Thursday, February 25, 2010

A fresh reminder that anyone can be elected to the U.S. Senate

Senator Barbara Boxer of California, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, offered this evidence as proof that global warming was reaching dangerous levels: it had been over 100 degrees for three straight Rio de Janeiro, Brazil!

Um, Barbara? Brazil is in the southern hemisphere, and February is their version of our August. Rio routinely tops 100 in February.

Now, that gaffe isn't likely to earn Boxer a spot in Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person in the World" list on his MSNBC show --- but I wouldn't be shocked if Bill O'Reilly crowned her a "pinhead" for that doozy.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Perspective, folks, perspective

I took a chunk out of my Sunday afternoon to watch a History Channel documentary called "Black Blizzard," recounting the origins and impact of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.

It didn't take long for my brow to furrow as deeply as the parched soil yielded to a plow's blade. They had "experts" pontificating that the Dust Bowl was the earth's protest against "abuse" perpetrated by farmers, who should not have plowed up the tallgrass that kept the soil in place when the prairie winds blew.

Apparently, they didn't realize that the Homestead Act required farmers to plow up the soil to meet the terms of the agreement that gave them the 160 acres of land. Technological improvements (better tractors and plows and harvesters) and soaring grain prices brought about by the outbreak of World War I combined to create a period of prosperity farmers had rarely seen.

It gave them the opportunity to significantly improve their quality of life, to indulge in such luxuries as...real homes built of wood or stone....and an automobile to transport the family. In other words, property residents on the coasts took for granted.

Think about that: it took several years of virtually unmatched prosperity for most farmers to reach something near middle class. Yet they were portrayed as greedy. Who wouldn't want to make most of that opportunity, especially after you'd been desperately poor your entire life?

Mind you, not everyone profited to the same extreme: Dad was born in an earthen dugout in the middle of Kansas in 1924, six years after World War I ended. His father had a strong business acumen, which showed itself for decades afterward, but the Roaring '20s weren't a blast for everyone.

Millions of farmers didn't have electricity reach their homes until the Rural Electrification Administration was created during the Great Depression.

There's no question that farming practices contributed significantly to the Dust Bowl, and measures such as shelter belts and no- and low-till crop management had to be adopted to salvage top soil and prevent the choking dust storms that defined the period.

But I was amazed at how much I heard on the show that reflected a striking lack of knowledge and perspective. It reminded me of the kind of chatter that comes from urban think tanks calling for large portions of the western Great Plains to be transformed into prairie preserves allowing buffalo and other wildlife to roam freely under the adoring view of throngs of tourists. Small farms and the rural way of life are dying, so the thinking goes, so let's do something useful with all that land.

Never mind that studies have shown such a measure would result in less revenue than what is currently generated by the farmers, ranchers and townspeople that currently inhabit the targeted land.

Ironic that I never hear anyone calling for small retailers to be shut down and moved out in cities all over the country because Wal-Mart and other large competitors are, we all know, going to drive them out of business anyway. Or do we really know what we think we know?

Too often in that show, folks showed what they didn't know.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The value of boredom

I came across a compelling blogpost this week about how important boredom is to intellectual stimulation.

You read that right: boredom is important to intellectual stimulation. I completely agree with that stance.

How is that possible? Well, boredom is so often the gateway to pondering issues and questions, whether they be about one's self, people in that person's life, or what's going on in the world around them. Curiosity can bloom, creativity can blossom, new understandings can take root.

The blogger voiced concern that a modern society hooked on perpetual stimulation in the form of social media or iPods or the latest technofad will not develop the ability to delve deeply - whether it's within or in the surrounding environment.

It's too easy to run from internal issues or societal problems by distracting yourself with the waves of stimulation pounding us as incessantly as the ocean's people don't grow, issues aren't resolved, problems aren't corrected.

And a society lurches from fad to fad, which is not the same as progress. As healing. As enriching humanity.

I wonder how much of the "noise" distracting us today is intellectual junk food for a populace that needs a far more "nutritious" menu.