13 September 2010


NATIVISTS. At regular intervals in U.S. history, those who may be a numerical majority among citizens, or those who perceive themselves as being more purely "American" (whatever that means), focus the prejudices of their tiny minds on an "alien" group. Almost every ethnicity, every nationality, every religion has been targeted for vilification at one time or another -- blacks, eastern Europeans, Scandinavians, the Irish, Jews, Catholics, Asians, Latinos, et al. The group currently under attack is, of course, Muslims. The spreading right wing fervor directed against Islam is, like all bigotry, vapidly irrational, not to mention antithetical to the founding principles expressed in the Contitution. Witness the furor over the construction of a Muslim community center and place of worship in lower Manhattan. Witness the weak-minded and desperate attempts by Republicans to label President Obama as a secret Muslim. Witness the surreal smear by Newt Gingrich when he said that the President exhibited "Kenyan, anticolonial behavior." Clearly one symptom of fevered dysentery in the Gingrich brain is diarrhea of the Gingrich mouth. (You may substitute Palin, Beck, McCain, Boehner, Limbaugh, McConnell, or any of a hundred other conservatives who value power over truth, wealth over integrity.)

Is this America?, asks Nicholas D. Kristoff. I'd say it's a toss-up.

The supreme irony is that whenever self-styled nativists (portrayed brilliantly in Martin Scorcese's film Gangs of New York) claim the flag and the nation as being exclusively theirs, they ignore the fact that ultimately it is Americans who have always been the invaders. We stole this rich land from tribes of indigenous peoples. We swept across the continent in a sweaty fervor of Minifest Destiny (a rationalization devoid of ethical or historic content). Hypocrites all, these nativists.

Three years ago today (better late than never), the United Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples -- spelling out individual and collective rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education, and more. In the U.S. Native Americans are the dark secret never discussed -- independent nations subsumed, conquered, placed like lepers onto reservations, deprived of their language, their culture, their traditional ways of life, their identity. Alcoholism and poverty and suicide and unemployment are higher on Indian reservations than in any other segment of American life. Yet somehow, miraculously, remnants of Native culture and pride have persisted over the years.

We, the peoples and cultures of this Earth, have so much to learn from each other. We shame ourselves when we stereotype and reject any group. When will we learn?

ROADKILL. Regular visitors will have read more than once of the plight of wilderness and wildlife, locally and globally. Intentional human predation and loss of natural habitat to human rapacity are two of the prime threats to endangered species and to wilderness -- not to mention to the health of the entire biosphere, which includes us humans. (see map below, click to enlarge.)

A less publicly debated, more easily ignored pressure on wildlife populations comes in the deadly form of cars and trucks. In recent years citizen scientists have begun to document the toll on wildlife, by counting and mapping (using GPS) the bodies of animals, birds and reptiles who perish when hit by a vehicle. It is onerous and thankless work, but vital to our understanding of how to avoid perpetuating the slaughter.

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