Betta brooding

Not all bettas are bubble-nest builders (in fact, not all bettas are the long finned fish you see in little tiny bowls at the pet store). I have a trio of Betta macrostoma; they are, like many stream-dwelling bettas, mouthbrooders. Yesterday the female went from having a rounded belly to being quite slim – at the same time, the dominant male’s throat expanded. Keep your fingers crossed – this is attempt #2 for them and I wouldn’t be surprised if it took a couple more attempts for the male to get it right.

Apologies for the poor picture quality. I was trying to just snap a couple quickly; I didn’t want to raise too much of a ruckus.


NH Media Makers

I’ve been going to the NH Media Makers meetups for a while now (almost a year!) and wanted to give the Media Makers meetup idea and especially the New Hampshire instantiation of same a big appreciative shout out. Interesting, personable, creative people doing wicked awesome pissah stuff – what’s not to love? I’ve made great connections and been inspired; it’s a great way to spend a Sunday morning.

A polaroid print developing at my table:


NHOS Orchid Show – 2010 edition

Just as I did last year, I’m going to highlight a few plants that I found particularly interesting.

Dendrobium smilliae – the Bottlebrush Orchid hails from northern Australia and PNG. The flower clusters are amazingly glossy – just a stunner.


Paph. Salvador Dali – a hybrid, and a wild one. Almost enough hair to wax up a moustache tip.


Masdevallia ignea – a native of New Grenada according to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine Vol. 98 (1872) – second image ganked from Google books.



Us and them

Naming things, categorizing them and distinguishing them from each other is an essential human activity. It’s not an exclusively human thing, but I’m betting we’re the only ones that can categorize the same object in abstract, multiple ways and then discuss it. Categories/distinctions are a double-edged sword; they can illuminate and they can obscure. One of my least favorite distinctions is between ‘the human world’ and ‘the natural world’ – as if people can stand outside the  systems that run the planet. We are just another variety of critter – an unusual and very successful one – but critters nonetheless.


Watering Hole


Amy Stein’s Domesticated series looks at our efforts to enforce the human/natural split. I chose Watering Hole for this post because there are so many mutually reinforcing messages. There’s the vulnerable girl on the diving board. There’s the chain link fence that the girl’s folks put up to keep things out. And there’s the bear. In the Domesticated dioramas, Ms. Stein uses mounts from a taxidermist in Matamoras, Pennsylvania – the town where all the Domesticated scenes are set. Hunter’s (as opposed to museum) taxidermy mounts are often an attempt to freeze a moment and are also opportunity to manipulate that moment. The percentages are that the black bear was not standing when the hunter shot it but a standing mount is impressive and the taxidermist can make the bear appear to be curious, quiet or fierce. We can’t see the bear’s expression; we’re left to assign to the bear whatever expression we need, just as the taxidermist was free to to fit the bear to the hunter’s wishes. When we look across the categorical fence we’ve created at the ‘natural world’ on the other side we see what we want to see.



The talk that Ms. Stein and Stephen DeStefano gave at the Harvard Museum of Natural History was excellent (video above). Dr. DeStefano works with suburban and urban ecosystems: “You might be living in the biggest city in the world and you’re part of an ecosystem. You’re not separate from that, no matter how big the city.” At 23:30 or so Dr. DeStefano puts up a population slide that looks something like:


“A biologist that looks at this growth curve says, well that population is imminently going to crash.” It’s all connected and the rules apply to everything. The sooner we knock down that chain link fence and see ourselves as a part of the landscape, a part of the ecosystem, the better.

Stupid? Or liars?

I’m afraid I’m starting believe that 1st world institutions – as a whole – are not capable of responding to the oncoming train that is global warming.

It seems mind-numbing, but Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said snowfall in D.C. has had an effect on policymakers’ attitudes. “It makes it more challenging for folks not taking time to review the scientific arguments,” said Bingaman, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

As the threat of the crisis grows more intense, Congress cannot act. The environmental consequences are likely to be severe and unforgiving. *

Protip for our largely old, white, male, not very bright solons: Weather does not equal climate and the plural of anecdote is not data.

The way things are playing out in Washington doesn’t make me hopeful – here’s John Cole’s accurate analysis of how things work – different topic, but the same dynamic applies (big quote, but read the whole thing. NOW.).

But here is the thing- we can’t do anything about it. I’m sure the House could pass a bill containing a small stipend for Americorps volunteers- in fact, I bet it would get a good bit of support. It might even be very popular with the entire country, as well as being good policy! Likewise, I bet almost all the Democrats and even some Republicans in the Senate would be in favor of passing that bill.

Except the bill would never pass, and I’m surprised James does not recognize that he is operating in a fantasy world. Once the bill hit the Senate, the fun would begin. Even though in the past there were probably numbers of Republicans who supported Americorps, the large majority of them would just flat out say no.

Wanting to negotiate in good faith, having never learned a lesson ever, the Democrats like Baucus and Conrad would slow down the debate to give the Republicans time to participate. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe would work for a couple weeks with Senate leadership, get a couple things they want in the bill, then sigh and utter their public regrets that they just can not support the bill. Chuck Todd, the Politico, and other dullards in the beltway media would run a few pieces wondering why Obama hasn’t reached out more to moderates. While this is happening, the wurlitzer’s media blitz starts.
First off, we all know who loves Americorp- the Clenis. From there, it is all downhill. Breitbart would seize upon the bill, and claim that the anonymous stipend is just President Obama seeking to pay off his campaign volunteers- just like the KHMER ROUGE, POL POT, STALIN, AND DUVALIER! They would find some innocuous aspect of Americorps and turn it into something that is no doubt worse than Hitler.

The subservient GOP drones in the blogs would pick up everything Breitbart has said. Instapundit and Reason magazine would wake from their glibertarian slumber to denounce this “vast, wasteful expansion of government.” The Fonzi of Freedom, Nick Gillespie, would make fifty idiotic web videos decrying the bill, in between appearances on Fox News and penning stupid op-eds with Matt Welch in the NY Post. Pete Suderman and Megan McCardle would exchange links to each other, giving us all an eye into the steamy world of glibertarian pillow talk. Welch would do his own part, pointing out that the French have something very similar to Americorps, and he really enjoyed their services while he and his wife were in France, but now that they are here in America and rake in enough money that they don’t need those services, he will loudly and in the most smug manner possible oppose Americorps. Also, he is still pissed that his car was not accepted for Cash for Clunkers.

Malkin would start printing the addresses of Americorps volunteers, and would have her internet sleuths post a facebook picture of an Americorps worker drunk four years ago while in college. By this time, the noise machine is in full swing, and Rush, Glenn Beck, Hannity, the Heritage Foundation, the rest of the Koch funded “think tanks,” Fox News, the NY Post and the Washington Examiner, the NR, and the Weekly Standard and the other wingnut welfare publications would all embark on another disinformation campaign. *

Chris Hedges says something I think is true: it’s getting to be time to turn our backs on globalized capitalism – eschew WallyMart, expand the garden, raise a pig, redouble efforts to buy local – and transition to a simultaneously backyard (most physical feeds) and world-spanning (network infoculture) mode. Direct opposition can’t be the main approach; power/media/system ju-jitsu is called for.

All resistance must recognize that the body politic and global capitalism are dead. We should stop wasting energy trying to reform or appeal to it. This does not mean the end of resistance, but it does mean very different forms of resistance. It means turning our energies toward building sustainable communities to weather the coming crisis, since we will be unable to survive and resist without a cooperative effort. These communities, if they retreat into a pure survivalist mode without linking themselves to the concentric circles of the wider community, the state and the planet, will become as morally and spiritually bankrupt as the corporate forces arrayed against us. All infrastructures we build, like the monasteries in the Middle Ages, should seek to keep alive the intellectual and artistic traditions that make a civil society, humanism and the common good possible. Access to parcels of agricultural land will be paramount. We will have to grasp, as the medieval monks did, that we cannot alter the larger culture around us, at least in the short term, but we may be able to retain the moral codes and culture for generations beyond ours. *

(See here for another good Hedges post – this on the bankruptcy of traditional media: “The symbiotic relationship between the press and the power elite worked for nearly a century. It worked as long as our power elite, no matter how ruthless or insensitive, was competent. But once our power elite became incompetent and morally bankrupt, the press, along with the power elite, lost its final vestige of credibility. The press became, as seen in the Iraq war and the aftermath of the financial upheavals, a class of courtiers. The press, which has always written and spoken from presuppositions and principles that reflect the elite consensus, now peddles a consensus that is flagrantly artificial.”)

On a slightly brighter note, I’m reading Bruce Sterling’s The Caryatids. Reviews on Amazon are, to put it mildly, mixed; at approximately 1/3 of the way in, I’m enjoying it, perhaps because I find any post-onset-of-climate-crisis future where we’ve managed to retain some cultural continuity comforting. Based on the mixed reaction, you may want to use your local library or, if you follow @bruces, he twote a link to a pirate copy. Lest you think Caryatids is all sweetness and light, both major characters we’ve been introduced to so far have lost most of their families to violence in the starvation, food riots, disease and chaos as the climate crisis ramped up..

Life imitates the virtual

NPR’s On the Media did a bunch of football related stories this past weekend (wonder why?); one really caught my attention as I drove back from the marsh. Bob Garfield interviewed Chris Sullentrop about Sullentrop’s recent Wired article, Game Changers. Game Changers is an survey of how sports-based videogames may be feeding back into the sports they’re based on – especially the Madden NFL/football loop. Football is especially fertile ground – a mix of complexity and speed for individual plays combined with  relatively infrequent games.

Just before he reached the end zone, with 17 seconds remaining, Stokley cut right at 90 degrees and ran across the field. Six seconds drained off the clock before, at last, he meandered across the goal line to score the winning touchdown. For certain football fans, the excitement of a last-minute comeback now commingled with the shock of the familiar: It’s hard to think of a better example of a professional athlete doing something so obviously inspired by the tactics of videogame football. When I caught up with Stokley by telephone a few weeks later, I asked him point-blank: “Is that something out of a videogame?” “It definitely is,” Stokley said. “I think everybody who’s played those games has done that” — run around the field for a while at the end of the game to shave a few precious seconds off the clock. Stokley said he had performed that maneuver in a videogame “probably hundreds of times” before doing it in a real NFL game. “I don’t know if subconsciously it made me do it or not,” he said. *

No wonder younger quarterbacks are finding more and more success at the college and professional levels. This season, a 19-year-old freshman started for USC, a perennial Pac-10 power. In the NFL, rookie quarterbacks are entering the league and excelling immediately at an unprecedented rate (think of the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, the Falcons’ Matt Ryan, and the Ravens’ Joe Flacco). In decades past, young passers sat on the bench for a year or two while they mastered reading NFL defenses. Now, having learned to differentiate between zone and man-to-man coverage over the course of years on their Xboxes and PlayStations, the rookies are less in need of such apprenticeship.

It’s one thing to suggest that videogames may be making us smarter. It’s another thing altogether to say they might be making us better athletes. But when you add it up, the evidence starts to look pretty overwhelming. At the Pop Warner Super Bowl in 2006, the winning team had 30 offensive plays, which it had learned through Madden. (”I programmed our offense into Madden to help me memorize our plays,” one 11-year-old told Sports Illustrated. “It was easier than homework.”) Dezmon Briscoe, an all-conference wide receiver for the University of Kansas, credited Madden 2009 with teaching him how to read when defenses “roll their coverages” — move their defensive backs to disguise their strategy. Chuck Kyle, a high school coach who has won 10 state championships in football-mad Ohio, has programmed his team USA playbook into Madden and uses it to teach players their assignments. So have coaches at Colorado State, Penn State, and the University of Missouri, among other schools. An offensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used the videogame as a preparation tool for an entire season, scouting his opponents digitally. While even-more-sophisticated software is available for virtual sports training, coaches and players at all levels of football say that Madden’s off-the-shelf simulation is good enough. *


I’ve been hearing some good things about Frontline’s Digital Nation – I may need to carve some time out for it – especially the section on learning.