Science and Sarcasm
27 February 2006
These are my people...

Pat, Peggy, Thelma Welch, Mary Cuddy, Tom

One of my cousins sent around a huge bunch of 150 digitized photos from old albums that were my Grandmother's. There are lots of tin or paper portraits of various family members taken in the early 1900's - some people I recognize, some I don't. Many photos are also more recent, of my Gramma's family, of my dad and his 4 siblings in the 40s and 50s. These folks are the farming side of my family and this is evident in most pictures.

The picture above is my favorite. I think it's absolutely beautiful. The scene, the mud, facial expressions, headscarves, the cows, the lighting all seem to harmonize and it makes me smile. I think this photo could easily pass for something artfully composed, the optimal product of a series of photos, and prop arrangements. My Aunt Pat smiles engagingly from the hood; Aunt Peg, Uncle Tom and a couple of girl friends crowd onto the seat and axle posing for the unknown photographer. I don't know who the photographer may have been. My dad maybe. Someone participating in the light and youthful mood of the day down in the barnyard.

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Winter is back, briefly

The backyard woods, 27 Feb 2006

I like the mostly cold, dry weather we've had for the last week or so - overnight temperatures below 15 oF (-9 oC). Daily maximums remaining below melting, mostly. It seems like the way Michigan winter should be. And I like the light, fluffy, lake-effect snow flurries that have breezed slowly through about once per day. We started our work week with a nice flurry early this morning. Driving to work was a bit slowed and occasionally slippery, but I'm fine with taking my time on the way toward work. I saw a single, snow-covered deer browsing the roadside on the way.

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26 February 2006
New-to-me blog

I've added a link in the side menu for a blog called 'Burning Silo.' The name alone was enough to catch my attention; the content sealed the deal. I've since noticed that some of my blogger friends were already aware of Bev and her great blog from eastern Ontario. Oh well, I'm glad I found it eventually.

Here's a link to a story and a short video Bev posted recently that effectively documents why we call it WILDlife.

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25 February 2006
Red-Tails in Love : PALE MALE'S STORY--A True Wildlife Drama in Central Park

Red-Tails in Love : PALE MALE'S STORY--A True Wildlife Drama in Central Park by Marie WinnI received a copy of Red-Tails in Love : PALE MALE'S STORY--A True Wildlife Drama in Central Park by Marie Winn as a Christmas gift this year, and it provided excellent, light, enjoyable bed-time reading for a couple of weeks thereafter.

My copy is an updated, 2005 edition of the original novel, which was published in 1999. This updated edition includes an extra epilogue, written in 1998, and a 2005 update, in addition to several appendices, maps and an annotated bibliography. In the appendices section, you'll find a few Central Park species lists including an edible plants list, a damsel- and dragonflies list, a 58-species butterflies list and a 190-species bird list (organized by typical first sighting dates, and indexed by sighting frequency).

If, like me, you are a person who does not automatically picture diverse and abundant wildlife when you think of New York City, this book will illustrate how narrow-minded we both are about urban flora and fauna. Winn's lighthearted story centers around the relationship of a band of Central Park birders, "The Regulars," and a now-famous family of red-tailed hawks returning to the park each spring. The patriarch of the hawk family was named "Pale Male" by Winn and other Central Park birders because of his unusually light-colored plumage. While the main threads of this true story concern themselves with the habits and behaviors of the hawks, I found Winn's descriptions of the ecology and sociology of the birders themselves to be one of the most endearing aspects of her storytelling. The Regulars appear to be a gregarious, open, passionate group of extremely likable bird fans that I'd like to meet. The Regulars, and 'less regular' birders alike, communicate wildlife sightings and discoveries both directly, through group activities, and indirectly, through a centralized public written record of observations called "The Bird Register" kept in or near the park for all to access. It's the Register, the physical documentation of "good birds," nesting activities, returning migrants, unusual behaviors, park maintenance affecting wildlife observation or safety, etc. that captures Winn's attention and inspired her tale.

Though it's a light story overall, Winn weaves together human and animal struggles, failures and victories, friendships and loss. Within the larger context of the story of Pale Male are meetings with celebrity apartment dwellers adjacent to the park, interactions with wildlife agencies and policies, protests, collaborations with park maintenance operations and small individual triumphs and grief.

I enjoyed the story of Pale Male and of Central Park's diverse wildlife thoroughly and I'd recommend it as excellent light reading to anyone, birder or not.

For additional information on the continuing story of the red-tailed hawks of Central Park, visit these websites maintained by Central Park birders and friends:

(Cross-posted on the Birding Gear Big Board.)

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23 February 2006

Big Alaskan Rainbow

A 16-pound rainbow trout. Kenai, Alaska.

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20 February 2006
Unbearable lightness of posting

I have to apologize for my lack of posting over the last couple of weeks. My work and school have been rather draining. And not for any good, worthwhile, productive reasons either. Both have taken on a rather helter-skelter and aggravating texture lately. I hope I can steer through it, straighten out the wheels and get back to inspired, enjoyable blogging in short order.

Fortunately, there's no shortage of good blogging to read elsewhere. Try any of the blog links listed in the right menu...

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17 February 2006
I and the Bird #17

I and the BirdAmy, over at WildBird on the Fly is inviting us all to the current edition of I and the Bird blog carnival which has been arranged into more of a festival format. All the usual suspects are on the speaker list and a very wide range of birdy subjects is included.

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14 February 2006
My favorite Molly

Molly Ivins has a nice new piece highlighting some of the great work Harry Whittington, the victim of the recent Darth Cheney accidental shooting, has done for the Texas corrections system. He's apparently quite a liberal, by Texas standards. True to form, Molly eventually provides some stylish, turntable smackdown...


I am not trying to make a big deal out of a simple hunting accident for partisan purposes—just thought it was a good chance to pay tribute to old Harry, a thoroughly decent man. However, I was offended by the never-our-fault White House spin team. Cheney adviser Mary Matalin said of her boss, “He was not careless or incautious [and did not] violate of any of the [rules]. He didn’t do anything he wasn’t supposed to do.” Of course he did, Ms. Matalin, he shot Harry Whittington.

Which brings us to one of the many paradoxes of the Bush administration, which claims to be creating “the responsibility society.” It’s hard to think of a crowd less likely to take responsibility for anything they have done or not done than this bunch. They’re certainly good at preaching responsibility to others—and blaming other people for everything that goes wrong on their watch.

Of course the Cheney shooting was an accident.

But is it an accident if your home and your life are destroyed by the flood following a hurricane? Especially if the flood was caused by failed levees, a government responsibility?

Is it an accident if you are born with a clubfoot and your parents are too poor to pay for the operation to fix it? Is there any societal responsibility in such a case?

Is it an accident when your manufacturing job gets shipped overseas and all you can find to replace it is a low-wage job at the big-box store with no health insurance, and your kid breaks his leg, and you can’t pay the bill, so you have to declare bankruptcy under a new law that leaves you broke for good, with no chance of ever getting out of debt? Or was all of that caused by deliberate government policy?

Cheney is much given to lecturing us about taking responsibility. When and where does societal responsibility come in?

Cheney has a curious, shifting history on issues of blame and responsibility. He was vice chair of the congressional committee that spent 11 months investigating the Iran-Contra affair and author of its minority report. As John W. Dean highlights in a recent essay, the 500-page majority report concluded the entire affair “was characterized by pervasive dishonesty and inordinate secrecy.” But Cheney’s report said the Reagan administration’s repeated breaking of the law was “mistakes ... were just that—mistakes in judgment and nothing more.”

Those of you who saw Cheney’s interview with Jim Lehrer last week may recall the passage on Darfur that ended with this:

Lehrer: “It’s still happening. There are now 2 million people homeless.”

Cheney: “Still happening, correct.”

Lehrer: “Hundreds of thousands of people have died, and—so you’re satisfied the U.S. is doing everything it can do?”

Cheney: “I am satisfied we’re doing everything we can do."

His head still tilts over more to the right when he lies.

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13 February 2006
  1. Hunters don't "pepper" each other with bird shot "all the time." This is not a common occurence. Any required hunter safety course begins with teaching newbie hunters how to avoid that. There are hundreds of hunting/shooting accidents each year, but the frequency of shooting accidents are well below "all the time."
  2. Dick and his hunting party were 'road-hunting' for quail with an entourage of assistants, secret service agents and medical personnel. [link]

    Each of the hunters was wearing a bright orange vest at the time, Armstrong told reporters at the ranch about 60 miles southwest of Corpus Christi.


    Armstrong said she was watching from a car while Cheney, Whittington and another hunter got out of the vehicle to shoot at a covey of quail.


    "Fortunately, the vice president has got a lot of medical people around him and so they were right there and probably more cautious than we would have been," she said. "The vice president has got an ambulance on call, so the ambulance came."

    This explains my initial question of "Huh, how can this guy possibly hunt? He's had octuple bypass surgery and at least one blood clot removal surgery that kept him off his feet. How the heck is he chasing birds and brush-whacking across grassy landscapes safely?" Simply put, he's not. They were chasing birds from the road, then stopping to blast away when they spotted some. And apparently, this is typical of how Dick likes to 'hunt.' This elitist-bourgeois habit ought to further endear him with the red state hunting/firearm demographic.
  3. A minor "peppering" with birdshot shouldn't land someone in the hospital for 48+ hours, even if the victim is 78 years old. This sounds more serious than the soundbites are indicating. It seems that Whittington had to be fairly close to Dick's muzzle since a lot of wing shooting shotguns scatter pellets rather widely within a short distance. Or, as B pointed out, a lengthy hospital stay could simply be a strategy for minimizing media exposure to Whittington. Alcohol?
  4. Were they waiting to see if the victim would survive before naming Cheney as the shooter? Something kept the media and police at an arms length for quite a while.
  5. The recipient of stray bullet is not the responsible party for the errant shot, the shooter is. One of the first lessons in the afore-mentioned safety training is to know what you're aiming at and where your companions are at all times. Or else don't shoot.

Will they award Whittington with a Purple Heart? They can always Swift Boat him later if the need arises. Lastly, what important world news are we missing while we're distracted by Quailgate?

ADDENDUM: Tush, on the other hand, likes to shoot mourning do-, er....killdeer.

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12 February 2006
If it were up to me....

Judge Sandra Day O'Connor on the Boulder River in Montana Hell, you can't have leaks without a few holes!

...I'd definitely rather go fly fishing with Sandra Day O'Connor than quail hunting with Dick Cheney.

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Woodpecker Grand Slam

Yesterday, we momentarily - and simultaneously - had 3 varieties of woodpeckers on the birdfeeder in the front yard.

  • A male red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) was poking around on the platform part of the feeder,
  • a hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus) was pecking at the suet/seed cake and
  • a downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) was inspecting the cracks in the wooden feeder post for seeds hidden there by others.

All three woodpeckers are common sightings for us, but I've never noticed all 3 at once. The downy and hairy woodpeckers are generally not regular visitors to the feeders. We normally enjoy the company of a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers all winter and this year has been no exception.

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09 February 2006
A good opinion piece on the Mohammed cartoons controversy

I believe this article was written by Ted Rall, but this particular Yahoo News web page omits the author's name:



Being provoked, as I tell myself when I'm sitting next to Sean Hannity, doesn't justify reacting with violence. And as Kuwaiti oil executive Samia al-Duaij pointed out to Time, there are better reasons to torch embassies than over cartoons: "America kills thousands of Muslims, and you lose your head and withdraw ambassadors over a bunch of cartoons printed in a second-rate paper in a Nordic country with a population of five million? That's the true outrage."

As the only syndicated political cartoonist who also writes a syndicated column, my living depends on freedom of the press. I can't decide who's a bigger threat: the deluded Islamists who hope to impose Sharia law on Western democracies, or the right-wing clash-of-civilization crusaders waving the banner of "free speech"--the same folks who call for the censorship and even murder of anti-Bush cartoonists here--as an excuse to join the post-9/11 Muslims-suck media pile-on. Most reasonable people reject both--but neither is as dangerous to liberty as America's self-censoring newspaper editors and broadcast producers.


Read the whole thing; it's pretty good and it's not a regurgitation of the same ideas I've already seen or heard on this subject.

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07 February 2006
It was a good day for lefty democratic statements

Several speakers openly lambasted the Tush Whitehouse at Coretta Scott King's funeral today. And Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) wrote a short blurb regarding Abu Gonzales' testimony today at TPM Cafe:


This administration reacts to anyone who questions this illegal program by saying that those of us who demand the truth and stand up for our rights and freedoms somehow has a pre-9/11 world view. In fact, the President has a pre-1776 world view. Our government has three branches, not one. And no one, not even the President, is above the law.

"Pre-1776." As in "pre-United States of America." I like it.

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04 February 2006
Loose feather and other birdy news

White mystery featherLet me just say straight away that I realize I'm stealing John's catchy title - but it befits my needs momentarily. (I'll give it right back, John.) I want to update my 'mystery feather' identification assistance request that I posted a few days ago.

B found this completely white 5 1/2" tail feather (I think) in our field and it's a bit of a mystery who it might belong to. We have no obvious white birds around and other potential culprits are not especially likely, but I can rule nothing out yet.

Today however, B pointed out a strange guest at our bird feeder. I headed for the window to see a bunch of 4 or 5 mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) bobbing around under the feeder, poking around for intact seeds. Nothing unusual about mourning doves under the feeder, but one of them had a distinctly bright white set of long tail feathers. His appearance otherwise was that of a normal adult mourning dove. His covert feathers over the top of the tail were normal gray-brown, but the long underneath feathers were white, white, white. I'm not sure if this makes him the likely source of the mystery feather though. The mystery feather seems almost too wide and big to be of mourning dove origin, but I'm not sure how feather shape, size or appearance might change a bit from detachment. Who knows for sure - anyone?

I tried to capture a picture of the white-tailed mourning dove, but failed as my CF card was full and by the time I cleared away some space, something flushed all the birds away from the feeder. I'll keep an eye out for him now though...


On an mostly unrelated note, my friend Lisa alerted me to this news of another Columbidae species in the news this week: a UC-Irvine professor and her students have set up a smog-detection and -reporting project employing pigeons, lots of high-tech electronic gadgetry and a blog.

Pigeons to set up a smog blog

[...] Later this year 20 [pigeons] will take to the skies above San Jose, California, each carrying a GPS receiver, air pollution sensors and a basic cellphone. They will measure levels of pollutants they encounter, and beam back their findings as text messages to a blog in real time.


The data they send back will be displayed on the blog in the form of an interactive map. As well as providing local residents with real-time data on air quality, da Costa hopes the pigeon blog will inspire people to come up with new ways to monitor the environment. The pigeons will also carry cameras around their necks and post aerial photos to the blog.


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03 February 2006
Circus of the Spineless #5

CotS BadgeI'm not sure how I missed it, but Pharyngula is hosting he 5th edition of the Circus of the Spineless blog carnival. It's been up for a few days now. PZ has presented the posts in a photographic montage of dragonflies, moths, butterflies, snails, caterpillars and a few other invertebrate critters.

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02 February 2006
Happy Groundhog Day

Punxatawney Phil says we're in for 6 more weeks of winter. We've scarcely had a real winter here anyway, so I suppose that's fine with me...

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I and the Bird #16

I and the BirdRexroth's Daughter, over at Dharma Bums has applied a unique hippie, Woodstockian theme to the current edition of I and the Bird blog carnival. She's assembled a festival from quite a long list of bird-oriented posts from around the blogosphere. It's a peaceful and groovy read, man. All the regulars, plus a few less familiar participants, are standing in line at the portajohns. Well done RD!

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01 February 2006
An enormous fish story

Big bull trout story

This has to be the biggest big-trout story I've ever heard. And it appears that it's most likely true. Check it out...

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The State of the Union

The Reign of Error, year 6

Like RD at Dharma Bums, I had my head in the sand last night. I knew I couldn't stomach watching Tush self-promote himself and his crooked cronies for more than a few seconds so I didn't subject myself to it. I had work to do anyway. And the Pistons were on TV.

Since I missed his surely-rousing version, here's my State of the Union list:

Flag & eagle

Yep, our "union is strong!" It's so strong in fact, that it can't tolerate a 50-year old mother wearing a t-shirt with an anti-war statement on it [more here and here]. That said, it seems as though we might be hitting bottom; next - "we're turning the corner". I hope. The majority of Americans are not Tush fans and a few recent political transactions have found more liberal purchase than they would have a year or two ago.

ADDENDUM: Aaaahhh. This helps kill the pain a bit. [via Coturnix]

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Tangled Bank #46 has been issued

The Tangled Bank...over at Adventures in Ethics and Science.

This is the first TB hosted by one of the bloggers at the new Science Blogs site I think. Dr. FreeRide has done a bang-up job - she's arranged the 45-odd posts into a fictitious course catalog. You'll find entries for classes and meetings on subjects from astronomy to molecular biology to physics to how snakes manage to kill by constriction. A recent post from right here at S&S is included as well. Enjoy!

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