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John Roosevelt Boettiger
Mill Valley, CA, Seattle, WA, Phoenix, AZ, Los Angeles, CA, Amherst, MA, Hyde Park, NY, New York City (Manhattan), Dedham, MA, Vikersund, Norway, Paris, France, Sebastopol, CA, Berkeley, CA
Author, writer, editor, psychologist, father, grandfather, great-grandfather
Interests: Writing, reading, conversation, hiking, walking, bicycling, asking and responding to intriguing questions, metta, silence, prayer, meditation, justice (social, economic, judicial, political, familial, personal), the wily craft of coyote politics, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, family trees, redwood trees and live oaks, marsh land, hillsides, mountains, geese in flight, birds of a feather
Recent Activity
STUCK Our politics is in a rut, and it will take new energy to climb out. Bill McKibben May 27, 2022 In the mountains of the northeast, where I’ve spent my life, we have a season in between winter and spring—mud season, it’s called, when snowmelt and rain can turn the region’s dirt roads into quags and mires from which escape is difficult. (And sometimes impossible, with nearly fatal consequences). Driving down a mud season road, the ruts just keep getting deeper—and either you reach a patch of dry ground and escape, or you sink into the muck till at some point your tires start to spin or the undercarriage of your car hangs up. At which point you need a friend with a tow chain and a truck. The worst parts of the Uvalde and Buffalo massacres, obviously, were the massacres: dozens dead, families broken, survivors scarred forever. But there was also the secondary horror that, as usual, nothing happened in response. Unlike a long list of other countries that dramatically tightened their gun laws after mass shootings, our politicians lapsed quickly into their well-worn grooves: it’s a mental health problem, perhaps we should only have one door at... Continue reading
Also from The Guardian, focused more on the failure of the United States government to control the use of guns. Outrage and inaction: how the push for US gun control rises and falls with each school shooting Map of US with circles where there have been school shootings. Composite: Getty Images The country experiences a mass shooting nearly every day while federal gun control legislation remains a distant dream. Alvin Chang and Andrew Witherspoon The Guardian, 26 May 2022 On Tuesday, an 18-year-old shot and killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. It was the second deadliest school shooting in American history, behind the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting when 20 children and six adults were killed. Mass shootings are so common in America that most of these tragedies barely make a blip in the gun control debate. The country experiences a mass shooting nearly every day, and once every three weeks someone is shot on school property, according to data from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. The large majority of these shootings don’t get coverage in national media outlets, and after a day or two, the media moves on to the next... Continue reading
The following is an excellent short summary from The Guardian of the catastrophic and virtually unique toll of gun possession and misuse in the United States. This week’s mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, was one of more than 3,500 mass shootings since the Sandy Hook shooting a decade ago. It was America’s 215th in 2022 alone. It came as the nation still reeled from another massacre, this one targeting Black Americans, in Buffalo, New York, just a week prior. The horror of 21 people, including 19 small children, being killed in their classroom is hard to grasp, but for one former firearms executive, it’s not a surprise. Ryan Busse, who spent his career in the industry and now advocates for gun control, published a powerful op-ed in the Guardian arguing that contrary to a familiar refrain, America is not broken – it’s working as intended. “The truth is that Americans now live within an escalating system of radicalized gun tragedy that is working exactly as expected,” Busse writes. He argues that the profit motives of the industry, along with the extremist rhetoric of the National Rifle Association, has fueled a warped incentive structure that rewards “conspiracy-mongering, racism and fear campaigns”... Continue reading
The Power of Allurement By Betsey Crawford PUBLISHED IN SPRING 2020 “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” – Rachel Carson I’m pondering one of nature’s most intriguing mysteries: why is so much so beautiful? Why all those luscious colors, gossamer wings, silken petals? Why rainbow-decked waterfalls cascading into deep, curving rivers disappearing into the folds of magnificent mountains? Cool forests of feathery ferns at the base of towering trees, full of the elation of bird song? Why rustling waves of grasslands, filled with flowers, chirping crickets, soaring meadowlarks? Deserts lit withluminous cactus flowers, the call of ravens, the song of coyotes? Why clouds on fire with the setting sun? The easy answer is that we evolved the senses and the consciousness to find all this beautiful. And so we did. But why? We could have evolved to find a much duller world satisfactory. Bees and hummingbirds could have evolved to pollinate a planet full of white flowers. Butterflies and birds don’t need their luminous jewel tones to fly or find food. Peacocks and prairie chickens could have figured out calmer ways to attract a mate. It’s... Continue reading
Remembering Roger Angell, Hall of Famer In the course of a well-lived century, he established himself as the most exacting of editors, the most agile of stylists, a mentor to generations of writers, and baseball’s finest, fondest chronicler. By David Remnick, editor The New Yorker May 20, 2022 In recent years, as his odometer headed toward triple digits, Roger Angell became known around our office for the way his cheerful longevity complemented his talent. He was not only the greatest of baseball writers; he had also lived long enough to see Babe Ruth, of the Yankees, at one end of his life and Shohei Ohtani, of the Angels, at the other. Age conferred authority. When Roger covered the Yanks in their late-nineties heyday, Joe Torre, the team’s heavy-lidded chief, would sometimes interrupt one of his avuncular soliloquies to a clutch of young reporters and look to him for affirmation: “Roger, am I getting that right?” Sitting in his office, Roger, much like Torre, held court, telling stories about playing Ping-Pong with James Thurber, editing William Trevor and Donald Barthelme, and watching ballgames with the Romanian-born artist Saul Steinberg, who would put on a flannel Milwaukee Braves uniform before sitting down... Continue reading
I am posting below the text of a speech Martin Luther King gave at Riverside Church in New York City, on April 4, 1967, a speech that became famous at the time but is largely forgotten now, 55 years later. He called it "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence." I was there on that occasion, and its text sends shivers down my spine as it did then. As you read, note especially the enlargement of his focus halfway through, in the paragraph beginning "The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit." His values and the issues he addressed on that occasion are as important now as they were then. On the holiday next Monday, we legitimately celebrate Martin Luther King as a civil rights leader. He was that, of course, and his message — "beyond Vietnam" — as this talk makes clear, reveals a man who addresses us today as deeply as it did 55 years ago. The US had joined the Vietnam War, bombing the Ho Chi Minh Trail and North Vietnam, sending troops who were fighting, killing and being killed. I would have been drafted, but was exempt... Continue reading
The Greatest Danger by Joanna Macy Yes! Magazine From Joanna Macy, Ph.D., author and teacher, is a scholar of Buddhism, systems thinking, and deep ecology. A respected voice in movements for peace, justice and ecology, she interweaves her scholarship with learnings from six decades of activism. Her wide-ranging work addresses psychological and spiritual issues of the nuclear age, the cultivation of ecological awareness, and the fruitful resonance between Buddhist thought and postmodern science. The many dimensions of this work are explored in her thirteen books, which include three volumes of poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke with translation and commentary. As the root teacher of The Work That Reconnects, Joanna has created a ground-breaking framework for personal and social change, as well as a powerful workshop methodology for its application. Based in Berkeley, California, close to her children and grandchildren, Joanna has spent many years in other lands and cultures, viewing movements for social change and exploring their roots in religious thought and practice. How do we live with the fact that we are destroying our world? What do we make of the loss of glaciers, the melting Arctic, island nations swamped by the sea, widening deserts, and drying farmlands?... Continue reading
[Note from John: I've been absorbed for many years by the writing of Marilynne Robinson; absorbed and moved. I should say especially her five novels, Housekeeping (1980), Gilead (2004), Home (2008), Lila (2014), and Jack (2020). Her five collections of essays on diverse topics — The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (1998), Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (2010), When I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays (2012), The Givenness of Things: Essays (2015), and What Are We Doing Here? (2018) — are equally revelatory of her extraordinary mind and gifts as a writer, as are her as yet uncollected articles, essays and reviews in Harper's, The Paris Review, The New York Review of Books and other publications. Even the simple act of assembling that list astonishes me with the evidence of her consistent productivity. If I've been especially taken — that is the word — by her fiction, by the care, generosity and coherence, the grace of her novels, that certainly expresses my own deepest drawing to narrative, to storytelling as a genre that has always, as long as I can remember, been most compelling in my love... Continue reading
1. Possibilities I prefer movies. I prefer cats. I prefer the oaks along the Warta. I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky. I prefer myself liking people to myself loving mankind. I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case. I prefer the color green. I prefer not to maintain that reason is to blame for everything. I prefer exceptions. I prefer to leave early. I prefer talking to doctors about something else. I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations. I prefer the absurdity of writing poems to the absurdity of not writing poems. I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries that can be celebrated every day. I prefer moralists who promise me nothing. I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind. I prefer the earth in civvies. I prefer conquered to conquering countries. I prefer having some reservations. I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order. I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages. I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves. I prefer dogs with uncropped tails. I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark. I prefer desk drawers. I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here to many things I’ve... Continue reading
The Fish Elizabeth Bishop I caught a tremendous fish and held him beside the boat half out of water, with my hook fast in a corner of his mouth. He didn't fight. He hadn't fought at all. He hung a grunting weight, battered and venerable and homely. Here and there his brown skin hung in strips like ancient wallpaper, and its pattern of darker brown was like wallpaper: shapes like full-blown roses stained and lost through age. He was speckled with barnacles, fine rosettes of lime, and infested with tiny white sea-lice, and underneath two or three rags of green weed hung down. While his gills were breathing in the terrible oxygen —the frightening gills, fresh and crisp with blood, that can cut so badly— I thought of the coarse white flesh packed in like feathers, the big bones and the little bones, the dramatic reds and blacks of his shiny entrails, and the pink swim-bladder like a big peony. I looked into his eyes which were far larger than mine but shallower, and yellowed, the irises backed and packed with tarnished tinfoil seen through the lenses of old scratched isinglass. They shifted a little, but not to return my... Continue reading
Editorial notes from John: (1) Please don't read the final paragraph of this story until you reach it as you would normally, as your final act of reading a story. (2) Then, and only then, read that last paragraph one more time to be sure it is in your mind. I have added a third and fourth note to this paragraph, but shall reserve them to the end, as a suggestion for contemplating Borges's intentions. The Gospel According to Mark - a short story by Jorge Luiz Borges (1971) The incident took place on the Los Alamos ranch, in the southern part of the township of Junín, during the last days of March,1928. The protagonist was a medical student named Baltasar Espinosa. We may describe him, for now, as one of the common run of young men from Buenos Aires, with nothing more noteworthy about him than an almost unlimited kindness and a capacity for public speaking that had earned him several prizes at the English school in Ramos Mejía. He did not like arguing, and preferred having his listener rather than himself in the right. Although he was fascinated by the probabilities of chance in any game he played,... Continue reading
What did I find so fetching about that photo? His eyebrows and his smile; his whimsey. During my undergraduate years at Amherst College (1960-1964) and later when I was a member of the Amherst faculty, Frost often came to read to a gathering in Johnson Chapel. Those were memorable experiences. I was so glad that JFK asked him to read at his inauguration on January 20, 1961. I recall, as Frost began to read a new poem he had written for the occasion, a special moment later captured so well by Life Magazine: "Perhaps the most heartfelt words uttered that day came not from JFK, but from the 87-year-old poet Robert Frost. A four-time Pulitzer Prize winner and the quintessential New England bard, Frost penned a new poem for the inauguration, but the intense glare of the January sun made it impossible for him to read his own manuscript. After struggling for a bit, and after Lyndon Johnson stood and tried to help (using his own top hat to shield the page), Frost abandoned the effort and instead recited, from memory, a famous earlier poem: 'The Gift Outright,' written nearly 20 years before, which reads in part, 'we gave ourselves... Continue reading
The Road Not Taken BY ROBERT FROST Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. Continue reading
Thanks to my dear friend Al Braidwood for sharing with me the wisdom of some Buddhist remarks about death, following a few personal recollections of my own. I was eleven when I first encountered death, that of my father. Early one morning at our home in Berkeley my mother received a telephone call. When I heard the tone of her voice — only a few words as she listened — I knew she was hearing an important message. Minutes later she came to my room — I was still in bed — to tell me what she had learned. I can't remember my feelings in response. I didn't go to school that day. My mother asked a grownup friend of hers, a man I didn't know, to come to my room — to see, I suppose, if I wanted to speak about my father's death. To a stranger? To anyone? Not for many years. My mother came to understand. She wrote several months later, "Johnny still hasn't reached the stage where he talks naturally and normally about his father... [W]e can never be quite sure of what goes on deep inside a child, and Johnny has been almost completely 'bottled... Continue reading
A major Guardian investigation has found that authoritarian governments around the world are using a powerful surveillance tool to hack the phones of political opponents, prompting a global backlash and anxiety over the international spyware market. As the whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted on Sunday: “Stop what you’re doing and read this. This leak is going to be the story of the year. The Guardian this week is publishing stories exposing the widespread use of Pegasus, a powerful spying tool sold to governments by NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm selling its spyware with the permission – and possible help – of the Israeli government. Working with a consortium of 16 other media organizations from around the world, our journalists examined a leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers believed to be slated for surveillance by NSO’s clients. The list was shared with us by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based non-profit media organisation, and Amnesty International, who initially had access to the leaked list. There aren’t a lot of outlets in the world that are capable of leading this kind of project. From the first Wikileaks disclosures to Snowden's revelations and Cambridge Analytica, the Guardian has earned its stripes when it comes to... Continue reading
Our climate change turning point is right here, right now Rebecca Solnit People are dying. Aquatic animals are baking in their shells. Fruit is being cooked on the tree. It’s time to act. Mon 12 Jul 2021 Human beings crave clarity, immediacy, landmark events. We seek turning points, because our minds are good at recognizing the specific – this time, this place, this sudden event, this tangible change. This is why we were never very good, most of us, at comprehending climate change in the first place. The climate was an overarching, underlying condition of our lives and planet, and the change was incremental and intricate and hard to recognize if you weren’t keeping track of this species or that temperature record. Climate catastrophe is a slow shattering of the stable patterns that governed the weather, the seasons, the species and migrations, all the beautifully orchestrated systems of the holocene era we exited when we manufactured the anthropocene through a couple of centuries of increasingly wanton greenhouse gas emissions and forest destruction. This spring, when I saw the shockingly low water of Lake Powell, I thought that maybe this summer would be a turning point. At least for the engineering... Continue reading
I just signed off at the end of our Boettiger family's biweekly Zoom call. We are a hardy and diverse band, and it is a pleasure to see and share news from my immediate and extended family - my children, their children, and always a dear cousin or more of my own or my children's generation from hither or yon. We all missed my daughter Sara, who is head of public affairs, science and sustainability for the Crop Science Division of Bayer. She has been on the road; maybe still is, but she well deserves a rest. My sons Adam (and his companion Lisa Plunkett), Paul and Joshua (and Joshua's daughter, my granddaughter Paloma, going into the 4th grade) were aboard, as was my dear cousin Nina Gibson, who lives in a currently verdant desert outside Tucson, AZ. Not a plea to which I am accustomed, but it's heartfelt: Send us some rain, Nina! Joshua and his family, and my youngest son Paul, have recently moved east, to our old home ground of New England, living within a very few blocks of each other in Catskill, New York, on the Hudson River. Adam and Lisa are pursuing their life and... Continue reading
Layli Long Soldier's poems are a treasure. Her first book, Whereas (2017), won the National Books Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry. It is a response to the U.S. government's official apology to Native peoples in 2009. That apology, writes Krista Tippett in On Being, "was done so quietly, with no ceremony, that it was practically a secret." Krista continues, "Layli Long Soldier is a writer, a mother, a citizen of the United States, and a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation. She has a way of opening up her life, and American life, that inspires self-searching and tenderness." She lives in Santa Fe. John Freeman wrote of Whereas in The Los Angeles Times: "Writers who live between two languages face an extra challenge in their role as lexicographers of metaphor. They must create a mythology through language that acts like double-pane glass. As in, they must correct for the distortion of the words they are translating from one language to another...Layli Long Soldier manages this double-ness with the precision of a master glassblower." She illustrates that quality in her experience as a young mother and her realization that she must speak... Continue reading
Here is a description of Christian Wiman's short book, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. Wiman's essay, "Love Bade Me Welcome" is reprinted below. Christian Wiman is a poet and editor of Poetry magazine. He was born in West Texas in 1966. He graduated from Washington and Lee University, and has published two books of poetry as well as an eloquent and widely admired collection of reflections on the relation of poetry and religious faith, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. The novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson, author of Housekeeping and Gilead, wrote that Wiman's poetry and scholarship "have a purifying urgency that is rare in this world. This puts him at the very source of theology, and enables him to say new things in timeless language, so that the reader's surprise and assent are one and the same." In 2012 Christian Wiman joined the Yale Divinity School Institute of Sacred Music as a senior lecturer in religion and literature. Wiman's essay "Love Bade Me Welcome," was widely reprinted on the internet and evoked much response from readers. It first appeared in Wiman's book, Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). In his... Continue reading
WHERE THE HORSES SING by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee May 20, 2021 Emergence Magazine Witnessing a growing wasteland, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee seeks the threshold that could bring us back to the place where the land sings—to a deep ecology of consciousness that returns our awareness to a fully animate world. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, PhD, is the author of many books, including A Handbook for Survivalists: Caring for the Earth, A Series of Meditations, available as a free PDF, and editor of the anthology Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth. The focus of Llewellyn’s writing and teaching is on spiritual responsibility in our present time of transition, spiritual ecology, and an awakening global consciousness of oneness. I LIKE TO WALK early and am often alone on the beach, the ocean and the birds my only companions, the tiny sanderlings running back and forth chasing the waves. Some days the sun rising over the headlands makes a pathway of golden light to the shore. Today, the fog was dense and I could just see two figures walking in the distance, until they vanished into the mist, leaving a pair of footprints in the sand until the incoming tide washed them away. It made me wonder... Continue reading
[I'm sending this column of Nicholas Kristof from today's New York Times to family and close friends, although I know most of you read the Times and that you have probably read Kristof's column. Many of you know of my high regard for his recognized humane perspectives, including two Pulitzer Prizes for his work on (and from) China and Darfur. So for those of you who may have missed it, or might read it again (a practice I'm grateful to have learned early, and find of even greater value as an elder). [The first thing that struck me was its length: about two-thirds longer than a typical opinion piece, his own or others'. The second tip was that he writes from Yamhill, Oregon, the town in which he was raised and to which he often returns, especially, as I recall, when his writing turns to subjects about which he cares most deeply. [The pandemic is thankfully in recess for most (not all) of us here in the U.S., which means it's time for us to begin to assess its impact, as well as to recognize that elsewhere in this beleaguered world of ours it continues to take a terrible toll... Continue reading
Nine Years to Zero: The Climate Emergency Movement May 12, 2021 The movement to address the climate emergency at the scale and speed required is growing. Today TCM, along with over 650 allied organizations, has sent a letter to key Democrats in Congress demanding a Renewable Energy Standard to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030 be included in the infrastructure package that is currently in the works. Please retweet and repost to help increase the pressure to achieve this key goal. Big news out of Hawaii: After diligent work from nearly 40 organizations that make up the Hawaii Climate & Environmental Coalition, the Hawaii legislature passed Senate Resolution SCR44, declaring a climate emergency in the state on April 29, 2021, paving the way for more comprehensive, urgent climate action at the state level. This resolution is the first state-level declaration of climate emergency in the United States. As the only U.S. state surrounded by the rising sea, this move sends a message about the severity of the climate emergency and the need to act to meet the scale of the crisis. This declaration brings the total number of climate emergency declarations in the U.S. to 146 within 24 states. 12.49%... Continue reading
1. NEW DOCUMENTARY “EXTERMINATE ALL THE BRUTES” WAS 500 YEARS OF GENOCIDE IN THE MAKING The fact that Raoul Peck’s new HBO film on white supremacy exists shows that something profound about the world is changing. Jon Schwarz The Intercept May 2, 2021 IN THE FINAL episode of Raoul Peck’s HBO documentary, “Exterminate All the Brutes,” Peck says in a voice-over, “The very existence of this film is a miracle.” That is 100 percent true. Before this moment in history, it would have been impossible to imagine that one of the world’s largest corporations — AT&T, owner of HBO, with a current market cap of $220 billion — would have funded and broadcast a film like this. The fact that it somehow squeezed through the cracks and onto our TVs and laptop screens demonstrates that something profound about the world is changing. Decades, centuries of people fighting and dying were required both to widen the cracks and mold someone like Peck, the right human at the right time, to step through. “Exterminate All the Brutes” is a sprawling disquisition — four episodes, each an hour long — into the invention and consequences of 500 years of “white” supremacy, presented via... Continue reading
[There is some overlap between John Cassidy's assessment of President Biden's transformative policy proposals and the account of those proposals by Nicholas Kristof published in The New York Times two days ago. That is as it should be, as we are contemplating a major reconception of American governance. Biden seeks to strengthen the very foundations of our democracy. Both commentators agree that "like F.D.R. in the nineteen-thirties, (Biden is) looking to rebalance and preserve a capitalist economy that has been going askew for decades, reclaiming a vision of shared prosperity" that we have lost." The need for such change is palpable. The circumstances of 2021 differ from those of 1933, but only enhance the need for such rebalancing. The legacy of Trump—the emptying of substantive dialogue with the impoverished remnant of the Republican party—is a dismaying parallel, but all the more reason to mobilize popular support for Biden's initiatives.] John Cassidy The New Yorker, May 3, 2021 According to some commentators, President Joe Biden is turning out to be a quiet revolutionary. After he laid out his sweeping agenda to a joint session of Congress last week, reports described it as an epoch-shifting effort to reset the terms of American... Continue reading