Archive for the 'Art Culture Politics' Category

We Interrupt This Blog

I accidentally launched two blog posts yesterday morning. The times are out of joint.

So: here’s a break down of the lies perpetuated by the Republicans about their concentration camps for children. There were more than a dozen contradictory statements by Trump and officials in the last week, including my favorite from the Orange Shitstain about stopping the policy, “You can’t do it by Executive Order.”

While I was writing this Wednesday afternoon, there was a rumor that Secretary of Homeland Lying Nielsen was drafting an order to end a policy that she claimed, just days ago, didn’t exist. Late in the afternoon, Trump performed one of his Executive Order signings, supposedly ending separation. Children will now be imprisoned with their parents. No efforts will be made to reunite those already separated.

Whatever the immediate outcome, the intention of this white supremacist fascist barbarism is clear: cruelty, dehumanization, chaos, outright child abuse — and the stoking of the fear and loathing of the Trumpets, the depraved supporters of this regime. Some of whom, by the way, are already on record on insisting that the camps are actually faked (by the liberal media or aliens or something) and the kids are either photoshopped or “crisis actors.”

“Concentration camps” shouldn’t be too harsh a word: such camps were invented by Americans in Cuba during the Spanish American War and perfected by the Brits in the Boer War, half a century before the Nazis. Here’s the Britannica entry: “internment centre for political prisoners and members of national or minority groups who are confined for reasons of state security, exploitation, or punishment, usually by executive decree or military order. Persons are placed in such camps often on the basis of identification with a particular ethnic or political group rather than as individuals and without benefit either of indictment or fair trial.”

No images have been allowed out of these camps where girls are being held. The propaganda ministry is only showing boys 11 and and older: they want to portray them as potential teen members of MS-13 as part of their racist narrative.

Meanwhile, contractors and “non-profits” (with CEOs making huge salaries) rake in federal money as they profiteer on this horror.

Ever wonder where the killers and monsters come from — like in the “bloodlands” between Russia and Germany during WWII; like during Yugoslavia’s crack-up; like during the Rwanda genocide? — they come from within. Civilians just doing their job, just following orders, just enforcing the law.

This is Nielsen’s second national disgrace, and it has a similar whiff of ethnic cleansing to it. Her only notable previous achievement was being in charge Bush II’s disastrous response to Katrina. (After that she cashed in on the security state bonanza as an in-bred D.C. parasite.)

This morning, I understand that, among 293 minors transported to NYC (unbeknownst to the city) there’s a 9-month-old. Let me mix my totalitarianisms: it’s a kindergulag.
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This shitstorm isn’t over. Resources and actions.

Here Be Worms

A selection of J. R. R. Tolkien’s hand-drawn dragons from The Hobbit. The ones below are from the included map. The one above, not in my 30th printing of the 1966 edition, was added as a frontispiece to later editions.The collective noun for dragons is a desolation, unless you’re referring to the Asian versions, in which case it is a charm, like goldfinches. (Yes, I’m making this part up.)We have shrunk the wyrm down to the worm, but originally it meant serpent and seems to have been interchangeable with dragon. Hence Great Worms and the Worm Ouroboros. But not the Diet of Worms.

Re: Rachel Carson

I finally read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in this handy new Library of America edition with an excellent introduction by editor Sandra Steingraber. Along with the chronology and notes, the volume puts Carson in a deep context of the burgeoning environmental activism of the 1950s, which was sparked in important ways by atmospheric nuclear testing.

Just as important was the reactionary response to Carson by the biocide industry. These swine, their flacks, their purchased academics, etc., attacked Carson furiously once the book took off. Misogyny was, you won’t be surprised to learn, one of their weapons, along with a barrage of lies. (The tobacco and petrochemical barons would follow a similar playbook.)

A condensed version in the New Yorker before the book itself came out and a nod from JFK all helped boost the book’s success. By awful coincidence, the book came out right in the midst of the thalidomide disaster. The human assault on the earth was on everybody’s mind.

I hadn’t known that Carson was fighting cancer during the writing of the book. It was published in September, 1962; she died in April, 1964.

Considering we* are still killing, with even more advanced poisons, life on earth for profit, this book certainly bears up. Unbearably so. The eradication and simplification of life on earth at our hands continues with breakneck speed. Perhaps there is nothing new under the shadow of humanity after all. (“We*” in the sense that we tolerate it, collaborate with it, sheepishly surrender to it.)

This edition also includes letters, essays, and addresses. An additional volume of Carson’s three books about the sea and the littoral is forthcoming from LOA. Let me call your attention to one of the essays in the new volume, which was originally published in Women’s Home Companion in 1956, “Help Your Child to Wonder.” Here she argues for the importance of exposing children to the natural world. No, no, not like some antique Greek dumping their spawn off on a hillside to meet the fates of the elements, but to the sounds of the sea, the stars at night, the trees in the wind; the smells, sights, sounds, tactile experience of the life that surges all around us. Don’t let your kids become cyborgs!

I was with some kindergarteners in the dirt of a Greenpoint community garden recently. We found worms, centipedes, grubs, snails, slugs, spiders, and there was much rejoicing, specifically shrieks commingling horror and awe. That did my cynical old heart much good. Another day, another K herd; one girl said rather seriously and sadly that if they killed off the bugs, there wouldn’t be any when she was all grown up.

“Instead of trying to impose our will on Nature we should sometimes be quiet and listen to what she has to tell us.” Carson, in a speech at Scripps College, 1962.

Bird Boxing

It’s a little late in the year for this, but I just found this book. It’s a very good place to start if you want to set up and maintain — stress on the maintain — bird homes for the next breeding season and the ones after that.

Habitat, siting, building, monitoring, maintaining are all covered here. Those cute little bird houses sold in garden stores and the like? Usually useless.

Thompson reminds us that the vast majority of bird species in North America are NOT cavity nesters, but those that are are quite spectacular: Tree and Violet Green swallows, Purple Martins, Chickadees, Titmice, Nuthatches, House/Carolina/Bewick’s wrens, Wood Ducks, all three species of blue bird, Great Crested and Ash-throated flycatchers, Screech Owls, and… American Kestrels! All of them could use the extra help. Thompson stresses that you MUST baffle to keep mammal and reptilian predators at bay. And that making a commitment for certain species means you have to be aggressive about House Sparrows and Starlings; these two invasive species will take over nest boxes unless you, as the “nest box landlord,” keep them out. (Note that wrens can be aggressive too, destroying other species eggs in nest sites they favor.)

The book also includes plans for a simple shelf set-up for Barn Swallows, Phoebes, and American Robins. Another book Thompson has written details the ins and outs of feeding birds. Baffles and commitment, you won’t be surprised to learn, also come into play when it comes to feeding. (When I see bird feeders in the city, I usually think of the rats getting fat on the seed.)

More bird nest information can be found here, with detailed regional needs.

NYC Wildflower Week

Hear ye, hear ye!

NYCWW will be celebrating it’s 10th anniversary May 11-20. There are lots of free events. Including one of my Listening Tours, a silent walk through Prospect Park at dawn to listen to the sounds of spring migration. Yes, that’s 5:30 a.m., but don’t let that scare you: you will be amazed how sleep deprivation aids out-of-body experiences in the cacophony of bird song.

Year of the Bird

This year marks the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has rightfully been called one of the most powerful conservation laws ever.

Audubon, BirdLife International, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, & National Geographic* have all teamed up to celebrate this 100th anniversary with the Year of the Bird. The MBTA makes it “illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations.” Here’s the complete text of the law as amended. [Many species of ducks, unfortunately, are allowed to be shot by hunters, who also continue to pollute the world with lead shot.]*National Geographic Partners, which publishes the magazine and the produces the awful NatGeo TV network, are majority-owned by Murdoch’s Fox empire, which means they also support those oligarchs and their politicians, from the Liar-President down the slime-shoot, who oppose conservation measures like the MBTA. As part of its rollback of everything Obama, the Trump administration has already weakened the Act.

The Amateurs

The root of the word amateur is the Latin for love. In our hyper-specialized world, “amateur” has become a put-down, which is a shame. The study of birds begun with amateurs. And it’s one of the few contemporary branches of science where amateurs can still regularly rub shoulders, or wings if you prefer, with professionals.

I suspect human beings have always had an intimate awareness of birds. As flying creatures, they must have captured our imaginations early. Birds, with their flocking and speed were also early-warning symbols of predators, weather, fire, and the like, which is probably how they came to be thought of as augurs. “Auspices” has its roots in the Latin for bird and the auspex, the observer of birds, both their flight and their entrails. Hunters and shamans both paid great attention to birds for obvious reasons, but where do we date bird-watching as we now understand it?

Ornithology has a solid history, but it was from its beginnings more about bird-killing than observing. Indeed, right into the beginning of the last century, the President of the American Ornithological Association refused to speak before the new Audubon Society with a huffed “I do not protect birds. I kill them.”

Here are three histories of ornithology and/or bird-watching for your consideration.

Michael Walters’s A Concise History of Ornithology. The thirty appendices documenting taxonomic plans from Charleton to Gadow gives a good sense of the density of this slim volume. It’s pretty relentless in its capsule biographies and race across the centuries. Best read in small bursts.

Walters doesn’t shy away from the dishonesty, feuds, frauds, and downright theft of ideas and specimens that have plagued the endeavor. He is, however, reticent about making the connections between imperialism and natural history. These are inseparable and really need to be discussed. Noted but without comment is this about Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1753-1840), who is better known as an anthropologist, “of which study he has been described as the founder, and first divided mankind into five races.” That’s significant, considering all the evil that has come from these human-imposed divisions. (It was certainly a step forward to class humans as animals, but then to put them in a hierarchy, as these racial divisions inevitably did….) Bernd Brunner’s Birdmania also has a strong internationalist perspective. And includes more women than I’ve ever seen in my readings in this field, so extra points for that. The book is also sumptuously illustrated. It’s translated from the German, but I wish it had been edited with a firmer hand since the paragraphs leap all over the place. I did find one whopping historical error that I’m told will be corrected in the 2nd edition, so you may want to hold off until that comes out.
As the title says, Scott Weidensaul concentrates on the American scene, this time avowedly as birding. (I haven’t reread this one since it came out, but I remember it fondly.)


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