My new post over at This or That:
My new post over at This or That:
I just read the disheartening news that Worldchanging is closing its virtual doors. Where will I go now for thought provoking sustainability essays? I hope the idea of bright green environmentalism will live on and thrive regardless.
Why was I not informed about the honey badger? This is an animal that wakes up from a puff adder venom induced coma, staggers to its feet and thinks, "Man, that was a wicked adder nap. Know what would really hit the spot right now? More puff adder."
Discovered via Cracked: https://www.cracked.com/article_18860_6-animals-that-just-dont-give-f2340k.html
Crowds gathered round to see the beautiful animals at the zoo today, and displayed a frightful amount of ignorance as they did so. I feel I must report:
People mistook the African wild dogs for spotted hyenas because the two are rotated through the same enclosures and apparently, if there’s a sign that says “hyena” on it, that must be what you’re looking at, even if it’s actually a multi-colored canine that looks nothing like the picture of a spotted hyena on the same sign, and even if the actual hyenas can be seen simply by turning your head to the left and looking in the adjacent enclosure.
“It’s a Savannah Stalker!” This is what people think servals are called, because the sign giving information about them is titled “The Savannah Stalker,” with “serval” written in smaller type down below. There's no excuse for the person who thought that this was a bobcat.
“It’s an anteater. I didn’t know they got so big!” They don’t, lady, and they don’t spend much time submerged in water, either. Ok, apparently they are capable swimmers, but think about it: do ants live under water? Don't answer that. You’re in the pachyderm house, and you’re looking at a Malayan tapir. Don’t worry, your small son is smarter than you and is happy to correct you.
Finally, parents seem to have slacked off on their duty to tell their children not to pound on aquarium glass as it harasses the fish or other animals inside. I'm not saying the kids are dumb, because they're just kids. All I'm saying is that a responsible adult needs to step up and threaten to throw them in with the Siamese crocodile if they don't stop tapping on its glass.
Luckily people weren't the only thing on display, and I'll talk about the actual animals in a minute.
Despite the fact that I’m usually solar powered when it comes to work and the sky was drearily gray and threatening rain and it was quite cool again today, I felt strangely energetic rather than lethargic. Maybe because the northern properties of Ryan, Andrea and Jacob are some of my favorite in the whole system. They feel remote and quiet and there’s a beautiful valley surrounded by hills whose steep slopes bear dark shale, the favorite habitat of the endemic Bell’s twinpod (e.g. these and these). It was the first place I saw a sand lily, and on this day another flower new to me. So despite the abundant cacti and steep slopes I always enjoy working in this area.
This morning as we attempted a difficult grid around one of the hills we were serenaded by snipes, whose ethereal call always seems nearby and all around even though the birds themselves are difficult to spot. And a peacock or two on a nearby farm, whose blaring cry is better suited to a humid jungle and reminds me of the Denver zoo. And a little later, a rooster’s crowing, the sound of which, after all these years, still reminds me of daybreak in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. We found noticeably less Med sage than in my previous summers, a welcome change, and I always enjoy the great view to be had from the hilltops. Turning to the east, away from the valley, you can see a tipi on another hill a ways off, and to the south, two giant radio dishes at the table mountain antenna site. It always seems surreal to me, to be in a grassland well outside the city where the sparse human inhabitants operate goat dairies and pick-and-pay organic vegetable farms, and here are these monumental pieces of advanced technology just sitting on the hillside, isolated from any obvious origin, purpose or user. Kind of sci-fi.
Also, the rattlesnakes wisely stay inside when it’s cold.
This post comes early or late, depending on your geographic position, but we've still got a few minutes yet till 8:30 local time, so it's not technically late from my point of view. I was thinking of things to do during Earth Hour:
*Trivial Pursuit, anyone? Play board games.
*A stroll through the neighborhood at night can be fun.
*Munch on food prepared without electricity.
*Try to read by candlelight and be thankful for electricity.
*Your electronic toys are all effectively broken for an hour and reading isn't much of an option. After you've played a game or two, what could you and your significant other possibly do to pass the time in your dark, romantically candlelit dwelling? Hmm...
So we had a good walk the other day, setting out from our apartment through the neighborhood and the big nearby open space via trails and sidewalks to explore a different open space we’d never been to before. On the way back, we stopped at the clubhouse for some free tea and coffee, and then walked to the grocery store to pick up a few things before having dinner at a local pizza place and finally returning home. This combination of walking for both recreation and utility in the same trip would have been very unlikely only four and a half miles away in the neighborhood where I grew up, but it is quite easy here.
This neighborhood, at least our section of it, was built around 2003 and seems to have had at least a modicum of thought put into it. It consists of high quality apartments and townhomes, with restaurants and businesses built into the neighborhood along a main street, and single-family detached houses, which, although much, much too large in my opinion, are nonetheless quite attractive with varied designs, hidden rear garages and lots of neat little parks interspersed to make up for the fact that the houses occupy almost their entire lot and are very close together. Solar pv’s on the roofs are quite common. And, even unfinished though it is with the aforementioned empty lots, there’s a lot of necessities and community assets within a short walk for everyone in the neighborhood.
Oddly, as if to emphasize how nice it is, there’s an adjacent block of houses west of us that, despite being built only a year earlier, are depressingly 20th century. They’re big and blocky, ugly and monotonous, with comparatively few parks, no mix of housing types, and no businesses. You’d think nothing had been learned since the days when my parent’s house was built.
My parent's house and the neighborhood where I grew up are old fashioned in all the wrong ways. The neighborhood is a typical late 20th century American suburban neighborhood, dating to about 1980. It's a big rectangle of single family detached houses dropped on the landscape like a bomb just beyond the preexisting edge of the city. The houses are a study in how not to design a house. They’re drafty, dark, inefficient, and generally look like a large car garage with a sad living quarters attached to it. They care nothing for the landscape or their orientation relative to the sun, and the limited number of designs repeat, creating a confusing labyrinth along the unnecessarily wide streets.
For comparison, I used Google Earth to find useful things within a
Here's a list:
Parent’s house (built about 1979):
* Recreation: good access to parks, open spaces, trails, and rec centers.
*Schools: a public elementary, middle and high school.
*Restaurants: 3 (1 local coffee place at
1 local burrito place about same distance and a Starbucks at
*Gas stations: 1 at
*A small amount of other business and retail.
[To be fair, a number of things nearly make the cut: a Sonic at
*Recreation: good access to parks, open spaces, trails, and rec centers.
*Schools: 1 pre-school, 1 k-12 private school and a community college.
*Restaurants: ~30 ranging from fast food to coffee places to casual to slightly more fine dining.
*Grocery stores: 2 (3 if you count Walgreens, 4 if you count the new Walmart being built.)
*1 public library.
*Gas stations: 2.
*Various other retail and businesses.
Our new neighborhood has the same strengths as my parent’s neighborhood (good access to recreation and schools) plus a lot more. It’s the clear winner for providing its residents with lots of the things they need and want within a short, easy walk. However, just because something is within a mile radius doesn't mean it's a mile walk. Everything is farther away when you account for the often meandering paths one must take to reach one's destination. This makes it even more important that developments have well designed density with things close at hand. Again using Google Earth I determined the distance by the shortest walking route to a couple destinations in each neighborhood.
Walking route to the nearest restaurant:
Walking to the grocery store:
But it could be even better. For instance:
*The neighborhood could be more bike friendly – our apartments should rent bike lockers in addition to the car ports and garages.
*All the roof space on top of the apartments is wasted. It should be used for community gardens, or covered in solar panels, or a mix of the two.
*The houses here are way too big.
*The neighborhood should be even denser with more apartments and townhomes and yet more businesses, all without sacrificing comfort.
*Better access to public transit like buses and rail (which should exist.)
Will people get out of their cars if walking is a reasonable alternative? I do. Given all the benefits, personal and ecological, of a dense, walkable neighborhood, I can’t understand why anyone would ever be allowed to again build like they did in the bad old days of the late 20th century.
To all the conservative Christians grousing about the passage of health care reform: do you think Jesus would ever imply that poor people are poor because they're lazy, sick people are sick because they deserve to be, and only those rich enough to afford it should have access to health care?
Wow, what a wasteland this blog is, huh? Not updated in three quarters of a year. Maybe its purpose no longer seemed defined to me, since my fiance and I moved to a new neighborhood and I no longer visit or clean up the field regularly. Also, laziness.
Speaking of wastelands, there are two empty lots, one west of the restaurants and another east of the clubhouse, on opposite sides of the pleasant apartment/townhouse neighborhood we live in now. The west one was graded at the same time as the rest of the neighborhood back in 2002, and since then a bank has been built in one corner and some townhomes in another corner, and a strange road to nowhere paved through the middle of it, but most of it remains ceded to the weeds. The developers haven't even gotten that far with the other one. Neatly hidden from view in the neighborhood by a fence, the area was graded in 2006, and the development that was started has yet to be finished. Concrete gutters define streets never paved and the edges of nonexistent sidewalks. Water lines were apparently installed, shown by manhole covers, fire hydrants and sewer line caps. And that's it. Concrete lines and rusting iron circles that will disappear beneath colonizing plants in a few years time if no one does anything with it. Prairie dogs will return, and snakes likely already find the heaps of broken concrete piled down the middle of one of the non-streets to be excellent habitat.
I find it interesting to explore, as I would any ruin, although it isn't so much a ruin as a complete failure to build in the first place, which is itself an interesting occurrence. And if, as I suspect, this and the other lot represent small ruins of the unsustainable, then its return to nature is fine with me. But if someone built a dense, walkable neighborhood with a few more restaurants or other businesses to add to the local repertoire there, I wouldn't mind.
Real pirates, of course, weren’t free-spirited, swashbuckling rogues with hearts of gold. They didn’t swing onto your man-o-war, grin irrepressibly as they humiliated the stuffy Admiral in a sword fight, and sweep his oppressed daughter off her feet all while making off with the gold, gunpowder and spices. No, they killed you and then took your things. Oppressed daughter? Raped, and then probably killed too. Modern pirates are also like that, except even scarier because now instead of dueling pistols and rapiers they have assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
It was through that lens that I first heard about the now rampant piracy occurring in the lawless waters of the Gulf of Aden off the coasts of the “country” of Somalia. Somalia, failed state that it is, provides a safe harbor for criminals, and U.S. and U.N. navies claim they can’t be everywhere at once. So pirates raid at will, boarding ships, taking hostages and stealing cargo. They’ve become increasingly bold, even hijacking an oil tanker laden with oil. It’s terrorism at sea, making the world a slightly darker and scarier place.
But what’s this? It turns out that many of the pirates were only local fishermen or desperate youths a few years ago, driven to piracy by the horrible conditions of their homeland and competition with foreign fishing operations. Referenced here and here, the environmental degradation caused by the foreigners, who have apparently polluted the waters and killed off the fish, has rendered them unable to survive by fishing. So now piracy is the best game in town, the only industry that’s hiring and pays well. And Somalia is such a shambles that the pirates are actually boosting the local economy. When the pirates come ashore, they spend their ill-gotten money in local villages. The poor people in those places are taking the pirates’ money and using it to buy the necessities of life, send their kids to school, and generally have a little more hope for the future. Pirates as folk heroes, anyone?
The latest chapter is news of an Indian navel vessel, the INS Tabar, sinking a pirate mother ship. The 400 foot warship ordered the pirate ship to stop and be searched. The pirate ship refused to surrender, even though it must have been obvious that their vessel, (I’d guess a converted fishing boat) and hand held weapons were no match for the armored warship’s missile launchers and six-barreled, 30 mm machine guns. An unknown number of pirates went down to a watery grave in the fight. And why? One of their small raiding boats managed to escape while the mother ship was being cut to pieces. Was it bravery and self-sacrifice for their mates that drove them to this hopeless fight? Would their unyielding spirits simply not let them surrender? At any rate it seems that if confrontations like this continue more pirates will be sporting eye patches and improvised artificial limbs in the future.
It gets better. The pirates have been treating their hostages well, even hiring caterers to serve Western meals while they wait for the ransom money to come in. Do they also play chess with them and engage in battles of wit? It seems you might survive your encounter with Somali pirates after all, escaping the adventure with everything but your stolen heart (unless you’re a man, in which case you’ll be given the option of either becoming a pirate yourself or walking the plank.)
Seriously, though, PIRATES? For real? That’s messed up.