Archive for the 'Art Culture Politics' Category

Red-tailed Hawk…

Continuing from yesterday… This yearling Red-tailed Hawk, which I’m pretty sure is the same one I’ve seen in this area of Green-Wood repeatedly, had recently eaten something.Swallowed the portion stored in the crop,and excreted.Then it started looking around the neighborhood.Next to this tombstone was an evergreen bush.Hawk just waded into it.And pulled out a dead squirrel stashed in there.

Is it, Earth-wise, all bad? Here’s a trio of WCS scientists who argue that if we can get through the present bottleneck… humanity, and our planet, can breakthrough to something better than the doom and gloom so many indicators point to. They’re optimistic…

“We suggest that lasting conservation success can best be realized when (a) the human population stabilizes and begins to decrease, (b) extreme poverty is alleviated, and (c) the majority of the world’s people and institutions act on a shared belief that it is in their best interest to care for—rather than destroy—the natural bases of life on Earth.”

…if we can just managed to hold on now. Keep conserving, keep fighting for our fellow species, keep fighting against the all-too-human enemies of life.

Pollination Reminder

This Sierra Club lecture on Wednesday looks great:


*WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 13: BIRDS, BEES AND BUGS KEEP OUR GARDENS HEALTHY* Michael Hagen – Curator of the Rock Garden & Native Plant Garden, NY Botanical Garden Timothy Leslie – Associate Professor, Department of Biology, LIU Brooklyn Heather Liljengren – Supervising Seed Collector/Field Taxonomist, NYC Parks

SEAFARERS AND INTERNATIONAL HOUSE 123 East 15th Street, corner of Irving Place, Manhattan Doors open 6:30pm for refreshments Program start at 7pm

There’s also a Xerces Society training sessions on pollinators and other beneficial insects in Brooklyn on March 1.

I’ve been saving this picture, from last fall, for a winter’s day. And here’s my post on the NYC Pollinators Working Group and the pollinators, too. Turns out cities have a huge role to play in encouraging pollinators.

As you have have heard, the west coast Monarch population is in horrible shape. The east coast, however, had a pretty good year, comparatively. Monarch Watch has details. But in general, the trend all over continues to be bad.

Gendering Birding

Here are some very interesting thoughts on bird names by Rick Wright. In fact, Wright’s blog is full of the fascinating history of birding naming. Yes, fascinating, because names are how we understand the world. So who gives those names is important. Yup: as in all human endeavors, that means politics.

Along these lines, Wright gave a talk earlier this month at the Linnaean Society about the transformation of birdwatching in this country, which at its founding in the nineteenth century was dominated by women. They wrote the most popular books about birds, too. Probably the very first field guide was Birds Through An Opera Glass, which came out in 1889. The author was twenty-six year old Florence A. Merriam. (She would later be known in ornithological circles as Florence Merriam Bailey.)

“Wherever there are people there are birds, so it makes comparatively little difference where you live, if only you are in earnest about getting acquainted with your feathered neighbors,” begins Merriam in her introduction, succinctly summarizing the point of the very blog you’re reading. She goes on to note the number of bird species seen in Chicago, Portland CT, Washington DC, San Francisco, “while seventy-six are recorded for Prospect Park, Brooklyn, and a hundred and forty-two for Central Park, New York.” (Prospect Park’s number is around 291 species now.)

Roger Tory Peterson, the great white father of American birding, turns out to have been late to the scene, but he wasted little time in slagging the ladies who had preceded him. Wright’s argument is that bird identification became the point for the new breed of male bird-watchers, not the more holistic natural history of the late Victorian women. The lads claimed identification was more scientific.

Some whiff of this has carried on into our day of the “birder,” a word notable for its suggestion of action and sport, with metrics/data like list-making and “ticking,” as well as “chasing” rare birds. True, “birding” was used in the nineteenth century, but the competitive connotations are all our own. Did you know there was a “Top eBirders” listing on the citizen science ebird website? (What this has to do with science isn’t specified, because, um, it has nothing to do with science.)

Although Wright didn’t bring this up, the Peterson crew seems to have felt the need to prove their manliness. Since they weren’t hunters — all they did was look at birds not kill them — they risked being queer-baited. The tried-and-true method of out-butching the other boys is to ramp up the misogyny.

During question period, one old boy huffed and puffed that he’d never seen any evidence of sexism on the ol’ birding trail, as half the audience gasped and/or rolled their eyes. Classic mansplaining — “the anecdotes of my own blinkered perception trump all other experience” — or should we call it manbirdsplaining?

A couple of years ago, I hung out with some British birders who were truly amazed how many women birded here in the U.S. That doesn’t mean there’s no need for a safe and inclusive bird culture here, too, as the Feminist Bird Club, with offshoots in NYC, Chicago, Boston, and Michigan, attests.

So what is the good news in the litany of malignancy?

Joshua Tree National Park is seeing vandals destroy the famed trees during Trump’s assault-on-America government shut-down. “Off-road” assholes are ripping up other national parks, too.

The Instagram effect of people taking selfies in remote locations is trashing those locations.

Recent housing growth rates are faster in high flood risk zones for most coastal states.”

Anecdotally, I hear that homeowners in Oregon are telling their garden designers they don’t want any bugs inside or out. Especially spiders! (Ooooh, spiders!) They demand scorched-earth pesticide-use, death to everything up and down the food chain and the future, too.

This monster paid $3 million dollars for a rare, big bluefin tuna. The species is critically endangered, but evidently that whale-killing nation will eat the last one, regardless of the cost.

I live across the street from an entrance to a park. People dump their tires and old flat screen TVs there.

And on it goes…

Climate change tells is there is no time to waste. But history tells us that social change works in indirect and unpredictable ways, and that it’s worth pressing on for what you believe in.

Here’s a young Red-tailed Hawk carrying…a pinecone. It wrenched this off the top of a tall white pine. I’ve seen Red-tails break sticks from trees for nest-building, but never this before. There are some hints in the literature, though: hawks bringing pinecones to the nest, hawks playing with pinecones.

Lord Love A Duck

Have you heard about the HotDuck™? Good gravy — which is probably what it should be served with — there’s been quite a media ballyhoo over a stray male Mandarin Duck that escaped from some farm or zoo somewhere and ended up in Central Park. No fan of zoos, I haven’t seen the bird myself.

A New York Times article introduced the bird to the thinking classes (or so they seem to think). In the article, a David Barrett, who has made a name for himself on Twitter as a competitive birder, actually baited the bird with junk food. So the unknowing Times reporter modeled some absolutely terrible birding ethics for many readers. Barrett has also monetized the duck by selling tee shirts, as have a few others. He also broadcasts the specific location of owls publicly, something an ethical birder wouldn’t do. (Unfortunately, such knowledge empowers bad actors like this “asshole,” who makes money off of owl-harassment.)

Now, the duck’s fans will say it could be a gateway for new bird watchers. Maybe, but I don’t see much hope in an exotic animal, practically a pet, inspiring ecological thinking and environmental activism, which we need much more than more listers or tickers vying for the absurdity of “Top Birder” on Ebird.

The duck has been transformed into a kind of pet. And as we know, we prioritize our pets over the wild, as the unleashed dogs and feral cat enablers prove every day.

Is harm done to the wild when we highlight the pretty, the tame, the cute, but ignore, if not actually attack, the not-pretty, the not-tame, the not-cute?  See the bugs being exterminated; the seals being harassed; the owls being captured by Harry Potter fans; the criminal despoliations of the exotic pet industry world-wide.

Are we killing nature with love, with celebrity? Because that is what HotDuck™ is: a celebrity, drowning out all the “little people” with its colorful preening. The question should be asked: is mass popularity of a crazily coiffured critter actually a good thing? Since when? Do any of these thousands of selfies contribute to conservation, habitat restoration, political action against the crony capitalist oligarchies devouring the planet?

Doesn’t it, rather, lead to groups of 50 people shining flashlights on owls in Central Park?

Can this HotDuck™ phenomenon be somewhat akin to the Instagram/selfie effect, in which people trash remote locations, fragile landscapes, and habitats for social media “likes”?

See also: the problem of foraging and mushrooming here in the city. There aren’t enough plants and mushrooms to go around in a city of 8 million, of course, but at least these collectors are still just a small faction. But watch them in action: they stomp off the path with abandon in NYC parks, wild plants be damned, food for wild animals be damned. It’s all about them and nothing else.


Carbon Democracy

“Humankind has consumed about two trillion barrels of oil since the rise of the modern petroleum industry in the 1860s. It is worth repeating that burning the first trillion took about 130 years, but we went through the second trillion in only twenty-two years. […] The world’s fossil fuels were formed out of 500 million years of buried sunshine. Whether we spend most of this ‘capital bequeathed to mankind by other living beings’ within a span of three hundred years or four hundred, from the perspective of geological history, or even merely of human history, the era of the Anthropocene is brief and extraordinary. […] The geological language captures not so much the brevity of time in which the energy from fossil fuels has enabled agency on a new scale, but the extraordinary length of time, looking forward, over which the effects of this brief agency will be felt. The modes of common life that have arisen largely within the last hundred years, and whose intensity has accelerated only since 1945, are shaping the planet for the next one thousand years, and perhaps the next 50,000.”

Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil, 2013. This is one of a number of Verso’s thought-provoking and paradigm-challenging approaches to the politics of climate change.


Bet you’ll miss us when we’re gone…*

Dürer, Ionesco, Edinburgh’s Paperback Bookshop… now Brooklyn’s otherwise corporate MetroTech plaza has a rhino, too. A trio of them, to be exact, stacked. The sculpture, “The Last Three,” by Gillie & Marc, represent the last three — now there are two — white rhinos. This is a detail.

We can and should condemn the old fools in Asia who fuel the market in rhino horn because they’re trying to get it up (it has no biological effect on potency, of course), but let’s not forget that, as Americans, we generally gobble up more resources than any other people on the planet. Just think of all the waste, the wrapping and boxes, that will end up in the trash today; all the gadgets that will have a brief life-span of novelty; all the previous gadgets that will no longer spark our novelty; the oceans of plastic shit.

*Actually, probably not. They — tomorrow’s children — won’t miss them because they will have never known them. A diminished world results in a diminished humanity. They won’t even know they’re shrunken.


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