Wednesday, January 24, 2007

SAT Time: Cock is to rooster as Bull is to...?


Answer: Gentleman cow.

My grandmother gets American Heritage and passes them on to me when I see her, which is, unfortunately, infrequently. So stop me if you've heard this one.

A regular column in AH is "Why Do We Say...?" where a number of idiosyncratic American phrases are pointed out and etymologized for your readerly edification. In the August/September '06 issue, they took apart rooster. Apropos, no?

Apparently "rooster," along with a host of words, was used as a polite replacement for the unseemly--nay, scandalous!--(though not incorrect) "cock." Appearing during the end of the 1700's, people were getting more particular about vulagrities in speech as such, as AH points out:

This is the period when bosom, limb, and donkey replaced breast, leg, and ass; when breeches and trousers became inexpressibles, unmentionables, and nether garments; when died was superseded on gravestones by passed away, laid to rest, and fell asleep; and when the sexually potent barnyard bull was converted into the cow brute, cow’s spouse, and gentleman cow.


The comedy of "gentleman cow" is obviously a result of presentism. In this era where you can see (and hear) pretty much whatever you want on television, it is amusing to see that some terms whose origins remain obscured from popular culture display a long-felt tradition of propriety. In fact oftentimes there is that certain amusement: I've heard my mother, for example, say "unmentionables" with a knowing laugh, as if she is tickled by the not-too-clever subterfuge of that now-antiquated term.

The male chicken, though, is an interesting exception. Most schoolyard kids know that there is a naughty way to say it, but no one giggles at "rooster." The term has become an imbued with as much currency as the original double entendre. Part of the reason may have as much to do with the ubiquity of the syllable "cock" in even the most innocuous places that added to a heightened sensitivity. You just can't escape it, so try as you might, you need a valid replacement. The rooster word at least makes some sense as the cock was most often seen "roosting"--a term already in use--on the family barn. The case could be made that the descriptive element added to that currency. Nonetheless, the term "cock" was contentious. Even Louisa May Alcott's father Amos, AH says, had changed the family's name from Alcox, an even less obvious reference than the earlier Alcocke, or the even earlier (though only conjecture; records don't go back far enough) just Alcock.

Talk about a different society. Hardly anybody bats an eye at naming your child Peter or Richard (yes, Dick) or even something more unfortunate. And even if they do, it's surely not enough to go and change your name. Nonetheless, AH points out that language is pretty tough to unattach from extant association: "[W]e continue to say rooster (as well as donkey and haystack) and, when presented with the rooster’s spouse at the dinner table, we are likely to ask for white meat or dark meat instead of breast or thigh and for a drumstick instead of a leg. Thus we honor our ancestors’ hang-ups." I guess my family was low-class: when I was a kid, I only ate the legs because I didn't know the difference--nobody used those terms.

Of course the whole thing is cute, which makes good copy. It also, however, points to the way we think about the things that surround us, and how some everyday items get bound up in semantic chicanery that will make your grandmother blush. Unfortunately, that's the part that gets left out of the article (no fault of theirs as it's only a page-long feature) that would be really interesting to know: where did these terms originate that made our forebears silly with embarrassment? Was "cock" already a euphemism when the animal got attached to it or vice-versa? What could a bird do to get saddled with that? The cock is obviously the male rooster and (euphemistically) the male sex organ, and both reinforce some invocation of masculinity, gender, and power (note the logo for Rooster Records, above left). I've even heard the term "top cock" mean the same as "the guy in charge" in fairly polite conversation--and no, not as a slip-up. But the question remains: which came first, the chicken or the--

Nevermind. I think you get the point.

As a final note, check out issue 32:2 (1957) of the journal American Speech for H.D. Rowe's near-hilarious romp, "New England Terms for 'Bull': Some Aspects of Barnyard Bowlderism," available on JSTOR. He cites some 42 different euphemisms for "bull" in the 1930's. You don't get phrases like this much in academic writing: "One shudders to think of the repressed dirtiness of mind implicit in these substitutions" (actually, a quote from a 1933 work Rowe employs). Maybe he forgot about Calvinism. A drier, though no less interesting, take is Mencken's The American Language (1921), now out of copyright and available numerous places on-line.

"Not Once in Memory Did the Cowboy Eat His Horse."

The nations total number of horse slaughtering plants has dropped from three to one as a federal appeals court ruled last Friday that horse slaughtering is illegal in Texas. After the court's ruling the only horse slaughtering plant remaining is in DeKalb, Illinois.

In his ruling, Judge Fortunato Benavides of the 5th circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans wrote, "The lone cowboy riding his horse on a Texas trail is a cinematic icon. Not once in memory did the cowboy eat his horse." According to the AP, the court's decision "overturns a lower federal district court's ruling last year on a 1949 Texas law that banned horse slaughter for the purpose of selling the meat for food."

There are two aspects here that stand out for me.

One, that there are actually operational horse slaughtering plants up and running in 2007.

Two, the way Benavides' decision cites popular culture as part of his rationale. I'm sure the actual decision is based on law and not movies, but it's interesting to me that he chooses not actual history to cite, but cinematic history. There's something about the repeated moving imagery of a cowboy on a horse that speaks to Benavides more than any actual history of the west apparently has; it's not that cowboys rode horses as much as it is that cowboys rode horses in movies.

And didn't eat them. Though, to be fair, they did, at times, punch them.

That many westerns are fabrications is nothing new, of course, but if I wasn't certain Benavides was basing his decision of law and not movie memory (which seems to be the case given that the 5th Circuit overturned a law by a lower court that overturned the 1949 law that's actually on the books) it would make me wonder what directors like John Ford (who was often pretty adamant that depictions of the "wild west" in his movies were John Ford's West and not Actual History West), Sam Peckinpah, and Sergio Leone would think about their fictional films influencing 21st century law.

The people of Texas appear pleased with the court's ruling. Mayor of Kaufman, Texas Paula Bacon told the AP: "This business has not been a positive for our community at all. To have state law finally enforced and to have this business close its doors for good is fantastic news."

The AP reports that 88,000 horses are slaughtered each year in the U.S. and that "horse meat is not marketed as table fare in the United States, but the slaughter plants process hundreds of horses each week and ship the meat overseas, where horse flesh is considered a delicacy in Europe, Japan and other places." All three U.S. plants, ironically or not, are foreign-owned, and the U.S. Congress has a bill pending to close all three plants.

Here's a link to the Society for Animal Protective Legislation website where they discuss the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (AHSPA).

And here's a link to the House of Representatives version of the AHSPA bill, HR 503.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Schwarzenegger & the Damming of California

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has unveiled his new state budget proposal and it clocks it at a whopping $143 billion. The plan is filled with "big ideas," making it a document that's been labeled as both visionary and unrealistic, and Schwarzenegger seems to be finding enemies and allies on both sides of the aisle depending on which section of the budget is being discussed. Not all of the "big ideas" are new, of course; in terms of water policy, Schwarzenegger has recrafted former Governor Pat Brown's State Water Plan, a nearly 50-year old project that has been, at various times, put in motion and halted in its tracks.

According to Dan Walters, the State Water Plan, "adopted by voters at Brown's behest nearly a half-century ago, envisioned an extensive network of dams, reservoirs and canals to capture winter rains and spring snowmelt in Northern California and convey the water to fast-growing Southern California. [...] Water policy in California has stagnated even as the state's population has grown by some 50 percent and as the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the largest single source of drinking water, has continued to deteriorate -- in part because the peripheral canal was not built when needed."

By politicizing water to the point of stagnation, California finds itself in a situation where it has to do something. Continuing to do nothing will eventually result in a moment of collapse; an area like Los Angeles has already gone way beyond the geographical carrying capacity and the people of LA are not simply going to move to relieve the stress on California's water supply. Schwarzenegger (I swear that the happiest people to see him retire will be California newspaper writers so they don't have to write that name anymore), whether one agrees or disagrees with his plan, at least acknowledges that a problem exists and that the problem will get worse, not better. He is, at the very least, getting the issue back on the political table and perhaps there is hope that some kind of workable compromise can be reached.

His proposal is to construct two new dams - one on the San Joaquin River near Fresno and the other 80 miles north of Sacramento would combine to hold 3 billion acre-feet of water - in order to build up the state's reservior of water while there's water to be had now, so when global warming diminishes the availability of water down the road from the Sierra Mountain snowpacks, Cali isn't caught wanting. The state's water needs will continue to grow, and I give Schwarzenegger credit for both recognizing this, proposing a solution, and including it in the state budget. In the face of the non-action by the federal government, it has been up to states to take a lead on green issues.

However, the question remains whether Schwarzenegger's plan is the best plan for California - both for its people and its ecology.

On the issue of water policy, Schwarzenegger has done a 180 in the past year, according to San Francisco Examiner columnist Ken Garica: "I seem to recall that our eco-friendly governor was the same person who gave a green light to a study at the behest of environmentalists on the possibility of tearing down the O’Shaughnessy Dam in Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley that brings precious water to 2.4 million Bay Area residents each day. [...] it does seem rather remarkable that the governor’s water experts would spend more than a year studying the potential dismantling of one of the West’s greatest engineering feats and then propose building two new dams under the guise of water resource protection."

Garcia argues that the plan will likely go nowhere because the State Capitol will divide too sharply for (largely Republicans) and against (laregly Democrats) the plan for it to gain momentum. It is apparently not one of Schwarzenegger's primary issues, so the thinking by Garcia is that the Governor "won’t waste precious political capital on the idea for long — especially while he’s basking in the headlines for leading the national charge on greenhouse gas emissions."

So the question of what to do will likely remain. It's a question that needs answering; as California's population continues to grow, its need for water will continue to grow. However appealing a solution it may be, we're not going to see either a population stagnation or redistribution.

What won't happen is one side winning out over the other. Neither the environmentalists nor the pro-dam crowd are likely to get a solution that they love, as neither side has found an argument that sways the other side to their position. There needs to be a compromise, as unappealing as that road might be, because without a compromise, without a plan to do something credible, we will eventually reach a point where the issue will go beyond the state's capabilities of handling its own problem and the federal government will have to step in.

And we all know how good the government is at solving water problems.

I don't know what California needs to do; I don't know of a plan that is both environmentally friendly and meets the growing needs for water. The best solution (population redistribution) isn't going to happen, and while Schwarzenegger's thinking is correct (store water now to use later), two huge new dams aren't a solution likely to improve California's ecology, and any solution that solves one problem while creating a potentially greater problem isn't a solution anyone should enter into lightly.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Portrait of an Actor as a Middle-Aged Environmentalist

A new reality series relegated to HGTV (I would have never known of its existence if my dad, an avid HGTV watcher, hadn't alerted me), Living with Ed (Sundays, 10 PM) follows the daily superenvironmentalist lives of Hollywood B-listers Ed Begley, Jr. and his wife Rachelle Carson Begley. It's a fairly entertaining show, but after two episodes the formula is pretty clearcut: Ed loves doing things environmentally soundly while his wife struggles to put up with what she perceives to be merely environmentally conscious eccentricities. And that's just it. Whether intentionally or not, Living with Ed reduces environmentalism to just another eccentricity. The title of the series is evidence enough of this mentality; having to live with Ed is like living with a goiter or living with a dog that pisses on the carpet--it's just something you have to put up with.

Like any standard reality show, Living with Ed revolves around conflict (a comparable sitcom that immediately comes to mind is Everybody Loves Raymond). Ed buys a second solar oven that his wife wants to get rid of. Ed buys a rainwater collection barrel that his wife won't let him use. Ed cleans the solar panels which power the house and his wife is embarrassed that her husband's up on the roof. Of course, Ed is an environmentalist in the extreme--he rides a stationary bike to generate enough power for him to make toast, for instance. He times his wife in the shower and updates her on how much water she's wasting.

The comedic opposition the show relies on may make it enjoyable to the average viewer, but it also neglects to acknowledge any middle ground a more moderate environmentalist might conceivably find. Anything environmentally conscious Ed does, no matter how logically or ethically sound it may be (installing solar panels or driving an electric car, for instance), is taken as evidence of his eccentric extremism and fodder for his wife's ridicule. While the net effect of the show is to paint a caricature of an environmentalist gone slightly awry, it isn't meant to make light of environmentalism, I don't think--the website, in fact, offers 10 legitimate tips to becoming more environmentally friendly. Leave it to reality TV to pervert environmentalism, I guess.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Remembering How To Talk About Place

Today I am going to let my excitement about this particular book supercede all other concerns—I’d rather have more people know about it than not. So if anyone is interested in posting on it separately, maybe more analytically, I won’t blame them.

I just got my copy of the new Barry Lopez edited reference book, Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape and am completely thrilled. A collaboration among 45 nature writers, the book’s goal is to set out in an encyclopedic format the specific names of various geological phenomena. Primarily natural occurrences the writers have chosen things of their own experience growing up or traveling about the country. We get over forty references to sediment bars as they exist in waterways from harbors to rivers. One learns about sand motion, that barchan dunes are crescent shapes while the transverse dune is a mound with a gentle up-slope and close to sheer drop on the opposite side. Some, like detroit riprap (the embedding of otherwise useless cars in riverbanks to quell erosion), are human contrivances that slip in because they become the landscape themselves and exist in specific regional circumstances. Sprinkled liberally throughout in the margins and in the entries themselves are quotations from literature that invoke the various terms, for as Lopez points out in the introduction, great writers are those that are in touch with the language of place, whether they know it or not.

Writers, then, are the ones that help us with the central problem Lopez forwards: we are forgetting about places because our language is losing specificity. “The land beyond our towns,” he says, “has becomes a generalized landscape of hills and valleys, of beaches, rivers, and monotonous deserts…almost without our knowing it, the particulars of these landscapes have slipped away from us.” People, as he puts it, are “groping for a sense of place and community, that we want to be more meaningfully committed, less isolated.” The solution to this problem, then, is the book. By bringing together writers from across the country, Lopez pulls in those people who are still in tune not only with language but its connection to place. “Whatever their styles and emphases, many American poets and novelists have recognized that something emotive abides in the land,” that writers find themselves in the connective “moment when the thing—the hill, the tarn, the lunette, the kiss-tank, the caliche flat, the bajada—ceases to be a thing and becomes something that knows we are there.” This is not necessarily mysticism (though one could call it that, I suppose), but the acknowledgement that language and representation are means to getting at the realities of place, a contentious subject in the postmodern world.

Because the list of contributors includes their home grounds, I decided the best way to look through this reference book was to read entries nearer (geographically) to my understanding, to see how they bounced off of what I thought about things close to me. To make things easier, instead of scanning all 480 pages, I chose to read the various offerings by Scott Russell Sanders as he lives right down the road a bit, a long-time resident of Bloomington, Indiana, a professor at Indiana University since 1971.

I should admit that I have a strange sort of affinity for Sanders. I've never met him or read a great deal of his work (though his Private History of Awe is engagingly written and a pleasure to read). Once, though, a couple of years ago I was a judge for the IU high school speech invitational and happened across his office in the building the contest was being held on that campus. I spent a few quiet minutes away from the busy crowds of hyper-dramatic teenagers down the hall reading the assorted postings on his and other’s doors. No connection at all, really. Still, I always note his name in print, a kind of passing recognition of someone nearby who works in the same type of field. It’s as if I sort of know him in our shared Hoosier-ness (he transplanted, I native), the same way I might feel meeting someone from Indiana abroad, a starting point to a conversation, maybe. Admittedly, it’s an artificial but harmless connection I like to acknowledge nonetheless.

In any event, looking up Sanders’ entries, I found (at first) a kind of vague disappointment with his choices. I, like most readers I presumed, know what ground is, so too with lawn and yard. These seemed to support Lopez’s point about language becoming non-specific, that these terms were just fill-ins for the terms lost I wanted to reclaim—or worse, that there is nothing particularly interesting in the book. My own snap assumptions, however, were soon dissipated by Sanders’ specific and literate definitions. His lawn entry has a brief history of the phenomenon of grass-carpeted yard (which reminded me of a great David Quammen essay, “Rethinking the Lawn” from The Boilerplate Rhino). Broken ground has an etymological list illustrating geology’s becoming completely abstracted by the term’s use in scholarship. It even turns out that I was just simply wrong about ground; I knew very little about it. Besides being the rough stuff of the earth’s surface, it attends to any purposed land (he notes circus ground, for one), and that in the nineteenth century “campground” was nearly identical to “church revival ground.” Neat stuff! Many of Sanders’ entries link together, if implicitly, like lawn and hundredth meridian. In the latter he reminds us of Powell’s warnings about the massive water needs to settle the West, while in the former he mentions off-handedly the place of lawns in “parched Los Angeles, where it is utterly crazy.” In every entry I was treated to something new, whether it be a geologic factoid or a reference in American literature. Sanders’ pieces are not alone in their great writing, as I found myself unable not to look at adjacent entries.

What’s more, however, is that I had to confront some of my own regional assumptions that I hadn't much considered. (And, no, I am not too proud to share my own reconsiderations even when they expose naïveté.) I thought I knew what a yard and lawn are because I grew up with one. No, it wasn’t fenced in some Dick and Jane fantasy, but it was a pretty clearly delineated plot of which I was aware the boundaries. At the same time, I remembered my visits to Moab, Utah. There are many yards, chain-link fences and all, but hardly any lawns to speak of (except maybe ironically). I told a friend with me that it must be a different sort of childhood to grow up not having to mow the grass. My own boyhood was a veritable lawn bildungsroman, first with the vintage 1950’s push-reel with no motor for the front yard, then the Lawn Boy push mower, then the Sears riding mower. Each was a step toward maturity that must be taken up by something else in the desert. Somewhere in the book, then, are the entries that must lay the foundation for those stepping-stones elsewhere that I had taken on with the lawn.

That’s the great quality of the book: its ability to get underneath the things you are already familiar with, while at the same time illuminating others as they exist in different regions. In that way it certainly accomplishes Lopez’s goal of bringing back a language of place that has been brushed aside in a busy, busy world. Moreover, not only does specificity count, but it is damned interesting reading. Any book of scholarly research that helps you get at a little more self-knowledge has got to be a good thing. I am happy to have my own assumptions laid barer. Get this book—I can’t recommend it enough to anyone interested in the ways place affects our lives and the ways we talk about the world. And that should be all of us, by the way.

Also of note, the Home Ground Project, an extension of the book where you can include your two cents on the entries.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Migration Frustration: Wyoming's Pronghorn Problem

I recently received the January issue of Smithsonian and was struck by “End of the Road?” (Daniel Glick, 52-8, available on-line) on the pronghorn that live in the western United States. Not actually an antelope but a type of goat, the pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) are threatened primarily by mining interests that have received special exemptions from environmental regulations aimed at species protection. The basic story of the pronghorn is not anything new: species decline as a result of development. After some general information about the pronghorn as a species (less than one page), the rest of the article is a story of human action, conservationists battling corporation for the right to create the National Migration Corridor, a protected strip of land 90 miles long and one mile wide for the pronghorn to travel.

What is interesting about this all-too-common story of habitat encroachment is that the pronghorn doesn’t seem to be a central player in the article. I am not saying that Glick should have interviewed a pronghorn. (I hear they’re somewhat reticent.) However, the people involved have diverging interests as to why anyone should try and curb development in the region. One, for example, has concerns about the fracing process (a pressurized liquid drilling procedure, pronounced “fracking”) as a contributor to groundwater contamination, a specifically human concern. As a matter of presentation, four of the seven illustrations that accompany the article are of humans interviewed for the story. At issues, then, is that Glick presents an interesting picture of conservation writing today.

First, however, I would point out that I don’t see anything particularly wrong with doing things here on human terms. Any place where humans have made some kind of change to an area requires at least some consideration of how humans should act if only because we have foisted our structure into a place that did just fine without it. The pronghorns’ fear of crossing Highway 191 is a fine example. Do we keep the road? Construct wildlife crossings? Send out Fish and Wildlife people every year? Just not worry about it? Humans have to take part in the discussion because they have the means to do something about it—though it could also be because we’re the ones who created the problems in the first place.

I wouldn’t fault Glick for his (almost) writing the pronghorn out of the article because his venue dictates his subject to an extent; Smithsonian is not Conservation Biology. At the same time, it does pose a problem for the more popular press. The article is obviously pro-pronghorn. However, it might be pro-conservation at the cost of abstracting the species into “just another problem to be solved”. What is the place of framing in a science-based piece? might be one question. But perhaps a more important, attendant issue is that the focus of the article is on the feat of conservation itself and not the animal. Saving the pronghorn is not just a problem, but a problem of considerable scale—and in solving big problems, we get big pats on the back. Bernie Holz, quoted in the article, sees it this way: “This is the longest migration of a land species outside the Arctic in the New World…If we can’t save this pronghorn migration—an event that has been occurring for 6,000 years through a narrow thread of corridor—then what hope do we have for conserving other migrations?” Though the logic here seems backwards—why would it be easier to save the biggest and not smaller, more easily contained migrations?—there is at center a problem of ingenuity. Humans ought to be able to do something about this. And yet, if it weren’t for the humans, there wouldn’t be a problem to begin with. The pronghorn is central to the human story simply because it is a species that has behind it some superlative value, and it is this value that makes it a problem worth considering.

The use of superlatives is pervasive in the article, almost to the point of distraction. In the five pages (minus the space for pictures), we hear about the pronghorns’ “barest” diet, twice that they have the “longest” migration route in the lower 48 states, that the proposed corridor is “the most important” use of Wyoming land, and that the area of concern has “the most impressive views.” The fact that they are “arguably the world’s fastest living land animals” (in terms of stamina, sustaining 50+ mph instead of sprinting like the cheetah) is foregrounded in the pull-quote on the table of contents and the first factoid we get in the article itself. In a number of places the superlative is implied: Holz says “there’s a limit to what the animals can take” in terms of human-wrought abuses; that the pronghorns’ terrain is a place of “just enough”; that mining operations are allegedly “minimizing” drilling’s impacts. In each case the language of the article pushes the reader, whether explicitly employing the superlative or suggesting extremes in terms of limit.

The dictional choice—the pushing—in the article produces a strange double-effect. On the one hand, because of the overt interest in preserving species in the article, the superlative invokes a somewhat muted kind of crisis language. Nowhere does Glick, a capable journalist, fall into a screaming polemic on saving the pronghorn. Of course, he doesn’t have to. His clever move is to create the unfinished syllogism. He presents the following premises:

1. The pronghorn and its habitat are noteworthy
2. The pronghorn and its habitat are in danger.

The superlative description is premise one, the interviews with conservationists he contacts premise two. Left to the reader is the implied conclusion:

3. The pronghorn and its habitat should be protected.

Glick’s argument is a subtly affective (as well as fairly effective) one, leaving the logic to the emotional assumptions he believes his reader holds. Presumably the reader will think we should save interesting things, more so if they are threatened. However, these assumptions show the second half of the double-effect: a perpetuation of the charismatic species problem (on which David Suzuki has written an interesting short essay). By framing the pronghorn as remarkable (i.e. in terms of its speed and length of migration), Glick gives it some kind of value that is interesting to humans. It seems unlikely that the general public would have much of an idea as to what a pronghorn is, much less that it is a world-record holder before reading this article. As an activist piece, then, Glick promotes conservation, giving the pronghorn’s plight a sense of urgency, a word he employs twice on the final page in quotes from others. Glick’s conservationist urge is implicit; where humans like to solve interesting and urgent problems, he provides one.

I understand it isn’t terribly fashionable to talk about the preservation of a species simply for its own good. For policy changes to occur in this world (at least most of the time) conservation issues have to coupled with something for humans to gain. All the same, something has to be said for intrinsic value. Though I am sure that there are more species that would benefit systemically from the pronghorns’ protection (or the services that are used for protection, like wildlife crossings), Glick only once briefly alludes to some vague “benefit the mule deer, moose, and other mammals” would stand to gain. What is more—and I fully understand that I am being idealistic so no one needs to point it out—even if there weren’t systemic benefits (like predator-prey relationships, etc.) in protecting the pronghorn, there is some kind of value solely in its existence. At the very least, this is the type of value people address (if implicitly) when they mourn the extinction of a species, the subtext of the article. That something no longer exists is immediately upsetting about extinction, not that it was part of a larger ecosystem. Though one might also mourn the loss of connectivity as well, I think it is unlikely that the shock kids feel about the popular example of the dodo in elementary school science has much to do with biotic webs, but with finality. Glick’s point, however, might be that the mourning of species loss is generally retrospective except to those who fight the good fight. As such, he attempts to make the reader care about the pronghorn by making it remarkable, a tactic that simultaneously foregrounds the pronghorn as in trouble, but making it—for better or worse—a human problem.