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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

One of our remote, night vision game cameras in our yard captured an interesting level of détente that has been going on for some time between a cat who visits our yard regularly and one of the opossums who lives in our yard.

Opossums are docile, benevolent animals especially in a suburban setting. They are well known for eating disease carrying ticks and their low body temperature means it is almost impossible for them to contract diseases like rabies or other animal-borne pathogens. Opossums help keep communities clean and disease free by eating ticks that can carry lyme disease. Having opossums in your yard means your local ecosystem is safe, clean and disease-free.

We were very excited when we found a small family of three opossums living in our yard, and have done everything we can to support them. We were also concerned that the local domestic and feral cat population, who we also support with four outdoor cat houses, might not interact well with our opossums.

Any concern about the two not getting along has been put to rest by what we’ve seen over the past few months. This video shows one of our opossums and a cat who frequents our houses eating side-by-side and getting along just fine.

The cat in this video is likely a local feral who appeared about eight weeks ago. He visits us several times a day and uses our yard as a hub for his daily patrols. As our regular feral cat, he has struck up a good friendship with our opossums.


Author Tom Demerly writes for publications around the world and really likes animals.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

At a neighborhood meeting with our Mayor last week there were questions about finding lost pets, zoning ordinances and people having too many lights on the outside of their houses.

And then there was the question of the night. The bomb dropper. The president of a large neighborhood association asked the Mayor of Dearborn, “What is the City of Dearborn doing about the coronavirus?”

The room went silent.

For just a moment, the mayor flashed a quarter of a smile across the right side of his face. He glanced down at the table top in front of him, recalibrating his response I suspect, in the way that politicians at every level must offer a substantive response to even the most inane, crackpot inquiries. Then he began, “Our emergency services have been drilling on response practices in preparation for any unlikely… ”

If you do a Google search on, “Things most likely to kill a person living in America”, you find that heart disease is our most prevalent lethal threat. This is followed by cancers. Not far down the list, the number 8 killer of Americans, is a broad category called “accidents”. Drill down into “accidents” and you learn that using a smartphone while driving is creating a great national cull of our highly mobile, highly connected population.

But nowhere on any list does “highly contagious, rapidly-proliferating, recently mutated exotic Asian viruses” appear. That is because, for the president of a neighborhood association- or anyone living in Dearborn- the threat of coronavirus is effectively nil.

In the United States, there are 1.5 million people hospitalized every year from accidents related to smartphone use. Last year the common flu killed 10,000 Americans. So far, this year the Centers for Disease Control say that, “At least 19 million people in the U.S. have experienced flu illnesses this season”. And as I type this, the acceleration of the spread of the largely non-fatal coronavirus half a world away from Dearborn, Michigan in a city most Americans couldn’t find on a globe, is decelerating.

But still, the coronavirus question came up. Why is that?

On June 1, 1980, Ted Turner launched the Cable News Network, or CNN, the first 24-hour news network. In the four decades since then, the way Americans consume news, and what is actually called “news”, has changed more than at any time in history.

Prior to 1980, the U.S. relied on predominantly 3 news networks that broadcast six hours of content each per day. Today there are at least 25 major network news media outlets in the U.S., all broadcasting across multiple outlets 24-hours, around the clock. That is a staggering 2300% increase in the amount of network news media we’re served every 24 hours in only four decades.

But it gets even more interesting. And dangerous.

In less than half the time it took for network news media to completely reinvent itself, only 16 short years ago, Mark Zuckerberg invented “participatory media”. Most people call it social media. When Zuckerberg started what was then called “The Face Book”, he did what most innovators do; he put something out there that would change the world before he invented the rules about how to use it. From edged tools to fire to printed words to nuclear weapons and instant communications, humans invent culture-changing technologies before they figure out the rules for how to best use them. We throw the new, culture-changing technologies out there and worry about figuring out how to best use them later. In the process, there is always calamity.

In the 16 years since Facebook began, the number of outlets with access to your 600 X 800 news screen went from 25 news outlets to… 1.69 billion individual users, each one vying for attention and relevance. Even more than the four-decade, 2300% proliferation of available news every 24 hours, the explosion of 1.69 billion individual broadcasters on Facebook (not to mention other social media outlets, like Twitter’s 330 million) has influenced the way we consume information, and confuse it with what is credible news.

The single deadliest thing about the coronavirus outbreak is the media frenzy that surrounds it. Coronavirus is a serious health threat, but not in Dearborn, Michigan. In the five years since it was first identified, and before this most recent outbreak, its impact on public health has been minimal compared to other health risks like cancer and distracted driving. Cancer and distracted driving just haven’t dominated social media and news media for the last seven days.

This revolution in how we consume media, and confuse it with news, is why a neighborhood association president in Dearborn, Michigan, 7,273 miles and 13 time zones away from Wuhan, China is now suddenly asking about coronavirus when the things that will likely kill her go basically ignored. And this is the very real threat.


Tom Demerly in the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia with delegates from North Korea.

Tom Demerly reports on Defense and Technology stories from around the world to TheAviationist.com, BusinessInsider.com and numerous other international news outlets. 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Another report, another finding that NASA, NOAA and the UK Met Office have confirmed that global temperatures have been rising, continue to rise, and have resulted in a host of all-time meteorological records. The reports were published this week, and they tell us what we already know. We’re in deep trouble.

But we still deny the human impact and ability to control climate change. Why is that?

Perhaps the biggest problem with climate change is its “marketing”. It’s an idea that people are inherently resistant to. A second problem is culturally rigid thinking. And a third problem is a societal and individual resistance to new thinking.

Firstly, the crisis, which is absolutely real, absolutely man-made and absolutely controllable (but not reversible) has been poorly “marketed” or talked about.

In the social media age, image is everything, and climate change has fallen victim to some rotten media marketing. Its advocates tend to be labelled as weirdoes or academics who are prone to jargonish science-speak. Climate change also smacks of left-leaning politics. That’s a shame, because if ever there was a great cause for right-leaning robber-barons to embrace, it’s manmade climate change. There is the opportunity to recalibrate our global economy and earn trillions in profits from climate change, and that’s good. I think Elon Musk, as eccentric as he is, sees some of this. Bill Gates sees it too. I think Warren Buffett is watching it and waiting for a way to earn big profits from the marketing of climate change and its solutions.

But climate change suffers from bad marketing. Climate change started out as “global warming”, was re-branded “climate change” since that term is more literal. But this phenomenon should really be called, “Man-made, accelerated climate change”. But that doesn’t fit well in twenty-word social media posts, and people are too busy to learn anything that challenges what they already know and is longer than a Tweet or a Facebook post.

We already know that the climate is always changing. That’s normal. Even the magnetic poles migrate and change. Also, normal. What is not normal, or sustainable, is the rate of current climate change acceleration that is a direct result of mankind’s influence on the earth through overpopulation, overconsumption and pollution. Some climate change is normal, natural and unchangeable- desirable even. Our global ecosystem is built to adapt to it. Species become extinct partially from failure to adapt and partially from environmental change, and species also evolve over time to adapt to gradual change. The key word is “gradual”. What we’re seeing now is not gradual. It’s catastrophic.

The climate change I’ve seen myself, around the world in my lifetime, isn’t gradual. It is unbelievably accelerated. Glaciers I climbed on in 1999, that took thousands, or millions, of years to create, have now disappeared. In my lifetime. Animal populations I visited have been cut by 90%. Species I saw in person in my 30’s are now extinct.

Today, when I see sharks within ten miles of a populated coastline, the sharks are smaller, usually have scars from boat propellers indicating they have been feeding off scraps and trash from boats and ships, and their behavior is different. They are listless and docile. Go a few hundred miles off a coastline, drop down, wait for some sharks to come along and you see completely different animals. Larger, no scars or hooks in them, perfect fins and different behavior. They behave like alpha predators. The coastal sharks, even of the same species, behave like stray dogs waiting for the garbage to be thrown out. That is what a species looks like as it tries to adapt to a single generation of accelerated climate change, and when it enters serious decline.

When I was in Antarctica in 1999, I saw thousands of whales. This summer in the Azores, in the middle of the Atlantic in 5,000 feet of water, I saw about fifteen whales over three days, and those whales we had to look for most of the day. Whales migrate past the Azores toward Antarctica. What I saw was worrisome.

There is a strange calculus to climate change denial. Let’s say the chances that every climate change scientist is 80% wrong in their findings. That’s unlikely, but let’s assume that for the sake of discussion. That means they are also 20% right. A 20% chance that catastrophic climate change could manifest itself in our lifetimes. You pick the numbers you like; 90% chance climate change is false? 99% chance? There remains that lingering chance that it is right, and no human can afford that chance at any percentage.

America maintains a massive arsenal to defend ourselves against nuclear war, mostly from the former Soviet Union, a country that doesn’t exist anymore. Yet we continue to maintain that enormous resource for an enemy that hasn’t existed since the Soviet Union collapsed in December, 1991, almost three decades ago. Today, according to the worst statistical analysis of the probability of nuclear war, there is, on the high side, about a 2% chance of a nuclear war ever starting. The chances of one starting in our lifetime, according to a 2015 expert survey in strategic probability, is 0.24%. That’s less than a quarter of a percent. The chances that climate change will alter our lives in our lifetime is much higher, yet we maintain no strategic deterrent force against climate change, despite the fact that it is a strategic global threat.

We are destroying this planet and accelerating climate change at unsustainable and catastrophic levels. We may survive the changes, but our lives will be less convenient, less healthy and less enjoyable. The lives of our children, even worse. And the lives of their children completely unrecognizable to us. If we continue to deny what science is telling us we may hold on to our lives, but they won’t be worth living.


Author Tom Demerly has traveled the world since 1980 including some of the most remote areas in Antarctica, Vietnam, Africa, the Middle East and South America.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Let’s talk strategy. Real strategy. Erwin Rommel, Sun Tzu, Ho Chi Minh, Robin Olds, James Mattis style strategy. True strategy. The subversive, sneaky, calculating, genius kind. The kind you don’t learn in your fourth year at West Point or Annapolis. This is the kind you learn in the Mekong Delta, Fallujah, Mogadishu, El Alamein, Stalingrad.

If we (collectively) are the President, what do we want? One word: Reelection. So, how do we get it? This is on page one: we need a diversion.

We need to divert the attention of our primary adversaries, in this case the Democrats, from the Presidential reelection campaign. How do we do it? We need a scandal. A good one too. And it needs to be timed to perfection. Timed so well that the accelerating rotation of the news cycle grabs this scandal, “investigates” it, reports on it, grinds it into the news everywhere we look.

The scandal is the feint, the false front. This is the “breakthrough” we want all the Democrats to pour their troops into. There is risk, as with all warfare, because this scandal could very well manifest into a real problem for the President. But risk is inherent in battle, and to prevail, we must endure risk.

So, we continue this ruse. Buy into it. Feed it. Perpetuate it. A scandal! A scandal! And it goes around and around and around.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks inexorably toward election day, now 396 days away. Recent history and hard data tells us this scandal will occupy headlines for… 7 days. Secretive think tank analyst Nieman Labs (I know, you haven’t heard of them) says that recurrent news topics like the current Ukraine scandal may have a reciprocating effect that could recycle up to… 42 days maximum. That leaves us 354 days from the election.

This dramatic feint also leaves the Democratic opposition drained of resources and credibility for failing to consolidate their impeachment plans. Almost exactly 1 year to the day before Americans go to the polls, the Democratic opposition has been drained of vigor and fight and credibility by yet another presidential scandal that was somehow diffused. The Democrats have egg on their face, the President has a smirk on his. Again.

And the Democrats remain divided and contentious at a time when they need to be united and focused on the next Presidency. Instead of talking about the policy opportunities they could promote and exploit in this next election, like the environment and equal rights, they are scope-locked on their own differences and on the many foibles of the current administration.

The Democrats are so busy pointing out what is wrong with the current administration they forget to build a better one to replace it.

And so, they lose.

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

 

We spend almost no time doing nothing. Our lives are perpetually filled to the breaking point with people, priorities and projects. Because of globe-shrinking, distance erasing connectivity, instant communication and universal integration, the barriers that used to exist between leisure and work are gone.  We are constantly engaged in some way. A state of circular and perpetual multi-tasking and never-ending partial distraction.

It’s difficult to say for certain if these societal and cultural changes have made us more productive. They may have. But from an innate need for emotional and mental survival there has certainly been an odd “creep” of snack-sized idleness into our longer and longer work days. We may say we “worked 12 hours”, but what we really did was spend 12 hours in our work place, with probably 70-90% of it productive (if we’re exceptionally good) and the remainder doing some compromised loafing for the purpose of trying to build some mental space between solace and servitude.

We don’t have to read far into philosophy to see a historical reverence for doing nothing, and the remarkable possibilities it presents. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, author of the Tao de Ching, permeated his text with the infinite value of empty space. Lao Tzu observes that it is not the walls of a bowl that make it useful, but the empty space inside. He talks about the hollow space at the center of a wheel, around which all things rotate. Lao Tzu also explores the abundance that flows through an empty mind, and that when the mind is truly open, the entire universe is free to flow through it. That idea is both intoxicating, and terrifying. It offers boundless possibility, but at the cost of our deepest held beliefs. And therein lies our terror at being idle; we actually have to deal with ourselves in honesty.

Part of the reason we try to avoid the vastness of doing nothing is because, in this space we are forced to examine ourselves. In a world of decreasing depth and increasing materialism rife with conspicuous experience, this deeply intrinsic self-inventory can be frightening. What the hell are we actually doing? Why? What is it for and what is the end game? That is heavy stuff, best put off until our final days when we may be forced to confront it in discomfort, fear and declining health.

If you’ve ever seen the process of an old person dying of natural causes in America, it is a deeply, but secretly, ritualized event. The person gets bad news and performs some mental processing. They realize they are on a short, one-way timeline to the end of their lives. They conduct a hasty inventory of their life, attempting to extract some meaning from it that transcends the duration of time they were actually here. About the time they fail to achieve that meaning- when they reach the horrible realization that most of their pursuits have been hollow time-wasters calibrated to benefit a common economy, it becomes too painful to bear and the drugs come out. We quietly put that person out of their misery, and ours. We remove them from the terrifying example that will also be our experience when our time comes. But don’t worry, there are plenty of drugs to go around, and they are administered freely at our moment of final reckoning, so we don’t have deal with the fact that we wasted a huge portion of our lives in the pursuit of things and hollow status.

While this is a dreadfully dreary narrative, its reciprocal offers boundless hope. Our world is equally as vast as it has ever been, and now we experience it in greater depth and at faster speed than any time in human history. We are trying to drink life from a fire hose at full flow. While the high-pressure cascade of water can rip our lips off, if we just build some distance from it, the spray alone will keep our minds and spirits hydrated with an abundance previously unimagined. In these occasional and precious empty spaces of doing nothing, all things flow inward. Ideas, inspirations, peace, priorities, even pain- to be processed and purged in the healing process that is our perpetual psyche- flows through our mind. We get a chance to finally inhale fully and deeply, and deliver the big exhale. Therein lies the precious value of doing absolutely nothing.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Russ Gibb with Dearborn retail maven and girlfriend Alberta Muirhead in 2005

You are fortunate in your life if you’ve had one truly great teacher. I had Russ Gibb.

Equal parts Jedi Master and Morpheus-like oracle, Mr. Gibb (“Sir” to you and I) imparted sagacious wisdom, innovative premonition and traditional norms of respect. And he actually changed the media world. Russ Gibb was one of the most influential men of our century whom you’ve never heard of outside Dearborn. But Russ Gibb’s legacy has touched nearly every person on this planet.

He died last week in Dearborn at the age of 87.

Russ Gibb didn’t fit inside any established box, so he built his own. In this case, one that sits under your television and has cables running in and out of it. Gibb did not invent cable subscription television, just as Henry Ford did not invent the automobile or the Wright Brothers invent the airplane. But just as the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford did, Russ Gibb took a fledgling, under-integrated new technology and launched it on a trajectory that led to internet television and is still growing. Gibb was an early adopter of new media through cable subscription television. His pioneering program in Dearborn, Michigan included locally produced television programming on topics specific to the neighborhood. Our high school, Dearborn High School on Outer Drive, was likely one of the very first high schools- if not the first- in the world to have its own television studio. Mister Gibb either found the funding for our TV studio (much of it in grants from Sony Corporation and early cable providers) or simply paid for it himself.

If Russ Gibb’s work integrating municipalities and schools with cable television was his entire legacy, that would be impressive. But it is his mystic synergy of combining this new media- even before the Internet- with unprecedented access and an innate sense for publicity that provided Gibb with another miraculous talent: Hype.

Russ Gibb was a promoter. He was always promoting. Every lesson he taught, every idea he imparted, was the promotion of some idea; real or imagined, innovative or traditional. That he walked so readily between the conflicting worlds of emerging pop media and traditional institutional respect was entirely unique to Russ Gibb. Russ Gibb didn’t have to ask his students for respect. His devotion to education, wisdom, quirky charisma and clairvoyance of the future simply commanded respect.

Gibb was an entertainment alchemist. He conjured the chemistry of publicity that included elbow-grease promotion with implied spectacle. Where fact ended, Russ Gibb’s hype continued. Gibb is largely credited with one of the first and most prolific hype campaigns in media history, the “Paul McCartney is Dead” rumor. Gibb foisted the rumor from a caller to the radio station WKNR (“Keener 13!”) where he DJ’ed on October 12, 1969 according to a story by journalist Gary Graff for Billboard magazine. Gibb spun the idea into a worldwide conspiracy sensation that vaulted The Beatles to their highest ever trajectory on pop charts. According to Graff’s report for Billboard, “The whole thing just exploded”. Gibb told Billboard, “The phones were ringing off the hook. People were calling with their own clues. It was non-stop.” Gibb laughed as he remembered the station’s owner telling him, “Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it.” He even called Eric Clapton, his musician friend in England, to ask if he knew anything about the rumor. Gibb told reporter Graff that Clapton said, “Come to think of it, I haven’t seen Paul for awhile…” Clapton went on to say, “It was really a phenomenon. For a while, it seemed like it might really be true.”

Russ Gibb DJ’ing in his early years.

When he wasn’t promoting tours, album releases and appearances by musical acts like Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Frank Zappa, Wayne Kramer and the MC5, Cream, The Who, Janis Joplin and many others, Russ Gibb was working on his own media venue, The Grande Ballroom. This iconic shrine of music was a flash-pot of live media evolution that predated the punk rock and new wave movement and helped bend the trajectory of modern pop music and media promotion.

Gibb did all this while, in his 8-4 work day, he transformed high school students into television executives, managers in the Big 3 automotive companies, media pioneers and child prodigies.

Classmates of mine at Dearborn High under Russ Gibb included automotive exec, connectivity innovator and owner of numerous patents Larry Cepuran. Ed Korcinski was a prodigy student of Gibb who graduated from Dearborn High early, then MIT with a degree in materials engineering and went on to become a Silicon Valley microchip innovator. Paul Streffen graduated from Mr. Gibb’s curriculum at Dearborn High and went to Sony Corporation where he worked his way up as a pioneer of new media under Gibb’s sponsorship. I learned how to write a headline, organize a news story, and, more importantly than anything else, learn that I had a voice I could develop and share around the world from Mr. Gibb.

Russ Gibb left this world with an eternal and vibrant gift, the gift of promotion and sensation, connectivity and empowerment before those things were buzzwords. While he quietly built and boosted a media revolution, loudly pitched the talents of others, and steadily worked to bolster his incredibly fortunate students to believe they could achieve greatness he remained almost entirely on the sideline, out of the spotlight, instead preferring to focus that blinding and emerging beam of sensation on others. Perhaps more than any one great innovation or media promotion, it is this humble generosity that is his greatest and most enduring legacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

You’ll never understand my politics from social media.

Social media has a pigeon-holing effect that dangerously summarizes and condescendingly panders to our perceived beliefs based on what we post and who we friend. We get served what we believe and believe what we’re served in a circular conversation that reinforces our perceived beliefs and prejudices. That’s dangerous.

I notice an interesting phenomenon; social media’s algorithms can’t decode my own political orientations. They don’t fit any current analytical algorithm. The scary thing is, my political beliefs aren’t that complex.

Because Facebook’s automated analytics cannot decide if I am a republican or democrat, a Trump supporter or Trump critic, wealthy or poor, educated or uneducated, support gender rights or not- it goes wild. I’m served the most disjointed cocktail of content that ranges from politics across the entire left-right spectrum to pages showing animal rights and hunting groups. Facebook just doesn’t get me. It alternately believes I am gay, straight, old, young, racist, liberal, married and single, a tree hugger and a big game hunter.

This is important to consider because Facebook’s penchant for pigeon-holing our personal politics continues to draw a wedge between us during a time when global culture needs just the opposite. What Zuckerberg created was meant to unite us, but has in fact counted us off in convenient groups that force us to pick a team with seemingly like-minded people. It reinforces our beliefs, fails to challenge us, convinces us we are part of a majority and panders to group-think. As Zuckerberg once said, “The users are the product”, and Facebook is trying desperately to package the product in convenient, easy-open shrink-wrapped groups to sell things to.

In this rush to package its users Facebook does not foster individual thought. It’s too hard to market to.

The ancillary effect is that my republican conservative friends believe I am a defacto liberal, and my liberal friends believe I am an ultra-right leaning conservative. I’ve met people in person I’ve gotten to know on Facebook who told me things like, “Well, because you are a Trump supporter…” and also tell me, “Because you’re a liberal…”.

It’s actually not all that complicated. It’s that Facebook’s algorithms are actually pretty lazy.

The truth is, I decide issues on an ala carte basis congruent with my personal values. Facebook doesn’t have an algorithm for personal values, only for groupthink. Therein lies its most dangerous feature- it (tries to) pigeon hole us and fails to challenge us. It is the salesman in the room who agrees with everything everyone says, and practices the “knock ‘em where they lean” doctrine of attraction. “Tell me what you want, and I’ll tell you why it’s the best.”

Our society has suffered from dumbing-down, speeding up and tuning out of any conversation or idea more than three sentences. If it can’t be expressed and evaluated in a Tweet, a post or a picture, then people don’t have time for it.

“Resisting the online inertia that pulls us into groupthink is cornerstone to responsible use of social media.”

Resisting the online inertia that pulls us into groupthink is cornerstone to responsible use of social media, and it isn’t always easy- especially when friends are involved. Mark Zuckerberg created what may be the greatest invention in human history since the Gutenberg Press, and exactly the like the first printing press used to stamp out bibles to adjudicate our belief sets, it’s up to us to decide how to best use it rather than being lulled into its ever-increasing suction of group-think.


Tom Demerly is a feature writer and analyst from Dearborn, Michigan.