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Island Guardian

Bees, Lobbyists And Regulations

When we published our book Journey Into The Web Of Life in 2007 I was certain that the section dealing with the colony collapse of bees would soon make it out dated.

Goodness, every once in awhile I certainly can impress myself with my naivete. Here we are eight years later and by all accounts the situation is worse. What happened? For all of my realpolitik approach to life, I simply ignored the gigantic power of the chemical lobby, one of if not the most powerful lobbies working the biggest brothel in the history of civilization.

I had to sit back and have a really hearty laugh at myself. And in retrospect I think that a healthy thing to do once in a while. We get too tied up in our egos and ideology to step back and take a look at where we are coming from.

While we have been engaging in political wars over regulation and the precautionary principal we have succeeded in coming harrowing close to doing irreparable damage to California’s multi-billion dollar agriculture. I think we get tied up on so many of the things in the world that can fling (further) out of control, wouldn’t it be ironic if something like the destruction of those great pollinators really threw us for a loop?

Sorry, I am not one of those who think that any problem technology creates it can solve. Replacing one deus ex machina with another won’t be any better.

Nonetheless I do not consider it to be taken lightly that we have turned thousands upon thousands of chemicals loose upon the earth with no conception about the consequences. This argument is not new.

In April of 1950, there was a meeting held in Houston termed the Southern Industrial Waste Conference. One of the speakers was Alvin Black of the University of Florida:
American industry and American governmental units have become aware of these problems and their individual and collective responsibilities in connection with them. No one can doubt for a moment that the aggressive spirit and the technical “know-how” which have characterized our progress in the past will be more than adequate to solve these problems in the future.

Black was followed by Kenneth Banks, vice-president of a New Jersey chemical manufacturer. His talk was entitled The Interdependence of Man and Earth.” He concluded his talk with “…There is only one question: are we going to recognize and put forth the effort to meet the challenge of an altered environment? The failure to do so may well be the failure of all which we have striven…The greatest technology we can achieve will do us little good if it causes us to live on a rubbish heap.

Perhaps, just perhaps it is the bees that will end up answering that question.

Why is it we do not hear from that great thinker Aldous Huxley, these days. Is it because he was so brilliant and always with common sense? “As usual, the only safe course is in the middle, between the extremes of laissez-Faire at the one end of the scale and total control at the other.” (Brave New World Revisited)

And as oil continues to soak the oceans and pour out on the earth I continue to reread Huxley’s little gem, Island. It is a fanciful story about an island paradise with big oil looming nearby. Beginning to sound presciently familiar?

(Ron Keeshan Kudos to Ace for pulling the neonictinoids from the shelves.)

One For The Humanities

Academically speaking the humanities are taking a beating. Students are flocking to finance and leaving departments like English, thinner and thinner. Well, as an ex-English major I can understand that.

The humanities, whatever else they offer, do not offer much financial reward and smaller nest eggs for retirement. That probably goes double in the current culture still trying to recover from the last financial crisis. It’s not hard to imagine why students are leaving the humanities behind.

I want to address that on some different levels.

I would say it is not essential that one major in the humanities, but essential that one “taste” the various departments to see what they have to offer while expanding one’s horizons. This is somewhat selfish but truthfully my doing so helped me in ways for which I shall always be grateful.

Psych 101 was a ruddy bore about rats in a maze. But when I “pushed links” on depression in the library I concluded that one of my long term worries about following along with manic depression that ravaged my family simply did not need to happen. It was relief pushing off an anchor.

Philosophy was like a Wagnerian opera: some beautiful pieces but much like psychological warfare. But wandering through that morass I found much brilliance, like for instance the much misunderstood Nietzsche. I also found a philosophy from Existentialism that has stood me well all of my life: you can stand on the shore and not know what it is like in the water but if you go into the water, when you come back to the shore you cannot tell others what it is like out in the water. Most recently I tried to explain to a clueless physical therapist that the damage from 80 years of physical activity is different from a 20 year olds football injury.

Something else has also stayed with me. Freedom, while much-coveted has some complications to it. It is very easy to see what one wants freedom from, but much less easy to see what one wants freedom for. Unless one is careful you can end up in nihilism and I do see a lot of that.

Liz was a history major and I picked up a great deal from her. One aspect was an intense reading of mid-east history. Goodness when you get into that, man do you ever look straight into Pandora’s box. If you stay with it you will probably run into a common axiom in mid-eastern history that says: Afghanistan"the graveyard of empires.

Following that link is most illuminating. Another less common one is reputed to be from Foggy Bottom (the State Dept.): If you want to drive someone insane, send them to the mid-east to make peace. Is there some wisdom to be cultivated from such readings?

But while the interest in studies in the humanities has most definitely flagged, very serious thought about the humanities is coming from world-renowned scientists like Stephen Hawkins, Elon Musk, Demis Hassabia (of DeepMind), Edward O. Wilson (see his recent and small book, The Meaning of Human Existence) and Jason Lanier’s incredible Who Owns the Future?

Two of the issues that they are very deeply concerned about are where will the use of robots go and will they end up taking over? The other issue is artificial intelligence. The concern is that this could grow to the point of dominating human intelligence. What happens if these things go out of control and or become weapons of rogue states? Elon Musk, futurist in Silicon Valley, feels that AI (as it is dubbed) is more dangerous than the nukes.

These are only two amongst a host of issues these people are worried about. Most certainly I agree with them that we have greatly benefitted from most of the advances of science. We cannot however ignore the “dark side” of where we are going. The role of humanities is to question what it means.

The importance of the humanities is indeed alive and well if only in the scientific community. That community is calling us to have an open debate on what is happening.

(Ron Keeshan was an English major whose interest in literature (of all kinds) has not only never abated but nourished a curiosity in many fields.


Well yes, we are still slogging through the morass of the CAO. With no end in sight, we are headed for the morass dealing with the shoreline management update. Not that there is anything at all wrong with where we currently are. Time has given me yet more perspective on both these “problems”.

Some years back a lot in our neighborhood sold. The new owners immediately set about to “clean” it up. Every pile of debris and I think every bush on the place was cleaned out. In addition a heavy truck was brought in to take down the “dead” trees. They of course are unsightly. In addition, all the dead branches were sawed off and the remaining trees thereby cleaned up. This took some pretty good time. Then all the debris was hauled off and the entire place put in new grass.

It was “parked out”. Heck I’d be the first to tell you that in the afternoon sun and shadows it was indeed beautiful. It was one of the lovelier light and shadows pictures I have ever seen.

But watching the process from a distance gave me a stomach ache. For one, obviously a new woodpecker nest that had been atop one of the dead trees was felled. The male came all the way over to our house, sat on a log outside the living room for three days and was obviously disoriented.

But something else had happened also in the process. I had not long before finished a study of logging in the Tongass. What was clear was that in heavily graveled soil, as the Tongass is and is San Juan, the roots of the huge trees play a major part in sustaining each other as they wrap around each other. Alone they are in trouble. I had also seen this in our back yard where constant running of the John Deere mower had ground down above surface roots. These trees were dying.

That is exactly what is happening to the trees that were “cleaned up” near us. Now they all manifest very early death. Nature gets the last word.

Now I bring this up because I want to say that the owners were perfectly within their legal rights to do everything they did. I do not believe that it is possible to prevent this sort of thing short of draconian laws which I don’t think any of us would be happy with. But make no mistake, there are those who would covet doing exactly that.

Some while back I had a friend whose job was to find and talk to people who were out of compliance with County regulations. I found his non-judgmental approach to people to be the VERY best thing I had seen in government. He offered to help them in any way he could to come into compliance. His approach was to seek solutions, not to win an argument. For me, it was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stifling environment.

Thinking in terms of the best of all worlds, what could we have had if we could have had this kind of dialogue over the CAO and the Shoreline Management update. Think of the money wasted in litigation. Think of the vast amount of intelligence that these arguments have consumed that could have been better used to seek solutions to differences. Think of the time and money taken away from families, business, from charitable giving that could have been better used in positive ways in the community. Think of a community of respect that has left behind the acrimony.

Education, persuasion and dialogue will not always be successful but if they could be practiced long enough they just very well might become the prevailing community ethic. What my friend did convinced me that there were people totally capable of working towards that end.

(Ron Keeshan-- an old English major who can’t get education out of his system

The Hillary Express

The Hillary Express is a bullet train aimed straight at Washington D.C. This express has a lot of baggage cars attached which for me ought to be seriously challenged. Alas, any challenge issued will be rejected as totally anti-feminist or otherwise anti-women. This will bury substantive criticism and we will thus lose the possibility of an intelligent debate. Now I will personally admit that I have personal prejudices and I put them up front. I have had enough of the Clintons. Enough is enough.

The first car behind the engine is one loaded and I do mean loaded with money. Hillary and Bill are veritable money printing presses. The last I heard Ready for Hillary had raised 6-7 million and counting.

Recently, Hillary garnered $400,000 for two speeches to Goldman Sackedus. One of my favorite economists, Matt Taibbi, characterized them after the meltdown as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Me? I’m looking for a politician who will get out of bed with the Banksters and tend to the rest of us. I hope it doesn’t take another global meltdown for that to happen but I am not hopeful. Wall Street is where the serious money is and the Clintons ever in pursuit of power for the sake of power, have been and always will be where the serious money is.

Then there is Bill’s baggage car. I think if any one person can be named the best facilitator of the global financial mess, it was Bill. Over and over he blew it. Ending the Glass-Steagall Act was perhaps the most egregious of the multiple steps he took to ultimately bring about the global meltdown and royally shaft the tax payers.

Then there is the Secretary of State baggage car. She will be promoted as having serious credentials. Opening the car, I find it empty, save for some promoting of women’s issues around the world, surely a good cause. Other than that I simply find four years of vagueness and obfuscation. Hillary plays her cards close to the chest.

I think it time we had someone who would lay all the cards out on the table. Bill’s blunders would be a start.

The next baggage car however is one full car. Make no mistake, Hillary is a hawk and there are hawks galore here. Iran, Syria, Ukraine and oh boy all over Africa. Buy defense stocks! Now I am no isolationist but we are overdue to start withdrawing from the role of the world’s policeman.

Then of course there is the caboose. Ever lusting for power Chelsea is for sure being groomed as the heir apparent. I’ve had enough of American dynasties.

Nonetheless, although it is early I see no real opposition emerging. A far out guess is that if the Republicans nominate someone that is part of mainstream America, the male vote will totally bury Hillary. If someone outside the Mainstream is nominated I foresee the very real possibility of an oligarchical theocracy with Libertarian views. In this fluid time I think anything is possible.

Even though I am no Miss Merry Sunshine, I’d like to leave this on a positive note.

The future of the Democratic Party (or a new party"the old one will have a hard time changing) is with Shenna Bellows, running against Susan Collins in Maine. She was head of the Maine ACLU, favors single-payer healthcare, promotes dealing with climate change, opposes the Keystone pipeline, and gathers Libertarians and Tea Partiers in where they can find common ground.

Heck, I know from personal experience common ground can be found with the Libertarians. Win or lose, the woman points the political debate in an intelligent and forward looking direction. What a breath of fresh air.

(Ron Keeshan fears a repeat of the past and hopes for the glimmers of new path.)

Life’s Jolts

I have always been a hiker/walker. My hiking days are long over so very limited walking it is. My legs are frail and stability on my feet worse. Nonetheless at 81 I will take what I am given.

After a year of not being able to walk at all"from what a combination of prednisone and poly-myalgia-rheumatica had done to me, I started gingerly on the Burke-Gilman Trail. That worked wonders as it is just down a hill from us. It worked perfectly as the trail is flat and easy. There are benches nicely spaced all along it. I need them.

Also I occasionally run into and chat with some delightful folks. One woman spends her life adopting dogs from the shelter. She had two young shepherds she wanted me to take. There came a time when I REALLY wished I could have taken them.

It is the I 5 of trails. We are just a couple of miles from UW and the biking, runners and walkers can be intense. Most just want to mind their own business and since I am concentrating on not falling that is okay by me.

One morning in January I had reached my end point, sat down a bit, then turned to head back. Shortly after starting out I noticed someone coming towards me with a small dog on a long leash. He was walking in a manner that stated he was not going to move over for me. I was used to that, especially from male runners. So, I just pulled off the trail a little to wait and rest. As he moved closer I saw he was strongly pointing his right hand to the left and mumbling something I could not understand.

Soon, I could hear him saying over and over, “Pass on the left.” Huh? That’ for bikers. Then literally in my face he screams, “I see you looking at your stick. (I carry a carbon fiber walking stick, slightly more dangerous than a fly swatter.) You are going to use it to attack me.”

The next thing I knew I was up in the air and smashed to the ground. As the stars began to diminish I could see him standing there and yelling, “The next time I’ll leave you unconscious.” Then he casually walked off like he was going for an afternoon stroll in the park.

If there was any luck, I fell on one of the piles of mulched branches Park and Rec regularly deposits beside the trail. If I had landed on the asphalt area or on hard ground-ugh-I hate to think. Anyway his strength was that of three linebackers. Where he picked me up with one hand, my left arm from elbow to shoulder was completely shredded of skin.

We filed an on line report with the Seattle Police Department. We were #200 after just the first eight days of January. We did not expect to hear back and have not.

As has been our custom for 38 years, a few days later we were finishing the day with a good glass of wine. It is a time when we kick around our neighborhood, city, state and international problems.

I said that I thought this big wound would heal at some juncture okay (almost three month later it is still slowly healing), but what I was still dealing with was how incomprehensible it is. I still wake up with a start in the middle of the night, but less frequently. Liz responded that I was experiencing what women experience when their space is invaded in one form or another. Bingo. That really registered.

I am a life- long intellectual supporter of women’s rights. It took experiencing invasion of my space and not being able to respond to fully understand what women go through. As you know I am no Miss Merry Sunshine. But taking something useful away from even untoward experiences is something I have done all my life.

Also, people that I had casually seen almost every day on the trail asked me where I had been. They are now “looking out for me.” One had an excellent suggestion that I carry a whistle. Any of them that hears it will respond. Hey, what more could if ask for?

(Ron Keeshan wishes you happy spring trails.)

Speed And Change

I’m still trying to adjust to 2013 having flown by and here I am in the middle of February already. It seems like only a little time back that time did not pass with such speed. Then, I began to think it was part of aging, but as I talk with younger folks they too are experiencing the rapid flight of time. To be honest I think most of us have our comfort zones and prefer change to come in small increments so we have time to adjust. The world is shaky enough as it is.

A lot of us grew up in an America that took for granted that it was a white Christian nation. That’s simply the way it was. But all of a sudden you turn around and we have a black president. What a jolt to the status quo, but not the last jolt by a long shot.

Again, it seems suddenly, more people of different colors began showing up and with them, all these strange languages and good grief, very strange dress.

And boom, all of the sudden there is this same sex marriage thing.

Many, many changes occurred globally. Ultimately I think the increase in nations with nuclear weapons ranks at the top of the list. We are long beyond the old policy of Mutually Assured Destruction.

Tennessee Williams had a brilliant phrase that perfectly characterizes another change that I think is far more momentous than all the rest put together.

He wrote in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that the great crises of life come in like little cat’s feet on a hot tin roof. Some of my customers in the mid-seventies said that they had seen for some time the diminishment of the middle class. I did not see it with total clarity until the early eighties. In my business real downscaling was obvious.

Another arena was obvious to me. I was the neighborhood watch organizer and I would go for blocks finding no one at home in the daytime. It was about then when Liz and I, who were both working, began to question each other about what the middle class was going to do next to hang on to their life style. The father was holding one and a half jobs and the mother a full time job. What was left to enable them to hold on?

Then along came NAFTA, a brutal slash at middle class labor. Later would come a financial crisis that smacked the middle class across the world. So much has been written on that, but the best I have seen is the woman that was quoted in the NYT as saying, pushing against the glass ceiling was one thing, but what she really felt now was the floor boards crumbling under her.

There has been a lot of thoughtless political snipping about wage inequality. I think a sea change has come to that. The business community sees restaurants and retail department stores that catered to the “midtier” beginning to falter. It is one thing for politicians and economists to argue, but when an industry analyst from Morgan Stanley highlights the impacts of income inequality, the ground rules are changing.

Any student of history will tell you that without the middle class there is no democracy and big trouble lies ahead. The foundations are crumbling. Maybe you see a political party that has a vision that will take us into the future, but I don’t. What I hear is more like, stop the world, I want to get off. Alas the future is barreling down on us,

>Jaron Lanier You are Not a Gadget and most recently, Who Owns the Future I consider two of the best books I have ever read. He is brilliant and human, deeply concerned about where things like Facebook are taking us. I am so awed at what he has done that I can’t begin to do justice to a review. But briefly I want to share what continues to haunt me.

A definition he gives serves as a summary of his concerns: “…Singularity…is the idea that not only is technology improving, but the speed of improvement is increasing as well…We ordinary humans are supposedly staying the same (a claim I reject), while our technology is an autonomous, self-transforming supercreature…In the blink of an eye we will become obsolete…we might be instantly dead, because the new artificial superintelligence will need our molecules for a higher purpose. Or maybe we’ll be kept as pets.”

Death, says Jason, is everywhere in Silicon Valley at the forefront, whether it be mechanically prolonging life or making life mechanically permanent. A new metaphysic is born.

Fasten your seat belts. A world of accelerating change is upon us. Good luck.

(Ron Keeshan hopes you’ll treat yourselves to Lanier’s books.)

Medical Marijuana And Me

It seems like a previous incarnation but in reality only a few decades ago. Anyway it was a time when I worked with terminally ill patients, family and friends. I had a lot of different experiences doing that.

What memorably happened for me were a couple of things but I’ll look at only one here. After time developed trust with people I was asked to find them some marijuana. At this time adequate pain control was not practiced for fear of a dying person becoming “addicted.” They would say, Ron, I’m dying. What the heck (more belligerent than that) difference does it make what I take?

I have to tell you no matter how often you hear that it does grab you. I had connections from my drug counseling mainly with teenagers, to find a supply. Most I talked to found some humor out of my requests. My own humor was visualizing a headline in the local paper: Presbyterian minister arrested for dealing in drugs.

So I’ve spent my adult life wondering where this terrible drug policy would go. I never personally used marijuana. Life does take strange turns doesn’t it? Here I am in my eighties and I’ve turned to medical marijuana (MMJ).

But let me back up a little. At the time I was diagnosed with kidney cancer I was also diagnosed with polymyalagia rheumatica. It is a brutal disease of the muscular system. Mainly it is treated with prednisone and I suffered terrible side effects.

I tried tapering off prednisone totally and that was terrible, too. It was tough and I had to go back on some just to get out of bed.

I had by then decided to try MMJ. Legalization came along just in time for me. My oldest daughter recommended a Naturopath. Liz and I spent more than an hour with him and when we left we both said he was the ultimate professional. He told me to begin slowly since I had no previous experience with marijuana. He gave me a list of dispensers. I’ve used one with a good reputation and been totally satisfied.

I tried a number of different things but I am now using two. The MMJ cream is very expensive but has worked to radically reduce the agonizing morning pain. I am in better shape to take long walks which I have been doing for the first time in two years.

The other thing that has worked is the cookies. When I am restless or otherwise having difficulty going to sleep, a half cookie puts me gently to sleep and I awake rested as I seldom had before. The next morning is wonderful plus no hangover or buzz. PS"I don’t do recreational drugs. I’ve still never “smoked” marijuana.

Alas, I still run into a lot of people who only have heard of marijuana cigarettes and are totally appalled at the whole idea. Ignorance dies a slow death.

There must be something in the karma when I write a column on drugs. It seems like inevitably a new study comes out reflecting the lost war on drugs. This time it is the international Centre for Science in Drug Policy saying that their lengthy study concluded that the war on drugs was long since lost and that drugs are a public health issue and not a criminal issue. Amen.

(Ron Keeshan is grateful he lives in Washington).

The Maze

Good morning. I need a permit and I hope you can help me. And you are---PLANTOPLAN? Hey I am not the brightest bulb in the house but that seems redundant to me. How do you plan to plan?......That’s not easy. We plan headaches for people. Very creative you know......Uh, how do I get out of here?...... Sorry we can’t help you. We don’t know. That’s the next stage of planning. Good luck.

Howdy, looking for a permit place…... We can do better than that. We are WISDOM FOR THE FUTURE. We will tell you all you need to know about what is to come.... .Gee whiz that is exciting. Can I buy you for an afternoon at Emerald Down……. No, that’s not what we do here. We consult Tarot cards about your environment. All the rest is mere speculation. You see how well grounded we are. We have the best Tarot cards anywhere……Right. See you somewhere in the future maybe.

Sorry to disturb you. I’m looking for a permit to……We don’t give permits. What we do is advocate for the removal of your so-called property. You see, you are a blight on the land that has to go. Tourists spend a lot of money to come here and see pristine, non-blighted land. They have a major investment in coming here and we have to protect that..... Hey, I didn’t expect this but since you brought it up. What about our investment, which is for most of us the investment of a lifetime?...... You don’t count. The tourists bring the money, you don’t.

Well, I needed out of there big time. See what’s down this corridor. CHILLOUT. Wonder what the heck that is. Hi, I’m looking for a permit, but wow is it cold in here. Yes, just what we need. Can’t take the heat up there so this is our chill out space..... . Heck, have you thought about, as the man said, if you can’t take the heat you get out of the kitchen?...... Heavens no. That’s our space and we are entitled to it......Uh entitled. Think I’ll mosey along.

FE FI FAUX FARM Now I’m really lost. Could you explain that to me? All I want is a simple permit to……You have come to the right place! Just put out a couple of cows, plant a few trees and put up a sign that says something like AG TO COME. It’s a great deal. You wouldn’t believe what it will save you.... . Yeesh, maybe I should go and chill out.

Good grief what could possibly be next? What the heck is SCIFI?......Hello, I am looking for a permit but this seems one of the more interesting caves. What do you do?...... Since you asked we are happy to invite you in. We have been dubbed “The shovelers” because we are always trying to dig up problems. It is a difficult job because of the lack of respect for what we do. A little respect please...... OK, I’m always for respect. What have you found?...... Nothing yet, but we keep determinedly shoveling because we know something is there..... But how do you know?...... Because you see, we do know...... Ah me, where’s the out door?

And this is what? This is PICAPEEP, everything you ever wanted to know about a neighbors house and all the rest for that matter...... But why should I want to look inside my neighbors house?...... Because they obviously will want to look inside yours. This makes it all even and that is in addition to the fun. You’ll never know what you are going to see next. Also, what a tourist attraction..... .Hmm. I don’t think I want to be an attraction to anyone, especially tourists or neighbors. Why don’t you just take pictures of yourselves. That will really be satisfying to you. In the meantime I’m gone.

PLANTOPLAN Hey wait a minute. I’ve been here before. I feel like I am going in circles……

For all those who labor long and hard and often without pay to straighten out the circle of the maze. Thank you -Ron Keeshan

Tom Bauschke
John Evans
Mary Kalbert
Ron Keeshan
Gordy Petersen
Janice Peterson
Bruce Sallan
Terra Tamai
Amy Wynn
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