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 http://myr.pn/apop.

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.

Friday, November 11, 2011

I Hate Time Warner Cable

After 90 minutes on the phone, at least half of that time on hold, four transfers, two unsuccessful attempts to speak to a supervisor, and several rude comments from snotty, condescending customer "service" representatives, I am once again thoroughly dissatisfied and disgusted with Time Warner Cable. Times are pretty tough right now, and it can be a real pain to switch, but as soon as we are able, I think it is time to look into Dish Network. They can't be any worse than this.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More on the Penn State Scandal

What is puzzling me right now is why Mike McQueary, the then-graduate assistant and now assistant coach who walked in on Sandusky raping a child in 2002, is being held blameless? While the others involved in the cover-up, including Joe Paterno, have been fired or resigned, McQueary is still employed and will be on the sidelines this Saturday at PSU's game against Nebraska.

Keep in mind, this is a man who, witnessing another grown man having forcible anal sex with a boy of around ten years old, did not intervene to stop the rape, did not call the police, but instead slunk away to his office, called his father, and then waited until the next day to tell coach Paterno.

Like everybody involved in the chain of command at Penn State, like Paterno himself, McQueary was clearly more concerned about the reputation of Paterno and Penn State's football program, than about the welfare of the children being raped by Jerry Sandusky.

Here is an outstanding editorial in Al Jezeera about Penn State, college football, and the role that big money plays in twisting the priorities of college sports programs.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Joe Paterno Should Leave Immediately

I am, without question, a college football fan. I have never particularly been a fan of, or closely followed, Penn State, and I am not among those who have until recently idolized Penn State coach Joe Paterno. I am most definitely among those who are now horrified by the revelations about child sex abuse within the Penn State football program by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

Paterno has announced that he will retire at the end of the current season. The coach has said that he is "devastated," that the case is a "tragedy" and that he wants to finish this season with "dignity and determination." He also stated that he wishes that he had done more in 2002 when he found out about Sandusky's behavior.

Paterno's regret and remorse is understandable, but it is not enough. I read a portion of the text of the Grand Jury indictment of Sandusky. You can read it here. I want to be clear: this is an excruciating, disturbing document that describes in graphic detail Sandusky's sexual assaults of eight young victims, all boys under the age of 15.

What is clear to me is that the whole chain of command at Penn State, from the graduate assistant who witnessed Sandusky's rape of a boy in a locker room shower on campus, to athletic director Tim Curley, to university Vice President Gary Schultz, and, yes, Joe Paterno, failed in their moral obligations to make sure that Sandusky not have the opportunity to assault any more young boys.

It has been pointed out that Joe Paterno followed the letter of the law by informing his superior, Mr. Curley, when the 2002 rape was brought to his attention. But it is clear that Paterno failed to follow up on the incident. Any reasonable person, informed of such a monstrous act going on almost right under his nose, being committed by a person who he interacts with on a daily basis, would not only report the act, but would take upon himself or herself the responsibility to make sure that such a thing never happened again.

Joe Paterno did not accept this responsibility.

He should never coach another college football game. The powers that be at Penn State should see to it that the coach is given a choice: resign immediately, or be fired.

Furthermore, if Coach Paterno is allowed to finish the season, then the schools on the remainder of Penn State's schedule should take a courageous step: refuse to play the Nittany Lions if Paterno is present as head coach. If the authorities at Penn State refuse to make clear that there is no tolerance at their institution for anyone who helps, in even the smallest way, to cover up child rape, then the rest of the schools that make up the NCAA should do the right thing, even if it means taking a forfeit.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Letter to Etsy.com re: Squirrel Paw Necklace

The following is the letter that I sent to Etsy.com regarding the squirrel paw necklace that I wrote about in my last post:
I am writing to ask you to take action on listing #81478746 which is described as a "Lucky" squirrel paw necklace. I and many others find such a product made from a body part of a beautiful living creature to be deeply offensive. It is one thing to hunt or raise animals for use as food or clothing, and many people understandably oppose even this use. But to use the paws of an intelligent, sentient living creature for mere ornamentation, with no practical benefit whatsoever, is absolutely unacceptable, especially by a self-described "community of artists, creators, collectors, thinkers and doers."
Please take a close look at this listing and consider doing the right thing by removing it, and prohibit future such listings.
If you want to write to Etsy.com, again, the address is community@etsy.com.

Sick Squirrel Paw Necklace For Sale On Etsy

I hate to post a revolting picture like this, but I think this needs to be seen:

This is a necklace currently being sold on the website Etsy.com, cynically described as a "Lucky Squirrel Paw Necklace." It is just as described, the actual paw of a real (formerly) live squirrel which, obviously, was not very lucky at all, mounted on a cord to be displayed around the neck of some lame artsy hipster wannabe.

I know we can argue day and night over the right or wrong of using animals for food or functional clothing, but I hope we can agree that killing intelligent, sentient animals for such a pointless, superficial display as this is not only unnecessary but flat out cruel. I am pretty sure that the squirrels that gave their lives for these ugly pieces of jewelry were not eaten--if I'm wrong then the seller should put a disclaimer on the listing that says so. In fact, there is not a word on how these paws were obtained.

If you want to take a look at the listing yourself, here it is.

Please sign a petition asking Etsy.com to remove this listing.

You can also write directly to Etsy.com at community@etsy.com.

Squirrel Facts: Ancient Saber-Toothed Squirrel Found

This is an artist's rendition of a saber-toothed squirrel that lived alongside dinosaurs during the late Cretaceous period:

We're in a bad mood because acorns haven't
evolved yet!
This find is scientifically significant because this creature closely resembles a prehistoric squirrel character from the Ice Age films. At least that's the impression I get, as every article I have read about this discovery has emphasized this point. Perhaps more importantly, this is the first discovery of a mammalian species in South America that lived during this long-ago time.

The creature is called cronopio dentiacutus. It was less than six inches long and probably ate insects. It likely survived by staying out of sight of the dinosaurs, keeping under cover and venturing out at night.

The comparison to squirrels is, actually, purely superficial. Cronopio was not even related to modern squirrels. At least that's what the scientists say. But I still think there is a certain unmistakable family resemblance.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Boycott The Universoul Circus

This traveling circus will be in Charlotte later this month, from November 15-20. Like many other circuses, including Ringling Brothers, the Universoul Circus has a long history of abuse of the animals that are used in its acts.

As I have said before in this blog, I have mixed feelings about the work and philosophies of PETA. However, on the issues surrounding exploitation of animals in circuses and other entertainment businesses, I am in full, 100 percent agreement with them. Here is PETA's fact sheet concerning the Universoul Circus, which details a troubling record of abuse and terrible living conditions.

The video below, shot earlier this year, shows a tiger at the Universoul Circus with its paw caught under the door of its cage. You can see that not only is the tiger in terrible distress, but that the tigers at this circus live in terrible, cramped cages.

Please, if this circus or any other circus that uses animals comes to your town, do not patronize it. The animals in these shows live under terrible, abusive conditions that no creature should be forced to endure in the name of "entertainment."

Squirrel News: Montana Hero Risks Life For Squirrel

This item from the Missoulian tells the story of a courageous, unnamed Billings, MT man who put his life on the line to save an unnamed MT squirrel from Lance Joseph Topel, a drunken, crazed, knife-wielding squirrel-hating maniac.

The 40 year old anonymous hero saw Mr. Topel chasing a squirrel near his house and trying to stab it with a switchblade. He told Mr. Topel to stop, the story says, "because he liked squirrels." Topel responded by  approaching him with the knife, and threatening to kill both the squirrel and the man.

Unfortunately, it appears that prosecutors allowed Topel to plea down to a suspended sentence for a felony assault charge, and receive minimal jail time for drunk driving and driving without a license charges. There is no mention made of any animal cruelty charges.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Squirrel Facts: A Brilliant (Squirrel) Disguise

The California ground squirrel faces a formidable predator in the Northern Pacific rattlesnake. But these little squirrels have found a unique and clever method to protect themselves. When a squirrel finds a piece of shed skin from a rattlesnake, it will chew up the skin and then lick the scent from the skin all over itself. The snake, which hunts mainly by scent instead of sight, is fooled into thinking that the squirrel is another rattlesnake, and passes it by.

I don't like smelling like snake all the time,
but it's better to smell like one than be
inside of one!