Friday, August 20, 2010

Do big cats like catnip?

Of course they do.

My favorite moment is when the roly-poly cheetah suddenly pauses and stares at you with this slightly guilty look on his face: I was only holding it for a friend, I swear!

Apologies for the ridiculously light posting of late. The boys have just returned to school, and I've been submerged in Mama Lioness duties, which challenges, I am here to tell you, are considerably rougher, tougher, and more formidable than those faced by Mama Grizzlies (do any little ones of any stripe or spot like getting shots and being prodded and poked?) The cubs do look rather irresistible in their freshly-pressed uniforms, though.

Hopefully I'll be able to dive back in to blogging next week. Until then,

Bon Weekend, everyone.


(H/T and congratulations to four-time Daddy Lion Dr. Shadowfax)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

How to do a great political ad: Dan Gelber for Florida Attorney General

Rising above--far, far above--the mudslinging and vitriol of the typical ad, this one instead imparts a strong sense of the candidate's humanity, integrity, commitment to service, and overall goodness, and in so doing, underscores Dan Gelber's obvious qualifications for a public office such as that of AG.

Bravo, Dan and bravo, Travis!

(H/T Michael)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Boléro , three ways

Instead of doing a Friday Frank post, I thought I'd riff on one of FZ's best-known "classical covers": Boléro, by French Impressionist composer Maurice Ravel.

Presented here, then, is the well-loved Boléro as interpreted by three brilliant guitarists: Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa, and someone new to me: an incredibly gifted thirteen-year-old named Sungha Jung. (If you've only got time to listen to one, skip ahead to Sungha's--Jeff and Frank are obviously well-known and frequently listened-to, whereas this young man deserves to be. A well-known and frequently listened-to favorite, I mean.)


With Jeff Beck at the Fuji Speedway, 2006

With Frank Zappa, in Barcelona, 1988

With Sungha Jung of South Korea, age 13.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Alan Grayson on "Bozo the Spokesman" and Stockholm Syndrome at the White House

Yes, he's awesome. Yes, he's Floridian. No, we're not interested in swapping him for one of your Congresscritters, thankyouverymuch. Grayson/Franken 2016 (or sooner).

Alpha Dog of the week: Steven Slater

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Alpha Dog of the Week - Steven Slater
Colbert Report Full Episodes

Other than a tiny chorus of naysayers ("He lost his temper, and that's just sooo unprofessional", etc. etc.), Americans have for the most part been overwhelmingly supportive of Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant who embodied the Take-this-job-and-shove-it fantasies that ever more of us are entertaining in our bowed heads these days as stressed-out, underpaid nose meets demanding, understaffed grindstone.

I, for one, have often wondered where the inflatable emergency exit slide was located. Hasn't everyone?

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Obamas are wonderful parents

La Bella de Marbella: Sasha Obama, Spain; August 6, 2010

Because despite having lived in a fishbowl for the past few years and had her every outfit, gesture, and mood dissected, critiqued, and mined for meaning beyond their simply being the outfits, gestures, and moods that could have belonged to any of us at one point or another; and despite being at an age when far too many girls feel as though the innocent and visceral joy of being alive is draining from their souls faster than cola spills from a tipped-over bottle and disappears into the sand; and despite being followed around all day and all night, by adults who say things about her and aim things at her because she is no longer child, but quarry--despite all that...

...their magnificent daughter Sasha is at once as confident as a room-storming toddler, as graceful as a trained dancer twice her age, and as utterly fearless about taking delight in the elements around her as any porpoise or cat.

I used to do just that, when we lived in the islands and I was a girl. Let the serene waves lift me from the sea floor, and in the weightless moments that followed, tilt my face to the sun and practice second position with my arms, flinging them open to what I imagined was the whole wide world.

I think I need to go to the sea again.

Image via Bauer-Griffin.

Friday, August 06, 2010

From the department of unexpected benefits: It's a jungle out there

Zoologists at the Bronx Zoo and wildlife conservation biologists working in the Guatemalan rainforest find that cloth soaked in Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men successfully attracts the attentions of various animals--particularly some very large cats.

Attention, elevator-crowding investment bankers of the world: You've been warned.

(H/T Lisa)

Thursday, August 05, 2010

I break for beauty: The affirming colors of light, of poetry, and of reason

Double rainbow over Kīlauea, Hawai`i, the world's most active volcano.
I took this shot from the window of a helicopter in June 2005.

Love Sonnet IX

There where the waves shatter on the restless rocks
the clear light bursts and enacts its rose,
and the sea-circle shrinks to a cluster of buds,
to one drop of blue salt, falling.

O bright magnolia bursting in the foam,
magnetic transient whose death blooms
and vanishes--being, nothingness--forever:
broken salt, dazzling lurch of the sea.

You & I, Love, together we ratify the silence,
while the sea destroys its perpetual statues,
collapses its towers of wild speed and whiteness:

because in the weavings of those invisible fabrics,
galloping water, incessant sand,
we make the only permanent tenderness.

-- Pablo Neruda


"In a stunning decision this afternoon, finding California's Proposition 8 ballot initiative banning gay marriage unconstitutional, Walker trod heavily on the path Kennedy has blazed on gay rights: "[I]t would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse," quotes Walker. "'[M]oral disapproval, without any other asserted state interest,' has never been a rational basis for legislation," cites Walker. "Animus towards gays and lesbians or simply a belief that a relationship between a man and a woman is inherently better than a relationship between two men or two women, this belief is not a proper basis on which to legislate," Walker notes, with a jerk of the thumb at Kennedy.

Justice Kennedy? Hot sauce to go with those words?

But for all the lofty language about freedom and morality, nobody can fairly accuse Judge Walker of putting together an insubstantial or unsubstantiated opinion today. Indeed, the whole point of this legal exercise—the lengthy trial, the spectacularly detailed finding of facts (80 of them! with subheadings!)—was to pit expert against expert, science against science, and fact against prejudice.

It's hard to read Judge Walker's opinion without sensing that what really won out today was science, methodology, and hard work."

-- Dahlia Lithwick, for Slate

(H/T oddjob for Lithwick's summary)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Truth dispersed and disposed is truth denied: Conflicting stories about BP's oil spill in the Gulf

"...dolphins whales, seabirds fish are all floating dead on the surface of the water.. see more.. see more.. boats helicopters are scooping them away dead and dying... Whales are being exploded by the military cause they cant be carried. dead bodys as far as the eye can see air smeling of benzene ..weve seen birds fall from the sky."

-- Part of an unconfirmed text message from an anonymous
cleanup worker, at BP's oil spill, to his wife, ca. early June 2010

From today's New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The government is expected to announce on Wednesday that three-quarters of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated — and that much of the rest is so diluted that it does not seem to pose much additional risk of harm.

A government report finds that about 26 percent of the oil released from BP’s runaway well is still in the water or onshore in a form that could, in principle, cause new problems. But most is light sheen at the ocean surface or in a dispersed form below the surface, and federal scientists believe that it is breaking down rapidly in both places. [...]

She [Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] emphasized, however, that the government remained concerned about the ecological damage that has already occurred and the potential for more, and said it would continue monitoring the gulf.

“I think we don’t know yet the full impact of this spill on the ecosystem or the people of the gulf,” Dr. Lubchenco said.

Among the biggest unanswered questions, she said, is how much damage the oil has done to the eggs and larvae of organisms like fish, crabs and shrimp. That may not become clear for a year or longer, as new generations of those creatures come to maturity.

Thousands of birds and other animals are known to have been damaged or killed by the spill, a relatively modest toll given the scale of some other oil disasters that killed millions of animals. Efforts are still under way in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to clean up more than 600 miles of oiled shoreline. The government and BP collected 35,818 tons of oily debris from shorelines through Sunday.

But Karl Burkhart of the Mother Nature Network describes a far darker and more troubling situation concerning the actual numbers of marine animals the BP oil spill has killed, and he also returns to the issue of the disturbing media blackout and no-fly zones, often enforced by armed individuals such as police officers, about which I'm sure you've already heard. In short, credentialed journalists and scientists alike were routinely barred from entering airspace over the still-gushing Deepwater Horizon well, just as they were banned from going near marshlands and beaches, including public beaches.

There are also unconfirmed reports, from cleanup workers who furtively typed text messages on borrowed cell-phones after having their own devices confiscated (and having to sign reams of confidentiality documents in order to get a much-needed job in the first place), saying that countless thousands of corpses of birds, fish, and large sea mammals were being quietly destroyed--well out of the view of citizens, independent marine biologists and animal welfare and environmental protection groups, and the press--and possibly with the help of the U.S. military. One such text message appears at the link, and while the the post's author has not been able to contact the message sender to confirm the report, he does confirm, as do the journalists themselves, that numerous well-known media figures, including CNN's Anderson Cooper, were indeed repeatedly denied access to many of the areas seriously affected by BP's oil spill (my emphasis).

According to the latest count of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Daily Collection Report (PDF), only about 4,100 birds, 670 turtles, 70 sea mammals, and 1 snake have died in the Gulf since April 20 (assuming 50 percent mortality of live animals).

It's an astonishingly low number, considering that one of the largest pods of sperm whales in the U.S. resided just miles from the site of the BP Macondo well (aka Deepwater Horizon), a region home to one of the most abundant and biodiverse marine ecosystems in the world.

Compare those small numbers with the Exxon Valdez spill ... Best estimates put the toll of the far smaller oil spill in Alaska at more than 200,000 birds (including hundreds of eagles), more than 3,000 sea mammals, more than 20 whales, and billions of fish eggs. The accident permanently wiped out the herring population of this Alaskan Gulf region. And that was an accident 1/10th the size of the Deepwater Horizon.

The final tally of the BP oil spill is almost 5 million barrels of crude, compared to only about 500,000 barrels for Exxon Valdez — a 1:10 ratio. Yes the Alaska spill happened closer inland, but the oil was not fully integrated with the water column as in the BP gusher (a far more pervasive and deadly scenario) and neither were thousands of tons of highly toxic dispersants like Corexit, a chemical that has, ironically, been banned in Britain because of its impacts on wildlife and human health.

One would be forgiven then for assuming there should be a far greater body count than what is currently being reported by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the same government office that famously blocked Anderson Cooper from peering past the 10' high barricades that had been put up to enclose a "bird receiving" area. According to the math, the count should be in the hundreds of thousands of dead birds, tens of thousands of sea mammals, and millions upon millions of fish and shellfish. So where were all the dead bodies? We should be seeing something like the mass dolphin kill off the coast of Zanzibar (left) that resulted from a much smaller offshore oil leak.

Is it possible that a massive cleanup operation in early June was focused on collecting dead animals out at sea in naturally forming "death gyres?" According to marine toxicologist Riki Ott, such gyres of dead and dying animals were common for weeks after the Exxon Valdez spill. And we know that BP was doing everything in its power to keep dead animal photographs out of the press. Kate Sheppard and Mac Mclelland of Mother Jones documented several instances of BP actually barring photography of dead animals on public beaches.

Go and read the whole thing. And stay tuned.

(H/T Queen Mum II)

Monday, August 02, 2010

When the few do not represent the many

On April 19, 1995, an American terrorist named Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. McVeigh's horrible crime killed 168 people and injured 450; many young children who'd just been dropped off at the on-site daycare center were among the casualties.

The enormous explosion not only destroyed McVeigh's target building, but also damaged many nearby structures. One of them was the St. Joseph Old Cathedral, some of the interiors of which are shown in this video, along with a little history of the building's renovation:
The old cathedral endured tremendous damage during that megaton explosion. Amazingly, the tabernacle candle remained lit throughout the violent blast. And the beautiful old crucifix with its life-size corpus remained unscratched by the flying glass and debris. [...]

After being closed for almost two years, on Dec. 1, 1997, a joyful re­dedication Mass was celebrated in the newly restored cathedral.
Here's a Google street view picture of the renovated building, which as you can see, is a traditional cathedral, complete with a crucifix atop its centermost spire:

Here's another photograph, taken from the website of St. Joseph Old Cathedral, which shows the restored building overlooking the Oklahoma City National Memorial itself (the rebuilt cathedral is across the street and half a block down from the memorial):

And here's a map view, to give you a better idea of the buildings' locations:

Jesus Wept is a moving and beautiful statue commemorating the tragedy; it's located at St. Joseph's. Jesus is shown turning away from the disaster, his hand covering his face:

Although not an official part of the memorial itself, the statue nonetheless draws many of the same visitors who travel to Oklahoma City to visit the site across the street and bear witness to the horror, destruction, and loss endured there, all at the hands of hatred and violent madness.

They come to reflect; to remember; perhaps, even, to find comfort.

No-one questions the appropriateness of rebuilding a Catholic facility, overlooking the site of the bombing, where the memorial now stands--and rightly so--even though Timothy McVeigh was raised as an Irish Catholic.

Yet right-wing demagogues, with disgraced Newt Gingrich and demented ex-governor Sarah Palin leading the way, are protesting the conversion into a Muslim community center and mosque, of an old Burlington Coat Factory building in southern Manhattan. The center will be located 2-3 blocks away from "Ground Zero", the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack wherein nineteen Al Qaida members flew planes into the World Trade Center, killing nearly 3,000 people, including Americans and citizens of some 70 countries.

Quoth Gingrich:
The proposed "Cordoba House" overlooking the World Trade Center site - where a group of jihadists killed over 3000 Americans and destroyed one of our most famous landmarks - is a test of the timidity, passivity and historic ignorance of American elites.
Despite numerous leaders and journalists having pointed out that the building wherein the community center and mosque will operate does not overlook Ground Zero--and indeed could not do so unless one is claiming its residents and visitors have serious X-ray vision of the sort that would permit them to see through various concrete and steel buildings--as well as the fact that the 3000 figure actually included citizens of 70 different nations, including the United States, Newt Gingrich is still, to this day, spewing his ridiculous, hate-fomenting lies on his own website (which caused my laptop and Robert's desktop computers, both Macs, to freeze and crash, by the way, so consider yourself warned.)

Is this a fair comparison, though? I can almost hear the right wing mosque-protesters whining from my house (which is in St. Petersburg, yes, but nowhere near Russia proper). Their argument, if you insist on calling it that, is bound to be a variant of this:
McVeigh wasn't a real Catholic--be was a violent radical whose behavior reflected neither the teachings of Jesus nor the lessons of the Bible!
Well, according to Muslims around the world as well as in my own sphere--including one of my sons' martial arts teachers, a devout Muslim who organized blood drives in the aftermath of 9/11; who personally drove to New Orleans with food, water, and supplies immediately after Hurricane Katrina; who continues to throw holiday parties for St. Pete's underprivileged kids every year, and who is both an outstanding example of good citizenship as well as an all-around-wonderful, community-devoted human being in my eyes--those 19 hijackers were not true followers of Islam, but rather, were violent radicals whose behavior reflected neither the teachings of the Prophet, nor the lessons of the Qur'an.

In fact, I'd highly recommend that Gingrich, Palin, et. al. familiarize themselves with the history of the religion that renders them so petrified (and that they continue to demonize in an attempt to frighten their ignorant base).

Many rights, freedoms, and moral philosophies that only came into being as underpinnings of our society in the past couple of hundred years have in fact been integral to Islamic ethics for the past millennium.

Newt Gingrich and his ilk throw around terms they believe are loaded, like Shariah law, yet they seem to be dreadfully ignorant about the actual meanings of the words that tumble from their ugly, twisted mouths and are obviously counting on their followers to focus on the horrific examples of punishment meted out by extremist governments and thus view all Muslims, and all Muslim nations, with the same level of suspicion and fear.

They speak as though the eastern philosophers of the ninth century never existed, and they babble about "freedoms" and "rights"--the very things the Party of No have been busily stripping away from Americans for the better part of the 21st century thus far--while conveniently omitting mention of the scholarly origins which gave rise to many of the tenets of modern American jurisprudence:
To many, the word “Shariah” conjures horrors of hands cut off, adulterers stoned and women oppressed. By contrast, who today remembers that the much-loved English common law called for execution as punishment for hundreds of crimes, including theft of any object worth five shillings or more? How many know that until the 18th century, the laws of most European countries authorized torture as an official component of the criminal-justice system? As for sexism, the common law long denied married women any property rights or indeed legal personality apart from their husbands. When the British applied their law to Muslims in place of Shariah, as they did in some colonies, the result was to strip married women of the property that Islamic law had always granted them — hardly progress toward equality of the sexes.

In fact, for most of its history, Islamic law offered the most liberal and humane legal principles available anywhere in the world. Today, when we invoke the harsh punishments prescribed by Shariah for a handful of offenses, we rarely acknowledge the high standards of proof necessary for their implementation. Before an adultery conviction can typically be obtained, for example, the accused must confess four times or four adult male witnesses of good character must testify that they directly observed the sex act. The extremes of our own legal system — like life sentences for relatively minor drug crimes, in some cases — are routinely ignored. We neglect to mention the recent vintage of our tentative improvements in family law. It sometimes seems as if we need Shariah as Westerners have long needed Islam: as a canvas on which to project our ideas of the horrible, and as a foil to make us look good.

Just as Timothy McVeigh, and his radical beliefs and violent behaviors, did not represent Irish Catholics--or white men, or Americans--the radical extremists who wrought the destruction of the World Trade Center did not represent all Muslims.

And I believe it's worth repeating, for the benefit of the unfortunately hard of head and broken of soul, and in light of the possibility of redemption--slight though it may be--for the deafening demagogues who sing to them:

The extremist few do not represent the human many.

Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and other stone-cold bigots, do not represent me; nor do they represent my New York-born husband; nor do they represent my children.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

How I go to church on Sunday mornings

Angel faces

I walk around the house at dawn
with no shoes on
and sometimes yawn
(but softly, though
as if I stepped
through quiet snow
as I did only hours ago
in dreams.)

Color falls through glass and green
and lands upon
a holy mien
and I will join
the wind's refrain
again, again

-- DNT 8/1/10

Sometimes we'll feast on French toast and cheese grits with hot sauce; sometimes we'll go out for a walk, always looking to see what birds are visiting now (that's one way to tell what season it is in Florida--or at least, what the weather is like at sea, or up north: by noticing which birds are here today, because it's nicer or calmer or safer than it is where they came from.)

And there is, as ever, music--played by one of my guys, or played by someone else (a fellow worshipper, if you like)--because loving art and music, in my family, amounts to how we remind each other about that which is really important. It's how we go to church on Sundays--on any day really. And we give thanks for that, and for each other.

Donny Hathaway, voice for the ages, we're thankful you were here when you were here: