Archive for the 'Art Culture Politics' Category

The Real War

IMG_9542The great Bill McKibben is urging us to declare war on climate change, mobilizing like Americans did in the Second World War against the enemy. But is his enemy the right one?

We know how stunningly disruptive climate change is, and how much faster it is all happening, and how quickly the bad news piles up. But the definition of “enemy” needs to be more specific — for it is hard to fight a symptom (cf. “war against terror”).

Don’t we know the real enemy? Isn’t it the carbon industry, and beyond that an entire economic system that calls devouring the planet “growth” and pours its waste production into the commons (and commonwealth) as a cost the rest of us pay?

You may not know this, but McKibben, who is a personal hero of mine, has been on the climate front for a long time. The End of Nature warned about climate change two decades ago. But good deeds do not go unpunished. He has been declared a public enemy of those who profit off of carbon — the oil, gas, and related industries — and their wholly-owned representatives in the Republican Party. Hacks shadow McKibben, filming his activities, trying, it seems, to show he’s a hypocrite for living in this world, too. Similarly, climate scientists are constantly harassed by tools and fools, paid or not (and more than a few are just nihilistic antis) of the Koch brothers and others who have placed their fortunes and their twisted politics in the service of denying physics and chemistry.

For instance, we now know that Exxon has been well aware of the dangers of continued carbon pumping into the atmosphere for many years. Like the cigarette companies, they have spent decades lying, bullying their critics, and buying politicians, all in the service of profit-making misery and death.

The fight is political. The profiteers are well aware of this. True, some of the human beings at the helm of corporations are loathsome examples of humanity — the excremental monstrosity that wealth sometimes results in is too well personified, daily, by Donald Trump — but it is really the system that is the cause.

(Next Sunday’s sermon will return to this theme.)

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Maryland Monument Dasher

wreathTwo hundred and forty years ago today, the British and their Hessian swine-mercenaries walloped the still-loose conglomeration that was the Continental Army in Brooklyn. There’s a memorial in Prospect Park to the Maryland 400, troops who held the Old Stone House (the existing structure in J. J. Byrne Park is a recreation) down in the Gowanus while the rest of Washington’s soldiers made a pell-mell strategic retreat to Brooklyn Heights, and thence across the river. Geo. is supposed to have said “what brave fellows I must this day lose” about the sacrificial Marylanders.

Yet the British unaccountably did not press their advantage in Brooklyn. They occupied New York, but lost their opportunity of crushing the new American army right here. Big mistake. This, by the way, is also why we don’t have a national health system today.

Someone has laid a fresh wreath on the memorial in honor of the 400.

A pair of Blue Dasher dragonflies, concerned with their own history, were using the fence to tee up. This is the female.

Rosamond Purcell

If you dig deep enough into this blog, you will come across a near-surreptitious image of a part of Olaus Worm’s famous cabinet of curiosities. The original print of the Museum Wormianum was published as the frontispiece of the 1655 Worm’s Museum, or History of Very Rare Things, Natural and Artificial, Domestic and Exotic, Which are Stored in the Author’s House in Copenhagen. I noted it originally because there was a Horseshoe Crab up there on the wall.

Imagine my delight, then, when in the new documentary An Art That Nature Makes: The Work of Rosamond Purcell, I found out that Purcell recreated Worm’s room. It is now located in the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

Photo of Purcell's photo of Red-wing Blackbird egg, for which there was no collection data available. Red-wing BB eggs are quite variable.

Photo of Purcell’s photo of Red-wing Blackbird egg, for which there was no collection data available. Red-wing BB eggs are quite variable.

I had not heard of Purcell before this film. But the image below is being used for the movie poster, so I figured I needed to see what was going on. I recommend the film.

Thanks to the public library, I’m now looking further into Purcell’s work.

Egg & Nest is a volume of photos of eggs and nests from the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology; the curators give a rousing defense of such collections.

Swift as a Shadow documents extinct and rare species through specimens mostly at Leiden’s natural history museum; there is a short but telling piece about islands and extinction (we learn the name of one of the cats that killed all the Stephens Island Wrens in the world).

Crossing Over: Where Art and Science Meet is one of her three collaborations with Stephen Jay Gould (a voice sorely missed in an age when unreason propels so much political bile).

Owl’s Head shows she can write as well as use a camera.

The Great Egret (Ardea alba). Photo by Rosamond Purcell.

The Great Egret (Ardea alba). Photo by Rosamond Purcell.

Something to Wash Out The Hate

IMG_9037If you’re still recovering from the shameless exhibition of fear and loathing that was the finale of washed-out TV personality Donald Trump’s grotesque career — that tirade in search of a balcony, that harangue for a meaner, nastier America — then this one’s for you.

Two species of bees, two species of wasps, one skipper… but of course it was impossible to get more than a semblance of all the activity in one frame.

For Natives, Against Nativism

There’s a perspective that says that native plant advocates mimic the rhetoric and (consciously or unconsciously) the beliefs of the politics of nativism, paralleling the hateful and ugly resurgence of some of America’s most shameful traditions manifested in the disgusting Trump phenomenon. Calling a plant or animal an alien or an invasive is, in this thesis, said to be the same as using the term “illegals” and the like about people.

While there may be some native plant fans who are political nativists, the argument doesn’t actually work. Because the end results are opposite. People coming to the U.S., by whatever means, diversify society. That’s a good thing. But invasive plant and animal species do precisely the opposite; they create monocultures. That’s a bad thing. Garlic Mustard, Japanese Knotweed, Phragmites, for some plant examples, are highly successful at blanketing landscapes and drowning out biodiversity. Starlings, Zebra Mussels, House Sparrows, are animal examples; the most horrendous example has got to be the domestic cat. Both feral and let-out-of-the-house cats slaughter reptiles, birds, and mammals by the hundreds of millions.

Meanwhile, biodiversity and human diversity are both markers of healthy ecosystems and societies, from the fundamental level of a more expansive gene pool to a habitat-wide richness of species, which in the human context we might call… multiculturalism.

Pet-trade Refugee

Trachemys scripta elegansOne of the many surplus Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) dumped into local waterways. Idiots buy them and tire of them and let them loose. The red “ear” is actually just a mark; on this specimen it’s rather pale; sometimes it doesn’t show at all. I once counted 70 RESs, which are native to the southeast and the Mississippi Valley, along the Lullwater from bridge to bridge. Releasing pet turtles is illegal because of the risk of disease, but that stops nobody.

Why do people insist on taking animals from the wild for their own, all-too-often ephemeral, entertainment? I suppose if they see it in a store or bucket on the street — it’s actually illegal to sell turtles smaller than 4″ because of the risk of salmonella — they don’t think it’s a wild animal to begin with. Or one that will grow out of a toy aquarium before too long; these animals can live for decades. Or after Junior’s attention has moved on to other whims, and that cute lil’ turtle is no longer so.

There’s a subculture of fancy turtle and tortoise fans that make much of their fetish here in the city and elsewhere, pleased how their pet, for instance, spends the winter in the freezer to mimic the amazing down-cycling some of these animals use to get through the frozen months. Really? You’re proud of having de-natured a wild creature for your own vanity and ego? And spare me the argument of breeders, who are doing it for profit.

There’s a now-famous tortoise that is walked in Central Park to much social media hoopla. But the poor creature belongs in habitat on another continent, not Central Park. Such attention, like dumb kids’ movies, has probably amped-up the demand, unleashing the cruel and destructive pet-hunting industry — for where there are warped desires, the profiteers will leap in to provide and crush everything else beneath their feet.

Marine Park Heaven and Hell

Rallus crepitansRails are elusive, secretive, reed-habitat specialists, blending in quite nicely in their saltwater and brackish marshes in their thin-as-a-rail way. Clapper Rail (Rallus crepitans) less so than the others. For one thing, they can be quite vocal: their namesake “clap” is more of a “kek.” Recently, we heard several at Marine Park and saw three individuals.

Here’s a previous encounter out there: note that I used the old binomial. The Atlantic and California/Arizona subspecies were split in 2014.

IMG_8118Here’s the hell. Across the tidal inlet from the restored portion of Marine Park Nature Center is the wild west of the park, a strip bordering the neighborhood of Gerritsen Beach. Last year, the last time we ventured over there, we just missed a brush fire, probably caused by the addled dopeheads we’d passed, and dodged brats and their parents playing paintball. The dogs are always unleashed, and sometimes these ATVs, also illegal in the city, rip the shit out of the fragile sandy terrain. (Note that the first vehicle has a kid aboard, being poisoned early.)  There’s no enforcement over there and never has been as far as I can tell. Rumors that these trolls are all related to  cops — Gerritsen Beach is one of those segregated parts of the city where the adults all seem to be in the uniformed branches of city services — may suggest why Parks Enforcement and rangers do nothing about the unceasing trashing of the place.


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