The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta.

The Mobile-Tensaw river delta is one of the most diverse places in the world. According to E.O. Wilson, professor emeritus of Harvard who was born in Alabama and popularized the theory of sociobiology, the leafy banks of the delta provide a home to more turtles than any other place on earth. Of course, in todays world there is no place that is untouched by man and the Tensaw delta is no exception. It’s diversity also gives it a propensity for extinction. Over the past fifty years, as industrialization has crept deeper into Alabama, drawn by cheap labor and easily accessible pollution permits, more species have been lost in Alabama than in any other state in America.

The heart of the Tensaw delta has been preserved through a patchwork of purchases and made largely untouchable to developers. Part of this was done through the states Forever wild program, which purchases land for the sole purpose of preservation. However purchases alone will not save the delta, since, according the Ben Raines’s article “America’s Amazon” which appeared in The Huntsville Times, the most damaging factor to the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta is nonpoint source pollution in the form of runoff.

When mud from construction sites and farmland, and runoff from parking lots is added to tributaries they deposit silt that obscures light for photosynthesis and clogs the fine filaments of the filter feeders like mussels and clams. One of the main contributers to this problem is a lack of logging regulation. Though Alabama officially discourages clear-cutting up to a water source there are no laws prohibiting it, and so these suggestions largely fall on deaf ears, since it is cheaper for a logging company to ignore them. Alabama is second only to Oregon in its logging production, but Oregonrequires loggers to leave a strip of trees around water sources and prohibits machinery and cutting within 20 feet of a water source. This rim of trees protects a water source from runoff and also keeps the water at a stable temperature and provides habitat via the logs and branches that fall in.

Certain experts believe that if Alabama could convince its legislators to enact regulations similar to the ones in Oregon, then the Mobile-Tensaw River delta might have a chance of remaining the majestic jewel that it is today. But its not clear that matching Oregon’s regulations will be enough. Currently there is a lawsuit going on between the EPA, NOAA, and the logging industry which is forcing Oregon to rethinking its logging practices.An environmental advocacy group alerted the EPA and NOAA to shortcomings in logging regulations that were threatening the Oregon Coho salmon.Stricter regulations may come in the form of an increased buffer zone around rivers regarding cutting and pesticide use.

A similar ecosystem is being slowly disassembled by water demand in LA. There the biodiversity alone is what keeps California’s central valley from being pumped to Hollywood, leaving the delta like another Owens Valley which has been turned into a salt flat. Though something along the lines of 47% of California is protected land, that protection is starting to show stress around the delta. The bottom line is that the endangered delta smelt was used to keep water in the valley, since for legal reasons it’s harder to argue for a community than for an endangered species. Fortunately for Alabama, the Tensaw is loaded with endemic and endangered species and doesn’t have nearly the drought concerns that California does. But bringing the west’s logging and environmental standards to the deep south has its own set of challenges. And even if the logging regulations in place it is uncertain whether the greatly diminished Alabama EPA can keep up with enforcement.


Holiday Heroes

It’s MLK day and Pine State Biscuits is rammed with patrons. But the staff is in control. Everyone has their part to play and this pack of sweaty Millenials is absolutely killing it. A thick curly haired dude is manning the grill, the oven, and the sauté station. He’s got bacon in the oven, a half dozen pancakes on the grill, and he’s popping open some eggs to scramble. He cracks them one time, pours the egg into the pan, then slings the shells into the can behind him without looking. He heaps small mountains of onions and mushrooms onto the grill. I’m about to order when a waitress rounds the corner from the kitchen. She makes eye contact with the hostess, puts two fingers to her own temple, and jokingly blows her brains out. The hostess and I laugh. The hostess tells me she and her friend forgot what day it was, and were caught off guard by the mob of people. The reaches around the building and out of sight. I’m here at around nine forty, but by the time I leave at 11 am the line will not have diminished one bit. Behind the bar the staff is moving confidently through their world, yelling out and receiving orders, plating the stacks of deep fried satisfaction and prepping them for sale. To put it simply, they are in the zone. A woman tending the orders stands up strait, cocks her head back, and calls out that they are selling the last of the patties. She wipes her brow, and swings a couple trays of fresh biscuits out the oven. All of a sudden I get what Russian figurative sculpture is about, plus a Reggie Deluxe and fries. These people, the service industry, are out here helping to ensure that the holidays are properly celebrated. Making sure when it comes time for the rest of America to hang up its hat and say “time to relax,” that theres a way to really do that. And most times it’s a pretty thankless job. The other day I read that Millenials are perceived as a scourge (in playboy magazine), but, you know what, especially on holidays, take a minute and thank the horde that keeps our lives luxurious. Sure, maybe this country would be better off if there was a larger technical industry that these people could work in, but on days like this it’s hard to think of a better use of time than the towering delicacy before me. Hats off to young people in the service industry and hats off to Pine State Biscuits.


Are Annoying

There’s a scene in this really good show called High Maintenance where this jerk (the name of the episode is Assholes, I believe) tells the bartender he can tell that the beer selection is the bartenders choice because “its really well curated.” Why is this funny? It’s not that something being well curated is funny. A well arranged beer selection doesn’t necessarily lay down the bedrock for a good joke. But having someone tell you your selection is well curated is kind of brings a bitter taste the mouth. I guess this character would still give me the creeps if he said “That’s a well chosen beer selection.” But its not the same. Curated is a buzzword.

Like many people, I hate buzzwords. They are usually law or business words and anyone that has glossed over fine print knows that there’s a whole lexicon of words so featureless that they resist memorization. Recently the word “Actionable” has been enjoying a lot of lip time. It’s a law term ironically meaning “grounds for action.” As in “using law words make ridicule actionable, and are best left to the courtroom.” For me it conjures images of long boring meetings with people who are, at that very moment, dead inside. Look, this world compels a lot of us tamp our souls down into our shoes when we punch in. It sucks. But don’t let  jargon out into the larger world. The way you express yourself is part of who you are to those around you. If I hear you say to me something about how you “weren’t given actionable information,” I’m going to roll my eyes.

Even worse than this is Disruptive. Disruptive is just used to describe people that make room for themselves in a market. When I hear that some shitty app is “CHANGING THE WORLD” by changing the way you count your change or something (actually not a terrible idea…) I reach deep down into the most childish depths of myself and start making a gesture of slow masturbation. “Oh yeah…you’re so disruptive!” Saying that your app is changing the world is kind of true in the same way that dying a few hairs on your arm changes who you are. It’s a change, but it’s not solving the world’s problems.

That same masturbatory motion comes out when I read book reviews. Something like “Dennis is a writer whose talent has cracked the firmament of the literary world. His work is singular, important, challenging, humbling, and wise. We are lucky that such a genius is alive today and should remember him every time we draw breath.” Here I would like to say that “Singular” is another kind of ubiquitous show-off word that doesn’t really mean anything anymore. The definition can be boiled down to “exceptional.” But since that word presumably got worn out on other book reviews long ago, singular has taken the stage.  I get it, there just aren’t that many ways to say “really good” but its getting to the point where the word singular doesn’t really mean anything. I hear it used to describe anything vaguely literary.

In my opinion these words are as much about their meanings as they are about showing that the person that uses them is knowledgeable  about a certain industry. Sure you could have used a different word that has a place in common conversation, but by using a buzzword you tap into cronyism. It’s almost like using a backhanded complement. You describe something while also serving yourself. I know, I should probably just relax, but its getting egregious. I’m having to mime wanking off in all kinds of unexpected situations.

Enough ranting, time for a word I actually enjoy. Here’s a word that I bet started out as a buzzword but I have come to enjoy very much: galvanize. To galvanize means “To shock into action.” It sounds satisfying to me. The history is also satisfying. A scientist named Luigi Galvani  did some experiments involving putting a gentlemanly amount of electricity through dead frog. Galvani attributed the movement of a pair of frogs legs to a fluid he dubbed Animal Electricity. A peer of Galvani’s named Alessandro Volta raised some issues with the theory. In the process of checking Galvani’s work Volta invented the first battery, and later tipped his hat to Galvani by helping coin the term Galvanize. Though there isn’t a fluid that carries a current through living things in order to control the body, Galvini did hit upon the notion that cells are activated chemically.  A+ for effort. In the late 19th century his name became synonymous with “shocking the hell out of something until it moves,” a contribution that we all enjoy today.

The Tradition of the Christmas Tree

Fist off let me just say this; corporate appropriation of holidays is bullshit. It puts pressure on people to buy and do things that distract from the purpose of holidays. That’s why the tree is so bad-ass. Because it can be really cheap and it is enjoyed by everyone. You get to partake in the ritual of decorating it, and once it is decorated it becomes the worlds most charming night light. I leave mine on when my room mates are out carousing, so when they get home they are greeted by the tree. Plus its less bright than the living room light. Needless to say, I think the tree is boss. So when people say how eager they are to pitch it I’m always a little taken aback.

Just the other day I was walking down the street and this lady calls out to me. “Happy New Year!” and she smiles and says “I’m going to be saying that until July.” So then I asked if she still has her Christmas tree up and she replied “Oh, hell no!” as if the evergreen had offended her holiday sensibilities.

My room mate had the same response. As soon as the house had been restored to order after Christmas he was talking about getting rid of our tree. So I started to wonder if the tree has always had the same short shelf life that it is granted today.

After looking through some Q&A forums I found that a lot of catholics will keep the tree up through the Epiphany, the time between the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the wise men. This means the tree is dumped after the 6th of January. And generally people will take down the tree between two days after Christmas and the day after new years.

I needed to look at how this all came about. I did some reading and it turns out the Christmas tree has some pretty old roots (get it?). For thousands of years trees have been used to adorn homes and buildings to celebrate the winter solstice. Though this was more a celebration of the return of the sun than a celebration of winter, since the solstice marks when the days will increase in length again. We normally don’t think of the Christmas tree as an ancient Egyptian tradition but I read that Egyptians would adorn their structures with palm fronds and other evergreen plants to mark the return of Ra, the sun god. As for the Spruce and Pine that we think of today, those got started in northern Europe.

Norse and Germanic tribes had been celebrating the solstice with evergreens before the birth of Christ, and their reverence for trees was a deep part of their pagan culture. Legend has it some guy named Saint Boniface went to convert the heathen Germanic tribes and chopped down their sacred oak tree. Afterwards he was like “Here, take this dinky pine tree. Its triangular, like the holy trinity, and always points to heaven, so you know where to send your thanks for removing this unsightly oak. Now grovel.” Or something like that. So then the Germanic tribes, being overwhelmed with the pragmatism and cultural sensitivity of Boniface, thanked him for the idea and proceeded to use the Christmas tree in their homes every year since that day. the end. Personally, I would have beat his ass, but that’s just me.

But the truth is the Christmas tree was still a shady character. Catholic guidelines now dictate the length of a trees shelf life, but the protestants gave it its modern look. Another (really, probably, very, true and not improbable at all) legend has it that Martin Luther, catholic superman’s arch nemesis, lit candles and affixed them to the tree in his home. He thought it was a poetic way to show his family the beauty of the nights sky, and how moved he was by it while composing the sermon he was brewing on his walk home. So decorating the tree with candles became a trend and then when electric lights became possible they were a no-brainer for the, no doubt, extremely flammable Christmas tree of Luther’s time.

Some two hundred years after Luther and a hundred years after when the first European refugees were landing on North American soil the Christmas tree was still viewed as a pagan symbol by Americans and until the 1840’s the evergreens were not looked upon with favor, according to The History Channel. That’s when it all changed. A fancy lady named Queen Elizabeth decided that she was going to send a Christmas card to all her subjects (or something) and had her families portrait drawn with the adorned tree in the background. Once Americans saw that fancy people liked the tree too they too started jumping on board. Now the Christmas tree an American tradition, and if you other nations want to claim that then you can come try and take it over my cold dead body.

But listen to this. I think we are looking at the holidays the wrong way. After Christmas we still have to slog through the actually brutal months. February lurks around the corner and, like august, it has a dearth of holidays just when we need them most. Presidents day is cool but it’s a not a feast. And I mean, seriously, Valentines day? What a crock…Instead of front-loading all our holidays into fall and December, we should be pushing them back until the strain of winter has embedded itself in our minds like the permafrost under our feet. I say we get the tree on, say, the 22nd of December and decorate it right before Christmas, then keep watering that baby until April fools day. With modern genetics I’m sure we could get trees that can go in for the long haul without dropping a single needle. Plus low budget holiday joy for the whole family for months. Happy holidays.