Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The President's pile of wood chips

True to my word that I would not watch George Bush lie to the nation tonight, I nevertheless read the transcript of his speech afterwards, on the theory that I could successfully suppress actual thoughts of his mouth-full-of-grits voice and shifty demeanor as I silently read the mendacities to myself--I somehow thought it would make the experience more tolerable. I confess I underestimated the disagreeableness of his Orwellian doubletalk even in the absence of the frozen menace of his smirk and the unsettling trapped-animal way his eyes dart around.

The effect of reading the speech at one sitting was like having your toilet overflow continuously for 20 minutes. I was thinking, o man, what a fucking mess. Where do you _start_ to clean this stuff up?

OK, anywhere at random. President Blood-for-Oil proposes to reduce our dependency on...petroleum. Hey, great. Welcome aboard, George. And how does George propose to do this? Keep your eye on the pea, here. With "zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies and clean, safe nuclear energy." ZERO emission coal fired plants? Uh, George, have you cleared this with your coal industry contributors? Get back with us on this. Have you asked any actual scientists how feasible zero-emission coal fired plants are? Get back with us on that, too. We'll be waiting. But not holding our breath. Clean, safe nukuler energy, too. Wow. Don't let any thoughts of Chernobyl or Three-mile Island spoil the daydream.

Seems kinda utopian, so far. But now we get down to the actual specifics, which are--wood chips and switch grass. That's right. Wood chips and switch grass. To make ethanol. "Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal, to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025."

Seventy five percent of our oil imports is alotta wood chips and switch grass. He must have read the recent research that ethanol, ideally, can produce slightly more energy than is required for its creation. That's good news. I await someone's back of the envelope calculation of just how much switch grass would be needed, given the energy return on energy invested. My guess is that we might have to plow up a _lot_ of parking lots and plant a _lot_ of grass.

Nowhere in his speech, unless I got bored and did a little speed-reading right past it, was a mention of conservation, or better gas mileage, or public transportation. Stuff that might work.

The rest of his speech was equally absurd, misleading, and stupid, not to mention harping on tried-and-true fear-mongering. I keep hoping the public will wise up about his using the fight against turrism as a fig leaf for a nasty agenda. I can always hope. The public saw what the Republicans were up to about social security, which was encouraging. But Bush, in tonight's speech, even made it clear he has not given up on destroying social security. Republican rigidity is pretty pathological. But anyone likely to read this blog knows that. Sorry to be tedious.

Apparently Cindy Sheehan was removed from the audience tonight and arrested for wearing a t-shirt that said "2,245 Dead -- How Many More?" Bush just can't stand for anyone to disagree with him.
Second update:
Ms Sheehan was charged with "unlawful conduct." She could get a year in jail. The President seems to be surrounded by a First-Amendment-free zone of a hundred yards or so wherever he goes.
Last update, hopefully:
Police dropped the charges, explaining "We screwed up." Well, maybe that's not a full explanation. Turns out there is no law against having a visible message on your t-shirt during the State of the Union speech. This same screwup seems to have happened at a number of Bush's speeches. What are the odds of that?

Monday, January 30, 2006

The clicks have it

I have noticed, through examining the log statistics, the heartening fact that my readers grace this blog with their visits more often when I post nature pictures than when I write long and sometimes rude posts about politics, or obscurely meaningful posts about life, all composed of impenetrable and dubiously cobbled-together sentences strung together with subordinate clauses and parenthetical digressions, with occasional semicolons which may or may not help; and with those priorities (expressed by the readership's own mouseclicks) in mind, and having no political burr under my saddle today, much less worthy human insight or entertaining anecdote, here then, for your viewing pleasure, are photos of three birds from my own yard, taken yesterday and today.

Cardinal profile

Whitecrowned sparrow

A Harris's sparrow. This guy had joined up with the flock of whitecrowns.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Republicans and memes

The common blog usage of the word "meme," now referring to something like a game of tag conducted on the internet, is entirely different from what Dawkins had in mind when he invented the term. Richard Dawkins is a zoologist who a few years ago noticed that some ideas behave like organisms, and invented the term "meme" to refer to an idea that seems to operate in invasive and ineradicable ways—urban legends are instances of memes. They resist disproof, or rather, evolve, like cancer cells undergoing chemotherapy, when doused with rational evidence.

Although the average fundamentalist Republican thinks that concepts like memes are high faluting nonsense, Karl Rove, a man with the genius of Lee Atwater and the scruples of Joseph Goebbels, understands them very well, and using that understanding has built well on the work of his illustrious predecessors. Hence, the success of swiftboating, a demonic stroke of marketing genius, where with breathtaking effrontery, the Republicans realized you can directly attack the strength of an opponent by simply, brazenly, and absurdly claiming that all of those strengths _don't exist_, and that they never really existed. If preposterous imputations of cowardice and fraud, based on the lies of hired shills who released rumors into the night as surreptitiously as the people you never see putting flyers on your car windhield while you are in the grocery store, can work on behalf of a padded codpiece flightsuit against people who displayed actual heroism in military service, like Max Cleland and John Kerry; the same tactic, mutatis mutandis, can work against anyone.

But why does it work better than the leaflets under your windshield wiper?

Republican talking points seem to be received in two ways by non-liberals: "moderates", self described of course, shrug their shoulders and express skepticism but are vaguely receptive to "who knows?" whereas Republican true believers incorporate them into their very being. While Rovian talking points generally are attacked by Democrats, and, rationally speaking, are refuted; the peculiar virus-like nature of those talking points is such that they can no more be eradicated from the minds of fundamentalist Republicans by evidence, or proof, or rational argumentation than you could stop a chicken pox outbreak in a day-care center with reason and logic.

What Rove understands about the fundamentalist mind is that certain kinds of memes can not only thrive in such minds, but indeed, once planted, cannot be removed. (Witness the Clinton-hatred memes, presently lying dormant in the reservoir population, but which spring fully to life if you just use the word "Hillary" within earshot of a red-state hydrophobic Republican.)

Personally, I think the reason for this is fear. The people susceptible to these memes are fearful people, and the memes serve as reassuring assurances that their worldview—which they feel is beleaguered--is in fact safe from harm. People in Kansas sense that something is wrong in red-state America, and it makes them afraid. The genius of Karl Rove (and his predecessors) is the uncanny ability to direct that fear to Republican ends, such that useful rightwing memes thus incorporate themselves into the self-concept of individuals in the endemic host population (Republicans in this case). To carry the biological metaphor (remember, it's just a metaphor) a little further, the Republican faithful thus constitute a reservoir from which periodic outbreaks of irrationality can spread.

And what spreads it? Maybe a small part of it is marketing, the outright purchase of media propagandists. But I don’t think the hired propagandists are the main problem. The main problem, it seems to me, is media corporate structure, which is perfectly willing to fold right-wing memes into their business model, which is show business, not reporting the news. The Republican meme/narrative of a "liberal media" (which is, as any sane person can see, the exact opposite what we really have in this country) has actually been successful outside the endemically infected red-state demographic, such that a "who knows? there may be something to it" response is widespread, even among people who can be reasoned with, and who, if reasoned with, will probably agree that the evidence shows that media bias in this country is the opposite of liberal.

Given the widespread shoulder-shrugging public agnosticism as to liberal media bias, the actual real-world American media, which is corporate and conservative, can get away with abdicating genuine reportage almost entirely, even those news outlets which at one time practiced real journalism, and has felt free to move completely to an entertainment (as in reality-show, or maybe horror-show) model of news presentation. The widely remarked upon pretense-of-fairness process, whereby a preposterous and inflammatory lie is put before the public in the first instance, and then the writer/pundit/talking-suit notes, in “fairness,” that "democrats disagree", shifts public opinion fairly successfully to the realm of the half-lie. This whole business is well known, but democrats lack an effective answer.

I don't know what the answer is either, but I worry it will involve the same fear and dysfunction that the Republicans find so effective--that Republican overreaching and incompetence will reach levels of scandal and public fright that the media apparatus will automatically incorporate it, as happened for a while, during Katrina. But that's a bad thing to hope for--that the only public-perception alternative to Republican mismanagement, war, torture, graft, financial ruin, and erosion of civil liberty, is that the wheels come completely off.

After Bush's "l'état, c'est moi" (which in Bush-speak would be "It's like this, y'see. I'm Commander in Chief, and that means I can do anything"), comes "après moi le déluge."

Friday, January 27, 2006

Friday cat blogging

The daily lives of cats, continued:

Today we find Gray hiding, once again, in the laundry basket of invisibility

Grendel is on his scratching-post chair. What does he see?

Outside, unbeknownst to our cats, prowls a neighborhood ruffian

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Clear water and birds II

I first got a copy of a bird guide--it was Peterson's Field Guide to the Birds of Texas--more than 40 years ago. Barton Creek below the springs (see previous post) was one of the places I went to try my hand at identifying water birds. I was excited to find a large white bird swimming in the creek. Thumbing through Peterson's field guide, I finally concluded it had to be a snow goose. Wow, I thought. A rare find indeed. I brought my girlfriend down to Barton Springs to show her this oddity. She had grown up being hauled around on back roads in the back seat of a station wagon with her brothers while often being forced to wait through long periods of bickering which intensified, depending on the wait, to outright pushing-and-shoving sibling civil war, while their parents, who had stopped the car to leap out with binoculars and bird books in hand, watched birds.

She hated birdwatching. I showed her the goose.

She could be scornful at times. "That's a domestic duck" she said. Obviously, we didn't have ducks on the farm when I was a child. This was perhaps the low point of my birdwatching career.

Nevertheless, in the years since I returned to Austin, I go back to Barton Creek below the springs, especially during winter, to enjoy the beauty of the place, and, of course, to watch birds.

Yesterday's ducks, plus a swan and a coot, below:

Here's a male wood duck

And another male wood duck. These are very foppish ducks

A female wood duck

A gadwall

And another gadwall

Several lesser scaups

OK, that's enough of the ducks; here's a mute swan. Not a native, of course, but they have lived on Town Lake and lower Barton Creek for years

And finally, here's a coot. No, not a self portrait.

Click to enlarge

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Clear water and kingfishers, plus some other birds

Barton Springs is a big deal in Austin. It's a very large and very popular spring-fed swimming hole. I think there's something innately appealing about clear water coming out of the ground, or out of the limestone rock in this case. The springs were sacred to the Tonkawa Indians, and they are sacred to most of us who live in Austin today. The place is not exactly in a pristine state--the swimming pool that we now have was created, in 1923 I think, by a dam built downstream from the largest of several springs that flow into it. Keeping the water clear has been a local crusade for at least 25 years, with modest success, so far. That may change if development over the recharge zone of the aquifer continues.The water is not as crystalline as I remember it in the 1960s, but that may be a function of the memory defect that people my age develop, whereby the world when we were 20 was much more beautiful than it is now.

Downstream from the dam, Barton creek flows a quarter mile before it empties into the river. In the winter, the creek downstream from the pool is a good place to go birdwatching. There aren't too many people around on a winter day, and you can see a surprising variety of bird life.

Today I parked my car near the so-called sunken garden, a small circular rock structure built during the depression around the most downstream of the springs, one that does not feed into the swimming pool. I am kinda nostalgic about it. When I was a college student, the rock walls of the sunken garden were normally allowed to fill to the top, and sometimes--I remember it as always being in the moonlight--my girlfriend and I would go skinny dipping there. The place was a little less urban then than now, but there was still a possibility of being hauled off to jail. The recollection of adventurously swimming naked in a clear spring fed pool under a full moon when you are young is intrinsically nostalgia-inducing, though this is possibly a variant of the same memory thing I mentioned earlier. Actually, it was cold as hell, even in summer, but I, uh, barely recall that part.

The water in the sunken gardens is no longer kept high enough to swim in, and there is a fence around it, and a sign in English and Spanish tells us that this is a home of the rare and endangered Barton Creek salamander, as in fact it is. So is the main swimming pool.

I had expected to find ducks on my bird walk, plus the mute swans that have lived here for decades. But I did not expect to find two species of kingfisher peacefully sharing the territory. A belted kingfisher and a green kingfisher were both at work, and both seemed successful in their fishing, in the same 50 yard stretch of creek below the dam. I couldn't get very close to either kingfisher, so the quality of the photos is not the best. But I've never before seen 2 kinds of kingfisher in the same place. I suspect the dry weather has pushed them into this coexistence.

Here's the belted kingfisher, a female, perched on a tree across the creek

Another view of the same kingfisher

And here's a female green kingfisher, on my side of the creek, but still too far away for a good photo. Sorry.

A red-bellied woodpecker proved a lot easier to get close to than the kingfishers

An American goldfinch, a male, in brush below the woodpecker

This is a least grebe, which, like the green kingfisher, is an uncommon bird around Austin. I was surprised to find it. Again, not that great a photo, but it was the best of ten or so I tried to take. Grebes dive very quickly, so I had lotsa pictures of the surface of the water, no grebe, plus two or three of a grebe with its head in the water--and this one.

Tomorrow I will post pictures of the ducks and the swan.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Yesterday's birds

Yesterday there were flocks of white-throated sparrows, but no robins, along Onion Creek. The day before that, there were flocks of robins, but no white-throated sparrows--a fact of no obvious consequence. I've think always prefered those kinds of facts to the important ones.

But I am no closer to understanding the calls of the crows, though I can tell you they are complex and I often imagine that they have a special code for "here comes the guy with the camera; fly away while he is trying to focus." No photos of crows.

A white-throated sparrow

Cedar waxwing in the hackberries

Lincoln's sparrow beside a drying-up pond

Yellow-rumped warbler--our main wintertime warbler in Austin

A black vulture trying to gain altitude

Friday, January 20, 2006

Michael Moore=Osama bin Laden? I don't think so

Sadly, once again I have disgraced my vows as a Buddhist. Chris Matthews likens Michael Moore to Osama bin Laden on national TV, and people say, basically, ho hum. I confess it made me mad. So I felt compelled to send the following intemperate outburst, violating at least two of the Buddhist precepts, to Mr. Matthews, which, of course, I am well aware he will never read. So I might as well put it here.

Matthews, you have really crossed the line, you unctuous creep. You have got a lot of nerve comparing ANYONE in this country--other than the criminal who is running it--to Osama bin Laden.

And speaking of Osama bin Laden, where IS that fellow nowadays? The last I heard he was still at large, courtesy of his greatest beneficiary and ally, George Bush. So, hardball guy, why don't you ask one of Little King George's hired mouthpieces a REAL hardball question, like "where the bloody hell is Osama bin Laden four years and 3 months after the Pipsqueak-in-Chief promised to bring him to justice, dead or alive?" But you won't do that. "Hardball?" You guys? Not a chance--you'd come in last in the softball special Olympics. But, now that I think about it, how would such a competition be any different from contemporary broadcast journalism?

Dead or alive, huh? That's what Mr. Tardive Dyskinesia promised, and that mission does not seem to have been, um, accomplished, does it, you groveling prostitute? You and all the other TV punditlings servicing the Republican regime and urinating on the grave of Edward R. Murrow could--if struck by lightning or a sudden bolt of integrity--start asking Republicans why the hell they didn't actually go after our real enemies instead of sinking us--courtesy of lies, deceit, and hireling journalists--into a bottomless quagmire in Iraq, plus incidentally killing as many Americans as Osama did, not to mention feeding the Bill of Rights into the shredder and disgracing our country with torture and secret prisons around the world which seem to house almost anybody EXCEPT the people who actually attacked us on 9/11. And now Iraq is breeding new terrorists like a swamp breeds kudzu, thanks to George AWOL Bush and his mainstream-media enablers like yourself.

But you push boldy in front of the cameras, as if going where no suit has gone before, clutching a sheaf of Republican talking points (or should I call them marching orders?) and compare Michael Moore to Osama bin Laden! Wow!

You worthless fool. You pole-dancing trollop. You are paid more for a minute of your talking-head prostitution than your average over-the-hill hooker gets for an hour of phone-sex, but I'll tell you what, you pissant bottom-feeder, you have light-years less decency, because the hooker doesn't harm much of anybody, and probably loves her country. I wouldn't say that about you.

Very Sincerely

Jim McCulloch

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A cloudy day near Onion Creek

These photos are from the day it almost rained in Austin, coupla days ago. But now we are back to dry and sunny and warm and windy.

This should be a metaphor for something

Hundreds of robins were out, but the light was poor. This is the best picture I got.

An eastern phoebe, watching for bugs. Most flycatchers go south for the winter, for obvious reasons, but there seem to be enough wintertime insects around Austin to keep the phoebes here.

Lots of riders were on the trails. Here's one in the distance.

End of the day in the greenbelt.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The FBI is swamped with false leads. Who woulda thought?

We see in the Bush administration a unique combination, AFAIK unknown in our history, of malevolence, in its love of torture and secret prisons and imperial and dictatorial powers; corruption, in the K Street project and outright bribery at every level of a pay-to-play government where we outsource essential tasks to Halliburton and Bechtel, the corporate equivalent of roving gangs of burglars and car thieves; and incompetence, in everything from Katrina to the ongoing Medicare drug fiasco to today's New York Times revelation that the imperial project of big-brother spying on millions of Americans, in outright violation of the law, has actually damaged national security by swamping the FBI with false leads.

Who can be surprised?

No one who pays attention.

I mean, look at it, we have all of the stuff mentioned above, plus the same gang of criminals and psychotic theocrats gambling with astonishing irresponsibility with the lives of our children and grandchildren (and presumably, the lives of their own children and grandchildren, which places their commitment to family values in a harsh bright light) as they put the pedal to the floor in the looting and poisoning of the physical world we live in, that we have to get our food and water from, to a degree that threatens the continuance of human civilization.

"Unsustainable lifestyles? Hey, we're sustaining ourselves handsomely, thank you very much," they murmur, in hypothetical moments of honesty. If anything I think they see permanent war and global warming and the uncertainties of climate change and the coming energy crisis and the possibility of increasingly severe pandemics all as short-term opportunity to seize more power for the Imperial Presidency and for corporate enrichment (assuming Republican connections, of course), and I suspect they either have a vague optimism behind it that Republican children will when the time comes have the wherewithal to build and stock fortified compounds and lay in supplies of vaccines, courtesy of the Commander in Chief, or that they will be provided for by Jesus after He returns to earth, courtesy of God.

The odd thing, to me, is that not only do Republicans conspire to destroy the Bill of Rights and rule by imperial decree the war powers of the Commander in Chief, enrich their friends (who God knows are rich enough already), degrade and destroy the planet; they take a perverse joy in it, like cannibals eating the brains of their victims and smearing themselves with blood as they do a victory dance, infecting themselves with kuru in that very moment they imagine themselves invulnerable. To mix a metaphor a little, the brains they have eaten seem to be their own.

So with people like this running the show, it makes an odd kind of sense that the National Security Agency, apparently now operated out of Karl Rove's office in the White House, damages the same national security President Bush cites as his rationale for spying on us.

Monday, January 16, 2006

How to insult the memory of Martin Luther King

It has always surprised me that our government commemorates Martin Luther King with a national holiday. Today, to be honest, it seems almost like an insult to his memory and to his beliefs. I am glad a few people remembered what King really stood for when they objected to a military aircraft flyover of an MLK day parade in San Antonio. The day should not be a celebration of American military might. A lot of San Antonio Republicans got huffy and more-patriotic-than-thou about it. I makes you want to weep.

On Easter of 1967 I was one of several thousand people who marched against the Vietnam war in the streets of Chicago. Martin Luther King was at the head of that march. All I remember of the march itself is the sparse streetside clumps of sullen and angry white people shouting unfriendly words at us as we went by, and a few American Nazi Party members--who looked slightly crazy and disheveled, like they had been living in their cars in their comic-opera ragtag uniforms--holding up banners questioning our patriotism. I think the actual ideology of these Nazi wannabes would today be mainstream Republicanism, needing only the removal of any references to the Fuehrer and the substitution of "the Commander in Chief" instead, as needed.

King gave a speech after the march in a big cavernous building, some kind of coliseum or armory, I don't remember now, and I was at the back and could hardly see Dr. King, but I could hear him very well; the bad and echoing acoustics of the building somehow complemented King's rolling thunder oratorical style. I don't recall the actual words, but I remember the Moses coming down from the mountain sound of the rhetoric. But I looked his words up today. He called the Vietnam war a "blasphemy against all that America stands for." I am certain he would say the same today with regard to our obscene military adventure in Iraq.

On that Easter in 1967 he must have been preparing for the longer and more famous speech about a week later at Riverside Church in New York City, in which he called America the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." Although that was then and this is now, that accusation is still, sadly, correct. He went on to say "It should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war." That seems just as true nearly 39 years later.

Toward the end of the Riverside Church speech he said that we are a people approaching spiritual death if we continue in our unjust wars, our oppression of the poor, our siding with dictators, and if we continue to make property rights more important than people.

It makes me sad, but I am sure the flyover of the San Antonio parade took place as planned today, taking us one step closer to spiritual death as a people.

One thing about King was that he was not afraid of being divisive in the service of the brotherhood of man. I do believe he would have been the first to get in the face of the San Antonio parade planners, and would have joined, and led, the protest against the F16s overhead.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday cat blogging, plus some stuff about a dog

The cats have to be separated to eat, because Grendel eats fast and Gray eats slow, and then they will disagree about the remaining cat tidbits which Gray is still individually examining prior to nibbling. And getting hungry cats into adjoining rooms is your classic herding cats problem, unless you are crafty and plan ahead, hard to do right after you get out of bed and are besieged by the small dog who wants to be fed RIGHT NOW and is jumping up and down and twirling in tight mad squealing circles, more excited than a game-show winner on TV, as if the interval between the opening of a can of dogfood and the dish getting put on the floor was emotionally unbearable, I guess maybe like the time between drawing the winning lottery ticket and being handed the check.

So, I open the can of dogfood and now Bella is snarfing her food like a starving animal, which, I hasten to say, she is not, and I can attend to the cats, who have to be tricked into different rooms which takes a couple of feints because each wants to eat the first bowl I put out and if I put out two bowls at once they will be in the same room, not good, and then I will have to move a cat while it's eating, not good. But with lies and promises I get them, finally, into separate rooms, and everyone is happy.

They eat.

Then Gray wants to go out onto the back porch, and it's cold but he doesn't know that and you can't tell a cat anything, and he thinks Grendel wants to go out too so he rushes thru the door, like he is escaping, instead of his usual dainty smelling of the door and considering life while I hold the door open. Now then, he's out. Comes to a dead stop--like, what am I doing here? And because it's chilly out there he will soon be back at the door demanding a refund.

In the meantime Grendel sees Gray is out and wants out too, but because there is now no competitive urgency he does the dainty smelling of the door routine while I hold it open except I have other things to do and boost him out with my foot while he tries to brake with his front feet, but now he's out too and instantly recovers his self-esteem using the amnesia cats quickly apply to memories of indignities like being boosted out the door. The cats explore opposite corners of the porch. They know they have caught lizards out here, so they are optimistic, unaware of the seasonality of lizards.

In about 5 minutes, as I predicted, they are back at the door wanting in, insistent and impatient, and enter in a formal two-cat procession, tails vertical, with a certain offended haughtiness like they're thinking well it's about time and you just can't get good servants any more.

This is why we have cats.

Grendel checking for danger before he gets a drink

Gray ignoring the bad behavior of the servants

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

News from the Texas Coast, part 2

Texas was at one time a populist state, and as a consequence of this we still have socialist beaches. Everything between the ocean and the line of vegetation beyond the high tide mark is public property. Consequently, every storm moves the property line a few feet towards Canada (or in the case of a major hurricane, many yards.) Hurricane Rita put a good many beach houses on the upper Texas coast on public land, or strictly speaking, put public land under the beach houses.

The State of Texas, strangely enough in such a Republican part of the world, zealously enforces its property rights against the unlucky beach house owners. The vacation home below, one of a dozen or so on this stretch of beach in the little town of Surfside, is not being repaired because it is now parked on the public right of way, and the Texas General Land Office won't allow repairs. It will be torn down, with no compensation to its owners. This seems harsh, and there has been some grumbling, but on the other hand, every landowner near the ocean has known since the 1890s that this is a peril of seaside living in Texas.

Damaged house, now on the public beach

This business, which I think was a boat-repair shop, is not on the beach, but is fifty yards from a muddy back bay. Doesn't look like it's being rebuilt.

The birds, however, are going about business as usual. These white ibises are enjoying the low-tide mud near the destroyed business above

Here is a snowy egret in the surf (I had another photo of this bird in Texas Coast pt. 1)

This snowy egret which was working the edge of a marina has just caught a fish and is trying to get it aimed in the right direction to be swallowed, which it very soon was

A brown pelican, a ring billed gull, and a royal tern resting in the sun on this unusually warm early January day

A few miles inland, an eastern bluebird

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Salmon Rushdie and Orwell

Salmon Rushdie has an article in the Toronto Star about misuse of language. Specificially, he is talking about our government's use of the phrase "extraordinary rendition" instead of plainer English words like kidnapping and torture. His point is that such Orwellian doubletalk is always an indication of evil intentions.

As indeed it is.

What has always puzzled me is why these words are even invented. At first glance you would think it is part of a scheme to hide criminal behavior from a public which might put a stop to it. That may be a part of it. But certainly not all. Even Hitler felt the need of these kinds of words, and he certainly was in no in fear of German public opinion. When he could have easily said "yes, we are actually killing all the Jews" he did not say that at all--instead he was silent on the matter and had Himmler talk about sending the Jews off "to the East."

I don't have an answer as to why these circumlocutions are used in place of the plain truth. It's true the public doesn't want to know--or at least that part of the public that supports a Hitler, or a low-grade nightmare like Bush, doesn't want to know. Maybe it comes down to something as simple as a guilty conscience, if not for Bush then for the red-state claque that put him in office.

The British Law Lords handed down an opinion on torture (quoted in the Rushdie article) notable for its straightforwardness. "Torture is an unqualified evil...It can never be justified. Rather, it must always be punished." Maybe the extraordinary renditionists still know this. I'm inclined to think some residual kernel of shame in the torturers impels them to use Orwellian language for what they do. Why else would someone like Himmler display queasiness over speaking plainly about what he was doing?

Plain language would seem to be the canary in the coal mine here. When ordinary words go missing, and someone substitutes these bizarre replacements like "extraordinary rendition" we know we know we are in serious difficulties. Houston, we have a problem.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

News from the Texas Coast, part 1

When I arrived at the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, it was on fire. I had chosen an inopportune time to come. A controlled burn, undertaken when most of Texas is under a mandatory burn ban--not applicable, as with most laws nowadays, to the federal government--had gotten out of hand, and was burning out of control, filling the sky with smoke and making birdwatching out of the question.

So instead of walking the trails of the refuge, I poked around the little towns of Freeport and Surfside--both still showing damage from Hurricane Rita, and took some pictures of birds on the rocks of the jetty, and on the beach, and in the surf, and just standing around, as birds sometimes do. Plus a stick-in-the-mud ibis.

A Snowy Egret in the surf

A Willet near the Snowy Egret

This Great Blue Heron is on the rocks of the jetty beside the Freeport ship channel

Close-up of the Great Blue Heron

A Tricolored Heron beginning to develop breeding plumage

This Laughing Gull is standing on the beach looking anything but elegant

One of two White Ibises probing in the mud at low tide.

Click on any image for larger view

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Shades of gray

The sun today was occasionally hidden by haze, and my walk in southwest Austin was through a terrain notable for subtle gradations of very muted color--pretty much gray, in other words. I tried to get a photo of a roadrunner, but was foiled by the wily paisano taking cover behind juniper trees each time I had almost focused the camera. But I did get a photo of a mockingbird.


Same mockingbird, different view

Returning along a mountain bike path, I noticed I was walking through a bed of thousands of small fossil oysters eroding out of the soft yellow clay of the Del Rio formation. These specimens of Ilymatogyra arietina range in size from 1/2 inch to maybe an inch and a half in length. They died in the early Cretaceous cenomanian seas and were buried in mud from the volcanic ash of an episode of volcanism in Mexico about 97 or 98 million years ago, and have remained undisturbed until boys making ruts in the dirt with knobby-tired bicycles released them into the sunlight. So here some of them are.

An Ilymatogyra arietina

More Ilymatogyras

Photo of myself, with the Ilymatogyra trail behind me.

This will be my last post for a few days. I will be out of town, to see my sister and to visit the San Bernard National Wildlife refuge on the Texas coast.