Ten Commandments for Travelers

I gathered this little bit of shared wisdom long ago before the age of the Internet or even email. I don’t know where it came from – Reader’s Digest, a mechanic’s wall, who knows. But I’ve always saved it and cherished it because as one who has been blessed to travel to many places in the world, I have found the thoughts contained to be accurate and valuable.

I.       Thou shalt not expect to find things as thou hast left them at home…for thou hast left home to find things different.

In an interview with Frances Mayes, author of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” Michael Shapiro quotes a story he heard from his grandfather about a traveler coming into a town.

He asks the first person that he sees, what are the people like in this town? The man replies, what were they like in the last town? The traveler says, they were miserable, horrible, terrible. So the man says, I think you’ll find the people here are just like that. A second traveler asks the man, sir tell me what are the people like in this town? So the man replies, how did you find the people in the last town? Oh, they were wonderful, generous, kind. And the man says, I think you’ll find the people here are just the same.

In describing his perception of Mayes’ attitude while traveling, he wrote,

I think that’s your perspective, too: you come to a place with an open heart and a generous spirit. You go into a restaurant and say, “What’s the specialty of the house?” Not, “I demand this.” I wonder if you have any advice for travelers as to how they can receive the best by bringing their best.

Mayes replied,

“I think trying to leave America as far behind as possible and realizing that the world is still really various. To come here wanting what you get in America is really a sad way to travel.”

It’s sort of like the old saw about relationships:


I think it was a good idea for the author to put this “commandment” first – because in my experience, it’s the grand key, the summum bonum of travel. If you approach travel with vulnerability, being open to surprises, and take joy in whatever comes – even if it turns out that your “adventure” is a catastrophe – you will most likely have something of value to take away from the experience which will last a lifetime.

Rabbi Hillel said this:


By interpretation, “That which is distasteful unto yourself – do not unto others. This is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary. Go and study.”

In the same way, the rest of these “commandments” simply expand upon and refine the central thesis of the first.

II.      Thou shalt not let thy fellow travelers get on thy nerves, for thou art paying out good money to have a good time.

If you travel in a group or with a tour, this is great advice. I’ve always steered clear of such things, simply because then you don’t have to worry about other people’s idiosyncrasies or enforced schedules.

There’s a great movie from 1969 called “If it’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium.” Starring Suzanne Pleshette, it depicts “the humorous adventures of a group of American tourists taking an eighteen-day guided bus tour of nine European countries.” At the moment, the full movie is on YouTube, but who knows how long it will last:

III.     Thou shalt not take anything too seriously, for a carefree mind is the beginning of a holiday

Now, we’re not talking bodily mayhem here. Personal injury, being a victim of crime, things like that can happen anywhere, even in your own comfortable home. These are not things I would wish upon anyone, and if they happen, they have to be dealt with. But beyond that, very little that takes place on a trip is the end of the world. Lost baggage, lost passports, sickness, missed connections… it’s all part of the deal. As Jenkin Lloyd Jones once said,

“Life is like an old-time rail journey — delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

That said, it’s not a bad idea to head for a foreign adventure with preparation aforethought – never take anything along with you that you can’t afford to lose, because even in countries other than Japan, shiatsu happens.

IV.     Remember thy passport that thou knowest where it is at all times…for a traveler without a passport is a voyager without a country.

It’s a good idea to carry your passport and most of your cash in an under-clothing belt or pouch, preferably RFID-blocking. Only have what you need for the day in your purse or wallet, because if a pickpocket strikes, you’ve only lost a little money and your holiday isn’t ruined. Keep that wallet in a front pocket of your pants, not a back pocket or jacket pocket – those are the easiest target for thieves. And keep that purse zipped closed, and with your hand on the straps over your shoulders.


In this category, it’s wise to be mindful of the fact that there are people out there who see visitors as a walking ATM machine. Just keep a few things in mind and you’ll be better prepared than the average tourist:

  • Watch out for the “can you help me” scam. A friendly soul comes up to you with a map and asks for help finding “Piazza Navona” or some such. You put down your bags, get involved in looking at the map to be helpful, and when you turn around, that laptop or briefcase or suitcase is gone.
  • A “good samaritan” comes up to you and points out some ketchup or mustard on your coat (which they just squirted there), and busies themselves removing it with a hanky… while they or an accomplice rifle your pockets or make off with your bags.
  • The Phony Police Ploy: Two thieves in uniform — posing as “Tourist Police” — stop you on the street, flash their bogus badges, and ask to check your wallet for counterfeit bills or “drug money.” You won’t even notice some bills are missing until after they leave. Never give your wallet to anyone. This happened to me in Romania, but as far as I know, I was fortunate not to lose anything.
  • If you are going to be traveling on trains overnight, especially through high-risk areas like southern Italy, a great trick is to get an economical bicycle lock and coil it through your suitcase handle and the luggage rack rungs. While on the train from Catanzaro to Rome, I had some young punk come into my compartment and try to make off with my bag during a stop in Naples. I was asleep, but woke up in time to get the thing out of his hands. This would have avoided the problem altogether. Baggage thieves don’t usually carry the kind of tools needed to defeat even low-cost locks – they want to be in and out before you wake up or come back to your seat.

A good list of things to watch out for is here.

V.     Blessed is he who can say “Thank You” in any language…and it shall be worth more to him than much advice.

I can’t stress this one enough.

An American tourist on one of those 10-countries in 10-days tours developed a survival tactic that stood her in relatively good stead for most of her trip. She would walk into a store and say in her loudest voice, “Does anyone here speak English?” One day she must have gotten her itinerary confused, because a clerk sidled up to her and whispered discreetly, “Madam, this is London.”

Another joke goes,

What do you call someone who speaks three languages? – Trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? – Bilingual. What do you call a person who only speaks one language? – American.

It has been my experience that people in foreign lands, long unimpressed by the loud, demanding attitude of the typical “Ugly American,” are delighted when someone takes the time to learn even the rudiments of their language. I recall traveling on business in Rome in 1984; having lived in Naples for about 18 months, I had become relatively fluent in Italian. When I reached the office of the company I was visiting, my contact said, “Ah! Finalmente un’Americano che parla Italiano!” (Oh, finally an American that can speak Italian!) Even learning how to say “Please” and “Thank you” really does go a long, long way in generating good will. A remarkable resource for learning some critical phrases (including “My hovercraft is full of eels”) is Omniglot.

On the other hand, even with some language skills, it’s possible to make an ass of yourself (the joke is funnier if you have some French and some Yiddish.)

Mrs. Rothschild is in a fancy Paris shop; she inquires as to the price of a tablecloth.
“Combien pour ce tischtoch?” (“How much for this tablecloth?”)
“Cinquante francs, madame.”  (“Fifty francs, Madam.”)
“Cinquante francs? Mais c’est une shmatte!”  (“Fifty francs? But it’s a rag!”)
With indignation, the clerk replies, “Une shmatte, madame? Quelle chutzpah!” (“A rag, madam? Quelle chutzpah!”)

VI.   Blessed is the man who can make change in any currency…for lo, he shall not be cheated.

With the advent of the Euro, the issue of changing money in Europe is significantly diminished, but there are still many, many countries that use their own currency and it’s good to have a handle on ways to save money.

Europe Trip - Jun 1971 - Toulouse Market

Market in Toulouse, France

In 1969 and 1970, I was blessed to be able to live in Europe and did a lot of traveling by rail. I recall stopping in to a photo shop in France for some additional film (you youngsters may need to Google the history of photography if you’re not familiar with that term) and as I paid, the little French lady behind the counter smiled and said, “Vous connaissez bien des sous!” (You know your money well!) I have a suspicion that I was shamelessly overcharged for the film, but hey, I know how to count.

CNBC posted a good list of money-saving tips while traveling. To this I would add, Never change money at an airport or at a hotel. You’ll be charged exorbitant service fees and/or be given the lousiest rate possible. If you need funds to get into town, change only the bare minimum, and find a local bank for the bulk of your currency exchanges. Change only as much as you think you’ll spend in cash, because you’ll lose a percentage on the exchange when you hit your next country.

VII.     Thou shalt not worry.  He that worrieth has few pleasures, and few things are ever fatal.

This is related to No. III. Take it easy. Relax. Things will work out. Enjoy each day, each moment, and look for the little joys. Wander the side streets away from the tourist crowd and just take time looking at the architecture or the little touches of life.

Mestre - Italian Courtyard Cafe

Tiny outdoor café in Mestre, Italy (Mainland Venice)

VIII.    Thou shalt not judge the people of a country by the one person with whom thou hast trouble.

You’re going to meet morons. Some, or a few, may try to take advantage of you. Some will by angry at tourists. These are in the minority. Don’t let your vacation or experience be ruined by bumping in to one of these – there are plenty at home as well. If you’ve ever worked retail, or as a server, or a call-center agent, you’ve met all of them. Look for the good, the kind, and the wonderful – you’ll find them.

IX.     In Rome, thou shalt do as the Romans. When in difficulty, use common sense and friendliness.

Culture and customs vary widely around the world. What’s common to the laborer in Kinshasa or the farmer in Viet Nam may seem strange, other-worldly, or downright disgusting to you (I’m thinking casu marzu here, among other things.) But it is critical to remember that our customs and culture may be just as off-putting to them in exchange. It’s all about what you know, what’s familiar to you, and what you grew up with.

Part of the joy of travel is experiencing the lifestyle of others first-hand. Back in the old days – I mean really old – the only way for many people to “travel” was to haul out the stereopticon


and sit around looking at stereo views of strange and exotic lands.


There was no way you could sample a wonderful Phở or a divine bowl of callos from your living room. And enjoying local cuisine is one of the greatest joys of traveling, in my book (and on my waistline).

Short of learning some of the local language, there is no better way to endear yourself to the locals than to express a love of their cooking. I remember sitting around a table with a contingent of translators in Kinshasa, lustily dipping up antelope moamba with manioc fufu, and watching their smiles as I relished what to them must have been as common as a Sabretts™ hot dog to a New Yorker.


Haggis. If you haven’t had it, you haven’t lived.

Take the time before you travel to learn about some of the basic customs and courtesies of countries you will be visiting, to avoid giving unwanted offense. A great resource (although paid) is CultureGrams, a database of most countries of the world, with reports (Madagascar sample) outlining history, government, culture, customs, and other information that would be most useful for travelers.

For free, Google is your friend. Search for “German customs for travelers” or “American customs to avoid,” for example and scan what you find. You’ll get some good ideas of things to do and not do in any given country you plan on visiting. Some articles are more populist than others, but you can still gather some good information. Forewarned is forearmed.

X.      Remember that thou art a guest in every land, and he that treateth his host with respect shall be treated in return as an honored guest.

Going back to Commandment I, the biggest takeaway is basically Wheaton’s Law (bowdlerized): “Don’t be a moron.” If humanity would adopt this one guideline for life, this earth could be close to a paradise.

Despite the fact that almost anything you get in your inbox with the word “actual” is most likely 100% false or fictitious or contrived, this list of “Actual Complaints Received by Thomas Cook Vacations from Dissatisfied Customers” should be taken with a grain of salt or two. That said, you know things like this have happened – and I’d bet any travel agent worth their salt has heard one or all of these in various forms, so consider these representative fac-similes:

1. “I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local convenience store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.”

2. “It’s lazy of the local shopkeepers in Puerto Vallarta to close in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during ‘siesta’ time — this should be banned.”

3. “On my holiday to Goa in India , I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food.”

4. “We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our own swimsuits and towels. We assumed it would be included in the price”

5. “The beach was too sandy. We had to clean everything when we returned to our room.”

6. “We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as white but it was more yellow.”

7. “They should not allow topless sunbathing on the beach. It was very distracting for my husband who just wanted to relax.”

8. “No-one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared.”

9. “Although the brochure said that there was a fully equipped kitchen, there was no egg-slicer in the drawers.”

10. “We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.”

11. “The roads were uneven and bumpy, so we could not read the local guide book during the bus ride to the resort. Because of this, we were unaware of many things that would have made our holiday more fun.”

12. “It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England . It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair.”

13. “I compared the size of our one-bedroom suite to our friends’ three-bedroom and ours was significantly smaller.”

14. “The brochure stated: ‘No hairdressers at the resort’. We’re trainee hairdressers and we think they knew and made us wait longer for service.”

15. “There were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners.”

16. “We had to line up outside to catch the boat and there was no air-conditioning.”

17. “It is your duty as a tour operator to advise us of noisy or unruly guests before we travel.”

18. “I was bitten by a mosquito. The brochure did not mention mosquitoes.”

19. “My fiance and I requested twin-beds when we booked, but instead we were placed in a room with a king bed. We now hold you responsible and want to be re-reimbursed for the fact that I became pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked.”

Don’t be these people. Be kind, be open, be prepared… and your travel experience will probably be one you will remember with pleasure for the rest of your life.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The cats that have owned me

You know the saying – “Cats don’t have owners, they have staff.” Pretty true.

195901 - Twee

This is Twee. Isn’t he cute? We adopted him in about 1957 or so; he got his name from a book I had as a child, Ounce, Dice, Trice by Alastair Reid, which suggested a number of good names for cats.


It’s a very odd book, but then I have a very odd mind. It may have been a kickstart for my lifelong love of words and language.


When he grew up, he wasn’t so cute any longer. He would hide behind doors and jump out at my legs as I walked by, with malice aforethought. He ended up as the cat from Hell. But I still loved him, and was sad when I learned he had come to grief in New York traffic.

For another 22 years, as life took me in one direction and another, I was catless. But then in around 1982 or so we went to a pet store and got Sam.

Sam Reeding Time

He was a beautiful, elegant creature – a living ornament who moved from place to place and just beautified any spot where he happened to land. We took him to Switzerland with us for five months, where he had many friends, and brought him back when that adventure ended.

At around the age of 13, Sam became ill and lost his appetite; the only thing that he wanted to do was go outside. He was found by a neighbor in their back yard in the rain, and she went to every home in the neighborhood asking if he was theirs… except our house. She chose to take the word of three little girls across the street who declared that we didn’t have a cat. He was taken by animal services, euthanized, and cremated; I still feel bad that we couldn’t bury him properly. He was a good kitty.

After returning from Switzerland, we adopted Whisper and Wispy.Wispy and Whisper

These two pretty littermates were not terribly smart. They liked to sleep in the engine of our 1972 Mustang, and one day the inevitable happened. Wispy went through the alternator belt, and that was the end of her. She was replaced by Tickles, a tiny kitty with a broken mew and a giant purr; sadly I don’t seem to have any photos of her. Whisper and Sam didn’t get along that well, and he took to marking things in the house. We ultimately had to find another home for both Whisper and Tickles.

Before we moved in 1992, we adopted Buffy.


This beautiful girl was amazingly loving, and the whole family loved her. Any time I sat down or went to bed, she was there. It was like she had radar for a soft lap or an opportunity for a cuddle. Over time, though, she developed a terrible trait; she became afraid of her litter box, ultimately refusing to use it. As an indoor cat who was uncomfortable outside, this became a serious problem. We tried various solutions, various locations, different litters, all sorts of things. But she ultimately took to just using the entire house, and thus made herself unfit to be re-homed. We were moving to a new house and couldn’t afford to have her ruining carpets. Best Friends Animal Shelter in Kanab, Utah would have taken her… for $5,000. That was money we didn’t have; she ended her life at about 13, in the vet’s office, in my arms. I was devastated – she was my baby – but no other solutions were available.

After my second wife and I moved to Utah, we adopted Sensei in 2011.

Sensei (2)

He’s a beautiful Siamese-Maine Coon mix, and he remains the undisputed boss of our home today. And he sleeps in really odd positions.

About a year after we got him, we brought Tessa into the home, adopting her from some people close by who had several kittens they were trying to home. We thought Sensei would benefit from having a companion.


Tessa was tiny when we got her; Sensei was mightily displeased, and took every opportunity to attack this bitty ball of fur… who was just feisty enough to stand up for herself. It didn’t take too long before we found them grooming one another.


And ultimately they became good friends.

20120106 Sensei and Tessa

A few years later, the two were joined by Rufus, a little gray tiger-thing from a no-kill shelter in Rexburg, Idaho.

Rufus in the Cupboard

Rufus was a needy little thing, demanding lots and lots of attention, but a sweeter cat you’d never meet. He wanted to be around people, and he wanted the other two to like and accept him. But he was Omega Cat, and Sensei and Tessa just didn’t take to him.

Although sometimes he was “tolerated.”


So when we moved to Maine in 2015, we found a family with three little girls who was willing to adopt him. Apparently he’s been placed with a different home since then, but as far as I know he’s still doing well.

Sensei and Tessa made the trek with us, and enjoyed a year in our apartment.


Here they are, fully-charged.

When we bought a home in the country with a cat door, we thought they would be in hog heaven… but one day shortly after moving in, Tessa just vanished. We “kitty kitty’d” all over the place, wondering if she had gotten stuck in some crevasse or outside in our barn somewhere.


We can only assume she made dinner for some local predator – a coyote, or an airborne raptor. She’s missed, but we gave her a good life.

So Sensei is still Master of the House, and we hope that he’ll be with us for a good long time yet.

So majestic.jpg

Ack! So majestic.

There is no solace for the loss of a cat but getting another cat. These little creatures worm their way into our homes and hearts and leave a big hole when they leave for one reason or another, but there are so many animals in shelters waiting for their forever homes and a shot at a good life that it makes no sense not to have one or two around. They have enriched my life beyond measure.

Stray Cat
Francis Witham

Oh, what unhappy twist of fate
Has brought you homeless to my gate?
The gate where once another stood
To beg for shelter, warmth and food.

For from that day I ceased to be
The master of my destiny.
While he, with purr and velvet paw
Became within my house the law.

He scratched the furniture and shed
And claimed the middle of my bed.
He ruled in arrogance and pride
And broke my heart the day he died.

So if you really think, oh Cat,
I’d willingly relive all that
Because you come forlorn and thin,
Well….don’t just stand there…

Come on in!

The Old Wolf has spoken.


My Lifelong Wrestle With Mormonism

An insightful and poignant essay, very much worth sharing. His second list is much like one I saw decades ago, compiled by a good friend of mine, Dru White:

A Few Commandments

The Old Wolf has reblogged; be sure to read the full post below.

Relationship Refinery

Since I’ve at times been grumpy, tired, the bad kind of opinionated, and wrong about things, I haven’t felt like I’m the right person, in the right moment, with the right amount of faithfulness to be the giver of the things I’ll discuss below.

I’m not a theologian or doctrine ninja. I’m not extremely well-versed in scripture and I haven’t always been on the straight and narrow path.

View original post 2,440 more words

I want to play in the World Game



Yes, it’s the title of my blog, too. Some of my readers may have wondered what that’s all about.

The idea originated with R. Buckminster Fuller, and you can read more about the concept at the Buckminster Fuller Institute.

TL;DR – Fuller’s concept for humanity, summarized as follows:

“Make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”

In 1983, John Denver released “World Game,” a moving song echoing the same concept:

The lyrics:

World Game
John Denver
I want to play in the World Game
I want to make it better it’s ever been before
I want to play in the World Game
I want to make sure everybody knows the score
About using less, doing so much more
Everywhere I’m going I see trouble
Everywhere I’m looking I see all kinds of pain
Maybe we can get back on the double
Maybe we can turn around and make it all change
They say it’s you against your neighbor
If it gets right down to it, you against your friend
I swear that this is not the answer
As far as I can see it is the way it all ends
I want to play in the World Game
I want to make it better it’s ever been before
I want to play in the World Game
I want to make sure everybody knows the score
About using less, doing so much more
Hey man,…

This is the game. This is the reason for this collection of thoughts. To help build Dr. Fuller’s world that works for all of us.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

No, Turmeric lemonade is not better than Prozac

In current parlance, the word “woo” is defined at RationalWiki in this way:

Woo is a term for pseudoscientific explanations that share certain common characteristics, often being too good to be true (aside from being unscientific). The term is common among skeptical writers. Woo is understood specifically as dressing itself in the trappings of science (but not the substance) while involving unscientific concepts, such as anecdotal evidence and sciencey-sounding words.

No industry is more susceptible to the propagation of woo than the diet, health, and nutrition sector. Just say “trillion dollar industry” and you have the motivation to do and say anything to get a slice of that pie. Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr are all hotbeds for the dissemination of woo. Countless public figures have gotten rich by flogging woo, and in the process have led to believe that various and sundry herbs, spices, and so-called “superfoods” are a panacæa for all sorts of ills – cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and even lupus.


I’ve blogged many times about snake oil and supplements. The industry of deception is alive and well. Even a year after her death, my mother continued to receive slick-looking solicitations for absolutely worthless concoctions like “MentaFit Ultra“, which unsurprisingly is not even sold any more. These products arise in a flash of advertising, are sold to a whole raft of unsuspecting and gullible victims, and then vanish along with their creators, only to surface with another name and a new formulation.

Newser, a popular news aggregator, is still allowing multiple clickbait ads and popups for worthless and expensive supplements to appear on their website,  even though this last particular scam has been widely debunked by multiple sources – two of note are Malwarebytes and Snopes. A percentage of this may be the result of poorly-vetted or supervised automatic affiliate marketing ad placement, but someone has got to know the kind of stuff that’s being hawked here – and Newser is hardly the only offender. I just happen to use them as the teacher in the moment because I’m sad about what they’ve allowed themselves to become in the name of monetization.

Today this showed up on my Facebook page:



Go to the article and they refer to two studies at PubMed:

  1. Multitargeting by turmeric, the golden spice: From kitchen to clinic, by Gupta SC, Sung B, Kim JH, Prasad S, Li S, and Aggarwal BB.
  2. Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial, by Sanmukhani J, Satodia V, Trivedi J, Patel T, Tiwari D, Panchal B, Goel A, and Tripathi CB.

In the second article, the abstract includes the following sentences:

Traditionally, this spice has been used in Ayurveda and folk medicine for the treatment of such ailments as gynecological problems, gastric problems, hepatic disorders, infectious diseases, and blood disorders. […] Numerous animal studies have shown the potential of this spice against proinflammatory diseases, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, depression, diabetes, obesity, and atherosclerosis. At the molecular level, this spice has been shown to modulate numerous cell-signaling pathways. In clinical trials, turmeric has shown efficacy against numerous human ailments including lupus nephritis, cancer, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, acne, and fibrosis.

Forgive me, but my BS meter just redlined.

BS Meter

Even without digging into these articles beyond the abstract, and analyzing methodologies and statistical significance of the results which I don’t have the time and energy to do, there are just too many red flags to even begin to take these kinds of claims seriously. References to Ayurveda, the fact that almost all the authors are from India, the wild claims of efficacy or references to “showing potential” – nothing here can be construed as “proof” that turmeric is “better than Prozac” for depression.

A caveat: I am not wholesale against nutrition, or nutritional supplements, or natural remedies. Aspirin was once a “natural remedy,” until science isolated salicylic acid and multiple peer-reviewed, double-blind, randomized tests proved its efficacy. There’s a lot we don’t know. Despite my skepticism about the studies above, there may be value in curcumin and turmeric that have not been fully explored. As with anything in science, the key is a large base of peer-reviewed studies and reproducible results.

Until then, woo-articles of this nature need to be taken with a hefty dose of salt – not just a pinch. Be very careful whom and what you trust. There are still people out there hawking “Miracle Mineral Supplement” for all sorts of things, and it’s nothing more than diluted bleach. This junk will kill you.

Depression is a serious illness and can be debilitating. While they are not a magic bullet, FDA-approved meds help many people to be able to carry on normal lives. And there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

This much I can tell you: ☞ It’s not turmeric lemonade. ☜  Be very careful out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.



Climate change: The time for talk is over

The Internet is a huge thing. I try to stay abreast of world and current events, but without a positronic brain, I sometimes miss things.

Today came to my attention an article that was posted at reddit three years ago, and a stunning commentary by an ecological scientist. You know, the real thing – with degrees and experience and stuff, not just 45 minutes of reading something on Fox News.


It needs to be shared.

The article at Business Insider carries the lede, “Two of the world’s most prestigious science academies say there’s clear evidence that humans are causing the climate to change.”

What’s more impressive was the comment left by user /u/tired_of_nonsense, which I replicate here with the writer’s express permission. If you care about this island Earth we live on, it’s worth the read, in full.

Throwaway for a real scientist here. I’d make my name, research area, and organization openly available, but the fact of the matter is that I don’t like getting death threats.

I’m a perpetual lurker, but I’m tired of looking through the nonsense that gets posted by a subset of the community on these types of posts. It’s extremely predictable.

  • Ten years ago, you were telling us that the climate wasn’t changing.
  • Five years ago, you were telling us that climate change wasn’t anthropogenic in origin.
  • Now, you’re telling us that anthropogenic climate change might be real, but it’s certainly not a bad thing.
  • I’m pretty sure that five years from now you’ll be admitting it’s a bad thing, but saying that you have no obligation to mitigate the effects.

You know why you’re changing your story so often? It’s because you guys are armchair quarterbacks scientists. You took some science classes in high school twenty years ago and you’re pretty sure it must be mostly the same now. I mean, chemical reactions follow static laws and stuff, or something, right? Okay, you’re rusty, but you read a few dozen blog posts each year. Maybe a book or two if you’re feeling motivated. Certainly, you listen to the radio and that’s plenty good enough.

I’m sorry, but it’s needs to be said: you’re full of it.

I’m at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu, sponsored by ASLO, TOS, and AGU. I was just at a tutorial session on the IPCC AR5 report a few days ago. The most recent IPCC report was prepared by ~300 scientists with the help of ~50 editors. These people reviewed over 9000 climate change articles to prepare their report, and their report received over 50,000 comments to improve it’s quality and accuracy. I know you’ll jump all over me for guesstimating these numbers, but I’m not going to waste more of my time looking it up. You can find the exact numbers if you really want them, and I know you argue just to be contrary.

Let’s be honest here. These climate change scientists do climate science for a living. Surprise! Articles. Presentations. Workshops. Conferences. Staying late for science. Working on the weekends for science. All of those crappy holidays like Presidents’ Day? The ones you look forward to for that day off of work? Those aren’t holidays. Those are the days when the undergrads stay home and the scientists can work without distractions.

Now take a second before you drop your knowledge bomb on this page and remind me again… What’s your day job? When was the last time you read through an entire scholarly article on climate change? How many climate change journals can you name? How many conferences have you attended? Have you ever had coffee or a beer with a group of colleagues who study climate change? Are you sick of these inane questions yet?

I’m a scientist that studies how ecological systems respond to climate change. I would never presume to tell a climate scientist that their models are crap. I just don’t have the depth of knowledge to critically assess their work and point out their flaws. And that’s fair, because they don’t have the depth of knowledge in my area to point out my flaws. Yet, here we are, with deniers and apologists with orders of magnitude less scientific expertise, attempting to argue about climate change.

I mean, there’s so much nonsense here just from the ecology side of things:

User /u/nixonrichard [+1] writes:

Using the word “degradation” implies a value judgement on the condition of an environment. Is there any scientific proof that the existence of a mountaintop is superior to the absence of a mountain top? Your comment and sentiment smacks of naturalistic preference which is a value judgement on your part, and not any fundamental scientific principle.

You know, like /u/nixonrichard thinks that’s a profound thought or something. But it’s nonsense, because there are scientists who do exactly that. Search “mountain ecosystem services” on Google Scholar and that won’t even be the tip of the iceberg. Search “ecosystem services” if you want more of the iceberg. It’s like /u/nixonrichard doesn’t know that people study mountain ecosystems… or how to value ecosystems… or how to balance environmental and economic concerns… Yet, here /u/nixonrichard is, arguing about climate change.

Another example. Look at /u/el__duderino with this pearl of wisdom:

Climate change isn’t inherently degradation. It is change. Change hurts some species, helps others, and over time creates new species.

Again, someone who knows just enough about the climate debate to say something vaguely intelligent-sounding, but not enough to actually say something useful. One could search for review papers on the effects of climate change on ecological systems via Google Scholar, but it would be hard work actually reading one.


  1. rapid environmental change hurts most species and that’s why biodiversity is crashing
  2. rapid environmental change helps some species, but I didn’t know you liked toxic algal blooms that much
  3. evolution can occur on rapid timescales, but it’ll take millions of years for meaningful speciation to replace what we’re losing in a matter of decades.

But you know, I really pity people like /u/nixonrichard and /u/el__duderino . It must be hard taking your car to 100 mechanics before you get to one that tells you your brakes are working just fine. It must be hard going to 100 doctors before you find the one that tells you your cholesterol level is healthy. No, I’m just kidding. People like /u/nixonrichard and /u/el__duderino treat scientific disciplines as one of the few occupations where an advanced degree, decades of training, mathematical and statistical expertise, and terabytes of data are equivalent with a passing familiarity with right-wing or industry talking points.

I’d like to leave you with two final thoughts.

First, I know that many in this community are going to think, “okay, you might be right, but why do you need to be such an ******** about it?” This isn’t about intellectual elitism. This isn’t about silencing dissent. This is about being fed up. The human race is on a long road trip and the deniers and apologists are the backseat drivers. They don’t like how the road trip is going but, rather than help navigating, they’re stuck kicking the driver’s seat and complaining about how long things are taking. I’d kick them out of the car, but we’re all locked in together. The best I can do is give them a whack on the side of the head.

Second, I hope that anyone with a sincere interest in learning about climate change continues to ask questions. Asking critical questions is an important part of the learning process and the scientific endeavor and should always be encouraged. Just remember that “do mountaintops provide essential ecosystem services?” is a question and “mountaintop ecosystem services are not a fundamental scientific principle” is a ridiculous and uninformed statement. Questions are good, especially when they’re critical. Statements of fact without citations or expertise is intellectual masturbation – just without the intellect.

Toodles. I’m going to bed now so that I can listen to, look at, and talk about science for another 12 hours tomorrow. Have fun at the office.

Edit: I checked back in to see whether the nonsense comments had been downvoted and was surprised to see my post up here. Feel free to use or adapt this if you want. Thanks for the editing suggestions as well. I just wanted to follow up to a few general comments and I’m sorry that I don’t have the time to discuss this in more detail.

“What can I do if I’m not a scientist?”

  • You can make changes in your lifestyle – no matter how small – if you want to feel morally absolved, as long as you recognize that large societal changes are necessary to combat the problem in meaningful ways.
  • You can work, volunteer, or donate to organizations that are fighting the good fight while you and I are busy at our day jobs.
  • You can remind your friends and family that they’re doctors, librarians, or bartenders in the friendliest of ways.
  • You can foster curiosity in your children, nieces, and nephews – encourage them to study STEM disciplines, even if it’s just for the sake of scientific literacy.

The one major addition I would add to the standard responses is that scientists need political and economic support. We have a general consensus on the trajectory of the planet, but we’re still working out the details in several areas. We’re trying to downscale models to regions. We’re trying to build management and mitigation plans. We’re trying to study how to balance environmental and economic services. Personally, part of what I do is look at how global, regional, and local coral reef patterns of biodiversity and environmental conditions may lead to coral reefs persisting in the future. Help us by voting for, donating to, and volunteering for politicians that can provide the cover to pursue this topic in greater detail. We don’t have all of the answers yet and we freely admit that, but we need your help to do so.

Importantly, don’t feel like you can’t be a part of the solution because you don’t understand the science. I’ve forgotten everything I’ve learned about economics in undergrad, but that doesn’t stop me from 1) voting for politicians that support policies that appear to have statistical backing aligning with my personal values, 2) making microloans that help sustainable development in developing countries, or 3) voting with my wallet by being careful about the food, clothing, and household goods I purchase. I don’t begrudge the fact that I’m not doing significant economics research, or working at the World Bank, or for the US Federal Reserve. We’ve all chosen our career paths and have the opportunity to contribute to society professionally and personally in unique ways. With respect to climate change – I only work on the ecological aspect of climate change, which means I rely on atmospheric and ocean scientists for models and engineers and social scientists for solutions. We need everyone!

Just try your best to ensure that your corner of the world is in better shape for the next generation when you’re done borrowing it.

t-minus 30 minutes to science

Accepting the reality of human-caused climate change and taking what steps we can to mitigate or at the very least slow it down is an important part of building a world that works for everyone… and every thing.
I’ve posted this before, but it merits inclusion here again, with thanks to Humon.
If we don’t do what we need to do now, we’ll be gone – and the Earth won’t miss us.
The Old Wolf has spoken.

A letter to International Women’s Day

I am here sharing an English translation of a Hebrew article written by Or Maroni-Cohen, who would love her writing to be read by non-Hebrew-speakers. The translation is by Sharon Neeman. She has given permission to share it liberally.

FYI: strong words, strong feelings, and some strong language.

International Women’s Day

To me, it feels a bit like the stew doled out to indigents in a soup kitchen.

We women are supposed to be celebrating. But the person in charge of the United States is a dangerous man, who is already taking measures to steal human rights. In Russia, Putin has erased human rights. In Israel, there are still rights, but only for white Jews – especially male ones. What exactly are we supposed to be celebrating?

The crazier the worldwide situation gets, the less I talk about it – perhaps because I feel that the world’s psychosis is closing in on me. Perhaps because I have never felt so infinitesimal in this universe.

Once I fought for change, and I really did some significant things in my life, for the community and the State. Now I’m looking after my own home, simply because I feel powerless.

When we moved to Shlomi, a small green town in the Western Galilee, I was already feeling choked by the political situation. More than anything else, I needed a bubble that would enfold me and waft me gently away from the filth that was taking over.

Today, deep inside the bubble, I find that the remoteness is accompanied by a sense of helplessness, which increases as the fascism grows stronger. One more restrictive law is passed, and another and another; and if we protested against the first law, we drooped a bit with the second law – and the third one is already taken for granted. After all, we’re living in a fascist country. So why should anyone be surprised?

Women’s Day. Don’t make me laugh.

What this day is really about, more than anything else, is the oppression of women. Let’s give women one day a year when they can feel like queens. Let’s envelop their lives in flowers, presents and sex – so we can gloss over their unequal salaries, their unequal representation, their unequal life.

Fuck Women’s Day. Fuck this fascist state. Fuck this damn world that marches to the drumbeat of oppression.

Guys: don’t celebrate my womanhood and don’t do me any favors. Instead, pull up your own stinking socks. Change your heads and your discriminatory laws.

It doesn’t matter if we’re Jewish, Muslim, Christian or atheists – women are the ones who mourn their (and your!) dead, the ones who care for the wounded, the ones who pay the price of arrogance.

Take your roses – thorns and all – and shove them up your ass.

– Or Maroni-Cohen

I commented elsewhere, I am reminded of Morgan Freeman’s thoughts on Black History Month and racism:

It does seem pretty patronizing to give Women a single day of recognition when fully half (if not more) of the accomplishments of humanity are theirs, and when sexism is still so ingrained in various societies that most people don’t even recognize it. Even ones who think about it.

So essays like this are important, and need to be kept in the light and not in the dark.

The Old Wolf has spoken.