Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Off again

We'll be getting up at three o'clock tomorrow morning to catch a red-eye flight to Indianapolis for four days of catching up with family and friends. My mother *still* does not have high-speed internet. Loverly.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A photo of your blogger

No, I'm not the horse. Hint: I'm wearing an orange Please-Deer-Hunter-Don't-Shoot-Me vest.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Your post-Thanksgiving, Monday morning dose of nature

From jlb over at Arboreality, go watch this video if you have a few extra minutes. (I didn't want to embed it due to the copyright notice on it.)

Try not to lose heart when the juvenile buffalo is attacked -- nothing about this video is predictable.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Well, at least it wasn't black this time

What? Me vomit?

I was lying down in the living room in front of the fire when Thomas trotted over, plopped down, and promptly barfed two inches from my left shoulder.

This has left me quite speechless.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Late as usual

It's late afternoon, and the turkey's in the oven. It's been a rather disorganized holiday, which is fine with me. Dinner is pretty late this year, because the grocery store got fresh Dungeness crab in yesterday and we decided to have crab cakes at the last minute for dinner last night. That's a fairly complicated process that pushed the dessert making off till this morning, which pushed everything else back as well. Eh, who cares. It's just me, Mr. T, Tony and The Kid. And all The Kid wants to eat is pumpkin bread anyway.

Time for a spell in the PornoHotTub.

There is absolutely no traffic on this blog today, but I'll ask anyway. How's everyone's Thanksgiving?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Help the googlers find organic Christmas trees

Given recent google queries, it may be time to rerun last year's post about pesticides and Christmas trees (complete with video showing neat but carbon-intensive means of harvesting.) I've only had time to do a little bit of update research, but as far as I can tell, organic Christmas trees are still as rare as they were last year. My organic Christmas tree will be a small tree that needs to be cleared from my yard in Montana to create defensible fire space, but not everyone has an overage of conifers in their front yard.

Anyone have any leads for your area? Drop them in the comments, please. (And if you want to poll your readers for leads, it would be really nice to have something to offer the googlers.)

Here's a page with a few sources.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Free Rice

Redneck Mother has introduced me to Free Rice, a website aimed perfectly at egomaniacs like me. It's a vocabulary game, and for every word you get right, ten grains of rice are donated to the United Nations Food Program. (Advertisers pay for it, duh.) I donated 3,300 grains of rice so far tonight because I'm all pissy that I can't get past Level 46. The FAQ states that people "rarely" make it past 48.

Thanksgiving dinner may have to wait.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Vuck Off

So Mr. T is trying to finish up the last of the green bathroom remodel, which involves a great deal of grunting and swearing as he tries to connect the sink pipes. Mr. T is ordinarily a slow-tempered, easygoing type, but he was not winning the Bolt-Turning Battle.


Silence. More turning, more grunting, then a snap.

Mr. T: FUCK!!!

The Kid: Vuck? Daddy, what's vuck mean?

Me: Yeah, Daddy, what does that mean?

Mr. T: It, uh, has to do with the sink.

Later, Mr. T walks by, shoulders drooping, to turn the water back on.

Me: How ya doin? Get your vuck on yet?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Looking forward to the post-petroleum economy

We'd made it about an hour outside Portland when The Kid announced that he was hungry, and might die if not fed. Because The Dalles, which is the town where he made this announcement, is the last readily available food for the next three hours, we scowled and pulled over. We ate lunch at a restaurant where the server dumped a generous quantity of ice water onto my right hip and butt cheek.

I looked at Mr. T. "Why is it whenever we leave the house....?" I began to think we may have a repeat of our Labor Day misadventures.

"So what do you think will go wrong with the vehicle this time?" I asked Mr. T after lunch, as we hurtled down I-84. Last June, you see, we purchased a lemon. Four weeks after we bought it, we spent $3,000 to replace the engine. Then, on our last trip, the engine refused to start at our hotel in Richland, Washington. I'll take A Brand New Alternator for 400, Alex!

But even I thought that was a rhetorical question, which is why ten minutes later, I was shocked to notice that my right foot was wet. The server hadn't hit my foot, so I knew something was up.

"It's leaking," I announced flatly to Mr. T, whose forehead was now sporting a pulsing blue vein.

"How much?" he asked through gritted teeth. I helpfully demonstrated the answer by saying "drip" every time a drop of water plunked onto the carpet. "Drip." I said. "Drip. Drip. Drip. Dripdripdripdripdrip."

Apparently it only leaks when a) it's raining and b) we're going downhill. Once we fix this new thing, the lemon will have been turned into lemonade -- a nearly perfect vehicle. There's only one problem.

"I hate this car," Mr. T snarled.

He's curled up near the fire with his laptop, looking for a new vehicle.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


I'll be in transit for the next odd day or so.

See you when we get there.

Friday, November 16, 2007

I and the Bird No. 62

The sixty-second incarnation of the I and the Bird carnival is up at Greg Laden's Blog. The endangered albatross post is part of the carnival this time. If you're into birds, there's no better place to spend some time browsing.

And hippopotamuses like me too

So I was just going to swear off the animal-blogging for awhile, and I thought I'd post youtubes of my two all-time favorite Christmas songs since we're careening headfirst into the holiday season.


A hippo and a pig. Which led to this actual instant messaging conversation with Mr. T yesterday afternoon:

Me: Ohmigosh! On youtube: [sends link] Hooray!

Mr. T: my god you aren't going to start the christmas music early this year are you?

Me: Wha? Okay, apparently you didn't get the memo. PORKY PIG'S BLUE CHRISTMAS IS ON YOUTUBE. What could be greater???

Mr. T: I saw.

I swear, some people.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Endangered Species Thursday: The ends don't always justify the means

Thank goodness for the people who actually read this blog and send me things. I've been slapping myself silly this week trying to get images ready to submit to my stock agency, finish a project for the day job, get ready to go to Montana this weekend, finish some sewing I'm doing for Christmas, and a lot of other things you don't give the tiniest shit about.

But this means I haven't had much time to read the stuff that interests me on the internet and then share it with all of you -- you know, cheery stuff like turtles choking on plastic bags, the innumerable species on the brink of annihilation, and people who commit ugly acts against animals in supposed defense of those same species.

Michael, sender of all things good, is a cat-lover, and was appalled by this story. Me too. Apparently, a guy on the Gulf Coast is accused of shooting and killing a cat he claims was preying on endangered plovers in an area where he regularly leads bird-watching tours.

This has, of course, pitted bird lovers and cat lovers against one another, and the conflict has become somewhat ferocious. But why the binary thinking? Yes, of course feral cats preying on endangered birds is a problem. No, unilaterally shooting them is not an appropriate response to that very real problem.

One of the issues in this case is, no doubt, that the accused is being tried under a law where it's frankly a stretch for the prosecution. (Lawyerly Disclaimer: I am not a Texas lawyer and I don't know all the facts of this case.) It would have been a better use of government resources to round up and care for the feral cats in this area than it would have been to put this man on trial.

It's an ugly case. Look, I know how desperately depressing species loss is. But don't lose your head, people. Let's think of solutions that don't involve bloodshed. It's like that old joke: What do you do if you see an endangered animal eating an endangered plant?*

Well, damn sure you don't blow it away with a 22-caliber rifle, pally. Feh.

*Yes, I know domesticated house cats are not endangered. You still shouldn't shoot them.

For the giant otter fans among us

Reader MR has alerted me to Mission Giant Otter, a program airing on Animal Planet today at 2:00 p.m. The program covers researcher Diane McTurk's work with orphaned giant otters.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More ugly!

Via Ugly Overload (which I arrived at via commenter Toots), I see that PBS Nature is holding an ugly animal photo contest on Flickr. Go on over and check out the entrants. There are some doozies. But I'm with Toots -- the Cape Griffon Vulture is actually pretty cute.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The hunt is on

Toots has theorized that there are no truly ugly animal babies in nature, excepting insects. I am inclined to agree.

Prove us wrong. With links. One two three go.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Baby sloths and oil spills: from the sublime to the ridiculous

Photo by and courtesy of Mila Zinkova under a GNU Free Documentation License

Michael is on fire today with the links, having sent me two interesting stories this weekend. First he directs me to the San Francisco oil spill, in which tens of thousands of gallons of heavy fuel were spilled into San Francisco Bay when a container ship struck a tower on Wednesday.

One of the more disturbing aspects is this:

As scientist worried about the future of the region's wildlife, authorities questioned the Coast Guard's response in the hours after the spill.

More than 12 hours after the incident, Coast Guard officials were still saying just 140 gallons (530 liters) had leaked, according to Mayor Gavin Newsom, who said the city would consider legal action against anyone found liable.

"We would have responded differently if we had accurate information from the get-go," Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said.

City workers, for instance, would have initially laid more boom lines to contain the oil, he said.


Todd Woody at Green Wombat also takes a hard look at the process for managing volunteers in the wake of this mess and finds it stuck firmly in the 20th century. Everyone in charge of this would be served to read that post.

Now on to this unbelievably cute sloth. Could that little dude BE any cuter?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

This has nothing to do with forwarding anything to Bill Gates, I swear

I was sitting here doing some busywork on the computer and Animal Planet tells me that if you go here and vote for your favorite endangered animal, they'll donate a buck to the World Wildlife Federation for every vote.

I picked the griz, since she's my local endangered megafauna, with a small presence in my nearby Cabinet Mountain Range, and a bigger presence in Glacier National Park. That and they didn't have giant otters on the ballot.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hard Core Jesus Freak

Said the bumper sticker I saw today. It's indicative of the rarity of such signage in Portland -- and my own disposition -- that I instantly thought, "hey, I wonder if they're on iTunes."

Friday, November 09, 2007

Welcome to America. Or not.

I have a long-held theory that governments staff their passport control counters with the surliest assholes in the country as a form of grassroots foreign policy posturing. It's a way to remind visitors that they are at the mercy of a foreign government that views them as an insignificant speck, so they'd better behave.

And I think the U.S. has probably become one of the worst. I can say without reservation that getting through passport control in mainland China was easier than getting through on the way back home. And that was in Portland, arguably the world's happy-go-luckiest city. Can you imagine how unpleasant it must be for visitors?

Which is perhaps why foreign travel to the U.S. has dropped 17% since 9/11, costing us a cool 94 billion dollars for our paranoid assholery.

I suppose that is why I find this hilarious, albeit in a God-can-we please-be-reasonable-again kind of way.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Endangered Species Thursday: Sea otters

I need a break from tales of doom, so I offer you, for this Endangered Species Thursday, the sea otters I photographed on Saturday before our pellet adventure. I got no marketable images of these guys, but I didn't spend very long photographing them. I did, however, get more used to how they act and the things they do, which will make photographing them easier every time. Here are some of the "outtakes."

Sea otters are, of course, endangered. This organization has a wealth of information.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

In which I fall back on a youtube

I just wrote and discarded two posts. Instead, I leave you with this video, which appeared last week on every liberal blog in the known universe. I keep watching it over and over.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Where are we going and why am I sitting in this handbasket?

I once saw a bumper sticker with these exact words, and tonight it should be plastered to my forehead.

Mr. T left for his business trip tonight, and he wasn't gone twenty minutes when Thomas the Dog began heaving in a telltale manner. This alarming behavior prompted me to leap from my seat and attempt to rush him out the sliding door in my bedroom before the inevitable purge began. No luck. He made it six inches from the door before covering my newly cleaned carpet with a splash of fresh, chunky black vomit.

Black. That ain't good. Anyone want to take bets on whether I'll be making a three a.m. trip to the animal hospital tonight with a sleeping kid and puking dog?

Like my dad sometimes says, I need this like I need a paper asshole.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Okay, just a little more plastic

The Great Plastic Challenge, the anti-plastic group that lured me to NaBloPoMo, has staked out its own territory. Go forth and discover new ways to eliminate the substance that will not die from your lives.

No plastic, endangered species or environmental threats. Just food.

I just waddled home from an enormous meal at this place.

The Dungeness crab-stuffed tilapia was excellent, but the apex of the evening was the peach crumble that commenter Tony and I ordered to share, but nearly brawled over. It was gone in less than three minutes. Dueling spoons.

I'm full. Urf.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Pellet Report

It took us less than thirty seconds to find the first pellet. It was there, like the others, on Moolack Beach amid seaweed, dessicated crab legs, errant shorebird feathers and lots and lots of plastic crap.

These are pre-production plastic pieces (five times fast?), and only 2-3 millimeters wide, so they can be difficult to see. As instructed, we picked them up with stainless steel tweezers, and placed them carefully in a pouch we'd formed from aluminum foil. We brought them back home, where they posed for this photograph. They will soon be winging their way to Japan for analysis. Wanna play? Go here.

The nasty yellow ones supposedly contain the highest concentrations of PCB. Yippee. The big blue one looked right on the beach, but I think I'll remove it -- I suspect its just a random chunk of plastic amongst the pellets.

I had salmon for dinner.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Surveying the weekend

I realize it's become Animal Central around here, what with the talking monkeys and the endangered birds and ferrets. Today, however, we are going to the beach to collect plastic pellets for International Pellet Watch. Is my plastic fixation veering into obsession?

We would have extended the trip to the coast for the entire weekend, but Sunday marks the semi-annual pilgrimage of our good friend and business colleague OZ from Shanghai to the States. Spending time with O is always a treat. His trips always follow a predictable but pleasing routine. We go to good restaurants, talk world politics and a bit of business, and Mr. T and I drag him to various places in the region. We went to the coast in March, and this time last year we kicked around in the snow at the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. Then in the middle of the week he and Mr. T go to a bidness meeting in a small city in flyover country that O accurately terms "very tedious."

The Kid also loves when O comes to visit. That is because O is an indulgent type who thinks that everything that comes out of the Kid's mouth is either hilarious or evidence of genius, and he tirelessly indulges the Kid's desire to learn the Mandarin word for everything. He's a good friend.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

RIP Washoe

The first non-human animal to have acquired (arguably) human language has died at the age of 42. Washoe, a chimpanzee born in Africa in 1965 and captured by the U.S. Air Force, was adopted in 1966 by husband and wife research team Beatrice and Allen Gardner. The Gardners attempted to treat Washoe as a deaf human child, and taught her several signs. She is reported to have taught her adopted son many of the signs as well.

The claim that Washoe acquired language, with all its grammatical rules and structures, is not without controversy, but it is reported that she used from 200-250 signs reliably.

Interestingly, the great ape thought to be the most adept at human language is Kanzi, a Bonobo living at the Great Ape Trust in Iowa. The Trust relates that:

Kanzi has been presented with a variety of carefully controlled tests which demonstrate his comprehension of speech. In these tests, spoken words are presented through headphones and Kanzi is requested to indicate the real object, the photo or the lexigram that the word represents. He is essentially 100 percent accurate on all words that are a part of vocabulary at any given age. Today, his vocabulary includes more than 500 words! His comprehension of spoken language is at least equivalent to that of a two-and-a-half-year-old child.

It should also be noted that Kanzi has vocalized to other apes:
[Researcher] Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has observed Kanzi in communication to his sister. In this experiment, Kanzi was kept in a separate room of the Great Ape Project and shown some yogurt. Kanzi started vocalizing the word "yogurt" in an unknown "language"; his sister, who could not see the yogurt, then pointed to the lexigram for yogurt.
Whether or not the apes are mastering human language, with its intricate structures and rules, it's clear that these apes are communicating with people using human words and symbols. And it's evident that these apes have emotions, and arguably an inner life. I'm fascinated by inter-species interactions, and can you imagine this one? Imagine being the researcher as Washoe learned each new sign?

What a gift. RIP Washoe.

Endangered Species Thursday: Albatrosses

First, the video, with one of my favorite people, Sir David Attenborough:

Albatrosses don't just have plastic problems, they have hook problems. Fishing hooks. You see, albatrosses eat sea life, and so the baited hooks used to catch seafood are a big draw for them. They see a tasty morsel on the water, swoop in, bite down, get hooked, and then get dragged through the water, drowning or choking to death. Often, there is a chick like this waiting on land for food whose parent never arrives:

Photo by and courtesy of Ben Osborne

This happens to 100,000 albatrosses per year. These birds breed slowly, so this adds up to a big problem. Nineteen of the twenty-two species of albatross are imperiled by long-line fishing. Three species are critically endangered. Seven are merely endangered.

Fortunately, there are solutions. BirdLife International is working with the fishing folks to take a few simple measures to alleviate the problem, such as installing simple bird-scaring devices on boats, dyeing bait blue to make it more difficult for the birds to see, and using mechanisms to make the bait sink past the birds' reach. To that end, they've created an Albatross Task Force whose job it is to get on the fishing boats and do the hard practical work of implementing these fixes.

Read the journals of Task Force members here, containing posts on their work on the fishing boats in different parts of the world. The thing that strikes you as you read these journals is how careful the Task Force members are to convince the people on the fishing boats that seabird protections are compatible with a good catch. They recognize that winning over the people working the boats is critical. Ultimately, of course, BirdLife International wants to convince governments and the fishing industry to get serious about protecting these birds, and to make the measures mentioned above part of standard fishing practice. I hope they succeed. I don't want a world without these guys:

Photo courtesy Albatross Task Force

Want to help? Go here.