How much do innate differences account for differing outcomes? This is an uncomfortable question and even asking it is dangerous. Larry Summers lost his job at Harvard in part for stating a truth about how the distributions of men and women differ, with the male distribution having a much higher dispersal, i.e. the average is very similar but there are more men at the extreme genius level and more men among the abject failures.
Science has been unable to determine how much of this comes from biology and how much is from cultural reasons. What is not in dispute is that men and women – in the aggregate – make different choices that result in different outcomes. We stipulate that we should counter all forms of overt discrimination. We are talking about what would remain even if we were 100% successful, the differences based on innate characteristics or choices. If we could identify the sources of this, what should we do?
John Rawls, on whose theories are an important underpinning for current progressive ideas on justice, talked about the vail of ignorance. If you did not know what position you would have in society, what sort of society would you choose?
Let’s adapt Rawls’ formulation a little. If you knew nothing about what your position in society would be, would you choose to be male of female in America? Consider the following – the distribution of men and women is different. A male will have a better chance of being among the top individuals in professions, business and science. Good. But there are not many people who reach these heights. The top 1% is … 1%. A male also has a greater chance of being homeless, landing in jail, being a victim of violent crime, dying in an on the job incident and dying in general. Men don’t live as long. Recent research indicates that although females earn less on average than males, women control more than half of all the personal wealth in the U.S. Some of this is likely related to the living longer factor.
Anyway, if you were a non-designated individual in some ethereal plane, and given the choice of gender – with absolutely no other information about whether you would be born rich or poor, privileged or persecuted, lucky or cursed – which would you choose?
Alligators used to be so rare that they were put on the endangered species. Today they are so common as pigeons, common enough to be a nuisance. We visited Everglades and Big Cypress. One stop featured a 15 mile loop you could ride on rented bikes. We did. We hoped to see maybe one alligators. There were dozens. The rangers said that they were not dangerous as long as you didn’t get too close. The ones we saw barely moved, but Chrissy did get a good action picture of one that you can see in the first photo.
The bikes were not very good. They had only one very low gear. I felt like one of those clowns on a little bike. The distance that I easily cover in less than an hour on my own bike took two hours on the little ones.
The second last photo shows the Everglades from an observation tower. It is an interesting ecology, very flat and wet most of the year but with a dry season. During the dry season, it often burns. We saw smoke from a fire (last photo) but all I know about the fire is contained in the photo.
I learned a new word from my cousin Dorothy Bozich. The word was polydactyl. It means that the animal has too many toes. It was good to know because we went to visit Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West. Hemingway thought that cats were lucky and that those with six toes were even better. He had as many as 70 cats. Today there are only 53. All have the pterodactyl gene, although not all have six toes.
The cats have names from the Hemingway’s life and times. For example, there is a Greta Garbo, a Humphrey Bogart and we actually saw a Patsy Cline. My photos show the various cats w/o names I know. Actually, I Chrissy says that the cat on the fountain is called Elizabeth Taylor. The last photo is just Hemingway’s house.
The cats are free to go, but none do. It is a kind of cat heaven. Why would they leave? The only lost cat was called F. Scott Fitzgerald. Evidently a visitor loved that cat and wanted to buy him. He was told that F Scott was a free agent and not for sale. A few days later that cat mysteriously disappeared. Got a better offer?
Edge ecosystems are often among the most diverse, since they combine two or more environments. They usually punch well above their weight and are crucial to the larger ecosystem they join.
Among the richest of these sorts of ecosystems are mangrove forests. Mangroves are amphibious trees that grow between high and low tide. They are sensitive to frost. In the U.S., they grow only in south Florida, and a few places in Louisiana so we went to see some in the Florida Keys.
You can see in my pictures how & why they do the jobs. The tangle of roots and branches help hold soil and protect the coast from erosion and storms. They also provide cover for fish and other wildlife to breed.
There are dozens of species of mangrove in parts of the tropics, but in Florida there are only three: black, red and white. Red mangroves grow in the inter-tidal region where their roots are always under water, even at low tide. If you see a clump of mangroves in the water at low tide, they are red mangroves. Black mangroves’ roots are under water during high tide, but exposed during low tide. White mangroves grow above high tide, but in places where their roots are always wet.
The keys, BTW, are are the end of a chain of barrier islands the stretch all the way from Canada. Barrier Island are interesting ecosystems with or w/o mangroves. A barrier island is temporary thing. They are more than sandbars but less than real terra-firma. In an instant of geological time, they are born and disappear and they are always moving. Storms play a big role in determining what grows on barrier islands. Most of the vegetation is small because storms blow down bigger trees. Where some hardwoods can establish, they are called hammocks. These are not big trees as we would expect inland, but they are forests.
The best thing about the Nature Conservancy is the way they bring ostensibly competing interests together in pursuit of common aspirations. What is now the Disney Wilderness Preserve near Orlando was a cattle ranch slated to be developed into another subdivision. Today it is an essential part of the Everglades ecosystem with 3,500 acres of restored wetlands that act as nature’s “sponges” in the landscape capturing rain, filtering out nutrients and replenishing our ground water. All this based on the cooperation of NGOs, private firms, individuals working in voluntary association and government. This means that TNC preserves are usually managed better than public parks, are more better integrated to greater ecosystems than most private lands, provide ecological services to human communities and provide individuals with places of peace and renewal.
You can visit this and most other TNC properties. We did this today. I was interested in seeing how the longleaf restoration was coming. It is good. You see on my photos that the understory is largely saw palmetto. This is something we will not get in Virginia longleaf forests.
I have supported TNC for thirty years. It is the only charity that I have never failed to remember. If you study the details of conservation in the last sixty years, you cannot help but be impressed by the consistent role TNC has played. It has not been through overt political action or even through the wonderful work they did buying and protecting land, but rather through the development of theory and theory in practice of conservation. For example, TNC was literally the keeper of the flame, keeping alive and viable principles AND practices of prescribed burning when “only you can prevent forest fires” was the official mantra and the generally respected consensus.
My photos are from the preserve. Notice the pine and palmetto, as well as the evidence of frequent fire that keeps this fire dependent ecosystem in balance. What looks like dead trees in the background are bald cypress, that lose their needles in winter, hence the name bald.
I also note that while my photos show the trees I love, the sky is a big player in the pictures. In that, it reminds me of Brasilia.
I would never own a convertible, but we are making it a tradition to rent one one time a year for a road trip. We started the tradition by accident. I was finishing up a training simulation at Camp Pendelton, near San Diego. Chrissy came out to meet me. I rented a car, but it turned out to be a piece of junk. When I took it back and complained, they offered a nice convertible. We drove up the California coast and then out to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Monument. Driving the convertible greatly enhanced the pleasure of the trip. We are going to do a road trip from Orlando down to the Key West, so we have a convertible again. Chrissy gets to drive it most. The yellow one is the current version. The silver one is Mount Lemon, near Tucson. The white one is California coast and the gray one is Grand Canyon.