Friday, December 30, 2011

Butterball: Horrific Abuse of Turkeys in NC

I am disturbed and outraged about the abuse of turkeys revealed by an undercover video here in my own state of North Carolina. The abuse was documented at a factory farm raising turkeys for Butterball, the largest producer of turkeys in the United States, in the town of Shannon, NC. I am posting the video from YouTube, which was shot by a member of the animal rights group Mercy For Animals who worked undercover at the farm in November and early December. The video is graphic and disturbing, so be aware before you watch. It shows turkeys being kicked and stomped, dragged by their necks and wings, thrown forcefully into transport trucks, and sitting neglected with open wounds and rotting eyes, untreated and covered with flies.

Fortunately, local sheriff department agents raided the farm yesterday, December 29. Now it is up to the law enforcement agency to do the right thing, shut down this facility, and prosecute the people who are responsible... not just the workers in the video, but also those in charge at the farm and Butterball.

Here is a link to a petition where you can tell Butterball what you think of their abuse of these gentle and intelligent birds.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Squirrels Play Shell Game With Their Nuts

Are you thinking you might just get a free tasty snack by stealing a few acorns from a neighborhood stash? There's a good chance that you'll go nuts trying to outwit your local gray squirrels. This article shows how tricky squirrels can be when it comes to protecting their winter food stores.

Scientists watched gray squirrels while they collected and stored nuts for their winter stash. They found that around one-fifth of the "nuts" that they hid were really decoys, non-existent food burials to confuse other animals that might try to steal their cached nuts and seeds. The squirrels made an elaborate show of digging a hole, pushing a nut into the cavity, and covering it up... but there was nothing in the hole!

What's more impressive is that when the squirrels noticed that they were being watched, the percentage of decoy burials that the squirrels made went up.

The scientists concluded that the squirrels were learning this behavior through a processes of trial and error, indicating that they were capable of "a far more advanced thought process" than was previously believed. Of course, we don't need any scientists to tell us that squirrels are capable of advanced thought and behavior such as hiding food, raiding bird feeders, and blogging.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

San Antonio: Did You Really Think This Through?

I love the city of San Antonio, TX. I spent several years there in college back in the 1980s. And the beautiful downtown River Walk is one of the major attractions of the city. But I have to wonder if the city leaders really thought through the new Christmas lights display that they installed this year. Here is what the lights look like at night:

OK--those are real trees, lining a river that meanders through the downtown area of a major city... densely wrapped top-to-bottom in Christmas lights.

I wonder what else might be in those trees...

(Slaps forehead) Oh yeah!

And now the city is surprised at the amount of damage that the squirrels have done to their new Christmas lighting display, and wondering what they can do to stop the squirrels from chewing the wires!

Here's a thought for the San Antonio city planners: The River Walk is a beautiful, scenic, pleasant and peaceful spot, an awesome asset to your city. For years you have gotten by with a more tasteful holiday lighting display. Based on what I see in the photos, the new display is not only tastelessly excessive, but looks like it has to get in the way of the squirrels and birds that inhabit those trees. I find it hard to believe nobody realized that the squirrels would chew through those wires. It's what they do! I wonder how many squirrels have been fatally electrocuted so far... this is not even mentioned in the article.

Please, San Antonio, take down those lights, admit you made a mistake, and go back to a more tasteful and wildlife-friendly display for next Christmas.

Squirrel Facts: The Texas Antelope Squirrel

The Texas antelope squirrel is one of five species of antelope squirrels. These tiny ground squirrels, with bodies around 14-17 cm long, and tails 6-10 cm, live in desert regions of the American southwest. The five species of antelope squirrels, which inhabit separate ranges with little overlap, are:

  • San Joaquin antelope squirrel of California
  • Harris' antelope squirrel of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico
  • White-tailed antelope squirrel, from New Mexico and Arizona northward to Oregon
  • Insular antelope squirrel, of Baja California
  • Texas antelope squirrel, of southwestern Texas, New Mexico, and northern Mexico
The range of the Texas antelope squirrel lies mostly along the Rio Grande and Pecos rivers of southwestern Texas and New Mexico. It inhabits rocky desert regions, usually in proximity to mountain ranges. It is a buff or gray ground squirrel with a single white line along each side. The tail appears somewhat flat, and is often carried arched over the back.

The Texas antelope squirrel is one of the few animal species that remains active throughout even the hottest summer desert days, even when temperatures soar to well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. They deal with the heat by occasionally finding a shady spot, where they will lie flat with limbs outstretched, allowing their excess body heat to dissipate through the belly to the cooler shaded ground.

Given the arid environment, the Texas antelope squirrel has a surprisingly varied diet. It feeds on the seeds of yucca, juniper, mesquite, salt grass, sotol, the ripe fruits of cactus such as prickly pear and cholla, and insects.

These little squirrels nest in burrows that they dig, usually in the shade of a clump of bushes or a boulder, or the side of a river bank. The nest inside the burrow is lined with rabbit fur, feathers, shredded bark, or dry grass.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Persian Squirrel Photos (link)

I wanted to post an article about the Persian squirrel, also known as the Caucasian squirrel, which I mentioned in the last post. However, I could find frustratingly little information about this little tree squirrel of the Middle East, beyond a very basic physical description--reddish brown face, tail and belly, and gray back. However, if you go here, you will see four of the best closeup squirrel photos I have ever seen (especially the first and fourth photos), of a Persian squirrel, taken in Turkey earlier this year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Donde estan las ardillas?

Don't you hate it when you're in a foreign country where you don't speak the language, and you just want to find out where the local squirrels hang out? Well, you're in luck. Here is your list of words for "squirrel" in almost 300 languages. So next time you're in Iran and want to see some Persian squirrels, just say "sanjaab."

Did someone say my name?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Study Shows That Rats Care

I've always liked rats. They are cousins to the squirrels, and the ones that I have known have always been very nice. Now science has demonstrated what I already believed to be true, that rats care about their friends.

To summarize, two rats were placed in an "arena." One was confined in a small tube from which it could not escape, and the other was free to roam around the arena. The tube could only be opened from outside, a task that was difficult but could be learned by the free rat. The free rat was clearly distressed by the confinement of the other rat, and would circle the tube, trying to figure out a way to free its friend. Almost all of the free rats in the experiment eventually found out how to open the cage. After discovering the secret, the free rat would always liberate its friend, even though no reward or benefit resulted.

My favorite part is this: when the free rat was presented with two tubes, one containing a confined rat, and the other containing chocolate chips, the free rat would open both tubes and share the treats with the other rat, even though it could have eaten all the chocolate before freeing its friend.  In many cases the free rat even carried a piece of chocolate to its friend after releasing it from the tube!

I'm not a big fan of this kind of research. Although it doesn't look like any invasive physical harm was done, the scientists manipulated these rats, placing them repeatedly in stressful, unpleasant situations. However, I do like that the results show that humans don't have a monopoly on empathy or selfless behavior. I think most of us who are around animals and care about them already knew this, but there are many people who apparently are unconvinced. I know that anecdotal observations or impressions does not equal scientific research, but I can remember times when I have been upset, and Beebz, or our cat Sushi, seemed especially affectionate, as if they picked up on my feelings and wanted to comfort me.

Now that they have done their part for research, I would like to see the rats from this study released from the world of research, and placed in homes where they can live with their friends stress-free.

Here is a short video of part of the experiment:

Squirrel Facts: The Arctic Ground Squirrel

The arctic ground squirrel lives in Alaska, northern Canada, including Northwest Territory, Yukon, and northern British Columbia, and Siberia. It is reddish on its face and sides, with light brown fur on its belly and gray speckled with white on the back.

The Arctic Ground Squirrel

These squirrels of the north live in colonies that can include several hundred individuals, dominated by one or two males that control the territory. Each adult squirrel has a burrow that is dug about three feet under the  ground, and lined with lichens, leaves, and muskox hair. The burrows are connected by a network of tunnels. During the summer, the arctic ground squirrel will start storing willow leaves, seeds, and grasses in its burrow. The squirrels hibernate from September until April, and when it awakens, it will eat the stored food until the spring plants grow. In the spring and summer, other foods include roots, berries, stalks, and mushrooms.

Arctic Ground Squirrel Eating a Mushroom
During hibernation, the body temperature of the arctic ground squirrel can drop as low as -3 degrees C (27 F), which is the lowest recorded naturally occuring body temperature of any mammal.

Babies are born in June, in litters of five to ten. Although the babies are blind and helpless at birth, they grow quickly, and by September are ready to leave their mother, forage and store their own food, and establish their own burrows.

Arctic ground squirrels communicate both by sound and body contact. Upon meeting they will touch noses to establish recognition. These squirrels are extremely vocal, with different alert sounds used to distinguish different types of predators. The Inupiat Eskimo word for the arctic ground squirrel is "sik-sik" for one of its characteristic calls.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Last night I got into a little argument with a couple of fundamentalist Rick Perry supporters on Twitter. I won't rehash the whole argument right now, but just say that later on it made me think of this song by Ben Folds, which I think captures the spirit of fundamentalist Christianity in America perfectly.

Town to town
broadcast to each house they drop your name
but no one knows your face,
billboards quoting things you'd never say
you hang your head and pray
for Jesusland

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Squirrel Haiku

Bundle of dry sticks

in high branch of barren tree

hides the warmth inside

By Daniel Hickerson

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Squirrel Poem by St. Francis of Assisi

I just discovered this poem by St. Francis of Assisi:


I once spoke to my friend, an old squirrel, about the Sacraments –
he got so excited

and ran into a hollow in his tree and came
back holding some acorns, an owl feather,
and a ribbon he had found.

And I just smiled and said, “Yes, dear,
you understand:

everything imparts
His grace.”

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Squirrel Facts: The First Squirrel

This is Protosciurus jeffersoni:

I eat and eat and eat, and I just never feel full!

He lived in the North America during the Oligocene period, around 25 million years ago. Protosciurus was very similar in appearance, size, and skeletal structure to modern tree squirrels such as the eastern gray squirrel. The most complete specimen was found in Wyoming, and its remarkable similarity to modern tree squirrels has led to the theory that all of the present-day squirrels originated in North America with this species.

Do you ever have one of those mornings when
you just don't feel like getting out of bed?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Squirrel Facts: The Indian Palm Squirrel

The Indian palm squirrel is also known as the three-striped palm squirrel, and is native to southern India and Sri Lanka. It is a tree squirrel about the size of a rat, and actually has five white stripes, although only three of them run the entire length of its body from neck to tail.

Their diet is mostly made up of nuts and fruits. Like the eastern gray squirrel, the Indian palm squirrel is common in urban areas and lives comfortably in close proximity to humans.

There is a beautiful Hindu legend about the Indian palm squirrel. According to the legend, the squirrel helped to construct a bridge for Lord Rama so that he could retrieve his wife Sita, who had been kidnapped. The squirrel worked tirelessly carrying small rocks for the bridge, all the while chanting Lord Rama's name. But the larger and stronger monkeys and bears, who could carry much larger stones, made fun of her for being small and weak. Lord Rama, recognizing the squirrel's dedication and seeing her crying from the other animals' ridicule, lifted her up and stroked her back, and declared that from then on nobody would make fun of her. His fingers as he petted her left the stripes on her back.

Lord Rama and the Squirrel

Dancing Squirrels

Here are some squirrels dancing to "Don't Stop 'Till You Get a Nut" by Michael Jackson.

My tweep @The_Lil_General was kind enough to bring this to my attention.

Oh, and that was the first time I've ever used the word "tweep." And hopefully the last.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Looks Like a Good Winter Coming Up in Charlotte!

While some parts of the country are seeing a shortage of acorns this fall, North Carolina has seen a bumper crop. Which means one thing: a lot of happy, well-fed squirrels this holiday season!

Sunday, November 27, 2011


I happened to run into a couple of friends today outside of Harris Teeter...

Why Are the Unemployed Not Speaking Out?

I have not written on this for a while, which means that I may be as guilty as anyone of complacency on this issue, despite the fact that I am one of those unemployed Americans struggling to find a job.

This article looks at some of the reasons that the unemployed in the US are not making a more noticeable protest, in spite of their massive numbers. Among the reasons, the changing perception of the reasons for unemployment, and the general loss of sympathy for organized labor in the United States. Unemployment is increasingly viewed as the result of the workers' failure to acquire the skills and education needed to find work, rather than the failure of business and the government to create the favorable conditions and demand needed for hiring workers. Furthermore, labor unions are now seen as ineffective, inefficient, and corrupt.

The article puts much of the blame for the passivity of the American people toward the unemployment crisis on President Obama, for not taking stronger and more immediate action to address this problem. And I do agree that the American Jobs Act is a positive but halfhearted measure that, if passed, would provide some relief but not nearly what is needed to truly address and resolve the crisis.

But I think much more blame needs to be focused on the failure of the media to sufficiently critique the deceptive rhetoric coming from the right wing on this issue. The Republican Party and the Tea Party movement, controlled by their Wall Street handlers, continue to insist, without a shred of rational evidence, that the unemployment rate can only be brought down through lower taxes on the already undertaxed wealthy and corporations, and reductions in public spending and regulations, when in fact these measures have been shown over and over to have exactly the opposite effect.

The insistence of the main stream media on presenting this bogus right-wing argument as a valid point of view that deserves full consideration, has left the unemployed, who are the victims of this very strategy, divided and unsure about what and who they should be protesting.

The Occupy movement has helped enormously to bring more attention to the general problems of wealth inequality and corporate and Wall Street corruption. But the movement has been short on specific demands and policy suggestions. In the early days of Occupy Wall Street, it looked like it might develop a close link with organized labor. But, mysteriously, little evidence has been seen lately of this partnership.

Given the harsh messages coming from the right, the halfhearted measures proposed by the Democrats, the vague messages from the Occupy movement, the absence of an effective and popular organized labor movement, and the all-consuming anxiety that is part of the lives of the long-term jobless, it seems likely that many if not most of the unemployed in America feel that they have been pretty much forgotten.

That's how I feel.

That needs to change.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Elmwood Cemetery Walk

I took a walk this afternoon at Elmwood Cemetery, which is adjacent to downtown Charlotte. This is a big, old cemetery with graves dating back to the 1800s. It used to be segregated in the old days, with a section for blacks called Pinewood Cemetery toward the back. There are a lot of interesting old graves, plenty of trees, hills, and plenty of birds and squirrels. It's a great place for a walk, especially on a day like today when the weather is good.

Here are some interesting old grave markers:

A couple of squirrels were watching me from overhead:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Squirrel At the Window

This squirrel sometimes comes to our kitchen window sill looking for a bite to eat. We're only too happy to comply. There's a small tear in the screen at the bottom right corner, and we'll often put a little something out through the hole for the squirrels and birds.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Red and Gray Squirrels in Scotland, A Moral Dilemma

I posted a poll on the right side of this page. The reason for the poll is an article that I read this morning from the Scotsman. As the article points out, most of the last surviving red squirrels in Great Britain are in Scotland. The species has been devastated since the introduction, around a century ago, of eastern gray squirrels from North America. Not only are the gray squirrels larger, out-competing the red squirrels for food and habitat, but the grays also carry a disease called squirrel pox that, while harmless to the gray squirrels, is deadly to red squirrels.

This article discusses a measure to attempt to save red squirrels in Scotland that I consider a huge moral dilemma: trapping and killing of thousands of gray squirrels, to try to eradicate them from areas to which the red squirrel is native.

My initial reaction is to be horrified at this measure. After all, the gray squirrels did not ask to be taken to Great Britain, or to be carriers of a disease. I feel pretty sure that no gray squirrel has ever deliberately harmed a red squirrel. The fact that I have a gray squirrel companion that I see, pet, and play with every day makes me biased, of course, but I think the very idea of wastefully killing thousands of individuals of any species would bother me.

On the other hand, I have to consider the plight of the red squirrels. While still plentiful in other parts of Europe, the species is seriously endangered in Great Britain. The suffering of these squirrels from squirrel pox must be truly terrible. And I can understand the feelings of English and Scottish residents who have watched the decline of one of their native species. I can't imagine how terrible it would be to watch the eastern gray squirrel, so plentiful in my part of the world, decline and die out.

Please take the poll on this blog. It simply asks the question, do you think the killing of gray squirrels in Scotland is justified, to save the red squirrel population? And please also leave a comment on this post if you want to. This is certainly not the only case in which an invasive species has caused the decline of a native species, and it is an issue that has always troubled me... how far should humans be able to go to manipulate the environment, and is the killing of one species to save another permissible?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Squirrelly Facts: The Clark's Nutcracker

Okay, the Clark's nutcracker is not a squirrel. It is a bird, but it has a notably squirrely habit: it collects and stores thousands and thousands of pine nuts. And what's more, it remembers where almost all of those nuts are, even when they are buried under a blanket of snow.

But I still can't remember where I left the car keys
The Clark's nutcracker is a large bird, related to crows and jays, that lives in mountainous areas of western North America. It is monogamous, living in pairs throughout the year. This bird has a unique physical feature: a pouch under the tongue that can hold up to 150 pine seeds. It collects the seeds from the inside of pine cones until the pouch is full, then takes them to caches which may be on the ground, under fallen leaves, or in cracks in trees. The many caches created by a pair of birds may contain 30,000 nuts and be spread over an area of 15 square miles. The birds have such excellent spatial memory that they will know where to find almost all of these caches, enabling them not only to survive but even hatch and raise young throughout the harsh mountain winter.

Hey Newt!

Thanks for the advice, but I don't need you to tell me to take a bath. I can see to my personal hygiene without your help.

As for getting a job, yes, I very much need and want a job. Too bad your friends on Wall Street and the GOP ravaged the economy back in 2008 and cost the country more than 8 million jobs, including mine, and have obstructed every proposal to create jobs that has been put forth since then.

I know you understand this, but of course you are one of those who are profiting from this sorry state of affairs. So you will go on helping to perpetuate the myth that if we just let you and your buddies in the one percent grab more and more, that it will eventually trickle down to the rest of us. Sure, we've been waiting for years for this to happen, like dogs cowering under your banquet table waiting for you to throw us a few scraps to fight over.

Yet, when we finally get tired of waiting and cowering, and take to the streets to let you know, because it's the only means we have to be heard, you just sneer at us and tell us to "get a job" and "take a bath."

This is the response from the man who considers himself the scholar of the conservative movement? This is the level of compassion and understanding from the man who aspires to be the leader of the most powerful nation on earth?

Mr. Gingrich, you have absolutely no clue about the lives of ordinary people in the United States. You have no business lecturing anybody about morality. And you have a lot of nerve deriding the cares and concerns of the people who are suffering because of the greed, selfishness and lack of ethics of you and your cronies.

Mr. Gingrich, I hope you are enjoying your last moment in the spotlight. Rest assured, before you know it, this campaign will be over and you will be no more than a sad footnote in the history books. Here's a little reminder of your "glory days" to comfort you:

"Get a job! Take a bath!"

Friday, November 18, 2011

Squirrel Facts: The Cape Ground Squirrel

The Cape ground squirrel lives in arid regions of southern Africa, including the Kalahari desert. It is cinnamon-colored on top and gray below, with a white stripe running down each side of its body, and has a large, bushy tail. It eats mostly roots and bulbs dug from underground, and grasses, shrubs, and herbs. The Cape ground squirrel hardly ever drinks, getting most of its water from the plants that it feeds on.

The Cape ground squirrels live in separate male and female groups, which come together only during the mating season. The female groups consist of around three adult females and their juvenile offspring. The male groups are made up of up to nineteen adult males. Groups live in clusters of burrows with numerous entrances.

Cape ground squirrels use their bushy tails like umbrellas to shade them from the extreme desert heat. They also use the tails to confuse and frustrate predators such as snakes, as seen in this video about a group of ground squirrels fending off a Cape cobra. Don't worry, the squirrels are more than capable of dealing with the snake:

Just check out how bushy those squirrels' tails get when they are mobbing the cobra. I would like to hear Randall from the Honey Badger video narrate a video of these badass little squirrels!

A Little Help From My Friends

This is a very cute video about a big squirrel and a baby squirrel, and some squirrel friends at UCLA. There is text on the video asking YouTube viewers to click on a link to help the original poster win a contest. The link is

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

PETA Uses Tiny Texas Town For Latest Publicity Stunt

I applaud a lot of what PETA has accomplished over the years. But as I've said before, I think a lot of the group's stunts are in poor taste and do more harm than good for the cause of animal welfare. Their latest gimmick is asking the town of Turkey, Texas to change its name to "Tofurkey" for Thanksgiving. The incentive is that PETA will prepare a vegan Thanksgiving feast for the whole town.

Turkey is a tiny town, fewer than 500 residents, in west Texas, roughly between the cities of Lubbock and Amarillo. The town was named for the large numbers of wild turkeys that inhabit the area, a fact that PETA ignores in its attempt to use the town in its argument against the slaughter of domesticated turkeys. The town's main claim to fame is being the home of the late country music great Bob Wills.

Turkey Art in Turkey, TX
What I find demeaning about PETA's stunt is this: PETA seems to be saying to the the residents of Turkey that because it is a small town in a rural area, the town's history and heritage doesn't matter. Hey, we can just use your town for our latest publicity stunt. Who cares, it's only a few hundred people out on a flat prairie somewhere. I'm sure if Dallas had happened to be named Turkey, PETA wouldn't be offering the million or so residents of that city a free vegan dinner.

Hey, if PETA really wants to get some attention, there's a certain country between Greece and Lebanon that might like some free tofurkey.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Squirrel Facts: The Black-Tailed Prairie Dog

The black-tailed prairie dog is a large ground squirrel that is native to prairie grasslands of western North America. Its range extends from Saskatchewan, Canada in the north, to Chihuahua, Mexico in the south, with around half of its population living in the US states of South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. Due to loss of habitat and extermination efforts by farmers and ranchers, the species currently occupies only around one percent of the land that it inhabited a century ago.

Black-tailed prairie dogs live in colonies that number in the hundreds or even thousands. There was a prairie dog colony in Texas in the nineteenth century that covered 25,000 square miles and may have contained 400 million inhabitants. They excavate elaborate networks of tunnels on flat prairie land. Each tunnel entrance is marked by a mound of earth, created by the burrowing prairie dogs, that surrounds the hole. The mound is useful because it provides a vantage point for the prairie dogs to watch for predators, and also helps protect against flooding. The diet includes mostly grass, supplemented by other vegetation available.

There is a well-known managed prairie dog town in Lubbock, TX. Located in Mackenzie State Park, the Prairie Dog Town was established in the early 1930s and underwent a major renovation in 2004. It now includes a pavilion and viewing area and interpretive signage. I can remember visiting this attraction as a child, and back then it seemed kind of run down, but I would really like to see it with the new improvements.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Depressing Kids' Toy of the Week

In the dollar store I ran across this charming item on the toys aisle:

It's fun because you can add water and watch it outgrow the tiny, cramped, uncomfortable, miserable little cage in which it is doomed to live out its tortured life!

Isn't capitalism wonderful!

Goose Feeding Time!

My son Kaleb and I were at the dollar store this morning, and noticed a flock of Canada geese hanging out in the parking lot. Since we had some time to kill before Kaleb's class, he bought a loaf of bread and we fed them for a little while.

Canada geese and eastern gray squirrels have some things in common. They are both wild animals that have adapted well to the presence of humans and their cities, and have even prospered from their proximity to people, but also have still retained most of their "wildness." Unfortunately, many wild animals have not been so fortunate.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cemetery Walk

I've always liked cemeteries and I love cool, overcast fall days. So today I stopped at Forest Lawn cemetery near our house and took a nice long walk. The day was perfect, the temperature in the high 50s and many of the trees still showing their fall colors.

I like this little display of a wind chime and other hanging decorations that someone has created:

Fall colors:

I also like this monument, with a statue of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples:

And an arbor that a family has had built at their grave site:

Veterans Day was just a couple of days ago. I am proud to be the son of a WWII veteran, and I saw many graves of other WWII veterans decorated with flags:

This cemetery is a wonderful, peaceful place for a walk. I saw and heard many birds, including mockingbirds, robins, blue jays, eastern bluebirds, and crows.  I will definitely be going back.