Posted by: ithacaisdoomed | December 10, 2009

The Ithaca is Doomed Year in Review: 2009–A Year of Predicaments

December brings many seasonal wonders to the city of Ithaca, New York.  One of my favorites is the annual commuting of the crows.  Starting in December and lasting all winter, crows roost en masse at various city locations.  In the morning, they fan out to the surrounding countryside to feed in farm fields.  Then again, in the evening, they fly back to the city to roost, forming corvid flashmobs in trees along the way.  What could be doomier than the long lines of black crows, stretched against a leaden sky?

Crows of Doom "commuting" over Agway

December also brings a look back—at the news stories that have shaped the scene of “Ithaca is Doomed” over the past year.  2009 could aptly be called the “Year of the Predicament” in Ithaca, NY.  Archdruid, John Michael Greer, differentiates between “problems” and “predicaments” in his book The Long Descent:  A Users Guide to the End of the Industrial Age.   Problems can be solved.  Predicaments cannot.  A problem has a solution that can be discerned by careful analysis and actions can be taken that may significantly lessen or reverse the severity of the situation.  Predicaments, on the other hand, offer no simple solutions; strategies can be tried, but there is no option of avoiding at least some of the negative aspects of the situation.  Death is the ultimate human predicament. No amount of wishing, activism, campaigning, complaining, medicating, or meditating will alter the fact of a person’s ultimate demise. 

Death is a personal predicament. Greer argues that the present ecological and resource crises are a social predicament, indicating the unavoidable end of the industrial age as we have known it.  Just as the Hindu Goddess Kali is possessed of multiple destructive arms, the current predicament of industrial civilization is possessed of multiple destructive facets.  During the past year, many issues have sprung up in Ithaca, indicative of facets of this predicament.  While they may seem unconnected on the surface, each issue leads back to the larger predicament facing us all—The End of the World as We Know It, the Demise of our current way of life.

Kali, Hindu Goddess of Destruction

What follows is a brief presentation of several of these predicaments, taken from headlines in our corporate owned, quasi-local newspaper, The Ithaca Journal.  I have doctored up the headlines a bit with some heart felt satire.  Following them, I offer a synopsis of the all too serious predicament.

Arm of Kali #1:  America’s Leadership Vacuum

Obama Inauguration:  Ithacans part of hope, history, mass delusion:  Activists, families, students head to Washington—Head home crushed…

  Obama won by an overwhelming majority in Tompkins County.  Bumper stickers, car magnets, and yard signs festooned the entire city.  Many Ithacans attended the inauguration, and others, including this writer, watched it via live telecast at many Ithaca locations.  What we all shared, I’m sorry to say, was the delusion of” HOPE and CHANGEtm”.  “At last”, we said to ourselves, “Our government will be more open!  We’ll break with the past!  Our faith in America will be restored!”  A year later, the bloom is off the rose and many of the placards have been removed.  I can’t say I was all that upset when the Obama “O” magnet fell off my car during its annual April washing. 

After all the high expectations and subsequent disillusionment, there’s one thing we all need to learn:  Stop expecting a savior.  Obama is just a man, a man in a position that ultimately answers to the most powerful vested interests in the United States of America.  I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but the whole election thing is rigged to protect the powerful.  Most of us know this, down deep in our souls, but we still can’t fully accept the loss of faith.  Somehow, this time was to be different.  Fundamentally, it’s not.  Derrick Jensen states that “everything in the current system of civilization is set up to protect the abusers.”  The electoral system is no exception.  It is a farce, designed to both give us the illusion of power, and, increasingly, to distract attention from the real issues that matter.

In my opinion, the best thing that could happen would be for people to stop investing so much time and resources into the whole Presidential electoral process.  Blue?  Red?  Whatever?  Fuck it!  Let’s make it irrelevant!  We need to let the President of the United States and every one of his or her future Puppet Masters know that we’re on to them, to stop giving the whole farce so much legitimacy. It seems sad that I know more about Barak Obama than about my town supervisor.  We need to demystify the Presidency!  Just think if all the money spent on even a failed Presidential campaign were to be reinvested by people into their local communities?  I know I wish I’d contributed money to local politicians or charities instead of the Obama campaign.  What if they threw an election and no one came?  It would be beautiful!

In an energy-poor world, the Federal Government is only going to become increasingly weak.  The distinction between federal power and the corporations that fall under that power is already razor thin…and it hasn’t changed since Obama took Office.  The only valid reason I can see to support a Presidential candidate is if they are a third party candidate who can actually talk about reality—Peak Oil, corporate welfare, relocalization.  Any candidate who has any real hope of becoming President isn’t going to touch that stuff with a 10 foot pole.  Derrick Jensen/Jared Diamond 2012 anyone? 

So, just keep saying to yourself, “it just doesn’t matter.”  I, for one, am already nauseated by the idea of another campaign season.  And, just think:  If a Republican wins in 2012, they’re in for one big dose of Schadenfreude .  The behavioral bar has been set so low this past year that we’ll be able to get away with anything — Shout down their candidates with nonsense.  Compare the next president to every dictator who’s ever lived.  Skulk around their Town Hall meetings carrying shotguns.  All we’ll have to say is, “What comes around goes around!”  But we wouldn’t do any of that?  Would we?

Arm of Kali #2: Rampant Deer Overpopulation

Epicus Doomicus Odocoileus virginianus:  Cayuga Heights Board Looks to Build Solar Powered “Death Machine” to Reduce Deer Herd

Cayuga Heights is a somewhat Tony Ithaca “village”.  It was intended to provide housing for Cornell Faculty and also became a popular area for millionaire movie stars back in the heyday of silent film.  There are million dollar slate roof mansions in Cayuga Heights along with more modest housing.  The populace tends to be well-educated, wealthy, and liberal.  The village has a total land area of 1.8 square miles…and within that area reside an estimated 147 white-tailed deer.    Pre-European settlement estimates of deer densities across “most favorable habitat” range from 3.1 to 7.7 deer/km2.  Using the highest number, the ideal number of deer for Cayuga Heights would be around 35.

Many residents are fed up—with deer/car collisions, lyme disease carrying Deerticks, and the voracious eating habits of the deer.  In response, the Village Board set up a Deer Remediation Advisory Committee whose ultimate recommendation is a plan to cull most of the deer and sterilize 20-60 of the remaining females to bring the population closer to 35-40 individuals.  The Village Board plans to hire sharp shooters, who will use .22 caliber rifles at non-disclosed “baiting stations.”   Permission would need to be obtained from any resident whose house is within 500 feet of one of these baiting stations; otherwise, the locations would be secret.  The venison would be donated to a food bank, but the 35 pounds of offal per deer would need to be treated with lime and sent to the landfill.  All of this would cost the Village taxpayers a whopping $800,000.

Needless to say, this whole affair has generated the usual shitstorm of Ithaca style protest.  The most vocal, well-funded, and organized voice of opposition to the culling plan is Cayuga Deer, Ithacans for Safe, Ethical, and Rational Approaches for Reducing Deer-Human Conflict.  They worry that neighbor will be pitted against neighbor, as passions on the issue run high.  They deplore the violent, control freak mentality of the culling plan, not to mention the cost to taxpayers.   In many ways, I can sympathize.  I’m not sure I’d want military style sharp shooters blasting away in my back yard either—though I wouldn’t mind if the two herds of deer who seem to frequent my Doomstead just sort of “disappeared.”

Where I take exception with Cayuga Deer is their willful ignorance of the ecological consequences of the overabundance of deer and their ridiculous anthropomorphism of them.  Not since Bambi, has there been a portrayal of the White-tailed Deer so reeking of bathos.

I remember one of my first deer encounters:  I was camping with friends as an 18 year old college student.  When a doe skulked through our campsite, we held our bated breath—“She’s so beautiful.”  This seems comical in retrospect, especially now that I’ve had several near collisions with deer—on my bike!

The members of Cayuga Deer would have everyone believe that supporters of the deer cull want the deer shot because they eat gardens:  “Shot for a tulip” the slogan goes.  While gardening with deer around is extremely frustrating, expensive, and a near case of interspecies competition, it’s not just the backyard garden plants that are being devoured by O. virginianus.  There’s a small stretch of Cornell owned woodland in Cayuga Heights.  When you walk through this stretch in summer, there’s barely any green up to the six foot line where a deer is unable to reach.  Deer are wreaking havoc on America’s forests—they’re reducing species diversity to the point where only the non-desirables, often the exotic, invasive species deer hate, are left.  Our future may look like sections of the woodland at Six Mile Creek Wildflower Preserve—stretches of Privet, Tatarian Honeysuckle, Norway Spruce, and an under layer of Garlic Mustard.  Who will speak for the Trillium, the Wood Lily, and the Spring Beauty—not to mention the other mast dependent mammals the deer may displace?  On a theoretical level, I wonder if it’s possible that the deer may be contributing to global warming by reducing the regeneration of forests, thereby reducing their ability to sequester carbon.  I’ve had wackier theories validated by scientific studies.  Wouldn’t it be ironic if the Cayuga Deer folks were advocating for the very agents of our demise, kind of like the ALF style activists at the beginning of 28 Days Later?

I’ve been a vegan since 1997, but I can no longer oppose deer hunting in good conscience.  I’d take it up myself, for the thought of all that free protein walking about devouring our forests is quite tempting.  One of the best things about being vegan, though, is not having to handle offal.  So fire away, hunters, but I’m not sure about the mass slaughter approach.  It seems reasonable to expect that more deer would simply move in after the Cayuga Heights culling plan went through.  To achieve any lasting reduction across wide swaths of habitat, it seems like there would need to be mass culls in every town around.  The logistics alone of such a possibility are nightmarish.  As poverty and hunger increase, it’s possible that people might start taking deer in all seasons.  Then maybe we’d live in a world where the sight of a White-Tailed Deer was breathtaking once again—for all kinds of reasons…

Next week:  More 2009 Predicaments!



  1. Hey —

    Politics-Schmallitics…. I paid no attention whatsoever. But on the deer thing….

    Yes, the population needs to be better balanced… but the only way to accomplish that in any sort of long term sense is reintroduction of a predator species. Good news is that the Eastern Coyote has become adapted AND the wolves are coming back. Apparently they have not reached Ithaca, tho….

    Have you read about the return of wolves to yellowstone? Amazing stuff… The whole “ecology of fear” nonsense is way overplayed, IMO, but the ecological story is there, at least.


  2. I wish the wolves would reach Ithaca! That would be a sure sign of the Apocalypse. We do have coyote and I think they take fawns and weaker deer, but not enough. Cougars would be a welcome addition, but idiot trophy hunters would probably shoot them. And all politics should be local. That will be oh so true one day…

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