Month: December 2009

Zoo-graphies: They Make Comments

Scu writes:

I actually don’t know how I feel about zoos. Well, all zoos. Several of the smaller zoos who just don’t have the facilities, funding, or staff need to be closed down (I’m looking at you, Binghamton zoo). And many zoos are mismanaged, clearly causing death to animals or not allowing them sufficient privacy, etc. But it seems to me that some zoos really do desire to help animals, to provide decent living places, etc. I just don’t know. I always feel I should research this more, then I never do.

Freelancer Extraordinaire and I had exactly this conversation Thursday when we went to the SD Zoo. I said I was glad that it was dark, since as I said to her, it was quieter and I didn’t see the animals in the cages as well. There is no doubt the crucial and great work they do there on conservation and in the treatment of animals. (For some, this is surely reading like praising prison guards for not beating prisoners that often.) And we even talked about how at least it wasn’t other zoos in smaller cities, and discussed their strange history and how at one point every poonduck town had a zoo, and of course how the treatment of animals in these zoos really ranges. (I’m talking about you, to borrow a Scu-ism, Long Island Animal Game Farm.) Binghamton has a zoo? How did I miss that on my trips upstate? Binghamton Zoo. It just sounds like good cheer.

Thus, yes, it’s one of those few issues that I’m really quite ambivalent about. But I can’t be ambivalent about the eco-friendly skating rink at the zoo. Good holiday fun there…

Dept. Of Corrections

The Guardian (U.K.): “A comment piece about achievement and frailty in the lives of artistic greats mentioned Wagner’s reminder to his favourite Vienna chambermaid to wear purple knickers next time they met. A Wagner expert points out that the pants in question were pink.

A Good Warning to Ya…

P.J. Ennis writes in with a comment on the discussion below about the Celtish bastards that ruined our land (paraphrase).

As an Irishperson and therefore someone who grew up with the myth of the Celt (see Braveheart for the rogue-English hating Irishman bent on destruction etc.) this is like the ur-meme for me: Saxon=stiff upper lip Celt=hotheaded. Watch out there be Celts!

True. And I’m sure, as Ennis knows, that the Irish may indeed have fought alongside (and more often against, as part of the king’s army) William Wallace (Gaelic: Uilleam Uallas) at several crucial battles, but of course, he was Scottish, and is still a national hero of sorts (I visited Stirling Bridge and Falkrik while in Scotland in September—painting my face blue and yelling Freedom! at any potential Englishman that passed my way). The point remains: “crackers” avant la lettre apparently.

Those Indolent Celts…

I’m not a historian and thus I’ll admit I’m not the best judge of what is acceptable and unacceptable in using ethnic categories about the past, especially when one is often engaged in making generalizations anyway (no history is written without vague assertions of the “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” variety). But this caught my eye, since the North is portrayed in Gordon Wood’s Empire of Liberty (Oxford U.P., 2009) as a place of sedate peace. First:

Duels growing out of the most trivial causes were not uncommon, especially on the frontier, where honor and gentlemanly status were especially vague and fluid and Celtic pride and touchiness were everywhere. (372)

After some further discussion about how these southern Celts were “savages,” including a quotation from an English traveler Isaac Weld about how “these wretches in their combat endeavor to their utmost to tear out each other’s testicles.” (As elsewhere in this book, Wood never tips his hand as to what he thinks of the reportage of his sources, though one might not expect the best depiction of Scots and the Irish from an English gentleman) (327-8). There are various citations that are wonderful, but I’ll use this one:

Most of these practices of rough-and-tumble fighting had been brought over from the Celtic borderlands… Indeed some historians have persuasively argued that most of the characteristics of Southern “rednecks”—including their indolence, the making of “moonshine,” fiddling and banjo-playing, chewing tobacco, hunting and hograising—can be traced back to their Celtic ancestors. This is especially true, they say, of the hotheadedness and propensity to personal violence of backcountry Southern “crackers.” (328)

For those keeping track, by the way, Northern gentleman preferred caning their social inferiors (don’t worry, equality was on the march!). And here, I guess, the author reproduces the stereotypes that gave rise to later divisions among Southern whites (the landed aristocracy, which I suppose wasn’t indolent in having slaves do its work, and the “crackers” on the frontier). By the way, I love the alibi of writing used here: “some …have…argued …” “they say…”

Cyprus Driving

Harman notes that he hasn’t been to Cyprus, which reminds me of my own trip there a couple of years ago. Two stories:

1) G.H.: at first you’ll nearly kill yourself driving on the left. I was in Australia. We were driving out of Melbourne to see, yes, the penguins who beach themselves on an island there. (All together: adorable!) We get to an intersection getting onto a highway. I start to cross, or rather pull right into oncoming traffic. I hear a scream like a horror flick from all the passengers. I then slam the gas to shift to the other side of the road, but in doing so come face to face with a truck. Another scream. (It was rhythmic, too, like you hear in screams in a comedy: Aaah!…. then shift of all eyes, then Aaaah..!) Then I somehow averted the truck, pulled into the lane, shared a nervous laugh with my friends (some of whom still strangely talk to me—if you were in that car and you’re reading this: Hi, I’m glad to be alive, too), and went to see penguins. So a happy ending. But I should say, after that I drove just fine (perhaps that scathing memory kept me remembering which way to go). Now, I’ve logged several thousand miles on the left hand side with no problems. What works really well is using a stick shift (which is much cheaper anyway), since I never forgot when I was driving stick.

2) And you must have a car in Cyprus. Freelancer Extraordinaire and I used the “transportation” system to get to the beach areas on the west side of the island. This meant taking a series of vans that would drop us off at weird points in various towns, where we’d wait in heat without hope of moving on, before finally another van would arrive to get to the next point. It took us six hours on the way back to make it 40 miles on the highway. Also, if going to Cyprus: avoid the beaches. Lot’s of Brits who, as best as I could tell, were ill informed of the hazards of being bright red and still baking the sun at 11 am. But Nicosia is quite the city. If you want to see the Turkish side, however, you’ll need to tell the driver you’re going to city hall, not to the border crossing, since they pretend not to know where it is. And make sure to get a map of the turkish side when you cross, or like me, you’ll get lost since your Cyprus map has the Turkish side completely shaded, and it’s really hard to find one’s way back to the UN checkpoint.

Copenhagen: The Least We can Do

The compromise out of Copenhagen is now out on the web. It begins with a wonderful set of points about the great need for mitigating the effects of global climate change. And then it hits a wall of generalities and non-committal language. The upshot is 30 billion (unless I read this wrong) committed by developed countries (n.b.: the documents defining what counts in these areas is at the back of the PDF and are blank) by 2012 toward carbon emission mitigation in the developing world, 100 billion by 2020. This will likely get headlines, and sadly Obama couldn’t come close to getting any measures like this past the Senate. But it’s useless: there are no mechanisms for making this at all stick, and promises are made like this by the developed world all the time (about disaster relief, about support for anti-poverty initiatives, about supporting compliance in the developed world for all manner of anti-weapon treaties) that go completely unfunded. It’s like a person whose bank account has been closed who still has the checks. He writes them all he wants, knowing he’s never going to pay.

Ideological Centrism

If there’s anything that has dogged our political thinking for some time now, it’s been the ideological centrism that is always an arbitrary ressentiment relation to what is deemed to be the left. These are people who literally just assume that the virtuous golden mean is literally somewhere in the middle, even in terms of actual budget numbers. I’m reading Empire of Liberty, and the author, Gordon Wood, uses the phrase “middling” about once every two pages, usually to refer to people who were not a member of the federalist elite. (I do wonder about the editors of this volume, which was, I should say, a NYT pick for one of the top books of the year: it’s way too long; it has repetitive prose [see the repeating “middling”] and worse, many of Wood’s historical theses about the post-Independence era isn’t contradicted a chapter later by him having to work around a set of facts he himself introduces, such as, to take up the title of the book, that early America was a freedom-loving, egalitarian society.) Now, Wood uses “middling” in, well, a middling way, since it seems to mean different things at different times. But I like it that way, since those who are middling are in fact, just that way. Finally, here’s Matty Ygelsias on our own middling centrists:

The habit of insisting that only the right and the left have “ideologies” and that people in the center don’t is one of the absolute most frustrating elements of conventional political discussion in the United States. The fact of the matter is that “centrist” ideological taboos have been the big story of the Obama administration. That starts with the imposition of an arbitrary cap on the size of the stimulus bill, it continues to the utterly merciless and fanatical centrist opposition to the existence of any public option, to the Fed’s refusal to undertake further monetary easing, to the unwillingness to contemplate really stern measures against bailed-out banks and their executives, and on and on and on.

He had a Dream

I was looking around for a couple of MLK speeches to use for my intercession ethics class, since I’m on a committee that’s putting together USD’s MLK day events—I’ll assign my students the reading and bump up student involvement by assigning them to attend. In any case, I happened up this, which was linked to on two King web sites. (Is it because of some ad program that searched for the word dream?) “I have a dream…, a dream of cruise ships able to house 4,000 Americans of all colors and creeds…, I had a dream … a dream of free buffets and high yield black jack tables…”

By the way, there’s a statue of Admiral Donald on board for those interested. We are a strange people. A strange, strange people.