Monday, April 28, 2008


So now our bird-nerd-ness is confirmed, for here are two video clips from tonight's after-dinner play-time with Paquito our parrotlet.

The first clip is "Ducky, beware..."

Ducky began his career as an in-cage toy, dangling from bells and chewy-things. Paquito, however, quickly chewed him off and began tossing him around. It's not uncommon for little parrots to have a love/hate toy, and it seemed that Paquito was treats the little ducky in that capacity.

Also, for your viewing pleasure, here is clip numero dos, entitled "Plastimania," so named for the bird's reaction to rustling plastic bag-noises. He gets all riled up, especially when on top of his cage.


Why do we post such things?

--Because we can.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Green green onions...

I'd read that saguaros usually bloom in May and June, but the last few days,
we've been noticing precocious 'bouquets' of the surreal flowers on the green giants.
This morning, driving on the NE edge of town, we saw this:

The hole in the cactus on the right is probably a Gila woodpecker hole,
like this one we saw in our neighborhood:

Notice the weird bulbous things on the top--those are the flowers-to-be.

And here are some more flowers-that-are:

Just a few days ago, the first prickly-pears began blooming in front of where we live:

And down the street, these deep-purple prickly-pear pads are sprouting lemony-blossoms:

Out in the desert, some of the green nopales have the same color flowers...
...although out of some of the pads, yellow and peach flowers are sprouting:

The spiky chollas are blooming, too--like these rosé ones:

Closer to home, the lantana are striking in their tiny details...

...including the variety of colors that can appear in just one half-dollar-sized cluster:

And, finally, the prosaic green onion...when planted and left to grow, even in a patio pot, they end up sending up shoots of tiny lilies:

Friday, April 25, 2008

"Facebook and MySpace sell electronic crack."

Now, is that line quotable, or what?
Below is the context from which it is taken.
I read the article (from
today's International Herald Tribune)
during my lunch break, and I felt compelled to post it.
And so, here it is:

The buzz of today's youth
By Perry Glasser

Friday, April 25, 2008

SALEM, Massachusetts: Two of my students appeared at my college office door just as I was leaving to meet them. In the hurry of ordinary business, I had been ambiguous as to when and where we'd chat. But a third student, their classmate, was missing. "Where's Steph?" I asked.

Chelsea and Samantha shrugged.

I found Stephanie downstairs waiting at a classroom seminar table. I explained my mix-up. She dropped her cellphone into her pocketbook. "I was expecting a call from Sam or Chel," she said.

I wondered, why had I walked?

My reflexes no longer fit the times. My students assume constant electronic proximity. They call; I schlep. Like the dance of the bees, they share a hive mentality: the reflexive, instinctive, communication of everything about everybody to everyone at every moment.

Is the ubiquity of cellphones and the Internet fundamentally changing a generation's sense of self?

Those of us older than 40 worry about privacy: My Millennial Generation students entering their 20s have little appreciation for that concept. Identities blurring at the edges, they have become a great "us."

The hive mentality is not only ordinary adolescent conformity - it's a corporate necessity. The electronic network flatters every yuppie wannabe with the same delusional lie: You are the hub of a great, ever-changing network. The heavens may wheel, but we remain fixed at the center.

What mid-level exec dares vacation without a Blackberry? Suppose the home office reached a decision while you were beyond reach? Suppose a crucial e-mail was sent while you foolishly wasted time with your kids, sat in the sun, or read a book? People need lives, but business requires productivity.

For my students, the social networking sites Facebook and MySpace are corporate training grounds. How different is being a knowledge worker in a felt-lined cube from having 1,000 globally dispersed "friends" whose every mood, taste, and activity is instantly broadcast and made public?

Facebook and MySpace sell electronic crack. What normal, peer-dependent kid wouldn't rather have 1,000 electronic friends than three people they actually had to (gulp) talk to? Why reveal your heart, choose words, take risks, or share ambitions when, with a mouse click, you can appear witty, clever, and wise? More than half of these kids have divorced parents - what did risk, trust and intimacy get them?

This most photographed generation in history is by many measures the most narcissistic. Social networking sites present a huge, electronic refrigerator door with no judgmental parent exerting critical judgment.

My fiercely independent college students post photographs that are numbingly the same. Arms looped drunkenly around each other at parties, longneck beers in hand; stacked like cordwood and laughing on dorm beds; girls wetly lick each other's faces; and - gender-free and almost universal - they flip the bird into the camera.

I've become accustomed to my college students rarely going on dates. For one thing, they are far too busy to gradually learn about anyone. Courting is conducted in packs, and they unashamedly hook up, meaning a quick, probably meaningless, sexual liaison. The original mission of Facebook was to discover eligible "friends" on one's own campus without the risk of, say, an awkward meeting over coffee. I survived the '70s so can't raise an eyebrow at hooking up, but the convergence of cellphones and the Internet has given finding companionship all the flavor of a hunting wolf pack. Individuals are never alone; meet a potential partner, snap a quick surreptitious cellphone photo, and seek advice: "Definite babe!" "Dump him!" "Go 4 it!" "Does he have a brother?"

Every advance in technology has raised yellow caution flags waved by old fogies like me. Autos changed the sex life of youth and made the Roaring Twenties roar, and, when I was a lad, rock and roll music eroded moral restraint while fomenting communism, acne and juvenile delinquency. But the social networking sites and cellphone culture aren't just changing habits or style; they are changing the nature of identity.

Buzz, buzz, buzz. All is well in the hive. Buzz, buzz, buzz.

Perry Glasser coordinates the professional writing program at Salem State College in Massachusetts.

Monday, April 21, 2008

"Salad days"...


"...My salad days,
When I was green in judgment: cold in blood,
To say as I said then!"

(click here for a brief discussion of the context and origin
of that quote from Anthony and Cleopatra, 1606)

This afternoon I 'harvested' the last salad greens of the season from our patio garden-containers.
Last week saw our first 90-degree days;
the days grow hot, alas,
and the greens grow bitter.
Adieu, adieu, oh salad of little cost...
...alas, oh lettuces of the past four months,
we ate you well, and spent nigh nought...

I don't know what possessed me to write that just now...
And yet I feel compelled not to delete it...)

But the palo verdes have come into full bloom,
and the cacti are not far behind...

On my way home from work this afternoon, I took a scenic drive up to the Catalina foothills. Most of Tucson, at treetop-height, is carpeted with green and yellow right now...

A perfect insect moment--a ladybug climbing down the slender green twig--a dash of red poking about in the yellow of tree and blue of sky...

...and the ocotillos beneath Finger Point continue to point their fire in all directions.

...and the Engelman's prickly pear blossoms are just beginning to open up.


Last weekend, my wife and I drove down to the Huachuca mountains...
In Ramsey Canyon, which is a Nature Conservancy Preserve, we saw this screech-owl, taking an afternoon-nap in a sycamore tree:

...napping, and also guarding against an acorn woodpecker trying to take over this prime-nesting-habitat:
Ramsey Canyon is a sheltered microclimate--the desert and the forest cohabit this cleft in the mountains, providing a haven for deer and hummingbirds among the yucca, oaks, and maples.
In the autumn, this canyon is one of the only spots in southern Arizona that might stand in for New England...

In the late 19th century, a few families settled in this canyon, and some of their apple trees still bloom every spring:

The Huachuca mountains ("Huachuca" means 'thunder' in Apache) rise into the sky at an ecological and political crossroads--the Rocky mountain, Chihuahua desert, Sonora desert, and Sierra Madre ecosystems all intersect here, where the U.S.-Mexico border marches across the high grasslands between Montezuma Peak on the left and San José peak on the distant right (Mexico).

The area is a haven for birdwatchers, hikers, spelunkers...
...and also smugglers and coyotes:
Quite the roadside sign, eh?

Watch out for deer, the occasional black bear, rattlesnakes, and, oh yes, drug smugglers and human trafficking.

Sky islands. Mountain crossroads.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

lunchtime. green cartoon.

From today's International Herald Tribune:
...ay, the law of unintended consequences...

The tyranny of corn. Seriously--not such a radical phrase, when you look into the issue.

I have nothing personal against corn.


Corn has invaded so much of the agro-alimentary industry, irrationally.

It's amazing (pun fully intended) how political corn has become.

Corn is one of the least efficient crops from which to produce ethanol.

(The current food-shortages and rising food-prices, especially harmful in third-world countries, is largely due in part to the politically-induced overproduction of corn.)

"Corn syrup" is hardly 'natural'...neither are 'corn plastics'...

Corn is one of the worse things to feed cattle, but in feedlots, cows are given corn because it makes them grow fast, while simultaneously making them ill, which forces farmers to pump them full of antibiotics...Feed a cow grass, and it'll be much happier. But, no--gotta give'em corn...A lifetime of intestinal distress, but 'worth it,' so we can have cheap hamburgers, eh? ay...

Wow, this does come off as a rant.

Corn. Good food. Gone bad.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Post-bike-ride thoughts…rephrased upon seeing a Swiss photo.

The other morning, on my bike ride,
on the Rillito trail,
I rounded a bend and saw a wheelchair off to the side…
I thought—who’d abandon a wheelchair?
Then I saw a bundle of blankets on the ground,
and, in it, a person sleeping.

A wheel-chair-bound homeless man,
sleeping in the desert in the middle of a city.

I wanted to ask the guy if there was something specific I could get him that morning…
Breakfast? a cup of coffee? some toiletries? a number to call?
But he was sleeping so soundly, I couldn’t wake him.

I wished I’d had with me something immediately useful for him—
a granola bar, a bottle of water…
but I had nothing.
I did have a few dollars, though…so I anchored them under a rock on the seat of his wheelchair.

Next to him, on the ground, was a bundle of papers, including a map of Tucson.
Was he new to the area?

How’d he get here?
How’d he end up wheelchair-bound and homeless?
So many stories…

The old phrase “There but for the grace of God go I” came to mind.
Any of us, through unforeseen circumstances, can end up in dire, dire straits.

Later, though, that phrase replayed in my head,
and I realized that I actually find it a distasteful, even offensive, in its implications.

I was looking through some old photos for a project,
And I came across this one, of a statue of a Swiss reformation-preacher in Neuchâtel:

(The statue is of Guillaume Farel, a 16th-c. associate of Calvin...Ahh, the cold Calvinists who became as intolerant as the Catholic Inquisition they rallied against…)

The idea of absolute predestination.

I know that the English phrase ‘there but for the grace of God go I” is not historically of Calvinist origin.

However, the wording implies that “I” am favored, predestined to not be suffering, and that
the person upon whose misfortune I am looking is obviously not benefiting from that 'grace.'

(To my mind, it’s the same sentiment in the phrase “God bless insert country here” which then implies ‘and curse the rest.’…which in turn reminds me of one of the most famous lines in French history—during a crusade-like campaign in the 13th century:
Tuez-les tous; Dieu reconnaîtra les siens.”
In July 1209, in the city of Béziers, a papal legate, when asked by ‘crusaders’ how to distinguish the heretics they were about to massacre from innocent bystanders, replied:
kill them all; God will recognize those who are his own.” ...Wow.)

As a high-school teacher, I too often hear the phrase, among students’ conversations, “well, it sucks to be you.”
A modern, harsher, absolutely devoid of empathy, adolescent re-wording of the 16th-century English “there but for the grace of God go I,” perhaps.

The writer of Ecclesiastes penned these words:
“time and chance (or ‘unforeseen occurrence’) happeneth to them all.” (Eccl 9.11)
Unforeseen occurences. “Temps et contretemps.”
An imperfect world with too many gaps and cracks to fall into…

Stuff happens. Don’t blame a higher power…
And may none of us think we are ‘overly favored’…

========================'s been almost two years, now, since we returned from living in León...these were my 'wheels' wife and I still find ourselves occasionally reeling from the surreality of the contrast between our daily life here and our daily life there...

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Mountains. Biking. Nectar-thief.

Next Friday is the City of Tucson's Bike-to-Work-day.

So this morning I thought I'd check out how long it would take me to bike from home to where I work: twenty minutes. Not bad. Before the 100-degree days arrive, I should 'go green,' then.
Riding back, I decided to make a loop instead of backtracking...

...which took me by an animal feed-store with this mural on its side wall (cell-phone-cameras are pretty convenient, eh?):
Ahh--a twinge of 'homesickness' for the Pacific Northwest hit--Mt. Shuksan, in the North Cascades National Park, arguably the most photographed mountain in the world. (And now, coming to a SW-feed-store near you...)

Once, staying with friends-of-friends in the south of France, I noticed they had put together one of those thousand-piece-puzzles and framed it on the wall of their guest room. They thought it was a Swiss-scene, but it was Mt. Shuksan, in Washington state...And in Peru, a popular brand of muesli had, on its packaging--you guessed it--Mt. Shuksan. An Andean peak just won't do, I guess...For whatever reason, Mt. Shuksan is a glaciated mountain-super-model...

(This, alas, is not my is courtesy of:
I've been there twice, but have never been able to see it completely cloud-free.

Oh, yes, clouds...part of the reason why we moved to Arizona...

So, continuing on my loop back home, I took the Rillito "river" trail, which gives you views of the majestic Santa Catalinas and the 'river.' It was flowing a few weeks ago. Really. I promise.

No waves lapping at the shore as I pedaled today...

I loved riding my bike as a kid, but I got away from it in middle- and high-school...Then, one summer while in college, I visited a friend up in Québec City, and we went biking one day--From the old city, dominated by the Château Frontenac on Cap Diamant, up the St.-Lawrence for quite a few miles to the Montmorency waterfall.

(Incidentally, this year marks the 400th-anniversary of the founding of Québec, which remains the only walled-city in North America...and in late June and early July, my wife and will be there; it'll be her first true 'immersion' in the French language since she began studying it in earnest...)

So, when I returned home to Georgia from that trip, I got a bike, and riding along the Augusta Canal (built in the 19th-century with Irish and Chinese-immigrant labor) became a favorite way to escape from reading-lists...
No mountains or French-Canadian-colonial-fortifications in East Central Georgia, but plenty of green...and it's also the northern habitat-limit of alligators and Spanish moss...


Yesterday afternoon, we did see some flowing water along some trails in Sabino Canyon:

...and the wildflowers continue:


A couple of days ago, we looked out our living-room window, through the curtain, and saw this:

Decidedly not a hummingbird.
I carefully moved the curtain to the side, trying not to scare the bird away, and got a better look. A Gila Woodpecker was sipping the nectar! I wonder if he's the same guy who was pecking on our roof--which is tile--the other day? Has the nectar fermented?

And that's all the minutiae for tonight.
Signing off from our corner in Tucson...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

--a shoeshine?

Lunchtime reading--
I've come across a column in yesterday's International Herald Tribune...
( you can read it in its entirety below...)

Instantly, I think back to living in Nicaragua--
how many times I would be running errands in downtown Leon,
with boys as young as 7 or 8 years old chasing after me, offering
to shine my shoes...

...and I would be torn between the notion of 'giving the kid honest work' and
'not wanting to enable' a broken system in which the shoeless (!) kids
should have been in school instead...

Then again, maybe the kid's family couldn't even afford to buy the mandatory uniforms...or textbooks...
...or there might have been an unscrupulous guardian keeping the kid out of school on purpose
so that he could make a few cordobas to bring home...

I actually would consciously wear sandals instead, sometimes;
no one offers to shine your sandals for a cordoba.
(At the time, one cordoba was equal to about US$0.17.)

Shoeshine politics
By Roger Cohen
International Herald Tribune
Thursday, April 3, 2008

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of societies: those where you can get a shoe shine and those where you can't.

France falls into the latter category. Search Paris high and low for a seat to kick back and "se faire cirer les bottes": You'll search in vain.

There's something about the idea of having someone stooped at the feet of a client applying polish to his or her boots that rubs the Gallic egalitarian spirit the wrong way. It's just not what 1789 was about.

In the United States, of course, it's a different story. Unlike humor, which is in short supply, or banned, a shoe shine is freely available at U.S. airports. Walk a few Manhattan or Chicago blocks and someone will be there to make your shoes gleam.

There's something about having someone applying polish to a blithe client's boots that comforts American notions of free enterprise, make-a-buck opportunism and the survival of the fittest.

But free enterprise is a little suspect in Europe. The Continent prefers free-ish enterprise.

Germany is much like France in its resistance to the shoe shine. That makes 145 million Europeans or so, spread from Bordeaux to Berlin, with scant access to this particular micro-service. Odd, when you think about it.

Or perhaps not, for the shoe-shine rule goes something like this: If you can't find one, you are probably in a society with a developed sense of egalitarianism and social solidarity, high taxation, a broad safety net, universal health care, extensive entitlements and high unemployment. Read: A European society like France or Germany.

If you can find a shoe shine, you're probably in a place with low unemployment and little of the above social security, a place where capitalism is crueler and more vital. A place not unlike America.

What I find interesting right now is that no-shine countries are taking a hard look at the state-heavy system that created societies where the incentive to take a job like polishing shoes was low to nonexistent, while shine-rife nations are asking if unfettered capitalism's hidden hand might not need a little more state guidance.

Call it a rare case of trans-Atlantic convergence.

The Sarkozy revolution in France, of still uncertain outcome, was essentially about the French realization that a country where it was often more profitable not to work than to work was a country with a problem.

It was about the admission that the pursuit of a 35-hour week, as the Chinese and Indians strive for a 35-hour day, was suicidal. It was about looking at facts and trashing taboos, not least one that made praise of U.S. business punishable by (political) death.

President Nicolas Sarkozy and his finance minister, Christine Lagarde, have had the courage to say that tax cuts, the curtailment of unemployment benefits and other entitlements, later retirement, and incentives for those working over 35 hours are essential to usher France from the Big Sleep of the Mitterrand-Chirac years.

Like other European countries that have beaten high unemployment, including Sweden, France is waking up to the fact that good education is a better way to cut income inequality than high taxes. France has been a country where an entrepreneur ready to shine shoes would have been taxed out of existence before polish hit leather.

In the United States, rethinking is moving the other way. President George W. Bush has pushed for an America of "low taxes, weak government and strong religion," in the words of David Schulz, an attorney. That's been the culmination of a 40-year period in which Republican administrations have governed for all but 12 years.

No wonder the country is skewed! What you get over time is collapsing bridges in Minneapolis, decaying infrastructure, massive national debt, rising inequality, a derisory dollar and the unregulated financial markets that have produced the current mayhem - all "under God," it's true, but scarcely more lovely for that.

Even the Bush administration, trying to trump yet another Democratic election card, is now proposing more oversight for financial markets. But only the Democrats have the courage to say that more government and more equitable taxation are needed if you're serious about better schools, new infrastructure, health care and minimum social cohesion. It's past time the balance swung back from Republican excess.

So, do I prefer shoe-shine or no-shine societies? I favor the former because they give freer rein to the human spirit, but of course I'd like some attributes of the shine-free world, especially universal health care. That's doable while avoiding the entitlement-excess that sent France into its protracted doze.

If convergence goes far enough, look for shoe shines in France (as long as polisher and client are placed at the same eye level), and a tax on your U.S. shine. I'll believe it when I see it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

today, after work...

...I stopped by the Tucson Botanical Gardens--less than 5 minutes
from where I work...
I was just going to browse in the bookstore for something,
but I decided to walk around the grounds before running errands on the way home.

For whatever reason, I've been finding the apricot-hued variety of desert globemallow fascinating:
...How would Monet have painted the desert? Tucson ain't no Giverny, but the spring floral
displays are nothing, (ahem,) to sneeze at.

...a variety of purple sage:

...and when I saw these, I thought surely they were fake...but I've forgotten the name...anyone know? Is it a kind of zinnia? ...and some penstemon and yucca: