Wisdom for Our Generation, with Illustrations

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                  Without honesty, reality withers and dies. -- Henry F. Senn

Macaws that are Blue


Pile of Key Words

Blue Macaws, Bush, Columbine, Cheney, Conservatives, The Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi), Gay Marriage, Glaucous Macaw, Haida Indian, Homosexual, Hyacinth Macaw, Intelligent Design, Lears Macaw, Macaws, Marriage, Newton’s Parakeet,  Ray Bradbury, Reality,  Spix's Macaw, Tony Juniper, Truth


A book report on "Spix's Macaw" by Tony Juniper


If you are one of the few who actually care, I do not recommend this book. It is too hard to be reminded of the pending extinction of the wondrous and fascinating, creatures that God has mistakenly placed in our care. Those species that are the most visible to our eyes and the most delightful in character will be the ones that vanish first, if they have not done so already.


Spix's Macaw is one of the four large, blue macaws that once inhabited the South American continent. In chapter 4 of his book, Tony Juniper outlines the fate or current state of the four blue macaws as best it is known. Of the four, only the Hyacinth and Lear’s Macaws still exist in the wild in very precarious situations. The Glaucous Macaw became extinct at the end of the 19th century with barely anyone noticing. Tony includes a charming narrative recorded in 1767 by Sanchez Labrador, a Jesuit missionary, about the interaction of an individual bird of this species with the missionaries. It is a sad reality that such interactions can never be experienced again.


The Spix's Macaw became extinct in the wild in the year 2000 when the last wild bird vanished permanently from the watchful eyes of observers. This very social, but unfortunate bird lived in the wild, alone for 13 years, escaping collectors, predators, and accidents in a valiant story of survival. As I read his story, I could not help imagining what it would be like to be the last person on earth for 13 years. I could be accused here of being anthropomorphic but I do not think this is the case. The complex social behavior of animals like parrots are well documented and it must mean something to them when that social life is missing. Because so little was known about the environmental requirements of wild Spix’s Macaws, the researchers observing this lone bird elected not to remove him from the wild. They had also hoped that this bird might play a role in a reintroduction program by passing his survival skills on to released, captively bred birds. Alas, the program was never fully realized


A good part of this book is a chronicle of the failed captive breeding program, and hoped for restoration of the Spix’s Macaw to the wild. This program required the worldwide cooperation of public agencies and private bird collectors representing divergent cultures and divergent reasons for having the birds. Most of the remaining captive birds were in the hands of collectors who had in all likelihood obtained them illegally, and were not easily comfortable with the idea of their birds’ histories coming under scrutiny, or placing their birds under the control of others for purposes of breeding. After much negotiation and many setbacks, an agreement was reached and the program began, but in the end, the various parties could not cooperate and the agreement and program fell apart. Today, Spix’s Macaws exist only in captivity, scattered around the world, sometimes in public zoos, but more often in private collections. The number of individuals that still exist is not known precisely but is probably far less than a hundred.


The blue macaws like most species are mainly being killed off by the human destruction of habitat, but in the end, it is illegal collecting for a market that might pay as high as $60,000 for a single Spix’s Macaw that is delivering the coup de grăce. In the final chapter, Tony Juniper does offer some hope for restoring the Spix’s Macaw to the wild based on a few other successful reintroduction programs, Przewalski’s Horse for example, that had to begin with only few individual animals and an extremely limited gene pool. The biggest challenge, though, may well be securing, restoring, and protecting a region of habitat that is appropriate and sufficiently large to support a viable population of the Macaw. One should realize that this book is not just about blue macaws. It is a book that could be written about any number of individual species whose mere existence on this planet and in this universe is truly wondrous, but whose survival is simply not a significant factor in humanity’s relentless pursuit of resources.


In Chapter 6 Tony mentions an extinct parrot that he describes as the “…the only other wholly blue parrot known to humankind.” This bird, along with the extinct Dodo formerly inhabited the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar. Today, a single male specimen and a single female specimen, collected in the 1870s and stored at Cambridge University’s Zoological Museum, constitute as Tony puts it, “the total earthly remains of a gorgeous bird we now know as Newton’s Parakeet.” It is unlikely that I will ever visit the Mascarene Islands in the short time remaining to me on this planet, but still, it saddens me to know that people who do visit will not see this blue bird flashing through the trees. Tony then, almost offhandedly, reminds us of a hard reality, and that is, “… that the rash of extinctions seen in island life forms is set to overtake the continents too.” The islands were easy pickings for the early explorers then exploiters, but for a long time the vast, inaccessible interiors of the continents resisted human encroachment. No longer, modern machinery and conveyances permit easy access anywhere, and it is only a matter of time.


I must admit I am a pessimist in these matters. I do not see how the tide of humanity can be turned back from the eventual destruction of all natural places and their flora and fauna. Sure, naturalists, environmentalists, and a few others who care will win some battles, a new park set aside, a species restored, but I do not see how they can ultimately win the war. There is just too much thoughtless greed, and too many poor people who are only trying to feed themselves. Out of necessity, human enterprise may someday take actions to limit its growth, but I am afraid that decision will be far too late for the natural world. At that time, all lands will be devoted to food, materials, and energy production.

 -- Henry F. Senn, May 2004

The figure included is Figure 5 from the book “Spix’s Macaw” Illustration by David Johnston, from Parrots by Tony Juniper and Mike Parr, Pica and Yale University Press,1998. My apologies for the digital capture and editing of this picture but I needed to make a point.


See http://tonyjuniper.com/home


"We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors,
    we borrow it from our children."

--Haida Indian Saying

from Wilderness Quotes




George Bush Meets With The 9/11 Commission


George brings VP Cheney?
Translation: I am clueless as to what is going on. Only
Cheney knows what is going on.


Testimony is not under oath?

Translation: I may have to lie.


No recordings can be taken?

Translation: I do not want to be held to my word.

While the Bible inspires many questions and mysteries, An encyclopedia offers up even more

-- Henry F. Senn


Who Designed the Intelligent Designer?


Intelligent design is the premise that organic life, including humans, is so complex that it could not have possibly been a product of natural processes, and therefore, there must have been an intelligent designer (a.k.a. God or possibly aliens). But there is a big problem with this notion. It dodges the question of the origin of complexity all together by pushing its explanation into the realm of the supernatural and out of reach of inquisitive scientists.


Intelligent design invokes an entity whose abilities and intelligence must emanate from a level of complexity that is much greater than that of our own. Yet, there is no further curiosity or inquiry as to where this greater complexity might have come from. One ultimately must ask if the proposed intelligent designer had its own intelligent designer and so forth, ad infinitum. A true believer might attempt to end this discussion by saying something like, “ We do not have to question God’s origin. God just is.” But if you are willing to say this about an assumed creator, you can just as easily say this about us human beings, with a great deal more evidence to back up your claim.

-- Henry F. Senn, October 2005

Marriage Is Just A Word

How mean; how petty; how barbaric, an amendment to the U.S. constitution is proposed that specifically denies a privilege to a small group of people.

In our supposedly secular society there are two parts to marriage that are distinct in their purpose. The first part, perhaps the most important to couples, is a blessing performed within the context of their religious beliefs and practices. This is where the female wears a low-cut, white gown and rings are exchanged, etc. It does not imply any state (By state I mean our system of government from federal to local levels) enforced legal ties per se, only a blessing from the couple's faith of choice. It is the couple's responsibility to live within the tenets of their faith. This is the spiritual part of the marriage.

The second part of a marriage is a legal contract that makes two people from different families into a new family in the eyes of the state (a civil union). This contract gives each member of the union a level of access to the other member's wealth. The primary purpose of this is to provide one spouse or the other economic protection in the event one spouse dies, becomes incompetent, or leaves. This is the utilitarian part of a marriage.

There should be no controversy over giving a committed gay couple the same rights a heterosexual marriage would enjoy in the eyes of the state. Not to do this is merely a social punishment for a relationship that is not everyone's cup of tea. Beyond this, the community as a whole will be better off if gay couples are able to fully provide for one another under the law. If a gay couple is committed enough to seek a marriage license, the die of their lives has been cast and no amount of moralizing will change that. As far as any particular church or whole religion is concerned, it can choose to bless or not to bless a gay marriage. A debate such as this should only be argued within the confines of the particular church or religion, and our secular state should have no say in this. A church on the other hand has no right to interfere with any legal ties the state may wish to infer on a gay couple. Of course, the right thing for any church to do is bless the gay union and help them to love and protect those that matter to them, and to feel welcome as people in their community and in God's house. In the end, only God can ultimately judge the right and wrong, and value of their lives.

Homosexuality is not normal but it is probably natural. Abnormal is a better characterization of their life style than unnatural, which is equivalent to artificial as in an artificial Christmas tree. This is not rocket science. If any normal, heterosexual person examines their own life closely, I am sure that they would find their attraction to the opposite sex was pretty much of an automatic process, and that the alternative of homosexuality was not a particular attraction. In my own experience, my parents did not say a thing to me about the birds and the bees; still as I matured, it was obvious to me where my sexual interests should be directed. So, why does a small percentage of people become gay? I do not know for sure, and a cursory examination of web sites on the subject does not offer any definitive answer. See for example the web site at http://www.newdirection.ca/commonq.htm#whygay. I do know (I think it is obvious.) that homosexuality could not be a simple decision that someone makes impulsively as if they were choosing the color of a new car, nor is it something they can easily end if only they would only come to their senses. Being gay in a society that is largely hostile to this condition could not be easy. Same sexes cannot couple in a proper fashion, nor can they produce the next generation. So why would someone choose this path? Anyone who has put any thought into this issue has to be open to the possibility that homosexuality is a result of some kind of physiological or psychological abnormality, and not the result of a purposeful choice of wrong over right.

If this is the case, and I think it is the only plausible conclusion, why do conservatives, particularly theological conservatives, protest gay marriage so vehemently? To begin with, they would not come the above logical conclusion because it is much easier for them to sit back and judge, and condemn, rather than to reason why and be sympathetic to another's plight. They badly want homosexuality to be a surrender to temptation, a clear sin, and not an accident of nature. This allows them to bath in their own self-righteousness and with a clear conscience, push these people out of their hearts. To bolster their views, they or their moral guides sift the through the dust in the darkest corners of the of the old testament for the proper condemnations and punishments. Sadly, they fail to notice that the new testament is mostly about salvation and forgiveness, and not condemnation.

If one closely examines conservative objections and the fears behind them, they do not amount to much? As an example, I went to a Web site sponsored by the Concerned Women for America at http://www.cultureandfamily.org/cfi/ and then clicked on "Talking Points on Marriage." After sweeping all the extraneous words away, I came up with this little set of fears.

1. Giving "gay" relationships marital status will destroy marriage

2. The term "marriage" will become meaningless

3. More young people will be encouraged to experiment with homosexuality

4. More young people be discouraged from overcoming unnatural homosexual desires

5. Children in schools will be taught that this (gay marriage) is the moral equivalent of true (heterosexual) marriage

6. Businesses and traditional groups (e.g., The Boy Scouts) will come under even harsher attacks over their moral stance.

7. Other groups, such as bisexuals and bigamists, will demand the right to redefine marriage to suit their own proclivities predisposition.

Petty little fears like these probably arise because the question of homosexuality intrudes on people's deepest source of anxiety and that is their own sexuality. No one has explained to me exactly how the above suggested process of marriage destruction will occur. If the gay couple down the street were to get married, will my wife and I look at each other, shrug our shoulders, and declare our marriage meaningless? This is a problem with guilt by association. Conservatives so badly want homosexuality to be heinous sin, they do not want to be associated with it even through word definition. I find the phrase, "overcoming unnatural homosexual desires" particularly curious. Where does this come from? It almost suggests that homosexuality is a bigger attraction for young people than heterosexuality, or that they would not know one from the other. I would like to see someone demonstrate this. Perhaps the chroniclers of these concerns have a few doubts about their own sexuality.

Fears five and six are based on the presumption that homosexuality is immoral behavior. Naturally, you would not want your children taught that gay marriage is the moral equivalent of heterosexual marriage if you already decided it is not. Organizations like the Boy Scouts that choose to exclude a segment of the public on a basis of their management's own version of morality deserve to be set upon by a population that is more understanding. Other special groups may well want equivalent rights but so what? Bisexuality is a term often applied to people who are attracted to both sexes but more accurately applies to those who are born with both sets of sexual organs and is certainly not a life style choice. If a bisexual finds a mate who can overlook this deformity, should he or she be prevented from marriage? The word bigamist is usually applied to someone who marries more than one spouse without the either spouse's knowledge. I doubt a bigamists would come forth to rewrite the definition of marriage, but I believe this statement is really talking about polygamists. Polygamy, however, has been a part of many historic cultures and for some people a normal state of affairs. I, personally, would not have a problem with a polygamous marriage, if all parties are adults, understand the arrangement, and are free to divorce from the arrangement.

If social advances had been left entirely up to theological conservatives, we would still be running around on the African savannas eating raw carrion and throwing sticks at each other. Fortunately, for the most part, the history of culture and religion has been one of social growth and an increased understanding and sympathy for the trials and tribulations of our fellow human beings. The social predicaments that we, or our neighbors, might find ourselves in are usually not the result of clearheaded decisions between some absolute right or wrong. We cannot absolutely control who our advisors are, what our level of economic status is, the internal chemistry we are born with, and what other events fate has thrust upon us. The marriage of a gay couple that lives down the street cannot destroy a heterosexual marriage. Any kind of marriage can only be destroyed by the couple's own behavior and lack of commitment. If the partners in a marriage become at odds, no amount of church or state will save it. Instead of immersing ourselves in ignorance and unsubstantiated fears about a changing world and unconventional life styles, we should look closely at the images of gay couples that have jumped at any small chance to have their relationship recognized by state or church. We should acknowledge the joy that is plainly on their faces. This is not about destroying society as we know it. It is about people sharing their lives and being productive and full members of a community.


Blue Winged Teal (Anas discors)


The Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi)

To catalyze, support, and disseminate research on questions at the foundations of physics and cosmology, particularly new frontiers and innovative ideas integral to a deep understanding of reality but unlikely to be supported by conventional funding sources.


"Early on the morning of the first day of the first week of the second month of the new year, the Emperor Yuan was sipping tea and fanning himself against a warm breeze when a servant ran across the scarlet and blue tiles, calling, "Oh Emperor, Emperor, a miracle!"

"Yes," said the Emperor, "the air is sweet this morning."

"No, no, a miracle!" said the servant, bowing quickly.

"And this tea is good in my mouth, surely that is a miracle."

"No, no Your Excellency."

"Let me Guess then---the sun has risen and a new day is upon us. Or the sea is blue. That now is the finest of all miracles.""

From the "The Flying Machine" a short Story  from the collection "The Golden Apples of the Sun" by Ray Bradbury