Toad in the Hole June 2004 Archives

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June 29, 2004

Principle or Privilege

I'm actually heartened -- for two-out-of-three-ain't-bad values of "heartened" -- by this morning's Supreme Court news. The Supremes, or most of them anyway, said that the Executive Branch and its minions can't declare certain people as a priori unpersons with regard to civil rights, and calling someone an "enemy combatant" doesn't create a new category separate from, say, prisoner of war. That a declared state of war is not an unlimited license to do what they want to whom they want. That it doesn't matter where they do it, either, or what the designated nationality of that place is.

The Supremes sure wimped out about the guy in the naval brig in S'Carolina, though, in deciding that his lawyer had addressed the wrong perpetrator.

I remain amazed at the seemingly widespread perception that certain practices -- habeas corpus, right to know what one's being accused of, right to face one's accusers, right to expect proof of guilt, e.g. -- are something to which we-as-Americans have the right, without equally being principles on which we-as-Americans (including and especially our representatives, enforcers... our minions) bind ourselves to live and act. And yes, it does seem widespread; look at the recent actions of the government and the kind of expressed support it has in, say, letters to editors.

Either those things are human rights -- you know, that self-evident, all-are-created equal stuff -- or they are privileges we've arrogated to ourselves by virtue of being born in the right place at the right time. Call it American exceptionalism if you will, but I'd like to think I am a part of a principled nation and a nation of principle, rather than of a sort of edited-for-TV, diluted, deracinated version of aristocracy.

Posted at 03:57 PM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2004

The News Today Oh Boy

So I watched the private spaceship take off, and followed the news story and had a look at the footage of the floating M&Ms -- talk about product placement! -- and the bit of Earth below. I loved it. I'm not any more impressed with private enterprise, even if it's the USS Private Enterprise, than I am with government, but I love the idea that more people are aiming for space.

Yeah yeah, I know about the money and the fuel and the pollution and the resources that could be used to give tofu to all the starving children, and the fact that some Microsoftie is bankrolling all this. It's not even that I don't care, because I do. But I'd rather scrap a moneybloating corporation or three and stop production of Hummers and Prada bags and three or four bad movies and those stupid gewgaws that are supposed to make official scrapbookworthy memories out of every ten seconds of life from conception to marriage and more conception -- feed 'em that way. That thing about getting into space just gets me where it's primal.

I wanna go there. I wanna GO there. I'm saving my pennies. And if I can't go there I want to hope that somebody else will and they'll get a kick out of it.

Aside from the M&Ms, what tickled me about "SPACESHIPONE" (as the onscreen crawls called it, and I kept reading as an Italian surname) was seeing it on the taxiway afterwards, with the pilot sticking his arm out of a porthole and waving. The thing has openable windows! That's more than half the offices in San Francisco have!

I like the paintjob, too. Before we swapped the pickup truck away, I was nosing around for a way to paint it in a design very like that, oddly enough, but with blue aloha-shirt hibiscuses rather than stars. I wanted it to look as if I'd just driven it [smash!] through a wall of hibiscus blossoms.

I read on the same front page that they've found perchlorate in milk in my own county. Perchlorate, as Faultline readers must know, is an element of rocket fuel. (And most of what's in the ground water was left or leaked there by the "defense" industry, so don't go blaming Mister Spaceman.) I drink a lot of milk myself. I'm thinking there's a self-help option hidden here somewhere.

Posted at 05:13 AM | Comments (3)

June 21, 2004

Li'l Beggars

One interesting bit about this time of year is that lots of birds have fledged at least the first batch of chicks. The adolescents of altricial species, in various stages of development but all on the wing, make it easy to find the birds. They generally have only the barest clue about how to get food, including food that's directly in front of them. They seem not to have the neurological wiring connected, quite, to respond to hunger by picking up food, never mind actually catching it. Hunger still cues the holler-for-food-and-open-beak reflex.

They follow their parents around, begging loudly, and you can generalize a bit even between species about what the begging call sounds like. It's almost always irritating, shrill, constant, and whiny. "Daaaaad! DAAA-aaaad! DEYAAAD! Daaaaad! Hey Daaaaad!" You can hear the subtext: "Gimme the CAAAAARRRRR keys, huh Dad, huh Dad?? PLEEEEEEEze?" The kids look frazzled because they're barely fledged and often still have that broad nestling gape; the parents look frazzled because they are.

One interesting exception we saw in Sibley park a few weeks ago was a couple of wrentits with one chick, in the bare lower stems of a coyotebush by the path. Wrentits can be quite easy to see if you're lucky, and impossible otherwise. They're cryptic and skulky, but like rails they seem to assume that you can't see them if they act normally. Most of the time they're right, and when you can see them they're in the middle of some impenetrable brush anyway.

This chick was clearly begging -- following persistently, doing the stereotype bird beg: wings down and fluttering, tail cocked -- but in complete silence. Never a peep out of anybody. Now there's a complete and hardwired strategy of inconspicuousness.

The golden eagle pair was still there, by the way, hanging out on the antenna tower. So was the maze someone lined out in the quarry digging where we got married. Also rufous-crowned sparrows (with begging young, too) and lazuli buntings and a flock of white pelicans gliding over, catching a thermal, sailing off to the South Bay.

Posted at 07:49 PM | Comments (2)

June 18, 2004

Short one

Phrase of the week, from

"After a week of dead Reagan ("Ronnui")..."

Posted at 12:35 AM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2004

Mount Diablo

Last Friday we took a quick jaunt to Mount Diablo, hoping for bitterroot. That was long gone, but there were still both yellow and white calochortus blooming in an otherwise dry-grass meadow, and of course monkeyflower, and penstemon, columbine, golden eardrops, a red larkspur, and Clarkia concinna. I bent to sniff one of those and, oddly, got nothing, but a few steps farther got hit with a blast of that nice scent, a little like carnation, from a patch in the sun. There was also a senecio that belongs there, Senecio aronicoides, which I figured was a senecio mostly because of the leaf shape. And an odd little tubular thing Joe keyed out as Collinsia tinctoria, so called because its leaves can stain your hands red. Not much danger of that, as it barely had leaves at all.

We did see a couple of whiptail lizards -- one foraging in the brush, one following us. That was odd; I looked back on the path -- we were on the Fire Interpretive Trail just below the summit -- and saw this figure running after us as if we'd forgotten a hat or change or something it urgently needed to give us. RunrunrunStop. Look around. RunrunrunStop. Repeat. It finally veered off the path about ten-fifteen feet from where we stood, into the brush, never actually appearing startled.

"It" because not necessarily "she" -- this was a California whiptail, Cnemidophorus tigris mundus, one of the whiptail species that have two sexes. We've seen them before on Diablo.

There were blue-gray gnatcatchers at a couple of spots: near the Muir Picnic Area and on a trail we took by mistake below the summit. We also heard thrashers a couple of times, and saw one singing in a treetop just below Muir: score a bit like a half-hearted mockingbird, voice a little more baritone, and liquid. We kept hearing swifts but not seeing them, which I suppose means they were flying sunward of us -- it was a bright and blinding day. Redtails and turkey vultures, cliff and violet-green swallows, Anna's hummers, the usual suspects. I joked about ordering up a prairie falcon after the gnatcatchers and thrasher -- and on the way home, on a big fat expressway running through/past San Ramon, there was a big pale-ish falcon with black wingpits fighting the wind over the median plantings. OK, well, I'll settle for one of those wherever it chooses to turn up.

The bugs were good too -- besides the flowers I mentioned, the chaparral shrubs were blooming, mostly the yerba santa. (The clematis had gone to glossy mopheads.) The posies were alive with bee and fly traffic, and multiple butterfly species: blues, skippers, hairstreaks (maybe hedgerow hairstreak?), California sisters, whites. Also multiple bees, which I won't attempt to ID yet other than that some looked like bumblebees. At the summit, just at the foot of the lookout tower, there's a patch of ground with sparse vegetation. A multispecies mob of butterflies zipped and fluttered around -- pale, western tiger, and anise swallowtails, skippers, and something that looked a lot like a checkerspot but Joe ID'd as a callipe fritillary. The swallowtails and fritillary were doing this odd maneuver in various combinations: a pair would spiral each other up 20 feet or so, bat at each others' wings, swoop down singly to near ground in a dramatic, hawk-style stoop. Pretty damned stylish, actually.

From the lookout, we could dimly see the bit of the Delta where the levee break was flooding Bacon Island.

Posted at 05:21 AM | Comments (3)