“Silent Spring,” 50 years later

Sept. 27 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication by Houghton Mifflin of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” surely one of the most influential books of the 20th century. It raised the alarm about the harmful effects of pesticides on a wide variety of life forms, including insects, birds and humans, and was the impetus that created the environmental protection movement.
First serialized in the “New Yorker” in the spring and summer of 1962, the book shocked the nation and was an instant best-seller. The chemical industry spent a huge amount of money and time vilifying Carson and trying to stop her warnings from spreading. She was portrayed as an “hysterical woman,” even a Communist. But Rachel Carson was simply a brilliant, concerned biologist who could both see the big picture of what was happening and put it into words that everyone could understand.
Anyway, both Carson and her book weathered the storm. Millions of people worldwide rallied to the cause. The Kennedy administration ordered an investigation into the book’s claims, and that investigation led to the banning of DDT in the United States and to the eventual creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Pesticides remain a threat to birds, humans and other life forms. The fact that her words, written half a century ago, still resonate shows the power of “Silent Spring,” and how it helped to improve our lives and ensure healthier lives for future generations.

Here’s how we can all help maintain the legacy of “Silent Spring”:

* Avoid using chemical pesticides, and then only in the smallest amounts needed;

* Dispose of chemical pesticides as instructed on their original containers, and never throw unused pesticides down a drain or a storm sewer.

* Donate to the Nature Conservancy, the Xerces Society or the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference to support their habitat creation and advocacy work;

* Keep Rachel Carson’s memory alive by reading or re-reading “Silent Spring” and recommending it to everyone you know.

What to Shoot Now

Stumbled upon our great state’s Department of Environmental Conservation website the other day, and there learned what we, since Sept. 1, have been legally able to shoot in New York. Here’s the list, which alert readers will notice consists exclusively of birds:

Your coots, your rails, your brant (oddly, “brant,” like “deer,” gets no “s” in the plural. Wonder who makes these rules up), plus your woodcocks, your ducks, your geese, your gallinules and your snipes. (Yes! You can finally snipe at them damn snipes!) For me, this raises the question: What do you do with a dead snipe, anyway? Stuff its head like a moose and hang it on the wall of your den? Eat it? (Please reply here with your best snipe recipes; I promise to print them so readers can vote for their favorites.) 

Also, crow season started Sept. 1., according to the DEC, but you can shoot them only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays (I swear i’m not making this up), and you can’t shoot them at all in New York City. Well, that explains why there are so many crows in Central Park in the fall. You can see them by the hundreds on the southbound platform at Beacon Station, holding their little suitcases like Heckle and Jeckyl. (Oh, wait: Those were magpies.)

And for those who’ve already had their fill of eating crow, hang on: Oct. 1st is the day it’s OK to start gunning down quail (again, no “s”), bobwhites and pheasants.

But even if you prefer your prey without wings, you can still start oiling those rifles now, because Oct. 25 is just around the corner, and that’s the start of this year’s weasel season. (“Weasel Season”! What a great name for a rock group! Or perhaps, a grandchild of Frank Zappa!) 

Anyway: Rejoice, New York; hunting has begun once more. Just watch out for crow-poop on the Metro-North.

A Truly Happy Labor Day

This is truly an exciting Labor Day.

Labor unions are wielding renewed political muscle this fall, with tens of thousands of activists moving into battleground states to get out the vote for President Obama.
Ironically, the energy was ignited by the horrible Supreme Court ruling in 2010 in the Citizens United case, whose decision that corporations are people included unions in the definition of “corporations!” That meant that organized workers can finally reach out to an audience beyond the 14.8 million union members in the U.S.
While still a critical player in industries such as car manufacturing, the labor movement represented just 11.8 percent of U.S. workers as of 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is down from 20 percent as recently as 1983 and 35 percent when the movement was at its peak in the mid-1950s. Those are the statistics seized upon by most news media in today’s reports, which totally miss the point.
The High Court’s decision, while a sickening win for well-funded corporations, also allowed unions, for the first time, to use money and members’ time to present organized labor’s story to non-union households. Many non-union households are sympathetic to labor’s political positions. The existence of fair pay and safe, sanitary working conditions, abolition of child labor, the 8-hour day, paid sick days and vacation time — even group health insurance — all exist because of the hard and often bloody battles waged by organized labor. And organized labor’s emphasis on the dignity of work resonates with millions of families who remain unrepresented by unions.
Working families will be the crucial difference for Dems in November. Last week union members knocked on the doors of 640,000 homes in the U.S. That activity will ramp up in six key states as Election Day nears, according to Jeff Hauser, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO, as quoted by Bill Briggs of NBC News.
So, despite being vastly outspent by corporate political action committees, unions are spending on communications too, and are uniting to outflank corporations with the “ground game” of going door-to-door, telling folks face-to-face, one household at a time, whyAmerica needs to reclaim its respect for the people who are the backbone of this country.

Happy Labor Day indeed, and: Solidarity Forever!

Ah, Nature

This morning I spent a few minutes transfixed by the sight of the long-haired, blonde, feral cat my neighbor feeds, merrily torturing a monarch butterfly in our back yard.

I was walking out to the compost barrel when I saw her (the cat, not my neighbor) crouched and batting something back and forth in the high grass before her, sometimes letting it go, then making little jumps to catch it again in a gruesome little game of “Breakfast is On Me.”

At first I thought her unlucky victim must be a mouse or a vole. She saw me just after I spotted her, and stopped stock-still, looked at me and silently but very distinctly said: “What are you looking at? I’m not doing anything. In fact, just to prove it, I’ll hold this little morsel down with one paw and idly lick my other paw and then yawn. Then I’ll just stare right back at you forever; I’ve got all day.”

She disdainfully watched me take a few more steps toward the barrel and then grew bored with me. She resumed playing with her food, and it was then I saw it was a butterfly. A few times, just to amuse herself, I suppose, she let it get away for a moment. Each time it would start to fly but, with now-tattered wings, couldn’t get up very far, and Blondie would instantly catch it again in her claws. Last I saw, she was strutting around the yard with her breakfast mostly protruding from her mouth, one orange-and-black wing still fluttering.

Ah, Nature.