about sports or his dog, but, really, it doesn’t work.
Well, he may not be all that interesting a person these days, but he's still able to get attention when he gives a speech, and when he mocks his political opponent almost to their face, he still makes the news -- including FOX News.
Now, part of what’s unique about climate change, though, is the nature of some of the opposition to action. It’s pretty rare that you’ll encounter somebody who says the problem you’re trying to solve simply doesn’t exist. When President Kennedy set us on a course for the moon, there were a number of people who made a serious case that it wouldn’t be worth it; it was going to be too expensive, it was going to be too hard, it would take too long. But nobody ignored the science. I don’t remember anybody saying that the moon wasn’t there or that it was made of cheese. (Laughter.)
And today’s Congress, though, is full of folks who stubbornly and automatically reject the scientific evidence about climate change. They will tell you it is a hoax, or a fad. One member of Congress actually says the world is cooling. There was one member of Congress who mentioned a theory involving “dinosaur flatulence” — which I won’t get into. (Laughter.)
Now, their view may be wrong — and a fairly serious threat to everybody’s future — but at least they have the brass to say what they actually think. There are some who also duck the question. They say — when they’re asked about climate change, they say, “Hey, look, I’m not a scientist.” And I’ll translate that for you. What that really means is, “I know that manmade climate change really is happening, but if I admit it, I’ll be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate science is a liberal plot, so I’m not going to admit it.” (Applause.)
Obama called John Boehner a liar to his face -- almost. On May 30th, John Boehner, Republican, Speaker of the House, the president's most prominent political opponent, as widely quoted when he said:
“Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.”
Having backpedaled away from the issue, as a scientist pointed out, while implying there was a debate in the science, Boehner then went on to claim that regulating power plants would ruin the economy, which must remain paramount over "changes to our environment."
Weird. Read closely, it almost sounds as if Boehner is admitting that climate change is happening, and we need to deal with it, but of course we can't use pollution control regulations.
Leaving the science and the fate of the planet aside, Is that really a good argument?
This should be a celebratory moment, as the Wilderness Act has for many many years been considered the high water achievement of the environmental movement in America, the legislative flowering of the vision of great American nature thinkers such as Thoreau, Muir, and Leopold.
But today, as Kenneth Brower has the temerity to point out in this month's Sierra, nature writers in activism and in academia mostly dismiss wilderness as a myth, a figment of the white man's imagination, "flawed" and "imperialistic."
Brower, affronted by this brand of "wilderness denial," promulgated by, as Dave Foreman describes its scoffers, "wilderness deconstructionists," puts in a word in person at a Marin County conference for what his father David Brower worked so hard to protect and enact into law when he ran the Sierra Club.
Brower admits he spoke "with some heat." He points out that the phrase "Geography of Hope" that gave the conference its name was a phrase the writer Wallace Stegner used to describe, yes, wilderness:
The green fire in that year's theme, "Igniting the Green Fire: Finding Hope in Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic," had nothing to do with a land ethic, or sustainability, or restoration--as admirable as all of those causes are. The words are from Leopold's most famous quote of all, about a wolf he had just shot: "We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes--something known only to her and to the mountain." That fierce green fire, that thing known only to the wolf and to the mountain, is wilderness.
Brower stands up for the reality and worth of wilderness, and eloquently so, and points out that, contrary to the deconstructionists' claims, John Muir knew full well the native Americans who lived in the wild places he loved to explore, and remarked on their gentleness.
Muir was actually acquainted with the Indians in question, was photographed in conversation with them, and in various accounts describes their "huts" on the floor of Hetch Hetchy. Muir knew full well, and firsthand, that Indians used the valley. He also knew and appreciated the vast difference between Native American and Euro-American impacts on the land. "How many centuries Indians have roamed these woods nobody knows, probably a great many," he wrote in My First Summer in the Sierra. "It seems strange that heavier marks have not been made. Indians walk softly and hurt the landscape hardly more than birds and squirrels."
Brower defends Muir, and wilderness, and the Sierra Club. He alludes to actually visiting the wilds, and quotes a joke on the subject from his father David Brower, whose defined it as:
"Wilderness is where the hand of man has not set foot."
As much as I agree with Kenneth Brower, and thank him for letting us in on his father's joke, I wonder if there's something specific about the Wilderness Act that makes it uncool today.
From the bill: [Wilderness] "has outstanding opportunities for solitude."