Monday, January 31, 2011

Palate Cleanser #146: Comtesse Related

Eiffel Tower, Paris

Photograph by Dario Teich

visual palate cleanser concept © Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Hunting: Jen's View

(Image credit: Good Housekeeping)

Where did it come from?

             ⇐ Was it here or here

(Image credits: Cool Rain and Frenchbeer Farm)

If you eat animals, when you eat your lunch, do you think about the life that chicken or pig led? Was that cow in your roast beef a grass fed cow that was led to a mercifully fear-free slaughter through Temple Grandin's magnificent designs or is that burger on your plate part downer-cow, dragged until its hide was raw, to its slaughter?

Anyone who has known me for a while will see it as quite an evolution that I'm pro-hunting these days. It's like a 180 degree turn. But see enough film footage of factory farming and you'll be right there along with me. Of course, I'm not talking about Sarah Palin-style hunting from helicopters. I'm talking about the old-fashioned way. If you're a good shot and you eat what you hunt, hunting is probably the kindest way you can eat animals. Some of my readers are lucky to be able to hunt for their meat. That's especially lucky for the animal that gets to live a full life before it becomes a meal.

Hunting provides many people in rural areas with options to obtain their meat in a fashion that is hopefully cruelty-free, factory farming-free and often, other than for the cost of the permit, and weapon, free. For those in impoverished areas, hunting can be a vital means to providing protein in their diets. 

How do you kill? What do you kill? Why do you kill?  How does a hunter feel about hunting? Jen gives us her view...

by Jen B.

I am a hunter, and more than just that, a woman who hunts alone. And yes, I kill animals and I eat what I kill.

To understand why I hunt and how I became a hunter, you have to understand how I grew up. The where is easy- I grew up on a very, very large place in the Lowcountry along tidal rivers, cypress swamps, fields, old rice fields and forests. Not only places my parents and grandparents owned, but extensive lands owned/managed by cousins and friends as well as paper company timberlands. Literally, hundreds of thousands of acres. My father raised cattle and horses and my siblings and I had ponies, carts, goats, cats, dogs (always purebred as were the horses), rabbits, and anything that wandered up. All of these animals lived and they died. Some of the men who worked for my grandparents and my father kept pigs, as well. When you live in the country, you grow up aware that death is frequent, commonplace and that death comes to all. And, in the country, hunting is a part of life because sometimes, it can be the only source of meat for the very poor.

When I was still very young, I began going to the woods, to the swamps, to the rivers, to the rice fields to sit and watch. Imagine a solitary little girl, sitting very, very still and very, very quiet for hours. Just watching. And what did this little girl see? She saw otters and ospreys catching fish, hawks and owls (because she also sat outside at night) catching small mammals, foxes and bobcats hunting. And every animal that hunted ate what it killed. And no creature killed for “fun” or for a “trophy” –only for food. And so she decided that she, like the animals she watched, would never kill unless she ate what she hunted. And in all the many, many years since, she never has.

How did she learn to hunt? When she was old enough to physically handle them, her father gave her a bow, a rifle and a shotgun, fitted to her,-and told her when she could hit a target in a “kill spot” every time, she could hunt. Not before. So she practiced. She practiced every day, shooting at different targets at different distances. She learned to break 100 skeet clays in a row with a shotgun, so she could dove hunt. She learned to break 100 trap clays in a row with a shotgun, so she could quail hunt. She could hit the bullseye with an arrow every time at a distance up to 50 yards. And with a rifle, she never, ever missed, regardless of where the target was or how far away. Her father told her to never quit practicing, because you owe whatever you hunt a quick, clean death. And to never confuse hunting with killing. In all those many years since, she never quit practicing-and she has never, ever missed a kill shot. And, as her father told her, she never confused hunting with just killing. She respects what she hunts and gives them a quick, clean death. Far quicker and cleaner than that of any slaughterhouse.

Because, of course, meat doesn’t come wrapped in butcher paper or in Styrofoam packages covered in cellophane. Somebody, somewhere killed an animal, bled it, gutted it, and butchered it. And, unlike that little girl, they didn’t practice until they never, ever missed, so that death was instant and clean and perfect.

But to answer the question, “Why do I hunt?” I don’t have a quick and easy answer. My motivation is very complex. First, there is the desire to be outside and away from humanity. To interact with nature in a deeply visceral way. To be alone, in the quiet, to experience the harmony of the world.   How many of us have sat beneath a tree, waiting on the sun to come up, when suddenly, the tree itself became a living cathedral with a thousand birds, as from each jeweled throat came a dawn paean to their god?  I have.  How many of us have watched a wild turkey dancing his flamenco dance of passion and desire?  I have.  How many of us have sat  in the woods, as quiet as quiet can be, as still as still can be and had a vixen play with her kits within 2 feet? I have. These are all part of hunting, part of the days and hours spent scouting and observing. Locating animals and defining their habits, their preferred eating and sleeping areas. Part of the reason is indeed the need to get away from humanity and isolate my self. Another part is that I feel that if I am going to eat meat, well, I need to kill it myself. I need to assume the responsibility for the death of what I eat.

I only shoot barren does or young bucks. I never kill a doe with a fawn at her side. And since I'm not a trophy hunter, I leave the "big boys" alone. I figure if they've survived this long, I'm not going to be the one to end their life. But sadly, in the Southeast at least, where the natural predators of deer have been eliminated (although natural resource agencies are  encouraging and trying to reintroduce predators) and where habitat  shrinks,  deer are overpopulated. This leads to starvation and, in some areas, chronic disease. To see a deer starving to death in the winter is a terrible, heartbreaking sight. It is far more cruel and heartless to let deer starve than it is to kill them quickly and cleanly.

Finally, the last part is basic instinctive drive. Man is, after all, an omnivore. The day I hunt, rather than scout and observe is different and very, very difficult to explain. That day ends with a kill. That day I am more purposeful, much more calculating, very centered and very, very aware. That day I am no longer an observer, but a predator, looking for a kill.

The kill is the culmination of many things. I hunt fairly. The animals I hunt have far better eyesight, far better hearing and far better sense of smell than I do. I bowhunt, so I get within 20 yards for a clean kill. I hunt from the ground, so I have no overhead advantage. In fact, I have no advantage, other than my bow-and that bow has to be drawn and the arrow notched without the deer or boar noticing it.  And the boar, of course, can kill me if I miss or wound him. So, the hunt combines passion, logic, skill and adrenaline into a single experience. The kill itself is the closure, the endpoint, the ne plus ultra.

When I turkey hunt, I use a shotgun. My shotgun is fitted to my specifications and my shotshell/choketube combination has been selected and patterned to cause instant death. And it does. I don’t use a bow because I don’t consider it ethical. Bow hunting wild turkeys does not result in a quick, clean kill and I will not hunt this way.

I fully realize that what I eat was a living creature. I don’t, however, consider it ethical to give a death order to a butcher or a slaughterhouse and not consider where the meat came from. I don’t see how anyone can distance himself/herself from the fact most meat comes from animals living in dreadful conditions, being injected with compounds that breakdown muscle tissue while they still live. There is no attempt at animal welfare at these places. I cannot help but feel that an animal is better off living wild than existing under those conditions- even if it dies by my arrow.

And this segues into the ethics of hunting. I only hunt what I can eat, never more. I hunt fairly, either with a bow or a shotgun, both of which require a close shot. I feel that I owe whatever I hunt the mercy and dignity of a quick, clean kill. To provide this, I practice as often as weather permits. I take archery and shotgun lessons to ensure that I remain as accurate as I can possibly be. My equipment is chosen to provide a quick, clean kill. I never take a shot unless I am 100% sure it is a kill shot and I will not miss –and my bow, my draw weight, my arrows, my broadheads are chosen to ensure that. My shotgun is fitted to my specifications and the shotgun/choketube/shotshell combination is selected to be as deadly as possible. Death is instant or within a few seconds.

I look an animal in the eye as it dies. I watch the pupil expand and then fix. I feel the heat leave the carcass. I feel that unless you can do these things, you don’t need to be hunting. Dying is never easy- every living thing is special unto itself and death is the end of that  life.  And there is always a sense of sadness. Sadness that something unique is dead and gone forever, regret for having killed, yet gladness at having killed quickly and ethically. And yes, I realize the contradiction and the irony.

And finally, I rarely allow pictures to be taken-and then only if someone else insists. I think it degrades the animal and I don’t like that.

To quote the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset :

"Hunting submerges man deliberately in that formidable mystery and therefore contains something of a religious rite and emotion in which homage is paid to what is divine, transcendent, in the laws of nature. It is a transcendent experience. We know the gathered as only those in the choir know it."

Image credits:

White Tailed Deer - Joe Kosack for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Turkeys- Jen. B (personal photo)

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

No, Really...

Don't look away.

Sure it's Sunday, and it's your quiet day off, and you don't want to see this stuff. Really, neither do I. But at least we, you and I, with the luxury of our computers, aren't living it. You can read this post and sit down to your Sunday dinner or Monday breakfast and no doubt all too quickly leave it behind. But I'm hoping some of it will linger. Whatever of it that you can bear...

A Sudanese child falters on the way to a feeding station, while a hungry vulture waits.
(Image credit: Kevin Carter)


Why Hunger? In the coming two weeks we'll be having a lot to say about food around here. With Jen's post on hunting and especially Thelma Lee's posts on GMOs and my thoughts about books and films that might help educate you on the food we eat, the fact that we are eating is counterpoint to the fact that almost one in seven of us on this planet aren't eating or aren't eating enough to get by.

According to the World Food Programme, 925M people are undernourished on a daily basis. You can check out the "Hunger Map" from the WFP below. That number, 925M, is greater than the populations of the USA, Canada and the European Union combined. While we in the US may think of the many hungry people we see in our homeless shelters, if you look at the Hunger Map (click on it to make it large), you'll see that the US isn't even significant on the Hunger Front. The correlation between high rates of hunger and HIV infection, along with those other lesser (what a concept) diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, is well-established.

So, what, you may ask, does this have to do with GMOs? A very fair question, and one that we should all ask some of the GMO food manufacturers, like Monsanto and Novartis, as well.

One of the reasons originally outlined in the pursuit of GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, was to fight both hunger and disease. By making crops that would be stronger, more resilient under the challenging global climate conditions we face, especially in regions of increasing desertification, companies producing genetically modified crops heralded the fact that their crops would save lives and feed millions, often without the use of pesticides. Or what about genetically modified food stuffs into which one could build vaccines against malaria, TB, cholera, or other diseases that have traditionally wreaked havoc in the third world? Yes indeed, what of them?

As we discuss GMO foods in the coming weeks, bear in mind the goals and potential for benefits that are offered by these foods. You can also contemplate the risks of monopolies, with companies owning the seeds for the most fundamental components, especially the one common building block, for much of our diet here in the US. (It will come as no surprise to those who have read The Omnivore's Dilemma that the grain to which I refer is corn.) To be sure, there are other risks, but don't underestimate the risk of having one or two companies own all the crops that you eat, or that what you eat eats.

There are a lot of hungry people on this planet. In the balance between overpopulation and hunger there is much suffering. While I dream of giving every person a gluten-free meal, along with a nice serving of birth control if they're adults, the reality of balancing our human  situation- hunger, disease and overpopulation- cannot be ignored. Even if you want to be indifferent, as a nice defense because it's so painful to think about, you really can't be. Just remember the leading reason that families sent their sons (and occasionally their daughters) to those anti-American, anti-Western madrasas run by the Taliban, perhaps funded by al Qaeda. The families were poor. If they sent their sons, those sons got food.

And now, before my own dinner of fresh caught snapper, I'm off to play Free Rice.

Betcha can't beat me. I'm on level 57. How about you?

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Palate Cleanser #144

I somehow managed to skip one!

Papaver Ladybird from Annie's Annuals

Oh, Annie and Annie's, how I adore you! I wish to buy everything you stock and send it to Thelma Lee and Ellen for their gardens, since hardly any of it will grow here. *Sob*

visual palate cleanser concept © Bright Nepenthe, 2011

When friends are faster than therapy

Purple Dragonfly by Susan Kubes

BFF: Are you awake?

Me: What are *you* doing up so late?

BFF: Are you okay?

Me: Yeah... why?

BFF: Well, I just read that and you're so angry. You usually don't get so angry.

Me: It made me really angry.

BFF: No, I mean... It's not like they haven't done worse things. Are you okay?

Me: Yeah.

BFF: So what got you so angry?

Me: The fecking proposed legislation that tries to make women not able to have control over their bodies?! I mean, it is what it is.

BFF: Oh, so it's the not having control over your body thing. That sucks. I totally feel for you.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Your Federal Dollars and What Constitutes Rape

The Scream by Edvard Munch and Bettina Tizzy

This afternoon I happened on an article, posted on Facebook by a friend, that just about made me apoplectic.

The House GOP's Plan to Redefine Rape

was published today in that Leftist-so-far-around-the-bend-they-are-really-Muslim-Nazis magazine Mother Jones. It details the newly submitted House Bill HR 3, literally titled No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.

The language of this bill is striking, as regards sexual acts that could potentially render women pregnant against their will or despite their inability to successfully carry a child to term who would then remain in their care. Some types of rape and incest just don't count for federal dollars spent on healthcare according to this bill. Namely, acts of rape that do not involve force that don't count: sexual acts on drugged or unconscious women who cannot give consent to sex, let alone impregnation, sexual acts on women who lack the mental capacity, i.e. they are mentally retarded, or so severely hampered in intellectual capacity that they do not understand the actions that they are asked to engage in. That's right, unless you're demonstrably harmed, it's not really enough rape, folks. Drug related date rape, unless the woman presumably was beaten to a pulp, would not meet the standard. Incest, for a woman over the age of 18, does not either. (Problem? Hmmm. I can think of circumstances in which really sicko fathers have forced incestuous sex on their daughters well past adulthood, even for decades as in the case of Elizabeth F, held hostage by her father for decades and forced to father six children with him.) The ultimate slap from Bachmann and company on this bill? In many states, rape is not categorized as forcible or non-forcible. (Wow, you mean rape is just rape in some states? OMGosh you are kidding me? Really?) That leaves open the possibility that if a state doesn't specify a difference between forcible and non-forcible rape that they may not be able to use any federal healthcare dollars on abortion in that state.

Outcomes that I can foresee if this little gem is passed by our Republican House? (Edited to note: And not retooled by our spineless Democratic Senate.)

1) The number of welfare children will increase, because guess what, if you can't afford a private pay abortion, you cannot afford to raise a child.

2) The overall educational level to be obtained by all these not-quite-raped-enough women will be curtailed and thus their earning potential will be curtailed and they will be more reliant on the welfare and other public assistance that the Republicans so despise and say we must eliminate. It's the perfect storm- more poor women, less public assistance. I'm-a thinkin' that likely equals still more babies. How 'bout you?

3) The number of children entering foster care will likely increase because, in general, people who don't really want babies usually don't do an especially fine job with taking care of babies. (Being unhappy because you were raped and had a baby from that rape might have a few correlations with subsequent substance abuse and mental health issues like depression. It might leave you a little edgy on the whole mommy thing.)

4) If there are two classes of rape and only one deserves our federal dollars for assistance in terminating an unwanted pregnancy that stemmed from a rape, exactly how long will it be before women start hearing that "that wasn't really rape"? How long before laws start to change, or at least enforcement of them changes because of this perception? How long before maybe that guy who dumped roofies in that girl's drink at that club gets to drag her to the alley or his car and have the not-so-bad rape sex with her and get away with it? How long before that's not rape but the woman's fault for drinking at a bar? Hey, if she'd been with a male relative, who drove for her, this never would have happened, right? Maybe she should not go out. Maybe she shouldn't dress that way. Maybe she should never be anywhere alone with a man. Maybe she was asking for it. Yeah, asking for that rum with coca cola clearly meant I want to have your baby, dude!

All I can say is that if Republicans want to force women to bear children of rape, every damn one of them had better line up and start taking in those children. Representative Bachmann, you get two, honey! That's right, you adopt those rape babies, you a**holes, so that these women can get own with their education, their youth, their longterm care, their lives. Let them recover as they wish.

Don't try to make the choice to abort after rape a privilege available only to people with the money to pay for it.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

GMOs & Food: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea?

Many of my readers will no doubt remember Thelma Lee's splendid three part series in 2010 on Eating Animals. Well, Thelma Lee and I got to talking about GMOs, which are a topic of mutual fascination for us. Let me tell you, if you think the business of eating animals is difficult to parse, you ain't seen nuthin' until you've tried to find unhyped, accurate information about GMOs, and specifically GMO foods.

What do you know, or think you know about GMOs? Do you know about their applications in industry and medicine? Most people only know about genetically modified food organisms. What they know is pretty much summed up by images like this:

What you can find information-wise stretches from one end of the propaganda spectrum to the other. The two extremes can be summed up in a neat video format. You have, on the one hand, Monsanto:

and on the other hand, Greenpeace:

What's the truth? Of course, it lies in the middle, between these two handy extremes. Can GMO crops be deleterious? You bet they can. Can they be beneficial? You bet they can.

Are you eating GMOs right now? You frickin' bet you are, whether directly or indirectly, even if you don't want to and are practically eating all your food at/from Whole Foods or a similarly healthy foods retailer.

In terms of GMO agriculture, what about that report about organ failure and GMO corn? What about that video linking Michelle Obama, GMOs and Organ Failure? You know, the one with the annoying, ominous music? Did the US government, under the Bush administration, try to force the hand of European countries seeking to ban US GMOs? Wikileaks certainly found evidence it did.

Are all GMO foods potentially hazardous? And what about other GMOs, with applications in industry and medicine? 

Thelma Lee is finishing a six part series on GMOs that will introduce you to what GMOs are, how they are made, what the risks vs. benefits of GMOs are, to give us insight into this serious food topic.

Stay tuned for the facts, with hype pared away as much as we can.

And for those of you who have asked for Jen's blog post on hunting, she's giving it some serious thought.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Press Play for full effect

Beautiful Dreamer sung by Roy Orbison

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Palate Cleanser #145

Cotton Grass, Iceland

Photograph by Jennifer Jesse
This Month in Photo of the Day: Your Photos
This photograph was taken in July of 2010 while hiking in a region of Iceland called Landmannalaugar. People come to this area in order to see the colorful rhyolite mountains. During our trip we had come across small amounts of cotton grass along the roads, but I never expected to see such a huge field of it. This image represents what Iceland is all about. Just when you think the landscape can't surprise you anymore, something else even more amazing comes along.

visual palate cleanser concept© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

Women on Fire: Afghanistan

Map of Afghanistan from

In 2010, 85 women set themselves on fire in Herat province, Afghanistan. Herat, an area where they speak Dari and have a close cultural bond with Iran, is one of the only regions tracking the shocking statistics of women so desperate to escape their lives that they set themselves on fire. Self-immolation has become almost endemic in Afghanistan. Unlike the practice of suttee, long outlawed in India, wherein a widow throws herself onto her husband's funeral pyre, women who commit self-immolation in Afghanistan are young- in their teens and early twenties. Although as Nic Robertson reported for CNN just last week that there are a myriad of reasons historically why waves of self-immolation occur, in Afghanistan, it is almost universally the act of of a woman stranded in a horrific situation. Abuse of all kinds, as readers of this blog know, is heaped upon too many Afghan women.

In a gambit to portray themselves as interested not just in human rights, but in women's rights, Iran's Press TV issued this report on self-immolation of young women in Afghanistan's nearby Herat province. Self-burning, as they call it, was up by 30% in 2010. Press TV cites in their summary article cultural and economic problems. Of course, Time magazine had its striking article in July of 2010 on this problem citing spousal and familial abuse as being the leading factors in self-immolation cases in Afghanistan.

Iran's Press TV, while certainly a political arm of the government of the Islamic Republic, at least provides us with figures about the 2010 in one Afghan province. Look at Herat on that map, people. And imagine that no other province appears to be tracking what happens to their young women. In a country of 29M (CIA World Fact Book) where men outnumber women 54% to 46% (women should be a precious resource then, right?), where the death rate in 2010 was 18 out of every thousand (third highest in the world), Herat province has a population of 1.7 million and by their own report 85 of their women attempted to commit self-immolation last year. Which if you read between the lines and look at those interviews means it just didn't kill them. When I think of living in a county of 2.5M people myself, and think of at least 85 people setting themselves on fire in a single calendar year because they are miserable, desperate and feel no hope, it is simply beyond my imagining. Although a number of aide organizations have targeted the problem of self-immolation in Herat, improvements have been "meager" according to a recent study by Help Women Heal fellow Harmonie Adams, a doctoral candidate in UCSF's Global Public Health program.

There's much I don't like about Press TV (maybe later this week I'll slap up the famous Sakineh interviews, which honestly raise as many questions as they answer) but they provide us access, in the above report, to data that we might not otherwise have.

Also, coming soon, Thelma Lee will be talking about GMOs, those pesky genetically modified organisms. Friend? Foe? Solution to world hunger? Destruction of naturally occurring species? What do you know about GMOs?

Readers interested in assisting women in Afghanistan can check out Help Women Heal or Women for Afghan Women.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Palate Cleanser #143

Spider's Web, Fairchild Tropical Garden

by my husband

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Palate Cleanser #142

Detail, Choupatte (Très Grande) by Claude Lalanne
Fairchild Tropical Garden, 2011

Click image to enlarge.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

In my next incarnation...

My child won't study reincarnation for one month in his Honors World History class.

There's a lot of great history in India. There are the Persian and Greek Conquests. There's the Maurya Empire. There's the Gupta Empire. There's the Mughal Empire. There's the British Empire. There's Partition. There's Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharal Nehru, Indira (no relation) Gandhi, Rajiv (son of Indira) Gandhi, Janata Dal and more. Or what about Jinnah, the Khans, the Bhuttos? There's the current situation in Pakistan, which used to be part of India, and the tenuous situation in Kashmir, which is a sore point between the two. India is the most populous democracy in the world. Pakisitan is crucial to the security of Central Asia. They both have nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, my son, who is in a ritzy private prep school since public schools in Miami are downright scary with all the violence and the abysmal test scores, learned none of those things about India and Pakistan in this class. He learned about reincarnation theory as if it was practically the sum total of Hinduism. For one month, his teacher had the students in his Honors class read articles that claimed that science was basically wrongheaded and that reincarnation could be proven. That would be articles with text like this:

"Science, developed on perceivable evidence-driven reasoning and logic, advocated that the attainment of truth is possible only with the help of material based scientific investigations and developments. Spirituality recognizes that the means of attainment of this truth lies within in the form of immortal soul, which is the Conscious Self. In other words spirituality is the science of consciousness, involving mind, body and spirit relationship. A subject of divine faith and devotion, initially, it leads to realization of ultimate unity of all beings. 
If the true meaning of science is understood – as search of truth beyond any barriers of matter and visible world, there would be no difficulty in accepting the fact that spirituality also falls in its periphery which pertains to sublime domains of realizations.... This attitude widens the scope of knowledge and search of ultimate truth through perfect integration of modern sciences and the ancient science of spirituality and religion."

~ Scientific Spirituality, at   All World Gayatri Pariwar

They spent more than a few of their 45 minutes of class times watching videos like this one,

and its second part, as if they were documentaries, depicting provable fact.

And then there were the tests, wherein my child, who arrived to me at age 8 stating that not only was there no Santa Claus, no Tooth Fairy, no Easter Bunny ("It's just parents with money!") but also no God, was asked to answer questions about what level his soul had attained in the Samsara (reincarnation) spiritual cycle. And when he chose a level of consciousness that had no soul, he was sent back to his desk and told he was wrong and to rewrite his answer.

Between the business of telling people they are wrong about their personal self-spiritual beliefs, and the business of not teaching World History, because of teaching a very slanted view of World Culture in its place, we were, to say the least, deeply troubled.

Did you learn about Buddhism and Jainism, I asked? Only as they related to reincarnation. What about Parsees, Muslims, Sikhs? "What? Who?" he responded, as if incredulous. My child, who was attending this relatively liberal Episcopal school, did not even know there were Christians in India, people! He knew that Jainists and Buddhist also believe in reincarnation, though.

In 6th grade my child won an award (only student in 6th grade to receive it) for achievement in World Cultures. He likes history and frankly, learned far more history in that class as an 11 year old than this one as a 14 year old. He loves YA fantasy books that are embroidered around history. Books like The Book Thief,  Temeraire and Bartimaeus and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. He wanted to do well and really, even though it's not übercool to say so, he enjoys learning immensely.

We complained to the Chair of the History department at his school. After two weeks, or so he said, the gentleman finally talked to the teacher, who mysteriously had taken down her entire semester's assignments from Edline. She said that she had only taught reincarnation theory for 2-3 days. Meanwhile, my son's advisor told her advisory class that "Students don't know what they should be learning in a class. The teacher knows and students should leave curriculum decisions to the teacher."

Well, last time I checked, History was History, Religion was Religion, Culture was Culture and while there might be some intermingling in there, a month on reincarnation theory (which, I've been told the yoga-practicing teacher fervently believes in...) is not Indian History. The word proselytizing sure comes to mind instead, though.

We requested that he be switched to the other Honors World History teacher's class and the request was honored with minimal fuss, but we were also told next time to just complain to the teacher and not make such a ruckus by bothering department chairs and upper school principals and the like. Between this, and a few other charming little details like not giving students full credit for AP classes (Johnny's A in CPR class counts for more than my son's B in AP Physics or Calculus would) we are now in the process of switching my child to a whole different school for next year.

I'm hoping that, eventually, my honor student will learn more Indian and Pakistani history... For the present, any child in the 9th grade that had world history in a different class has no doubt learned a bit more than my son on the topic. But my child has learned that believing in Karma evidently doesn't keep you from being untruthful when you have to cover your ass.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Emergency Comtesse Palate Cleanser

Narcissus field by Kepola
by way of The Daily Apple

Iz schpring in pixels, Jenka. Please to click, to make huge for further enjoyment?

visual palate cleanser concept © Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Water:Australia by Sally E.

Salsta's Tomatoes
(Image © Sally E.)

Nowhere is the crisis of water and climate change better exemplified these days than in Australia. From the hundred year floods in Queensland to the decade-long drought in Victoria, Australia is feeling the full impact of global warming. Global warming isn't just about heat. It's about water. Water everywhere except where you want it or where you need it. After years of drought, the La Niña effect is wreaking havoc with Australia's parched soil, which has become so arid that it can neither usefully absorb such rains, nor can it sustain the plant life that might have absorbed even this rainfall. Reservoirs, weirs and dams are now overflowing thanks to the capricious La Niña-El Niño dynamic. The result in Queensland, and New South Wales, has been flooding on a scale that few of us can imagine. Meanwhile, just prior to this summers devastating rains, cycles of increased heat and drought brought many areas deadly bushfires, such as those in 2009 in Victoria, in which 173 people died and thousands of homes were destroyed on Black Saturday. As the driest inhabited continent, there have been many periods of daunting drought in Australia's recorded history. The cycle of drought has notably worsened in recent years and many correlate it to global warming. Some have suggested that within Australia itself, overpopulation has resulted in an untenable situation. The environmental organization Sustainable Population Autstralia seeks to promote awareness of the impacts of the human population on Australia's renewable resource base. There are no easy answers or fixes for the challenges faced by Australia's resilient people.

What is it like to live with a decade-long drought? Our guest blog today is by Sally E., who works with Australia's The Climate Project in Victoria state. Sally's perspectives on living with drought, and on sustainable food, harkens all our future. What do you use your water on? Are you flushing it, brushing it, showering or bathing it away? Water is life, as Jen B. told us. Sally reminds us again that water is sustenance. Without further adieu, Sally's thoughts....

(For your reference, here's a map of some of the places we're talking about. Australia is quite large, by the way. You could drop the whole of Europe (excluding Russia) into it and have room to spare. When we think of large scale floods in Australia, think of the state of Texas flooded.)

Sally writes:

As I write this blog post, I still have the scent of complete fertiliser on my hands from the gardening I was at a half an hour ago.  Tonight it was just transplanting some capsicums/red bell peppers to a sunnier location to get them to grow a bit better than they have been so far.

I started the vegetable garden this year just with the idea that it might please my mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, to see them grow.  When I brought the first seedlings home, and again when I got some tomatoes going from seed (from particularly tasty tomatoes from the supermarket), I was rewarded with the sort of whole face grin normally seen in toddlers when they learn a new skill.

Now however, as well as providing fresh, tasty, seasonal produce fresh from the garden, it seems like these vegetables will give me a strong economic benefit as well.  They’ll give many kilograms of food for the cost of a few seedlings, a handful of fertiliser, some sunshine and a little water.

With floods of up to 22 metres across an area of Queensland as big as France and Germany combined, I have no doubt that the price of vegetables in our oligopolistic Australian supermarkets will rise in a meteoric fashion.  When there was a cyclone that wiped out the Queensland banana crop a few years ago, they put the price of all fruit up and bananas became a status symbol.  There was no banana cake on the Australian menu for a couple of years and I suspect it’s about to go off the menu yet again.  Fortunately I have a couple in the freezer. Although, earlier I read that that is one crop that may not go up significantly in cost this year.

Flooding in Australia
(Image Credit: Shairon Paterson for the Salvation Army IHQ courtesy of Pipeline)

Australia also has floods in NSW at present, with Victoria and Tasmania posting flood warnings as this post is published.  We’ve had floods in food producing areas of Victoria twice in recent months.  After 13 years of drought it’s somewhat of a relief, though the best crops in 15 years are now being badly damaged and for farmers who have no subsidies that’s a serious economic issue for them, as well as for the economy as a whole. 

At this farm at Wycheproof, in northern Victoria, the drought seemed to break last year, but the wheat crop failed for want of follow-up rain 
(Attribution unknown, found here)

It’s been so dry in Victoria (perhaps you remember last year’s bushfires) that even these floods are not drought breaking.  After so much rain there’s still barely more than 50% of water in our dams and the population of Melbourne is growing rapidly, largely by political policy.  After the 26% or capacity of a year or so ago, 53.8% sounds like a lot to us now but it’s still not a lot in storage in a state where the rainfall we used to be able to rely on has mainly shifted south into Bass Straight in line with climate change forecasting and the storages are relatively small as they were built with that reliability in mind.  Melbournians currently use only 142 litres of water per person per day.  To people in other developed nations that must seem miniscule but compared with undeveloped nations it’s luxurious.  We still flush our toilets with potable water after all.

It’s all very reminiscent of a poem called My Country written by Dorothea Mackellar more than a century ago, which somehow moves me every time I read it:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.

Australia can seem a harsh land but it’s vibrant in people and land, one of Oprahs’ recent guests here reported to have said that visiting here is like stepping from black and white into colour.  With all of what seems to be a packet of harsh weather being delivered at present, the people in Queensland are still exceptionally lucky when compared with the Pakistani flood victims of last year in the following ways.

·      ❧  Convoys of food are being trucked in and flown by helicopter.  There’s no chance that they’ll be stopped because they will be attacked on delivery.

·     ❧   Many people are able to stay with relatives, who are wealthy enough to keep them safe until the floods recede and their homes are again safe.

·      ❧   Those who cannot stay with relatives are being housed in solid communal shelters and the red cross is doing what they do in times of crisis, cooking for the masses as required, so there’s no chance of them going hungry.

·     ❧   Though wet, the weather is comparatively mild.  There is no harsh winter closing in.

·     ❧  Though with sewerage plants flooded, there is a chance of water borne disease and the floodwaters will breed mosquitoes so Dengue Fever could break out, the population is well educated and most can swim, so public education is keeping most people as safe as can be barring acts is foolishness such as the teenagers who floated 15 km downstream on air-mattresses.

·      Our military has been deployed to help and with only a few tens of thousands needing it, rather than 20 million, everyone who need help will get it.

·       Australia is already making hardship payments available to people displaced by the floods.

To return to my original point, I will get very good value now for the water used in the garden this year.  However it is a precious resource that must be respected, protected and appreciated for what it’s worth. 

Water is eternal.  The water on Earth was created long before the Earth itself.  We cannot create more of it and when nature decides to play us with it there’s not a lot we can do but clean up afterwards.  It’s been suggested that the next wars will be fought over water and given the difficulties managing it between the states in Australia, the US, the further difficulties when it’s an international matter, such as with the Mekong or Nile rivers and the level of importance of water in the volatile Middle East, it’s an easy thing to imagine.

I believe that we need to live within our most limiting means.  In the case of Victoria that involves being still more water efficient than we are now and given the further pressures on water worldwide no doubt that’ll become a more widespread need, probably more quickly than people expect.  Benjamin Franklin once said “When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water.”  

I hope it doesn’t get to that before we learn.

Laanecorie Reservoir, Victoria Australia
(Image Credit: Rodney Dekker)

Thank you Sally for sharing your thoughts...

Readers can contribute to the Queensland State Flood Fund at:

To help those across Australia, since more states are currently being affected, you can contribute to the Australian Red Cross at:

Flooding in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
(Image credit: Australia Red Cross)

Man rescuing a kangaroo, Ipswich, near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
(Image credit: BBC News Service)

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Revisionist's Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer

So, I'm sure that you've all heard that NewSouth, an Alabama-based publisher, is endeavoring to give us all a "gentler" Mark Twain in the form of a NewHuckFinn and a NewTomSawyer, with all 219 uses of the word "nigger" replaced with the word "slave" and all uses of "injun" replaced with Indian. (Why I'm surprised they didn't go with "African American" and "Native American", aren't you? Or maybe "Person/People of Color"?) I'm not exactly certain what that replacement is supposed to achieve but evidently it's intended to clean up the book's embarrassing references to a  shameful period in US history enough to keep Huck Finn from being banned from use in high schools. I kind of see a problem with that, as do many other people far better placed to comment than I am. Seán O'Driscoll at the Irish Times had a well rounded article on the topic. But far and away, the best I've seen is on Jon Stewart. Enjoy if you haven't seen it!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Mark Twain Controversy
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011