Thursday, May 31

Friday Bird Blogging: Chestnut-Sided Warbler

This is a bird which is about four and a half-inches long. I'd been trying to get a good photograph of one for awhile when one flew in a tree about ten feet above. As I started to take pictures of it, it flew off, disappointing me, only to be replaced by another a few seconds later. It's of the second warbler that I got this wonderful shot.

As usual, clicking on the picture points to a larger version.

Monday, May 28

Incompetents Masquerading as Eagles

The Bush administration (that may be an oxymoron) would have you believe that we're in Iraq to damp down terrorism, that they are the soaring eagles with their watchful eye. When you get down to the details, however, it doesn't quite work like that. Years ago, my students asked me what I thought of the invasion of Iraq, shortly after it begun. I told them that from my point of view, it was a "strategic blunder" and that it would lead to a major groundswell in support in the Mideast for terrorist causes and it would, in the long run, do us much more harm than good.

Sometimes, I really hate being right. Per The New York Times:
Militants Widen Reach as Terror Seeps Out of Iraq
The Iraq war, which for years has drawn militants from around the world, is beginning to export fighters and the tactics they have honed in the insurgency to neighboring countries and beyond, according to American, European and Middle Eastern government officials and interviews with militant leaders in Lebanon, Jordan and London.
Last week, the Lebanese Army found itself in a furious battle against a militant group, Fatah al Islam, whose ranks included as many as 50 veterans of the war in Iraq, according to General Rifi. More than 30 Lebanese soldiers were killed fighting the group at a refugee camp near Tripoli.
Militant leaders warn that the situation in Lebanon is indicative of the spread of fighters. “You have 50 fighters from Iraq in Lebanon now, but with good caution I can say there are a hundred times that many, 5,000 or higher, who are just waiting for the right moment to act,” Dr. Mohammad al-Massari, a Saudi dissident in Britain who runs the jihadist Internet forum,, said in an interview on Friday. “The flow of fighters is already going back and forth, and the fight will be everywhere until the United States is willing to cease and desist.”
In an April 17 report written for the United States government, Dennis Pluchinsky, a former senior intelligence analyst at the State Department, said battle-hardened militants from Iraq posed a greater threat to the West than extremists who trained in Afghanistan because Iraq had become a laboratory for urban guerrilla tactics.

“There are some operational parallels between the urban terrorist activity in Iraq and the urban environments in Europe and the United States,” Mr. Pluchinsky wrote. “More relevant terrorist skills are transferable from Iraq to Europe than from Afghanistan to Europe,” he went on, citing the use of safe houses, surveillance, bomb making and mortars.

A top American military official who tracks terrorism in Iraq and the surrounding region, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic, said: “Do I think in the future the jihad will be fueled from the battlefield of Iraq? Yes. More so than the battlefield of Afghanistan.”
Way to go! We've got ourselves a training ground.

Friday, May 25

So this was unexpected

I just got the following e-mail from
As someone who has purchased a John Wayne movie or a Western from, you might be interested in our new John Wayne Store, commemorating the 100th anniversary of his birth on May 26, 1907. Don't miss it, pardner.
So I'm thinking to myself... Western? I purchased a western?

I really didn't remember purchasing a western... then I started running through the few movies I'd purchased from Wordplay, Thank You for Smoking, Little Miss Sunshine, Good Night and Good Luck and... well, the closest we have to Westerns in that list is Thank You For Smoking, since it involves a guy who used to play a cowboy and no, really, that can't be it, and then the only other thing I bought was...

Oh my.

Okay, I didn't think of that.

You may or may not have guessed this by now... but the movie that flagged me as being into westerns was, believe it or not...

Brokeback Mountain.

Somewhere, John Wayne is spinning in his grave.

I wonder if he and Jerry Falwell share a plot?

Friday Bird Blogging: Glossy Ibis

We spent most of the week in coastal Maine, looking for obscure and unusual birds and got quite lucky. I was able to photograph at least eight new birds that I'd never captured before, and I also managed to get much better photos of certain birds than I'd ever achieved before.

The glossy ibis is one such example. The last glossy ibis photos I got were last year and this was the best I could do. This week's walk on Scarborough marsh allowed me to get very close to an Ibis, as well as get quite a few views of other ibises (along with some beautiful egret photos.

As usual, the ibis photo links to a much larger version.

Wednesday, May 23

Activism and Personal Place

As some of you know, I used to be a very active member of the Brattleboro Area Peace and Justice Group. I still administer the mailing list that connects members of that group and though the group more or less faded away several years ago, the mailing list is still sometimes active, but generally from activism issues that various individuals who used to be connected to the group would post. I recently posed a question to the group about whether or not to keep the list active and as part of the discussion, I posted a version of the following item:

I should explain my own thing-- I stopped attending Brattleboro Area Peace and Justice Group when two things happened-- I got hired long-term to do contracting work all over the state and I realized that I only had so much time to devote to activism. So I chose doing work to unionize CCV faculty instead of working on Peace and Justice Group issues for a time. Last October the union drive went down in flames for a wide variety of reasons which are, at this point, over and done.

The funny thing is that this defeat happened on what was, in all reality, an extremely good day for me: it was the day I got the photograph shown on the right.

It's a photograph that helped me in ways I don't think I can articulate sufficiently-- it transformed my sense of what I could accomplish as a photographer-- it captured a bird I'd been trying to capture for some time, and it captured it with outstanding clarity and quality and did so under very poor lighting conditions. It taught me to believe more in my strengths as a photographer and to try to push my own skills and abilities in ways I wasn't sure I'd been able to before.

After losing the union drive, I'd been very slow to get back into activism again. I haven't done benefit concerts the way I used to. I did one with a few local musicians in Saxton's River after hurricane Katrina which raised $600, but that was September of 2005 and that's the last one I did. 20 people showed up, which makes raising $600 kind of impressive, but makes me feel like I could have done a lot better in terms of drawing an audience.

Even so, I feel like I want to do that sort of thing again, but since I've been working much more in Northern Vermont than Southern, I don't feel as connected to the Brattleboro community and I don't feel like I have the emotional resources to invest in being the only person doing all the work behind an event. I've done that way too often and I just don't have it in me right now. So I've been doing environmental work on a personal level-- when it was time to buy a vehicle for work, I put the extra investment in getting a Prius rather than spend the money on something just for me.

When it came to how I would spend my time last fall, I invested it in a master composter class so that I'd have a better sense of how to reduce personal waste and do a better job of giving back to the planet.

And what I've really been doing is honing my craft as a photographer, and somehow, right now, that's more important to me. Not necessarily long term but, for now, it's an eco-friendly hobby that connects me with the earth in an important way.

I guess I'm in an odd place right now. I'm very interested in activism, but I feel as though my activism has transformed itself into a less direct action approach and more of a work through my art fashion. My photography web site draws a lot of people to it, and I use it to connect with blogging towards environmental awareness. And yet, I know that's nowhere near enough to sustain any sort of real change. I am learning a lot about birds, about climate about shifting migration patterns, about deforestation and about the impact we all have on the planet around us, but finding myself sometimes really hopeless-- when I read that our best effort is to be reducing greenhouse gases by 2020, I thinking that's just not going to do it. Not even close.

So I do what I can, but I don't know what else to do except to talk to people about it. So I tell people I work with and deal with about auto emissions and about bird populations and about what happens to Vermont's economy when the temperature rises enough that maple syrup doesn't work any longer.

And I talk to my students about politics and about influence and about cognitive dissonance on a political scale, but it's not my place to tell them what political beliefs to hold or to advocate for a viewpoint, so I just do my best to make sure they have the tools they need to figure it out for themselves and only tell them what I really think about a political issue when they ask me point blank about it.

So, I guess that's where my head is right now.

Friday, May 18

Friday Bird Blogging: The Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

This bird is about 4 inches long and one of the smallest birds I've ever photographed, save for the ruby-throated hummingbird and the ruby-crowned kinglet. It's also one of the most difficult shots I've ever gotten. This bird is in near constant motion, bopping back and forth in the trees, easy to hear but very difficult to spot. I'm amazed I got the shot at all. Unlike the kinglet, which I've sometimes seen on the edge of forests, I tend to only see this bird inside forests. Hummingbirds I can photograph through feeders. This one I just get through luck and a lot of persistence.

Thursday, May 17

Speaking Ill of the Dead

As most of you probably know, Jerry Falwell died this week.

Jerry Falwell was a talented leader who did an extremely good job of playing off of the fears and bigotries of many Americans. He was a friend of the openly racist Apartheid government in South Africa, defending the country and opposing divestment. He attacked those who weren't heterosexual and used anti-gay sentiment as a tool of self-promotion.

The scary thing is that he managed to do this with a great deal of humor and personality. He was friendly, charming and used his skills to greatly advance the cause of oppression in this country.

I neither mourn nor praise his death. When we, however, as a people, rise up and fight back against the pseudo-religious anti-human anti-science philosophy that Falwell helped propagate, I will celebrate.

Friday, May 11

Friday Bird Blogging: The Yellow Warbler

The Yellow Warbler is one of my favorite warblers to watch -- it will flit about from tree to tree, feeding and singing and its color is just so intensely bright that it makes me think of day-glow paints. They've just started migrating back into Vermont again. The first one I spotted was on Sunday and I've either seen or heard one every day since.

As usual, clicking the picture leads to a larger image.

Friday, May 4

Friday Bird Blogging: Osprey

I'm in a rush and forgot to do this this week until right now so I'll make this quick:

Ospreys are amazing birds to watch fly. This is one of my favorite Opsrey pictures, taken near dusk, with the evening light shining clearly on its wings and a glistening face.

As usual, the thumbnail points to a much larger version.