Thursday, February 14, 2019

Tigers and lions and elected officials

African sand on the trade winds
And the sun on the Amazon
As they push the reline buttons down
With dreamland coming on

While the national media and stand-up comedians obsess about whether or not Virginia governor Ralph Northam should resign, after a photo of a man (allegedly Northam) in blackface in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook surfaced, I myself can't stop thinking about the death of Sumatran tiger Melati.

A week ago, the rare tiger was mauled to death in her London Zoo home by a male tiger, Asim, who'd been brought from Ree Park Safari in Denmark to be her potential mate. Melati had previously given birth to three litters of cubs with another Sumatran male tiger, and five of their cubs survive and thrive. Because of the need for genetic diversity in the very endangered population, her previous mate had been moved to Le Parc des FĂ©lins, a zoo southeast of Paris, to start a new family.

Melati and Asim were housed in adjacent enclosures with access to each other's sight and smell for ten days. The tigers reportedly made friendly noises and appeared to have a friendly interest in each other, leading experts to determine that the time was right for an introduction. Almost immediately the encounter became aggressive and Melati was dead, mauled by Asim, despite prepared measures by staff to distract them, including loud noises, flares, and alarms.

Ten days. I took more time than that to introduce Biscotti to Loki and Zamboni. I would have guessed that an appropriate amount of time for rare tigers to live side-by-side, safely separated, before being allowed physical access to one another would be closer to ten months than ten days.

All the other questions that sprung to my mind apparently sprung to the hive mind as well, and were addressed by the authorities. Tranquilizer darts would not act quickly enough, even assuming the correct animal could be accurately targeted. Any introduction of big cats is high risk regardless of how strategically planned. And we just don't know enough about species biology to make artificial insemination reliable or cost effective. While historically there have been some tiger pregnancies from artificial insemination, the success rate is low and the space, expertise, and funding are limited. Ten-year-old Melati was a proven breeder. Seven-year-old Asim had a history of being affectionate with his female species relatives.

But it happened, hindsight has 20/20 vision, and now animal lovers and wildlife conservationists worldwide must mourn the death of an innocent, beautiful creature and precious resource. There's not much more to say about it, and I'll stop thinking about it eventually.

The late Sumatran tiger Melati. Photo credit Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

The story did prompt me to look up another story about a big cat in Denmark. Five years ago, the Copenhagen Zoo euthanized a healthy two-year-old male giraffe because of what it characterized as its duty to avoid inbreeding. Other possible prevention measures, such as sterilization, transfer, or release to the wild were dismissed. The giraffe's genetics were already well-represented in international breeding programs, the care and feeding of a sterile giraffe would displace a more genetically valuable animal, a release to the wild would have a high probability of failure, and zoo policy did not permit the sale of animals.

The zoo not only killed the healthy giraffe, they dismembered it in public ("outside, given the giraffe's size") and fed parts of it to the lions with children present. The public was up in arms, the zoo was matter-of-fact about it ("we would never throw away 200 kilograms of meat").

This controversy took place while I was in the midst of my online Colgate University class about World War II, particularly the development and deployment of the atom bomb. During the course of the course, some of my beliefs shifted.
I surprised myself, because I wouldn't have predicted I'd ever come around to condoning our nuclear attacks on Japan in 1945. But that's one of the purposes of education, to broaden your perspective, to explore alternative paradigms.
One of our weekly discussion prompts was to explore the reactions of the scientists and military personnel upon witnessing the Trinity test. I reflected on the story of the giraffe in my response. [Note: at the time it was my understanding that neither giraffes nor lions were considered endangered species. Those facts have subsequently changed.]

Here in part are the thoughts I posted
Reactions varied greatly, from elation, to depression, to just another day's work. ...

Different reactions can be chalked up to different personalities, values, world views, contexts, backgrounds and visions. During the Manhattan Project, I think all the Los Alamos scientists had a sort of tunnel vision, to get the gadget designed and engineered. Having spent years of six- and seven-day weeks driving toward that one goal, it makes sense that all the next steps, testing and deployment, were only logical. Why go through those years to create something and then, when it worked even better than their wildest dreams, just walk away.

Writing this I thought about the story in the news about the Copenhagen zoo that has been so roundly criticized for euthanizing a healthy young giraffe (and feeding its body to the lions - in public) and then euthanizing four lions, including two cubs. Harsh as that sounds, neither giraffes nor lions are endangered species. In the wild they'd be culled by natural predators. We think nothing of thinning out wildlife such as deer when they get too prolific and disruptive. We eat poultry and meat raised to be butchered as expeditiously as they can be brought to market.

Perhaps the zoo could have been more discreet about its actions, less unapologetic in its attitude But as I thought it through, my initial reaction of outrage changed to reluctant acceptance.

So much in life is a matter of context.
All things considered, I still find it hard to rationalize the gratuitous death of Melati. But we accept, we grieve, we move on. There are no alternative choices.

And now I want to circle back and talk about the implications of donning blackface.

Note that Northam now denies that he was either of the costumed fellows.

I’m not sure how the editors of the Eastern Virginia Medical School thought that this was an appropriate photo to publish in 1985. My daughter was born that year and I’m quite certain it wasn’t in the dark ages. Racism was not acceptable. Well it was never acceptable, but by 1985 it was long out of the closet, with bright light shining upon it, and no one should have been so oblivious or indifferent to it.

Now I’ve never so much as been to a costume party where anyone wore blackface, or known anyone that did to my knowledge. I have no clue why anyone would think it amusing, but I confess I wasn’t tuned in to just how offensive it is. Clearly a Ku Klux Klan costume crosses a line. But where exactly is that line?

I grew up with parents who listened to Al Jolson records and thought nothing of the fact that he performed in blackface. They just liked the music, and America was still culturally unenlightened about demeaning black stereotypes. But then Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King and the sixties happened and there were no more excuses for insensibility.

Blackface is something I’ve never pondered deeply before. At first I thought it might go to intent. Was harm meant? But after seeing the photo and on reflection, I’ve concluded that it’s intrinsically derogatory. I can't think of any instance where it would be socially acceptable.

Should Northham resign? That’s a slightly different question, and one I can’t answer. I probably would, if I were him, but then I wouldn’t have been in blackface to begin with. My mistakes have been different. But I’ve made them, and I’d like to think that people can grow, change, evolve.

The issue is more clouded because it might not even be Northham in the photo, although at first he said it was him, then he back-peddled. For me it would be simpler if he’d just said, I was an idiot, and I’m sorry. His denial is more troubling, and after all, it was on his yearbook page. And he does admit to having worn blackface, just not that time.

Bottom line, blackface has nothing on sexually assaulting an underage girl. You won’t go to jail for it. It’s not a perfect world , and we can’t fix every lapse of judgment retroactively. I wouldn’t vote for a candidate if I knew he’d ever worn blackface, but if I found out that I inadvertently had, I’d forgive myself.

And I’d move on.

So many things, so much to move on from.


It's a long, long way from Canada
A long way from snow chains
Donkey vendors slicing coconut
No parkas to their name
Black babies covered in baking flour
The cook's got a carnival song
We're going to lay down someplace shady
With dreamland coming on
Dreamland, dreamland
Dreamland, dreamland

Walter Raleigh and Chris Columbus
Come marching out of the waves
And claim the beach and all concessions
In the name of the suntan slave
I wrapped that flag around me
Like a Dorothy Lamour sarong
And I lay down thinking national
With dreamland coming on
Dreamland, dreamland
Dreamland, dreamland

Good time Mary and a fortune hunter
All dressed up to follow the drums
Mary in a feather hula-hoop
Miss Fortune with a rose on her big game gun
All saints, all sinners shining
Heed those trumpets all night long
Propped up on a samba beat
With dreamland coming on
Dreamland, dreamland
Dreamland, dreamland

Tar baby and the Great White Wonder
Talking over a glass of rum
Burning on the inside
With the knowledge of things to come
There's gambling out on the terrace
And midnight ramblin' on the lawn
As they lead toward temptation
With dreamland coming on
Dreamland, dreamland
Dreamland, dreamland

In a plane flying back to winter
In shoes full of tropic sand
A lady in a foreign flag
On the arm of her Marlboro Man
The hawk howls in New York City
Six foot drifts on Myrtle's lawn
As they push the recline buttons down
With dreamland coming on
Dreamland, dreamland
Dreamland, dreamland

African sand on the trade winds
And the sun on the Amazon
As they push the reline buttons down
With dreamland coming on
Dreamland, dreamland
Dreamland, dreamland

(Joni Mitchell © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Crazy Crow Music / Siquomb Music Publishing)

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Local Acting

Now with the wisdom of years, I try to reason things out
And the only people I fear are those who never have doubts

Time keeps flying by.

I took most of the month off from selling beads. Well, to be more accurate, Beads of Courage asked me for another 150 pairs and I actually got to sit down and make them, most of them, after pulling what I could from inventory. Then I had a couple of orders from one of my regular customers, another 80 beads.

Also, on my first day of ceramics class after the holiday break, I found out that there is a show called Home Grown for local artists. An entry could be any media, but the deadline was exactly one week away. So I spent several days stressing about whether to enter, and if I did, how to best showcase some of my beads, because one bead wouldn't be much of an entry for an art show.

I kicked it around with my ceramics teacher, who came by with her daughter to watch me make beads. Before the holidays I traded a bunch of my beads for a bunch of my teacher's ceramic work. She wanted the beads for her daughter who likes to make jewelry. Her daughter is about the same age as mine, but has some sort of developmental disability. They were both interested in seeing how I made my beads.

My teacher encouraged me to put a piece in the show. In the end I decided to make a simple necklace, with a heart focal and 40 of my little dot beads, all strung of a leather cord with ceramic disk spacers. I wanted it to be as authentic as could be, so I didn’t use Czech beads or a purchased clasp like I usually would.

Then there was the problem of presentation. I didn’t want to just hand it over. It’s too fragile for a pedestal, and I could just imagine someone knocking it over and having it come apart or having beads shatter. I did a lot of mental gyrations trying to figure out a frame to mount it on. I wound up going to Home Goods and buying a shadow box and using straight pins to affix the necklace to the backing cloth. It isn’t perfect but I got it done in time to submit it.

During the same week I was also stressing about my knitting class. I'd signed up for a mitten class using a two color fair isle style pattern at a local shop. The homework was to cast on using double-pointed needles and to knit the first nine rows. My first try was a disaster, but I managed to do it well enough on the second try to call it good enough. I was still a bit worried about the class. The prerequisite was having experience with DPNs, and as you know, I've only just relearned how to cast on. I haven't even knit a scarf yet.

I showed up early for the class. The teaching space is just a table in the shop. There were eight seats. I met the teacher and asked where she was sitting. She said she'd be walking around as it was a full class. I chose my seat. I said, I'm just learning to knit. The teacher acted shocked. She said, this isn't a beginner class. I said, I managed to do the homework. I said, I'll do my best to keep up, and if I can't, I'll just watch.

As it turned out, I didn't have much trouble at all. The class was mostly about reading the color chart and that wasn't rocket science, although repeating the 10 stitched four times seemed to boggle the mind of at least one other woman. I did have some trouble controlling my needles. One kept slipping out. The teacher suggested I try wooden needles instead of the metal ones I'd gotten from Amazon. So I paid twice as much for a set from the shop and it really did make a difference.

When I got home, I ripped out everything and started over. During the week, I finished the patterned part of the mitts. Both of them. I was kind of stuck on the next step, the thumb gusset. But that's what the second class was for, right? I've almost finished both mittens now.


So all this to say, I've been busy. Too busy to spend much time making beads and definitely too busy to sell them online. I've decided not to work it as hard as I have been for the last few years. I did list a few beads in the last week and had some bids and purchases. So I may continue to list them as time allows, but I'm not going to flog the horse very much. If they sell, great. If they don't, I'll stop listing again. I'll hope that Beads of Courage will continue to buy them, and I'll have inventory when and if.

This time of year is when I usually have my physical tuneup, so to speak. I've been to the dentist, and I'm getting a new night guard, so I'll be going back for that. I had my annual eye exam, and I'm really excited about new glasses, both for vision reasons and because I haven't liked the glasses I've worn this past year. Not only are they not especially flattering, the frames keep chipping. Neil has touched them up with a sharpie, several times. I am very much looking forward to my new ones.

I can hear my mom's voice in my mind. Vanity, thy name is woman, she'd say.

I'm well due for a hair trim and maybe some fun color. I've come to love my hair, but some shaping and new ends are in order. I don't miss the tyranny of monthly color and cuts, but twice a year or so seems reasonable. I've also gone au naturale with my nails, but suddenly I'm craving a pedicure. No point in getting a manicure as long as I'm taking ceramics. I do well to keep my hands from drying out an getting those little painful skin cracks. Plus nails get in the way when you are trying to smooth a clay seam or score and slip pieces together.

In other news, we're doing all the usual. Smoothies on Fridays. Watching a lot of PBS, rewatching the Upstairs Downstairs (the sequel). Reading The Attenbury Emeralds together, and I'm reading Pippa Passes by Rumer Godden myself. Playing trivia games with Alexa. We are killing Jeopardy.

I finished my wall hanging, which in a way was a prototype for the wall hanging I want to make for the bonus room, where we usually watch TV and I walk on the treadmill. I crocheted it to a curtain rod and Neil hung it in the bedroom.


I'm pleased with the way it turned out and looking forward to starting the next one. I've been collecting yarn specifically for that one.

I'm still buying yarn, but not as much as I was. I started another blanket while I was waiting for other yarn to come so that I could start the next scarf on my list, and now I'm caught up in the blanket. I'm using an assortment of colors from my stash and I am learning so much about different weights and fibers that way. I find it strangely hard to dip into my stash, because if I use the colors then I won't have them any more, if that makes sense. Already I've alternately regretted buying so much of certain brands and blends, and falling in love with certain others to the degree that I'm searching the internet to find more of an elusive color.

Neil continues to be a news junkie and suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome. He obsesses about candidates for the 2020 presidential election until I say that my brain will explode if we talk about it any more. I have a cynical attitude because if Trump won once when it seemed so impossible, he could win again easily. But mostly it's way to soon for me to spin my wheels worrying about it. I tell Neil he needs to get a job to take his mind off things. I tell him he is good at cursing the darkness. I tell him to get involved in local politics.

Act locally. That's my new motto. Accept the things you cannot change. It's all small stuff. Don't pet the sweaty things. Above all, bloom where you are planted.

So that's the scoop


Some things were perfectly clear, seen with the vision of youth
No doubts and nothing to fear, I claimed the corner on truth
These days it's harder to say, I know what I'm fighting for
My faith is falling away, I'm not that sure anymore

Shades of grey wherever I go
The more I find out the less that I know
Black and white is how it should be
But shades of grey are the colors I see

Once there were trenches and walls, and one point of every view
Fight 'til the other man falls, kill him before he kills you
These days the edges are blurred, I'm old and tired of war
I hear the other man's words, I'm not that sure anymore

Shades of grey are all that I find
When I look to the enemy line
Black and white was so easy for me
But shades of grey are the colors I see

Now with the wisdom of years, I try to reason things out
And the only people I fear are those who never have doubts
Save us all from arrogant men, and all the causes they're for
I won't be righteous again, I'm not that sure anymore

Shades of grey are all that I find
When I look to the enemy line
There ain't no rainbows shining on me
Shades of grey are the colors I see

Shades of grey wherever I go
The more I find out the less that I know
There ain't no rainbows shining on me
Shades of grey are the colors I see


(Billy Joel © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Golden age

Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees
Please.

The clusterfluke that is our government du jour aside, I believe we are living in a golden bubble.

By which I mean to say that I am. I am living in a golden bubble. I can speak only for myself.

And by golden bubble I mean that I have everything I need at this ten seconds of the universe's unfolding.

Moreover, I am living my life as I choose. I don't have to work for my living. I only have to live.

And I don't foresee this changing. Whatever time I have left on this planet, which I estimate to be another 20 to 30 years if all goes well, all I have to do is to keep living.

Keep getting up in the morning, filling my days with the things I love, going to bed at night, and doing it all again the next day. One day at a time.

For me, right this minute, that means I am typing this in my sunny bedroom office. I just finished making a round of beads. In a little while I will make another cup of coffee and crochet a few rows on my current work in progress. I will walk on the treadmill for 50 minutes and finish the Netflix series I am watching. Later Neil will read to me, we'll fix dinner, we'll watch another show or two, I'll crochet a bit more, then take a bath and read until it's time to go to sleep.

There's a bigger picture though.I really believe we are living in a golden age, and at the same time I believe we are killing our planet. The oceans are continuing to warm. Species are going extinct. Men continue to go to war with each other. People continue to procreate.

When I was born, the world's population was 2,724,302,468, give or take. Today it is 7,714,576,923 or thereabouts. You can do the math.

We're ravishing our resources. We're exhausting fossil fuels, while spending more money on space exploration than on alternative energy.

And don't tell me we will be building a colony in space. We can't even figure out how to live on our planet long-term, we don't deserve to screw up another world.

And look, if we don't engineer our own demise, geological history tells us that something eventually will. If it isn't a nuclear weapon, it might be an asteroid hitting earth, or the Yellowstone caldera erupting. There have been ice ages before, mass eradication of life such as it was, and I'd not take it for granted that there won't be another. Others.

I think how far we have come. Simple comforts such as indoor plumbing and lighting are mere zygotes in geologic time. We have antibiotics, miracle drugs to combat our ills, but we are spending little on research for alternatives while earthly bacteria grows more resistant. Why? Because the money isn't there. We're encouraged to minimize use of antibiotics, so the research money goes to long-term maintenance drugs, because that is where the profits lie.

Yet we are so lucky. We can get into our cars and drive where we choose. But cars have only been rolling off the lines for a century or so. Commercial air travel was a glint in someone's eye a century ago, yet now we can jet all over the globe. We can live where we choose and simply fly across the country to visit our families.

We carry computers in the form of smart phones wherever we go, we talk and text wirelessly over the miles, we are always in touch at the touch of a touchscreen.

Think about this in terms of the geologic clock analogy. The earth formed some 4.6 billion years ago and primitive life dates back about 3.9 billion years. Think about the age of the Earth as a clock, with formation at 12 am and today at midnight. Dinosaurs were around for about one hour - until just 20 minutes ago. Human-like beings date back only to the last two minutes, modern humans arrived in the last few seconds.

Think how long it took us homo sapiens to come as far as we've come. Think about how much of our progress has taken place in the past 100 years.

I personally don't think we'll be here to see much of the next geologic day. Enjoy it while you can, do what you can to act locally, but don't assume your great-grandkids will have the same privilege. They might, they might not.

If I was young today, I don't think I'd want to have children. Well, I would, in a selfish sense, because cute babies, but I don't like the direction the world is headed in.

And that has nothing or little to do with politics and politicians.

Anyway, I'll continue to be good for goodness' sake. I'll recycle plastics and try to minimize my carbon footprint. I'll love my children and grandchildren and hope for the best and try not to dwell on the worst. I'll live in the present and enjoy the hell out of every golden moment.

And I'll keep making art for art's sake and for the sake of anyone who has the chance to appreciate it. Just because life is transient doesn't mean it shouldn't be beautiful while it lasts.


They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
And they charged all the people
A dollar and a half to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Hey farmer farmer
Put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees
Please
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Late last night
I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi
Took away my old man
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot.


(Joni Mitchell © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Crazy Crow Music / Siquomb Music Publishing)