Friday, February 15, 2019

Trapped at the Ocean

Hampton Beach State Park 2/14/19

Hemmed in between crashing breakers
on one side and surging waves
of beach grass on the other

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Fear of the Other

Coyote at Squam Lake Nature Center 5/29/14
CC Jean Stimmell

The House Fish & Game committee voted this week to reject a bill that would have protected coyotes from being hunted while raising their pups. If the mother coyote is killed during this time, the pups die a slow, agonizing death by starvation.

The committee’s rationale is that only they, not the whole legislative body, have the wildlife expertise to make the correct decision on this bill.

The committee is right about one thing. Coyotes never used to be an issue, because they weren’t here; they didn’t start migrating into NH until around 1945, the year I was born. Nature abhors a vacuum: coyotes arrived to fill the niche after we exterminated the wolf.

The committee was apparently swayed by testimony from citizens contending coyotes are a primary threat to our pets and from farmers who feared for their livestock, although I have never heard about any such widespread carnage.

Fish and Game committee’s major focus was on protecting the deer herd. They voted against a restricted hunting season because they feared this would increase the number of coyotes who would, in turn, markedly reduce the deer population. 

This seems unlikely since – even with unrestricted coyote killing – the departments own studies[i]have shown herd size increasing year after year, most likely due to our milder winters.

We have personally witnessed the increase in deer each year until we now have our own herd of deer living behind our house. They lay in wait until food gets scarce each winter and then descend in the dead of night to devour our rhododendrons and ornamental shrubs. In the summer they eat our garden.

I haven’t hunted since serving in Vietnam but I’ve been tempted to start again to help trim our herd down to size. Three cheers to the coyotes if they could – and would – do it for me. But, no, they just laugh at me and howl at the moon.

Many years ago, my father was chairman of this very same Fish & Game committee. He was an avid hunter, a committed sportsman, and most important, someone who could see the big picture.  I believe he would have helped lead the committee to consider a different verdict if he were here today.

He would have relied on acknowledged authorities like John Harrigan,[ii]legendary sportsman from the North Country and Chris Schadler, UNH ecologist and coyote expert.[iii]  They both offer proven remedies whereby farmers, coyotes, and the public can peacefully coexist.

It is important to stress that, in a functioning pack, only the alpha male and alpha female are allowed to mate, nature’s way to regulate the population. However, if hunters kill the alpha animals, everyone in the pact starts breeding and the population escalates. 

Killing the alpha coyotes works as well as what fishermen historically did, attempting to eliminate the starfish, who they blamed for attacking their mussel and oyster farms, by cutting them in little pieces: They didn’t realize that they were creating more starfish because each part replicated into a new animal.

My biggest fear is that our crusade against coyotes is not a dysfunctional outlier, but a fundamental part of the American character. The quintessential American idea that we are special, unique among nations, has lead us down a path where we believe we can do no wrong.

From the time white settlers first arrived in North America, we have anointed ourselves as “the chosen ones.” Exercising power over life and death, we have attempted to exterminate whoever got in our way: grizzly bears, pumas, wolves, and, especially, the indigenous Americans whose land we stole.

Our rallying cry became, “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

The last existential threat to American Exceptionalism was when Osama Bin Laden and his fellow Saudi terrorists attacked us on 911.  It was an affront to our delusional fantasy that we are untouchable, impervious to harm. 

In total denial, we had to strike back hard.

We attacked Afghanistan, quickly rooting out Bin Laden but somehow today, almost 20 years later, we are still fighting there, in the same misguided manner we are now fighting the hyped-up coyote threat.

For good measure, we invaded, not only Afghanistan but Iraq, even though Saddam had nothing to do with 911 – neither did he have the nuclear weapons. The only thing in common between the two countries was that they were both Muslim.

Our fear of the other is a violent, counterproductive way of being, whether we are talking about Islam, our neighbors south of the border, or our furry neighbors, just trying to fill their niche in nature.


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Donald Trump and Andy Warhol: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Digital Image in the Style of Warhol's Famous Marilyn Monroe Diptych
CC Jean Stimmell

When the Museum of Modern Art hosted the first Andy Warhol retrospective back in 1989, his work was considered to be derivative and superficial by a variety of critics.

John Updike’s opinion was typical: “Warhol’s art has the powerful effect of making nothing seem important.”1

He quoted Warhol’s own words: “Some critic called me the Nothingness Himself and that didn’t help my sense of existence any. Then I realized that existence itself is nothing and I felt better.”

Updike goes on, “His great unfulfilled ambition (he couldn’t have had too many) was a regular TV show.”

How times have changed.

The Whitney Museum of American Art is currently hosting a new retrospective exhibit of Andy Warhol’s work and, this time around, he is widely considered to be the most consequential artist of the 20th century.

Apparently, he has earned this honor, not because of his art’s intrinsic greatness but because he is a ultimate representative of what society has become:

As the director of the Whitney writes in the show’s catalog, “Because we live in a culture of display and consumption, where the personal and the public are virtually inseparable, Warhol was the perfect artist for his time and our time.”

I agree he personifies what our culture has become and, in the process, transformed what we consider art to be? 

But, if that transformation elevates nothingness to a supreme value, won’t the end result be that nothing is sacred, for us as individuals or as a society.

In Warhol’s world, alternative facts become as acceptable as actual facts. Transactional one-upmanship becomes as acceptable as our age-old moral and ethical values.

As Steven Metcalf writes in the current Atlantic Magazine, Warhol2 negates what we have always held dear: “An inner life, a distrust of fame and a special loathing for speculative fortunes, and a personal relationship with God (or nature)” that the artist’s image may reflect but never replace.

He accuses Warhol of a blanket nihilism that “creeps out” beyond his personal work to speak for all art and even modern society itself.

By now, I am sure you know where I am going with this: everything I’ve written about Andy Warhol, applies to Donald Trump.

To my way of thinking, they are twins!

Both are narcissists lacking redeeming social values, obsessed solely with fame and making money. Not surprisingly, they knew each other.

Trump once commissioned the artist to create silk-screened portraits of Trump Tower, but Trump didn’t like them; Warhol, annoyed at this rejection, responded by calling Trump “sort of cheap.”

Trump continues to promote Warhol, quoting the artist in two of his books: “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art”.3

Without a doubt, the commonalities between Donald and Andy are all around us. As Trump would say, “many people are talking about it.”

Asked about how Trump dominates the news cycle today, Donna De Salvo, the curator of the Whitney show, says: “I think many of us didn’t expect we would be where we are now. There may be some who see Warhol as the cause of it all.”4

May the gods have mercy on us.

2 Warhol’s Bleak Prophecy by Steven Metcalf. Atlantic Magazine, Jan-Feb 2019