Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Pink granite and birds

Today I went for a drive, going west, and ended up about a hundred miles from Austin at Enchanted Rock, which despite the Disney name is worth a visit. The place is now a state park encompassing several exposures of precambrian granite, the largest being an impressive pink granite dome. The rock is a coarse-grained porphyritic exposure of Town Mountain granite, which was formed about 1.1 billion years ago, i.e., a billion years ago plus the distance from here to the middle of the cretaceous. Old, but not the oldest rock in the neighborhood. It intrudes in some older metamorphic rock. The Texas capitol building is made of Town Mountain granite. (It looks pretty much like the national capitol in Washington, except I like ours better because the rosy color of the granite makes it a little less severe looking. Let's ignore the fact that it has been the place of business of some of the worst people in North America ever since it was built. Not the fault of the building.)

Enchanted Rock is a pretty place, especially popular with rock climbers. Here's one now, a jumper...

This seems to be a signal for a black vulture to scramble, just in case the guy doesn't make it.

I have climbed the dome many times, and it's where all the people go, so I walked along the creek, and then past turkey peak, another granite outcrop. On the way I heard geese overhead. I had a hard time finding them in the sun, but here they are, going north.

Closer view

I didn't get many other bird photos, except for a ladder backed woodpecker.

And, back at the campground when I was eating a late lunch of peanut butter and crackers, a bewick's wren came to investigate. Here it is.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Horsewomen 1, Boys 0

Today dawned bright and sunny after yesterday's rain, and a wonderful day for a walk. As I made my way into Onion Creek greenbelt, I heard someone firing a .22 rifle or maybe a pistol against the bluff on the other side of the creek. I could hear boys' voices, excited. Then, "pop! whinnng!" the whinnng being a bad phonetic rendering of the sound of a bullet coming more or less in my direction. They are not shooting at me, but are taking potshots at who the hell knows what. Damn. Good reason to walk another way.

Then nine shots as quick as the shooter could pull the trigger. This isn't about marksmanship. I think it's a pistol. I was far enough away I was not too worried about incoming, but I was walking parallel to the creek and away from their fun. Two horse women pass me (horses move pretty fast compared with bird watchers) and are gone, going down toward the creek.

Pop! Pop! Pop!

Hearing this, the horse women are enraged, put their horses into a gallop, sweep down toward the creek like the Indians in a John Wayne movie, hollering "Hey! Hey you! Stop that! Stop it right now! Cut it out! Whaddya think you're doing? You can't do THAT!"

No response, then I catch a glimpse of one of the kids scurrying over the top of the bluff just as I hear a woman shout like a fox hunter sighting the fox, "I see him, THERE he is!" as they gallop into the creek while the kid disappears into the brush on the other side. The women have the final say on the matter, "idiots!" they shout, into the returning silence.

After that it was a fine day for birdwatching, but the birds were not sure that the rain had stopped, and were staying quiet. Phoebes were out, and crows--and butterflies.

Here's an Eastern Phoebe

Another wintertime Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

After I get home, here's an orange crowned warbler on my birdfeeding wall

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Only in America: the relevance of the Reader's Digest to the fall of the American empire

I have a dim memory of 1950s reading fare in my household. My family subscribed, along with millions of Americans, to Reader's Digest, with its egg-timer doses of middlebrow culture and quick-read anecdotal patriotism. I suspect now that some Watsonian time and motion analyst employed by the editors closely calibrated Reader's Digest stories to average American reading speeds and the time it takes to consume a bowl of Wheaties, breakfast being the one American meal where it was acceptable to read rather than talk, at least in our house. Certainly any article had to be readable in the time you would wait in a dentist's office, which in those happier days might be as long as 10 minutes. And, unlike attention spans allowed by TV, which replaced Reader's Digest, Time, Life Magazine, and your daily newspaper as "the Media," this ten minutes was uninterrupted by messages hectoring you to buy something. As with the media today, though, you were perhaps buying the message itself.

Besides abbreviated and denatured magazine articles, condensed and unpalatable like some kind of emergency rations, or chewable vitamins (invented in the 1950s by the way), Reader's Digest had some recurring humor and schmaltz columns, one of which had the title "Only in America."

Back then, "Only in America" as I remember it (I guess I should go to the library, and read through some 1950s copies, to see if my memory is deceiving me) was suffused with a kind of unselfconscious triumphalism and easy patriotism hard to imagine today. Today's patriotism seems to me more belligerent, overweight, bulked up on steroids and angry--Rumsfeld type vein-throbbing-in-the-neck patriotism.

I am not a bit nostalgic for the 1950s, which as I remember as paralyzingly hollow and false, but I can see why the experiences of our recent imperial setbacks have awakened a politically manipulable nostalgia for that remote time, the peak of our power and certainty.

We had no beggars where I lived, and America had no refugees.

I pass beggars today at every major street corner in Austin, and Austin is a prosperous town.

As for refugees...

I was reading this morning about the muted Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans. According to the Los Angeles Times, the current population of New Orleans is now about 150,000, (mostly white, by the way.) This represents a 70% population reduction. About 350,000 people who lived in New Orleans have not returned. This is the from the city alone, not adjacent parishes.

Actually, the overall figures for refugees are more disquieting. The government has been providing some form of housing help for two and a half million people displaced by Katrina and Rita.

Two and a half million. That's a lot of refugees. That's right up there with some some places in Africa or the Middle East. That's kind of shocking, even for me, and I have always tried not to buy into American exceptionalism. So it's gotta be a surprise for most of us.

I wonder if Katrina will become a watershed event in the American psyche? I think most of my countrymen still want to believe the myth of inevitable American growth and ineluctable triumph. But when an entire city is destroyed and its population displaced--owing to various measures of incompetence, blindness, neglect, and the overarching imperial hubris which so defines Republican ideology-- it's hard not to notice, and harder not to be troubled.

"This could happen to me" has got to be a subliminal message here. Karl Rove is a busy man, as always, trying to find ways to use the resulting disquiet to Republican advantage. It worked with 9/11. But maybe (I like to end on an optimistic note) it won't work here. Not even the craziest of conspiracy theorists holds the Republican regime directly responsible for 9/11, but the New Orleans disaster is altogether different. The regime failed, and everyone saw it. The Republicans, I suppose, hope to work some sort of media magic and induce mass amnesia. Only in America could a city be destroyed and the country's rulers try to pretend it never happened. Then the tepid and subdued images of survivors celebrating Mardi Gras remind us again.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Friday cat blogging

Actually, these are yesterday's cats, not today's. Today is a chilly and cloudy day in Austin. Yesterday was sunny. The cats like to get their pictures taken as they enjoy the morning sun.

Here's Gray in a window

...and Grendel on a chair

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The old man and the cormorant

I was taking photographs of ducks on Austin's Town Lake today, and intruded with my whirring and clicking on a bearded man about 70 years old sitting contemplatively on a bench by the water. He said, pointing, "there's a cormorant over there," and a double crested cormorant came swimming out from behind some bushes. The cormorant was busy fishing, and was maybe 30 feet from us. I took a bunch of pictures. The light was bad. The guy said, "I'll get him to come closer." Silence. The cormorant stopped fishing, swam closer to us, eyeing us warily, and passed us at a distance of ten feet as he went downstream. I thanked the man, and left.

(Click to enlarge)

Hearts and minds again

According to a Tuesday AP story by Robert Burns, Donald Rumsfeld says the Defense Department is "reviewing" its policy of paying Iraqi newspapers and TV outlets to run stories we have planted. Now, normally, when a government agency says it is "reviewing" a controversial practice, it means they are considering ending it.

Not so here.

Rumsfeld had earlier said the practice had been "stopped." Now he says the was mistaken in using that word. No longer stopped, the practice is under review. So "reviewing" seems to be the word chosen here to provide a soft landing for a lie.

Reading a Rumsfeld statement is kind of like playing a record backwards.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

"Hearts and Minds" rises from the dead

The GAO has reported that the Bush administration has spent more than 1.6 billion dollars on agitprop in the 2 1/2 years before mid 2005. This includes 340 contracts with PR firms. It includes the $100,000 spent in direct "promotional contracts" with members of the press. The expenditure, as far as I can tell, is inside the US.

That information seems to dovetail nicely with Secretary of Defense Crazy Don Rumsfeld's recent policy statement lamenting that freedom of speech in parts of the world not saturated by Fox News has led to Muslims being misinformed about our good intentions. To counter this, he said, we need to “mount a far more aggressive, swift and nontraditional information campaign to counter the messages of extremist and terrorist groups in the world media.”

So is the idea that we are going to spend billions (modeled after the program above) in bribing foreign journalists, and inundating news outlets abroad with hired media campaigns? Or perhaps founding an al-Fox news network of our own? I'd say the answer would be yes.

Crazy Don said that what we are up against is the following: e-mail, blogs, blackberries, instant messaging, digital cameras, "a global Internet with no inhibitions", cell phones, hand held video cameras, talk radio, 24 hour news broadcasts, and satellite TV.

"Regrettably," said Rummy, "many of the news channels being watched through these [satellite] dishes are extremely hostile to the West." Thus lies can be quickly spread, and we are too slow to counter them, he went on to say. His specific example was the story about the desecration of the Koran last year. "It was finally determined that the charge was false" but "in the meantime the lives had been lost and great damage had been done."

Well, actually, the desecration story was investigated by several groups, including, after its fashion, the US military. The military investigation said, after, um, "re-interviewing" the guy who made the accusation that our interrogators flushed, or tried to flush, a Koran, that this individual did not care to continue making that claim. Case closed on the flush story. Fancy that.

But, wait, Rummie, don't you remember the Army--after investigating-- also saying that one of our soldiers actually urinated on a Koran? It was an "accident," of course. (Accidents are thick on the ground with this administration.) Our guys don't piss on Korans on purpose. We all know that. But the Arab world, evidently, does not. Moreover, the International Red Cross reported that several of the desecration stories were "credible." So, who are you gonna believe, Crazy Don, or the Red Cross?

Rumsfeld's solution to the plague of blogs, blackberries, and emails is for us (i.e., the Bush administration) to be "proactive" rather than "reactive." Rather than react to lies, we should learn from Karl Rove, and lie first, lie faster, lie better, and lie more often than our enemies. Or, to use Rummy's own words, "Engage experts from both within and outside of government to help to communicate; rapidly deploy the best military communications capabilities to new theaters of operation; and develop and execute multifaceted media campaigns -- print, radio, television and Internet."

He closed by counseling patience in the War on Terror, comparing it to the Cold War, which he pointed out lasted nearly 50 years. (If in 50 years we have melted the Greenland ice cap, terrorism will be the least of our worries, but it shows that the Republicans are nothing if not grandiose in their hallucinations, or "vision" as they are more likely to put it.)

But Rumsfeld is really a piece of work. The evil and creepy phrase "hearts and minds" popped out of his mouth at one point, which could lead you to wonder if this man is actually possessed by Satan, especially since he was at the same time channelling both Robert McNamara, seemingly without realizing it, and Ayman al-Zawahiri whom he claimed to be quoting. According to the Secretary himself, al Zawahiri threw down the hearts and minds gauntlet, and Rummy, eyes glowing red, felt compelled to leap down and pick it up and wave it around.

Just as McNamara did not understand that it was hard to win hearts and minds by burning the skin off children with napalm, torching villages, and shooting prisoners of war in the head, likewise Crazy Don somehow--amazingly--replicates that failure of understanding, and he does it without effort, like he has taken up residence in Bob McNamara's brain. But dropping leaflets announcing our dedication to freedom didn't cut it then, and Crazy Don's proposed media blitz is obviously not going to cut it now. Rummy, like his predecessor in folly, just doesn't get it.

Karl Rove probably does. I mean, given that al-Rove understands how to succeed in exploiting our specific cultural fears, superstitions, hopes, and bigotries--whether by lies, misdirection, red-herrings dragged stinking across the trail of Republican wrongdoing, flight-suit photo ops for the Commander in Chief, or by bribing journalists--surely Karl knows better than anyone that these techniques don't transfer very well to, say, the Muslim world. But if Rove, being a smart if wicked man, must understand that, Rummy, being a foolish if wicked man, surely does not.

Unfortunately, as the Vietnam War proved, the fact that Johnson, McNamara, Nixon, Kissinger, their sorry ten-year long retinue of motley-and-bell garbed enablers, fellow travelers, strategic visionaries and like-minded enemies of the good, the true, and the beautiful, were--all of them--fools, clowns, mountebanks, men on the make, men on the take, and habitual liars, or crooks, or both, did not keep them from achieving a stunning catastrophe for our country. I am more and more worried that Bush's men--whose raw negative potential if anything exceeds that of their predecessors--will equal it, if not do worse.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Friday bird blogging: birds on a wall

Northern cardinal

Carolina wren

Tufted titmouse

Carolina chickadee

Friday cat blogging

Here's Grendel watching birds outside the window

Gray, ignoring the birds outside, has decided to take a morning nap by the file box I have gotten out in preparation for doing my taxes

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Some country roads

I was out today with my camera in southeast Travis county, hoping to see a caracara or a harrier. A harrier did fly across the road ahead of me, but by the time I had stopped the car it was over the crest of a low grassy ridge, and gone.

So I was driving around on these back roads, and I was astonished to go past a group of 3 or 4 young people working in a winter truck garden. It surprised me because commercial farming of food crops has almost disappeared from central Texas. Another unusual thing is that the people doing stoop labor in the field were "Anglos" as we say heareabouts. They were all more or less the same age, and seemed unlikely to be members of the same family, so I'm thinking it's some kind of a neo-hippie organic farm, but by the time I thought well, I could stop and ask, I was already down the road. I did slow down enough to take a photo through the car window. Now I wish I had stopped, because my photo is so bad I can't even be sure what the crop is. I'm guessing broccoli, but it doesn't look quite right for that--broccoli, the times I have tried to grow it, has big leaves and the florets bolt almost immediately. I really don't know what the hell this is.

Then I drove past a giant landfill which keeps exotic game on unused (or restored) acreage. This particular landfill actually has a very good reputation, environmentally, unlike any other landfill I know about. So I can't complain too much about their introducing non-native species. They seem to keep them fenced adequately, in any case. What we have below is a sort of odd couple, a dama gazelle from the Sahel area of Africa, and an American bison.

And here, about 5 miles from my house, is a country Baptist church--very unlike its megachurch cousins in town.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A "5mm pellet"? You gotta be kidding

Someone in the blogosphere has probably explained this anomaly by now, but this story does not make sense.

Katherine Armstrong, one of the owners of the 50,000 acre shooting gallery, said her guest, Mr. Whittington, was "peppered" with birdshot from a 28 guage shotgun. The physician quoted below said that Whittington had between 5 and 150-200 pellets in his body. (Looks like medical science could do a little better than this, precision-wise.) But anyway...
David Blanchard, head of the emergency room at the Corpus Christi hospital in Texas, said a birdshot pellet about 5mm in diameter had lodged in Mr Whittington’s heart, causing “irregularities”. He will remain under “close supervision” in hospital for at least another week. (from the Times Online)

Five millimeters in diameter? That's not bird shot. That's nearly as large as a .22 rifle bullet (5.6mm). I'd guess that would be in the realm of buckshot, and a load of buckshot is not something anyone, even the Vice President, is likely to be firing from a 28 guage shotgun, which is a low-recoil sissy piece used by draft dodgers, as I understand it. It's been many years since I've gone hunting, and my technical knowledge may be a little rusty here.

And I don't see how a 5mm piece of lead (lead shot is still legal for quail, I think) or steel is gonna migrate very far, drifting through blood vessels to the heart.

I'm guessing that the good doctor "misspoke," as people explaining anything about this administration are wont to do, and meant something like "2mm" which might make sense.

Perhaps our free press will soon resolve this mystery for us. I know it's not nearly as important as the question of whether Cheney was drunk, but I would kinda like to know what Whittington was actually shot with.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Small birds under the fig tree, continued

I usually put out birdseed on a brick wall under a fig tree in my front yard. Lately I have been trying to take pictures of some little birds that flit around pretty fast, a challenge for the photographer. Most come out blurred. Below is what looks like a sequence of the same Carolina chickadee investigating some birdseed, pecking at it, and triumphantly bearing away quite an enormous sunflower seed. But, sadly, I have to tell you it is more than one bird, and the shots are not in sequence.


Chickadee looks over the menu...

decides on a morsel...

and quite a morsel it is

(Click to enlarge)

Monday morning titmouse

Tufted titmouse under the fig tree

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sunday morning drama

Here's trouble. Two starlings are peaceably enjoying themselves at the birdbath and two grackles (common, not great-tailed) arrive and try to take over

Beat it! Scram!

We don't think so.

In the end, all of them left at once

Friday, February 10, 2006

Friday cat blogging

Gray lurking under a philodendron

Grendel did not want to have his picture taken this morning

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Redtail hawk

Couple of days ago a redtailed hawk flew by while I was out walking near the river, and I took a bunch of shots, of which a few (barely) turned out as he soared and got higher and farther away. Quite accidentally, my final shot was of him disappearing into the morning moon.

Here the hawk is right above the trees

Now he is pretty high

And overhead

Good morning, moon, goodbye, birdwatcher

Crow makes a mistake

Crows normally respond to my camera by flying away before I can focus. This one must have figured the intervening branches would screw up the autofocus.

The funeral scandal

The mobster Republicans just can't help themselves. You have to give them credit that they know how to inflame the crowd, but in another sense they have a tin ear. They just don't know how they sound, though it must be said in fairness, that they don't care. What matters to them is the perpetual Republican miracle of creating a dense and swirling smoke where there is no fire, calling the fire department as they cry once again that they are victims of arson, meanwhile carrying out, in the confused low-visibility environment they have created, a brutal mugging. They have a gift for this.

Specifically, the funeral scandal. They descend headlong into a pit of racism, and have no idea that's where they have gone. Their feelings are hurt when you point it out. Never mind that the new Republican party was _created_ with a broad, implicit, obvious, but always denied appeal to racism, although the southern strategy, which created the modern Republican Party, is misnamed--it was not just pursued in the south. And it has worked, and worked again.

What is astonishing, to anyone with a molecule of integrity left in his or her soul, is that they continue to deny it--but to Republican political operatives, it is second nature, automatic, a reflexive firing like the nematocysts in a jellyfish, hardly personal at all, and so I suspect the reason for the veneer of denial and the pretense of outrage when they are accused of racism is that they consider racism to be something in the way of personal loathing. They don't loathe black people--they simply consider them useful for stirring up the Base, which they must do periodically, or the Base will subside into undirected grievance, or worse, perhaps would begin to put two and two together as to why their lives, of two jobs for a 60 hour week and no health insurance, suck.

So Bush goes to a funeral, and pays his--respects? A man who is arguably the most dangerous enemy to African Americans since Jefferson Davis pays his respects to Coretta Scott King? Yeah, right. But what happens? An elderly preacher, an actual personal friend of Martin Luther King and Coretta King, a man who has fought for racial justice and against the enemies of civil rights all his life stands up and speaks a few words of truth...and all hell breaks loose.

"How dare this man...say such words! In the presence of Bubble Boy! It hurt his feelings! It hurt his wife's feelings. How rude. How...uncouth!" The Wurlitzer cranks up to full volume. The talking suits go wild! All over the rightwing talkshows, the punditocracy becomes righteously indignant. There needs to be a verb for this. "Indignificates" is my candidate, but I doubt if it will catch on. So they indignificate on tv and radio and across a certain part of the blogosphere, as this week's see-how-they-wrong-us issue. "See how we, who have run the country with an iron hand for five years, with absolute and ruthlessly exercised control over the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Supreme Court, and the White House, are victims, god bless my soul, of an elderly African American man who spoke a few true words in an, ahem, inappropriate setting." That setting would be a funeral where lifelong friends and associates of the deceased speak some heartfelt honest words in earshot of bubble boy, which automatically makes him get all huddled down in his chair like a scolded truant, and then, wow! man, the long knives are out. They have been for three days now, stabbing repeatedly.

Now you have to ask, how is it that they get to indignificate all over this elderly, and rather grandfatherly and eloquent minister who talked about real things, without their getting called to task for the colossal racist presumption that informs their rending of garments? Essentially, they have said--in fact shouted-- that this man is not the house Negro they felt he should have been. This is jaw-dropping in its brazenness, like a motorcycle gang dragging a minister off his pulpit, beating him up, and claiming self-defense.

It's astonishing. What's even more astonishing is that it works.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Trouble on Turtle Island

Americans, culturally, are mostly transplanted, deracinated Europeans.

Seems to me this gives us a lot of our freedoms, not exactly our political freedoms, which were the flowering of European ideas in a place where they could (until very recently at least) prosper, but a cultural freedom, the lifting of the dead hand of enforced custom. Our literature, our movies, our music and art, have been distinctive for that reason, I think. On the whole, that's been good.

But we see the down side of it in the belligerent ignorance and seething crackpot religiosity that grows freely in any direction except towards either genuine reverence or the light of reason, probably because reason, with its strict reality-demands, is perceived as intolerably restrictive, and reverence, of course, requires that you slow down a little.

We have had a lot of problems coming to terms with the place we live. The guilt of having killed or dispossessed the original inhabitants of America is, I think, a kind of unfinished psychic business for our people--a problem, like the guilt of slavery. I don't mean that in the sense of a personal guilt, which obviously many people do not feel at all (or at least so they insist), but a kind of un-atoned-for national sin that still unconsciously warps our behavior and perceptions. The biblical Greek word for sin actually means going astray. I don't think anyone would deny this about the legacy of slavery, but I think it is there with the Indians too.

I think part of the our aggressive love affair with the bulldozer and massive destruction and rearrangement of the landscape in the service of greed or grandiosity or practically any damn whim is an expression of that guilt.

Maybe I'm wrong, of course.

Anyway, these musings came about because I was going through some photographs that I took, over the years, of Native American "pre-historic" (that is, before Europeans got here) rock art. A colleague of Kay's requested some of these photographs for an article she is working on, and so I was looking through them.

We don't know what they are all about, for the most part. Originally I was quite careless in taking these pictures, and careless in viewing them. Over the years that changed. It's my feeling, now, that they should be viewed with great respect. This seems almost too obvious to say, but it was certainly not obvious to me when I first went out into the desert to seek them out. I think I have written in one or two other posts how it is to be out in the desert in the presence of these traces of the past.

But most of us don't ever go to the desert.


It's kind of like this. Suppose you buy a house, perfectly innocently. Then later you discover that the house was stolen (maybe by your own ancestors, maybe not) from people who are now long dead. Or maybe they have descendants, living elsewhere now. Either way. Later yet, suppose you discover, in the attic, some mementos, and letters in a language you can't read bound carefully in twine. These things must have been important. You deduce that, if nothing else, because they are hidden in a secret box.

What would you do? Would you throw them in the trash? Would you treat them as everyday objects? Would you forget about them? I don't think most people would. (A lot of people I guess would try to sell them.) For some, I think it would provide some possibility of communion with the dispossessed owners, and a greater sense of the total meaning of the house you are now living in. It might even be good to try to return them to the descendants of the first owners, if they could be found, but whether you do this or not, the letters become part of your life and history too.

I think I have pushed that analogy as far as it will go. But my point is that I have found these figures in the desert open up a sense that we live in a very old continent, and we are very recently, and (I am afraid) tenuously here. It seems to me a sense of reverence for place is the first thing that's required for living somewhere, anywhere, and if that is true, then this stuff is important.

Then again, maybe that's just me.

So, those were thoughts that arose when I was looking at these photos of paintings on the rock. I thought I would put a few here, prefaced in such a way so you can understand how I look at them now. Maybe you'll look at them that way too. I dunno.

This may represent a rain god. And I saw the same eyes once in a bullfrog looking at me from a pond in New Mexico. I'd say, from memory, that it's about 3 feet high.

No one knows what these figures are. They are carefully hidden in a rock shelter with difficult access. (So was the one above, by the way.)

This last one is out in plain view, but, strangely, few people see it dancing on the rock. I mentioned it in a story on my old web page about birdwatching at Hueco Tanks. It's maybe three feet tall.

All of the images above can be enlarged by clicking on them They are at Hueco Tanks, near El Paso, a beautiful outcropping of igneous rocks standing several hundred feet out of the aeolian sand around it. It is now a state park, unfortunately nearly engulfed, in the past decade, by expanding urban blight. When I first went there it still had the feeling of being remote. (The hidden caves and rock shelters with the images still feel remote.) The paintings were mostly done from 800 to 1200 AD by people archeologist call the Jornada Mogollon, who disappeared long ago. Some was done later by Apaches, and possibly other historic groups. Most of it is hidden, and hard to find. Nowadays, a park guide has to take you to see it.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Time-Warner problems

Because of an as-yet unidentified problem with my high-speed internet connection, I suspect this brief moment of connectivity may be one of my last until the cable guy comes out Sunday evening, the soonest Time-Warner will send someone to look into the matter.
I have been mostly off-line since mid-day Friday, but hopefully the cable guy will fix things and I can at least spend some time at my favorite blogs, and possibly update this one.
So until then...

(Oh, BTW this is unrelated to the blogger problems many people are experiencing today.)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Friday cat blogging

Todays cats:

Grendel going crazy on a chair

Gray warming himself in the sun in a window

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Groundhogs, tamales, and birds--some calendrical notes

Today is Candlemas, which in America has morphed into Groundhog day. In Mexico it is Día de Candelaria, a day when (in some parts of Mexico) tamales are offered by the person who on January 6, the Day of the Three Kings, got served the portion of a special cake which had a small Jesus icon concealed in it. That person has to throw a party for people who were at the cutting of the cake. (All this assumes the baby Jesus doesn't get swallowed, of course, which might for all I know be a mortal sin, perhaps literally, much like W's misadventure with the pretzel might have been, but for the mercy of a providential deity who preserved us from a Cheney presidency.)

The tradition surrounding the king cake in New Orleans seems to be very similar, but has gotten detached from Candlemas and has come to rest at Mardi Gras. You get the plastic figurine, you buy the cake next year. At least that's the way my former boss, who was from that part of the world, explained the Mardi Gras custom to me.

Candlemas is the day in the Christian calendar when candles used in the church in the coming liturgical year get blessed. It is the 40th day after Christmas, and is a weird Christian enactment of a Jewish ceremony of purification for a mother who has borne a male child, performed 40 days after the birth. Catholic and Orthodox Churches, naturally, quarrel over how to properly count to 40. Actually, of course, they are quarreling about date of the Nativity, and it is as certain as anything can be that they are both wrong.

The Mexican custom seems to be Christian in the business of the baby Jesus concealed in the pastry, but the tamales come from the pre-colombian festival at roughly the same time of year in honor of Tlaloc and his consort Chalchiuhtlicue (pronounced as spelled.) Nowadays, seeds for the coming year's corn and bean plantings are blessed and an offering of tamales is taken to various shrines thought to bring rain and good luck, and of course, tamales are eaten by all (this last is about all that's left of this custom in urban Mexico today, or so I gather from watching Spanish language TV).

According to Wickipedia, "In the British Isles, good weather at Candlemas is taken to indicate severe winter weather later." Also, from Wickipedia, the following is said to be the first reference to Groundhog Day as we know it:
February 4, 1841 - from Morgantown, Berks County (Pennsylvania) storekeeper James Morris' diary..."Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate."

And, it is worth noting that today is also the occasion of I and the Bird #16, hosted this month at the Dharma Bums blog.

Today's bird: A Carolina Chickadee, eating an offering of sunflower seeds. As you can see, it is a bright day in Austin, and we would have 6 more weeks of winter if we had any groundhogs here.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Yesterday's buzzards

This post has nothing to do with Republicans

I was out on a country road near the town of Buda (pronounced byooda) south of Austin, when I came across some turkey vultures circling very low. Mostly I got blurry pictures, or pictures of an empty sky, but these three photos turned out OK.

The pale feathers under the wing are very noticeable here, illuminated by the sun.

click to enlarge