Monday, February 25, 2013

If A Turtle Falls In The Forest...

Are you inundated with cute animal YouTube clips? One more sneezing panda is gonna put me over the edge. Sometimes the links promise you eternal feel-goodness if  you sign a petition or donate money or even just share the outrage. Being a practical, pragmatic, and somewhat skeptical human being, I don’t believe in the effectiveness of online petitions or “every time you share this link a tiger cub gets a dollar” kinda things; they are merely clever methods of data mining for nefarious purposes.

But a couple of weeks ago, one of my little cousins emailed asking how to get to Bangkok. Turns out, the kid is joining the US delegation to CITES' 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties. She will be the sole delegate for the Smithsonian, as well as its first youth member. Amazingly enough, I actually knew what CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)  was and I did what I could to guide her on finding flights. But going as a delegate? That required further investigation.

While everyone is posting cockamamie links on Facebook, Marissa, a senior at College of the Atlantic in Maine, might actually be on the road to doing something useful in real time. The kid’s resume looks like an adventure in human-ecological interaction. She spent almost year on an internship at the Smithsonian. According to the press release published by the college:

During her time at COA, [Marissa] Altmann improved the organization and management of the teaching collection of the college’s George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History, participated in a spring break course in ecological developmental biology at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, and also received a Maine Space Grant to study parasite interactions between periwinkles and microscopic worms known as trematodes. Additionally, Altmann collaborated with Acadia National Park to collect acoustic data on bat foraging behavior at Bubble Pond, and recently received an additional Maine Space Grant to survey these nocturnal species, an important task given the issues of bat declines in recent years.

So now she heads out onto a bigger stage. 

CITES does do real work in the real world. The original concept was formed as a multilateral treaty in 1963 that ultimately gave way to the formation of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and eventually, to the development of CITES. As an independent convention, CITES works to “ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild, and it accords varying degrees of protection to more than 34,000 species of animals and plants.” It’s probably worth mentioning that of the 193 member nations of the United Nations, only 17 (Andorra, Angola, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Federated States of Micronesia, Haiti, Iraq, Kiribati, Lebanon, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Nauru, South Sudan, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Turkmenistan and Tuvalu) are non-signers.

Why should we care?

We must care. We are stewards of this fragile planet.  Every animal or plant that disappears from the forest or the field is another missing piece in the puzzle of biodiversity.

There are some pretty weird animals out there. To be sure, we can wonder “why” when we look at an elephant, a camel, or a rhino. We can all shudder when we look at snakes or a coelacanth.  And the plants are not exactly safe either. Do you really want to be the one who plucks the last Findlay’s orchid (Dendrobium findlayanum) from the wild? Forests are being clear cut and in doing so, the delicate balance of gases in the atmosphere has been damaged. 

The living beings of this world should not be bartered away for a transitory price.

Keep in mind these species didn’t just happen. They evolved. They got to be who they are and what they are through millions of years of being. They became because they adapted. Humans have not remained the same nor will we, and there is much to learn from the evolution of species who have been here far longer than we have. Trafficking horns, fins, and petals is not a good use of our global birthright. 

Right now, freshwater turtles are getting lots of attention at CITES. They play crucial roles in keeping freshwater ponds, rivers, and lakes healthy ecosystems. Take away the turtle population and suddenly you lose a tremendous resource; their shells alone have a job as a nutrient sponge - one that retains and transports nutrients throughout aquatic ecosystems. They are not for chasing with sticks! 
Our lady of the pond  ~
just don't get in her way
You can ask anyone one of us who live on our pond just how delicate that balance is...and how rapidly it is failing to maintain despite our entreaties to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for help. If you don't walk outside every so often and notice whether or not your trees are thriving, whether or not your pond is turning into an marsh, or if your dunes are eroding because some people don't like dune grass, you're not doing your job as a resident of this planet. If you don't make an attempt to understand the inter-dependency of your own little natural world and then take a stand to protect it,  you’re troglodyte. It’s just that simple. 

The old camping credo, "Leave your campsite cleaner than you found it," is particularly important these days. We've learned what neglecting the barrier islands of the Mississippi Delta meant to the residents in the moments after Hurricane Katrina hit. We know that clear-cutting the rain forest impacts the entire planet's ecosystem. And we know that the lure of ivory has decimated the elephant populations because poachers never looks at what they kill, only at the tusks. But convincing the local population to protect its resources must be the major thrust of any conservation organization. As the International Union for Conservation states in its World Conservation Strategy:

Protected areas and threatened species could most effectively be safeguarded if local people considered it in their own interest to do so. Working with rather than against local people became a major working principle for IUCN.

We are all the local people, as we need the Marissas of this world. They force us to acknowledge we are responsible one for another. This, folks, is the essence of tikkun olam …repairing the world. And it's not only about rain forests, jungles, or the African savannah; it's also about our own backyards.

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Traveling to new and exotic locales?
Hot spots are everywhere. Let your family know you're okay.

Monday, February 18, 2013

There's More To This Than Meets The Eye

Well, it’s been an exciting week for astrophysics.  Not only did we have a school-bus sized meteor encounter, we had a near miss with a much larger mass. I have to confess I was pretty amazed by the images that came outta Russia, especially the ones taken with security cams and the like. Seeing the ancillary impact was fantastic. And the hole in the ground was pretty spectacular. But more about that in a minute.

The near miss was pretty interesting, too. Asteroid 2012 DA14, passed about 27,700 km from Earth at 1:25 pm CST and that passed happened inside the ring that contains our network and weather satellites and earth itself. That’s pretty close.

Scientific types tell us the close encounter of these two bodies in motion is simply a coincidence. They came from separate directions at different rates of speed, and, at least according to one source, are probably not real close in make-up. All good things for the survival of the planet. 

However, I must admit that, as I listened to the news, I was secretly waiting for someone, anyone, to say the Russian meteor wasn't a meteor at all, but rather a nuclear launch gone awry from North Korea. When I mentioned that in response to Charles of Arabia's Face Book comment on the event, he replied, "Only if you watch Fox News."

According to Russia's Liberal party leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, it wasn't the North Koreans at all; it was us! It was reported in that august information organ, The Journal of the Turkish Weekly:

"Those were not meteorites, it was Americans testing their new weapons. [US Secretary of State] John Kerry wanted to warn [Russia’s Foreign Minister] Lavrov on Monday, he was looking for Lavrov, and Lavrov was on a trip. He meant to warn Lavrov about a provocation against Russia."

Not that Russia has the lock on news of the excessively weird this week. Oh, no. We do have very own set of nutballs in elected positions. This week's highly comes from the Alabama state house, where Representative Mary Sue McClurkey told the Montgomery Advertiser, another well established paragon of information, 

"When a physician removes a child from a woman, that is the largest organ in a body that’s a big thing. That’s a big surgery. You don’t have any other organs in your body that are bigger than that.

Well, if that don't beat all! I've got  couple of organs walking around! The part I don't get is if they're my organs, how is it that neither pays much attention to the orders my brain is sending out? To be sure, they're both very mature, adult organs, but'd think they'd check in with the brain every so often. 

And not to be outdone by the usual outlets of indecipherable strange, The Vatican entered the fray with the "I want to spend more time with my family" retirement announcement for Pope Benedict. At the outset, I said aloud to more than one person, "There's more here than meets the eye." 

Logic Detour: This hearkens back to HELP when Ringo says the same thing. But the movie's really about this ring stuck on Ringo's finger. At one point, the villain scientist, Professor Foot (played masterfully by the late, great Victor Spinetti) says, " With a ring like that I could - dare I say it? - rule the world. "

Which brings me back to the Pope. He's got the ring. Or at least will have it until the end of the month, at which time, he'll wave goodbye and head off into the Vatican, never to be seen again. Will he still be infallible after he retires? Will he be available for the new Pope? And perhaps the most pressing issue: If the Pope leaves the Vatican, can he be arrested for obstruction of justice in world-wide child sexual abuse cases? This is not exactly a logistical slam dunk...which makes me think there is a whole lot more than meets the naked eye. But getting Benedict the Boy Nazi outta the Shoes of the Fisherman probably isn't the worst idea on the planet. This is a guy who was a member of the Nazi Youth movement yet acts as though that period of time happened somewhere else away from wherever he was. If he can't come to grips with that, why would he take on any ownership for the sexual abuse issues?

I'm not going to speculate on what the Pope did or didn't know, what the Curia knows or doesn't know, or what Catholics think or don't think on this topic. I am just gonna say that it's too early to draw any kind of conclusion on this one, but I'm not so sure anyone is ever going to know the truth.

And keeping with this spirit of fools at play, this also happens to be Purim week, kinda like Mardi Gras without the boob displays. Instead of trick or treating, Jews do משלוח מנות... misholach manot - "sending portions" ...we deliver little surprise packages of sweets to family, friends and neighbors. The D-I-L and I did our part this week, baking Hamantaschen and getting the boxes out despite President's Day. The merriment continues until Saturday night when we will gather to read Megillat Esther (The Book of Esther) and each time Haman's name is mentioned, we shall drown it out with groggers, shouts, hisses, and boos. And a fun time will be had by one and all!

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Looking for a good costume for Purim?
Go as Vashti...She's the most fascinating of the lot!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Stuff And Nonsense ~ My Stuff and Political Nonsense

First things first: arm update. Went to see Dr. Tigger on Thursday and he was pleased as punch with himself. He was pretty happy with me, too, being I've already got about 75% range of motion and my x-ray was very terrific....or so he said. He figures another two weeks with the Darth Vader hand, and then I'll be pretty much done with the splint thingee. I see him again in four weeks. And I am typing this bare handed with 10 working fingers. Huzzah!

Well, the blizzard out east in the main topic of conversation. Not to be left out, it stanrted raining Saturday night. It was total slush ice by morning. Like a moron, I just had to go to Byerly's...via 35E no less. I haven't been this nervous driving since I had a newborn in the back seat. Slush curf scares the stuffings outta me! Let's just say I took the all-water route home....Lex to Lone Oak to Delaware for you native types. By the time I reached the garage, the snow was starting and then it just came down in clumps, stopped for a while, then started up again late Sunday night. No, I did not fire up Big Red; Landscape Tim is still plowing the driveway but even so, it's slick as goose poo.  I can tell you without hesitation there are no rubbish bins at the bottom of the driveway. Yes, I'm skittish, yes, I'm a total chicken, and yes, I fell on the driveway again.... Thursday night ...landed square on my butt this time. One broken wing was enough, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, we're coming up on Valentine's Day, admittedly not my favorite goyische holiday these days. Without Steve around to send flowers and a kitchen utensil, it's not all that much fun. My kind and understanding Cousin Laurie announced we are going to the border battle on Thursday night, when the Golden Gophers take on the Wisconsin Badgers over at the Barn. Nothing like watching the Gophers get their collective heads handed to them to cheer a girl up. <sigh>

Also in the "makes my blood boil" division was House Majority Leader Error Cantor on Press the Meat. Do they come any more disingenuous than this guy? His take on why the "sequestration" plan was in effect was so President Obama could raise taxes. What is this guy drinking at that hour of the morning? He needs to switch to non-hallucinogens if he's going to doing the morning talk shows. According to him, the Republicans had no part in this brinksmanship game. Nope, they were innocent bystanders, bewildered by the President would do something like this. Oh, puh-lease.
But wait, there's more. Cantor wants an immigration bill that focuses only on the children. Yeah, hustle madre y padre back over the border but the kids can stay. Sure. Kinda like self-deportation, eh?  And let's not forget Error's call to end paid overtime:

Imagine if we simply chose to give all employees and employers this option. A working mom could work overtime this month and use it as time off next month without having to worry about whether she'll be able to take home enough money to pay the rent. This is the kind of common sense legislation that should be non-controversial and moves us in the right direction to help make life work for families.
Eric Cantor, February 05, 2013  
I really wanna know how that's gonna work....and at what rate of pay? Does he really think that police officer isn't gonna figure out that banking the hours is a net loss? Maybe it's just that he doesn't remember what it's like to be an hourly wage slave?

Or it could be that he really think We, the People, are that dumb.

I had such high hopes that the Republicans would wake up and come back with a party and partnership worthy of consideration. Instead, they are persisting in painting themselves as the new Confederacy of Dunces with their very own cast of Claude Robichauxes. Already they seem to have forgotten the warning messages fired across the party bow on election day. Somehow, they just haven't grokked the idea that their message is just wrong for 21st century United States. Hell's bells! It's even wrong for 20th century United States. What is wrong with those people??????

Personally, I'm waiting for the State of the Union address. I want to hear how POTUS is going to redirect. There's something about a terminal term that often emboldens the holder of said office. I'm hoping Mr. Obama will take the gloves off and punch out some Republican morons... like Speaker Boehner and feckless Minority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell. Between the two of them, they've racked up more poop pies than the concessionaires at the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Festival

  Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
If someone comes up to you and say, "I guess it's just you and me, kid,"
the proper response is "Whaddya mean we, kemosabe?"

Bonus Tip
If your name is Handy Andler, today is your 60th birthday.
(Good lord! Are we really that old???????)

They just stopped by the back yard to say "hello!"

Monday, February 4, 2013

What People Want?

Meanwhile, back at the rancho in Maricopa, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arapaio announced last Wednesday that he’s arming his deputies with 400 military-style assault rifles. From the official press release:

We look far and wide for the best people and best equipment....This Sheriff’s Office has the nation’s largest volunteer armed posse, we are the only law enforcement agency in the nation known to possess a .50-caliber machine gun which can be used in any needed circumstance and soon we’ll have more semi-automatic rifles in patrol cars than about any other law enforcement agency around.

Excuse me? Volunteer armed posse?

What this says is that Sheriff Arapaio is putting rather large weapons into the hands of non-professionals who are going to be sent out to enforce Arizona laws. While I’m sure someone is training these people, are they doing adequate background checks? Is each volunteer going to take his weapon home so he can have it at the ready when called? Are they installing proper gun lockers in where the weapons are going to be kept? Who carries liability?

What we do know is that in 2011, Sheriff Arapaio  staged a raid on a house using a tank and actor Steven Seagal for a reality show. They were supposedly hunting down dangerous people who raised chickens. …or more specifically roosters… for cock fights. Instead, they drove a tank into the LLovera’s house, killing  the family’s puppy and some show chickens. Seagal is supposedly a PETA guy; he was active in the campaign to stop puppy drowning in Taiwan! And now…he’s known as Seagal the Puppy Killer.

They needed a tank for this? And this guy is leading a posse?

You cannot convince me that Sheriff Arapaio, the Arizona poster boy for no gun laws, is a shining example of responsible weaponry. Just like you cannot convince me that Gayle Trotter isn’t smoking extreme quantities of ganja before going on talk shows to tell us moms we need automatic weapons locked and load in our house to protect our babies from roving gangs of marauders who break down our doors. Or how about the NRA’s La Pierre going on the talk shows to sell the idea that there should be no background checks at all?  Paul Krugman said it best on ABC’s THIS WEEK with George Stephanopoulos:

What strikes me is we've actually gotten a glimpse into the mindset, though, of the pro-gun people and we've seen certainly Wayne La Pierre and some of these others. It's bizarre ... They have this vision that we're living in a Mad Max movie and that nothing can be done about it. That America cannot manage unless everybody's prepared to shoot intruders, that the idea that we have police forces that provide public safety is somehow totally impractical, despite the fact that, you know, that is, in fact, the way we live.

President Obama was here in Minnesota on Monday to meet with the cops and others involved in battle to write a national gun law.  The overwhelming sense of the nation is that the laws we have now are inadequate and that at the very least the availability of automatic weaponry must be addressed in a functional, practical manner. Le Pierre’s cockabarley that law abiding citizens don’t want background checks and that the criminals aren’t going to get checks anyway demonstrates an incipient path to a new form of anarchy that is just not where the public is right now. Add to that Gayle Trotter’s idea that there should be a chicken in every pot and a loaded AR-15 in every foyer closet is not much better.

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I learned to fire a gun, specifically, a police revolver. I won’t go into the circumstances surrounding that, but I did learn and I was taught how to aim it at a person. I’ve never fired a gun at a person, but I will tell you it is a far different mindset. It is not the same as pointing it at a target or an animal. It’s not like in the movies or the video games. I don’t know if media hardens us against the violence, but I do know it gives us a false impression of what’s like to be facing a gun.  Very few people are trained snipers and the odds of AR-15 mom actually hitting someone even with a spray of bullets won’t happen. Instead, everyone around her will die. And like the kids at Sandy Hook or Columbine or in the theater in Aurora, they will not get up again like actors on a movie set.

So what’s a person to do? The obvious thing is to contact your elected representative and tell them you want a sane and practical set of gun laws enacted. Then, don’t just sit down. The NRA is counting on We, the People, growing bored with this process. We cannot grow bored, we cannot stand down.

In the end, this is ultimately about moral courage.  Do We, the People, have what it takes to take our country back from brink of armament insanity?

The Wifely Person’s Tip o’the Week
Maybe it’s time for the rest of us to join the NRA.
If a few million normal people join, we could change their board.