Sunday, October 30, 2011

New Squirrel Video and Cool Squirrel Website

I shot this video of a squirrel in our backyard this afternoon, possibly a relative of Beebz. It didn't seem very happy to see me. You'll need to turn your sound up if you want to hear it "squawking" at me.

I also ran across this website, WebSquirrel's Lolz, which has a lot of hilariousquirrel pictures. Check it out! Here's a sample:

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Congrats to the Cardinals

Last night the St. Louis Cardinals won game seven of what may have been one of the most exciting World Series in recent memory. The Texas Rangers, who were favored to win, came within one pitch of victory twice during game six before losing to the Cardinals in the eleventh inning. Then last night in game seven the Cardinals won it all 6-2 behind a masterful pitching performance by Chris Carpenter. Although as I said here a few days ago I grew up an avid Texas Rangers fan, I am not all that disappointed about the outcome.

The Cardinals celebrate an improbable victory in game 6
as Rangers catcher Mike Napoli walks off the field
For several years I have very deliberately ignored major league baseball. In the early 2000s I became so disillusioned with the dominance of steroid use in the game that I finally couldn't stand to watch any more. Idiotically bulked-up slugger-robots like Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds routinely hitting sixty, even seventy home runs in a season may have been exciting to some, but to me and many others this spectacle destroyed the character of the game of baseball.

I have been aware for a couple of years now that the steroids era has finally passed. This is not so much because of any trust in the people who run the major league baseball front office or the player's union, but because the batting statistics, the numbers that tell the real story, have returned to a realistic level. This season the American and National league home run leaders, Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays and Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers, hit 43 and 39 home runs respectively.

It took an exciting World Series, together with the assurance that the role of steroids in major league baseball has been curbed, to convince me to start taking an interest in the game again. Perhaps next spring I will start following the Rangers, and root for them to return to the World Series for another try at the championship. Until then, congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals. Any team that is inspired to victory by a squirrel can't be bad!

The Rally Squirrel inspired Cardinals players and
fans in the National League playoffs

Friday, October 28, 2011

Electric Car a Century Ago

I stumbled across this absolutely fascinating story about a fully electric car with a 100 mile range that was produced in Denver, Colorado, more than a century ago. The Fritchle electric car was designed and built by Oliver Parker Fritchle from 1905-1920 and more than 1500 of the cars were sold, even though the price, around $2500, was high compared to average vehicles of the time. The Fritchle was so well designed that to get publicity, in October and November 1908, Mr. Fritchle drove a car taken straight out of production from Lincoln, Nebraska to New York City, recharging the battery each day at electrical stations or garages, and covering the entire distance in twenty driving days. The only repairs he had to make during the journey were repairing one flat tire, and relining the brakes after a steep mountain descent.

Much of the journey was over rough or
almost non-existent roads

I find it interesting and a little unsettling that a fully electric car was produced, marketed and sold with the technology available in 1907, and yet it has taken more than a century for the large automakers that now dominate the market to even consider further developing and utilizing this technology for mass market automobiles. I can only think that this is because of the huge influence that oil companies have had on our economy and society. Just think about how much damage to the environment and to public health could have been avoided if Fitchle's designs had been adopted and improved on by Ford, GM, and other corporations.

The 1912 Fitchle Tourer
Thanks to @TweetsofOld on Twitter for bringing attention to the history of this fascinating and innovative automobile.

Fourteen Years

Fourteen years ago today, Karen and I dropped her five year old son, Kaleb (who I would later adopt) off at kindergarten, went downtown, got our marriage license, grabbed a couple of strangers off the street for witnesses, and said our vows before a judge. Then we picked up Kaleb from school and went to Chuck-E Cheese to celebrate. It was a crazy, chaotic day and the best day of my life. Since then we have been through many ups and downs together, but our love has been the one constant that we will always share.

This song was popular at the time. Happy Anniversary to my baby forever and ever!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New Pictures of Beebz!

It's always hard to get good photos of Beebz, because she usually tries to grab the camera as soon as she sees it. But this evening Karen got some good ones of me and Beebz. Here are a few:

Getting a kiss on the eyebrow

It's not what you think... she's watching me wash out her water bowl

Putting her water bowl back

More Coverage of Police Violence Against Occupy Oakland

Continuing with the topic from the last post, the New York Times is following the story from Oakland. The coverage includes more videos and other evidence of police use of projectiles and explosives against protesters, which the Oakland Police Department is denying.

Video From Occupy Oakland

This video clip shows protesters trying to come to the aid of Scott Olsen, who was struck in the head by a police "projectile" and suffered a skull fracture. He is not in the hospital listed in serious but stable condition. When a group of protesters tries to help Mr. Olsen, police standing behind a barricade nearby toss an incendiary device into the group, which explodes, causing the group to scatter. According to news reports Olsen is an Iraq war veteran and member of Veterans for Peace.

The Guardian, a British newspaper, is running frequent updates on this situation, as police crack down violently on the protest group in Oakland.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rick Perry Wants To Widen the Income Gap

Rick Perry's proposed flat tax plan would, not surprisingly, provide large tax breaks for those in the highest income brackets. This is clear in an analysis provided by the New York Times Economix Blog. Here is the chart summarizing the effects on taxes paid by different income groups:

The last column on the right is the taxes paid or refund under the current system. The next column to the left is for Perry's 20 percent flat tax plan. The blue shaded figures are the most advantageous plan for each income group. For every household type, the highest income group fares best with the Perry plan.

What is most disturbing is Perry's answer when asked about the increase in income inequality that his tax plan would create: "I don't care about that." In other words, he isn't even going to go through the motions of pretending to care about poor and working-class families.

Surreal Herman Cain Ad Creeps Me Out

This is one of the weirdest and creepiest political advertisements I've ever seen. The narrator, Cain's chief of staff Mark Block, gives his spiel for Cain... and then takes a drag on a cigarette(?!) He also looks sort of like he's lurking furtively in a corner behind some building, like maybe he's stalking someone. I don't know who came up with this, but I don't see how it's supposed to help Herman Cain's campaign. Of course, I guess this is no nuttier than that 9-9-9 tax plan.

A Couple of Songs by Elliott Smith

A few days ago I noted the anniversary of the death of Elliott Smith. It occurred to me that I didn't include any of his music in that post, which seems should have been pretty obvious. Here are a couple of videos of his songs from YouTube. The first, Twilight, is from his last album, which he was completing work on at the time of his death:

And this one if from his album X/O:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Scary Dust Storm Video

I found this video of a dust storm that hit my hometown, Lubbock, TX last Monday, October 17. As I have said before on this blog, I grew up in Lubbock, and while dust storms are fairly common in that dry area of North America, I have never seen anything like this.

The buildings that you see in the video are on the campus of Texas Tech University, and I'm guessing that the video was shot from one of the high-rise dormitories.

Here is a news article from MSNBC about the dust storm, and the climate changes that have affected that part of the country and contribute to monster storms like this one. The sentence from the article that floored me is this one:
Lubbock has had just 3.16 inches of rain since Jan. 1.
For perspective, the average annual rainfall in Lubbock is 18.7 inches. The previous driest year has been 1917 with 8.73 inches. Of course, this year is not over yet, but I would say there is a good chance that the city will smash that record. And this year has not just been dry, but this summer was also the hottest on record, both for Lubbock and for the whole state of Texas.

It amazes me that there are still people, like Texas Governor Rick Perry, who still want to deny the reality that there are long-term climate changes taking place. Governor Perry's well-publicized response to the drought has been to ask everyone to pray for rain. Of course, I know that there is nothing the governor or anyone else can do in the short term to change the weather, and there is nothing wrong with prayer. But some long-term policies to try to reduce the use of fossil fuels and encourage cleaner energy technology might help too. Otherwise, we're going to be seeing a lot more storms like this one.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Squirrel Facts: The Brevard White Squirrels

Brevard, North Carolina, a mountain town about 120 miles west of Charlotte, is the home of possibly the largest colony of white squirrels in North America. These squirrels are not albino, but a white subspecies of the common gray squirrel, with black eyes. There are other towns with white squirrel colonies, including Olney, IL, Marionville, MO, and Exeter, Canada, but Brevard's is by far the largest at around a thousand squirrels. In 1986 the entire town was designated as a squirrel sanctuary. There is an annual White Squirrel Festival every May, and the White Squirrel Institute at Brevard College holds a white squirrel count every October. There's even a White Squirrel Shoppe.

The local legend is that the white squirrels came to Brevard when a circus truck overturned in the 1950s. There is some doubt about this story--they may have simply descended from a pair of pet squirrels that escaped. Whatever their origin, the white squirrels have become a local tourist draw, and I hope to be able to go and see them sometime soon.

Occupy Charlotte Divided

The Charlotte Observer is reporting on a split in the Occupy Charlotte movement, over one individual's attempt to control the movement and its online presence. A Charlotte businessman, Tom Shope, has been accused of misusing donated funds, controlling the Facebook page and website of the group, and has even registered the name "Occupy Charlotte" as a business in Mecklenburg County.

Karen and I enjoyed taking part in the Occupy Charlotte protest last weekend, and we support the Occupy movement 100 percent. I have not spent enough time at Occupy Charlotte to know what the opinion of most of the participants might be. However, I find it troubling that one individual is trying to impose his leadership over the local movement. My understanding all along has been that this is a leaderless movement in which decisions are made by consensus, so Mr. Shope's actions seem to directly contradict the spirit and the principles of the movement.

I very much hope that this split can be mended. This is supposed to be a movement for the people, not a vehicle for individuals to pursue their personal agendas and ambitions.

Squirrel a Day

Karen found this blog last night. It has been inactive for a while, but it has quite a few good squirrel photos. Basically, a college student took on a mission to photograph a squirrel each day for a month. Enjoy!

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Tea Party vs Occupy Wall Street

I would add to this...

Tea Party: Planned, organized, and funded by the Koch Brothers and Corporate America

Occupy Wall Street: Planned, organized, and maintained by the American people!

Mitt Romney is a Hypocrite

Back in 2003, Governor Mitt Romney fought to impose pollution controls on a Massachusetts coal-fired plant that was threatening the health of the surrounding population, even if it meant that the plant would close and jobs would be lost. Here is what the "radical environmentalist" Romney said at the time:
I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people. And that plant kills people and PG&E has been given a notice to have it cleaned up by 2004 and they have thumbed their nose at the people of Massachusetts and Salem Harbor by not cleaning it up on time. So we’re saying, clean it up on time, do the job in the community, invest in cleaning technology.
Got that? "I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people."

This sounds a little different from the Mitt Romney who has eagerly joined in the Republican frenzy to handcuff or even kill the EPA and weaken the environmental regulations that prevent the pollution of our air and water, pretending that such deregulation will result in jobs creation.

As Paul Krugman has pointed out, deregulation will not help with our jobs crisis. It will only make us "poorer and sicker."

A Sad Anniversary

Elliott Smith died on this day, October 21, 2003.

If you aren't familiar, Elliott Smith was a brilliant singer, musician, and songwriter. He released several albums in the 1990s and early 2000s. His songs typically feature catchy, melodic tunes that contrast with often dark and troubled lyrics.

Smith's musical career began in Portland, OR, where he was a member of the punk band Heatmiser before beginning a solo career with the 1994 album Roman Candle. first came to public attention when he wrote and performed the song "Miss Misery" that was featured in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting. His follow-up album in 1998, X/O, was probably his most critically acclaimed.

Smith was troubled throughout his career by depression and addiction to alcohol and drugs. At the time of his death, however, he had reportedly been clean for several months and was working on his last album, From a Basement On the Hill, which was released posthumously.

Elliott Smith died after receiving two stab wounds to the chest while he was at home with his girlfriend. The wounds were apparently self-inflicted, although there has never been an official ruling on the death.

I did not discover Elliott Smith until a few years after his death. I've never been sure what draws me so intensely to his songs. It may be that because I, like Smith, have at times experienced intense depression, the lyrics speak to me in some cryptically personal way, even though my life experiences have been much different from his--many of the songs, for example, deal with alcoholism and drug addiction, which I have not had a problem with. I just know that when I listen to this music, I feeling like I'm listening to a friend whose feelings, if not experiences, I can relate to and sympathize with personally. I can say without hesitation that Elliott Smith has helped me deal with some difficult times. I just wish he was still here to make more of his brilliant, intensely personal, music.

RIP Elliott

Thursday, October 20, 2011

9-9-9? Nein! Nein! Nein!

Paul Krugman posted a chart the other day from the Tax Policy Center summarizing the effect of Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax proposal on  Americans based on their income:

The column to focus on is the last column, which reflects the percentage change in after-tax income for each quintile (20 percent) of the population based on income. The poorest 20 percent of Americans would see their after-tax income reduced by more than 18 percent; the next 20 percent, by more than 15 percent. And by contrast the highest 20 percent income Americans would get an increase of 7.1 percent in their after-tax income.

But Herman Cain says that his plan would not raise taxes on lower- and middle-income Americans. He is either clueless or lying.

Speaking Up

I have always been pretty introverted, and have never felt comfortable speaking up in public or interacting with strangers. And in the past there have been times when I have been guilty of ignoring comments or statements that I should have responded to, just because I didn't feel comfortable "getting involved."

But this morning I was at the post office when I heard a conversation behind me, and I did respond. A group of three men were having a conversation and I heard one of them say that "they shouldn't be allowed to show all this gay stuff on TV, because kids are gonna see that and think that it's okay to be gay." I turned around and said that nothing on TV is going to "turn" someone gay or lesbian, because that is who they are, not who they become. We ended up in a long, heated argument, and of course nobody's mind was changed.

What is most upsetting is that all three of these men's opinions were clearly based on what they have been hearing all of their lives in church. Their responses to everything that I said was basically, "God does not make mistakes," so being gay has to be a choice or the result of lax parental discipline.

Well, whether or not God makes mistakes, I don't see how being gay or lesbian is a mistake. It is beliefs like these men were arguing for that result in the bullying and harassment that is driving young people to such misery and hopelessness that some even take their own lives. And the people who lead the fundamentalist churches are guilty of spreading these hateful beliefs and attitudes.

I am not arguing against Christianity here. If you pick up a Bible and read the Gospels, the four books that contain the words and acts of Jesus, you will not read one word that says homosexuality is wrong. In fact, quite the opposite, you will read words of love, compassion, acceptance, and inclusion of all people.

It's too bad so few Christians pay attention to these words.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Squirrel Facts: The Rally Squirrel

I grew up a Texas Rangers fan, and until about ten years ago I would have been ecstatic to see the Rangers in their second consecutive World Series, and this time favored to win it all. However, I pretty much lost interest in baseball around the early 2000s, in the midst of the steroids era. And now, just as I'm starting to think about giving the game another chance and rooting for the Rangers, along comes the Rally Squirrel.

For those who do not follow baseball, the squirrel made its first appearance in game three of the National League Divisional Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies, when it was seen running around in foul territory. Then, in the fifth inning of game four, the squirrel ran from the first base dugout area across home plate, just as a pitch was being thrown, and then into the stands. The squirrel seemed somehow to spark the St. Louis team and fans, and the Cardinals went on to win the divisional series, then the NL Championship series against Milwaukee, putting them into the World Series.

The St. Louis fans have embraced the "Rally Squirrel" and even have given it a name, Buschy, so called because the team plays in Busch Stadium.

After the game four appearance, Cardinals' management had there squirrel--actually the four squirrels that had taken up residence in the stadium--trapped and then released at a nearby wildlife preserve. There the Rally Squirrel will live a long life and one day tell its grandchildren how it helped the Cardinals go to the World Series.

I'll still pull for the Rangers, but I have to count myself a fan of Buschy, the Rally Squirrel!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Here's Some Real Patriotism For Your Ass...

This is without a doubt one of the most pathetic things I have ever heard.

The Tea Party is now asking small businesses to refuse to hire anyone until the Obama administration stops its "war against business and my country."

Seriously. You can read about it on the Daily Kos.

What kills me is that there are some who have suggested that the Tea Party activists should be a part of Occupy Wall Street. Why would OWS want to be associated with a movement that is so blatantly hateful, not to mention delusional, that they seem bent on destroying the economy and increasing suffering in this country, just to discredit the president and advance their extremist fringe agenda. And then have the gall to call themselves patriots!

Occupy Wall Street is grounded in reality. The Tea Party is, apparently, completely unconnected to anything resembling reality.

Straight But Not Narrow

I saw this cartoon today, and wanted to share it:

I am a heterosexual man, very happily married, and I have never understood what this vague "threat" is that gay marriage is supposed to present to the institution of marriage. Why should I want to deny to anyone else the happiness that I have experienced? The arguments that we hear today against marriage equality are, indeed, strikingly similar to those that the husband and father in the cartoon heard when he fell in love with his wife. And I have no doubt that in the near future, those arguments will sound just as inane and outdated when applied to gay marriage as they did in the past when they were applied to interracial marriage.

Of course, to some of us, they already do.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Where?

My old hometown, Lubbock, TX, is a city in west Texas of about 200,000 people. My current hometown, Charlotte, is a metropolitan area of over 1 million. Both have active occupy movements. Guess which one is getting more coverage from its local newspaper?

Occupy Lubbock.

From the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. And also this.

For whatever reason the Charlotte Observer has chosen to ignore Occupy Charlotte. Of course it wouldn't have anything to do with a certain bank's corporate headquarters just down the street from the Observer's office. Nah!

One of those "dirty hippies" at Occupy Lubbock

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Squirrel Facts: Ground Squirrels

Ground squirrels are found in most parts of the world. In North America they can be found in the central and western parts of the continent. They generally live in prairie grasslands, arctic tundra, mountain meadows, open forest, desert, and scrub country. Chipmunks and marmots are members of the family of ground squirrels.

Golden-mantled ground squirrel

Unlike tree squirrels, ground squirrels are gregarious, living often in large groups that dig tunnel networks under the ground. Their diet is mostly vegetarian, and in many agricultural areas they are considered pests. However, they also will kill and eat mice and insects, and their tunneling action helps to aerate the soil.

13-lined ground squirrel
In colder climates, ground squirrels will hibernate during the winter. Ground squirrel colonies have complex social structures. Because the ground squirrel has little defense against their natural predators, they will cooperate in watching for danger. Members of the group will stand on their hind legs and when a predator is spotted, will call out to the others, giving them time to take cover.

Harris ground squirrel

Photographs From Occupy Charlotte March

I took these photos yesterday during the Occupy Charlotte assembly and march on the Bank of America headquarters. It was exciting for Karen and me to finally have a chance to take part in this movement. Although Charlotte, a city not known for its political activism, has not had crowds as large as those in many other big cities, I was impressed by the energy and passion of the people who were there, a crowd that I would guess was about 200-300.

I am disappointed at the lack of coverage by the local media. A google search on Occupy Charlotte this morning found only this story about the difficulty that the occupiers in downtown Charlotte are having finding places to go to the bathroom. Hopefully some local business owner can be found who will open the doors to the occupiers.

This blog post by Sinister is one of the better commentaries that I've read on the occupy movement.

Photographs from yesterday:   

 General Assembly and tents at the Occupy site, Old City Hall

Protest at Bank of America 

The Scene of the Crimes:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupy Charlotte

This is a short video that I took this afternoon at the protest at the Bank of America corporate headquarters here in Charlotte. The protesters had marched from the Old City Hall where Occupy Charlotte is camped to BOA. I would estimate there were about 200-300 people there for the peaceful protest. I will post some photos later.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Squirrel Facts: Squirrel Family Values

Gray squirrels usually mate in late winter or early spring. Several males will compete for the privilege of mating with a single female. The males will chase each other around and through trees, jumping from branch to branch, until the female chooses the male that she likes most. The losing males will then leave, and the winning male will follow the female until she is ready to mate. After the mating is completed, the male returns to his own territory, and the female is left to carry, give birth to, and raise the young by herself.

The gestation period for gray squirrels is 44-46 days, and the litter is usually four to six babies. The mother will nurse her young for about ten weeks. During that time the young will not leave the nest.

At about ten to twelve weeks old, the young will venture out of the nest for the first time. The mother will teach the young squirrels the skills that they will need as adult squirrels, such as nest building, finding and storing food. They will live for several months as a family unit. This is the time when you will often see the young squirrels chasing each other around yards and parks, running after each other up and down and around trees.

Eventually, in early fall, the young squirrels will leave to establish their own nearby territories. The mother squirrel will go back to living alone until she mates again and raises another litter of young.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

GE: We Bring Good Things To Jeff Immelt

Jeff Immelt, the Chairman and CEO of GE, is President Obama's designated "Jobs Czar." I find this a rather offensive choice, as GE has done little if anything positive for American workers, and everything for GE's investors and top executives.

Immelt shared this little bit of wisdom recently:
I want you to root for me. Look, every one in Germany roots for Siemens, everyone in Japan roots for Toshiba, everyone in China roots for China South Rail, I want you to say, win GE. I think this notion that it’s the population of the US against big companies is just wrong.
 Gee, I wonder where anyone could have gotten the idea that GE is an enemy of the population of the US? It wouldn't be from the fact that over half of GE's workforce is now outside of the United States, or it has cut over one-fifth of its US workforce since Immelt took over as chief executive, or that it made over 145 billion dollars in profits last year and paid no taxes?

Here, courtesy of Paul Krugman, is a chart comparing corporate profits to employee compensation since 2001:

In Japan, currently the ratio of pay for a corporate CEO to that of an average worker is 11 to 1. In Germany, 12 to 1. And in the US, that ratio is 475 to 1.

Yeah, what's good for GE and other big corporations is good for America. If you happen to be a corporate executive. Otherwise, you're pretty much screwed.

Monday, October 10, 2011

So Simple, and Yet So Profound...

Who Are The Extremists

From Paul Krugman's latest column. Nothing more needs to be added:

What’s going on here? The answer, surely, is that Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is. They’re not John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs. They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.
Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached. They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit federal guarantees — basically, they’re still in a game of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower rates than middle-class families. 
This special treatment can’t bear close scrutiny — and therefore, as they see it, there must be no close scrutiny. Anyone who points out the obvious, no matter how calmly and moderately, must be demonized and driven from the stage. In fact, the more reasonable and moderate a critic sounds, the more urgently he or she must be demonized, hence the frantic sliming of Elizabeth Warren. 
So who’s really being un-American here? Not the protesters, who are simply trying to get their voices heard. No, the real extremists here are America’s oligarchs, who want to suppress any criticism of the sources of their wealth.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The American Spectator: Giving New Meaning To the Word "Principled"

The covert infiltration of the Occupy Wall Street protest in Washington DC, and the deliberate provocation of guards at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, by Patrick Howley of the American Spectator, a conservative magazine, has been documented both on the magazine's own website and elsewhere. This was, frankly, a despicable episode, and the fact that Howley then boasted openly about his actions demonstrates the utter lack of ethical standards that this publication operates under.

What is almost as disturbing is this message, from a popup box that appeared when I went to the American Spectator's site to read Howley's account of his undercover exploits:
Did you know? that since 1967 The American Spectator has launched the careers of hundreds of earnest and principled reporters?
This was followed by a request for donations to help fund internships for the development of those "earnest and principled reporters" that the Spectator, a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, is so proud of.

Principled? That has to be one of the most coldly cynical adjectives that I have ever read.

Cute Baby Squirrel

I haven't posted a gratuitous cute baby squirrel photo in a while, so here goes:

Courtesy of the web site

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Animal Rights and PETA

This story about a Spanish bullfighter who was recently gored in the face started me thinking about cruelty and animal rights. A couple of years ago I tried to become a vegetarian, along with my wife Karen. Karen has stuck with vegetarianism, and I was for a while successful. But in the end I found that I missed eating meat and gave in. I still eat much less meat than I used to, which is something that I think most people could benefit from.

Karen and I also joined PETA for a short time. We are both concerned about cruelty and mistreatment toward animals. We oppose factory farming, the exploitation of animals for amusement by circuses, Sea World, and other entertainment businesses, the use of animals for experimentation, and other pointlessly cruel practices.

However, I ultimately found that I could not make myself fit in with PETA's extremist and confrontational methods and philosophy. I think the organisation has done a lot of good in raising awareness of animal cruelty, in exposing much of the torture and abuse that goes on in laboratories, on factory farms, in circuses, on fur farms, and elsewhere. And I applaud PETA for their work.

But I could never feel comfortable being a part of PETA because, as Karen and I learned, the group has no room for moderates. As far as their membership is concerned, if you eat a burger, or even if you spread some butter on your toast, then you are a brutal animal torturer. We had signed up to lead a demonstration at a local McDonalds to protest against the treatment of the chickens used to make McNuggets, but the signage we received was so over-the-top disturbing that we were concerned about it being seen by young children who make up so many of the restaurant's customers. Here is an example of one of the images:

I understand extreme devotion to a cause. There are issues, such as the need to end capital punishment, in which my views could be considered extremist. But I think to be successful in the long run, an organisation that is committed to a cause should make some room for those who are not extreme in their views but who are happy to go halfway, or three-quarters of the way. A person like me, who thinks eating meat is ok, but who wants to see considerable reform in how farm animals are treated, the conditions that they live in, and who wants to see an end to pointless cruelty and suffering, is not welcome in PETA. And I think that is a shame.

Oh, and that bullfighter in the story that I linked to at the beginning of this post... he has likely lost the sight in one eye and will suffer partial facial paralysis, not to mention the horrific scar that he will surely bear. Part of me wants to say that he got what he deserved, that I feel no sympathy for a man who had devoted his life to torturing animals. And yes, there is a certain poetic justice in his injuries. And yet, I can't quite bring myself to  feel this way. Maybe some good will come from the injury, if by ending his career it saves the lives of a few bulls (although I'm sure that this torreador will be replaced by another, so that is probably unlikely), or if it makes a few bullfighting fans aware of the utter folly of this "sport." But suffering is suffering, whether it is a bull or a man. I don't believe that the suffering of one living being can relieve or atone for the suffering of another.

Squirrel Facts: The Black Squirrel

The black squirrel is not a separate species but is a melanistic subgroup of the eastern gray squirrel. This means that an individual has an excessive amount of melanin, or dark pigmentation. Melanism is the opposite of albinism, or the absence of melanin.

Black or melanistic squirrels can exist anywhere that gray squirrels are found. However, they are generally more common in the northern areas of the eastern gray squirrel's range. This is because melanistic squirrels are better adapted to tolerate cold weather, as the black coloring of the fur helps them to better retain body heat.

There are certain regions where melanistic squirrels are particularly common. These include parts of the midwestern and northeastern United States, Quebec and Ontario in Canada, and some parts of Great Britain. There are also more localized populations of melanistic squirrels that are probably made up of the descendants of introduced individuals. These include colonies in Washington DC and northern Virginia; Kent, Ohio; Battle Creek and the Michigan State University campus in Michigan; Vancouver, BC; Fort Mitchell, KY; and the Quad Cities area along the Iowa-Illinois border.

The Black Squirrel is the mascot of the varsity athletic teams of Haverford College, which is near Philadelphia, PA. And Kent State University in Ohio has an annual Black Squirrel Festival every September. Sadly, this year's Black Squirrel Festival has already passed, but it's not too soon to start making plans for next year!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Squirrel Facts: Warning, Adult Squirrel Content

I wasn't sure whether to post this or not, but after all, this blog is called The News For Squirrels. So for all the lady squirrels, and the gay male squirrels (we don't discriminate here), here is the latest adult squirrel internet meme sensation:

An Awesome Anthem For Our Times

This song by James McMurtry appears to be a few years old, but it sums up the state of the country today, and I think it would make an excellent anthem for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Occupy Charlotte

There is a new website for Occupy Charlotte.

The next action is scheduled for this Saturday, October 8 (tomorrow). Location is the old City Hall, and there will be a march to Bank of America headquarters at 4:00pm.

Jobs: A Dim Memory

The title of this article says it all: For Many, A Job Is But a Dim Memory. I'm one of those many. The last day that I had a job was August 13, 2010. Like almost one-third of the 9.1 percent of Americans who are officially unemployed, I have been out of work for over a year. I say "officially unemployed" because the unemployment figures do not include those who, unlike me, have given up altogether on finding a job and dropped out of the workforce.

The Republicans say that the answer to this crisis is less taxes and fewer regulations. They say that the money that businesses save will be used to hire more workers. This makes no sense. Taxes on the wealthy and on corporations are already lower than they have been in generations, among the lowest in the developed world. And the government spent the last two decades reducing regulations on businesses. So where are the jobs? Why should we believe the wealthy when they say their taxes need to be cut even more? Where did all this money go that they have saved already, the money given back to the wealthy by the Bush tax cuts? Just how stupid do they think we are?

They will say that by even asking this question I am engaging in "class warfare." Well I feel like I've been fighting a war for the last thirteen months just trying to keep my head above water, to keep a roof over my family's heads, to keep the utilities turned on and food in the fridge and gas in the car.

Herman Cain summed up the right's position very well the other day: "Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks, if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself!"

In other words, the Republicans' message to the people of this country who are struggling to make it through this recession is, "Fuck you, it's your own fault."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The GOP: Standing Up As Always For Our Sacred Rights

When my wife told me about this story, at first I thought it had to be a joke. Ritch Workman, a Republican state legislator in Florida, has introduced a resolution to--I am totally serious--repeal the state's ban on "dwarf tossing."

Those who are above the age of 30 might remember this idiotic fad from the 1980s. Bars would hold contests to see who could throw a dwarf the farthest. Florida thankfully banned this demeaning "entertainment" in 1989. But Mr. Workman, apparently not concerned with the many real problems that he could be addressing, sees this ban, believe it or not, as an assault on freedom. As he told a reporter from the Palm Beach Post:
I'm on a quest to seek and destroy unnecessary burdens on the freedom and liberties of people. This is an example of Big Brother government.
Workman even makes the bizarre claim that this is a jobs issue, stating that the ban had taken away "some employment from some little people." Not surprisingly, Little People of America, a nonprofit group that advocates for the rights of people with dwarfism, disagrees. They issued a statement in 2001 that denounced dwarf tossing, which, they said, objectifies and dehumanizes little people in the name of entertainment.

So let's hear it for the GOP, standing up for our inalienable right to get stinking drunk and throw little people around a bar for our crass amusement.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cop Bragging About How He Will Beat Protesters at Occupy Wall Street

This cop obviously did not know he was on camera. Hah! Now the whole world is going to hear him!

Squirrel Facts: The Squirrel Capital of the World

If you can't get enough  squirrels, then the place for you is probably Lafayette Park in Washington, DC. This park, located directly north of the White House, has the densest population of squirrels of any known place. This is probably because of the large number of tourists and local visitors who are happy to feed the many squirrels who make this park their home.

Herman Cain is a Jerk

Herman Cain on the Occupy Wall Street movement:
I don't have facts to back this up, but I happen to believe that these demonstrations are planned and orchestrated to distract from the failed policies of the Obama administration. Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks, if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself! It is not someone’s fault if they succeeded.
Mr. Cain, maybe in the future if you "don't have facts" to back up what you're saying, you should just keep your mouth shut. On second thought, keep talking. The more you say, the less credible you are, the less chance that you will ever be elected president.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Tyrant King of North Carolina

In the election of 2010 the Republican Party gained a majority in both house of the North Carolina State Legislature for the first time since 1870. Even with the rising wave of Tea-Party activism that year, this was considered a surprise by most observers. In an outstanding new article in the New Yorker magazine, Jane Mayer reveals the disturbing role that one NC businessman, Art Pope, played in influencing the results of this election.

Using the loopholes in campaign spending created by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision of January 2010, Mr. Pope, whose family owns the Variety Wholesalers group of discount store chains, used his business fortune to pour vast amounts of money, through several "non-partisan" groups, to influence the state house elections and get his hand-picked group of extremist right-wing Republican candidates elected. The result has been a string of proposed legislation that will, among other things, shorten the period for early voting, eliminate early voting on Sundays, and require photo ID to vote in NC--all of which will disproportionately affect young, poor, and minority voters. The Republicans have also passed anti-environmental legislation, and have proposed a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage. Perhaps even more importantly, the Republican takeover of the NC state government allowed the GOP to dominate the process of redrawing Congressional district lines after the 2010 census. Governor Beverly Perdue, a Democrat elected in 2008, has courageously opposed the Republicans and has vetoed many of the bills that have been passed, but unfortunately most of her vetoes have been overridden.

The influence of Mr. Pope on NC politics has been compared to that of the Koch Brothers. One Democratic official quoted in the New Yorker article says
In a very real sense, Democrats running for office in North Carolina are always running against Art Pope. The Republican agenda in North Carolina is really Art Pope’s agenda. He sets it, he funds it, and he directs the efforts to achieve it. The candidates are just fronting for him. There are so many people in North Carolina beholden to Art Pope—it undermines the democratic process.
This is the tragedy of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, that it allows one extremely wealthy individual to exercise so much power in government simply by being willing to spend vast amounts of money. It would be just as wrong (although much less likely) if that individual was a liberal spending the money on getting Democratic candidates elected. And unfortunately this will keep happening until that decision is overturned by a future Supreme Court decision.

In the meantime, if you live in the southeast or mid-Atlantic region of the United States, please go to this website, look at the list of discount store chains on the right hand side of the page, which are owned by Art Pope's family, and please do not spend one cent of your money at any of those stores.

Squirrel Facts: Largest and Smallest Squirrels

There are more than 365 different kinds of squirrel in the world. Of these, the largest is the Ratufa, or Indian Giant Squirrel, found in southeast Asia and parts of Nepal. This species has a head and body length of about 14 inches, and a tail that can be more than two feet long, making its total length more than three feet (almost 1 meter).

Indian Giant Squirrel

The smallest is the African Pygmy Squirrel, which is found in Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. I measures just 5 1/2 inches (14cm) from it nose to the end of its tail.

African Pygmy Squirrel

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

This is the Declaration of the Occupation of New York.

It is the statement of the protesters in the Occupy Wall Street movement that started on September 17 in New York City, and is spreading across the country. It is an awesome popular uprising against the corporate greed and influence that is destroying our country. I am hopeful that a similar movement is developing in Charlotte as it has in many other cities following New York's example.

It is not surprising that the corporate "news" media is not giving this growing movement the coverage it deserves. I browsed three online news sources earlier this afternoon:,, and the British site Guess which one gave the most prominent place on its site to the Occupy Wall Street protests. Yep, it was BBC.

And even the "liberal" New York Times web site is showing its bias against this movement. Yesterday, when over 700 protesters were arrested at the Brooklyn Bridge, made a sudden and startling change in its lead sentence (see screenshot image below), shifting the blame for the arrests from the police to the protesters. For the record, there were many witnesses who reported that the police had led the protesters deliberately onto the bridge roadway and were planning ahead to carry out mass arrests.

Barack Obama's Human Rights Campaign Dinner Speech

There have been many instances since his election in which I have been disappointed in Barack Obama. This is not one of them:
We don't believe in the kind of smallness that says it's okay for a stage full of political leaders -- one of whom could end up being the president of the United States -- being silent when an American soldier is booed. We don't believe in that. We don't believe in standing silent when that happens. We don't believe in them being silent since. You want to be commander in chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it's not politically convenient. We don't believe in a small America. We believe in a big America -- a tolerant America, a just America, an equal America -- that values the service of every patriot.
This is the Barack Obama who I supported wholeheartedly back in 2008, and who I wish we could see more of in 2011 and beyond.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Chris Christie is NOT "Too Fat" to be President

There are plenty of reasons that I do not want NJ Governor Chris Christie to be elected president. Most of them have to do with the fact that he is yet another right-wing Republican. However, his weight is not among those reasons.

Amazingly, this has become an issue recently, as Governor Christie has been under recent pressure to reconsider his well-publicized decision not to run for president. For example, this recent article by Michael Kinsley declares in no uncertain terms that Christie "can not be president: He is just too fat." Mr. Kinsley, like many others who share his view, see Governor Christie's weight as a moral issue. They contend that if a person can not control his or her eating sufficiently to maintain a "normal" body weight, that this calls into question their self-control and thus their trustworthiness in public office.

There is no question that obesity is a serious and growing public health problem in the United States and other industrialized countries. As a person who has personally experienced with weight issues all of his life, I can say that there are many reasons for this problem. The factors involved in obesity can include family history, education and upbringing, pervasive advertising of unhealthy foods, lifestyle, poverty, and medical issues. It is seldom if ever simply a matter of "will power" or "self-control," as many people assume. For every person who successfully and permanently loses a significant amount of weight, there are many more who struggle unsuccessfully to do so.

The overweight are one of the last remaining socially "acceptable" targets of prejudice in America. This prejudice goes well past jokes and hurtful comments in the schoolyard, extending even to overt acts of discrimination.

There are many reasons to oppose Chris Christie if he should decide to jump into the presidential race. So please, don't judge him for something as superficial as his size.

Squirrel Facts: The Eurasian Red Squirrel

The red squirrel is found in both coniferous and temperate broadleaf forests throughout Europe and northern Asia. This is a completely separate species from the North American red squirrel that is found in Canada and the northern United States.

The red squirrel is somewhat smaller than the eastern gray squirrel. It is reddish in color, although the shade differs depending on region and season. It has a creamy white underbelly, and, the most distinctive feature, ear tufts, which are usually most pronounced in winter. The diet consists mostly of seeds of coniferous trees, nuts, fungi, berries, tree sap, and occasionally birds' eggs. The red squirrel will build a drey similar to the eastern gray squirrel, or may nest in tree cavities such as abandoned woodpecker nests.

In most parts of its range the red squirrel is abundant. However, tragically, in England the introduction of the larger and stronger eastern gray squirrel from North America, sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century, has pushed the red squirrel out of most of its range. This is not due to aggression by the eastern gray, as the two species are not known to be antagonistic, but is because of several factors including the conflict over available food resources, greater adaptability and breeding success of the eastern gray squirrel, and, most troubling, a disease called squirrel pox which eastern grays carry but are immune to, but which is fatal to the red squirrel. Apart from the spread of the eastern gray squirrel, the red squirrel population has also been affected by fragmentation and reduction of its native forest habitat.

Wild populations of red squirrels in the United Kingdom are now found primarily in Scotland. Efforts are underway to protect and conserve the remaining populations of red squirrels. More information about these efforts, and how you can help, can be found here.