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A Murder of Crows

My two greatest thrills in the outdoors are native wildflowers, like the trilliums and pink ladyslippers, and native birds, like grouse, turkey, woodcock, wood ducks, and various migratory songbirds.

All of these flowers and birds are under pressure under the best of circumstances, and in many places they are succumbing to that pressure because of artificial factors.

Native wildflowers are naturally browsed by deer, and increasingly collected by people who sell rare plants (and animals). If deer herds are balanced with the carrying capacity of the landscape and surrounding habitat, then the plant colonies can sustain the browsing. The collecting is usually illegal, involving sneaky trespass on private property and violating state law and regulation when done on public land. It is totally unsustainable.

When it comes to my favorite birds, the usual pressures of predation or hunting are hardly a factor in their population success. What is a growing factor is the impact of ground mammals on ground nesting birds, including all of my favorites above and others like more common ducks.

Ground mammals like raccoons, possums, skunks, fox and coyote have a natural place in the natural world, but humans have so greatly altered that natural world that some of these animal populations are disproportionately growing and having disproportionate impacts on other wildlife.

Exhibit A is low density suburban sprawl type residential home development, relatively large home lots in the one to five -acre range.

Low-density suburban sprawl residential development is now the ground zero for artificially high numbers of skunks, possums, and raccoons. Sprawl development provides perfect backyard habitat for these predators to breed and den, but these back yards are too small to hunt or trap effectively or legally.  So these burgeoning and unchecked predator populations keep pulsing out into surrounding farmland and forest. In those more stable habitats, these artificially high predator numbers wreak havoc on the other species who live there, notably my favorite birds, which happen to be ground nesters.

Ground nesting birds are highly susceptible to nest disturbance and egg loss when they are surrounded by artificially high populations  of skunks, raccoons, and possums. In many areas ground nesting birds are experiencing dramatic population declines because they simply cannot nest long enough to hatch a brood of chicks, or the chicks cannot survive predation long enough to develop flight, so they can escape from otherwise slow moving predators like skunks and possums. Adding to the challenge for ground nesting birds is the dearth of brush and young forest which provide the best places to hide a nest on the ground. Most farms today are devoid of brush, and “select cut” high-grade logging has ruined most private forests, while anti-conservation activists decry aggressive forest management on public lands. Brush and young forests are nearly a rarity today, despite serving as nature’s best habitat.

Yesterday I got into one of those internet debates most normal people avoid. It centered on allegedly real photos of a flying mature eagle with a talon stuck in a foothold trap, posted on Lancaster Online. Lancaster Online is run by politically partisan legacy media staff, and it is a huge source of fake news and alternate facts. So when I saw there the photo of a completely closed foot hold trap, with not even a tiny jaw spread to accommodate the eagle’s foot, it looked like yet more fake news and I posted comments.

As you might imagine, a murder of crows of sorts descended upon the article, and upon me, and upon any other poster who either questioned the facts as presented in the article, or who promoted trapping.

Crows are natural enemies of eagles and other raptors. Crows are huge nest raiders, eating baby bird chicks whole right out of the nest. In the context of the Lancaster Online article, the crows took human form: Animal rights promoters, PETA advocates, anti-trapping and anti-conservation voices.

Like with a surrounding pack of crows (called a “murder”) wildly harassing a lone eagle in a tree, the loudly hysterical anti-trapping commenters immediately invoked emotional appeals, personal attacks, lies, advocacy for trespassing, leash-less dogs, and private property theft and destruction. None of them made any sense. None were based on fact, though it is true that occasionally an animal in a trap gets hurt (never mind that every single one of those hypocritical commenters has a direct hand in wildlife death and destruction).

I responded frequently there, and was answered by a surrounding murder of crows, loudly cawing, squawking, screaming, wildly flapping their wings and leaping from tree to tree. Pretty funny to watch, because not one commenter there debated wildlife biology, habitat, etc. Only emotional appeals mostly based on lies and fake news were presented. Lots of hysteria, not much reasoning.

And that right there is why I trap, dear reader.

There are too damned many cantankerous crows, skunks, possums and raccoons eating all of the really cool, cute, useful little birds I enjoy so much. I haven’t sold a pelt since I was a kid. Instead, today I trap to thin out the populations of the destructive ground predators so that the defenseless animals they eat have at least a sitting chance.

As for the eagle photographed flying around Lancaster County with its talon caught in the foothold trap, I have pledged fifty dollars toward its rehabilitation, if it is caught alive. And I want to personally inspect the trap rig, because what is seen in the photos makes no sense. One commenter, a trapper, noted it appeared to be an illegal trap specifically set to catch a raptor, like the eagle, in which case this subject isn’t about trapping, it is about illegal wildlife poaching.

But you’d never know that from the deafening screaming and cawing and flapping from the uncaring, unthinking, hostile, mob-like murder of crows.

UPDATE: 2/8/17 4:30 pm “Just received a call from PGC Director Matt Hough. Matt informed me that the eagle/trap incident was a true event. Fortunately, PA Game Commission officers were able to capture the eagle and remove the trap. There was no damage to the talon. The eagle was released and flew away with no impairment as a result of the incident. Matt did not have any information as to the individual responsible for the trap,” from an email sent to me this afternoon.

 

 

Garden as metaphor, Part 3…or 4

Can anyone think of a better metaphor for life as a human than a garden?

All the planning, selecting, planting, nurturing, stoking, prodding, coaxing, frustration, re-planting, and finally, after all the work and with some luck, the harvesting of fresh food…this is all just like the bigger things in our lives.

Lately it has been difficult to ignore some generational changes afoot that simply cannot bode well for our nation, now or in the future.

Where debate historically involved logic, facts, and reasoning, a great deal of what is represented as debate is simple ridicule, mockery, dismissiveness.

Few things demonstrate the weakness of an argument more than the use of ridicule and mockery, or name-calling. Yet the Internet is full of this waste of time. Because of my own passion for and involvement in tough policy issues, I am really interested to hear separate points of view from people, and spirited debate, give-and-take, is part of that process. This process is what makes Western Civilization so unique and so precious.

Dismissiveness assumes all will be well, no matter what, irrespective of actions or behaviors across the landscape.

In my observation, the younger generations are much more inclined to forgo logic and facts, and are more inclined to leap into name calling and ridicule in their online debates. This just cannot bode well for American democracy, which is based on the use of logic, reason, and facts. How our citizens expect to hold on to their Constitutional rights and liberties, and yet allow debate to be dominated by juvenile behavior is not wild speculation. Already we have witnessed the erosion of individual liberties at the hands of judges who don’t care what the US Constitution says, or what their particular state constitution says; their basis for decisions making is purely personal, or political.

So go grow a garden, fellow citizens. Tending even a small garden helps us work physical and mental muscles that atrophy easily. It builds small but important personal traits that are needed on a much bigger scale. Tending, cultivating, and nurturing all build basic skills necessary for us to function well as individuals and for our civilization to succeed on the whole.

The alternative – relying on everyone else for everything else we need, and ridiculing the rest – is a recipe for disaster.

My take on tonight’s Corbett – Wolf Debate, and Tom Brokaw’s Plea for Control of Our Lives

Like a few thousand other attendees at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce dinner tonight, I sat in the audience and watched Governor Tom Corbett and Democrat nominee Tom Wolf debate each other, with reporter Dennis Owens moderating.  Dennis was outstanding.  I also stayed for the Tom Brokaw speech afterwards.

Here are the highlights as I see them:

1) Corbett beat Wolf hands-down, in substance, poise, accuracy, and humility.  And damned if I am not still surprised.  Given how insipid the Corbett campaign has been to date, I expected the worst performance from him tonight.  That did not materialize.

2) While overall the debate was Dull vs Duller, and neither man was exciting or inspiring, the amazing fact is that Tom Corbett found his voice tonight.  Tom Wolf talked in circles, kept stating that he is a businessman (six, seven times), mis-spoke (“the vast majority of married Pennsylvanians file separate tax reports”), spoke in vague generalities bordering on fluffy clouds and flying unicorns, and addressed none of the substantive issues pegged by moderator Dennis Owens or by Corbett.

3) Wolf seemed to play it safe, venturing nothing new, nothing specific.  He did not even respond the to the Delaware Loophole questions posed to him.  He simply ignored them.  If he persists in this evasiveness, Corbett can catch up and beat him.  Voters can now see it, and it ain’t pretty.  Corbett may be The Most Boring Man in the World, but Wolf looked completely unprepared to be governor.

4) Wolf’s “I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it” response to policy and finance questions is not acceptable for a candidate to run a state government.

5) Corbett actually ate some humble pie, admitting that he is not a good communicator.  Understatement, yes, but he is not a guy who likes to admit he’s wrong.  So that was big.  Again, expectations for Corbett were super low, and he started out looking and sounding defeated.  But even he recognized that he was beating Wolf, and his performance picked up as the debate went on.

Brokaw:

1) Ancient establishment reporter Tom Brokaw has a great voice, and lots of stage presence.  He’s good looking for a guy that old.  He wrote a book about The Greatest Generation, so he must be a pretty great guy.  That is the marketing, anyhow.  His ideas run the gamut from standard liberal to downright contradictory and mutually-exclusive confused, to pathetic control freak.

2) Although Brokaw started talking about the Tea Party, and he complimented its members for getting involved in the political process (which he said is necessary), he never said or recognized the American Constitution as core to tea party’s goals, values, principles, or guiding role. So although he talked about it, it didn’t seem evident that he understands or has thought about the Tea Party much.

3) Brokaw said “I leave it to you determine if the Tea Party is good for America. I’m just a reporter, I just report the facts. You have to come to your own conclusions.”  As if he was not passing judgment on the Tea Party.  Yet, he asked the question and obviously thinks the Tea Party is bad for America; that is his hint.  Given that Brokaw is a liberal at war with America, this is a big cue to conservative activists: Keep it up, the liberal media establishment is scared of you.

4) He called for “filtration” and a “filter” of the internet, and talked about the “simple people” who manage his Montana ranch and get news from the Internet, which he disavowed and sees as unworthy.  This is the kind of intellectual region where Brokaw makes no sense.  On the one hand, the big establishment media is all over the Internet, so if people get their news from the Internet, and not TV chatterheads or fishwrap newspapers, then there’s no real problem with the Internet as a news source.  What Brokaw seemed to be challenged by is the fact that Breitbart and citizen reporters (think Watchdogwire, or my own blog) are circumventing the establishment media.  He does not understand or care that the ‘simple’ masses are hungry for unfiltered news, for real news, for facts and not liberal agenda.  How his imagined filters jibe, square, or conflict with the First Amendment was not mentioned; I am unsure it even occurred to Brokaw that purposefully filtering information is censorship.  But he is a guy who believes in sixty years of past liberal censorship, so I guess he has to stay consistent today.

5) Brokaw implied that the establishment media are the source of accurate information and “big ideas,” and that alternative news and opinion sources are not.  He said he doesn’t believe what he reads on the internet.  He is clearly bothered there’s now no difference between establishment media and bloggers and citizen reporters in terms of equal accessibility. He’s having a tough time letting go of controlling the message Americans receive, which is really his objection: Liberal media elites are losing the propaganda war because they no longer have a choke hold on the information flow; ergo, the Internet is full of bad information.

An indication of just how undeveloped his thinking is: Richard Nixon, Richard Nixon, Richard Nixon…for Liberals, Nixon was the High Priest of Done Bad in Government.  It does not seem to occur to Brokaw that Nixon’s crimes pale in comparison to the lawless tyranny Obama has inflicted upon American citizens. E.g. NSA spying and IRS crushing of political dissent.

6) On the other hand, he’s into high tech and the future of technology.  Very impressed by Google staff and all of the “big minds” gathered at tech conventions.  Brokaw doesn’t reconcile his adulation with his view of information flow on the net.  I am guessing here that he’d be OK if Google ran all the news on the Internet, because Google is made of liberals who share his political agenda.  “Good” liberals and “bad” conservatives is what he is after.

7) Annoyingly, Brokaw dropped names all over the place, as if to impress us with how important he is: Jon Stewart, the NFL commissioner, et al. “I was emailing with ____ _____, and he says ‘Tom..’.” “My books.” “I’m on the board of…..” This seemed self-conscious and actually undermined his standing, because truly great people never look at themselves this way.  They simply Are Great.

8) Finally, he called for a new form of foreign service corps, some hybrid of the Peace Corps, Americorps, and the military.  It was terribly confused, but it was also the kind of Big Idea he admires others for having, so evidently he must have one, too, even of it makes no practical sense.

Simple things

America’s Second Amendment is not about hunting.

It is not about target shooting.

It is not about shotguns, single-shot twenty-twos, and bolt-action deer rifles.

Incredibly, it is about an armed citizenry being able to stand up to its own government.  It is a crazy idea, right? So crazy that only America, the world’s bastion of liberty, has it.

How frustrating is it to get into one Facebook debate after another with adults who not only have not bothered to research the Second Amendment, but who deliberately refuse to be educated once they are well into the debate.

Feelings are not a substitute for facts.  Debates about Constitutional law require facts, historical quotes, Founders’ intentions, etc.  Sure, I understand that lots of people are afraid of guns.  Why not?  They are dangerous.  But your fear cannot dictate my rights.

Why America Needs a Mormon President

Why America Needs a Mormon President

By Josh First
October 22, 2012

Among many other reasons also pleasing to Americans’ innate sense of fairness, America needs a Mormon president like America needed a Quaker president (Nixon), a Catholic president (Kennedy), and a black president (Obama). Expanding inclusiveness compels Americans to set aside theological differences, drop old bigoted views, accept diversity of faith and opinion, and embrace all the colors in the rainbow. A Mormon candidate for president is the latest color, and he deserves to be judged for his good character as have others before him.

Mormonism is an innately American faith, and perhaps it’s such a quintessential American faith that it may be our most American faith. So it’s rich irony that Mormonism is “new” to so many voting Americans.

Based on Christianity, Mormonism uniquely melds both America’s founding faith and its frontier identity. The frontier experience that created America from the ground up and shapes our most cherished liberties to this very day. Freed men, indentured servants, pioneers, adapting Indian tribes, all who lived the frontier experience contributed to all others living an individual freedom unimaginable in feudal Europe. Throwing off the British yoke unleashed a wave of liberty and creativity only recently checked by the very government grown out of its own founding documents.

Every one of America’s founding documents and rights therein is a product of the frontier, each a distillation of experiences and expectations by those who had come to live beyond the long arm of an unjust law. From “We Hold These Truths Be Self Evident,” to the Third Amendment’s prohibition against quartering soldiers in private homes, and so on, the frontier experience shaped every subsequent generation’s expectations. Even those living in liberal urban enclaves can own a gun for protection, if they so choose.

Enter the Mormons. Very much a distinct and integral part of the larger, defining westward migration that took the American frontier from Upstate New York to the California coast, the early Mormons saw themselves as an extension of the Biblical Jews, whose own frontier experience at Sinai and in its wilderness had rendered a code of life similar to the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.

Reaching their own ‘promised land’ in their own de facto colony, the early Mormons established independence in what is today Utah. Yes, polygamy in Western Civilization was last practiced hundreds of years ago, and it is odd to see people doing it today. Happily, polygamous Mormons are a minority. Overall, and most important, Mormons are a happy, friendly, law-abiding, quietly spoken, hard working, patriotic, tax-paying bunch. They are people we’d like as neighbors. Have you met a mean spirited, unpleasant Mormon? Neither have I.

In 1908, the famous author Zane Grey was so powerfully impressed by “Emmet,” a Western hunting guide, that he wrote often about him in his Field & Stream magazine stories. His first description verged on Biblical: “Emmet was a Mormon, a massively built gray-bearded son of the desert; he had lived his life on it; he had conquered it and in his falcon eyes shone all its fire and freedom.” That Mormons are emblematic of American liberty is not a new idea, and hopefully this 2012 election will re-introduce it powerfully.

Several years ago, I climbed on board a helicopter for a real estate project, and met two kindly older men. They worked for the Mormon church, and were buying farmland. Turns out, the Mormons own a lot of farmland, on which they grow corn, wheat, barley, and other grains. They also own factories that manufacture those grains into food. They also own planes, trains, trucking companies, ships, logistics and distribution centers that, literally vertically integrated from the ground up, freely and cheerfully give that food away to hungry people of all faiths across the planet. If you ask me, this is a good religion; it is a positive force. It gets my deepest respect and appreciation.

Mitt Romney is a bit too nice. He sometimes lacks that overt fire and passion that leaders typically use to inspire. Frustratingly, he has changed some political positions to suit political exigencies. But right beneath his smiling demeanor is a son of the American desert, a son of the American frontier, a true son of America. We really need that noble character right now, as we return back to our roots and to the basic elements that make America great, and as we move away from being ‘transformed’ into something unrecognizable and perpetually broke.

Tonight is the last of the presidential debates of what is the most defining, most important presidential election of my lifetime. Afterwards, for the next two weeks Mitt will be on the campaign trail. Join him, if you can. Please lend a hand one way or another. Go door-to-door with literature, make phone calls to voters, donate ten bucks, or talk to your family and friends about the kind of political change we can believe in and that we need. Our nation’s future depends upon it.

Follow the conversation at www.joshfirst.com or on our Josh First Facebook page

Who Won the VP Debate?

Last night USA VP Joe Biden and US Congressman Paul Ryan debated for the VP position.

Plenty of pundits weighed in during and after the debate, including me, and I won’t re-hash that here. We sent out several real-time tweets about Biden’s rude behavior and NPR reporter Martha Raddatz’s anti-Ryan aggression. Raddatz was supposed to be an aloof moderator, but as would be expected, she represented her NPR credentials to the T. She interrupted Ryan 31 times and was named by CNN commentators as “the third debater.” Raddatz is a demonstrated partisan Leftwinger, an activist posing as a news reporter.

Biden brought artificial passion, which is in demand after Obama’s catastrophically bad performance at last week’s presidential debate. Despite Biden’s disrespectful behavior, his constant laughing, interrupting, obnoxious sneers and running commentary, he did appeal to a certain group of highly partisan Democrats who are looking for a sign of life.

Ryan was both reserved and serious, and a little lackluster. Voters want real passion, real interest in the issues, a genuine drive for action. Ryan did not demonstrate that kind of passion. That is a hall mark of political insiders.

Neither candidate won, but if Ryan was too quiet, Biden was too goofy. He reminded people of a nervous person who is laughing out loud to appear confident, when inside he is not. And the Obama campaign has reason for losing confidence: The national polls are demonstrating a slow and steady turning of the American voter, away from the Obama Administration and toward the Romney-Ryan campaign. A majority of Americans are now supporting Romney, and the former swing states are lining up behind Romney. A greater question is this: After losing this election, will liberals admit the inferiority of their beliefs?

Surprisingly, to Me Anyhow, Romney Wins Round One

Mitt Romney is a heck of a nice guy, a good guy, an accomplished guy.

He has more competence in his pinky than Barack Hussein Obama has in his whole body. He is genuinely friendly.

But Romney is not known for being a toe-to-toe fighter, a brawler, or a passionate advocate for core American principles.

But last night, enough of all those attributes aligned for long enough for Romney to clearly outshine Obama in the first presidential debate.

Obama was petulant, smirking, arrogant, and glaring. He seemed bored, and above it all; all he needed to do was check his watch (George Bush Sr., 1992), or sigh dramatically (Al Gore, 2000), and he would have fully conveyed his displeasure at being at a debate, defending his policies.

Obama was anything but presidential.

At a rally today, Obama was heard on the radio saying that the Romney at last night’s debate was not the same Romney that Obama has been describing in his attack ads, including the one that Obama himself backtracked from because it was an outright lie.

Why didn’t Obama say that to Romney last night? Is he afraid to actually debate him?

Those who watch Obama’s personality and analyze his background would not be surprised if Obama is actually physically afraid of Romney. One of the most telling photos of any president was the one taken in the White House war room, as the Bin Laden raid unfolded. Obama is seen cowering, obviously afraid. The man simply lacks courage.

Those who know my political beliefs know that I was not a big Romney supporter. Without rehashing them now, suffice it to say that his strong points can also be his weakest points.

Last night, however, Romney gave me cause to open my wallet and make a donation to his campaign, something I had been reluctant to do after the anti-conservative Rule 15 fight on the RNC floor.

Mitt, you earned my support.