By Newkirk Johnson
During the terrible years of Nazi rule in Germany, Adolf Hitler and his loyal propagandist Joseph Goebbels were notorious for utilizing the era's mass communications as part of a strategy of lying on a grand scale. "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it," was Goebbels' philosophy.
Today this propaganda technique is commonly known as the "Big Lie," used by Fox News and a variety of other irresponsible media outlets and demagogue politicians on a daily, even hourly, basis to gaslight a willing public and viewing audience on a scale unimaginable to Hitler and Goebbels and the considerable 20th century mass media apparatus at their disposal.
Similarly, in recent years, a retired attorney and mountain bike advocate named Ted Stroll has promoted a "Big Lie" via an organization with the seemingly benign name of the Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC). The coalition's singular mission is to radically alter the Wilderness Act of 1964 in order to allow mountain biking in all of the nation's designated Wilderness areas protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation Act. While that may sound considerable, designated Wilderness areas make up only three percent of the overall inventory of federal public lands in the U.S.
Nevertheless, the Big Lie that Mr. Stroll and the Sustainable Trails Coalition promote is that the framers of the 1964 Wilderness Act, and the law itself, intended to allow mountain bikes in Wilderness areas. Despite the frequent repetition of this lie, there isn't the smallest kernel of validity to Mr. Stroll's claim.
Coupled with it is the insistent text on the STC website that "too many Americans" are "blocked" access from Wilderness. That in itself is an astonishing fabrication, and another Big Lie indeed. Wilderness areas are set aside for habitat preservation and conservation, but thousands of miles of trails crisscross our nation's wilderness areas. They are available to all able-bodied individuals on foot, and are neither designed nor graded for bicycles or motorized travel.
Like the growing community of motorized ORV users, the STC echoes the desire of a loud, entitled minority of mountain bikers that want immediate access to wherever they feel like riding, at any time. Mr. Stroll, for one, has vowed to ride his mountain bike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), through dozens of designated wilderness areas, "before he dies."
This rogue group of mountain bikers, backed by a no-longer quiet, well-heeled cabal of mountain bike recreational interests, appear to believe their ends justify the means, and will say whatever they believe is necessary to gain entitled access everywhere, despite the ecological impacts and criteria clearly set out by the Wilderness Act in the management of Wilderness lands – and despite the overwhelming abundance of available public land throughout the U.S. that has long been accessible and available to mountain bikes and shared use.
Ed Zahniser, son of the 1964 Wilderness Act author Howard Zahniser, was quoted in an article in the Los Angeles Times in 2018, asking "How could they possibly say the original [Wilderness] act allows this? They are just making it up." Bicycles are clearly an example of the "mechanized transportation" barred by the Wilderness Act when President Johnson signed the policy into law on Sept. 3rd, 1964.
The quotes included here from Howard Zahniser leave no room to conclude that he and other framers of the Wilderness Act intended to allow bicycles in Wilderness areas. The 1964 law, in clear terms, codified a humility-based determination to put boundaries on humanity's impact on our nation's remaining primitive areas and wilderness, where humans are "only a visitor."
If you acquire only two books on conservation to read and refer to over the course of your lifetime, consider Aldo Leopold's 1949 classic A Sand County Almanac, and The Wilderness Writings of Howard Zanhiser.
And finally, please take a moment to take action with Wilderness Watch to keep mountain bikes out of our nation's designated wilderness areas.
Newkirk Johnson serves as the executive director of Friends of Allegheny Wilderness. He lives in Warren, Pennsylvania.
Photo © 2008 Felix Wong
By Tommy Hough
Downtown had its revenge on the rest of us on December 10th.
While arrangements and machinations naturally happen before any kind of official, overt political maneuvering occurs, it was clear from the outset of this bizarre moment in San Diego political history – in which the first order of business of an 8-to-1 Democratic majority on city council was to elevate the lone Republican – that the deals had been made, the die had been cast, and minds had been made up.
Nevertheless, I was honored to be one of the over 240 San Diegans to speak in favor of Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe as San Diego City Council president.
Here are my remarks as written.
Good evening, my name is Tommy Hough, I'm in District 6 in Mira Mesa.
I realize it's been a very long day, and for the newest members of this body this is certainly being thrown into the deep end first. But as councilmembers, this is indeed part of the job, and as a previous caller said, this is the moment where the rubber is meeting the road upon when you once said to yourself, "You know, I think I can do a better job here than what's been done before."
I know each of you want to do what's right, and we want you to succeed.
The reason Councilmember Montgomery Steppe is held in such high regard by the many, many individuals who have called in today is because she truly functions as an independent voice on this council who owes nothing to anyone, except her constituents.
As a legacy, a fine first vote for you would be to vote for Councilmember Montgomery Steppe as council president. She will be exceptional, but don't take my word for it. Take the word of the over 200 residents of this city, many of them your constituents, that you've heard from today.
We're pulling for you. We want you to succeed. Please vote for Monica and let's move this city forward with the truly progressive, independent, equitable agenda that's available to us, if we would only have the courage to choose it.
By Tommy Hough
Good morning. My name is Tommy Hough, I'm a San Diego resident, and I represent 430 environmentally-minded conservation voters in our region who are members of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. I'm the organization's co-founder, I served as its original president, and I currently serve as the organization's vice president for policy.
The greenwashing being promoted today by proponents of this land swap is really quite shocking, and it shouldn't take much for you to see through it. Proponents of this plan claim to favor some kind of mythical "balance" between commercial interests and environmental concerns, but when goalposts are moved, when straw man arguments are offered about protecting land that's already been protected, and when agencies stenographically allow plan proponents to claim something will aid the environment when it does the exact opposite, that's a clear indication there is a complete lack of balance. Claiming there is one to find common ground at, under these circumstances, is fiction.
As I'll say several times over the course of my remarks, Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve was identified and set aside for conservation for a reason – it didn't just fall out of the clear blue sky. Environmental laws that protect habitat and species enabled, in part, the reserve's founding. Why are we even talking about wildfire concerns at this site when we shouldn't be building in the reserve to begin with?
I'm amazed this board would even entertain the notion that vital, critical habitat for the endangered Quino Checkerspot Butterfly, along with specific habitat for so many of our incredibly diverse roster of species in San Diego County, is somehow so disposable that the reserve's status is really only a placeholder until something more lucrative comes along that someone can make a buck on. If so, it would then be abundantly clear our conservation enforcement processes have become irreparably corrupted.
The suggestion of "exchanging" critical habitat protected as part of the reserve in order to build, in its place, another sprawl housing project with more housing that no one who actually works for a living in our region can afford, is so wretchedly out of step with California's once-sterling reputation as an environmentally-minded state that it's as unprecedented as the Trump administration's undoing of the boundaries of National Monuments. That's how bad this proposal is. And that is not what we Californians expect from our state agencies.
This isn't just open space. Swapping out parcels of Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve for other acres of lesser biological value, as though all open space and acreage is equal, is not what was intended for these lands receiving the ecological reserve designation in the first place. That is not the mindset, nor the spirit, by which wildlife resources are to be managed.
You've heard from organizations in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, the Central Coast, the North Coast, the Central Valley, Gold Country, the High Desert, and other corners of our state that are opposed to this scheme. If such a land swap was proposed, say, for one of our state parks, a similar outcry would also be heard throughout the state.
In San Diego in the recent past we reacted swiftly and in massive numbers when a needless freeway, whose only purpose was to enable more environmentally-destructive sprawl development in our fire-prone, wild backcountry, was proposed along the length of the last steelhead-producing watershed south of Los Angeles, and was similarly managed in a state of preservation as part of a California State Park. We reacted similarly when the city of San Diego willingly changed local zoning to enable the construction of a Climate Action Plan-defying office park – as pointless an edifice as any in the pandemic era – right next to one of our city's great natural preserves without a hint of self-consciousness.
Nothing outweighs the value of Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve and its original intention of preserving its specific lands and habitat. The location isn't arbitrary. The soil and vegetation at Rancho Jamul are highly specific to the survival of the Quino Checkerspot. That's why it was designated as such in the first place.
Please do not look at the choice before you today as a narrow legal decision – but do consider the broad implications and precedent this proposal will set to enable other projects designed to subvert the very modest conservation protections we have in our region.
Please do NOT approve this land swap. As Dan Silver of the Endangered Habitats League testified earlier, consider the "toxic optics" of this deal, and understand how they will reflect on you and this board. Protect the integrity of our preserved lands. Please vote to break the cycle of taking bulldozers to vital, already-protected habitat that was enabled and set aside by your predecessors, our state, and by years of work by dedicated, local advocates and citizens. Thank you.
Photo courtesy of the San Diego Natural History Museum.
By Tommy Hough
Born in 1940 and murdered barely two months after his 40th birthday in 1980, John Lennon has now been gone as long as he was alive.
Forty years ago, just past 11 p.m. on December 8th, 1980, the world found out about the murder of John Lennon from Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, as the Miami Dolphins played the New England Patriots on ABC's Monday Night Football. Just as the game was about to go into halftime, Cosell made the first of two announcements about Lennon's murder, reading official copy provided by ABC's news division.
It was as weird a pop culture moment as any that the world learned about one of the ultimate rock and roll tragedies from Howard Cosell, but it's clear that Lennon's murder affected Cosell during that broadcast, as he had welcomed Lennon into the Monday Night Football broadcast booth as a guest just six years earlier when Lennon was promoting his Walls and Bridges album in 1974.
I wasn't watching Monday Night Football that night because I had to go to school the next day and was already in bed, but it was the first thing I heard about the next day when I woke up and the radio was reporting the news of Lennon's murder in between Beatles songs. I remember eating a bowl of cereal in stunned silence, watching the Today show.
I was knocked into such a deep state of shock I couldn't even speak. I don't remember going to school or talking about Lennon's murder, or anything else, the entire day. Other than one idiot kid who ran around before class in the morning yelling about it (I guess that's how he was working out his shock over the news) most of my classmates didn't seem affected, if they knew at all. It was just a Tuesday.
But I knew, and I was devastated. When I came home from school that afternoon the shock had worn off. I dropped everything, the grief seized me, and I cried my eyes out for the next two days.
As strange as it may sound I cannot think of anything that traumatized me more as a boy than John Lennon's murder. I had a happy childhood, surrounded by a great deal of music and a loving family, but the Beatles made me particularly happy. As much as I always heard what was playing on the radio and in the car, the Beatles were my band.
Lennon's murder was the first time I felt as though something was ripped from me. It came without warning, and seemed to violently strip away my innermost self in an awful, overwhelming hemorrhage of grief and loss. I can't recall anything else like it as a kid, and I can still feel that bookmarked shock and hurt from 1980 on my inner feelings chronology today.
Having grown up on the Beatles, it was about four years before I could put on one of their albums again. There was just too much immediacy to the tragedy of Lennon's murder for me to able to enjoy their music, and so from the final weeks of 1980 to about the summer of 1984, I went into the only time in my life when I was in a "Beatles blackout," where the band that meant so much to me as a boy had become too much to bear. It was just too sad.
When I finally began to emerge from my blackout and listen to the Beatles again, it was like rediscovering a beloved old friend with memories that went back years. I found I loved the Beatles even more. As a teen I was suddenly getting so much more out of the Beatles' music than just the happy, singalong vibes of my childhood, and that in itself was a wonderful sense of renewal and discovery that helped me put Lennon's murder, however awful and vile, into a sense of place and perspective.
From there I began to explore the Beatles' solo material in addition to all the other music I'd been listening to in the interim that I'd also come to love. But it was such a joy to reconnect with the Beatles, and like millions of others around the world I carry their music inside my head and heart today. Like all the music and songs I treasure that have been part of my life, the Beatles have been there for me in good times and bad, and when I've needed them the most.
An Erased Entry
As a boy I had a copy of Nicholas Schaffner's 1977 book The Beatles Forever, which my parents had given me for my eighth birthday. I devoured the book and pored over it, and it was a constant companion.
Within days of Lennon's murder in December 1980 I wrote about his death in the book's flyleaf, ahead of the title page. This was unusual for me because I never wrote in books or on album covers, but for some reason I was compelled to write, in pencil, about Lennon's death, and "report" the news of his murder and my feelings about it. I even dated the entry.
For some reason, I erased the entry a few years later when I was returning to enjoying the Beatles' music. I'm not sure why, but I remember doing it. Perhaps it was my way of gaining some control over how Lennon's death affected me, or perhaps I simply wanted to enjoy my copy of The Beatles Forever as I had before Lennon's life was taken from him.
I don't think I was necessarily embarrassed about what I'd written, but a 15-year old kid doesn't necessarily look at what an 11-year old kid may have written with fondness or some sense of posterity. It's too bad I didn't save what I wrote somewhere, because the kid who wrote that entry in his Beatles book in 1980 was still reeling from a kind of shock and emotional duress, and all these decades later I would've liked to have known what he thought, what he said, and how he tried to resolve it.
Reagan at the Dakota
I've never been able to find TV news footage of this on-line anywhere, but in the days after John Lennon's murder I remember seeing Ronald Reagan on TV at the crime scene at the Dakota on New York City's Upper West Side, where Lennon and Yoko Ono lived
At the time, Reagan was the president-elect, having won a landslide victory over incumbent Jimmy Carter the month before. Reagan likely stopped by the Dakota because he was in New York on some other business, or perhaps he was visiting one of the many celebrities who also lived in the New York City landmark.
However much Reagan may have been loathe to admit it, millions of Beatles fans had just voted for him as president, and no doubt he or someone on his team thought it was a good idea for him to be seen and pay his respects, especially since the nation was in a state of collective mourning.
But it always struck me as odd that Reagan was there at all, as though he had any connection to the Beatles other than railing against their music and haircuts, and as though he wasn't anything less than complicit in being aware of the Nixon administration's surveillance of Lennon a few years earlier.
I remember Reagan saying something about Lennon's murder being a tragedy, which it obviously was. I also seem to remember him being asked if Lennon's murder had changed his opinion on the easy availability of handguns in the United States.
To be clear, I may be conflating the timing and locale of Reagan's remarks as president-elect, but I recall Reagan said his position on handguns had not changed, which I found outrageous since he had just been at, or was at, the very site where John Lennon had four hollow-point rounds blasted into his back by a deranged assailant obsessed with Catcher In the Rye, and who believed that Lennon himself was some kind of an "imposter."
Of course, a little more than three months later, Reagan himself would be shot by a .22 caliber handgun in the hands of a deranged assailant obsessed with Jodie Foster's role in the 1976 Martin Scorsese movie Taxi Driver. In addition to wounding three others and ultimately killing White House press secretary James Brady decades after the shooting, we now know the 1981 assassination attempt nearly killed the 40th president.
Reagan was lucky. John Lennon was not.
A Few Favorite Lennon Solo Songs
"Mind Games" (1973)
One of my favorite John Lennon solo songs was the title cut from his 1973 album Mind Games. Lennon seldom ventured into the dreampop world he was so adept at after "I Am the Walrus" and the White Album's "Cry Baby Cry," but "Mind Games" is a wonderful song that's more metaphysical than a critique on the unfortunate earthbound human practice.
I remember hearing this song as a kid on the old 1020 KDKA while I was in the back seat of my parents' giant 1970 Chrysler Newport, and I've cherished it ever since, especially the humorously ironic but still meaningful closing line of "I want you to make love not war. I know – you've heard it before."
The video since released for the song was actually filmed about a year after the "Mind Games" single and album came out, with Lennon walking around Central Park on a golden autumn afternoon on his way to a performance of the off-Broadway production of Lonely Hearts Club Band On the Road, which was playing at the Beacon Theater at Broadway and West 74th Street.
"Stand By Me" (1975)
John Lennon's cover of the 1959 Ben E. King classic was recorded for his Rock 'n' Roll album of vintage 50s and early 60s rock and roll covers, which he was working on with co-producer Phil Spector intermittently throughout his "Lost Weekend" period, and which was eventually released to the public in early 1975.
The arrangement Lennon opted for here was typically big for the era, and in lesser hands could have run the risk of turning into a campy, Vegas-style vamp. But Lennon wisely opted to keep his powder dry on the verses and leaned into the emotional rave-ups on the chorus, with the nearly bare opening of Lennon's acoustic guitar and accompanying organ paving the way for what became one of his greatest, most urgent solo vocal performances that enabled him to truly remake the song in his own image.
"Power to the People" (1971)
Years after this great single came out, Lennon admitted that some of the songs he wrote and positions he espoused as part of his radical leftist phase in the early 70s was to simply enable him to move past his Beatles identity and be taken more seriously as a songwriter by radical icons like Angela Davis and John Sinclair. Lennon said he saw it as an extension of his "Working Class Hero" identity (another great Lennon song), even though the other three Beatles acknowledged Lennon grew up in far more of a middle class setting than the rest of them did.
Nevertheless, Apple released this stomping, crowd-pleasing single in early 1971, eight months before the release of Lennon's benchmark Imagine album. It wasn't exactly a continuation of "Revolution," but it celebrates taking it to the streets and the rights of working families, while calling out leftist allies for behind-the-door misogyny.
"Oh Yoko" (1971)
This lovely, melodic, folk rock number from Lennon's 1971 Imagine album got a second (maybe third) lease on life when it appeared in the soundtrack of Wes Anderson's 1998 movie Rushmore, and it's since gone on to be appreciated as one of Lennon's classic solo tracks and a heartfelt ode to his wife.
While the Imagine album is loaded with some of Lennon's best solo melodies and songs, like the vulnerable "Jealous Guy," the vitriolic realpolitik of "Gimme Some Truth," the cruelly accurate putdown of his former songwriting partner in "How Do You Sleep," and the full-on jam of "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier," the happy, puppy dog domesticity of "Oh Yoko" closes the album with a pitter patter of swirling pianos, acoustic guitars, and harmonicas.
"I'm Losing You" (1980)
Recorded as part of the Double Fantasy sessions in the summer of 1980, this grinding version of "I'm Losing You" features Cheap Trick backing Lennon, but for some reason this take didn't make the cut to appear on the final version of the Double Fantasy album, as Lennon opted for a later recording of the song featuring the cream of New York session musicians.
Fortunately, this version of "I'm Losing You" was made available on the John Lennon Anthology box set in 1998, and on the smaller, single-disc companion Wonsaponatime, showing the grit with which Lennon was returning to recording and songwriting in 1980 after a five-year absence from record making, which in those days was akin to an ice age or two.
"Bring On the Lucie (Freda People)" (1973)
Following the landslide re-election of Richard Nixon in November 1972, Lennon began to return to a more personal style of songwriting and away from the rock and roll radicalism that had earned him a spot on Nixon's "enemies list."
Nevertheless, even as he whipped marvelous new state-of-the-relationship songs into shape for his Mind Games album like "Out the Blue," "I Know," and the dreamy "You Are Here," he still had a parting shot for Tricky Dick in the form of "Bring On the Lucie," which appeared, initially, to have been inspired by the murderous hostage-taking escape of the Soledad Brothers from the Marin County Courthouse in 1970.
Lennon streamlined the "freda people" lyrics into a near-dialogue with an imaginary Nixon in four of the song's six verses, speaking directly to early 70s Law and Order paranoias. With the shouts of "stop the killing," and charging the song's antagonists with slipping and sliding "down the hill on the blood of the people you killed," Lennon was all but indicting the Nixon administration for the waves of unrestricted B-52 strikes on North Vietnam in December 1972 that forced Hanoi back to the bargaining table, but which caused an uproar among world leaders who said Nixon and the U.S. were committing war crimes (they were).
Strawberry Fields "Imagine" mosaic photo by Oded Damzow
Dakota photo by Tommy Hough
By Tommy Hough
We hope you can join us this Tuesday, Dec. 8, at 6:30 p.m. for Packs Under Attack, the first of our new "Dems. Gone Wild" Environmental Report webinars dedicated to topics of wildlife conservation.
Facilitated by club member and wildlife advocate Brandon Coopersmith, and featuring guests from the California Wolf Center in Julian and my former Oregon Wild colleague Rob Klavins, Packs Under Attack will focus on the ongoing plight of American Gray Wolves and Mexican Wolves in the U.S.
Brandon and myself, along with many of our club members and those active in environmental and conservation spaces, have grave concerns about what could be a bloody, calamitous winter for wolves given the Trump administration's needlessly cruel order to remove wolves from the protections they've had under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act for the last 45 years.
In what was essentially a desperate, last-ditch political Hail Mary to win over voters in the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, the legacy of wolves in the Lower 48 states were subjugated into becoming a sacrificial lamb to preserve the legacy of Donald J. Trump. And while Trump may have lost the election, wolves have more to lose.
Fueled by bloodlust and old European superstitions, wolves were nearly hunted to extinction in the early 20th century from California to the Pacific Northwest to the Great Lakes. Wolf populations were further reduced due to development, agricultural expansion, and the destruction of habitat and the killing of the wolf's main prey species, like the American bison.
Beginning in 1995 in Yellowstone National Park, gray wolves were reintroduced into the wild in the contiguous U.S., and over the last 25 years have started to return to many of their historic habitats, most notably crossing to the west side of the Cascade Range with the arrival of Oregon wolf OR-7 ("Journey") in California in 2012. Only later did we learn OR-7 wasn't the only wolf to make the "journey" beyond the Cascade passes into northernmost California.
Register now via Zoom for this special "Dems. Gone Wild" Environmental Report.
Our January edition of Dems. Gone Wild will be a Zoom presentation titled Monarchs: A Royal Crisis, featuring Monarch butterfly advocate Victoria Abrenica of The Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon, and formerly with Ocean Connectors. In February we'll focus on the perilous future of bats in Flying Under the Radar. Details on both environmental reports will be posted soon.
In the meantime, we'll see you this Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. for Packs Under Attack.
A former San Diego broadcaster and media personality, Tommy Hough is a wilderness and conservation advocate, communications professional, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He ran as the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.