Thursday, December 29, 2016


Lupine and Poppies above Pine Flat Reservoir

     It's funny how the presentation of facts can be interpreted as hostile criticism. Consider the following:
     From time immemorial, snow melt has coursed down the slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, merging with rivers that flowed out through the delta and the bay into the ocean. The rivers periodically flooded the valley, overflowing into wetlands teeming with life. Much of the water in the wetlands would seep down into aquifers below, creating underground lakes of fresh water.
     Over a hundred years ago, farmers began draining the wetlands and cultivating the land. In the early twentieth century, farmers began over drafting the groundwater, so the government built dams and canals that killed most of the rivers, diverting about eighty percent of the water to farmers, who continued to grow many water-intensive crops in a region with chronic drought conditions.
     Even with all of the dams in California (about 1,400), farmers continue to over draft the groundwater, and the land continues to subside. Due to political clout, farmers in California, unlike in most other states, successfully avoided groundwater regulations until a few years ago. Wetlands are down to about four percent of their historical levels. Tainted by toxic chemicals, irrigation water percolates into the aquifers even as farmers did deeper wells to access what's left of the fresh groundwater.

Native American Village Site at Confluence of Kings River and Sycamore Creek:
Bottom of Pine Flat Reservoir in Drought Conditions

     One vast ecosystem extending from the foothills of the mountains to the San Francisco Bay is gone, and many plants and animals are threatened or endangered. Beds of ancient rivers have remained dry for decades even as water streams through diversion canals. The groundwater is becoming more and more polluted due to pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and defoliants. Many fields will be fallowed and some farming communities will very likely become ghost towns in the near future due to over pumping of groundwater.
     In the mountains, dams have destroyed many of the rivers' habitats. Near urban areas, few places remain that allow public access to pristine stretches of California's rivers. Due to over drafting of groundwater and the Valley's chronic drought conditions, farmers in the past two decades have fought for more dams on public lands. The public will pay the lion's share for them if they are built even as the public loses public parks and access to pristine stretches of river.
     As an environmentalist, I realize that this factual description can easily look like hostile criticism. My goal, however, is to work for sustainable industries and communities. When I began as an activist, I often witnessed how elected officials at public hearings vilified environmentalists, calling them anti-American or communist or anti-business, suggesting that citizens working for sustainable communities were actually nonconformist wackos, unpatriotic, irresponsible, unreliable and unemployable.
     In Requiem for the American Dream (available on Netflix), noted linguist and activist Noam Chomsky points out that in totalitarian societies this strategy has often been used to demonize and marginalize anyone who criticizes concentrated power. He states, “These concepts only arise in a culture, where, if you criticize state power, and by state, I mean, more generally, not just government, but state-corporate power—if you criticize concentrated power, you're against the society, you're against the people. And it's quite striking that it's used in the United States. In fact, we're the only democratic society where this concept isn't ridiculed, and it's a sign of elements of the elite culture which are quite ugly.”

No Man's Land: Pounding Stone in Friant Dam's Inundation Zone

     In a recent editorial in The Fresno Bee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, and The Bee's editorial staff both resemble in no small way commissars who vilify any citizen who criticizes concentrated power. (Commissar: an official in a totalitarian government whose duties include political indoctrination, detection of political deviation and implementation of punishment to make its populace conform.) According to The Fresno Bee's editorial staff, Rep. Nunes in a “sophisticated” critique “cites environmental groups' hostility to farming as being a factor in the state's long history of failing to do the obvious and build more reservoirs and dams to hold more water from the Sierra snow pack.” Even as agribusiness maintains concentrated power through its influence on politicians, The Fresno Bee lauds a politician for using an ugly and distinctively unsophisticated totalitarian strategy to demean and marginalize citizens' groups working for a sustainable future. 
     Conservationists and environmentalist fight to protect what little is left, not from hostility but for the common good. The Bee and Rep. Nunes fail to recognize that there's a world of difference between criticizing unsustainable practices and being hostile. At this crucial time, the ag industry can maintain an openness to more sustainable ways of doing business for everyone's benefit or perpetuate the same destructive practices while, like many tyrants, relying on "commissars" to intimidate and villify people who disagree. Unfortunately, both Rep. Nunes and The Fresno Bee have chosen to use a strategy of the elite culture which is quite ugly.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


The San Joaquin River Gorge

     Depressed at first by Donald Trump's victory, I woke up last Sunday morning and realized that, largely due to local media, I have spent most of my life in Trump land—a domain where facts don't matter, where history is manipulated by the hands of power, where you're not expected to believe much, if anything, you hear. I decided that if I can survive forty-five years in the San Joaquin Valley, in proto-Trump land, then I'm pretty sure that we can survive the next four years (as long as Trump's staff manages to keep the President's busy fingers away from the nuclear launch codes). Then, sipping my coffee, I read The Fresno Bee's editorial supporting a dam at Temperance Flat and an editorial on the facing page about how farmer's are protecting endangered species—when farming is in fact the reason for most of the habitat destruction. (See Letter to the Editor below.) The bald-faced lies, fallacies of logic, and absurdities seemed even worse than before. After Trump's victory, I concluded, the editorial staff of The Fresno Bee has slid headlong into fatuity.
     In true Donald Trump form, The Bee claims that “People have short memories” while neglecting to mention that the public in the Central Valley has already given up an underground sea of groundwater to agribusiness, which has severely over-drafted the aquifers. The public in the Valley has given up most of its river resources to agribusiness as well: Riverbeds in the Valley have remained dry for decades even as water continues to course through diversion canals. The public has given up its land, wiped out by dams in numerous places on the San Joaquin River and well over a thousand other places in California. Now The Fresno Bee is all in favor of the public paying billions of dollars to allow the annihilation of a magnificent public park and the diverting of water resources for agribusiness in a twisted form of socialism for the wealthy—under the guise of recharging the aquifers. The Bee, unlike just about everyone else, refuses to acknowledge that the writing is on the wall due to unregulated groundwater pumping—Another reservoir, which will hold some of the most expensive water in the state, will not for long keep farmers from putting themselves out of business.

Trail into San Joaquin River Gorge, with Pounding Stone to the Left

     The Bee relies on pure hyperbolic fallacy, claiming that a new dam at Temperance Flat would be a “linchpin” within the system of waterworks. A new dam will, quite simply, not hold the various elements of the Central Valley Project's vast system together as farmers race to the bottom to mine the groundwater still within reach. Unlike other states in the nation, farmers have succeeded in pressuring California to avoid imposing groundwater regulations, which has led to a new water war that pits neighbor against neighbor and farms against urban areas as the aquifers run dry. Unrestrained pumping of groundwater for unsustainable crops, not drought, which has always been a chronic condition in the Valley, is the main cause. As farmers race to suck up the last groundwater, the assertion that one dam is going to provide enough water to recharge nearly exhausted aquifers on the Valley's east-side, let alone throughout the Valley, is a ludicrous fallacy.
     Lisa M. Krieger writes in The Mercury News about the proliferation of new wells, “The rush to drill is driven not just by historically dry conditions, but by a host of other factors that promote short-term consumption over long-term survival — new, more moisture-demanding crops; improved drilling technologies; and a surge of corporate investors seeking profits for agricultural ventures....Now those forces are renewing an age-old problem of environmental degradation: Decades ago, overpumping sunk half of the entire San Joaquin Valley, in one area as much as 28 feet. Today new areas are subsiding, some almost a foot each year, damaging bridges and vital canals.”
     Have dams ever solved for long the chronic
Bush Lupine near Trail
problem of over-drafting groundwater? Even with all of California's waterworks, groundwater makes up anywhere from forty to sixty percent of fresh water consumed in California, according to The Sacramento Bee. As The Fresno Bee mentions in its editorial, The Central Valley Project was built in large part because farmers in the early twentieth century were over-pumping groundwater at an alarming rate, yet here we are again with the same old problem despite the dams and water diversions. Despite fledgling groundwater regulations that farmers could tie up in court for decades, no one can be certain that farmers will stop over drafting our groundwater supply before it's too late—even with a new dam.
     Effectively fighting off water regulations for decades and pumping as if there is an unlimited supply of liquid gold, farmers are in the process of creating ghost towns on the east-side of the Valley. Pending regulations are currently vague and in a state of limbo. According to The Sacramento Bee, uncertainties abound about the new California groundwater regulations, including who will fund and who will manage the agencies; how the water use will be tracked and how the violators will be punished; how much water will be drawn overall and how it will be divvied up; and whether or not zoning ordinances should be used to limit new wells and the types of crops that can be planted.
     Whether or not the regulations have any teeth is the essential
Lupine and Poppies by Trail
question. Over the years I have witnessed how industries do a run around regulations by pressuring legislators to under-fund agencies, by getting representatives who are hostile to regulation appointed to water-down rules and enforcement policies, and by limiting citizen representation on rule-making boards. Often industry members step gingerly through a revolving door into rule-making positions. In a place where agribusiness has successfully avoided regulation for the greater part of a century, where even the word regulation can inspire farmers to run for their guns, establishing effective regulatory agencies will be a task that would cause even Hercules to tremble.
     Trump's choice of Scott Pruitt, sworn enemy of environmentalists, to head the Environmental Protection Agency makes the future of the regulations even more uncertain. Considering the bitter water wars of the past and the political effectiveness of the hydraulic brotherhood, as a person who has been politically active for several decades, I have little hope that the regulations will be effective enough to keep the farmers from exhausting our water resources or from putting themselves out of business. The farmers can always sell their land; the public, on the other hand, will be left with no water in the well.
     The public has given up its river resources and its groundwater and its park lands, and has paid a fortune to assist agribusiness, yet the problem of over-drafting continues to rear its ugly head because of an unsustainable system. In the Valley, farmers have continued to plant permanent, unsustainable crops, including almonds, pistachios, and walnuts, and water-guzzling crops, such as cotton and rice, that have no business being grown in a desert. Farmers, like bankers on Wall Street, have created a disaster waiting to happen. With the Temperance Flat Dam proposal, they hope to benefit from the threat of disaster. The Fresno Bee, despite its public trust role, is all too happy to provide the PR for them. If a dam is built at Temperance Flat, unfortunately, the next great loss to the public will no doubt be the Kings River Special Management Area when farmers provide the next installment of disaster capitalism: Farmers have clamored to build a dam at Roger's Crossing for years. California and the federal government have yet to put the brakes on a system that is wildly out of control, and the public will continue to pay for it—with hard-earned cash and the loss of even more public resources.

Trail Below Bluffs: San Joaquin River Gorge

     Despite the minefield of water rights and policies in California, our legislators have neglected one simple fact: Water does not recognize property boundaries. Neglecting this fact is quickly leading to a day of reckoning. At some point, no doubt, the only farmers who survive the exhaustion of ground water resources will be the ones who can afford to drill the deepest wells, but even they will reach a point where it is no longer profitable to drill deeper. Quite simply, California's system of allowing one industry unrestrained access to groundwater and its kooky policy of handing out five times more rights to water than our rivers produce even in a normal year has led to the draining of water resources by one industry, resulting in one loss after another for the public, the loss of rivers and riparian ecosystems and public lands and precious groundwater. The loss of The San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area, which would be wiped out by a dam at Temperance Flat, would be just another tragedy in a lengthy list of losses. Unfortunately, there is not much left for the public to lose.
     When it comes to who gets the water from the new reservoir, even The Bee has acknowledged that much of the water is spoken for. Despite all that the public has given up, the people whose wells have run dry are probably not going to be first on the list to receive water for recharging their aquifers. The farmers are going to continue to receive the lion's share of the water. Instead of addressing the public's needs, The Bee has decided that the public should feel obliged to give up another arm and a leg to perpetuate the unsustainable practices of a private industry, with the net effect of destroying public lands and diverting the vast majority of river water for irrigation even while farmers continue to suck up the groundwater and pollute with toxic chemicals what should be treated as a public resource. The public in the Central Valley is once again the loser. The Bee, which should play a public trust role, is once again twisting the truth for the wealthiest beneficiaries of California's most precious resource.

Tony Francois's statement (opinion Dec. 4) of the diversion of “water of life” by federal water managers from endangered Valley wildlife species for Delta smelt protection, is nothing but an emotional fabrication of the truth.
Vernal pools (filled only by annual rainfall) which host various species of fairy shrimp, the California tiger salamander and unique compositions of vernal pool wildflowers, and the associated grassy uplands containing prime habitat for the San Joaquin kit fox are not threatened by water diversions, but from the incessant conversion of this unique foothill habitat for thousands of acres of new and water-thirsty almond orchards.
The California condor, which nests in remote rocky crags within forested foothills, is not a water-dependent species, but receives its liquids from dead carrion. It is also very doubtful that kayakers are “regularly engaging in recreation” in arid kit fox habitat.
His verbose bashing of federal water managers is just another verse from a very overplayed song of unsubstantiated accusations.
(Thank you, Mr. Zahm!)

Monday, November 7, 2016


     I grew up in LA and moved to Fresno when I was eleven. I've always thought that freeways in LA are far worse than Central Valley's Route 99, so to my surprise I discovered that according to Victor Davis Hanson, “The 99 is emblematic of a state in psychological and material decline.”
     Save me, Jesus! No wonder I've felt a bit diminished lately. I live near 99 (which is what the locals call it, not the 99), and since our pool of maniacal motorists is far smaller than LA's, I've always believed, mistakenly it seems, that our freeway isn't so bad. I guess I've been wasting my time worrying about global warming, overpopulation, habitat loss, species extinction, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the concentration of wealth, the undermining of democracy, looming economic meltdown, and other inconsequential problems. Mr. Hanson has pointed out the real problem just down the street from me.
     Since I have personally witnessed a number of major improvements on Route 99 in recent years, I concluded that this was just another example of Mr. Hanson's fondness for logical fallacies—in this case the hyperbolic fallacy, which occurs when something is stated much more strongly than facts and observations support. Mr. Hanson is using a bad rating of Route 99 by some animal that calls itself Valuepenguin as a way to prove how political elites are failing to address everyday problems in underserved areas like the Central Valley.
     Route 99 has had more fatal accidents than other freeways recently, so this relatively unknown, private consumer research organization has labeled 99 the most dangerous freeway in the state. My personal theory is that the freeways in major metropolitan areas have become so congested that no one can go much faster than ten miles per hour at any given time, a pace that dramatically decreases the fatality rate.
     I would have ignored Mr. Hanson's hyperbole, but then he equates the building of freeways and bridges with the building of dams and canals, and I recognized yet another fallacy of logic: false equivalence. Freeways and bridges are not the same as dams and canals. For one thing, freeways and bridges benefit anyone with a car, whereas dams and canals, due to California's system of water rights, primarily benefit agri-business. Freeways are conduits of transportation. Dams provide water and hydroelectric power and flood control. They have a different order of magnitude. For Mr. Hanson, however, what links these very different structures is that they are shining symbols of human progress. Even though they are made of concrete and asphalt, to Mr. Hanson they are the “lifeblood” of California.
     In his self-appointed role as a critic of our times, Mr. Hanson has set up a mythical golden age to compare to our flawed modern age. In his golden age people with great knowledge and foresight designed and built dams and canals and freeways and bridges, which allowed great strides in human progress. According to Mr. Hanson, the elites nowadays have their heads in the clouds (or elsewhere); they are more concerned with building high speed rail and transgender bathrooms and with protecting flower-loving flies and other insignificant creatures.

Trail of East Side of the Gorge

     Dams and freeways, ironically, are linked in a way that Mr. Hanson does not discuss: They have resulted in extensive cultivation and in an increase in urbanization that together have destroyed the ecosystems of the Central Valley. Dams have also devastated numerous riparian habitats in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Dams and freeways, in ways never imagined by the members of Mr. Hanson's golden age, are now forcing Californian's to make painful choices about development and water use, choices that may seem easy for Mr. Hanson and the vested interests who own the land and maintain the water rights, but not so easy for the rest of us.
     Strangely, ever since I moved here almost fifty years ago, Route 99 has symbolized for me the tackiness and the crassness of Fresno. Only one thoroughfare in Fresno, Blackstone Avenue, is uglier, in my opinion. As a street, Blackstone is so garish and tawdry in its glaring commercialism that God once sent His angels to destroy it, but they discovered that they could not do anything worse to any city. Mr. Hanson apparently prefers the ugliness of unfettered commercialism to the splendor of nature, which is what people in the Central Valley have lost due to the freeways and dams.
     Before you conclude that I am simply whining about the adverse impacts of progress, let me make it clear that I am actually complaining about the elites in the Central Valley. The elites with the land and the water rights have left the rest of us with a subnatural and substandard quality of life—and they continue to demand more, more dams on public lands and more unsustainable development. They take everything, by hook or by crook, but they don't give anything back. In the proposal to build Temperance Flat Dam, for instance, they do not include mitigation providing the public with a park containing the same stunning natural values as the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area—or any park whatsoever even though Fresno remains nearly at the bottom for park acreage within the top 100 cities in the U.S. In Fresno, the majority of us face worsening blight as the rich flee farther and farther north.
     Lest you think that I am trying to limit farmers' access to water, please remember that farmers already receive eighty percent of the water in the state, about four times more than urban users. Yet farmers in the semi-arid Valley continue to irrigate unsustainable crops like cotton, rice, and almonds (the dominant crop in the Valley).
     A dam at Temperance Flat, which Mr. Hanson wholeheartedly supports, is a perfect symbol of what is happening to our region. Dams already exist to the north and south of Temperance Flat's proposed inundation area. A dam at Temperance Flat would bury a majestic public park under hundreds of feet of water, filling up the entire space between two existing reservoirs. If Temperance Flat were built, in other words, three reservoirs like huge shadows would entirely blot out the San Joaquin River ecosystem for many miles. People of the Valley would lose access to a nearby, pristine river ecosystem. To find anything similar they would have to travel to Mono Hot Springs--over three hours from Fresno--on a dangerous one-lane road that hugs the cliff side in many places.

Ceanothus next to Loop Trail

     Numerous dams have already destroyed ecosystems elsewhere on the San Joaquin River--the real "lifeblood" of the Valley that once supported a salmon run and replenished the wetlands of the Pacific Flyway and flowed out through the delta and San Francisco Bay. But due to water diversions (eighty percent for agri-business), the river in the Valley dies at a sinkhole. Mr. Hanson and the vested interests clamoring for the dam want to take everything, in other words, without any meaningful compensation to the public, without any real consideration for the threatened and endangered species or for the integrity of the web of life.
     To support his fallacious belief in a golden age, Mr. Hanson once again uses a fallacy of logic known as oversimplification. He implies that a flower-loving fly is less important than “damns” [sic], canals, bridges or freeways. Flies serve an essential function within the web of life, eliminating dead bodies that would pile up a mile high if it weren't for their services. Given the choice between a dam, a freeway, or a species of fly, I would choose the fly every time.
     The flower-loving fly sneered at by Mr. Hanson serves another significant function: It is a pollinator. As many have realized due to the extensive loss of bees and butterflies in recent years, pollinators are essential to the survival of the human race. Hardly important, I guess, compared to the bottom line of the elites.
     Mr. Hanson once again flagrantly ignores the significance of the endangered species list! Quite simply, an endangered species is an indicator of great loss or damage to a habitat and the other creatures in it. The pesky flower-loving fly, in other words, is emblematic of habitat destruction due to over-development. It apparently has never occurred to Mr. Hanson that the destruction of one link in a chain could make the chain fall apart.
     Freeways and dams are responsible for tearing apart the web of life all over California, and species just about everywhere are now at risk, whether or not they are listed as threatened or endangered. Fifty percent of the wildlife in the world has disappeared in the last forty years, but that does not give Mr. Hanson pause: To Mr. Hanson, concern about the extinction of one fly is just another sign of the stupidity of “elites” in our time.
     The mythical wise ones of Mr. Hanson's golden age somehow didn't realize that dams kill rivers or that freeways induce development. Strangely, Mr. Hanson does not recognize the one true equivalence of dams and freeways: Both are responsible for the large-scale destruction of ecosystems.
     Along with Donald Trump, Mr. Hanson is guilty of what I have concluded is a new fallacy of logic. I call it the negativity projection fallacy, a combination of the mind-projection fallacy and the hyperbolic fallacy. Donald Trump as a politician and Mr. Hanson as a writer are so full of anger and fear that they project their negativity onto other groups, such as democrats or socialists, or other individuals, such as Hillary Clinton, or other creatures, such as the flower-loving fly or the yellow-legged frog. The projection, however, is a distortion of reality. Instead of dealing with their negative emotions, in other words, those who use this fallacy project their negativity onto others, blaming them in exaggerated, distorted attacks.
     The negativity projection fallacy can be found in other articles by Mr. Hanson. In one article, for instance, entitled “The Republican Dilemma,” Mr. Hanson resembles a snake that beats its head on the ground after being run over by a car: How could the Republican Party nominate Trump? As he writhes in agony, he hallucinates, believing that even though Trump is bad, voters would be suicidal to support Hillary Clinton.
     Suicidal, really? Hillary Clinton, one of the most qualified and competent people on the planet? Has Mr. Hanson swallowed so much Koolaid that he can't admit that pay for play is not a fact of life among Democrats and Republicans everywhere? Does Mr. Hanson believe, like Trump, that if Hillary were elected, 650 million immigrants would flood into the United States in her first week in office? The U.S., as most people know, only has a population of about 319 million right now. It seems that Mr. Hanson is so angry at liberals that he would support a dangerous ignoramus for president.
     The facts suggest the exact opposite. Without distorting reality through hyperbolic fallacy or projection fallacy or any other flaw of logic, many of us have come to the conclusion that electing thin-skinned, combative, sexually assaulting, uncivil, lying, negative, ignorant Donald Trump to a position where he is in possession of the launch codes could result in nuclear annihilation.
     This sense of a golden age, of a once-great country that is now being destroyed by crooked democrats, is a common theme for both Trump and Hanson and has captured the imagination of a large number of people. It is an appealing coping mechanism that justifies exaggerations and oversimplifications and distortions and outright lies. It allows them to spew venom at anyone or anything that challenges their dream of a world of perfect progress and harmony where they no longer experience internal negativity. That promised land will never exist, but a great many voters have been seduced by this dream of a golden age. Unfortunately, in the real world far too much is at stake to take it seriously.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Inundation Zone of Proposed Dam: San Joaquin River Gorge

Note: The Fresno Bee coincidentally stopped publishing my letters to the editor around the time I started opposing a dam at Temperance Flat, a dam that the Bee wholeheartedly supports, so unfortunately every now and then I'm going to include what might have been a letter to the editor in this space.

     According to Fred Vanderhoof, chairman of the Fresno County Republican Party, a bully is going to harass farmers, business men and pastors if Hillary Clinton is elected, a bully with two terrifying faces: regulation and socialism. This bully will tear our constitution and all of our cherished rights to pieces.
     I started to wonder what this bully actually looks like. Perhaps Mr. Vanderhoof is referring to the bully who prohibits child labor, sweatshops, job discrimination and exploitation, the bully who puts the breaks on wall-street greed, the bully who stops polluters and corporate malfeasance.
     Could this bully also look like police officers, firemen and teachers? These people, after all, get paid by state and local governments, with hefty support from the federal government. What about the soldier, the postal worker, the social worker, and all the others who labor for the federal government? Bullying socialists all?
     I'm not sure exactly what Mr. Vanderhoof means because Republicans often use a type of doublespeak that contains one level of meaning for insiders and another for those easily frightened by the bogeyman.
     Mr. Vanderhoof wants to get government off our backs, I guess. I'm also guessing that he means that taxpayers should stop propping up farmers with subsidies and businessmen with grants, and that the public should never provide funds to build more dams (which primarily benefit farmers) on public lands. We must stop socialism to make America great again!
     Sadly, one of Mr. Vanderhoof's points is already moot: Water diversions are killing off an offending species of fish—only one delta smelt was found in the wild in a recent scientific survey. I'm sure Mr. Vanderhoof is aware that most of the rivers in the Valley are dead, mainly because the government built numerous dams, and eighty percent of the water is diverted to the farmers. Someone should explain to Mr. Vanderhoof that you can't kill a fish (or a whole species) more than once.
     The government, if Hillary is elected, will even bully our gentle pastors. How is this possible? Mr. Vanderhoff doesn't say, possibly because the separation of church and state effectively keeps religion and government away from each other most of the time. Is this Mr. Vanderhoof's code for the possibility that the "bully" government might allow gay marriage and keep Roe v. Wade, even though this might offend some pastors? Or is he concerned that the government might keep some fanatic pro-lifer with Judeo-Christian beliefs from blowing up Planned Parenthood? Unfortunately, Mr. Vanderhoof's language is incendiary but lacks specificity.

San Joaquin River Gorge: Temperance Flat Dam Inundation Area

     Do industry or business or religion ever intrude into our lives? Wasn't it the unrestrained greed allowed by deregulation that resulted in the recent economic meltdown, which has made it harder for just about all of us? In Mr. Vanderhoof's world, do businessmen ever rip people off or exploit them? Do pastors ever intrude into our bedrooms to tell us how we can love or what to do with our bodies? Haven't water diversions for farmers killed most of the rivers and destroyed our ecosystems? Haven't their chemicals polluted our water and air? Mr. Vanderhoof can't seem to decide whether government is a bully or a cancer: Does he ever see the need to regulate toxic chemicals that cause real cancers and other health problems?
     Mr. Vanderhoof fails to mention that the very people he wants to protect from “bully government” have often created the need for regulation through their criminality, their lack of civic responsibility, or their intrusiveness in our lives. He also fails to mention that socialism has propped up many of these same people in different ways, including subsidies and grants. I hope voters can see through Mr. Vanderhoof''s deceptive, byzantine code and vote for Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, a man who has truly revealed himself to be a bully.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


Bush Lupine and Poppies: San Joaquin River Gorge

“Even animals get in on the new victimhood. To build a reservoir in drought-stricken California means oppressing the valley elderberry longhorn beetle or ignoring the feelings of the foothill yellow-legged frog.” Victor Davis Hanson

     Flaws abound in the world of Victor Davis Hanson, so many flaws in other nations and other people, especially liberals. Alas, flaws, known as fallacies of logic, also abound in his own writing.
     Mr. Hanson, like so many right-wing pundits with their sound bites and bullet points, is a master of a fallacy of logic known as oversimplification, an insistence on ignoring inconvenient facts, a flaw of logic common in the English papers of flunking freshmen.
     For example, Mr. Hanson in a recent article goes so far as to suggest that the Endangered Species Act is part of a new sense of “victim-hood” for animals: He implies that sensitive liberals feel so guilty about ignoring the feelings of the foothill yellow-legged frog
Lupine, Goldfields, Popcorn
and about the oppression of the valley elderberry longhorn beetle that these misguided do-gooders insist on protecting the habitat of insignificant critters even while in the real world of profit and loss farmers desperately need more reservoirs. His assertion reveals an ignorance of history and environmental law that I find extremely odd for a representative of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and for someone who professes to be an historian.
     If Mr. Hanson were to drive across the San Joaquin Valley on most days, from Santa Nella to Bakersfield, he would cross one dead river after another yet also find that most of the canals still have water (diverted from the rivers and the delta) in them.
     One primary source reveals how much the Valley has changed in a century and a half. According to John Muir in a letter written in July, 1868, the San Joaquin Valley was the floweriest piece of world he had ever walked upon. Those flowers, as well as the wildlife, comparable even in Muir's time to the abundance of wildlife on the Serengeti Plains in Africa, were wiped out by cultivation and urbanization and the damming and diverting of rivers, which had periodically overflowed to replenish wetlands and aquifers—wetlands that have diminished to four percent of their historical levels and aquifers that are now becoming exhausted due to over-pumping of groundwater, which is causing subsidence of the land.

Owl's Clover: San Joaquin River Gorge

     Now, even though dozens of dams already exist on the San Joaquin River, farmers want to build another huge dam just north of Friant Dam at Temperance Flat, using public funds to wipe public lands, the San Joaquin River Gorge, off the map (as well as the habitat of endangered and threatened species) primarily for their own benefit. All the while this private industry refuses to change unsustainable practices, such as irrigating cotton, rice, almonds, and fodder crops in a desert. Mr. Hanson advocates the taking of public resources, which will result in ecocide once again, for the benefit of the wealthiest top percent in the Valley.
     Even though he is a representative of the Hoover Institution, instead of promoting private enterprise, Mr. Hanson is instead promoting a bizarre form of socialism for the wealthy. How has a classics professor and scholar of ancient warfare turned into a spokesperson for such hogwash? Mr. Hanson is good at stringing together the bullet points of the far-right elites. He excels at liberal-bashing, in other words, not at providing an accurate historical, economic, or political perspective.
     As Mr. Hanson probably knows, a species becomes “endangered” usually when so much of its ecosystem has been
Owl's Clover
destroyed that it is driven to the edge of extinction. It is not, as Mr. Hanson's flip comment implies, a frivolous designation. Yet Mr. Hanson, with a cavalier attitude, promotes the destruction of ecosystems in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for the benefit of a private, commercial industry. Mr. Hanson would no doubt consider me a liberal for my views, but I am a conservative in the sense that I am a conservationist, and I am at a loss to explain how any conservative does not have species preservation, and by extension, habitat preservation, at the heart of his philosophy.
     Instead, it's always “jobs vs. the environment,” jobs versus one endangered species or other. Mr. Hanson, as a spokesperson for the right, continues to present a false dilemma, which is another fallacy of logic. A false dilemma rears its ugly head when only two choices are presented yet more choices exist, or when a spectrum of choices exist between two extremes. False dilemmas are usually couched in “either this or that” language, but can also be characterized by the omission of possible choices. Mr. Hanson does not, for instance, entertain the possibilities of water conservation, underground water storage, or the cultivation of sustainable crops as ways to protect both endangered species and jobs. He has to rant about a culture of victim-hood to divert attention away from a land and water grab by elites who wish to maintain business as usual.
     In holding up Victor Davis Hanson as one of the leading voices of the right because of his academic creds, The Fresno Bee and others are doing the public and Mr. Hanson a disservice by indulging in a fallacy of logic known as “false authority,” which is the false belief that a person who is an expert in one field should therefore also be considered an expert in another. Mr. Hanson, in other words, may be a classics professor and a scholar of ancient warfare, but that does not make him an expert on modern U.S. domestic and foreign policy or environmental law. Unfortunately, The Fresno Bee and others keep publishing the right-wing tirades of a person who is merely posing as an expert in order to bash liberals and “soft” Americans.

Bush Lupine by Trail: San Joaquin River Gorge

     In the above-mentioned article, Mr. Hanson suggests that modern Americans don't understand that life is unfair and tragedy falls on good people for no reason. If Mr. Hanson were in touch with the lives of average Americans, he would realize that he does not need to remind the vast majority of us about the lack of fairness or the prevalence of tragedy. Worse, Mr. Hanson fails to recognize that empathy often rises out of tragedy. Empathy can lead to an attempt to lessen the pain of others, to keep bad from getting worse, which is a type of heroism and nobility of spirit. Instead he uses any excuse to bash modern Americans (read “liberals”) for coddling the weak and for providing a voice to defend what has no voice.
     Mr. Hanson has advocated for the show of military force often over the years, deriding liberals for revealing weakness, in other words, for finding alternatives to war—by using the negotiating process for solving problems, for instance. It often seems that Mr. Hanson will not find peace until the United States achieves full-spectrum dominance of the world. Perhaps Mr. Hanson is a hawk 24/7 for another reason: War is a great source of profit. The military received nearly 600 billion dollars from taxpayers in 2015, fifty-four percent of all federal discretionary spending, as opposed to the six percent for education; the three percent for energy and the environment; the three percent for social security, unemployment and labor; the two percent for transportation, and on and on. Military spending is an effective way to channel money from the middle class to the elites. Sound familiar?

Poppies and Lupine: San Joaquin River Gorge

     I doubt that Mr. Hanson would continue to serve as a mouthpiece for the the right-wing elites if he didn't champion their causes, one of which, of course, is accumulating even more wealth.
     Those elites are already outrageously wealthy. Twenty people now own as much wealth as half of all Americans, according to The Nation. And these elites are not in any hurry to trickle their money down to the rest of us. According to the author of the article in The Nation, Joshua Holland, “The U.S. is caught in a vicious cycle, with rising political inequality driving an ever-rising concentration of wealth at the top.” Even with this great income disparity, Mr. Hanson wants the public to stop whining and pay for deadbeat dams and unjustified wars that benefit those at the top. It is up to the reader to decide whether Mr. Hanson is disingenuous or just plain deluded.
     I remember Mr. Hanson beating the drums for the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, wars that continue to create chaos in the middle east, wars that have arguably led to even greater terrorism throughout the world, wars that demand more U.S. military intervention in a progressively more unstable region, wars that are responsible for unnecessary tragedy here and abroad, wars that benefit the wealthiest Americans. The untold misery caused by these wars is in itself a good reason for true liberals and conservatives alike to remain wary of the flaws of logic common in Mr. Hanson's editorials as well as in the bullet points of right-wing pundits in general.

Sunday, March 13, 2016


The Loop Trail above the San Joaquin River Gorge, March 8, 2016
      I took a detour on my way to The San Joaquin River Gorge, driving down Blossom Trail on the east side of Fresno, passing orchard after orchard of the dominant crop in the San Joaquin Valley: almonds. White blossoms clouded the air, with a snow of 
San Joaquin River Gorge Trailhead
melting blossoms in the furrows beneath the trees, each almond, as just about everyone in California knows by now, taking over a gallon of water to produce, row after row of blossoming trees perpetuating the illusion that we can grow anything in the San Joaquin Valley. To satiate the thirst of almond orchards and grapes and other water-guzzling crops, influential farmers are fighting hard for a new dam at Temperance Flat, a dam that would drown public land above Millerton Lake known as The San Joaquin River Gorge Recreation Management Area. Judging by comments in the media, the farmers seem pretty sure they're going to get their dam.
Fiddleneck in San Joaquin River Gorge Campground

      Just north of Auberry, Smalley Road winds about a thousand feet down into the river canyon to a small parking lot. Often in early spring, fiddleneck and popcorn bloom profusely near the trail head, with redmaids and stork's beaks closer to the ground. About a
hundred feet from the parking lot, baby blue eyes, like pieces of sky, often blanket the earth. After crossing a rivulet, one often encounters blue dick, poppies and goldfields. After passing through a gate, one finds more fiddleneck and baby blue eyes and gets a whiff of pungent deer brush. Shooting stars grow at the next rivulet, with fennel close to the trail, and popcorn, like luminescent snow, dominates the slopes, crowned by blue dick, and then one reaches the gorge. Bush lupine hovers over the trail, with goldfields and owl's clover beneath. With a few variations now and then, these flowers bloom every year within their niche. As spring progresses, other flowers such as bird's eye gilia and purple vetch and fiesta flowers join or supplant the others.
Owl's Clover and Blue Dick by Trail, West Side of River

      As one continues down the trail, one encounters more blue and gold and white on the slope. For untold millennia, these species have blossomed, long before people of European descent settled in
California, long before humans even migrated to North America. This is one of the few places where the public still has access to the San Joaquin River in an almost pristine state. These flowers and oaks and gray pines and red buds will no doubt soon be buried under hundreds of feet of water, but even with this knowledge as I hike into the gorge, I can't help but immerse myself in my surroundings. Simply breathing establishes a connection with these trees and plants, which are woven together in a web that extends throughout the world, and I can't help but feel a sense of oneness with all things, a feeling that I never experience in Fresno.
Lupine on Both Sides of Trail

     Driving through the San Joaquin Valley, one encounters one small town after another where typically one finds a street or two with large mansions near a few streets with middle-class houses surrounded by small, run-down houses and shacks, representing the closest thing to a feudal system still in existence, except that money has divine rights and the wealthy landowners do not honor a tradition of providing safety and security for their laborers. Instead, the laborers in the capitalistic version of the feudal system remain dependent on slave wages. If water is not available, labor is expendable. Laborers and their families suffer. Profits go down and farmers start demanding more water to "keep the Valley" from suffering. We hear “People, not fish” as farmers scramble to grab more water from rivers and the delta. We see signs with “Dams, not Trains” all over the Valley. We see op-ed pieces in the newspaper where powerful people accuse activists, who are simply challenging an unsustainable system, of threatening our very way of life. Make no mistake, this type of intimidating language is for the activists' employers as much as for the general public, which apparently doesn't bother the local newspaper, The Fresno Bee, one little bit.
Fiesta Flowers and Fiddleneck by Trail

      On average, about ninety-five percent of the water from the San Joaquin River is diverted at Friant Dam, about eighty percent of which goes to agri-business. The San Joaquin River, which used to
Mountain Jewel Flower by Trail
flood periodically and refresh aquifers and wetlands and the delta, died bout seventy years ago thirty miles below Friant Dam. Wetlands are down to about four percent of their historical levels. Before the dam, from time immemorial, the San Joaquin River flowed into the Delta, but now the Delta ecosystem is collapsing due to water diversions and pollution. In a recent survey, the state Fish and Wildlife scientists found only one delta smelt in the wild, revealing that farmers have essentially won the “People vs. Fish” PR war. Land in the Valley is subsiding due to over-pumping of aquifers. Farmers continue to grow unsustainable crops in a semi-arid region—while demanding that the public pay for more dams on public land, at places such as Temperance Flat and Roger's Crossing. And farmers will have to continue asking the public for more subsidies to make the water affordable.

Fiesta Flowers and Bush Lupine by Loop Trail

      As long as I can remember, farmers in the Valley have used one of the strategies of “disaster capitalism,” claiming that the economy will suffer severely and perhaps not even survive unless the public continues to give up land and resources for private use with the
San Joaquin River, from Bridge
implied promise that corporations and wealthy landowners will keep laborers from suffering and associated businesses from going belly up. Politicians and taxpayers continue to oblige farmers with a bizarre form of socialism for the wealthy in a region that otherwise maintains the rawest form of capitalism. The public continues to give agri-business what it wants even though as private citizens we would never allow anyone to take our property without compensation. Yet here we are once again, about to provide billions of dollars to build a dam for the farmer's private use, a dam that will destroy public land containing priceless natural and historical resources—without anything even close to adequate compensation. With numerous dams on the San Joaquin River already, very little land not already submerged by a reservoir is even available to replace the public park in the Gorge, not that the corporations and wealthy farmers are even considering that possibility. The public is, in other words, on the verge of giving a small group of people billions of dollars to take public land and water resources, instead of using the money for education or job creation or any of a hundred other worthy causes.
San Joaquin River Gorge, from the Loop Trail

      The longer I follow the path, the more I recognize the sentience within moss and ferns and grass and flowers and trees. The more I see the various species coexisting in different communities, and the more I experience their splendor, the more I sense that the physical is a dense aspect of the spiritual, and that I am connected spiritually to all things in nature. And the more I see humanity's place in nature, the more I realize that a small group of people, no matter how powerful, does not have the right to destroy these communities for their own private gain.