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My friend from high school, Michael Peter Smith, wrote a song called “There’s a Panther in Michigan,” inspired by an actual incident, but it turns out the panther isn’t half the problem. The Detroit Free Press reports today that there have been several accounts in the metropolitan Detroit area of dogs being killed and coyotes fingered as the suspects.

Detroit. Coyotes. I grew up associating coyotes with Tex Ritter, the prairie, and tumbleweed, but it turns out the wolf relatives are an adaptable lot, easily moving into new habitats. They are now known from Panama to Alaska and most of Canada. That’s why they are not an endangered species—good on them—but it’s also why they are now a problem in my New Jersey neighborhood. A woman who lives about a mile from our condo reported last week that coyote were systematically exterminating her sheep.

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© Warner Brothers

We’re accustomed to deer and squirrels and foxes and rabbits. There is even a herd of bison about four miles down the road—though, I’m glad to say, they are penned in. But the coyote is a relatively new  blush on life in these parts.

The article in the Free Press cited a research report in ZooKeys magazine that reported that since 1900 coyotes have been expanding their territory across North America (by around 40 percent since the 1950s) while other species have been in decline. And they’re not afraid of traffic. The Free Press writes that the largest urban study of coyote is going on in the Chicago area where more than 1,000 of the buggers have been tagged,

Although there has never been a report in Michigan of a coyote attacking a human being, it has happened elsewhere, sometimes with fatal consequences. Despite the aggressive personality of the Warner Brothers character, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Wildlife Resources said coyotes are “docile” and “retiring” by nature, a notion that you might not want to test. Keep your dog on leash, and don’t carry no hamburger in your pocket neither.

You can hear Michael sing “There’s a Panther in Michigan” by clicking HERE.










Johnny Mercer was going for a rhyme. Little did he know that that lyric, which he wrote around 1952, would presage an environmental phenomenon to occur six decades in the future: the vanishing firefly.

We became aware of this on a recent night when we were sitting on our backyard deck after dark, admiring the moon—a natural wonder that has suffered relatively little, so far, from human activity. There is a swath of lawn maybe thirty feet wide between the deck and a thick patch of woods; when we first moved here about 14 years ago, fireflies would flit around in that space on summer nights. As I sat there the other night, I remarked that I hadn’t seen a single firefly this summer. A little research on the iPhone turned up the fact that the firefly population all over the world has been sharply diminished. Those with knowledge of the subject speculate that the factors in this melancholy situation are overdevelopment, which destroys the firefly’s habitat and natural prey; artificial light, which interferes with the mating rituals of fireflies—that’s what those little flashes are all about; and pesticides.

There are some places in the world in which fireflies are so numerous—or have been until now—that they constitute a tourist attraction. I also read about one river in Asia on which they are considered an aid to navigation as their thousands of winking lights along the shore outline the course of the water on dark nights. And, of course, fireflies have been among the charms in the lives of uncounted children.

The firefly was an inspiration to the prominent German composer Paul Lincke, who included a song called “Das Glühwürmchen”—”The Glow Worm”—in his 1902 operetta “Lysistrata.” A lyricist named Lilla Cayley Robinson translated that song into English, and it was used in the 1907 Broadway musical “The Girl Behind the Counter.” But its permanent place in the popular songbook wasn’t sealed until Mercer got a hold of it and put his own spin on it for the Mills Brothers, who recorded it in 1952 as “Glow, Little Glow Worm.” It was the number-one song in the country for three weeks that year, and it was on the charts for twenty-one weeks.

Whoever thought that song might be all we’d have left.

You can see and hear the Mills Brothers sing this song on the “Nat King Cole Show” by clicking The Mills Brothers sing “Glow Worm” .



When I was a kid, one of my jobs at home was to take all the trash from the grocery store, haul it out back, and burn it in an incinerator. Everything went into that trash barrel, including aerosol cans that exploded with a blast that could be heard for blocks. Air pollution? In the 1950s that meant static on WMCA.

I once interviewed a Catholic priest who was running for a seat in the state Legislature. He told me that when he was a teenager he got a summer job with a chemical company in North Jersey, and one of his chores was to ride on a truck that went into the Meadowlands where he and the driver would empty drums of water that had been contaminated with mercury. If I have my science right, the mercury is still there.

And that was just the future priest and the future deacon. By what factor should we multiply that to calculate the damage that we all have done out of ignorance — to say nothing of what was done deliberately.



The BBC reported today that the earth is not growing warmer, rumors to the contrary notwithstanding. In fact, according to the Brits, global temperatures have not increased in 11 years. The Pacific Ocean, apparently a bellwether where this subject is concerned, has been cooling off for the past few years after running a fever in the 1980s and 1990s.

I’m surprised the “junk science” crowd isn’t all over this. What an opportunity to derail the Obama administration’s plan to make up for eight lost years in American participation in international environmental agreements. But not so fast. Global temperatures are a red herring anyway. Fluctuations are a result of a bewildering complex of factors, some of them just as influential as human activity. But we know what kind of liberties we have taken with the environment, and two kids dumping mercury in the marshlands and launching sulfates into the atmosphere are just the poster boys. Let’s put the thermometers away and act responsibly once and for all.

The BBC report is at the following link:

ice-cream-15It was an everyday experience in the newsrooms I once worked in to receive mail addressed to folks who no longer worked there — who, in some cases, had not worked there in decades and who, in other cases, were already partakers in glory. This phenomenon, which I presume occurs in other kinds of business offices, was a function of both the turnover in our shop and the failure of other organizations to update their mailing lists.

The oddest incident of the kind occurred in the 1960s when our newsroom was in Perth Amboy. A package arrived from a food company, addressed to an editor who had left the newspaper before I arrived. The package, sent by a marketing flak at the company, contained a half gallon of blueberry ice cream packed in dry ice. There was a note in which the flak apologized to the editor because it had taken so long “to get around to this” — which raised issues both about the ethics of the editor and the efficiency of the flak. Both issues seemed moot, so we gave the ice cream to the newsroom librarian, who was about to leave for home and was expecting company.

ice_cream_cone_from_stewartsKeeping the product cold is, of course, an expensive burden on the ice cream industry but one that, until now, seemed unavoidable. According to The Times of London, however, at least one company isn’t willing to accept what appears to be obvious. Unilever, owner of the Ben & Jerry brand among others, is trying to develop an ice cream that will be sold at room temperature. The consumer will take the stuff home and freeze it. This ostensibly is Unilever’s attempt to be more environmentally responsible — a goal it has already addressed by improving the energy efficiency of its plants and by upgrading the refrigeration units it supplies to its retailers. Manufacturing and delivering a frozen product results in significant carbon emissions, the company says, and those emissions would be significantly reduced if the ice cream were, well, not really ice cream until it reaches the customer’s kitchen.

imagesThe first question this idea is likely to raise in the mind of a consumer is, “Is this stuff still going to be ice cream?” I’m not sure a statement by a Unilever spokesman is reassuring: “The key question which has yet to be fully answered is: how do you ensure that, when the ambient ice cream is frozen at home it will have the right microstructure to produce a fantastic consumer experience?” Ambient ice cream? Microstructure? Hand me my pitchfork, Gert, there’s gonna be a fight.

The Times story is at this link:

lambsIt turns out that the crisis in the global environment may relieve me of a cultural disgrace – the fact that I don’t like lamb. I’m half Lebanese by heritage, for heaven’s sake, and I can’t stand the smell, never mind the taste of lamb. It wasn’t always so; I ate lamb when I was a kid, but somewhere along the line I lost my taste for it. That’s putting mildly.

But now the Britain’s Committee on Climate Change is recommending that folks stop eating so-called “high-carbon food,” and lamb is on the list. The reason lamb is in the crosshairs – this is serious, now, folks – is that sheep burp too much. From The Times of London:

A government-sponsored study into greenhouse gases found that producing 2.2lb of lamb released the equivalent of 37lb of carbon dioxide.

The problem is because sheep burp so much methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Cows are only slightly better behaved. The production of 2.2lb of beef releases methane equivalent to 35lb of CO2 Tomatoes, most of which are grown in heated glasshouses, are the most “carbon-intensive” vegetable, each 2.2lb generating more than 20lb of CO2 Potatoes, in contrast, release only about 1lb of CO2 for each 2.2lb of food. The figures are similar for most other native fruit and vegetables. 

And don’t look now, quaffers, but that brew is on the government’s chopping block, too. The Times:

Alcoholic drinks are another significant contributory factor, with the growing and processing of crops such as hops and malt into beer and whisky helping to generate 1.5% of the nation’s greenhouse gases. 

Well, at least now, when I go to a Middle Eastern restaurant, I can decline the lamb – and the heritage of countless generations of my ancestors – on the grounds that I’m “green.”

More trouble

April 24, 2009 image image

The Associated Press is reporting on an unanticipated effect of the “housing crisis.” Mosquitoes. According to the AP, the pests are breeding like crazy in swimming pools that have been left unattended in the back yards of houses that are in foreclosure. In Phoenix, for instance, the number of unattended pools increased from around 6,000 in 2007 to 9,100 last year. If the trend continues, the number could exceed 14,000 this year. One approach to this problem is to seed the pools with “mosquito fish,” a guppy-like minnow that can thrive and reproduce in a pool while devouring the eggs and larvae of the mosquitoes.

I don’t have any sympathy for the mosquitoes. I have an allergic reaction to their stings and really can’t tolerate them. Some wags like to imply that these insects are peculiar to New Jersey, but the worst mosquito conditions I ever encountered were on Key Largo and in northern Alberta. In Alberta, we didn’t have to wait ’til sundown to be assaulted; the little buggers were active all day. We were up there in mid-summer, and we had to walk around all day with our shirts buttoned up to the neck and the sleeves pulled down over our hands. Still, mosquitoes were among the factors that drove us out of our house in Fairfield in northern New Jersey where we lived between two swamps known as the Big Piece and the Little Piece – names I’d rather not explore any further in a public forum.

space_junk_02121The Wall Street Journal reported today on the growing concern about man-made debris – the flotsam and jetsam of space missions launched over the past four decades. The junk orbiting the earth is both a danger to those of us on the surface of the planet who could be in the way when some scrap makes it through the atmosphere and a hazard to navigation up there. This is a case of the future imitating the past, isn’t it? What did the corporate “we” think was going to happen if every vehicle launched into space left its share of detritus? Probably the same thing we thought about all the batteries and vacuum tubes and flip tops mouldering away – or, more to the point, not mouldering away – in our landfills; the same thing we thought about all the chemical waste and scraps of mylar swirling around in the feeding grounds of dolphins. What’s that you say, Mr. Seeger? Oh, yes: “When will they ever learn?”