...about the greatest show on earth being the bird feeder on the south end of our deck. Last night we had cocktails on the north end so as not to disturb the feeder birds, and a female Anna's Hummingbird hovered nearby, scoping us out, and then vanished. Turns out that she's nesting there, perhaps three meters west of our grill. Wondering what construction materials she used for the nest? Lichen.
Yesterday afternoon, after we got everything unpacked, I installed a bird feeder we brought up from California. It’s a screened ball, black, designed to dispense sunflower seeds. The plan was to start simple because I haven’t had a bird feeder since we sold our previous house in 1998 and moved aboard a sailboat.
It was windy yesterday afternoon and the birds never discovered the feeder. This morning, however, a few hours after daybreak, the first Chestnut-backed Chickadee showed up, somewhat tentatively. Knowing that songbirds tend forage visually, I’d lined up sunflower seeds on the rail of our deck, my way of inviting the neighbors for breakfast. It worked.
For the first hour or so the chickadees would approach furtively, snatch the nearest seed off the rail and then streak away in near panic, flying a good thirty meters into the forest before landing to eat. Red-chested Nuthatches would perch on nearby trees, watching to determine whether the chickadees would suffer negative consequences for stealing seed. They didn’t join in until the seeds on the deck were all consumed and the seeds on the ball were finally being purloined.
By noon, at any moment there would be half a dozen birds within a couple meters of the feeder, taking their turns one at a time extracting seeds. The flock, if I can call them that, was equally distributed between chickadees and nuthatches; a Brown Creeper landed on the nerest Douglas-fir, but didn't help itself to seeds. Same with a Black-headed Grosbeak. I'm expecting him to return any moment now.
I was supposed to do two things today: install the screens and write a book. The screens went up slowly, but they were in by lunchtime. By then, the first Dark-eyed Junco showed up. It seemed disappointed that only sunflower seed were being offered, and didn’t stick around long.
We decided early on not to equip the cabin with television—after all I have a book to write this summer. But now I’m worried that an ever greater distraction has made its way into our world.
(By the way, the blurred blue in the background of the photo above is Lopez Sound, as viewed from my bedroom. It's what the real-estate adds call a "filtered view," the filter in this case being a couple hundred evergreens between the cabin and the water. )
If you were surprised by the president's decision to renege on the Paris climate accords, you haven't been paying attention.
Last month, the Secretary of the Interior cancelled all meetings being held by such agencies as the US Park Service. This included scheduled meetings of more than 200 boards and committees until at least September. The rationale was that this would provide the opportunity to restore trust in the department's decision-making process.
One of the groups whose meeting was cancelled was the California Landscape Conservation Collaborative. Like all the groups whose agendas were frozen, they've been asked to report on why they were meeting and what they were meeting about. Their report will no doubt mention an important project to model sea level rise in the salt marshes of coastal California.
Wanna bet that they'll never meet again during this presidency?
This blog was specifically requested by a customer service agent of the New York Times. Really.
I called the Times this morning to cancel my subscription as part of a boycott that resulted from the Times adding climate-denier Bret Stephens to its editorial staff. This boycott seems to have gained considerable traction over the weekend, as was attested to by the 29 minutes I was on hold before I could talk to a customer services agent. (One can’t cancel a subscription online, strangely enough, although it’s possible to subscribe online.)
When asked for the reason for my cancellation, I said that I was cancelling because the NYT could not longer be considered a reliable news source if it was hiring journalists who don’t believe in climate change. The I was asked specifically whether this was in regard to “the Bret Stephens situation.”
What happened next surprised and delighted me: when I answered yes, that this was indeed in regard to “the Bret Stephens situation,” I was told, “If you blog, we are encouraging you to blog about why you are cancelling your subscription.”
Wow. One has to appreciate a bit of subterfuge. Even if the editor-in-chief of the NYT has lost his bearings, the rank and file working for the venerable paper seem determined to resist the insanity.
The final question, ironically, was whether there was anything the customer services agent could do to retain me as a loyal subscriber. I told her simply, “Get rid of Bret Stephens.”
Of course, she had already taken measures to accomplish this.
It’s a good thing I have no desire to teach at the University of Iowa.
An Iowa state legislator just proposed a bill that, if passed, will force the university to consider the political affiliation of potential faculty hires. The legislation would insure a parity among faculty where representation of one political party needed to be within ten percent of the other. In other words, if 55% of your faculty were Democrat, no fewer than 45% could be Republican.
Of course, even someone who registers Republican can vote for a Democrat slate. Which means that if this legislation passes and you are so desperate for a tenure-track job that you’re willing to move to Iowa, it makes sense to register as a member of the GOP. Registration is free, and can be switched the moment you’re awarded tenure.
I’m thinking that in the future the good state of Iowa is going to get the faculty it deserves, regardless of whether this bill passes.
On Friday I signed on to a petition of academics who are against the Trump administration’s executive order on immigration. As of this afternoon—it’s Sunday as I write this—my name has not shown up on the petition, which I take as a good sign. With thousands of signatures flooding in, it will take the volunteers a good amount of time to make certain that all the signatories have valid appointments at colleges and universities.
Over the past decade the percentage of international students enrolled in my classes has increased on a yearly basis. The advantages of this are numerous, not the least of which is an increase in diverse perspectives in classroom discussions, which benefits all my students. Additionally, it increases my university’s ability to be more selective in terms of our admissions because we draw on a deeper pool of candidates. Ultimately, a more talented pool of students helps my university accomplish its mission, our effort to build a more just, humane and sustainable world.
I like the fact that many of my students have returned to their home countries in the developing world where they are able to make significant contributions regarding environmental issues because of something they may have learned in my class. I invest a great deal in my students, and it’s good to know that this investment doesn’t stop at the border. I became an educator to help change the world, not merely to enrich my countrymen.
By and large, the international students I’ve taught have been among the hardest working, most appreciative students in my classes. They tend not to come to college with a sense of entitlement; few if any are here to join fraternities and bask in the party scene. Most are succeeding despite studying in a second language within a strange and distracting culture, and I deeply respect their efforts.
Having earned my PhD abroad, and having conducted my doctoral research in a country other than the country where I was studying, I have a unique appreciation of how higher education has become globalized. I can’t imagine what would have happened to my own studies had Scotland suddenly decided to cancel my visa, of if Mexico had decided that I could no longer research within its sovereign borders.
Knowledge doesn’t stop at the borders; nor should the pursuit of knowledge. That’s why I signed.
It's the climate, stupid!
I imagine myself wearing a pussyhat as I write this.
My favorite sign from the rallies yesterday is one that proclaimed, "Make America Think Again." There's a basic appeal there to the educator in me.
I honestly don't know what to think about the recent election. I was in the Cascade mountains during the last month of the campaign, far from any TV signal. Indeed, I was residing at remote field stations without access to television most of the time from mid-June through Christmas. It was heaven, other than for missing the World Series. I was able to keep up with internet news, maintaining subscriptions to the Washington Post and the New York Times. Those subscriptions didn't turn out to be all that helpful, although the coverage of game seven of the World Series was sufficient.
I re-entered mainstream urban life just as the president elect was announcing cabinet selections, appointing foxes to rule the roost in every chicken coop. Finding the news a bit too dreary, I decided not to renew the New York Times, subscribing instead to The New Yorker. I may not be getting better coverage, but the prose is superior. I'm thinking that I'll need elevated prose to make it through the Trump administration.
The Donald doesn't follow my blog unless he's doing so under a pseudonym. I'm cool with that, because I don't follow his Twitter stream, but I wish I had the opportunity to let him know that he's turned me into a one-issue voter, something I've resisted in the twelve presidential elections in which I've participated so far. From now on, I'm voting climate. Period. And after watching the TV coverage of all those inspiring women's marches, I've decided that climate is a woman's issue.
Let's make America think again, indeed.
According to the World Factbook run by the Central Intelligence Agency, Mexico’s total revenue for last year was only $269 billion, which caused them a budget deficit of over $30 billion. You can check those numbers here: https://www.cia.gov/Library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2056.html. The reason for Mexico’s budgetary crisis is a recent slump in oil prices; Mexico happens to be the 7th largest oil producer in the world. As a result, Mexico is currently in an austerity program, having already slashed $10 billion from this year’s budget.
The President Elect of the USA has been trying to convince us that Mexico will pay for a border wall he wants to build, which he claims will cost $12 billion. That’s a low-ball estimate, however. A study published in the MIT Technology Review estimated the cost of Trump’s wall at $38 billion. Again, you can find this information courtesy of the CIA World Factbook: https://www.cia.gov/Library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2056.html
So here’s the math: even if they wanted to pay for Trump’s wall, which they don’t, it would cost 14% of their total annual revenue. To put that into perspective, that would be more than double the country’s entire budget for public education, including higher education.
Anyone who tells you that Mexico will pay the costs of Trump’s wall is either terribly naive, horribly dishonest, or really bad at math.
With apologies to all who have proclaimed 2016 a terrible year and who will rejoice that it’s over, I must confess that it’s been a pretty good year for me. Why? Here’s a hint: my sabbatical ends on January 1st.
I actually kept my 2016 New Year’s resolution, which was not to exceed 65 mph while driving. I adopted this measure because I knew that I’d drive a lot more during my sabbatical, including three trips south to Santa Barbara and a mega-trip north to the Canadian border. And I would have to take the pickup since much of my research would involve travel on logging roads or ranch roads.
The other good thing about 2016 is that I finally qualified for a lifetime senior pass for all national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, et cetera. Best ten dollars I ever spent.
We will be sailing today to our New Year’s destination, so I won’t be on the road again in 2016. I’ve kinda enjoyed the slow lane, believe it or not, and will probably keep the cruise control set at 65 in the future. I’ve discovered that I can lower my carbon footprint and still manage to get where I’m going on time.
Journal of Natural Hist. Ed.
Natural History Institute
Center for Humans & Nature