How big a dinosaur? Really big. Titanic, in fact. As in Titanosaur. Its hind legs are 17 feet long and weigh over 700 pounds, each. It pelvis is 9 feet long, 9 feet wide. It’s so big, according to the New York Times, it almost didn’t make it into its new home at the American Museum of Natural History. As it is, it doesn’t fit in the space allotted to it. Its head sticks out the door. Which makes for a nice effect.
By Jan. 2, the titanosaur was ready to go, but without a head. With no skull, fossil paleontologists had initially estimated that the head was about four and a half feet long, Mr. May said, but subsequent study led to a last-minute revision, and the skull lost more than a quarter of its length.
Then there was another glitch. The truck carrying the metal base down from Canada was stopped at the border over a paperwork issue, pushing construction back by a day.
Last week, museum workers steered the huge components, like the femur, on wooden dollies, out from a garage and through the museum’s corridors. The pieces on parade were met with expressions of bewilderment and amazement in a variety of languages, though the lingua franca was the quick deployment of cellphones for photos and videos.
Then came an urgent call from the garage. The pelvis would not fit through the doors…
There’s a reason political reporters long to be like sportswriters and a good reason they shouldn’t be. Good sportswriting is a form of fiction. Sportswriters are allowed to read minds, attribute motives, pass off pure guesswork as insight, and not only take their sources---players and coaches, at any rate---at their word but encourage them to make those words...colorful. Basically, reporters and players collaborate in creating stories based on embellishments, exaggerations, and out and out lies. The best liars give the best quotes.
Sure, certain facts have to be reported. The final score, for instance. Who actually played and what they did when the ball, puck, or another player came their way. But the rest is subject to interpretation. Poetic license is granted to sportswriters and all their stories are just that, stories. Tall-tales, legends and folk tales in the making, and might as well begin like movies with the warning: “Based on a true story” or “Inspired by real-life events”.
This is fine with me. It’s part of the fun, and sports is meant to be fun. I’m a fervent believer that good fiction is more truthful or at least more true to life than most non-fiction. But it’s also part of the fun, and sports is meant to be fun. It’s entertainment. Games and fights and matches are entertainments. They’re staged events. Therefore, they’re subject to review and criticism as entertainments. And criticism is simply opinionizing, hopefully informed opinionizing, but still, when you get down to it, it’s just a matter of the critics writing about what they think about what they saw. That makes sportswriting writing. And all writing is about the writer and the writing---its intent, quality, and effect---as much as it’s about an actual subject. So the writer better be smart and talented and the writing better be worth reading.
It better be entertaining.
It’s more entertaining if it’s also accurate.
One more thing. Sporting events are comedies. I know, not to the fans of the losing teams and players, and not to the fans of the winners who have invested too much of their vanity and sense of self in their favorite teams and players. But, with a few exceptions, all games end happily in that everybody had a good time, including, when they look back on it, after enough time has passed, the players who lost. There are some unhappy stories. Sad stories can be told. But then the inherent tragedy is essential to the comedy. We need to laugh or we will cry.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who had been having a pretty mediocre day to that point, saw the football roll behind him. He scampered, picked up the ball and peered downfield.
His line of sight was consumed by three or four Vikings defenders, steam rising from their mouths as if they were draft horses, rumbling at him. “Uh-oh,” he thought to himself.
At halftime, the Vikings led, 3-0, prompting more than a few to speculate that it was simply too cold to think, much less to score.
For now, let’s return to the game, which through halftime appeared to make a star of cold that was borderline insane. The Seahawks’ Sherman noted that the ball did not fly right in temperatures like those more often found on the plains of Mars. Asked how he had managed, Sherman smiled. He was born in Southern California; this not his natural habitat.
“It was all good until my eyelashes froze,” he noted. __________________________________
A hardy perennial of postgame news conferences is listening as players attribute their team’s pure dumb luck to Him and His Son. So Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor claims that he knew the kicker would miss and attributes his assurance to God. Cornerback Richard Sherman speculated that Jesus would have approved of the Seahawks’ team effort.
God, perhaps preoccupied with a tricky black hole, has so far declined to offer a comment. Jesus’ telephone number is unlisted.
Let me pause, also, to note that along with a few players recklessly running about the field in short sleeves, we got to watch the Vikings’ cheerleaders dance in the subzero temperatures and shake in their mukluks for slightly more than the cost of gas for their cars. This gilded league could of course take care of this problem of cheerleader poverty by rooting about in its loose change drawer and by forcing teams to pay a proper wage.
Commissioner Roger Goodell would rather pretend that these women are independent contractors.
Hmm. In that last one, Powell’s veering dangerously close to serious journalism.
Or if you think about a certain fact about football. Like I said, tragedy is essential to comedy. Comedy is funny because life is not.
This game, even with its silly God talk, came as a bit of a relief after Saturday night’s A.F.C. playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals, which served, with its impressive stupidity and violent gratuitous hits, to demonstrate why football is so often indefensible. As player after player was laid out, as a quarterback returned to the field presumably in enough pain to keep the maker of Percocet in business for months, you are reminded once more that there is to football a recklessness about men’s lives.
If coyotes and deer are surviving and thriving in the city, you’ve got to expect that raccoons are there and making a go of it too. After all, they’re wilier than coyotes and more dexterous and adaptable than deer and they like being around people. Not because they like us. They like our garbage. All that food we throw away makes any place where there are humans an all-night diner for raccoons. All night, please note. Raccoons are mainly nocturnal. See one out and about in the daylight, steer clear and call wildlife control. Odds are it’s rabid. One of the things about raccoons that makes them not as warm and cuddlesome as they appear and are often made out to be in movies, stories, songs, and cartoons---they’re a “rabies-vectors species”. They’re also mean and ornery and have chips on their shoulders. It’s having hands that does that. Makes them feel superior to other animals. The other thing they like about being around people is that people build shelters for them. We call those shelters houses or garden sheds or garages, et cetera. The raccoons call them home. And they long ago figured out that the foodstuff that’s easy pickings in the garbage cans outside is available with not much more effort inside.
Raccoons are often thought of as forest-dwelling creatures, but they can reach a very high density in cities, said Samuel I. Zeveloff, a professor of zoology at Weber State University in Utah and the author of “Raccoons, A Natural History.”
“They’re truly incredible in their adaptability,” Professor Zeveloff said. Raccoons are omnivorous and opportunistic, easily switching from eating grubs or bird eggs to devouring human and pet food, and from living in tree hollows to inhabiting attics and chimneys. This flexibility, combined with a relative lack of predators, can lead to rapid population growth.
But what experts call raccoons’ “synanthropic trend” — their capacity to thrive among humans — can also feel invasive. Female raccoons looking for a den to deliver their kits, as the offspring are called, can squeeze through vents and chimneys, tear through screens and lift up shingles with their dexterous forepaws.
So you really don’t want them in the neighborhood.
Folks in Brooklyn have learned that. Raccoons are moving in. And these aren’t hipster raccoons. They’re not there to hang out at coffee shops and talk about the novels they’re planning to write.
A truck pulled up at a small house with a brick porch and a garden on a recent afternoon, and a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt climbed out. A woman led him to the backyard. When they emerged a few minutes later, he was carrying a wire-mesh cage.
The woman handed the man a check, and he put the cage into his truck. As he drove away, he murmured comforting words in the direction of his cargo. On this day it was a male raccoon, lured into a trap with a handful of cat kibble.
Where, exactly, was the man taking the animal? “I’m not going to reveal that,” he said. “No one is going to reveal that.”
The episode did not happen in the countryside or the suburbs, but in the middle of Brooklyn, in South Park Slope.
The woman, Wendy Hooker, a retired designer of window displays, had first called the trapper in August after seeing a dozen raccoons “wilding” in her yard, as she put it. This one, caught in December, was among the last of the bunch.
“They were trashing my grapevine, beating my cat,” Ms. Hooker said. “It was like a frat party. They were insane.”
For a few years, William and Malya Levin could hear the loud movements of a raccoon above their Park Slope apartment. “It sounded like a large dog,” Mr. Levin said. Then they endured the stench of what they believed was a kit that had fallen into a cavity in a wall and died. Later, the Levins knocked a hole in their kitchen wall to extract another kit. (They called the exterminator Nice Jewish Boys Who Kill Bugs, which removed the raccoon and said it had been taken to a rehabilitator outside the city.)
Raccoons have mauled a chicken being raised in a Crown Heights backyard and frequently fight with feral cats. When threatened, they growl, hiss and screech.
In Sunset Park, when residents of a walk-up discovered a raccoon family living in an unused chimney, the mother fled down a fire escape, screeching, and then two of her kits hurled themselves off the roof. The kits survived, but “it was a traumatic night,” one resident, Michael Fleshman, said.
There’s another problem:
In Carroll Gardens last year, at least two raccoon families moved onto one block. Antonia Martinelli, who chronicled the invasion on her blog The Momtropolis, noted the animals’ unnerving habit of staring in people’s windows from fire escapes. But it was “the sheer amount of waste, mounds and mounds of it,” that Ms. Martinelli said drove her neighbors to contact Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon. Raccoon feces can carry roundworm.
And once they’ve moved in, they’re hard to get rid of. Trap them---and it’s not recommended you do that yourself. Law sense you can’t, in fact. You’re supposed to hire a licensed trapper---and what do you with them? Laws says they’re to be euthanized “in a humane fashion”, a good idea if they’re showing signs of being rabid---outside in the daytime, staggering about, settling in one spot and not budging when challenged---or acting out dangerously’
But many trappers, as well as homeowners who do the job themselves, say they transport raccoons to parks or wilderness areas and set them free instead, because they don’t have the heart to do what is legally required.
Taking them to a park or out into the woods makes sense. They’re woodland creatures, after all, right?
The problem, experts say, is that from there, the animals tend to wander into the nearest neighborhood. People see wooded areas as the animals’ natural habitat, where they belong. But these are city raccoons that tend to make a U-turn for civilization when dropped off in nature, said Stanley D. Gehrt, a wildlife ecologist at Ohio State University who has studied urban raccoons for two decades. “When you take them and drop them off in a natural environment, they’re going to look for buildings,” he said. “It’s what they’re used to.”
And so, it appears, the spread of raccoons is being aided by the very people employed to combat it.
The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge lies on the city’s southeast edge. Along with Floyd Bennett Field and the Marine Park Golf Course across the bay, it serves as perhaps the biggest raccoon dumping ground in the city.
“We don’t kill them,” said an exterminator from Queens who said he could not provide his name without his employer’s authorization. “We take it to the refuge.”
There is evidence of the consequences in Broad Channel, a Queens neighborhood of wooden homes on stilts, near the refuge. “The neighborhood has been invaded like crazy,” said Peter Perugini, a trapper with Above All Pest Management in Nassau County.
Mr. Perugini said he had removed raccoons from four Broad Channel homes last year and euthanized them. He described “lots of property damage.” One family, he said, had been forced to rip off their roof and pull out the insulation because it was caked in feces.
Even when they stay put, they cause trouble.
In the refuge, shore-nesting birds and diamondback terrapin turtles have suffered as a result of the raccoons’ arrival, said Russell L. Burke, a Hofstra University biology professor and terrapin expert.
Just three decades ago, there were no raccoons in the area, he said. He added that now, “the terrapin population is crashing.” Raccoons ate 95 percent of the terrapin eggs at the refuge in 2015, he said.
So, what’s to be done? This article by Annie Correal I’ve been mining at the New York Times, Raccoons Invade Brooklyn, has some examples. It’s a good long read as in good and long but more as in good with lots of anecdotes and information and sketches of city life. One on the many fun things I learned: there’s an exterminator business in the City called Nice Jewish Boys Who Kill Bugs.
Saturday morning. January 2, 2016. Back at McDonalds. King of Prussia, PA.
As you can tell by the uniform, that’s not Mr Met over there at the end of the line of players on the right. That’s his Aussie cousin, the mascot for the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball Leauge, which is in mid-season way down in the Land of Down Under. Photo by Wendy D’Souza, courtesy of the Perth Heat. Via the New York Times.
Old Father Blonde assumes that because I went to the University of Iowa for grad school, I’m loyal to Iowa’s football team and am therefore chagrined at the drubbing the Hawkeyes just took from Stanford in the Rose Bowl yesterday. I’m here at McDonald's for the coffee and the WiFi but I was glad to flee the house to get away from Old Father Blonde’s determination to go over the game in detail as he read the newspaper. He was trying to sound sympathetic, but I suspect him of secretly wanting to rub it in. He’s a Philadelphia sports fan, after all, and Philadelphia sports fans are mean that way. What else do they got to keep them going but Schandefruede?
The thing is not only do I not care about the Hawkeyes. I don’t care about college football, period.
Well, that’s not true. I care about it as a blight on the planet. It’s corrupt, corrupting, exploitive of the players, and
But I don’t get into that with Old Father Blonde. He loves college football. And college basketball, about which I have ambivalent feelings that make me something of a hypocrite. I should treat it with the same contempt as I do college football for pretty much the same reasons and then some. Problem is, I like basketball a lot more than I do football. Football I can appreciate. Basketball I get caught up in.
I love my father-in-law and I enjoy coming here to visit---except for there being no internet connection and Old Mother Blonde’s refusal to allow me to have a cup of coffee in peace. She has to make it for me. Then she has to hover in case I want a second cup or need more cream or something to nosh on with it. She lives to fuss. And then there’s Old Father’s Blonde eagerness to engage me in talking about sports.
And not just college sports.
He likes to talk about golf!
As if there’s anything about golf to talk about!
(I don’t play. Never have. You probably guessed.)
And I wish he'd talk about pro football as if there were more teams than just the Iggles.
Also wish he understood there's more to talk about about baseball than how bad the Phillies are.
It’s this last point that really drives me nuts.
See, he’s not actually a baseball fan.
He’s a Phillies fan, and if they’re not in it, he’s not interested in the game as a game, which would be fine, except that it doesn’t stop him from wanting to talk about it, he just talks about it as if you’re like him and only interested in how your team is doing. So as far as he’s concerned, as a Mets fan, all I must want to do is rehash the World Series.
And of course he assumes that I want to do that in the manner of a Philadelphia sports fan, bitterly focusing on the many ways my team blew it.
Now, I’d rather focus on the fun of the game in general.
I miss baseball.
Go ahead. Ask me how much I miss baseball.
“Ok, Lance. How much do you miss baseball?
I miss it enough that if I was rich I’d fly down to Australia tomorrow and spend the next few weeks in the stands rooting on the Perth Heat.
More than 10,000 miles from his home in chilly New England, Pawtucket Red Sox Manager Kevin Boles tucked a stopwatch into his sweatshirt pocket and clocked the first pitch of the game between his Perth Heat and the Canberra Cavalry. It was 80 degrees, a typical December day.
“It should be an absolute ripper,” one of the online commentators for the Australian Baseball League predicted earlier in the week. “And if Canberra can get over the line, they’ll have won four on the trot”— Australian for a four-game winning streak.
Managed by Boles in his off-season months, the Perth Heat play in what may be the world’s most isolated professional baseball stadium, a cozy 1,000-seat park just inland from a distant stretch of Indian Ocean coastline closer to Singapore than to Sydney.
On what became a windy night with an orange sunset here in early December, the game proceeded without the baritone beer vendors or Let’s-Make-It-Loud! jumbotron exhortations of the United States. Instead, the whistling of passing trains and the chirping of crickets provided a distinctive soundtrack to the infield chatter and the slaps of balls hitting mitts.
Between innings at that early December game, the few fans in the lounge took no selfies or group photos of the shield. They were more interested in strolling toward the hot-dog stand as the public address system overhead spat out a subdued rendition of the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.”
At the same time, shuffling cheerfully along the ballpark’s concrete concourse, between packs of giddy Little Leaguers and a beer-bellied Mr. Met look-alike, Bill Sinclair, Perth baseball’s elder statesman, surveyed the scene.
These days, Sinclair, 79, spends a good deal of time outfitted in customized Perth Heat superfan livery while he sells fund-raising tickets for the team. Known around the ballpark as Spider, he also distributes packs of cards that depict his journey from player in 1953 to coach in 1957 to mainstay in the Australian umpiring ranks from 1960 until his retirement this year.
For Sinclair, it has been a long and enduring relationship with a sport that first made itself known in Australia during the 1800s. Now, more than a century later, it is promoting itself here with live-stream ads built around American all-star cameos: “Hi, this is Mike Trout with the Los Angeles Angels, and you’re watching the A.B.L.”
As for the city of Perth itself, it calls to mind Gulf Coast Florida, with a midsize downtown skyline, glaring sunlight, a salty sea breeze and a population just over a million. On the other hand, cars drive on the left, the swans here are black and professional baseball runs in a condensed 56-game season from October to February.
And while the A.B.L.’s league office tries to distribute players as equitably as possible, teams here have kept up their own longstanding agreements with major league clubs in the United States, de facto affiliations that do not always equate to fair competition. The Perth Heat, for example, have dominated the A.B.L. in recent years after having maintained strong relationships with several major league farm systems.
“We go back with the Baltimore Orioles till about ’91,” said Geoff Hooker, the longtime Perth Heat chairman and newly appointed chief executive officer of the league. “They actually listen to us — and we always say to send the cool guys over, however they see fit, which is actually important in spreading the game’s popularity.”
Hooker added, “They tend to love it here.”
Most notably, Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier played one season for the Canberra Cavalry, and Didi Gregorius provided the first at-bat of the new A.B.L before moving on to replace Derek Jeter as the starting shortstop on the Yankees.
The 70-year copyright on Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” expired on Thursday in Germany. And a comic book released last month sheds light on a legal battle over the book that occurred in America in 1939. The comic, “The Book That Hitler Didn’t Want You to Read,” tells the story of how Alan Cranston — then a journalist, and years later a California senator — produced his own version of Hitler’s book, only to be sued by Hitler.
“I was aware of the efforts of young Alan Cranston to warn the free world of the dangers that Hitler represented,” said Rafael Medoff, the director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington, which produced the comic. “It seemed to me that Cranston’s story could be an effective vehicle to convey the new controversy over ‘Mein Kampf’ that would be starting after Dec. 31.
“The Book That Hitler Didn’t Want You to Read,” written by Mr. Medoff and drawn by Dean Motter, begins in 1937, when Mr. Cranston, a foreign correspondent in Europe for the International News Service, becomes disillusioned with America’s isolationism and denial about Hitler’s growing power. He returns two years later to New York, where he discovers that the American version of “Mein Kampf,” published by Houghton Mifflin, has been severely edited down to make it more palatable to the public. “Everything that shows Hitler’s most violent, racist side has been cut out,” he thinks in one panel. In the next, he has a moment of clarity: “Something needs to be done. He’s got to be exposed!”
Mr. Cranston decides to produce his own version. He trims the repetitious parts but retains the racist and violent passages, making a 32-page version of “Mein Kampf” in the format of a tabloid newspaper. Priced at 10 cents, it sells half a million copies until Hitler successfully sues him for violating his copyright.
The late Lonesome George, the last Pinta Tortoise. Photo by Mike Weston via Wikipedia.
Possibly only temporarily extinct:
The dodo is dead. The passenger pigeon has passed on. But Lonesome George, the iconic Galápagos tortoise whose death marked the end of his species, is in post-mortem luck.
A scientific expedition has discovered some of his close blood relations alive and well. With careful breeding, biologists now hope to revive George’s species and reintroduce the tortoises to the island on which they evolved.
It would be a signal achievement in a place that gave rise to our understanding of evolution and speciation.
Originally there were at least eight species of Galápagos tortoise, scientists now believe. (One was discovered only this year.) At least three species are now extinct, including tortoises on Pinta Island. The last one, George, was discovered wandering alone in 1972 and taken into loving custody. His death, in 2012 at more than 100 years old, was a powerful reminder of the havoc visited by humans on delicate ecosystems worldwide over the last two centuries.
Tortoise numbers plummeted from more than 250,000 in the 16th century to a low of around 3,000 in the 1970s. In the 19th century, whalers, pirates and other seafarers plucked the animals from their native islands for use as ballast and food on long journeys. Tortoises can live in a ship’s hold for more than a year without food or water, making them the perfect takeaway meals.
There are two types of Galápagos tortoises: saddlebacked and domed. The sailors much preferred the smaller saddlebacks, which were easier to lug around and said to taste better. They were also easier to find: Domed tortoises live at higher elevations and can weigh 300 pounds. Saddlebacks evolved at lower elevations and feed on drier vegetation.
Saddlebacked tortoises disappeared from Santa Fe Island and Floreana Island, a favorite hangout for sailors posting letters for other ships to carry home. With George’s death, the Pintas were gone, too.
But now the story of extinct Galápagos tortoises has taken a strange, and hopeful, twist.
More than a century ago, it turns out, sailors dumped saddlebacked tortoises they did not need into Banks Bay, near Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island. Luckily, tortoises can extend their necks above water and float on their backs. Many of them made it to shore, lumbered across the lava fields and interbred with Isabela’s native domed tortoises.
The warehouse is something of a salon, a continual comic book colloquium that Mr. Koch calls “The Endless Convention.” He is constantly trading stories and arcana with both his customers and his staff members, who include a former Marvel Comics editor, a former employee at Village Comics in Greenwich Village, a former college professor and various other enthusiasts, who volunteer their time in exchange for comic books.
Sounds like a place I need to visit, if I can find it:
In classic Koch style, a Christmas tree was suspended from the ceiling, with a bloody, severed ghoul’s head hanging (by the eyelids, of course) from the side.
This passes as mistletoe for customers entering Mr. Koch’s world: a cavernous second-floor space that he has run for the past 30 years, in an industrial section of Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
It houses one of the largest collections of comic books in the country. Also on offer are memorabilia, action figures, books, records, posters and the like.
It is a back issue browsing paradise, with comics filling long white cardboard boxes, placed on shelves extending high overhead.
Mr. Koch, 66, refers to the place as his “Warehouse of Wonders,” with a vast inventory that he calls “The Avalanche.” It consists of “the largest assemblage of sci-fi, comics and fantasy genre-related ephemera on the planet,” according to Mr. Koch, whose trove nevertheless remains relatively obscure outside the world of hard-core comics lovers.
For one thing, Mr. Koch has run it as a mail-order service, limiting much of the browsing to customers with appointments.
For another, it can be bewildering simply to find the warehouse, which lies between the Gowanus Expressway and the waterfront. The surrounding streets bustle with forklifts, flatbeds and tractor-trailers.
The address is 206 41st Street, at Second Avenue, but there is no sign outside, and the entrance is an unmarked door around the corner from a live poultry shop…
In his office, a customer was now calling from the street, unable to find the entrance. “I know it’s a little confusing,” Mr. Koch said.
All you regular readers who kindly and patiently indulge my fancying myself a bird blogger from time to time know how dependent I am on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s terrific online field guide All About Birds. Won’t surprise you then that this story and the accompanying slide show at the New York Times T Magazine thrilled me no end and that now I’m determined that on one of my slogs up to Syracuse in the spring I’m going to make a side trip to Ithaca to see for myself the Lab’s new Wall of Birds:
Last night, Jane Kim revealed a 2,800-square-foot painted mural depicting 375 million years of avian evolution for the 100th anniversary of Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology. It’s quite a departure from the average scientific-illustration commission. “If it were a 8.5-by-11 illustration in a magazine, it would have turned into something very different than when you have a 70-by-40-foot wall and you have the opportunity to show things to scale,” she says. That’s right: 270 species (including representatives from each of the 243 modern bird families, plus 27 dinosaurs and pre-prehistoric beasts) are all depicted at actual size, spanning from the 30-foot Yutyrannus and a nine-foot ostrich to the broadbill and manakin that are mere inches long. “For me, the size is what is really impactful, having a gigantic world map, and being able to put all these birds that you don’t get to see together, life-sized, next to each other — it’s really remarkable,” she says.
“I love murals because they really are the most three-dimensional two-dimensional medium, because they’re on architecture,” Kim says. “Here, you’re passing important markers in avian ancestry.” Mapped out on the world’s plane, with each bird nested in its geographic habitat, the mural is “supposed to be a very precise depiction of each bird, and used as an educational tool, so I had to depict things really accurately,” Kim says.
In the two and a half years the mural has taken to complete — though it was originally conceived in 2011, during Kim’s internship at Cornell’s Ornithology lab as part of the graduation requirements for her scientific illustration certificate program at Cal State Monterey Bay — Kim quickly learned the limits of any artistic license she may have wanted to take. “Ornithologists are not an easy audience — they’re incredibly observant and love their subject, and can identify when something is wrong with the painting, and pinpoint on the inaccuracies,” she says. “Each one of these birds was scrutinized.”
I can’t remember for sure, but there might have been a short time after I saw Toby Tyler on The Wonderful World of Disney when I was kid when I thought it would be fun to run off and join the circus myself. But the closest I ever came was in college. Some friends and I considered applying for jobs as roustabouts with a circus passing through town. But then we sobered up.
This New York Times Magazine photo essay by photographer Stephanie Sinclair and writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner makes me think I might have missed out on a great adventure. It also sounds like little kids and drunken college students of the near future won’t have circuses to think about running away to join or if they do, it’ll be a different sort of experience. For one thing: no elephants. Ringling Brothers is retiring theirs, anyway.
We were sitting beneath a painting of a sad clown in his office at Feld Entertainment’s 90,000-square-foot production headquarters in Ellenton, Fla. Feld Entertainment was started by his father, Irvin; today, Kenneth, 66, runs it with his three daughters, Nicole, Alana and Juliette, all in their 30s. Earlier this year, they decided together that by 2018, Ringling Brothers would take its elephants off the road and retire them to the family’s vast preserve in Florida, where the Felds say the animals will breed and take part in research for everything from fertility to cancer. (They like to say that what they learn from their elephants will help the animals in the wild.) They all agreed that it was time to relent, time to let go.
It wasn’t that they were quite willing to agree with animal activists, who for years have argued that the circus’s elephant-training methods, which involve bullhooks and tasers, are draconian. Instead, the Felds were yielding to reality: More and more municipalities, places like Los Angeles and Oakland, have banned the use of these training devices, presenting a logistical nightmare. What do you do with the elephants after they’ve performed in Phoenix and the circus is heading to Los Angeles? You can’t keep them on the trains. You can’t have them idle in the backyard of the Staples Center.
The decision was devastating, but Kenneth was philosophical. ‘‘The circus has changed over the years,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s no other entertainment that’s been around for this long that you could name. We’re older than baseball. We’re older than Coca-Cola.’’ He continued: ‘‘I don’t know how many times it’s been reimagined, reinvented, but I know we’ve probably done it six, eight times. We’re going to do it again without the elephants in a whole different way. Then we’re going to do it again and we’re going to do it again and we’re going to do it again.’’
Joey Frisco Jr. is the blue unit’s lead elephant trainer. He’s third-generation circus — his grandfather ran away to join it. Joey met his wife on the train: She was a dancer, but now that they have five children, she’s focused on them and the elephants; she rode one of the animals in a show I attended.
‘‘Who doesn’t want to retire to Florida?’’ Frisco said with a big smile during the preshow in New Orleans. We were talking about the elephants’ retirement, and his family’s move. His father would also work at the Florida preserve. When I suggested that this was maybe a happy decision, he said he was a circus person; all the elephant people are. You can rarely see an Asian elephant at the zoo anymore, and when you do, it’s far away. Now where would people be able to see the elephants? Now where would he get the joy of seeing people’s eyes light up when they were close enough to touch the beasts?
So you’re sad, I said to him. He looked down at the ground, and when he looked up, his smile was gone. ‘‘Everyone is sad,’’ he said.
Facts may have a liberal bias, but euphemisms advance the conservative cause.
Wish I knew how political reporters and their editors persuaded themselves that calling things Republicans want to do what they are is showing liberal bias but they’ve been doing it long enough now that it’s ingrained.
For all I know, it’s even made its way into the AP style book.
He wants to lower taxes on the rich and corporations to even closer than zero, cut government spending that aids the poor and unfortunate to practically nothing, even less than nothing, and end Medicare and Social Security.
These are the “big ideas” and “bold vision” embedded in all his budgets, all of which have been designed not to further any “lofty goals”. There’s nothing lofty about the goal to take away people’s retirements and health care. His budgets have been designed to make rich people richer while pretending to balance the budget and end deficit spending, a pretense that only works if all those low, mean-spirited, and money-grubbing on behalf of those who’ve already grubbed gobs of money cuts are made…oh, and, an economic miracle happens somewhere along the way. Big ideas and bold visions depend on wishes being horses.
In short, Ryan has no big ideas or bold vision. He’s just another Right Wing corporatist hack politician doing the job he’s paid to do.
Month ago, I told a story about meeting and becoming temporary neighbors with a nice, friendly couple who had just moved to upstate New York from California. The couple had left there for here because they’d felt it was getting too hectic and expensive there, not to mention apocalyptic, what with the drought and the wildfires and great chunks of the state drying up or burning up. They didn’t go into detail about how things were out there. Mostly we talked about how things are over here and how they’re hoping they’ll be. Just as well, because things out there are grim and it was a pleasant morning here, we were in a fine little restaurant that served a delicious breakfast, and there wasn’t any point in dwelling on that grimness.
But it is grim.
The next morning, as we began our drive home to San Francisco, this sense of unraveling — of California coming apart at the seams — worsened by the mile. The air was more Beijing than Yosemite, and the Merced River, normally a white-water pleasure ground, was a muddy sequence of black pools below mountains covered with dead ponderosa pines, a tiny sample of the more than 12 million California trees killed by drought and the bark beetles that thrive in this now-warmer climate.
The San Joaquin Valley, still farther west, is depressing on good days, with its endemic poverty and badly polluted air and water. But driving in freeway traffic through endless housing developments on that particular weekend encouraged a fugue state of bleakness in me. Somewhere in that haze lay an industrial-agricultural plain where the unregulated pumping of groundwater has gone on for so long that corporate farms pull up moisture that rained down during the last glacial period — with two paradoxical and equally strange geological effects.
First, the evacuation of so much water from underground pore spaces is causing the surface of some parts of the valley floor to collapse downward by nearly two inches a month. Second, the lifting of water weight — all those trillions of gallons from underground, and more vanishing from reservoirs and snowpack throughout the West — is now causing the rocky crust of the Earth, which floats on our planet’s molten interior, to push upward.
As a result, the Sierra Nevada mountain range is gaining about 1 to 3 millimeters in elevation annually. San Francisco, normally cool and clear, completed the picture: air so murky we could barely see the bay below the bridge, yet another scorching day in a freakishly warm summer — thanks in part to the immense blob of warm ocean water parked against the west coast. Roughly five hundred miles wide and thousands long, this warm water carries subtropical plankton that may be related to the accelerated decline of the Pacific sardine population, the failure of pelicans to mate and the mass die-offs of baby shorebirds and sea-lion pups. Concomitant blooms of toxic algae have shut down crab fisheries on the coast and, inland, befouled our rivers so much that, on at least two occasions this year, dogs jumped in to swim and promptly died.
That’s from a column in today’s New York Times, by native Californian Daniel Duane who is dismayed and dispirited by the same conditions that drove that couple east. Duane and his family are sticking it out, hoping for the best but not letting their hopes get too high. Mostly, his piece is a lament at what’s disappeared since he was young and what’s disappearing in a hurry now. He writes with regret but also with horror at the wastefulness, short-sightedness, greed, and selfish indifference that has brought on the destruction of the land and landscapes he loves. But he tries to be realistic, too, without being cynical, Panglossian, or indifferent himself.
And he tries to be clear-eyed, while expressing only a trace of bitterness and resentment, when looking at the fact that plenty of people are not only surviving but thriving in what he regards as the wreckage and ruins.
California has always been a land of apocalyptic change and economic predation---see Chinatown, read The Day of the Locust---and at the same time a land of promise and incredible opportunity, it’s just that that opportunity has all too often been taken advantage of at the expense of other people’s opportunities and dreams---see the Easy Rawlins novels of Walter Mosley and , well, the whole history of California.
Confusing one’s own youth with the youth of the world is a common human affliction, but California has been changing so fast for so long that every new generation gets to experience both a fresh version of the California dream and, typically by late middle-age, its painful death.
For Gold Rush prospectors, of course, that dream was about shiny rocks in the creeks — at least until 300,000 people from all over the world, in the space of 10 years, overran the state and snatched up every nugget. Insane asylums filled with failed argonauts and the dream was dead — unless you were John Muir walking into Yosemite Valley in 1868. Ad hoc genocide, committed by miners, settlers and soldiers, had so devastated the ancient civilizations of the Sierra Nevada that Muir could see those mountains purely as an expression of God’s glory.
“I’m in the woods, woods, woods, and they are in me-ee-ee,” Muir wrote about the giant sequoias, in a Whitman-esque letter to a friend. “I wish I were so drunk and Sequoical that I could preach the green brown woods to all the juiceless world, descending from this divine wilderness like a John the Baptist.… Come suck Sequoia, and be saved.”
Muir got his turn when San Franciscans dammed his beloved Hetch Hetchy Valley inside Yosemite National Park, part of a statewide water grab that included Los Angeles developers’ swindling Owens Valley farmers out of both their water and their economic future. But all that water helped create the coastal urban paradise that lured my grandfather west in the mid-1940s, when there were fewer than 10 million people in the state: abundant jobs in defense and entertainment, middle-class families buying homes with sunny backyards, plenty of room on wide highways to seaside coves where good surf peeled across reefs with abundant lobster free for the picking.
Plenty more along those lines. You should read Duane’s whole column, My Dark California Dream, but maybe not right now, if it’s a pleasant morning where you are and you’re enjoying an excellent breakfast at a fine little restaurant while chatting with a nice, friendly couple who are just looking to get to know their new neighbors.
“Honors students can tune out a teacher they do not respect.”
Actually there are lessons for honors students and their teachers, not to mention ballplayers, coaches, and fans, in this column by Tyler Kepner:
Kevin Long had heard all about Daniel Murphy. When the Mets named Long their hitting coach last fall, he knew that Murphy was a highly intelligent hitter, but also stubborn. Long knew he would have to prove himself worthy of his new pupil’s attention. Honors students can tune out a teacher they do not respect.
“When you talk to Daniel Murphy, you better make sense and you better be able to explain yourself and explain the benefits of why it will help,” Long said. “Otherwise you will lose him.”
The best thing for Murphy, Long believed, was to hit for more power. Murphy had made his first All-Star team in 2014 but finished the season with just nine home runs. He was a .290 career hitter, but it was a soft .290.
What if Murphy could keep his best trait — his ability to make contact, like Robinson Cano — but do so with a different mind-set? Players around the league knew Murphy could hit, but he kept his power hidden, displaying it mainly in batting practice.
“Seeing him from the other dugout, it’s obvious this guy can put the ball in play,” said Kelly Johnson, the well-traveled infielder who joined the Mets in July. “He’s a tough guy to strike out, he’s got a great eye and he was going to make solid contact.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen this guy in B.P. hit balls as far as anybody, as consistently as anybody. The power and pop is there and I’m thinking, This guy’s got a lot more power than people realize.”
Long believed Murphy should harness that power by driving more with his legs, moving closer to the plate, getting his front foot down sooner and bringing his hands lower and closer to his body.
Back in the day, when I was young punk of a college professor teaching at a state college in Indiana, my first semester there, in fact, I had a smart, talented, conscientious student who was a skinhead. Came to every class in full uniform. Black t-shirt, black jeans, cuffed, over black boots with red laces. Point is, he came to every class, prepared, and took part in discussions. Always on point. And fortunately, in class, he kept his political and racial views to himself.
Not in his first essay assignment, though.
For their first essays that semester, I had the students write an introduction to themselves, focusing on one thing in their lives they felt made them who they are, excluding God, family, and love and sex. I figured that those subjects might produce confessions too intimate to grade objectively. In his essay, this kid set out to explain what being a racist associated with a lot of other racists known for winning political debates by stomping on their opponents with their red-laced boots meant to him.
He argued that white people needed to show pride in their race. They should follow the example of black people, in fact, and celebrate and identify with the achievements of famous people of their own color. For whites, that would include scientific geniuses.
Like Albert Einstein.
It was my practice---and still is---to meet regularly with students to go over the first drafts of their essays in one-on-one editorial conferences. When he came to my office for his, I pointed out to him that Albert Einstein was Jewish and as a neo-Nazi he might have a problem with that.
He thought that over.
“So I should change it to somebody else?” he asked.
With what I thought admirable patience and tact, I said that that wasn’t exactly my point. My point was that the fact he identified with Einstein, someone who as a skinhead he shouldn’t count as a member of the white race, suggested that the question of just who belongs to what race was an open one and that maybe the answer is everybody belongs to just the one human race. A good starting point, for him, I suggested, would be to achieve something on his own, take pride in that, and leave the rest of the white race to worry about themselves. And that’s about as far as we went with that topic because in the next part of his essay he’d written about one of his favorite activities as a skinhead.
He and a friend liked to drive around black neighborhoods in the friend’s car on Saturday nights, with a case of beer between them on the front seat, and shout insults and throw their empty cans out the windows at people they passed.
Of course, I was horrified. But I was also scared for him.
“You do realize that black people have Second Amendment rights, don’t you?”
That seemed to shake him. Apparently, he and his friend hadn’t considered the possibility they were risking making someone mad enough to want to shoot them.
I didn’t get into the other thing about the way he spent his Saturday nights that worried me.
His friend was thirty-five years old.
I didn’t ask him if he’d ever thought about why a middle-aged man would be spending his Saturday nights alone with an eighteen year old boy.
A South Bend, Indiana man who was shot while flying a “huge” Confederate Flag from his truck and driving through a black neighborhood last Thursday didn’t mean to provoke a racial incident, insists his friend.
It’s not my student. Too young. This jamoke was born just around the time my skinhead wrote his essay.
But I’m not surprised this sort of idiocy is still going on in Indiana. Then, I’m not surprised it’s going on anywhere. We have an idiot in town here in Upstate New York who drives around in his pickup with a large Confederate flag flying from a pole bolted to the back of the cab.
The pickup’s white, in case anyone might miss the point.
But Indiana is still the place with the most outspoken and unashamed racists I’ve ever lived, and I lived in Boston.
Shwangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge in winter. Not exactly just down the road but close enough. If all goes well, I’ll be reporting on a walk around here in August. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
That’s not a date stamp on the post. That’s a date I’m looking forward to. Friday, August 7, 2015. That’s the day I’m going in for the procedure that’s supposed to fix up my back. Two shots of steroids straight to the spine. If it goes the way it’s supposed to, I’ll be up and walking normally by that afternoon. Then watch my smoke!
First thing I’m going to do is take a walk in the woods.
Or through the meadow.
Or along the river.
Or over the hills and far away.
Or just around the block.
All my life I’ve been a walker. Not a hiker. Not a stroller. Though I’ve done a fair share of both. I’ve simply gone for walks.
At all times of day. For whatever length of time it takes me to get there and back, wherever there happens to be. Sometimes I walked with a purpose and a specific destination in mind. Sometimes I walked just to see where I’d end up. Often I walked just to walk, to be outside and in motion.
But at all times, wherever I walked, for whatever other purpose I walked to pursue, I walked to think.
It’s been frustrating not being able to get easily from here to there, even when here is the kitchen table and there is the living room. It drives me nuts that I can’t walk to the store for a loaf of bread or down to the library to return a book. It’s depressing and humiliating having to hobble with a cane into the bookstore or the movie theater or the supermarket, wincing every painful step of the way. I keep telling myself how many people have it so much worse. Doesn’t make me dread running an errand any less.
Running an errand! Good one, Lance.
And for over two years now I’ve been convinced that not being able to take walks has been making me stupid and crazy…because for two years I haven’t been able to think.
A lot of what’s called thinking isn’t having thoughts but arranging them, putting some together with others, pulling thoughts that had been together apart, sorting them, storing them, throwing some out. I used to do all that while walking.
I’ve tried to do it while sitting. I can’t. When I sit and try to think, I end up brooding or dreaming. Whichever I do, it’s a piling up of more thoughts that need arranging. The arranging doesn’t happen. Those thoughts remain unarranged. Disarranged. My mind’s a jumble.
It’s a wonder to me that I can teach. I’m told I’ve been doing a good job. I believe it’s my students who are doing the good job. They’re honors students. They think at the drop of a hat. All I have to do is sit there and smile encouragingly and they’re off to the races.
Back when I was young and truly a good teacher, I did all my teaching on my feet. Walking back and forth. You can call it pacing. But I walked at least a mile every class.
It’s even more of a wonder I have been able to write.
I don’t feel like I have been able. Not the way I used to. I know there’s been a significant fall off in the numbers of new posts to the blog. That may be a good thing. I suspect there’s also been a decline in quality, although no one’s been straight-forward enough to say so and many kind readers have assured me it’s not true. But tell you what I am sure of. There’s been an important loss in subject matter.
There haven’t been any reports from my walks which used to be a regular feature of the blog.
So the first post after August 7th is going to be a report from a walk. Might just be a walk around the block. But I’d like it to be here, the Shwangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. Which is not too far from here, although a little too far to walk along busy roads or across private property with cows and horses and dogs guarding the paths. Believe it or not, I’ve never been there. I didn’t even know it was there until a couple of years ago when, driving one of Oliver’s friends home after some event at school, we drove past it. A couple of years ago, you’ll note, is when my back gave out.
Anyway, that’s the plan, to go out there and take a walk as soon as I can after I’m up and walking. And if taking a walk works on my brain the way the shots are supposed to work on my back, I’ll get my thoughts arranged again. Maybe I’ll even feel somewhat sane again too.
Like I said. Not walking in the woods or in a meadow or along the river or over a hill has been driving me nuts. Which I didn’t need this New York Times article to tell me. Still, it’s always reassuring to have the New York Times tell you you’re right about something.
A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature…
…Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.
But just how a visit to a park or other green space might alter mood has been unclear. Does experiencing nature actually change our brains in some way that affects our emotional health?..
The article, by Gretchen Reynolds, goes on to report an attempt to answer that question. It also has some pertinent things to say about brooding. You can read the whole piece, How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain, at the New York Times.
CHATHAM —Harbormaster Stuart Smith has rescued a lot of people over the years.
He’s freed boats from sandbars, towed them to shore when they’ve had mechanical troubles. He’s even towed whales back out to sea.
But he never thought he’d be called on to rescue a shark. It may be a sign of just how much people’s attitudes about great white sharks have changed, but when Smith arrived at the Old Southway inlet Monday afternoon, 40 or so beachgoers were crowded around a 7-foot greatwhite shark and they were pouring water on it.
“Everybody there was trying to save that shark,” Smith marveled.
I should know this, but I think the Old Southway Inlet is in fact well west of Lighthouse Beach where we usually swim when we’re on the Cape, so even if we were there this year, we probably wouldn’t have seen the rescue. I need a good map---Google isn’t giving me one---but I don’t think it was even there the last time we went swimming at Lighthouse Beach. The sharks have always been there. They come for the seal dinners. But I always assumed they stayed out of the inlets. Too shallow. Too many fishing boats on their way in and out of Pleasant Bay. But, according to Outside magazine, inlets are good places for humans to stay out of because sharks don’t:
If you have the choice, swim in the sound–a body of water protected between two pieces of land–where the lack of waves means sharks are less likely to mistake you for a fish. Conversely, avoid inlets, where the frenetic activity of estuaries meeting the sea both attracts sharks and makes it difficult for them to see and hear clearly.
I’d call the stretch of water off Lighthouse Beach a sound by Outside’s definition, but an oceanographer might say it’s an inlet, so who knows: We could have been swimming with sharks every day. One of the most disturbing passages in a book full of disturbing passages, Juliet Eilperin’sDemon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks, tells how the waters off the beaches of Cape Town, South Africa, are teeming with sharks swimming with the humans:
Between 2005 and 2008, spotters reported 530 white shark sightings off the city’s most popular beaches. This not even a comprehensive count of the number of great whites that movie into and out of False Bay, since scientists have detected many more movements through both aerial spotting and acoustic tagging of individual sharks. Peter Chadwick, who directs the World Wildlife Fund’s Honda Marine Parks Program in South Africa, has seen the animals during his scientific missions: “The great whites are swimming amongst the bathers and the surfers. We see it from the air and everyone’s blissfully unaware, and quite happy.”
In 2005, [Allison Kock, a shark biologist and currently Head Scientist at the Save Our Seas Foundation] placed acoustic tags on seventy-eight great whites circling Seal Island near the city’s shore. Monitors registered a hit every time a tagged shark swam by them, making it easy to determine where the sharks spent their time during different parts of the year. Yet when Kock started downloading the data from the monitors, she couldn’t quite believe it when they revealed they had registered such an immense number of hits. “It was a complete mind blow that over 50 percent of the animals tagged at Seal Island were coming inshore, and they were staying inshore for months,” she says. At the very time that people are going to the beaches off Cape Town, the great whites are headed there as well. It’s the unintended consequence of the conservation measures South Africa has adopted over the past couple of decades. South Africa was the first nation in the world to protect great whites, in 1991, and its protection of Cape fur seals has helped the sharks as well, by providing the animals with additional prey. As the sharks thrive, their numbers are growing.
The paragraph that follows is not reassuring:
Kock’s and Chadwick’s data also underscore a simple point: if great whites deliberately hunted humans, they would be having a field day every summer off the Western Cape, consuming the many surfers, swimmers, and kayakers in their midst. They don’t, but the chances of an accidental shark attack still loom large.
Presumably something similar’s been going on off the coasts of North and South Carolina. Something to consider the next time we’re on Cape Cod.
“This skychart shows the view of the Venus-Jupiter conjunction on July 1, 2015 and what the pretty pair will look like through backyard telescopes.” Illustration by Andrew Farekas, courtesy of National Geographic.
I should start a new category for the archives. “The View from the Front Porch.” Venus and Jupiter are on their way to a conjunction Wednesday. Tonight they’re looking pretty close to bumping elbows. I just tried looking at them through binoculars. Didn’t see much more than I can with my naked eye. No Jovian moons, darnit. But I still felt very science-y.
While limited in their scientific interest, historically Venus and Jupiter conjunctions may be a possible answer to the Star of Bethlehem legend. In the years 2 and 3 B.C. there was a similar series of three stunningly close pairings between the planets that would have caught the eye of ancient astronomers.
Today, the best bet to catch sight of the pretty pairing is to look westward and high the sky beginning a half hour after local sunset. As darkness falls, beacon-like Venus will make its appearance first. Both planets shine so brilliantly, however that observers should have no problem spotting them at dusk. Some novice skywatchers may even mistake them for oncoming lights of airplanes.
Venus will appear about 6 times brighter than Jupiter even though it's only a tenth the size. That’s because Venus is eternally enshrouded with highly reflective white clouds and is much closer to Earth. It's about 56 million miles (90 million kilometers) away while Jupiter is much more distant—some 550 million miles (890 million kilometers). So their apparent proximity to each other is just an optical illusion.
With even the smallest of backyard telescopes, you will be able to spot Venus’s disk, which resembles a miniature version of a quarter moon. With Jupiter, high magnification will showcase its dark cloud belts and four of its largest moons, sitting beside the planet like a row of ducks.
“When you see a bunch of Lego on a table, it wants to be put together in some way,” she said back in her workshop one Tuesday in May, this time building a character from a video game for a coming event. “I just looked at each shape in the painting and tried to capture the essence with Lego — a bull, a horse head.”
The painting being recreated in LEGOs is Picasso’s Guernica. The builder recreating it and who can’t look at a pile of plastic bricks without reaching to start snapping them together is Veronica Watson, the master model builder at the Legoland Discovery Center in Yonkers, New York.
Monique Perretti, Legoland Discovery Center’s marketing manager, said Ms. Watson is different from the master model builders she has worked with before. She is able to look at a picture of anything and render it in 3-D, even with the limitations of sharp-edged Lego bricks.
“We’re all fascinated with how her mind works,” Ms. Perretti said. When she recently told Ms. Watson they needed something Mets-themed for an upcoming baseball event, Ms. Watson had more ideas than time.
“She was immediately off making a pennant, a bat, a baseball, even Mr. Met himself,” Ms. Perretti said.
I’m not sure if Watson is a Mets fan herself. I know her father is. Veronica Watson is the daughter of our own longtime blogging mentor and comrade in pixels Tom Watson. Read Brooke Lea Foster’s whole story for more on how Veronica’s mind works and more photos of her work at the New York Times.