Among the protests at the DNC there was an interesting group that caught the attention of such crack reporters as Dave Barry and JamesLileks.
The group was advocating banning bird watching because of its negative effect on bird populations. The basics of their argument (which is in no way based on scientific fact) is that birds are aware they are being watched so they are not breeding and populations have thus declined, and also that bird watchers are voyeuristic pervs.
Just the sort of pervy thing bird watchers like
I feel that I can speak profoundly on this issue because I received my bachelors degree in salamander pornography. Well, technically the degree says zoology but my research project consisted of making salamander porn videos and observing courtship in person. The courtship behavior is biologically important for understanding the relatedness of different species, but that's another story all together. Basically, I would spend many hours a day reviewing video tape and noting interesting behavior, it was all very scientific and a little boring.
"Bitch stop staring at me!"
Now back to the issue of bird porn. I would first like to point out that like salamanders, birds lack external genitalia and because of this the sex part of mating lasts a few seconds and does not resemble mammalian sex in many ways (unless you are a very unlucky mammal, but that's a different issue all together.) So what we are really observing by in large is courtship or foreplay.
Frigate bird foreplay
Now that we've straightened that out I can get to the main problem I have with their argument. They are making one very important and very miss-guided assumption:
Birds are self conscious about sex
I don't believe that for a second! My argument against this assumption is also really not based on scientific fact but instead my own observations. Since I have in-fact studied animal behavior extensively in the past I feel comfortable with this basis.
I have seen my own pets act ashamed or guilty when they behave badly, but I have never seen such behavior in a wild animal. Even with the captive wild birds who have spent their whole adult lives working with humans are simply not ashamed or shy about their sexuality. And to get back to domestic animals, nearly every day I see my own pet birds masturbate quite shamelessly, ringing bells and whistling at themselves during and just after the act. When my dogs have made a mess or chewed on something they shouldn't have they feel guilty and it's quite obvious from their behavior. But they never feel that way about sexual gratification, even if we tell them to knock it off. They are quite content to ignore us and anyone else in their presence.
Are all the animals I've spent time with in my life merely exhibitionists? I certainly hope not because I think that may reflect on my own personality in some disparaging way. Regardless of that, I have a bit of advice for the wackaloons at stopbirdporn.org, you want to save the worlds declining bird populations? Put the time, money and effort you are wasting on your current cause into conserving and creating bird habitat.
I just found out that the bizarre book Choke by Chuck Palahniuk has been turned in to a movie.
I'm not sure what to think of it. I never would have thought it a good idea, but it does star the always entertaining Sam Rockwell. Choke is one of those strange books that you feel kind of bad after reading. Like you've been abused, but you enjoyed it. The book was recommended by and borrowed from my strangest friend. One of those people that everyone knows is a little odd right after meeting them. Even knowing that I still didn't expect the book to be quite so strange. I guess I liked the book, and though it was unpleasant at times I couldn't put it down. I don't think the movie will be as popular as Fight Club, but I guess it will be worth seeing (at least worth watching a crappy internet version with chinese subtitles. Oh don't be shocked you do it too.)
I'm currently (or should I say finally) reading "Salmon of Doubt" by beloved Douglas Adams.
I usually avoid books published posthumous, I'm always afraid the author had good reason for not publishing the work. I'm glad I made an exception because it's a really lovely book and there was one line in particular that struck me. It's in the passage of Turncoat when he's describing Monty Python era humor, or the way that humor used to be before all us jug-heads mucked it up with inaneness.
"Comedy was a medium in which extremely intelligent people could express things that simply couldn't be expressed any other way."
Simple, true, perceptive and leaves you with a smile. Perfectly Douglas Adams.
A weekend of field work has left me sore and exhausted and my trusted field assistant (the husband) in bed dreadfully ill. Nothing ever seems to go as planned when I'm in the field. There is always something I'm unable to do that I have to report back on to the professor come Monday morning. This time events were totally out of my control, which actually made me feel a bit better. The tasks may be unfinished, but not because of some personal failing on my part.
This weekends mission had been to do the regular site maintenance (mowing down the alleys between the plots) and to cut into the weed jungle to install two new experiments (28 plots). We utilized a dull machete and gas powered brush mower to cut paths in the jungle (my hands are soar enough today to make typing a great challenge). It was exhausting but exhilarating and the field assistant and I collapsed into the tent that night confident we'd have the job finished by noon the next day.
And then the vomiting started.
Camping is usually great fun, even work related camping, until you are ill. And then there is no place you want to be besides at home in your bed. I'm quite certain it is the same for all people around the world, when you are sick you want to be at home, in your own bed, period. I've had this experience before, the research group I worked with as an undergrad camped during the field season. A delightful experience until I got the flu, and suddenly even the most luxurious camping was a misery.
So, sunday morning I packed up camp and drove the field assistant home to his own bed and the comfort that it could provide. Unfortunately the 3 and 1/2 hour car ride was lengthened to nearly 5 hours because of the need to stop repeatedly (and the need to wash vomit of the side of the truck).
Once the patient was tucked in and sleeping feverishly I was able to finished the job of unloading gear and returning the half washed pickup. It was incredibly draining to do all this on my own, but even as tired as I was I had resigned myself to a sleepless night. I thought with him feverish and sick I'd sleep lightly, ply him with medicines, try to help him feel better. All the proper caregiving duties that you feel obligated to do when your loved one is sick, but alas I did not. Instead I slept like a corpse, selfishly ignoring the rest of the world until the alarm called me to consciousness.
As a result of the deep sleep I feel quite refreshed for a monday morning, but also a bit guilty. Beyond the soreness of my hands and a slight stiffness in my back I fared quite well this weekend, but the poor husband/field assistant is going to need at least a week to recover.
There was a tremendous thunder storm last night, a rare occurrence in this area. It was a long and drawn out storm, punctuated with periods of silence during which you roll back to unconsciousness, only to be ripped from sleep by thunderclaps so earth shaking you're screaming in terror before you realize you're awake and alive.
In the sleep addled aftermath of a stormy night shared with a houseful of terrorized pets I've been thinking about thunder and other terrifying forces of nature. I've been trying to imagine more primitive humans without clear scientific understanding of such events. Imagining feeling terrorized by gods, or spirits, some powerful being raining down fire from the sky in a deafening roar of anger.
We modern humans are raised with a basic scientific understanding of lightning that can be very comforting. Where it is most likely to strike, how to calculate the distance of the storm, this knowledge makes us feel that we have some meager amount of control. But in that brief second after being pulled from sleep and before conscious awareness settles, no scientific explanation can come to mind, your are functioning with a primitive brain and all it can think of is terror.
We have another guest cat at our house this weekend. He's the son of a very fecund feral cat and has been adopted by my sister. He had a big day yesterday, first Vet visit. Good news is he tested negative for FIV and FELV, got his first round of shots, flea treatment, and got neutered. It was a very big day.
We always have a few miserably hot days during august. Day's where the temperature exceeds 100 degrees fahrenheit. We as a community are ill adapted to such temperatures preferring the cooler wetter seasons, and so extreme heat warnings plaster the news and people clog every body of water and air-conditioned building in town. Imagine my displeasure upon hearing the news that the air-conditioning in our campus building is broken. The building in which even when in perfect order the air-conditioning only serves to cool a meager half the labs within. My office boils even on the cooler of summer afternoons, and the heat often interferes so severely with my brian function I have to find other places to do my work. Perhaps today I will set up a desk in the Greenhouse. That cooling unit is functioning perfectly well and keeping the greenhouse at least 10 degrees cooler than my office. Such a brilliant use of resources. At least my plants will be comfortable.
Last Sunday the husband and I took a few hours to brew a batch of beer. Our first batch in much to long a time. A honey cream ale which we brewed outside on my canning stove. First time for the cream ale and the outdoor brewing. It was lovely. I was just downloading research pictures I took this morning in the greenhouse and was pleasantly surprised by the presence of pictures of our brew.
The boiling wort after the addition of Perle and Mt. Hood hops.
I have various ways of releasing pent-up emotion and stress. Lately I've been yelling.
Not at people, or pets, other drivers, or really anything in particular. It's not really even a yell per-say. More of a guttural noise. An expulsion of air from the diaphragm releasing a primal bellow.
Some people like to cry to release pent-up emotion, especially when it is frustration. I find exercise or excessive house cleaning is good for frustration. (By the state of my home anyone could guess that I haven't been using the latter for releasing frustration). I know that crying does release some good chemicals into the brain, you can feel it when it happens. A release and a slight cooling sensation. I find the yelling (or grunting, as it may be more appropriately described) to have similar effect and much easier to call forth.
Tonight I topped off a healthy bout of yelling, with a long session of hand watering in the garden. Not really necessary due to the soaker hoses we've installed, but pleasant and appropriately cathartic none the less.
I've recently been pondering just how odd the science that I do can be sometimes. I spend many months raising small seedlings, nurturing them to maturity. Regular watering, fertilizing, transplanting as they grow. And then once large enough, I devise new and creative ways to dispatch them to plant heaven (or in these plants case, perhaps plant hell). It's a funny thing to study the unwanted. Those species that are not just undesirable but the loathsome bane of our collective existence. I suppose that's a bit dramatic of a description, but I've always found it useful to have a subtle hatred for these plants. Makes life easier and helps to stave off the stockholm syndrome or at least stave off the apathy that I feel at constant risk of.