Crows' business model; river town

Crows, which are highly intelligent, if often associated with death,  have a very effective business model as scavengers.  Indeed, being a good scavenger of things and ideas seems essential for thelong-term success of most of us.  (A successful investor is a particularly good scavenger -- an outstanding opportunist.)

Border-jumping cougars in N.E.

ThinkStock ---- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

By BILL BETTY for ecoRI News

Sue Morse is an expert in natural history and one of the top wildlife trackers in North America. A recent article about her caught my attention. She believes the northern counties in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and New York would be ideal places for migrating cougars to reoccupy. These areas have what pumas need to survive: prey, open space and cover.

Morse, the founder of Keeping Track, believes that South Dakota cougars will spread to Manitoba and then to Ontario. Their descendants will eventually reach New England.

Besides Ontario, it’s likely the origins of these recruits to New England will be from Quebec and the Maritime Provinces. Mountain lions have already been identified there. Ontario has them as well, and Morse’s Manitoba trekkers will only add to the number of free-ranging North American genotype cougars now  found in the province. Since all North American subspecies are virtually indistinguishable, this will hardly make any difference in their genetic makeup.  And we’ll still call them eastern cougars no matter what anyone says.

The Ontario Puma Foundation has estimated the number of mountain lions at 550. One has been shot, another captured and about 24 confirmations have been made. Nearly 500 pieces of evidence have been recovered. Despite this, obstructionists continue to issue denials, suggesting that all of these cougars are males — hence no natural reproduction.

Studies by Marc Gauthier and Anne-Sophie Bertrand during the past two decades have confirmed 19 mountain lions in New Brunswick and Quebec. Gauthier’s latest estimate of an existing population in Quebec is 10 to 100 pumas. Three mountain lions have been killed in Quebec, including a lactating female cougar that was hit by a truck near the New Hampshire border.

Advocates who favor restocking the Northeast by releasing Western cats into the region reject any suggestion that natural reproduction is taking place in the East because it undermines their raison d'être.

Five Nova Scotia events would be categorized as “class II” discoveries elsewhere, including the 1986 incident where the Bower family carried an unconscious cougar to the side of the road — similar incidents have happened in New England. Nova Scotia officials have classified this knockdown as “virtually certain.”

In addition, a number of provincial employees, including the head of the province’s Endangered Species Division, have reported sightings or found evidence.

In short, what we have sitting across the Canadian border is  Montana is an enormous tract four times the size of Texas where mountain lions are present in sufficient numbers to persist. If pumas can drift down here from Ontario, they can just as easily wander into northern New England from Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Many dispersers from eastern Canada will not go very far and will end up establishing home ranges nearby, but a few of these young cats will head south and trickle into New England. For a mountain lion, the Northeast is a hop, skip and a jump from New Brunswick, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Ontario, as opposed to the Black Hills, which are 1,800 miles away and a 22-month cat walk.

Morse and I hold similar views on this subject. Eastern Canadian migration is, in fact, what I have been suggesting for the past decade. She believes this dispersal of cougars to New England and New York may take as long as 30 years for a breeding population to return. Judging by the number of reports recorded and the evidence collected in the Northeast, it’s my view that this migration has been ongoing for decades. It’s possible that we already have a number of mountain lions in New England with ancestry from Quebec or nearby provinces. Others here may be from Michigan and other Midwest states.

Northern New York, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont have brutal winters, deep snow and the lowest deer population in the Northeast. If Morse believes  that these are ideal are conditions for puma, then what about Spencer, Mass., Pomfret, Conn., or Stanford, N.Y.? They all have relatively moderate weather, less snow, more deer and plenty of open space. These places also have farms, gardens and orchards. It’s where people have chosen to live, and now mountain lions are being seen there.

Maurice Hornocker, the dean of mountain lion researchers, has a simple theory that explains the urban cougar phenomenon. He believes “people attract deer” by providing food for them in the form of flowers, vegetables, fruits trees and the like, and the “deer in turn attract cougars.” Hornocker told me  that he thought cougars would “start showing up in New England.”

Much of the evidence confirming lions has been discovered near settled areas. In 2011, a cougar was road killed on the Merritt Parkway, which runs through Connecticut’s Fairfield County. A million people live there. So do 30,000 deer. Pumas have been discovered in places such as Greenwich, Conn. Cougars of the Valley, a nonprofit based in Canton, Conn., has enlisted the help of local houndsmen to locate cougars using specially trained scat dogs.

Michael Keveny at Clark University analyzed potential sites for cougar reoccupation in Massachusetts and concluded that many parts of the state had adequate habitat for pumas to survive. Some like Cape Cod and Bristol County, Mass., he considered the “best.” Sport hunting zones around Boston have kill totals that are five times higher than those from the state’s three western counties.

In New York State, it’s much of the same story. John Laundre has identified the Adirondacks as a potential site for cougar reoccupation. He believes that the area could support as many as 390 pumas. Western New York could support a lot more. Deer kills in some southern and western New York counties, for example, are more than 10 times higher than in the Adirondacks. With a million whitetails, New York is a fertile hunting ground for apex predators.

Maine’s highest deer harvest was reported in the Midcoast region, where many  of the state’s residents live. Deer kills in these five districts far exceed those from the interior. In fact, 100 northern townships had zero sport hunting kills last year. One person who presumably is watching all of this is Nathan Webb, a carnivore specialist and mountain lion expert with Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, who was recruited from Alberta, Canada.

If Burlington, Vt., and Lake Placid, N.Y., are ideal habitat for mountain lions in Morse’s opinion, then the towns and cities in New England and Atlantic Canada surely meet the definition of cougar heaven. There have been reported sightings of large cats in Rhode Island. The urban/woodland interface on the outskirts of coastal settlements have everything  that mountain lions need to survive: numerous whitetails, small mammals, song birds and waterfowl; adequate edge habitat in the form of fields and clearings; and abundant patches of woods and brush that provide excellent cover.

Ontario dispersers will show up in New England or New York at some point if they haven’t already. It’s possible some of the recruits that establish home ranges in the Northeast will be migrators from Nova Scotia, Quebec or New Brunswick. A few that pass through northern New England will probably continue on to more hospitable places such as New Milford, Conn., or Rochester, Mass. Their arrival will not go unnoticed by other members of their species.

Alan Rabinowitz, CEO of Panthera, lives in Connecticut. He believes there is a small population in the region that is maintaining itself and breeding. He doesn’t accept the explanation that every cougar wandering the edges of suburbia is a former pet that managed to escape. If he’s right, then some local mountain lions must be border jumpers that found their way to southern New England from their natal ranges in eastern Canada by following rivers or hugging the coast.

We should celebrate the arrival of mountain lions in New England. Vermont has done so by putting the face of a catamount on its license plate. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife has taken a step in the right direction by stating that “a large cat would be safeguarded under state statute — a welcome visitor, like any other indigenous animal (other than threat situations).”

Acknowledgement of mountain lions in their jurisdictions will be the next step for all of the New England wildlife agencies. I’m not optimistic  that it will happen soon. Some states have sent officers to tracking schools in Wyoming or exchanged personnel with western states to learn firsthand about pumas. Others have circled the wagons. Money and manpower are issues.

The odds of this apex predator surviving and reproducing along the coast in Maine, Connecticut and Rhode Island or in the rolling hills in southern Vermont or New Hampshire are much better than in the hinterlands of New England. Abundant resources make these locations a predator’s paradise. And you don’t have to be one of the puma illuminati to figure this out.

Bill Betty is a Richmond, R.I., resident.

Chris Powell: Renaissance of old town depends on love

Patriots don't always come in military uniforms. Sometimes they wear no uniforms at all, or just the fluorescent yellow vests of road-maintenance crews, the uniform of a platoon of patriots in Vernon, Conn.'s deteriorated Rockville section. No place could need them more. A special edition of the old Rockville Journal from July 1898 called the little city "progressive and prosperous" and described its bustling factories, magnificent public and private buildings, and civic and business leaders.

Of course, today the factories that remain from that era are either decrepit hulks or have been converted to apartments. Many of the magnificent other buildings that remain are creaky and crumbling, having not gotten the necessary maintenance after a century of wear. The same with much of the ordinary housing, many of whose occupants are impoverished, the children among them fatherless.

Parts of Rockville might not look out of place in Haiti.   Enter Ken Kaplan, owner of Rockville Construction Co. and a motorcycle fancier who has been renovating one of the old factories as a motorcycle museum, implausible as it seems.

He has assembled the Rockville Construction Volunteer Community Service Team, two dozen people and growing, who meet weekly to clean up the neighborhood under the general supervision of the mayor and police and public works departments -- removing litter, abandoned cars and discarded furniture; erasing graffiti; repainting; straightening street signs; and, maybe most important, showing that someone is home and not demoralized.

"I love Rockville," Kaplan says. "I see a lot of beauty in this community…. I see not what it is but what it's going to be…. It's a beautiful little town, and if you give it the love and attention it needs, it's going to be amazing."

This may be dismissed as mere local boosterism. But no one should dismiss it without first climbing to the observation platform of the War Memorial Tower, 72 feet above Henry Park on Fox Hill, and looking north over the old city. (In the summer the tower is open Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.) From that height, amid the spectacular landscape and remnants of a glorious past, the peeling paint doesn't show but the potential does.

Of the work already done by the volunteers, Kaplan says, "If we can accomplish what we did with 24 people, imagine what we could do with 250."

Yes -- if, if, if. ... And yet, as G.K. Chesterton argued in Orthodoxy, written a century ago, when Rockville was still "progressive and prosperous," it has happened -- and exactly as Kaplan imagines it. There were slums back then too, such as the Pimlico section of London, about which Chesterton was writing. They only inspired him as well:

“Our attitude toward life can be better expressed in terms of a kind of military loyalty than in terms of criticism and approval. My acceptance of the universe is not optimism; it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable.

“It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it.

“The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.

“All optimistic thoughts about England and all pessimistic thoughts about her are alike reasons for the English patriot. Similarly, optimism and pessimism are alike arguments for the cosmic patriot.

“Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing -- say, Pimlico. If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico; in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico; for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful.

The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; Pimlico would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved.

“For decoration is not given to hide horrible things but to decorate things already adorable.

“A mother does not give her child a blue bow because he is so ugly without it. A lover does not give a girl a necklace to hide her neck.

“If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence.

“Some readers will say that this is a mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great.

“Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well.

“People first paid honor to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.’’

The Rockville patriots meet Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at the former Hockanum Mill, now the New England Motorcycle Museum, at 200 W. Main St. After each patrol there's pizza, and a better neighborhood.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.

Chris Powell: Sex slavery, Democrats, government as a business


"La Grande Odalisque''  (1814) by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres


Sensing a winning issue, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy used his last debate with his Republican rival Tom Foley to lecture Foley about the name of his yacht, Odalisque, a name derived from the Turkish word for concubine, though it has evolved to include portraiture of the naked female form.

"You have a daughter," Malloy harrumphed at Foley. "Do you really think it's appropriate to have a boat named after a sex slave?"

Foley, a very rich businessman, insisted that his aim in naming the yacht had been to evoke art, not lust, and he cited the works of the French painters Matisse and Ingres. At last the campaign had come upon a subject about which Foley knew something -- just not one involving public policy or likely to make him seem like a man of the people.

But if Foley had known less about art and more about Connecticut he might have turned the tables on the governor, whom of course, won the election. For in one respect sex slavery is actually state government policy, fervently supported by the Democratic Party's most fearsome ideologues.

It happens when abortions result from the sex slavery of minors.

This rationalization of sex slavery was first noticed in 2007 when a West Hartford man was charged with harboring and using as a sex slave a 15-year-old girl who had run away from her home in Bloomfield. Having impregnated the girl, the man sent her to an abortion clinic, where the pregnancy was terminated with no serious questions about the girl's circumstances or about her parents or guardian, with the girl returning to her sex slavemaster. Those who remarked that the case argued for legislation to require parental notification for abortions on minors were denounced as Neanderthals.

A similar case became public in Coventry, Conn., last year with the arrest of the fire chief, who was having frequent sex with a cadet member of the department when she was 15 and impregnated her when she was 16. As a matter of law it was all rape, even at 16, since the girl, as a cadet, was under the chief's authority. The chief also arranged for the girl's abortion without anyone being the wiser. In this case Connecticut's lack of a parental -notification law concealed not only the sustained sexual exploitation of a minor but also an abuse of official power that itself had been specifically criminalized. But this time the horrible circumstances were taken for granted.

For in Connecticut a boat that might have been named after a sex slave is purported to be a political scandal, an affront to the dignity of women generally and children particularly, but sex slavery for children is considered preferable to requiring an inquiry into the rape of minors when abortions are to be performed on them.

* * *

The rhetoric of the recent election campaign in Connecticut was full of the cliche that government should be run more like a business. But that's exactly the problem -- that government in Connecticut already operates like a business, primarily to make money for itself in a monopoly environment rather than to uphold a social obligation and perform a public service.

Student test scores and the explosion in the need for remedial courses show that education has been declining even as its cost is always rising.

A half-century of poverty policy hasn't elevated the poor to self-sufficiency but instead has created and sustained a vicious cycle of dependence and degradation in which nearly half the state's children now grow up without fathers.

Criminal-justice policy serves mainly to give a third of the state's young black and Hispanic men criminal records that leave them unskilled and largely unemployable for most of their lives.

But education, poverty, and criminal justice are the major employment agencies of government, providing livelihoods with great salaries, benefits and pensions to tens of thousands of people regardless of the results of their businesses, results that are never audited but are infinitely more damaging than anything from which the infamous Koch Brothers make their money.


Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, based in Manchester, Conn.

Some real and movie time with Pete Seeger

In the late spring of 1970, a group of about a dozen of us (I was along for the ride with a girlfriend of the time) spent a few hours with the mellow-voiced Peter Seeger at his 17-acre  rustic homestead, in Beacon, N.Y., on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River. It had been a lush,  warm spring, famous for anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. We had a cookout, at which Seeger was an affable host. He, of course, sang and played the five-string banjo, and a few others joined in making music.

Way down below on the river was a sloop that he owned that he was using in the early stages of leading a campaign to  stop the likes of General Electric and other organizations from dumping toxins (some carcinogenic) into the river (which  that day, despite its poisons, looked like 18th Century painting of the Rhine. Gorgeous!). It seems astonishing now to think of what we dumped into our public water, both as individuals and as institutions.

I generally disliked folk songs back then -- the lyrics seemed too sentimental and sometimes far too preachy and the tunes  repetitive and clunky. I find them easier to take these days because I hear them as part of the broad flow of history. Or maybe I'm just getting hard of hearing....

Meanwhile, take a look at this segment of the very funny and sad movie The American Ruling Class. In it, Pete Seeger is walking, banjoing and singing down a road in what seems to be a very pastoral part of Greenwich, Conn., a capital of the sometimes rapacious capitalism that the old leftie hated. I think it's pretty funny, as is much of the movie, directed by John Kirby, produced by Libby Handros and with writer/editor Lewis Lapham as the master of ceremonies. He takes us to a lot of other celebrities commenting on American society in the years before the Great Crash of 2008.

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