Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Journalism is dead...Long live journalism

This may be the single most gullible piece of "reporting" I've ever seen*, and I'm reluctant to boost MSNBC's page views, but this has to be seen to be disbelieved. Headline: "Did eaten songbird claw its way through hawk?" Answer: Most assuredly not.

A sharp-shinned hawk was found—alongside a highway, which would suggest cause and manner of death to most thinking people—with a passerine leg protruding from its ruptured crop. Julia Di Sieno of the Animal Rescue Team, who supposedly has worked with wildlife for more than 20 years, led some (including, apparently, reporters with the IQ of broccoli) to believe that the sharpie's prey had fought its way out of the hawk after being swallowed.

This from the MSNBC report: "Birds of prey, like sharp-shinned hawks, typically leave behind the legs and head of their avian meals, Di Sieno said." Really? This is news. I flew a passage sharpie at small birds for three seasons, and she typically ate the head first. In small bites. Then she ate the rest of the bird, again in small bites, before (usually) gulping the tarsi down whole.

The original report from Noozhawk (headline: "Last Supper: Eaten Bird Kills Diner") quotes Di Sieno as saying, "In order to move forward with the Animal Rescue Team mission we have two immediate needs. A dedicated animal ambulance for rescues ($30,000), and construction of a new fawn facility ($20,000)." I would suggest that a better use of funds might be remedial education in biology for staffers and volunteers. Maybe Jeanna Bryner of LiveScience.com, who wrote the piece on MSNBC, can sit in. Or maybe she should look for other work.

[*Incidentally, my previous favorite was from the first Persian Gulf War, when a large segment of the Iraqi Air Force fled to Iran. A CNN reporter asked an Iraqi official (it might have been Tariq Aziz, but I won't swear to that): "Mr. Ambassador, does Iraq have a secret deal with Iran?" Apart from the fact that the two states had recently fought a bitter war and were generally not on speaking terms, what did she expect? "Well, yes, we did have a secret deal to save our air force, but...wait, is that camera on?!? Oh, this will go badly for my family..."]

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pocket change, with marsupials!

  • To commemorate ANZAC Day (it's already the 25th Down Under),
  • to celebrate the return of my sweetie,
  • and to fill some blogspace,

I'm sharing some Australian coins brought back by Susan.

From left to right:

  • All show HM the Queen on the obverse ("heads") side.
  • On the reverse ("tails") side, the 50-cent piece features an heraldic kangaroo and emu, smaller but easier to pick out on the older coin at top.
  • The 20-cent piece has a lovely swimming platypus.
  • Five kangaroos grace the 1-dollar coin.
  • Finally, the 2-dollar coin depicts a bearded Aboriginal man, which I suppose makes it roughly the equivalent of a turn-of-the-last-century Indian-head penny or the somewhat later Indian-head/buffalo nickel here in the States.

My favourites here are the 20-cent platypus and 1-dollar kangaroos. They remind me of Canada's lovely coins, with their beautiful loons, caribou, beavers and maple leaves. It's a shame we don't have more (and more realistic) wildlife on U.S. coins and currency. A few of the state quarters have decent wildlife images, but otherwise the only realistic image in wide circulation is the flying bald eagle on the reverse of the Sacagawea 1-dollar coin.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Antipodean blues

For the last several days, Midnight Oil has taken up permanent residence in my Subaru's CD player. Everywhere I go, the Oils are singing their hearts out about indigenous peoples' rights (reparations, even!), the environment, and righteous waves.

["I hear the Union Jack's to remain..."—Australia's current national flag]

The eucalyptus lollies (thanks, Peter!) are long gone, but I'm still snacking on Kookaburra liquorice and Bundaberg ginger beer. Evenings find me with a glass of Shiraz in hand, and while there's almost a case of Leinenkugel's in the refrigerator, I'll probably pick up a few "oil cans" of Foster's Lager after lacrosse practice tonight.

The likely reason for the Aussie-culture binge is that I have a huge crush on a girl in Australia. Under different circumstances, this might annoy my wife. But she's visiting the University of Newcastle this week, so I reckon she'll understand.

* * *

[Crest of the University of Newcastle]

[A new standard—one of many AusFlag proposals for a new national flag]

[Just for fun, a Chopper Reid video. Tip of the Akubra to Steve and Matt at Querencia for digging this up. Not, um, universally appropriate, so you might want to send the kiddies out of the room.]

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Civil war story

Today marks the 143rd anniversary of General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Seems like a good time to post one of my favorite essays. It was written by my dad, Paul Churchill, and appeared circa 1981 in the Howard County [Maryland] Times. He says it took about ten minutes to write, after about ten years of reflection. Enjoy!

The bearded President had guided his country through the war, had seen past the havoc of its division, had sought through the desolation he brought upon the South to restore the union of North and South, and had longed to experience the reconstruction of the land he had laid waste. How sad that the gentle man had not been able to live to see his dreams take shape in reality.

It was a long and bitter conflict, that civil war. Trite though it is to say, it was nonetheless a war between brothers, between fathers and sons, as much as it was a war of regional differences.

Now the land is quiet and the guns have been silenced, but even now so many years later, the memory of war is still alive in that South. The battlegrounds bear testimony through the remnants of the machines of war to the struggle which those two opposing armies carried on.

It was a noble experiment for the South: self-government, independence, the dignity of local control over local issues, the honest attempt to escape what the South viewed as the tyrannical despotism of that bearded President whom history has immortalized in more favorable aspect. But it was a failed experiment, and despite occasional rumors to the contrary, the South will never rise again, at least not through armed conflict.

How little count those early Southern successes in the field. How trivial seem the shows of pride. How fruitless were those seeds of independence, of flags and ballot boxes, of Southern currency and resistance to agrarian reform, of stubborn adherence to a feudal system of farm labor, of personal freedom over submission to national aims. They all matter but little now and seem so futile in retrospect.

The North had been able to contain most of the fighting to Southern territory and had never much feared invasion. Despite the foreign aid granted to the South, the North had never openly feared its own defeat, only the defeat of a reunified nation.

And so the Northern army marched south and saw the tattered remnants of its enemy fall before it. And what had taken so long was finally done in one final swift thrust. The Northern soldiers marched into the enemy’s fallen capital and renamed it Ho Chi Minh City.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


He hated yard work. Trying to take care of Kentucky bluegrass in the middle of the great American desert was lunacy.

—Dan O'Brien, Brendan Prairie

Lincoln residents, I've heard, lead the nation in per-capita spending on lawn care. I've never quite understood the cult of the lush green lawn, particularly in a place with such inconsistent rainfall, but I've seen the cult at work. A former neighbor used to power-wash the underside of his mower in between cutting his front and back yards, so that if he happened to pick up a weed seed in the back yard it wouldn't contaminate his front yard, or vice versa. People who obsessed about crabgrass and dandelions, I used to believe, were insane.

Now I'm one of them, but with a crucial difference.

Last year, to the consternation of most of our neighbors, Susan & I eliminated a good portion of lawn. We killed it with a liberal application of Roundup, then power-raked the whole area, leaving bare dirt—which we then sowed with native (and mostly drought-resistant) grass and wildflower seeds. Owing to our late start, we had time for only one round of herbicide, which did the job on the existing crabgrass but left many years' worth of weed seeds unaffected.

When our seeds germinated, so did the weed seeds, and I can't begin to tell you how many hours we spent sitting or kneeling on the ground under the blazing sun, weeding out crabgrass, dandelions, morning glories, bindweed, etc., by hand. I sweated profusely, put enormous strain on my back and knees, and cursed the non-native pests with a fervor I couldn't have anticipated.

We never got them all, but we kept them from taking over, giving the native plants we had sown a chance to prosper. After all the hard work, I was pleased with the results of our prairie-garden experiment. (My daughter called us "prairie wierdos", but I think she liked the garden, too.)

It's probably just fatigue, but I started having second thoughts today. The doubts started as we raked up mats of fallen oak and cottonwood leaves and I saw how little green is so far underneath. Even as I cut and piled the giant skeletons of last year's annual sunflowers, I began to lose faith in spring and the capacity of our little prairie patch to renew itself.

[Annual sunflowers]

So I'm posting these pictures largely to remind myself what it looked like last summer. I'll try to remember the goldfinches, the monarchs and painted ladies and blues, the box-elder bugs. And I'll try to have more patience, more hope. The warm-season native grasses will come back when it gets warm; it's too soon to expect much growth now. The flowers will grow and bloom, the birds and butterflies will return, the sweating and cursing will probably continue but will be worth it in the end.

* * *

[Illinois bundleflower leaves and seedpods]

[Ratibida and Susans]

[False ("oxeye") sunflower]

[Purple coneflower and big bluestem]

[Last two: A little of everything. All our seeds, by the way, came from Stock Seed Farms. Their website is not just a seed catalog, but also loaded with how-to information on small- and large-scale prairie restoration—including recommendations for a second spraying of Roundup. When we get around to doing the back yard, I will get an earlier start and then follow their instructions to the letter.]