04 March 2011


LIONS. When I was a wee lad, attending a wee country school which housed eight grades in one small building (one teacher taught grades 1-3, one taught grades 4-6, and the principal taught grades 7-8) .... I loved learning. Reading, math, art, music, geography, I ate it up. Back then, in the 1950s, the Empire State Building was still the tallest building in the world, and in my imagination it still is. Back then, we could look out our classroom window and see a herd of pronghorn bounding across the field and up the hill behind the school. Back then, I was mesmerized by the stories and pictures of all the exotic wildlife living in far-flung parts of the planet, particularly on the African savannah. Giraffes, cheetahs, gazelles, wildebeasts, zebras, and of course, lions. I've never visited the Empire State Building (though I was privileged to stand atop the World Trade Center before it was destroyed by terrorists), and I've never visited Africa. I still want to do both.

My desire to see Africa is made more urgent because in the decades since my childhood, so much wildlife has been destroyed by safari hunters and poachers, and so much habitat has been taken over by human settlers. According to a National Geographic documentary, The Last Lions, in 1960 there were 400,000 lions living in the wild. Today there are just 20,000. Explorer-in-residence Derek Joubert points out, "that represents a 90 to 95 percent decline. Unless we start talking about this, these lions will be extinct within the next 10 to 15 years."

It breaks my heart that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren may grow up in a world without the variety of animals, birds, and plants that existed when I was young. My own activist voice says the time for talking is past. Poachers should be shot on sight (as they are by naturalist rangers in some African state parks). An internationally-funded effort should work with African governments to establish vast tracts of natural habitat as game preserves, and protect them from encroachment by human wood-gatherers, settlers and hunters. The stakes are enormous, not just in Africa but in every continent -- imagine our planet made sterile of its amazing biodiversity, with the blood on our own hands. Earth can sustainably support roughly one-tenth of its current human population. One-tenth. The crisis is here, the future is now.

MONEY. From time to time I've noted in this forum that 1 percent of Americans control 95 percent of its wealth (and therefor power). Another way to view the numbers is stated brilliantly in a segment from Bill Maher's talk show -- the 400 wealthiest Americans control as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent (100,000,000). The gap between rich and poor in this country has expanded exponentially since the Reagan era. Before then, as Maher points out, back when labor unions were strong, the average CEO made 10 to 20 times as much as the average worker. Since the decline of unions, the average CEO makes 350 to 400 times as much as the average worker. What is wrong with this picture??

Below is a graph showing actual wealth distribution in the U.S., what Americans perceive it to be, and what they would like it to be. Please click on the image to enlarge.

SEX AGAIN. In yesterday's post I described "an explicit after-class involving a woman being publicly penetrated by a sex toy on stage in the popular Human Sexuality course" at Northwestern University recently. Her participation, and that of the students in attendance, was entirely voluntary, and conducted for educational purposes. Here is a video in which Professor J. Michael Bailey responds to the ensuing controversy, defending academic freedom, diversity of ideas, and an enlightened, scientific approach to sexuality.

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