Thursday, July 31, 2008

Where's Greentangle?

In at least one of these photos (the 11th if you must know, at least til they add more photos or change the URL) of tall ships visiting town this weekend. Despite the optical illusion and all the worried people in the first photo, yes, the masts do fit under the bridge. ;-)

It's not what you do, it's who you know

A 55 year old temp at University of California, San Diego was sentenced to 15 months in prison and ordered to pay over $10,000 in restitution for threatening to blow up buildings if research animals weren't released.

I particularly like this part of the email I received:
Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Mazza said Sills' sentence was on the low end of the agreed-upon federal sentencing guidelines because it did not appear he was affiliated with the Animal Liberation Front. "It (the bomb threat) was his form of expression against testing on animals," the prosecutor said.

Aside from the fact that this attorney apparently doesn't know that anyone can be part of ALF by saying so because there aren't any membership dues, thanks are due for acknowledging the political witch hunt aspect of the government's pursuit of "ecoterrorists".

Remember, kids, bomb threats are OK. It's those vegan potlucks you gotta watch out for.

Friday, July 25, 2008


No, it's not pornographic or my response to the recently completed Y, a comic book aka graphic novel about the last man on Earth. It's a simple little geek post in which I declare that I thoroughly enjoyed the new X-Files movie (I Want to Believe) which I saw this afternoon.

Not for the fairly lame plot about creepy skin-crawly human monsters, but for the older and more mature relationship between Mulder and Scully (who's much hotter now--how's that for mature?) and because of the fact that it snows for the entire friggin' movie. Boy, does it snow. Maybe it's more of a blizzard. And there's ice. And snowcovered landscapes. Well, maybe not the entire movie, but it snows til the closing credits. Make sure you stick around for those because most of the people in the theater with me missed something in their hurry to leave two minutes early. I look forward to watching the dvd to catch the titles of a couple books shown in passing at interesting moments during the movie. And did I mention the snow?

Seriously, the relationship is the star of this movie and on a much more realistic and less coy way than it often was in the series. I think there may be nothing better between humans than the relationship between two lovers/partners/friends over a long period of time. To know and be known, to always care. If you can make it work in a marriage and sustain that level of intimacy, good for you. As more of a loner myself, what I find much more interesting and satisfying are people who repeatedly come and go from each other's life in various relationships. I still have that connection with a woman I first knew twenty five years ago and have little doubt we'll remain important to each other in some way until we die. In another case, I'm currently not in touch with someone I knew for ten years and have no doubt will be back in my life someday. Even without contact, she remains important to me because of that knowledge.

While I'm rambling on about the enjoyment of yin & yang, I might as well mention a cookbook titled Rice & Spice by Robin Robertson. Got this from the library a few days ago and started a list of page numbers of recipes I wanted to try. It soon became clear that I was going to need to renew this when the month was up, and buy it if ever employed again. First up today was Spicy Tofu & Broccoli Stir-Fry (another long-running relationship) and as I was dumping the garlic and the ginger and the scallions and the red pepper flakes into the pan I had no doubt it was going to be a winner and it was. In the 29 recipes I still want to try, I'll be moving through Thailand, India, the Middle East, Spain, Cuba, Mexico, New Orleans (where I'm especially hoping these veggie versions will turn out well), the American South and Southwest, and back to Asia and Europe for some soups and salads. Sorry, I have no room left for dessert. But look me up in a few years.

Where the Wild Things Were

As if New Orleans (remember New Orleans, that American city we never made too much effort to help or repair? Their newspaper just had its first restaurant review in over three years, population’s down a third, jobs are unfilled because people can’t afford the rent which is up 46%, and only about 1/5 of public transportation is running. But let’s fix up Iraq, shall we?) doesn’t have enough problems, there’s now a 100 mile long oil spill stretching from downtown to the Gulf of Mexico. Oil is still leaking from the ship collision and is expected to take weeks to clean up. People are trying to protect the Delta National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of the river. The path I once walked along the Mississippi is mostly deserted because of the smell, and I imagine the aroma of cafe au lait and beignets isn’t the most powerful one at the Cafe du Monde right now.

The deadly and unexplained white nose syndrome which is killing off thousands of bats in the northeast continues to spread and has now been reported in Maine.

There’s a member of the Araneidae family, possibly the male Larinioides cornuta, more commonly known as a big-ass spider, with a lovely web connected to the bricks just outside my bedroom window. The cat watches from the windowsill, hoping to pick up new predator tricks.

The title for this post came from the title of a book by William Stolzenburg which I recently skimmed, subtitled Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators. Hmm, I thought, there’s something I can sink my teeth into, but I only grazed because I was a bit put off by his somewhat florid writing style in the early going. However, there are many fascinating stories throughout the book of what happens to an ecosystem when the top predator is removed or returned. The most well-known and widespread examples involve animals such as wolves, cougars, deer, and elk, and places like Yellowstone, but do you know about the connections between kelp forests, urchins, sea otters, and whales or what happens when you remove starfish from a rock?

I strongly recommend everyone read at least the epilogue which in a few pages sums up the most important lessons and questions on the subject. One of the very interesting points is how the bar gets lowered with each human generation—what I see now as a natural area destroyed since my childhood is likely to be the good old days for today’s young. At least for the decreasing percentage of the young who still pay any attention to the natural world.

We know so little yet so casually destroy the strands of the webs. What a better world it might be if forty years ago, instead of worrying about the domino theory in Southeast Asia, we’d been worried about the domino effect in our own country and neighborhoods. Today, it’s probably too late to choose between coexistence and extinction.

Naturalist George Schaller is quoted, “I suspect most people in the world could not care less if all large predators vanish. There are a few of us who think they are beautiful, interesting, essential to natural ecological processes, and part of our natural heritage worth preserving, but we are a distinct minority anywhere.”

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Today's Animals

I want to try to put a little more emphasis on animal-themed posts here so I'll occasionally be putting up some related news items. Here are the first two:

The European Union has proposed a ban on imports of products from seals killed in a cruel way. As opposed to the nice way, I guess, but moving on ... This focuses on the infamous Canadian seal hunt and its annual $5.5 million worth of exports to the EU. Canada says this would violate trade laws and threatens legal action. This elevation of trade and money over the rights of a country to make its own ethical and environmental choices is an abomination.

Three dead leatherback turtles have washed up on the shores of Massachusetts this month. Researchers usually see one or two each year.

When I added the list of sanctuary and rehab links to the blog many months ago, I was thinking of a series of posts spotlighting some groups with interesting websites and which seem to be doing good work. An appearance here shouldn't necessarily be taken as a full endorsement because I'll be mentioning organizations I have no direct experience with.

The first group (chosen alphabetically) is accredited by the American Sanctuary Association (linked on the right). Animal Ark is a 38 acre sanctuary and nature center located near Reno, Nevada. Some aspects of it may be a little too zooish for my ideal preferences, but it provides a lifetime home for wild animals which are considered unreleasable for various reasons and which might have been killed otherwise.
They also meet the majority of their energy needs through solar and wind power.

One thing I like about their website is that along with photos are the histories of the animals and how they wound up living there. Some were orphans, some had been used in the entertainment industry, some were kept as pets, some were injured. I would definitely visit if I were in the area.

And for my fellow cranky readers, don't worry ... I'm working on one of those posts also.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It's not the Heat, It's the Stupidity

Yesterday, I, great lover of all things cold and snowy, was enthusiastically investigating moving to the desert. I received an email about a job with one of my favorite environmental groups which happens to have its main office in Arizona. My experience was a great match for the job, and looking through the bios and photos of the staff made me feel excited about working with them for an organization which I believe does great work.

My mind started racing through things I wanted to check out before emailing my resume: their local newspapers, cost of apartments, vegetarian restaurants and grocers,
the temperature (I'd let that wait til last), neighborhoods, transportation.

First I had to see where the office was on a city map ... hmm, on the outskirts of town. That doesn't look promising. A city tourism site gave me the name of the local public transportation system but not a link (lots of links to airlines though) so I had to find it on my own. When their system map loaded I didn't see the area I was looking for ... back to check the office location again, map comparison 101, yes, public transportation stops several miles short of where I want to go in 101 degree heat. End of fantasy.

I'm not going to name the group because I'm not trying to bash them and because unfortunately, it's very typical. We all know politicians, ex-politicians, rock stars, movie stars, gurus, environmentalists, who fly around the world telling people to conserve and live simply. They not only don't walk the walk, they take private jets. But wait, you say, if they were not traveling and making everyone aware of these issues, if they were ecohermit saints denouncing civilization like you, no one would have heard of them or even know about the issues and how could anyone solve the problems? To which I can only say, how can anyone solve the problem by being the problem?

Of course, cities in the desert are a stupid idea anyway. No offense to my friends who live there; where I live is also a stupid place to live year round. But if you're going to be an environmental group in a city in the desert, don't you have some responsibilities? Now, it could be that their office is a new super-green building which was built out of dead cacti and old tires and recycles all its waste. To which, if it was built on a scrap of "undeveloped" land, I holler bullshit! And no matter how it was built, there's simply no excuse for such an office to not be on public transportation.

Despite my renewed disappointment in the society out there, yesterday's events did have a positive side for me. Between my increasing age and decreasing finances, things have been getting wearisome lately, but the enthusiasm I felt yesterday let me know that there might still be one fresh start left in me. No idea how I'll get there (though I do guarandamntee it won't be by private jet), but accepting that we never know what's coming next is what keeps it interesting.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Serving My Country

Notes for this post have been sitting around for awhile and the thoughts behind it for a lifetime so excuse the disjointedness. I remember thinking it would irritate some people if I posted it on Memorial Day and now here it is being posted on Independence Day.

There are those who worship the military and think they represent the best of the country and are always automatically right. This thought was brought home again with recent discussion of a veteran’s cemetery to be possibly located on a wild and apparently rugged area of a state park. I’m not a big fan of cemeteries anywhere but damaging a natural area for one seems especially stupid.

My father has always been a military fan and told me a few months ago he’s decided to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. At least it’s one of the few cemeteries located on public transportation, so I may be able to visit some day. As someone who spent part of my teens watching where my birthdate appeared in the Vietnam draft lottery, I was always anti-military. I didn’t spit on any returning veterans but I had more respect for those who went to Canada or jail or underground rather than around the world to kill or be killed as pawns of governments.

Despite the slogans of the jingoes, no one has their freedom because of the slaughter of women and children at My Lai or the humiliating (for all participants) abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The country doesn’t show its best in the long list of military scandals including sexual harassment, cheating, forced Christianity, puppy killing, or a local vet killed with his own gun after wandering drunk and crashing a stranger’s party where he wasn’t welcome. Is that all we can be? Should we celebrate and honor people eager to do whatever they’re told?

There’s a version of the chicken and egg question involving the military and the people who make it up. Certainly being in a war is a brutal dehumanizing experience which many veterans struggle with afterward, and they don’t get enough help from the country which subjected them to the experience. But I believe most people who choose to be in today’s military aren’t the best of people to begin with. I don’t know if there’s ever been a good war but there have certainly been some necessary wars. It’s been many decades since the US has been involved in one of those.

Who chooses to join the military under those conditions? Certainly a big percentage is poor and uneducated, seeking some way to escape their current place in life by any means. The ends don’t justify those means. Many volunteers may be naive believers. I’ve read that standards on accepting criminals have been relaxed in order to get enough warm bodies into uniform. Whatever the motivation, what kind of personality is required to be willing to travel around the world and kill people? I think people who join the military are far more likely to already be violent and aggressive than the type of people I admire. It’s true--I do not support the troops.

In the old days, like many hippies, I wore a flag. It was attached to the collar of an old army jacket and I wore it as a liner or cape depending on my mood. I wear a different flag today as I type and this time it’s a flag I actually believe in—a t-shirt of green, white, and blue with trees replacing the usual stars, and the phrase “in nature we trust”.

Here’s the quote of the day from today’s NY Times email. "People go ape when they see it. It’s a feeling. It’s a feeling that takes over a whole stadium. If anyone in the stands opened their mouth and objected, there would be hell to pay."--Jim Alexander, whose company, Superflag, creates field-size American flags for sporting events. Leaving aside the disparaging of our fellow apes, it seems Jim thinks the thought of beating or killing anyone who didn’t worship the flag is a cause for pride.

The other day someone was stunned when I told him I’ve never used a gun. In this area of hunting worship and military worship and flat out gun worship, he truly thought I was kidding him. Like giant flags and the implied threat of violence, I don’t think the country’s gun worship all the way up to the politicized highest court is anything to be proud of either. Neither is its lack of healthcare for all, nor the high number of its citizens in prisons or homeless, nor its greed and lack of responsibility to the world and the future, nor its general “every man for himself” attitude.

My country is not about flags, the illusion of never-ending growth, domination, wars, and guns. My country is about trees, wildlife, ecosystems, beauty, simplicity, humility, and respect. The only lines on a map which interest me indicate rivers, trails, and topography.

A few days ago new Pew poll results came out showing increased support for drilling for oil in ANWR as opposed to conservation in light of the increasing price of gasoline. Sixty percent consider increasing energy supplies more important than protecting the environment. I saved the article under the title Americans Are Assholes. These results are no surprise to me; I’ve always thought that in the end Americans will destroy every bit of beauty, kill off every species, and pollute every inch in order to go on living their lives of excess one day longer. In fairness, Americans may merely represent the ultimate expression of human nature. This wouldn’t be the first civilization to cut down the last tree on the island. And this is exactly why I have favored the collapse of industrialism and human die-off to much lower numbers as soon as possible. It’s the only hope my country and I have left.

Happy 163rd anniversary to the beginning of living at Walden. May we someday be that wise again.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Find the Falcon

Over the weekend, this year’s only surviving nestling was getting close to his first flight with a few jumps outside the nest box onto a perch and vigorous wing flapping. Monday, I arrived in the nearby park a little before 9 AM. Looking up, I saw a falcon on the perch and assumed young Shaheen was still up there.

A few minutes later, he came waddling toward me across the pedestrian bridge into the park. I immediately started wondering if I should stay with the bird or go make a call since I don't have a cell phone. Before I had time to decide, I was relieved to see another falcon watcher come into view following the bird a moment later. Three people were already on the job of keeping track of our feathered friend’s first exploration.

The four of us had a good time watching the bird wander around the park. My favorite moment came when he was moving along the walkway and caught a talon in one of the rain grates and went pitching forward. Very funny to see. All five of us were undoubtedly funny to see: one young falcon waddling like a vulture on the ground and walls or struggling to keep his balance on railings; four humans trying to stay between him and highways while we waited to see if he could get himself up to a roof (it’s much easier for him to fall downward then climb upward) or if we’d need to take him there.

Then came a long level flight out of sight in the park, and the four of us started looking through the shrubbery to see if we could find him. Eventually, he was spotted up on a roof, and today was seen on the highest roof in the immediate area—the building with his nest box. Now he’ll spend a few weeks working on flying and landing skills while his parents keep feeding him, and then will learn to do his own hunting.