Thursday, August 23, 2018

What I'm consuming #3


The Wilderness - Jon Favreau the former speechwriter for President Obama, gives a history of the Democratic party, a diagnosis of what went wrong in 2016, and, with the help of experts, voters, and politicians, a plan of action. As an analysis and a history, I think the podcast does a really good job. But as we run through the Democratic party's laundry list of problems, not to mention the varied interests of the different groups that make up the Democratic coalition, I find myself growing increasingly worried, and I'm not seeing a clear way out of the wilderness. But that's why it's called "The Wilderness": I suppose the goal of the podcast is to bring in lots of different perspectives and reflect on the party's issues. Something tells me, though, that I may leave the podcast with more worries than I came in with. 
The Democratic party 
has problems that are many and deep: in branding itself; in dealing with a stupid electorate (who wants universal healthcare yet doesn't); and in dealing with an intransigent Republican party that does a good job at making the Democrats look bad. Right now, going into the 2018 elections, all they have to work with is anti-Trump fervor and the reputation of being the less corrupt party. I’d be surprised if they have a unified message going into 2020. 

Longform Podcast interview with Nathaniel Rich - This podcast interview compelled me to read Rich’s New York Times Magazine piece on climate change, which took up the whole issue, and which I initially put to the side because climate change stories depress the hell out of me. I thought about this a good deal: Here I am, someone who wrote a book partly about climate change, and I'm not at all eager to read an important story on climate change. This got me thinking of the average reader, who is probably even less willing to the read this story. Climate change is, I think, increasingly something we try to keep out of sight and out of mind. I think if we had a more proactive approach to the problem, we'd do better to face our fears in the face, but so long as our government does next to nothing, we have cause to sweep our shame, fear, and disappointment under a rug of apathy.  

Anyhow, I liked how Rich handles his subject with care (both in the podcast and article), but also with unwavering moral clarity. In the interview, he dutifully condemns the modern-day Republican party and fossil fuel companies for their self-interested and unforgivable distortion of the truth.

Revisionist History - I binge-listened to seasons two and three, which are remarkable. Gladwell has a knack for finding one interesting story or character and then zooming out to tell a broader story about the country. 

The Rewatchables (Silence of the Lambs, Jerry Maguire, and Any Given Sunday) - I really enjoy listening to Bill Simmons and his smart friends break down popular nineties movies.


Who Is America?, Showtime - I have a weakness for Sacha Baron Cohen. My favorite character is Dr. Nira Cain-N'Degeocello, a self-hating cisgender gender studies professor at Reed College, whose function is to expose the ridiculous extremes of the far left and the out-of-touchness of his gullible right-leaning subjects. I’m not sure if I get much out of his Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr. character. The utility of Cohen's movies and shows is in exposing the ridiculousness of our thought leaders; with Billy Wayne, Cohen makes them look reasonable. (i.e. Corey Lewandowski)  

Death of Stalin - As a big fan of Veep, The Thick of It, and In The Loop, I was really looking forward to Iannucci's latest, but the laughs didn’t come often enough, and the movie's plot never caught my interest.

Wild, Wild Country, Netflix - Sheela is a mostly-likable psychopath and gurus always let you down. I enjoyed every minute of this.


Bear, by Marian Engel - I'm thinking about writing an essay about the bear in the North American imagination, so how could I not read this award-winning Canadian novel about a woman's sexual relationship with a pet black bear? It was a hugely enjoyable and page-turning read, and I adored Engel's spare prose. 

Bullshit Jobs, by David Graeber - This is a seriously good book about bullshit jobs, useless work, and how the pervading meaninglessness that comes from such work leaves scars on the soul of both the individual and his/her greater society.

It’s Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in Politics - I love big, crazy ideas of any sort, and this book is full of them. A few ideas: 
  • The next Democrat-controlled Congress should increase the number of Supreme Court justices to be selected by a Democratic president. 
  • Adding eight new senators by splitting California into three states, and adding Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico as states. Some even say that if we break Texas up into several states, we'd add a few more left-leaning senators. 
  • Increase the size of the House of Representatives to 870. 
  • A constitutional amendment to end lifetime tenure for judges.
  • Create automatic voter registration; no registration required. 
  • A national election holiday to boost turnout.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Op-Ed in High Country News

Yesterday, my Op-Ed, about a ridiculous Idaho trespass law, published in High Country News.

Here's the text:

Woody Guthrie’s most famous song contains a stirring sentiment in its refrain — “This land was made for you and me.” Unfortunately, that sort of thinking could get you shot in Idaho.

Idaho’s new trespass law went into effect July 1. Combined with a new “stand your ground” law, it could make it easier for landowners to get away with shooting trespassers.

“Trespassers will be deemed to have nefarious intent upon entry into real property,” wrote Kristina Schindele, then Idaho’s deputy attorney general, in an email to the public. “Such presumed intent would permit unreasonable uses of force against such trespassers by landowners while limiting the landowners’ civil and criminal liability.”

The law, written without any consultation with sportsmen and recreationists, raises the trespassing fine to $500 and makes civil trespass a strict liability offense. Kahle Becker, former deputy attorney general for Idaho, says that trespassers who challenge the law and then lose in court will be responsible for the plaintiff’s attorney fees. This could cost anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000.

“You could bankrupt someone for innocently stepping on some undelineated sagebrush,” says Becker. The Idaho Sheriffs’ Association and the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association noted that the bill was vague and contradictory and difficult to enforce. But it easily passed in a Republican-dominated Legislature, and the governor opted to neither sign nor veto, which meant that the bill, as a quirk of Idaho law, automatically became law.

The bill was sponsored by House Republican Rep. Judy Boyle, a Bundy family supporter who made two trips to the illegal Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation in Oregon. The bill was supported by a coalition of agricultural groups and big landowners, including lobbyists for the Wilks brothers, Texas billionaires whose combined holdings make them the 13th largest landowners in America. They own 702,000 acres and pay private security guards to patrol their property boundaries. In 2016, they bought and closed off 172,000 acres of land in Idaho, parts of which had been open under the previous owners.

This new Idaho law makes me think of Georgian England as I’ve just finished researching and writing a book about land-access rights and how we’re losing them today. In the 18th and 19th centuries, English aristocrats got Parliament to pass laws to make the land their own — a process known as “enclosure.” Aristocrats pushed people off the land and hired armed gamekeepers. They excluded whomever they wished and enjoyed exclusive access to deer and grouse. What were once common lands that supported the livelihoods of many people became personal playgrounds and new sources of wealth for the already rich.

This sounds like the West in 21st century America: billionaire landowners who get what they want from legislatures. Vast areas of land closed off. Privatized wildlife. Armed security guards. This trend extends well beyond Idaho; in Montana and New Mexico, wealthy outsiders can close off access to streams.

Today, frustrated sportsmen and recreationists don’t really challenge the status quo. They advocate for amendments, such as the freedom to cross checkerboard corners of public land or for the privilege to retrieve a downed animal on private land. These do little more than loosen the handcuffs.
We should be looking at the bigger picture. We should be arguing for a full-on right to roam.

The English began to reverse centuries of aristocratic rule in 2000, when Parliament passed the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, which opened up privately owned mountains and unimproved grasslands for responsible public recreation.

There is no reason why the people of Idaho can’t have a similar right to roam. For hunters, anglers and hikers, this would mean being able to legally cross private lands to get to public lands and waters. For landowners, it would mean privacy in and around your home, immunity from frivolous lawsuits, and the right to sue for damages. But it also would mean no more unnecessary “no trespassing” signs, no more hoarding game, no more draconian trespass laws.

When Europeans are freer than Americans, when the moors of England are more open than the plains of Wyoming, and when our laws are crafted for the sole benefit of the landed gentry, we Americans have clearly lost our way. So let’s stop putting up with enclosure for the few and reclaim our old rights, the rights of the many. It’s not their right to exclude, fine and shoot us. It’s our right to roam.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Co-presenting with Bill McKibben

In May of this year, I had the honor of co-presenting with one of my environmental heroes, Bill McKibben, the author/editor of seventeen books, the founder of, and arguably the principal figure in the worldwide climate justice movement. Bill was an altogether kind and down-to-earth guy.

[Note: It may sound like the audience was being rude by talking in the background (they weren't); that's just people in the lobby of the movie theatre, close to where our talk was held.] Special thanks to the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, VT, for organizing everything.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Book review from Adventure Journal

Roaming in Scotland near town of North Berwick.
Some book-review love for This Land Is Our Land from Adventure Journal:
"My dad, a law-abiding rural county detective, always surprised me with his frequent humming of ‘Signs’ by Five Man Electrical Band: ‘Hey! What gives you the right? To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep Mother Nature in.’ The urge to roam freely might be universal, but the U.S. is veering sharply toward a fenced-in future. Ken Ilgunas earned a following with his 2013 Walden on Wheels, and thank goodness he's back with This Land Is Our Land: part polemic, part American travelogue, and part primer on the history of land use laws. The Swedes call it allemansr├Ątten and in Great Britain it’s the ‘right to roam’—an average citizen’s license to wander on publicly or privately owned land. How often do you encounter ‘No Trespassing’ signs while camping, hiking, or just walking around the block? Before Americans need a membership card to get outside, everyone who moves should read this book.”