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Connecticut River special: “Season of Secrets”

Posted by on 04 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: alewives, American shad, Atlantic salmon, Bellows Falls Fishway, blueback herring, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Conte, CRASC, federal trust fish, Politics, salmon, Salmon eggs, salmon hatchery, Uncategorized, USFWS, Vernon Dam Fishway, Walpole

Connecticut River special: “Season of Secrets” with writer Karl Meyer, airs Wednesday, August 4, at 5:30 pm, on Local Bias:  www.gctv.org

(this local Greenfield cable show can be downloaded after tonight’s show, please share the link!)

Greenfield, MA.  August 4, 2010.  Environmental journalist and author Karl Meyer spent this spring and summer blogging and following the Connecticut River’s migratory fish runs, by bicycle, from Long Island Sound at Old Saybrook, CT  to Bellows Falls, VT and North Walpole, NH (www.karlmeyerwriting.com )  This was a follow-up to Meyer’s “Turners Falls Turnaround” in the March 2009 edition of Sanctuary Magazine.  Meyer spends a half hour with GCTV’s “Local-Bias” Host Drew Hutchinson talking about this year’s fish run and the secrecy and cover-ups shrouding the Connecticut River migratory fish restoration–on both the corporate and public agency levels.  Topics include:

  • Salmon farming: a river’s ecological pyramid stood on its head
  • An extinct hybrid at $300,000 per fish in public funds
  • Northfield Mountain-Turners Falls pumped storage operations grind to a halt for an entire migration season and fish passage at Turners Falls skyrockets 800%–from an average of 2000 American shad annually, to nearly 16,000 this spring
  • A year’s worth of American shad at Turners Falls disappears from the record
  • How FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain operations and impacts on river ecology and fish runs remain hidden from the public
  • Fisheries commissioners and Turners Falls Conte Lab scientists fail to respond with science to the most profound experiment handed to them in decades, i.e: What does the Connecticut River and fish passage at Turners Falls look like without Northfield Mountain pumped storage effecting river flows and levels?

“Season of Secrets,” airs Wednesday, August 4, at 5:30 pm; and repeats on Thursday and Friday August 5 & 6, at 9 pm.  The program repeats in those time slots the week of August 8th, and will be available for download on the video on demand page at gctv.org.

American Pastime

Posted by on 27 Feb 2008 | Tagged as: Politics

                                                        © 2008 Karl Meyer

American Pastime

On this February morning there was drama in the United States Congress. Two powerful men thought to have deceived the American people for most of a decade were answering questions. There were references to wire tapping and intimidation to keep crimes hidden. Personal information had been leaked to impugn credibility. The story was riveting: hubris, bedroom secrets; the let down of the next generation of kids.

It was a story of power and ego; lots of money involved. One party rallied around the powerful man as a god. The other assaulted his testimony as if they were bringing down the Bastille. Hushed talk began circulating of a presidential pardon. This was terrific theatre, but hardly of a high order—sports-entertainment and drugs, the stuff America invests its soul in. The testimony of a baseball player and his trainer rang out in homes across the country.

But as the time of spring training neared my fantasies went way beyond baseball. I dreamt Congress was sending blistering line drives and punishing grounders at the two highest officers of the land—hard ball questions that offered no cover. Stand and catch the ball, or let it go by–on a level playing field, in full view of the American people. Whack: what about weapons of mass destruction? Whack: what about leaked names? Bang: what about soldiers, civilians, sacrificed? Bam: what about water boarding–what about the country’s soul, Sir?

The day’s baseball drama WAS riveting. He said–he said; he said that she said. What did he say; when did he say it? Patriotism, hard work, respect for rules, were all used to mask the ominous and building backdrop of wrong-doing. The big guy said he could not be a bad guy. It was a miss-understanding. Words were miss-spoke, miss-heard. He was a leader, in control—a decider. Something foul occurred on his watch. He’d moved swiftly to get a handle on it. Now jealous people and the media had turned on him. His reputation was at stake. His legacy. He wanted his soul back. He stood pleading before a soul-less Congress. Expectant.

# # #

Conspiracy to bird

Posted by on 08 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: Politics

The following essay appeared as an OpEd in both the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the Greenfield Recorder on January 2, 2008.

Karl Meyer © 2007
Conspiracy to Bird

I am standing at the intersection of Wildlife and Freedom—or that’s what it feels like. Actually I’m on Northeast Street, a secondary road with farms on one side and condos on the other. It’s fifteen degrees on Christmas Bird Count Day and I’m looking for birds in Amherst, Massachusetts. I’ve returned to this college town each December for 23 years–since about the time I voted in Amherst Town Meeting for funding to preserve these farms.

When I turn around a policeman is there, cruiser lights flashing on low. He rolls down his window and peers at me–laptop and police equipment in easy reach. I’m surprised, mildly annoyed. He is friendly though, “Hi Sir, could you tell me what you’re doing here with binoculars?”

Here it makes sense to set the scene a bit more. I’m 5’8”, with white, white, hair. I’m standing on the shoulder in a bright yellow anorak, wool pants, and mittens–a pair of binoculars at my neck. I’ve been peering into patches of scrub and staring at old farm silos hoping to identify birds. My main concern—what with the yellow slicker, is not getting shot by deer hunters—or picked off by a car at this farmland edge. I’m as conspicuous as can be, and it’s backfired. An officer of the law is now assessing my threat status.

“I’m looking at birds,” I say. “Looking at birds?” he repeats. I nod. I can tell this is making sense–the binoculars, the funny dress. “Someone called–I had to check it out.” This too makes sense. I offer a little more, “I’m counting birds, it happens every year. They usually hold the count on a Sunday, but changed it to Saturday because of the weather. There’s a bunch of people out doing this.” This seems plausible. “So, you’re counting birds?” “Yup.” With that he appears satisfied. I turn back to my business. But he hesitates, “Could you tell me your name?”

At this point something shifts.

I look back at the young man in the cruiser. He hasn’t been impolite. But now I’m dealing with a whole different animal. Can you tell me your name? I ponder this existential moment: a middle-aged guy in flame-yellow and mittens. I understand. Some older person saw me peering through spy glasses, grew nervous; called. This officer came to check. It should have ended there. His further question moved a polite inquiry to the level of personal invasion, given my lack of guile. My expression changes again, to surprise; annoyance.

I can see the charges—including conspiracy to bird. Will there someday be a national registry–birders spying on birders?? I consider the next twenty years at this spot; a country grown more suspicious, fearful. I look at the computer. I’m staring at a rolling data bank when I’ve come for horned larks.

That’s when I state, with more than disinterest, “You’re going to have to talk to a lawyer, pal.” I should have left off the pal, but my rights were being trampled. I was threatened—like that old person. Civil rights are my territory. They’re every citizen’s turf–that free space in our hearts and minds that make each of us safe. They make this country of common laws special. Each time we cede them, individually, collectively—we are less safe; less free.

And so I reply with, “This is a public way. These are binoculars,” and walk on. His lights flash as he drives off. But that computer had likely long-ago scanned my plates. He had my information—likely knew it while we talked. He didn’t offer his name.

Just like the edges of these farms–slowly disappearing before developer’s cash–our rights are eroding. They fray from disuse, ignorance, the abuse of fear by an increasingly secretive government banking on a sheep-like acquiescence of citizens. Absent an understanding of civil rights, we are no special country at all. We trumpet math and science, while the tenets of freedom, privacy, and democracy gasp for air. Perhaps why I head out on cold December days is to feel a little free. It’s why “pal” slipped into that brief interrogation. My rights are a bit raw at the moment. It’s why I chose to be simply “free citizen” that day, under blue sky.

The next morning the BBC interviewed Judith Krug, Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom for the American Library Association. Krug has fought for the right to free inquiry for decades–has stood up to keep the government from snooping library records of ordinary citizens. She’s defended books banned for stating simple truths. Her final question was “why have you kept up the fight so long?” She answered–clear as a winter day, “Because I’m not a person that the government can rule by fear.”

Holding up a candle

Posted by on 09 Dec 2007 | Tagged as: Politics

Karl Meyer                                                                                December 9, 2007

                  Holding up a candle

I am at a meeting of excited townspeople, and a certain magical realism seems to be at work.  The evening’s focus is the building of a sustainable downtown.  It’s a sharing of ideas. I’m feeling like I want to hold up a candle, but that would be a mistake.  Though it might seem otherwise, what’s mostly heard here is an affirmation of the belief there will be continuing plenty into the future.  And the crowd continues to warm to that idea of plenty.  Slowly the sentiment builds into a celebration of much-ness.  But maybe it just an awkward human jab at a universe that perhaps seems filled with dark–an indoor howl at a fluorescent moon.

I am new to this town, though I’ve known it for years.  I wanted to see what neighbors might have to say about living in harmony with a warming planet and each other.  And those neighbors showed up–close to a hundred.  Most are what are called progressives here.  In general they appear to be either business owners or nascent entrepreneurs.  Tonight’s sustainable topic is fostering vital downtowns.

The downtown here is a little ragged, but making progress.  A seemingly endless theme has been the political tug of war over when, if, and how, a big box retailer should be brought into town.  Since, overall, it’s not a particularly wealthy community, big WalMart-ideas get good traction among the less well-to-do, who are not represented here–and the better-healed chamber types and construction interests.

But the people at this meeting believe in a smaller version of things.  They want to see shops and businesses in the downtown spaces—and they want to be running them, or retailing products through them.  But something is missing.  The conversation in this town of eighteen thousand always swings back to perceived customer bases that are either tourists or people on the other side of the globe hankering to purchase distant products over the world-wide web.

Some presenters do speak briefly and well about sustainability and community.  But that message has been heard before, and no one is here to step on anyone’s toes.  Several have done their best to incorporate products and ingredients from local manufacturers and growers.  One is a local food coop/grocery store.  Another is a pub-restaurant that has reduced its footprint to just one bag of trash per night.  Another briefly mentions reestablishing a vanished infrastructure of regional dairy, meat, and manufacturing plants.  But the majority have businesses and dreams fixed on a big-box pipeline—overseas imports arriving at astonishingly cheap rates that promise their particular sustainable/local enterprise comfortable profits into the future.

This crowd, and many of its panel members, are a cheering squad for big time marketing by small players.  Though a few are about cooperatives, most pattern themselves as the enlightened individuals of the entrepreneur frontier.  A glow of dollars flashes across faces when profit is mentioned.  They want to profit from ideas.  And, in return for such things, we’d each like to believe that the earth should offer us sustenance.  And a whole lot of comfort beyond that.  But unacknowledged in the back of this thinking is an invisible pool of cheap labor, the foundation of this dream of cheap goods and money.

Of the actual people here that produce something sustainable there could be a dozen.  At least three people are from farms, and several more sell and install soft energy products.  But there are no union people here, and no one looks poor.  This is not the face of diversity.  Most here have probably had a least one restaurant meal in the past week.  Ultimately they give a college cheer when someone explains a gimmick to bring a nearby run of tourists up the hill and into town from the interstate.  Everyone smiles at the idea of money from elsewhere, marching onto Main Street.  Those consumers will surely purchase meals and jewelry and imported treasures and electronics.  Or, they can be sold financial services, insurance, web-sites, second homes, advertising, or art.

But almost nowhere is the bedrock question about the fuel behind this windfall of consumers addressed.  They will be expected to sweep in daily and then leave—as regular as the tides.  There is no mention of gasoline—sustainability; a warming planet.  Though someone mentions bicycles, no one is talking trolleys, passenger rail, or even tour busses.  There is up-front recognition that this group’s sustainable idea of itself could never be supported by a community of a mere 18,000 souls.  These market ideas require a much larger pie.  They are meant to serve armies arriving in individual vehicles—convoys from New York City, 170 miles away.  And there’s the rub.

What’s mostly missing in this view toward a sustainable and vital downtown is the idea of sustainability.  Though many of these folks don’t like taxes, neither are they prepared to admit the obvious—that we’ve taxed the planet to the point of no longer sustaining us.  We believe our ideas–and a few well-placed investments, are enough afford us a comfortable living.  We feel entitled to be comfortably fed and warmed by the planet simply for figuring out how to get money from people from afar.

Honest sustainability talk might acknowledge that systems need to change—that we need to change.  Our notions can no longer be fueled by exhaust spewing cars from afar–arriving with hungry tourists wishing to purchase products from distant lands with dollars leveraged on over-heated, carbon-fueled, production fires in Asia.  Honest talk would recognize the hum of devastating wars that fuel this idea of plenty.  That too is unsustainable.

One woman makes a point that begins to address the underlying issue in a simple thought.  She’s one of the farm-connected people.  She states that what ultimately is going to impose itself as the limiting factor–above any and all ideas here, is the carrying capacity of earth’s systems–the actual limits of the planet we each inhabit for just a few short years.  But her nugget of common sense is mostly-missed by this crowd.

And, as a newcomer, I do not hold up my candle this night.  It is best.  It’s not something I’m good at.  I’m more likely to bonk people over the head and say—what are you possibly thinking?  No one would see that clumsy light.  But I’m grateful for my friend Tom, who holds his candle light up into the face of the night’s roaring fire.  It is humble; it addresses the present.  And what he has to say perhaps reaches a few who care to see beyond its small flame.

Tom’s in his eighties, but you wouldn’t know it.  And he’s been sick for a while, but you wouldn’t know that either.  I see him stand—way up front, and be recognized as the night’s last speaker from the audience.  His message is brief.  He speaks honestly of sustainability, but perhaps what’s most important is encapsulated in his last words: “I hope as we go forward, that we’ll all take the time to take care of each other.”



Wailing on Freedom

Posted by on 24 Oct 2007 | Tagged as: Politics

Wailing on Freedom

(note: this posting was written earlier this summer–then removed, and updated. It ran as an op-ed piece locally)

I went to the driving range one morning this summer. I’m not a golfer. The first and last time I was on a real golf course was decades ago. I don’t find it to be a real sport. On this morning, however, I was compelled to pick up a stick and swat little balls. I was driven to the driving range that day by Congress, Dick Cheney, and Monsieurs Bush and Gonzales. We all hopped in a little cart and went driving together.

You see, that morning the radio was blaring how Congress had just past the Protect America Act of 2007. What it basically did was take telephone and internet surveillance powers away from the courts (via the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), and hand those powers directly over to the executive branch and a perjurious Attorney General.

This cowardly Congress gave the cookie jar to the Cookie Monster, then packed up and left for vacation.

Any number of analogies came to mind: evil flourishes when good men stand by and do nothing; or, to paraphrase the Speaker of the House, “The Constitution is off the table.” These people not only don’t have the courage of their own convictions—they don’t have the courage of anyone else’s. There is little dignity left in being a member of Congress as part of the Democratic Party. Better to resign, than to capitulate to a dictator’s bullying. Yet here they were abetting the enshrinement of an Imperial Presidency—something that will not be returned to the people by any ensuing incumbent. They were guilty of ripping freedom away from the future.

So, on a muggy, rain-threatening mid-morning, I teed up at the range. I was the only one at it. I grabbed a driver, tried to remember a serviceable stance, and addressed the ball—as Mr. Bush. Big, creaky back-swing, and WHOOSH—the ball dribbled a few feet past the tee. Fine! I’d get it on the next one. I was remembering our new stance on torture now. I ambled over to the tin basket and plucked out another little white dome. I placed it on the narrow neck and addressed it: this one’s for you Mr. Cheney. I straightened up, balanced my stance, pulled back, and… bluummp. The ball trickled lamely away for about twenty yards.

And then it came to me: I was over-thinking this—caring about them each in a personal way, when they hardly think of me at all. They were garnering a bit too much individual attention. I grabbed another ball, put it on the tee. I wiggled my hips, measured my spread, wound back, and WHAMMM!—there went the whole damned Congress, a pretty sweet line drive hooking right, but finding its way up beyond the 150 yard marker for its first bounce. Oh did that feel good. “Thus, Congress doth make cowards of us all.”

Well, it was mostly improvement from there. Sure there were slices, and unintentional chip shots. But I wailed on the Attorney General’s little pocked sphere, and Condi Rice went for a blistering 175 yards, before bounding left. I still swung so hard and passionately for the president and vice president that I got under the ball. They both tipped into the air rather unconvincingly a few times. But, there were those other times when I connected, and there went that spying, lying, cowardly executive branch—bending in searing arcs toward their inevitable halts, way out by the 200 yard marker. There is nothing like connecting with a solid drive when it comes to wailing on freedom.

So, for a few satisfying minutes I stood bashing the bashers of freedom at there own game. I was quite dripping with sweat when I was done. But it was an honest sweat, something I think these people are unfamiliar with. And though I think golf may quite rightly be called the stupidest thing parading as a sport since auto racing, there was something organic about whacking that little sphere. You always think things can’t get any worse. But just in case I’ve already reserved several spots in the demolition derbies at next year’s county fairs. And teeing-off again is definitely NOT off the table: I’m worried we’ve yet to see the full cowardice of Congress.

Show us your cookies

Posted by on 01 Aug 2007 | Tagged as: Politics

We’re being watched. I wanted to be up front about this–it’s my fault. This site collects cookies. REQUIRES cookies. The irony of this is that my computer settings have been pointedly turned away from any sites that collect cookies. Yet, once my friend Diane helped me put together this web-site and blog, I was unable to post anything in this space. It wouldn’t let me log in to blog. She couldn’t figure out why. I finally did.

I went into that little box that says “security” and checked the place where it gives permission to collect data. To collect cookies. There is only one other site listed there–one that I’ve agreed can track my computer strokes. Ironically, that’s the government. I’ve been doing breeding bird surveying for Massachusetts Audubon, and they use software from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I wanted to help out, so I compromised–“just this once.” I gave permission for the government to enter my computer. How ironic. As soon as I glimpse that last breeding kingbird of summer, I’m ripping them out of there. But who knows if the data biters will actually withdraw the troops…?

So now, in order to be a blogger, I’m comprimising both of us. How does that make you feel? Once I checked the cookies thing, I was able to log in. Now I can blog to my heart’s content–each keystroke becoming a valued addition to the collected babble of the information age. So, BEWARE ALL WHO ENTER HERE! I’m sorry we’re being watched. We now have a government that is the world’s largest collector of information. We now have an executive branch that is the most secretive in the history of this country. I know how that makes me feel: ANGRY, COMPROMISED, and more than a bit OUTRAGED. Like you I’m hoping the feelings pass with a second cup of coffee.

But this brings up questions for me. If this site is mine, and its collecting cookies, who exactly is eating them? Am I eating my own cookies? Can I offer them around? Would you like a cookie? I don’t even know where the jar is. I’m not even hungry, you? Also, and I’m not sure about this–am I eating YOUR cookies? Or is someone else eating OUR cookies? I guess what is most important to know is that THERE ARE COOKIES HERE! If you’re intelligent, or dieting, or wary of today’s inordinate appetite for secret data, I strongly advise you to take your shopping cart elsewhere. We’ve had our cup of coffee and we’ll just call it a day. Oh, but–are you going to eat these?

As to my more thoughtful and paranoid thoughts on the whole idea of data mining and freedom, I will post my first piece under “humor”–after I send this one into the “politics” category. It’s an essay that appeared in June in Hampshire Life Magazine, called “Already in the System.” You can find it in the Humor Category. The irony there is–even if you don’t find it funny, some data grinch will see that you went to the box that said “humor.”