This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Flinging Manure

OKAY SO WE STILL LIKE Fr. Fritsch's book more than the article above :) and if you haven't read it yet, go here for a free copy given to the world with love:

In the meantime the cold weather continues here; nights have routinely been slipping down into the mid-twenties, and days struggle to reach 45F, even with the strong sun now-- which is pretty phenomenal, considering that the sun is as strong now as it is in early September.

Garden As If Your Life Depends Upon It, Because It Does

(from this morning's AlterNet)

By Ellen LaConte, AlterNet
Posted on March 29, 2011, Printed on March 30, 2011

Spring has sprung -- at least south of the northern tier of states where snow still has a ban on it -- and the grass has 'riz. And so has the price of most foods, which is particularly devastating just now when so many Americans are unemployed, underemployed, retired or retiring, on declining or fixed incomes and are having to choose between paying their mortgages, credit card bills, car payments, and medical and utility bills and eating enough and healthily. Many are eating more fast food, prepared foods, junk food -- all of which are also becoming more expensive -- or less food.

In some American towns, and not just impoverished backwaters, as many as 30 percent of residents can't afford to feed themselves and their families sufficiently, let alone nutritiously. Here in the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina where I live it's 25 percent. Across the country one out of six of the elderly suffers from malnutrition and hunger. And the number of children served one or two of their heartiest, healthiest meals by their schools grows annually as the number of them living at poverty levels tops 20 percent. Thirty-seven million Americans rely on food banks that now routinely sport half-empty shelves and report near-empty bank accounts. And this is a prosperous nation!

In some cases this round of price hikes on everything from cereal and steak to fresh veggies and bread -- and even the flour that can usually be bought cheaply to make it -- will be temporary. But over the long term the systems that have provided most Americans with a diversity, quantity and quality of foods envied by the rest of the world are not going to be as reliable as they were.

What's for Supper Down the Road?

As they move through the next few decades Americans can expect:

  • The price of conventionally produced food to rise and not come down again;
  • Prices to rollercoaster so that budgeting is unpredictable;
  • Some foods to become very expensive compared to what we're used to;
  • And other foods, beginning with some of the multiple versions of the same thing made by the same company to garner a bigger market share and more shelf space, to gradually become unavailable.

Tremors in food supply chains and pricing will make gardening look like a lot more than a hobby, a seasonal workout, a practical way to fill your pantry with your summer favorites, or a physically, spiritually and mentally healing activity, or all four. Gardening and small-scale and collective farming, especially of staple crops and the ones that could stave off malnutrition, could become as important as bringing home the bacon, both the piggy and the dollar kind. Why?

Why Is Gardening So Important Now?

There are at least five reasons why more of us should take up spade, rake and hoe, make compost and raise good soil and garden beds with a vengeance, starting this spring and with an eye toward forever.

1) Peak oil. Most petroleum experts agree that we shot past peak oil in the U.S. around 1971. Lest you've missed the raging, that's the point at which more than half the readily, affordably retrievable oil in reserves has been used up, what remains is more expensive to retrieve, and the dregs are irretrievable. We've shot or are about to shoot past peak worldwide, estimates of when ranging from 2007 to 2013, with many oil company execs agreeing to at least the latter. There are no new cheap-easy oil fields coming on line. Any new fields you hear about or new methods, like tar sands drilling are expensive, water guzzling, dangerous, environmentally disastrous and unlikely to produce more than a few years worth of oil, and that a decade or more down the line. That means abundant, cheap oil is about to be history. What difference does that make?

For one thing, there is no replacement for oil that can do all that oil has done as cheaply and universally as oil has done it. I offer an exercise in Life Rules, "The ABC's of Peak Oil" which helps readers imaginatively subtract from their lives everything that depends in one way or another on cheap easy oil. It doesn't leave much. (See Beth Terry's Web site, for example, for what subtracting plastics may entail.)

The global economy that presently supplies us with our food, runs on cheap oil and lots of it. It runs slower and less predictably on expensive oil that's hard to get because it's located in hard-to-reach or high-risk conflict-ridden zones. Cheap, abundant food on the shelves of grocery and big box stores and food banks, on our tables and in our bellies depends on cheap abundant oil for fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, and to power farm machinery and transport food from fields to processors and packagers and then to purveyors and consumers, around the world. Past peak, that system's going to have the half-life of the strontium 90 that's escaping the Fukushimi Dai-ichi reactor: 29 years, or thereabouts. One good global crisis, and not that long.

2) Peak soil & space. A couple of links between peak oil and peak soil: First, it matters that one of the proposed alternatives to oil is biofuels. Acreage around the world is being converted from production of corn, wheat and soy for human and animal consumption -- i.e. food -- to production of ethanol and biofuels to put in trucks and cars and ... which makes remaining corn, et al., more expensive. Some energy economy geniuses are proposing that Afghans, for example, convert the fields of opium poppies that are their primary agricultural export, not to growing grains or legumes or other staple foods, but to biofuel, which would, not coincidentally, make the gasoline that goes in American military equipment much cheaper and provide Afghans with a profitable market item rather than food.

According to a 2009 National Geographic staff report, "The corn used to make a 25-gallon tank of ethanol would feed one person for a year." Tell that to Archer-Daniels-Midland, Al Gore's deep-pockets friend and mega-ethanol and corn products producer. Second, the huge oil-gluttonous machinery that has made factory farming possible has compacted soils, literally crushing the life out of them.

Arable land in the developing or so-called Third World has been at a premium since time immemorial, thanks to geographic location and/or persistent plundering by empires old and new. Revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East are occurring not just to obtain more democratic governments but also to obtain more food and more affordable food. Revolutionaries are barking up a tree that's seen better days.

In the United States and elsewhere in the developed, read "First" world, arable land has reached peak production. All those petroleum-based products that fueled the Green Revolution of the last century, also produce so many crops, constantly, with support from toxic chemicals and without concern for the microbes that make soil a live, self-regenerating system, that most American farmland -- if its farmers didn't go organic a while back -- is comprised of dead soils. Peak oil makes a repeat of the petroleum-driven 20th century Green Revolution impossible, which is good for soil and other living things, not so much for food prices and supplies.

After peak, in soil like in oil, comes descent. Adding insult to injury, every year farmers lose thousands of acres of arable land to urban and suburban sprawl and more tons of topsoil than they produce of grain and other field crops to attrition. Half the Earth's original trove of topsoil, like that which once permitted the American Midwest to feed the world, has been lost to wind and erosion. Millions of years in the making, it has been depleted and degraded by industrialized agriculture in only a couple of centuries. China's soils ride easterly winds across the Pacific to settle out on cars and rooftops in California while the American Bread Basket's soils are building deltas and dead zones at the mouth of the Mississippi. Like oil, that soil isn't coming back. We can only build it, help it to build itself and wait.

3) Monoculture. We can cut to the chase on this one. The food we eat is produced on industrial-strength, fossil-fuel-driven super farms. Those farms practice monoculture: the planting one crop, often of one genetic strain of that crop, at a time and sometimes year after year over vast landscapes of plowed field. When thousands of acres of farmland are sown with the same genetic strain of grain, uncongenial bout of weather, disease or pest to which that strain is susceptible can wipe out the whole crop.

At present the Ug99 fungus, called stem rust, which emerged a decade ago in Africa, could wipe out more than 80 percent of the world's wheat crops as it spreads, according to a 2009 article in the L. A. Times. Recent studies follow its appearance in other countries downwind of eastern Africa where it originated, including Yemen and Iran (where revolutionaries are already protesting rising prices and shortages), which opens the possibility of its emergence further downwind in Central and Eastern Asia. The race is on to breed resistant plants before it reaches Canada or the U.S. But it can take a decade or more to create a universally adaptable new genetic line that is resistant to a new disease like stem rust that can travel much faster than that. The current spike in the price of wheat is due in part to Ug99 which might properly be renamed "Ugh."

4) Climate instability. Bad -- uncongenial -- weather has lately devastated crops in the upper Midwest, Florida, Mexico, Russia, China, Australia, parts of Africa and elsewhere. Many climate scientists believe we've passed the equivalent of peak friendly and familiar weather, too. And while increasing heat will bedevil harvests, intense cold, downpours and flooding, drought and destructive storm systems will make farming an increasingly hellish occupation if profit is what's being farmed for.

The transitional climate will be unpredictable from season to season and will produce more extremes of weather and weather-related disasters, which means farmers will not be able to assume much about growing seasons, rainfall patterns and getting crops through to harvest. If the past is precedent, the transition from the climate we've been used to for 10,000 years to whatever stable climate emerges out of climate chaos next, could take decades, centuries or even millennia. Especially if we keep messing with it. When a whole nation's or region's staple crops, especially grains, are lost or on-again-off-again, everything down the line from the crops themselves become more expensive, from meat, poultry and dairy to every kind of processed food. I.e., the food we shop for as if supermarkets were actually where food comes from.

5) The roller-coaster economy. This isn't the place for me to offer my explanation for the probability of global economic collapse. (More on that here.) No pundits, talking-heads or economic analysts (well, very few) deny there are rough economic times ahead. Even many of the cautious among them acknowledge that we may be looking at five or six years of high unemployment and many of the lost jobs won't be coming back. The less cautious, like me, predict the collapse of the whole fossil-fueled, funny-money, inequitable, overly complicated global economic system in the lifetimes of anyone under 50. Well, at the rate we're going in all the wrong directions politically and economically, I hazard the guess, anyone under 80.

Clearly, depending on the present system to provide us with most or all of our food reliably or long-term, is unwise in the extreme. Which is how we get back to why we need to garden as if our lives depended on it. Bringing food production processes and systems closer to home is going to prove vital to our survival. We need to take producing our own and each other's food as seriously as we've taken producing a money income because growing numbers of us won't have enough money to buy food in the conventional ways and there will be less of it to buy. So what's our recourse?

Gardening Like Everybody's Business

Under the influence and auspices of the prevailing economy, most Americans have forgotten how to provide for themselves. We've become accustomed to earning money with which we buy provisions. That process is about to have the legs kicked out from under it. Instead of earning money (or its funny-money kin like credit cards) to buy the things we need, we'll need to start providing more of those things for ourselves and each other locally and (bio)regionally. Gardening -- and small-scale farming -- while they will need to be undertaken in a businesslike fashion will be less about doing business than about everyone's having something to eat and more people being busy providing it. And while not everyone will be able to garden or farm, we are all able to get up close and personal with those who do.

Ellen LaConte, an independent scholar, organic gardener and freelance writer living in the Yadkin River watershed of the Piedmont bioregion of North Carolina, is a contributing editor to Green Horizon Magazine and the Ecozoic. Her most recent book is Life Rules (Green Horizon/iUniverse, 2010). LaConte publishes a quarterly online newsletter, Starting Point.

© 2011 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Earth Hour Pics

DID YOU PARTICIPATE in this past Saturday's Earth Hour? Whether you did or didn't, here's the good news: Earth Hour can be celebrated every day (or perhaps I should say every evening) by shutting off lights, unplugging 'instant on' appliances (like many TV's, stereos, and computers) and making a major effort to reduce the old carbon footprint. Reducing light at night also helps migrating birds, who often get confused/disoriented at night by bright lights, and/or slam into brightly lit buildings, or are guided to cities by the lure of bright lights (I sense a Jay M. novel here somewhere). Something, too, has atrophied in our collective soul, since we have banished the night and its sacred mystery. There are millions upon millions of people who have never even seen Venus, Jupiter, Orion. Although I live on a four-lane state highway, there are four acres of woods behind the barn behind the house, and the difference in the amount of stars one can see is amazing. There are also fireflies between me and the stars out there, and when I lay on my back and look up, after a while it seems all the stars are swirling and dancing. Nature repeats her successful patterns.

Here are some great shots of Earth Hour, with the added feature of clicking on the photo (beginning with the second photo) to see the lights fade.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Burt's Bees Owner Wants to Found National Park in Maine

(This is good, though we still abhor snowmobiles, and think they have no business whatsoever in the wild. And who knew Burt's Bees was owned by Clorox? And yes, Ms. Quimby DOES look cold-- but why shouldn't she, it's still freezing here, at the end of March...)

TOWNSHIP 3, RANGE 8, Maine — The state’s sportsmen were outraged when Roxanne Quimby, the conservation-minded founder of Burt’s Bees cosmetics, bought up tens of thousands of acres of Maine’s fabled North Woods — and had the audacity to forbid hunters, loggers, snowmobiles, and all-terrain vehicles on the expanses.

Quimby confronted the hornet’s nest she had stirred up head-on — calling one of her sharpest critics, George Smith, then-executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. Smith couldn’t believe his ears. The back-to-the-earth advocate who made millions with her ecofriendly line of personal care products was calling him at home, on a Saturday morning?

“I thought someone was playing a joke on me when she called,’’ Smith said.

That call in 2006 opened a face-to-face dialogue with some of her biggest critics over the land she bought — more than 120,000 acres of woodlands.

Quimby wants to give more than 70,000 wild acres next to Maine’s cherished Baxter State Park to the federal government, hoping to create a Maine Woods National Park. She envisions a visitor center dedicated to Henry David Thoreau, the naturalist who made three trips to Maine in the 1800s.

The park would be nearly twice the size of Maine’s Acadia National Park.

In a giveback to sportsmen, her vision is to set aside another 30,000 acres of woodlands north of Dover-Foxcroft to be managed like a state park, with hunting and snowmobiling allowed.

“There’s enough land that we can all get what we want,’’ said Quimby.

The multimillionaire disarmed her critics, who thought they would have to deal with a patchouli-scented eccentric. What they found was a woman who thinks big, but is a pragmatic problem-solver; someone who has strong ideals, but is willing to compromise; a self-made businesswoman who is willing to put up millions to achieve her conservation goals.

Smith, for one, came to respect and admire her.

“I was one of her harshest critics, so it’s really rather remarkable,’’ he said. “In the end, it’s her land, and she’ll do whatever suits her. But at least she’s listening.’’

Leaving a legacy
If she can win support, Quimby wants to time her donation in five years with the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service. It would be her gift, her legacy.

The Park Service is intrigued by Quimby’s idea. The last time a large national park was created was in Alaska in the 1980s under the Carter administration.

“The National Park Service would like to see additional opportunities for preserving these beautiful places and creating recreational opportunities in the Northeast,’’ said spokesman David Barna. “The proposal would be exciting for the National Park Service to evaluate.’’

The proposed national park land occupies a wild sprawl east of Baxter State Park. Much of it is covered with saplings as it recovers from logging operations that ended five years ago. Mountain ridges offer breathtaking views of Mount Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain and the northern end of the Appalachian Trail.

At the eastern boundary is the East Branch of the Penobscot River, on which Thoreau enjoyed a ride in a flat-bottomed bateau on his last visit to the region in 1857.

Animal tracks crisscross the snow-covered land, evidence that it’s teeming with wildlife, even during Maine’s harsh winter. Moose have made figure-8’s in the snow during their playful jousting. Smaller tracks indicate snowshoe hares, fisher cats, and coyotes. Endangered Canada lynx also prowl the area.

A business maverick
A native of Massachusetts, Quimby was the black sheep of a family in which her father was an engineer and a salesman and her sisters both earned their MBAs. Foregoing the business track, she went to art school in San Francisco, where she joined the “good life’’ back-to-the-land movement led by Helen and Scott Nearing.

With $3,000 in savings, she and her boyfriend ended up in Maine in 1975 — not because of the state’s rugged natural beauty but because the land was cheap.

They bought 30 acres in Guilford and built a cabin with an outhouse. They cut their own firewood. What staples they didn’t grow, they bought in 60-pound bags.

Eventually, Quimby met beekeeper Burt Shavitz, the namesake whose bearded face appears on the labels of Burt’s Bees lip balm, moisturizers, and shampoos. Quimby used Burt’s beeswax to create candles she sold at craft fairs in 1984. In the first year, her company made $20,000. In 1991, Burt’s Bees introduced what remains its most popular product — lip balm made from beeswax.

As the business grew, Quimby moved her business out of Maine, which she said was a punishing place to do business. She relocated to a North Carolina industrial park, and eventually bought out Shavitz’s shares.

As Burt’s Bees grew, she began buying land for conservation. Once again, she chose to buy in Maine. In 2003, she sold 80 percent of Burt’s Bees for $170 million, she said. She made another $180 million when she sold her remaining stake four years later to Clorox, which now owns Burt’s Bees.

Quimby, 60, says a new national park would conserve land and create jobs by drawing millions of additional visitors to the region to stay and spend.

It remains to be seen whether Quimby is one day mentioned in the same breath as Percival Baxter, who donated the land that became Baxter State Park, or George Dorr, whose efforts helped create Acadia National Park.

She lives most of the year in a home built by the Baxter family in Portland, overseeing her philanthropic organizations.

“You can trust her word. She’s one of these folks that if you shake her hand on a deal, then it’s a deal,’’ said Eugene Conlogue, town manager in Millinocket.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Whales May Have Names They Call Each Other

Sperm Whales May Have Names
By Brandon Keim

Subtle variations in sperm-whale calls suggest that individuals announce themselves with discrete personal identifier. To put it another way, they might have names.

The findings are preliminary, based on observations of just three whales, so talk of names is still speculation. But “it’s very suggestive,” said biologist Luke Rendell of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews. “They seem to make that coda in a way that’s individually distinctive.”

Rendell and his collaborators, including biologists Hal Whitehead, Shane Gero and Tyler Schulz, have for years studied the click sequences, or codas, used by sperm whales to communicate across miles of deep ocean. In a study published last June in Marine Mammal Sciences, they described a sound-analysis technique that linked recorded codas to individual members of a whale family living in the Caribbean.

In that study, they focused on a coda made only by Caribbean sperm whales. It appears to signify group membership. In the latest study, published Feb. 10 in Animal Behavior, they analyzed a coda made by sperm whales around the world. Called 5R, it’s composed of five consecutive clicks, and superficially appears to be identical in each whale. Analyzed closely, however, variations in click timing emerge. Each of the researchers’ whales had its own personal 5R riff.

The differences were significant. The sonic variations that were used to distinguish between individuals in the earlier study depended on a listener’s physical relationship to the caller: “If you record the animal from the side, you get a different structure than dead ahead or behind,” said Rendell. But these 5R variations held true regardless of listener position.

“In terms of information transfer, the timing of the clicks is much less susceptible” to interference, said Rendell. “There is no doubt in my mind that the animals can tell the difference between the timing of individuals.” Moreover, 5R tends to be made at the beginning of each coda string as if, like old-time telegraph operators clicking out a call sign, they were identifying themselves. Said Rendell, “It may function to let the animals know which individual is vocalizing.”

Rendell stressed that much more research is needed to be sure of 5R’s function. “We could have just observed a freak occurrence,” he said. Future research will involve more recordings. “This is just the first glimpse of what might be going on.”

That individual whales would have means of identifying themselves does, however, make sense. Dolphins have already been shown to have individual, identifying whistles. Like them, sperm whales are highly social animals who maintain complex relationships over long distances, coordinating hunts and cooperating to raise one another’s calves.

Sperm-whale coda repertoires can contain dozens of different calls, which vary in use among families and regions, as do patterns of behavior. At a neurological level, their brains display many of the features associated in humans with sophisticated cognition. Many researchers think that sperm whales and other cetacean species should be considered “non-human persons,” comparable at least to chimpanzees and other great apes.

Compared to primates, however, studying the behaviors and relationships of whales is extremely difficult. They don’t take well to aquariums, and observations in the wild take place on their aquatic terms.

What’s been observed so far are just “the crude behavioral measures we get by following them in a boat,” said Rendell. “I’d argue that there is probably a vast amount of complexity out there in sperm whale society that we have yet to understand. As we get to know more about them, we’re going to continue to reveal complexities that we didn’t anticipate.” © 2010 Condé Nast Digital.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Get Gardening

You wouldn't know it round these parts, but Monday (snow all day) was the first full day of spring-- actually, you would know it, as the snow didn't stick to the open earth or to roads, only to the grass-- Our Mother is warming up. The Full Worm Moon happened this weekend, and so we are in the Worm Moon for the next 28 days-- named by the Native Americans in honor of the diminutive creatures who begin to stir near the surface of the earth now, without whom their would be no tillable earth-- the earth would be like concrete. The Native Americans knew that. Most of us, don't.

Imagine that-- that we owe our existence to the worms, and ants, and beetles, and the other creatures who keep the earth pliable and fertile. One would never get that kind of sense from watching television or participating actively-- or passively, as the case might be-- in American consumerist culture. We can order and control all things, we are told-- all it takes is more possessions, more money, more power, and more greed and selfishness. We are the crowns of creation, the supreme end of evolution!

Uhmm...well...maybe not so much. The sad truth is, the earth, and ALL her species, would be lots better off without us. In some ways, we are a form of rapid multiplying bacteria, breaking down the planet. And yet, when we watch children playing barefoot over Mother Earth, running through grass or rolling down hills, or listen to Beethoven's Ninth, or read beautiful poetry, or witness a selfless act of pure human kindness, or escape into nature and feel oneness with Spirit-- how can we can deny that we have such potential to be good, and to do good, and that we are indeed our Mother Earth's children?

So, the earth needs friends, and for her to survive, we must all of us appeal to the better angels of our natures. Let's become the earth's stewards, in humility and gratitude. One of the best ways to do that, and to help ourselves and our health at the same time, is to begin to grow our own food.

Even a small apartment balcony can grow a surprising amount of food, with wall units and containers. Growing one's own food also takes one of the most important determining factors of our long-term health out of the hands of corporate agri-business-- where profit is the only concern, and the use of poisons not only encouraged, but actually partially funded by our government-- and puts this into our own hands.

More than that, gardening is entering into relationship with the earth. It will feed your soul and spirit as much as your body. It will change you. You will slow down. You will become a lover of rain, an intimate acquaintance of sunsets, a friend of the birds. You'll watch the sky with quiet eyes. As you are healed by the earth, you may be able to return the favor. In a fascinating book, Spiritual Growth Through Domestic Gardening, the Jesuit Al Frisch posits the wonderfully quirky and nearly 'magikal' idea that, in the same way that humans are healed by touch, so can the earth. Well-- why not? When we put our hands into the earth, to plant or cultivate or weed, stop for one moment and notice-- is the ground warm or cold? Muddy, wet, dry? Become aware of the earth, and then gently massage it-- the energy of your healing touch, no matter how weak, will reverberate around the entire globe. Interesting! Anyway, Father Frisch's wonderful book is offered free and with love to the public, and is available here: Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Miracle Dog Survives

A Hyde Park woman cried tears of joy this week after finding her dog alive among the ashes of her burned-out and boarded-up house, where the dog had survived since a blaze totaled the residence on Feb. 23.

Terisa Acevedo initially thought that Lola, her year-old long-haired dachshund, escaped the blaze and was wandering through the neighborhood. In the days after the fire, the 24-year-old EMT and Northeastern University student posted fliers on telephone poles and walked the neighborhood hoping to find her dog. But as the days turned into weeks, Acevedo began to think that Lola perished in the fire.

But on Monday Acevedo returned to the house to shut off the alarm on a truck she was keeping parked there, and she heard a scratching noise at the boarded-up front door. She immediately knew it was Lola.

Acevedo yelled out her pet's name and with the help of friends, tore the plywood off the entrance. Lola, apparently out of fear, retreated into the blackened interior of the house. But when Acevedo called out her name again, Lola ran into her arms.

"It was a miracle," Acevedo said yesterday, hugging her dog at the Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Jamaica Plain, where Lola is being nursed back to health.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

'Baffling' Dog-Napping in Sterling

A real-life Cruella de Vil nabbed nine puppies from Sterling Animal Shelter Wednesday night, and police are searching for clues in the puzzling crime. Two of the stolen puppies are shown at left.

Leigh Grady, the shelter's executive director, said that when she arrived at work this morning the side door was kicked in and nine puppies were missing, ranging in age from 10 to 14 weeks.

“This morning when I came into the kennel, it was pretty quiet, like they knew something was going on and they were traumatized,” she said.

Grady immediately called police, who took photographs and dusted for fingerprints.

Police Chief Gary Chamberland said police don’t have any idea of who the thief could be, and the department’s best lead was a stolen vehicle that had been abandoned in the area.

Police have reached out to nearby police departments and animal control units, asking people to keep an eye out for the dogs. But, he said, for this type of case, there's no set procedure.

“I’ve never seen this number of dogs taken from a shelter,” said Chamberland. “I would say it’s kind of unusual.”

Neither Grady nor Chamberland could think of any motive for the theft of the mixed-breed dogs.

Staff at the shelter are particularly concerned because all of the puppies were spayed and neutered Wednesday and are in need of medication. Grady is personally offering a $1,000 reward for their return – no questions asked.

“We just want to make sure they’re OK,” she said. “We’re all pretty upset and devastated.”

Anyone with information on the puppies is urged to call the Sterling Animal Shelter at 978-422-8585 or Sterling Police at 978-422-7331.

Bradley Manning Update from AlterNet


As the Treatment of Bradley Manning Grows More Obscene, Reality Becomes Harder to Ignore

By Lynn Parramore, New Deal 2.0
Posted on March 11, 2011, Printed on March 17, 2011

Imagine that you’ve arrived at the local multiplex for a weekend flick. Popcorn in hand, you settle in to watch Matt Damon star in a new thriller as a young American soldier imprisoned by the government for blowing the whistle on crimes witnessed while serving in a foreign country.


(Calendar pages flip by indicating the passage of months. July. August. September. October. Etc.)

The Damon character stands naked in front of his cell. His head is bent over, and he stares blankly at the floor.

GUARD (roughly): “Are you all right? I need a verbal response.”

DAMON CHARACTER (voice shaking): “Yes, I am all right.”

The Damon character is handed his neatly folded underwear.

GUARD: “You give it back at night. Every night. Got it?”


GUARD (turning the lock on the cell door). “Are you all right?”

DAMON CHARACTER (weakly): “Yes, I am all right.”


The Damon character shuffles slowly in a figure eight pattern. He stops to scratch his foot. The guard interrupts.

GUARD: “Exercise is over! You know the rules. No stopping. Are you all right?”

DAMON CHARACTER (robotically): “Yes, I am all right.”

As our movie unfolds, we see the Damon character growing more detached from reality. Every five minutes, he is interrupted with the same question, “Are you all right?” Day in, day out. Each night, he must surrender his clothing, left naked in his cell without a pillow or blanket. Should he roll to a side of the bed where the guards can’t see him, he is immediately awakened. He is kept alone in his cell for 23 hours a day, and his only exercise is an hour of walking in a bare room. If he pauses, he forfeits the rest of his time. The Damon character grows pale; his speech becomes broken, almost indecipherable.

Gradually he becomes catatonic, awaiting a trial that has never been set.

In this Kafkaesque film, the military personnel overseeing the treatment insist to the press that they can’t explain why they strip the soldier because to do so would violate his privacy. They claim that they are isolating him and imposing bizarre restrictions out of concern for his safety. Members of the press corps don’t believe the lies. But they nod in tacit agreement. “Traitor!” they whisper. They deadpan the story, as if it were just another routine case.

If we were watching all this transpire on the screen, we would know how to interpret the story. We would intuit that the soldier is up against some version of Big Brother, the Authoritarian State. We would squirm in our seats, waiting for justice to intervene. If this were a high-quality, complex film, we might not completely sympathize with the motives of Damon’s character or totally agree with his interpretation of the crimes he witnessed. But we would root for him anyway, because as Americans we instinctively reject authoritarian control. We know that the Constitution protects citizens from the trampling of basic rights. And we sense that the violation of one is the violation of all.

Except when it happens in reality. Then we stick our heads in the sand. We make excuses. We say, “but this case is different.”

Even when we do talk, we are careful. Cautious not to sound too soft. Many journalists have covered the detention of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the suspect accused of leaking cables to Wikileaks (Manning, as yet, has been convicted of nothing). But though he has been subjected to exactly the treatment as our fictional example, most — with some brave exceptions — have been reluctant to challenge the military or the U.S. government.

But as the treatment grows more obscene, reality becomes harder to ignore. Some have suggested that the abuse violates Manning’s 8th Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment. A blogger recently called it “borderline torture.” Today, we learn that a spokesman from the State Department called it “ridiculous and stupid.”

Why is it so hard time to call this treatment what it actually is? Torture.

Plain and simple.

Maybe it’s because if we did, we would have to acknowledge truths too painful to bear. We would know that what had once happened to “foreign combatants” is now happening to Americans soldiers, and maybe it will soon happen to civilians, too. So we continue the doublespeak.

“Political language,” wrote George Orwell, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” (”Politics and the English Language“, 1946.)

Orwellian language has justified things in our country’s history that many good citizens knew to be wrong. Slavery. The subjugation of women. The internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Each time, many people failed to call for justice because they didn’t see the victims as full citizens. Or even fully human. Some suggest that Bradley Manning gave up his protection under the U.S. Constitution when he joined the armed forces, an affront to the sacrifice of service if there ever was one. Others have declared him guilty without a trial, an attack on our precious tradition of presumed innocence. The niceties of civilization are jettisoned. The Bill of Rights becomes just a piece of paper.

We wait and we watch as the U.S. government defends itself from whistle blowers by torturing them in plain view. What stronger evidence that there is much to blow the whistle on?

Obama the Commander in Chief, the man who said that “the U.S. does not torture,” does nothing (Update: Friday afternoon, the President personally asked the Pentagon about Manning’s treatment, but says that he was assured that the treatment is “appropriate”). Eric Holder, the country’s chief law enforcement officer, fails to intervene.

How does this story end in reality? Not well, I fear.

Lynn Parramore is the editor of New Deal 2.0, a project of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute.

© 2011 New Deal 2.0 All rights reserved.
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Too Adorable Not to Post!

OKAY SO THIS IS the latest Hayes, Will Edward Andrews, born last month to my nephew (and Godson) Teddy and his lovely wife Mary. I met him Sunday for the first time and he's a little angel. Mary sent this out today and how cute is this?????

And...speaking of Saint Patrick's Day-- the Irish have a proud and long (and, alas, bloody) tradition of fighting injustice and oppression, based primarily on their own experience under 800 years of British imperialistic misrule. The best way we Irish can honor our 'rebel' sires and dames is to continue to fight oppression today-- especially when it comes from our own imperialistic country. We still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq-- the latter was a mistake from the beginning, based on lies, greed, and the hubris of a ne'er-do-well son. The former is the very definition of a quagmire, and the perfect example of throwing good money after bad. These two wars have cost us 3 TRILLION since they began, and one can only imagine what we could have done with this money instead-- the infrastructure, universal health care, education, etc etc etc etc etc -- insanity. And Guantanamo is STILL up and running and STILL keeping people indefinitely without a trial...and Bradley Manning is STILL being held in solitary confinement...and the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest among us have become permanent....I saw graffiti the other day under a bridge in Cambridge, and it very simply said O B A M A = B U S H. There is simply no point in trying to 'reach across the aisle' and compromise with Republicans/Tea Baggers. Obama should have done what every Republican President has done lately, i.e., rammed his agenda through while demonizing the opposition. Oi. Anyway-- Happy St. Patrick's Day from Boston....

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tragic, But No Surprise....

Soldier, loyal dog make final journey

Associated Press / March 11, 2011

LONDON — Liam and Theo were a team, fast friends doing a dangerous job — searching out roadside bombs laid by insurgents in Afghanistan.

The British soldier and his irrepressible dog worked and played together for months, and died on the same day. Yesterday, they came home, flown back to Britain in a somber ceremony for the soldier remembered for his empathy with animals and the companion he loved.

Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, a dog handler with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, was killed in a firefight with insurgents in Helmand Province on March 1 as he searched for explosives with Theo, a bomb-sniffing springer spaniel mix. The dog suffered a fatal seizure hours later at a British army base, probably brought about by stress.

Military officials will not go so far as to say Theo died of a broken heart — but that may not be far from the truth. “I think we often underestimate the grieving process in dogs,’’ said Elaine Pendlebury, a senior veterinarian with animal charity PDSA. “Some dogs react very severely to their partner’s loss.’’

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Words Difficult to Translate

What are the hardest words to translate into English? “Hyggelig” is just one on our list
March 8, 2011

There’s a running debate among translators about what word is hardest to translate. Obviously, the challenges vary from language to language, with languages that have less in common creating more elusive word to word translations. Let’s acknowledge that determining the hardest word to translate is more of a game than any sort of realistic exercise. That said, here are a few contenders that make the hypothetical list.

Jayus is an Indonesian word that conveys the awkward humor behind a joke delivered so badly that you can’t help but laugh. In English, we sarcastically say, “That’s so funny I forgot to laugh.”

Tartle is a Scottish word for the hesitation one feels when introducing people but having forgotten someone’s name.

Prozvonit is a Czech word for “dropped call” but it refers to a mobile phone user who calls, lets the phone ring once then hangs up. The person who was called then dials the caller, saving the caller the cost of the call.

Saudade is a Portuguese word for longing for someone or something that someone has loved and lost. It is stronger than the sense of the English nostalgia.

(A Spanish word, duende, is considered difficult for similar reasons. Learn the exact story, here.)

Cafune is a Brazilian Portuguese verb for running your fingers through someone’s hair tenderly.

The Danish word Hyggelig literally translates as “cozy,” but the modern connotation has more to do with how Danes see themselves.

One of the hardest English words to translate into other tongues is gobbledygook, meaning “jargon-filled language that is difficult to read, maybe intentionally confusing.” It’s based on the onomatopoeic sound of a turkey’s gobble. Given the confusion that language learning students face when deciphering new words that would be a handy word to have available to describe what a poor translation looks like.

Can you think of any other words that would be difficult to translate into English? Let us know.

* Special thanks to Maria and Manny at Alta Language Services

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Eastern Cougar Declared Extinct, Even as They Return to East

Federal researchers declare eastern cougar extinct

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – The "ghost cat" is just that.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday declared the eastern cougar to be extinct, confirming a widely held belief among wildlife biologists that native populations of the big cat were wiped out by man a century ago.

After a lengthy review, federal officials concluded there are no breeding populations of cougars — also known as pumas, panthers, mountain lions and catamounts — in the eastern United States. Researchers believe the eastern cougar subspecies has probably been extinct since the 1930s.

Wednesday's declaration paves the way for the eastern cougar to be removed from the endangered species list, where it was placed in 1973. The agency's decision to declare the eastern cougar extinct does not affect the status of the Florida panther, another endangered wildcat.

Some hunters and outdoors enthusiasts have long insisted there's a small breeding population of eastern cougars, saying the secretive cats have simply eluded detection — hence the "ghost cat" moniker. The wildlife service said Wednesday it confirmed 108 sightings between 1900 and 2010, but that these animals either escaped or were released from captivity, or migrated from western states to the Midwest.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service fully believes that some people have seen cougars, and that was an important part of the review that we did," said Mark McCollough, an endangered species biologist who led the agency's eastern cougar study. "We went on to evaluate where these animals would be coming from."

A breeding population of eastern cougars would almost certainly have left evidence of its existence, he said. Cats would have been hit by cars or caught in traps, left tracks in the snow or turned up on any of the hundreds of thousands of trail cameras that dot Eastern forests.

But researchers have come up empty.

The private Eastern Cougar Foundation, for example, spent a decade looking for evidence. Finding none, it changed its name to the Cougar Rewilding Foundation last year and shifted its focus from confirming sightings to advocating for the restoration of the big cat to its pre-colonial habitat.

"We would have loved nothing more than for there to be a remnant wild population of cougars on the East Coast," said Christopher Spatz, the foundation's president. "We're not seeing (evidence) because they're not here."

Others maintain that wild cougars still prowl east of the Mississippi.

Ray Sedorchuk, 45, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, said he got an excellent look at a cougar last June in rural Bradford County, in northern Pennsylvania. He was in his truck when a reddish-brown animal with a long tail crossed the road. He said he jammed on the brakes, and the cougar stopped in its tracks.

"I could see the body, the tail and the head, the entire animal, perfectly. It's not a bobcat, it's not a housecat, it's a cougar," he said. "It's a sleek animal. It ran low to the ground and stealth-like. It moved with elegance."

Sedorchuk, a freelance writer who spends copious amounts of time in the woods, said he'd always been skeptical of the eastern cougar's existence, even as two of his friends insisted to him that they had seen them in the wild.

And now?

"I believe that they're here, without even thinking twice about it," he said. "I believe there aren't that many, but there are enough where they can get together and breed."

Once widely dispersed throughout the eastern United States, the mountain lion was all but wiped out by the turn of the last century. Cougars were killed in vast numbers, and states even held bounties. A nearly catastrophic decline in white-tailed deer — the main prey of mountain lions — also contributed to the species' extirpation.

McCollough said the last wild cougar was believed to have been killed in Maine in 1938.

The wildlife service treated the eastern cougar as a distinct subspecies, even though some biologists now believe it is genetically the same as its western brethren, which is increasing in number and extending its range. Some experts believe that mountain lions will eventually make their way back East.

The loss of a top-level predator like the cougar has had ecological consequences, including an explosion in the deer population and a corresponding decline in the health of Eastern forests.

"Our ecosystems are collapsing up and down the East Coast, and they're collapsing because we have too many white-tailed deer," said Spatz. "Our forests are not being permitted to regenerate."

Cougars and wolves, he said, would thin the deer herd through direct predation while also acting as "natural shepherds," forcing deer to become more vigilant and "stop browsing like cattle."

Spatz's group would like the federal government to reintroduce cougars and wolves to the eastern United States, though he acknowledged any such plan would come up against fierce resistance.

The wildlife service said Wednesday it has no authority under the Endangered Species Act to reintroduce the mountain lion to the East.