Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Out with the Aughts

I'll toast the end of 2009 tomorrow night, and I'm quite ready to do so. This has been a challenging year, and as I type that, I realize it's a matter of perspective. When I look at what others face, I quickly realize that, well... “I ain't got it so bad.”

Besides the end of year, it's also the end of the decade. Has it actually been ten years since we held our collective breath while the clock struck midnight on December 31, 1999 and waited for the entire information platform to collapse? While the world was watching it happen to the nanosecond, I was fortunate enough to be standing next to Old Faithful waiting to welcome in the new year, decade, century and millennium within fifteen minutes of midnight, give or take, with the eruption of the world's most famous geyser. Time really is relative.

To my great fortune, I had good health through the decade and no tragedies... other than the national one we shared on September 11, 2001. Ironically, a plane-related attempted terrorist attack is ushering out the aughts. Thankfully, the operative word in this case is “attempted.”

The war on terror as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan marked the decade. Political divisiveness seems to have become as bad as I've seen it in my life. I pray the “teens” see an end to both. Steroids invaded baseball; there continued to be no Triple Crown winner; and the Miami Dolphins perfect season record still stands. Mark Spitz's long-time record for most gold medals in a single Olympic Games finally fell. Ken Jennings set a record for consecutive wins on Jeopardy that may never be equaled.

The global warming debate raged on, and in the waning hours of the aughts, there's question as to the accuracy of the data. I don't debate the existence of climate change; however, I think we need more information regarding its cause. Whether or not human activity impacts climate change, we've done a poor job as stewards for the environment and the planet. Hopefully the “teens” see an improvement on that front as well.

Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast as well as parts of Florida before it arrived in New Orleans. The 2005 hurricane season was one for the record books. Storms were named with Greek letters by the end of the season. To my personal disappointment, Hurricane Wilma devastated the Dolphin Research Center. To my deepest admiration, they fully recovered.

We bid good-bye to countless famous and infamous folks throughout the aughts. My extended family endured a loss, and with it, there is a bit less laughter and the Nittany Lions lost a staunch fan. Sadly, I bid personal farewell to my beloved Siamese cat, Nike... often referred to as “the little brown beast from hell.” Despite my sorrow, I know I was lucky to share my life with such a pet for nearly twenty years.

And to my deepest dismay, I saw the demise of my long-time company toward the end of the decade. Not only was I faced with a career crisis, I watched a great team of colleagues be dismantled. The result forced me and many friends into joblessness. Some have recovered; some are still searching. I'm on a new path now, but full success is yet to be realized. And the person most important in my life also unexpectedly ended up in the unemployment line. Happily, he's bounced back and is on a new and challenging career path.

With that said, I realize that, for me, the single greatest event of the decade occurred just after my return from watching Old Faithful blow in the aughts and new millennium. I crossed paths with the person who's become most important in my life, and we've shared a great decade. That's the ray of sunshine I'll keep in my heart while toasting away 2009… and the aughts.

Bring on the teens…!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dolphin Dialogs and Whale Wonderings

One of the age-old questions is whether or not the end justifies the means. Are there points at which we accept questionable means in order to reach lofty ends?

I recently heard Paul Watson speak. Watson is the controversial star of Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars,” co-founder of Greenpeace, and founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. TIME Magazine selected him as one of the Environmental Heroes of the 20th Century. Neither Watson nor any member of his crew has injured a single person or been convicted of a felony in their activist attempts to put an end to whaling and seal hunts. He contends, “I uphold international conservation law; I don’t break laws, unless I have to.”

That’s one approach, and the only one Watson would have you believe is effective. About the time Watson founded Sea Shepherd in 1977, another man, Jean Paul Fortom-Gouin, purchased a facility in the Florida Keys and re-named it The Institute for Delphinid Research (now The Dolphin Research Center). His goal was to convince the world to stop whaling by proving cetacean intelligence in the smaller cousins, bottlenose dolphins. He achieved his mission with science rather than force when the International Whaling Commission adopted a voluntary moratorium on whaling in 1983. Japan, Norway and Iceland are the holdouts and have not abided by the moratorium. Those are the countries in Watson’s literal crosshairs.

He’s as entitled to his opinion and actions as I am to mine; however, in listening to him speak, I found his antagonistic nature and approach to detrimentally overshadow his message. And his message consisted of countless statistics rattled off without taking a breath… or more importantly, without substantiating them. In a packed auditorium, predominantly populated by college students, sadly, I think an important message was lost. Any questions posed that took issue with his means were answered with a confrontational attitude and more unsubstantiated claims.

Watson claims his objective is to make sure whalers (specifically the Japanese fleets at this point) don’t make any money. Now that’s an approach with which I agree. And I agreed with that same approach to end the slaughter of dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific by tuna fleets. That effort succeeded and was driven by consumer boycotts rather than ramming tuna boats. When the market dried up, fishing techniques were altered, and as importantly, a compromise was reached that enabled fishermen to maintain their livelihoods without dolphin deaths.

Fishermen are the ultimate bad guys according to Watson. I certainly agree that we’ve globally overfished, and Watson and I agree that an expanding population is a root cause for many, if not all, environmental problems. Reality is: there are a lot of people, and people need to eat. His claim: “You can’t be an environmentalist without being a vegan.” Well, I’m an environmentalist… and I’m an omnivore. Watson claims that beef production causes greenhouse gas and that 35% of the fish take goes toward feeding pigs and chicken. I haven’t researched those claims and won’t disagree with them out of hand; however, the question becomes: Where do we get all the land we’ll need to support the agricultural demands if we all opt for veganism? And if that’s the route we should take, then maybe global warming is a good thing. We’ll have more arable land.

As with every environmental issue, there are shades of gray, and compromise is sometimes the answer for long-lasting solutions. No doubt an opinion with which Watson heartily disagrees. His end is admirable; it’s his means I’m not so sure about. So does one justify the other? That’s the age-old question… and one we’ll debate forever.