Monthly Archives: October 2005

Tom Tomorrow speaks for me

Via the perspicacious Patrick Nielsen Hayden, the intellectual father of everyone’s favorite left-wing penguin lays it on the line:

“I’m really sick of hearing the liberal-hawks-turned-peaceniks claim that they supported the war only because of Colin Powell’s breathtaking performance before the UN, and are shocked and saddened to learn they were lied to. Bullshit. You supported the war because you didn’t have the courage to buck what you perceived as mainstream opinion, didn’t want to align yourselves with all those dirty hippies marching in the streets. As it turns out, of course, the dirty hippies, i.e. citizens from all walks of life, turned out to be a lot more on the mark than you were. Colin Powell made those remarks on February 5, 2003, and if you were out there reluctantly arguing the case for war before that date, as most liberal-hawks-turned-peaceniks were, then shut the fuck up about Colin Powell and admit you were as wrong as it was possible to be.”

Black and white

I once saw a young woman, mowing grass
on the wide Albert Mortuary lawn.
Lithe she was, and supple, clad in black
knit top: an Oakland summer’s morning fog
still played among the tops of redwood trees
and I-580’s slabs. She did not smile,
but flexed her arms to push the engine back
and forth across the lawn. I named her Death,
and longed for just a moment there to trace
my fingertips along her subtle ribs;
to taste the morning’s sweat upon her mouth.
Instead, my eyes cast down, I watched her mow
each blade of grass cut off at the same height,
her sickle growling sharp as I walked past.
Some of the awns had grown ambitiously;
others lagged, and curled over themselves.
She cut each one the same nevertheless.
Her eyes were fiery dark. Her hair was dark
and hanging in her eyes. Her skin was pale
as Oakland morning fog.

Fifteen years on
the egret lands, all elbows, in the pine
and settles in to watch me as I pass,
neck craned, and hers at me. Her supple white
and languorous feathers beaded wet with fog.
Her eyes were fiery dark. I felt a fish,
a small fish, hardly worth the shrugging thrust
and final toss. Shake me until I’m lank,
head limply angled down behind her tongue,
and with a swallow send me safely home.

Zeke, a mouse

Our attached garage is off the kitchen, through a firedoor and down a couple of steps. One of the tasks still remaining in the kitchen remodel is replacing the firedoor. The kitchen is open to the garage, a hole of frame and plaster between the two.

I was getting ready tonight to fix the the feet on the god damned wobbly washing machine — again — when I looked at the spot on the floor where I was about to lie down with the wrench. A mouse lay there, dead on its side.

It’s been a few years since we’ve had a mouse in the house. We set out snap traps and warfarin — I think the person who invented sticky traps for mice should be tossed onto a ping-pong table thickly spread with that horrible adhesive — and I sealed the entrances to our crawl space with galvanized mesh.  That solved the problem for a few years, and the mice were restricted to the compost pile.

In our last place, there were dozens of mice. Hundreds. An elderly man a couple houses down moved to a convalescent home, and his granddaughter called the contractors in to renovate the house. I’d always heard that mice and rats refused to live in the same house at the same time: Mr. Connor’s house disproved that rumor. All those rodents were displaced. They had to go somewhere.

When Zeke first came to live with us we had pet rats, whom he loved as pals. It was surprising to me, therefore, to see the ruthlessness with which he set to killing Mr. Connor’s rats. Within three or four days he had killed half a dozen, jumping on them and snapping their necks then bringing me to the scene of the kill. The rest of the rats made themselves scarce.

But the mice were more persistent. Over the next few months Zeke spent a lot of time in our old garage, hunting. One day early on Becky came home and found the garage torn apart, stacked cardboard and paper recycling strewn all over. She punished Zeke. The next day she saw Zeke near the recycling, delivering a stiff-legged pounce to a suddenly dead mouse. He killed probably twenty mice in the next month, as many as we did wiith traps. For several years I could not turn the compost without Zeke jumping between the pile and the fork, excited at what game I might turn up.

Of course that was years ago, when Zeke was still agile and energetic. Tonight, I looked the mouse over. It seemed intact, as if it had died in its sleep. In the kitchen, Becky and I wondered what had done it in: a stash of warfarin left over? One of the neighborhood cats, sneaking in while I had the garage door open? A mystery. I heard footsteps come through the living room. Zeke wandered into the kitchen still yawning from his nap.

“Hey Zekie,” I said, “where’s the mousie?”

Zeke finished yawning, then looked at the garage door.

Comment tally view

The best thing about this blog is the quality — and frequency — of the commenters that visit. A year ago or so I tallied the number of comments received here, and — because to my knowledge, Movable Type has no automated way of doing so — crunched the numbers on which folks were commenting most frequently.

As of right this second as I write this, we have 4725 comments here on this blog. The all-time most-commented post on this blog was March 23, 2005’s Life and Death, with 152 comments. The Zeke versus Cody contest got 55 comments, many of them pledges that are still unpaid.
This post got 52 comments.
This one got 47. This one got 33.
This one got 31.
And Lurker Day got 69 comments, though I suppose when the whole point of the post is to ask for comments it’s sort of cheating.

Since January, a number of new regular commenters have come by and ensconced themselves, brightening this place (and my life) considerably. People who’ve made more than ten comments since this blog started in May 2003 are listed below, in order of number of comments:

10 Alex
10 CMD
10 Jim McCulloch
10 Limesalttequila
11 Phil
11 Fred
11 Charles Jones
11 Doc Rock
11 Lauren
12 Alice
12 Alphabitch
12 Handdrummer
12 jamie
12 Norbizness
13 Amanda Marcotte
13 peacebug
14 ae
15 Bellatrys
15 Nikki
15 paperwight
16 SneakySnu
19 GrrlScientist
20 Mike Anderson
21 Desert Donkey
22 Robert
23 Nina
25 Sara
27 Hungry Hyaena
28 Doghouse Riley
30 PZ Myers
31 Kathy R.
31 Rita
33 leslee
35 Miguel Alondra
36 Carrie
36 eRobin
37 carpundit
39 Rurality
40 Rexroth’s Daughter
42 Space Kitty
44 Hank Fox
46 Jarrett
46 Vicki Robinson
49 butuki/Miguel
50 Kathy A.
52 Paul Tomblin
53 Siona
54 Murky
55 Susurra
59 Roxanne
64 Allison Ruth Clarke
65 Carl Buell
66 Dale
69 dread pirate roberts
82 Anne
88 Kathy Flake
88 Ron Sullivan
89 Pica
91 Dave Bonta
96 The Bone
107 Stephaniequinox
125 Craig
137 Beth
151 Tost
251 Rana

And me, I’ve made 651 of the damn things.

But what do all these commenters think? I figured the best way to gauge that was to download the comments database, and take each sentence I found that began with the words “I think.” So here you go, in found poetry form, below the fold.

Continue reading

National Parks Traveler

I-40 I’ve been meaning for a few weeks now to send you all off to read Kurt Repanshek’s blog National Parks Traveler. It’s quite possibly the single best online source of news on US national parks.

Kurt’s an avowed enviro and park defender, and has tracked National Park Service politics for more than twenty years.

Any of you who cherish those parks — or who have a profound relationship with a particular park [cough Annie cough]  — ought to be checking in on Kurt regularly.

La desaparecida

Her fingers were long and slender, as was she. She bit her lower lip, pulled jammed tape out of the price gun, the counter full of Christmas ornaments before her. That is how I remember her most clearly. I had plant sap up to my elbows. I had been working in the back, preparing boxes of cut flowers for display. Long-stemmed roses I thrust into a machine with spinning rubber fingers, which stripped the lower leaves and sharpest thorns. Carnations were unbundled from their packs of 144 stems, and re-tied in dozens. Stock I smashed at the cut end with the flat side of a hatchet. She handed me a paper towel, smiled.

“12:30?”
“1:00. Kathy is out.”
I raised my arm as if looking at a non-existent watch, frowned, held my wrist up to my ear. She laughed.

We ate lunch together every week or so. To ask for more time with her would have been suspect. Her suspicions would have been correct. I had been thinking that she might fit the hole in my life. I was also a hopeless, disheveled minimum-wage worker eating lunch with the daughter of a diplomat. I never told her how I felt. She was warmer than I could have hoped, though that warmth was never demonstrated by anything more forward than a soft hand resting slightly on my forearm.  Often enough, we sat together, ate slowly, said little.  Afterward, she would suggest the next lunch date.

Her hair was thick and wavy, a black cascade to her waist. Her eyes the color of cinnamon. Nothing escaped them. There were woods behind the nursery, a trail running down to the C&O Canal. For some weeks the red oak leaves were turning, and one bold day I fixed a bright red one in her hair, behind her ear. I could have gazed upon her face for long minutes, and that day I did. She smiled. Her smile was perfect. Still, there was nothing in our friendship to which her father might object, excepting perhaps the fact that I was in it.

A year or two before, democracy had returned to Argentina. The Dirty War ended: the generals who had ousted Isabel Per�ón stepped aside, submitted grudgingly to civilian control. Sometimes I would look for a wartime sadness in her, gently steer our conversations to politics, talk of my friends working in El Salvador and Nicaragua. She would smile and change the subject. Except once. The Washington Post ran a profile of Jacobo Timerman, recently returned to Argentina to claim his newspaper and to sue the generals for torturing him. I brought her the article.  She was briefly impatient. “Mentiras. He is a big liar.” And then smiled sweetly at me and suggested lunch the next day at noon.

I imagined her growing up happy, a sweet dark-haired girl riding horses on vacation in Patagonia, playing with dolls in a whitewashed stucco home covered with bougainvillea. She was my age, and would have been blossoming as the junta consolidated its power. Did she rush to kiss her father on the cheek as he came home, after another long hard day with the Air Force? The right-wing terrorists were directed by the Argentine military. Was there discussion at the dinner table? Tens of thousands of people — labor unionists and leftists and liberals — disappeared without a trace, swallowed up in prisons, killed and gone forever. Kissinger had told the generals “The quicker you succeed, the better.” Congress was about to impose sanctions when he spoke.

Sometimes the death squads would steal liberals’ children, babies offered up to military families for “adoption.” Sometimes the disappeared were loaded into military aircraft, flown out over the Rio de la Plata or the Atlantic, and tossed out. Somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people “vanished” — Los Desaparecidos.

In a year of lunches, I’d seen no demons near her surface. She seemed blithe, uncomplicated. I would have liked to have the chance to look a bit further beneath her veneer of privilege. And yet her dismissal of the atrocities chilled me. I began to find lunchtime excuses.  If that saddened her, it did not show.

Some months passed. She was leaving. I didn’t ask where. She was saying goodbye to her coworkers, and then it was our turn. I felt sudden regret at having turned my back on her. She took my hand. I looked at my toes.

“How do you say ‘I like you’ in Spanish?”
“Tu me gustas.”
“Tu me gustas.” I took a last long look into those cinnamon eyes.
“Tu me gustas. Tu me gustas mucho, Chris.” She hugged me, spoke into the side of my neck. “I will miss you.” For a long moment she didn’t let go.

And then she did.

Sex and drugs

Queen butterfly I’m always on the lookout for butterflies when I’m in the desert. For one thing, they’re cool. For another, there’s always the chance that a large butterfly flitting in my peripheral vision will turn out to be a yucca giant-skipper, whose larvae bore into the trunks of Joshua trees, often killing them. Precious little research has been done into Megathymus yuccae, and as the animal is one of the J-tree’s few insect pests, I feel I really ought to observe its behavior, a pursuit in which I have so far been unsuccessful.

The butterfly pictured here is not a yucca giant-skipper. It’s a queen butterfly, a reasonably close relative of the famous monarch. It’s feeding on a yellow composite flower that I forgot to identify, and I’m having trouble ding so from the photos. Machaeranthera? Baileya? Viguiera? Some sunflowery thing, anyway. This butterfly is, I think, a female, though neither my photos nor my memory are conclusive here.

Queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus) are pretty dang common even outside the Mojave, so much more research has been done on them. They’re odd. Male queens spend much of their adult lives feeding on milkweeds and other such mildly toxic plants, and collect the plant toxins — pyrrolidizine alkaloids, for the most part — for later use in mating. The males metabolize some of the alkaloids into sex pheromones, notably 2,3-Dihydro-7-methyl-1H-pyrrolizin-1-one (a.k.a. danaidone).

On the other hand, some of the collected alkaloids remain more or less chemically intact. After mating, those alkaloids are incorporated into the eggs, protecting them (it is thought) from predators. But for eggs to be produced, mating must occur. For mating to occur, males and receptive females must find one another. Danaidone serves as the conveyer of intent: in the elegant parlance of the bug sex geeks, it’s a semiochemical.  Male queens carry danaidone in small pockets on their hindwings. When they find a female, the males use two small specialized appendages on their abdomens — called “hairpencils” — to remove some of the danaidone from the pockets, then smear it on the female’s antennae.

It is suspected — at the risk of ascribing volition to beings with approximately the mentative power of a flashlight —  that females may preferentially look for males with huge amounts of danaidone, which likely corresponds with a good stash of egg-protecting pyrrolidizine alkaloids. Males with the readiest supply of drugs get the nod, making the female queen butterfly sort of the crack whore of the insect world. Of course in the butterfly’s case, she’s doing it for the children.

This female was remarkably patient with my camera-wielding. As she fed, a ceraunus blue resisted my efforts to immortalize it as it drank from a shrinking patch of mud, and the probable southern dogface feeding on the mesquites in the wash the next day didn’t let me come anywhere near it.

Memed.

There are two reasons I’m succumbing to this meme.

One is that I was memogrified by Amanda Marie Marcotte, and I’ve learned it’s best to do as she asks.

The other is that it’s an excuse to post a link to the Red Cross Asia earthquake relief fund.  Yes, I know there are a number of people upset with the Rosicrucians of late, and for various good reasons. Feel free to post alternative quake charity links in comments, and if I like them I’ll update this post to include them.

1. Of all the books that you have eventually finished after many starts & stops, which one took you the longest and how long did it eventually take?

There have been so many. I mean, SO many. It’s hard to say, and hard to remember which of them I’ve actually finished. A book either grabs me to the point where I can’t put it down — I had a visceral pang of regret when I realized, about five hundred miles from home, that I had left my copy of In Patagonia at home — or I put it aside with no regrets. The most recent one that I actually forced myself to finish despite not getting into it was probably Daniel Boorstin’s The Discoverers. Dahgren took the better part of a cross-country bus trip. And then there’s the intimidating Packrat middens: The last 40,000 years of biotic change, Betancourt, J. L., T. R. V. Devender, and P. S. Martin, editors. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ, 1990: but that just took a while because of its technical nature.

2. What great band (or album or song) have you heard so often, you wouldn?t mind never hearing again even though you still think the band (or album or song) is great?

Pretty much every nation has a song that gets covered by every single band coming out of that nation. I listen to a lot of Andean music, and so I could go the rest of my life without hearing El Condor Pasa ever again — I hear it in my head, note for note, trill for trill, any time I want to. Which is seldom.

3. Which cliché or often cited quote needs to be placed in quarantine for a few decades?

There’s one by Margaret Mead about “never doubt that a small band of committed ideologues can infiltrate,” no, wait. Here it is: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” What an excuse for in-group clique faux-activism!

Also, anyone who ever quotes any environmental thought attributed to Chief Seattle should be forced to read everything Ward Churchill ever wrote, including meeting minutes and shopping lists. And I hold out hope that eventually, enough people will decide a certain notion about complex systems is misleading that the realization will sweep our global culture in a seeming instant, and we will thus never have to hear about “tipping points” again.

4. During the 1990s “Compassion Fatigue” received a lot of press, now the media is giddy with “Donation Fatigue”. What will be the next trendy fatigue?

Media fatigue.

5. What percentage of respondents will answer “meme fatigue” to question #4?

Every last one of them, so it’s a good thing the canonical questions forced us to be creative.

Well, that wasn’t too hard. I’ll pass this along to Rana (because there’s no “favorite” asked), PZ Myers (because I think his answer to #3 will be good)  and Timothy Burke (because I’m curious about his answer to #1.)