New In Town

Here are photos of this week’s new arrivals at Barb and Steve’s farm.
Watch for updates at their blog, Out To Pasture.

Lassi & Kona
Lassi
Kona

This is what Barb says about them:

We are enjoying the two immensely. They are scared. But the bravest one (Lassi) i’m afraid is pretty dumb also (just kidding). Got her head stuck in a narrow part of the fence panel and yelled like bloody murder when I was trying to get it back out. So tonight I’ll be afraid to sleep and will run out every two minutes to check to see what mischief she’s gotten herself into. Kona is more shy and more sensible. Dream and Alba are not sure yet. We will keep the kiddos separate from the Big Girls for a couple weeks.

I don’t know about goats, but that seems like a smart choice to keep the newbies and the old hands apart for a while here at the beginning.

When you are in a brand new place and nothing is familiar, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and a bit dumb, especially if one of your first moves is to get your head stuck in a fence. If you’re lucky, your hosts will be patient about helping you extricate yourself. They’ll even go out of their way to check on you. This is not always the case when you’re a rookie. Those who are already established are required by nature to size you up and to assess your worthiness. Sometimes the newcomer can begin to feel like an imposter.

When I was 12 my family moved from a lovely little spot in the Hudson River Valley just north of New York City to the edge of an agricultural city in central Illinois. I went to school in a small town ten miles outside the city limits – not far but the distance was great enough to reach a whole new level of reality concerning New York and Out East.

Never mind that I had only been to New York City a handful of times. I was instantly popular, and there was a space of about three days where, if I had known what was happening, I could have become the undisputed ruler of my middle school.

My advantage (and curse) had a lot to do with the sounds and sights of NYC that had filtered through film, TV and radio to that small town. Everybody knew that New York City was The Big Apple, populated by ruthless tough guys and wealthy big shots. Business there was conducted under a different standard that virtually required a certain amount of despicable big city behavior. Anybody from New York City was bound to have secret ways of getting what he wanted. It might involve cement overshoes and a body tossed in the river. So be it. People were interested to see what I would do to assert my authority in a place where the nearest river was only 2 feet deep. Dropped into that new environment, I was a dangerous mystery – unpredictable and scary cool.

Given a different personality and a new set of goals, I could have been the Vito Corleone of Macon, Illinois. Instead, I got my head stuck in the fence, and it didn’t take long for people to realize I was the opposite of what they expected. It was a huge personal relief for me when they finally figured it out, though for the kids who wanted to be hit men and gun molls instead of farmers, the disappointment lingered for several years.

Have you ever been the “new” person? How did you adapt?

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A Scary Story

What a lovely and sometimes chilling assortment of creature stories we had yesterday. It is now clear that bats, deer, moose, raccoons and baboons are reaching out to us with their various appendages offered in friendship, but we always seem to screech and run the other way, or stab them with a pitchfork.

No wonder there’s no peace in the woods.

While I have no doubt that every story on yesterday’s blog is absolutely true and each tale unfolded exactly as described, one third person account did seem rather fantastic and urban-legendish. It came by way of a report from Namibia on baboon behavior, which segued into this …

“When we were in the South we had campfires every night and the sky was so clear and full of stars–making planetariums jealous, as usual. Anyway, conditions were perfect for scary story telling and the best one I heard was from our student Morgan. She loves reptiles and used to have a boa constrictor. It was big enough to get out of its cage and it was free to. Anyway, she noticed that it was sleeping next to her in bed at night, like how cats and dogs like to do that. But then she took it into the vet because she noticed that it wasn’t eating anything, and hadn’t been for a few days, so obviously she was concerned. The vet asked, “has it been doing anything else out of the ordinary lately?” and Morgan goes, “Well, he’s been sleeping next to me…” and the vet says, “We have to put it down immediately! Your snake is preparing to eat you!”

I found this tale fascinating. What was the snake doing? If you were a hungry animal, how could lying alongside your next meal help you? I couldn’t imagine what sort of biological need might propel such a strange behavior. So I decided to look into it more deeply. My painstaking research involved typing the phrase “snake is preparing to eat you” into the search box at Google, and it took me to this post at a question and answer board from three years ago.

I’ve heard this story twice in the last week from two different sources, typical friend-of-a-friend preamble. In the story a boy (or in the other version a girl) notices that their large pet snake hasn’t been eating its food. He calls the vet who tells him the snake is probably fine but to call back if he is still worried. The snake has the run of the house and usually sleeps curled up at the end of the owner’s bed. The owner notices that the snake is still not eating and has started to lie full length on the bed beside him at night. He calls the vet again who asks if there have been any changes in the snakes habits or sleeping pattern. The owner describes how the snake is sleeping stretched out and the vet replies, “you must bring in your snake immediately and have it destroyed. it was starving itself because it wanted to eat you, it lay beside to see if it was long enough to swallow you yet.”

Aha! Of course! The snake was measuring its potential victim! . I didn’t get that the first time I read it through. I assumed the tactic was psychological – the boa was probably sleeping beside its prey to put the prospective meal at ease. That’s how I reasoned it out. Smart! I guess I’d be easy prey for a meal-measuring boa constrictor, if boa constrictors did that.

I discovered after a few more minutes’ research that the whole crafty-snake-in-the-bed thing had been completely debunked at snopes.com. Too bad!

I felt superior for about ten minutes. An urban legend, exposed!

But like any slasher film or monster epic, there was one final realization that turned my smug satisfaction to horror. It hit me like a moist, rabid, soul-sucking bat flailing in panic against the side of my head. It was this:

What started out as an alarming story about a hungry snake had turned into a mortifying story about a fully grown adult who needed to use a website to confirm that a scary story told around a campfire on a starry night was, in fact, a fabrication.

The Internet had replaced my brain! Aiiiiiiiiiiiii!

Have we been completely swallowed by our computers?

Don’t Bother With Baboons

Barbara was kind enough to share this video Docu-Baboonery yesterday.
Baboons vs. Lion Cubs. No Contest.

If you haven’t got the time or technology to watch the video, it’s a pretty simple story.
Young lions will try to eat anything. Baboons are tempting targets, but they are much better climbers than lions, and holding the higher ground gives warriors of all kinds a distinct advantage, whether your weapon is bombs, sticks or urine.

What interests me as much as the cross-species showdown is the editing and storytelling techniques on display. I don’t doubt that one day a lion chased a baboon up a tree and someone recorded it on video, but the entire incident may have taken only as long as it took you to read this needlessly elongated sentence. In the piece above there are only three shots (taking less than three seconds, total) in the two minute and forty five second video where you can see both a lion and a baboon in the same frame.

The story being told with close ups of isolated animal parts is more involved. We join an adolescent group of reckless carnivores on a mission to have a baboon for brunch. We are embedded with the group, the other lions are our wingmen. We fall into a spirited, shaky-camera chase. We’re out of breath. Our quarry has gone up a tree! We try to climb up there, struggling mightily, out of our element but determined. The rascal insults us with his casual, superior attitude, then with projectiles, and finally the ultimate indignity – tinkle time – followed by retreat.

A dramatized version of real events? Certainly. Is there anything wrong with that?
Nature shows have been doing it since … Marlin Perkins and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

In the first three minutes of this program, we see Elephant Seals, an Elephant and an Alligator chasing and thrashing about, trying to kill and/or eat Marlin and Jim and another guy named Dirk Ackerman. But that’s MoA’s Wild Kingdom. Some wild creature was always trying to murder Jim as Marlin casually narrated his near demise. I’m guessing the cutaway footage of the guys backing up their Jeep and getting off a few shots at the charging elephant were filmed at another time, and not when the beast was actually bearing down on them.

If animals could make videos about their encounters with us, I’m sure the stories would be equally dramatic. As in this example from Mutual of Honeycomb’s “Large Meadow”, episode 109 – “Nest Attack”.

“I knew if I could get my stinger into a soft, fleshy, exposed part of the huge, lumbering creature, it might turn and leave our community alone. Delivering the sting would be a great but necessary sacrifice, which I was preparing myself to make when Jim suggested a better strategy – fly at the beast’s head and face to unsettle it and make it run away. Sometimes the mere thought of a sting is enough for these unintelligent and overly sensitive creatures to lose courage, but we had to be careful. The behemoths are known for suddenly producing canisters of deadly toxic spray – instantly lethal if the cloud of gas merely touches you!
What’s that in its hand? Fly, Jim, fly!”

Ever have a dramatic encounter with a wild creature?

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!

Two current news trends at once – leaked documents and felons voting!

Memo to: All Candidates
From: Strategy Team
Re: The Felon Vote

The assertion that convicted felons were a crucial swing group in the 2008 contest has taken us by surprise! People who are voting illegally should be caught. But if they can’t be caught, we should at least try to capture their loyalty. After all, candidates, our job is to win!

Some think this group sides with one party, but felonious voters are as diverse as the general populace with little in common except face time on America’s Most Wanted. Don’t assume that felons vote as a (cell) block. If we want them, we have to offer candidates and ideas they like.

Let’s look at strategies to attract some important sub-groups.

Arson Moms
They are big-gesture optimists who always imagine positive outcomes from their crazy, roll-the-dice actions.
To get their vote – position yourself as a hip-shooting chance taker and disparage Big Insurance whenever possible. Careful and judicious use of arson-resonant terms like “accelerant”, “blaze” and “inferno” can send a subtle message to Arson Moms that you are a candidate who can ignite their considerable passion.

Serial Killers
Capturing the serial killer vote is not as hard or as risky as it sounds.
To get their vote – Go after them! SK’s love being pursued! And remember, they despise themselves for their twisted compulsions, so promise change, and lots of it! No punishment is too severe. The only sin you could commit would be to stop paying attention.

NAIFS (Numbers And Information Felons)
This white-collar crowd of felons includes embezzlers, inside traders, forgers, financial fraudsters and tax evaders. The votes of this group may appear to be the easiest to secure, but competition for their political loyalty has always been tough.
To get their vote – tax breaks and less regulation.

AGGRAVOTERS (Aggressive Guys and Gals, Reprobates And Violent Offenders Too Extreme to Reach Safely)
Keep your distance. AGGRAVOTERS don’t support anyone. They attack!
To get their vote – vilify your opponent whenever possible, and if you can make your opposition seem helpless as well, this despicable class of felon will become intensely interested. The voting booth can be as good as a dark alley, but it’s up to you to dim the lights.

Rounding up the felon vote is a difficult task that calls for focus, discipline and a certain kind of cynical recklessness that can’t be taught. Are you up to the job? If so, get ready to call yourself Governor, Congressman, or Senator. When the votes are counted, 2010 is looking to be the Year of the Felon!

If you stretch for that brass ring, you might fall off your horse.
Ever reach too far?

A Bump in the Night

Ever put a playing card in the spokes of your bike tire, or hear a noise in the engine compartment of your car that sounded like something was hitting something it wasn’t supposed to be hitting? Or maybe you’ve heard a regularly spaced bumping or scratching against the house on a windy night and your mind filled with images of zombies trying to get in, only to find in the morning that it was a tree branch rubbing against the roof of the house!

That’s the sort of thing that’s happening over Saturn, where one of the planet’s many moons, the caplet-shaped Prometheus, continues to bump into the rings, leaving a pattern behind. My favorite mechanical space explorer, the Cassini orbiter, took this picture in early June. It was posted on the Cassini website yesterday.

I say this “isn’t supposed” to be happening, but who knows what is and isn’t in the grand plan? Or if there even is a grand plan? Based on your personal beliefs, you could claim the beauty of this pattern is proof that there is a God. You could say it is proof that God is more like us because He can’t get the thingy to stop hitting the whatchamacallit. Or you could point to it as a clear signal that things are randomly arranged.

Here you can watch a video of Prometheus touching the “F” ring of Saturn, pulling a wisp of material out of it and leaving a dark channel behind. Look underneath the photo for a movie choice of Quicktime or MPEG. There is what appears to be a blackout near the end of the 13 second sequence when the scene passes through the planet’s shadow.

Because the video image is oriented with the surface of Saturn below the bottom of the frame and the F ring arched across the top, one can easily imagine from its upward motion that the elongated moon is some sea creature, just breaking the surface of the ocean and causing a ripple to run towards shore.

Ever go whale watching?

Ask Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

Recently I fired an employee because others had been spreading lies about her – lies that I quickly believed because to do so was easier than uncovering the truth. Not a lot easier, though. If I had only talked to her first, I would have seen that something was wrong. Later, when I found out that the stories about this woman were exactly backwards, I had to go crawling on my knees to ask the employee to come back to work.

She refused.

Ordinarily I would never have dismissed this person, but I was worried about what people would say when they heard the lies and I thought quick, decisive action might protect me from criticism. And yet now I am being severely criticized.

Even the people who spread the lies are saying I over-reacted. These liars are also suggesting that my boss was behind the whole thing and that now I am lying to cover up for him. To be called a liar by liars – what misery! And the more I say about it, the worse it gets. Plus, the weather the past few days has been very, very hot and uncomfortable.

My antagonists made a terrible mistake, and instead of using it against them, I amplified it and made it my own. I feel like somewhere along the way I agreed to play a nasty, silly game with them, and now I can’t quit playing it even though I want to!

Dr. Babooner, how can I make this madness stop?

Secretary of Blunders

I told S.O.B. that it isn’t unusual to get drawn into a contest so deeply that you forget there is a larger world that operates under different rules than the fake ones that only govern the weird game you are playing. That’s why athletes wear uniforms. Football players know when they’ve got on their big shoulders, their tall socks and the lightning bolts or birds of prey or funny animal horns on their hats that they’re in an environment where it’s OK to knock people down. Soccer players know when they’re wearing shiny shorts they’re not allowed to use their hands. Costumes can be useful that way. Perhaps people in media and politics should wear extravagant uniforms too, especially when they’re pointing fingers at each other. That way maybe we’ll all remember this isn’t real, it is simply a game they can’t stop playing.

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

Smart Outfit!

Next month Wal-Mart is going to start putting radio frequency ID tags (RFID) on some of the jeans and underwear sold in thousands of U.S. stores as a way to closely track what is on the shelves and to streamline the inventory procedures. In theory, an employee with a special gizmo will be able to wave a wand over a pile of Levi’s for men and tell you if there’s a pair in there with a 36 inch waist. It’s a shopping timesaver, if only you can find an employee to help you.

Privacy watchdogs are nervous about this development, especially if the tags become standard on consumer items of every kind. One scenario described in the Wall Street Journal had mysterious third parties driving down the alley, scanning your trash for discarded RFID tags in order to collect information about the kinds of things you buy. That’s assuming your online credit card receipts haven’t already spilled the beans. Scary? Perhaps. But as an unemployed person my first question was “Garbage Scanner … I wonder what that pays?”

Really, once you let go of any sense of privacy a whole new world opens up. RFID doesn’t have to be on a tag – it could be embedded in the clothing. Imagine a scanner that could tell you where every shirt in the house is located. On those frantic Monday mornings when you’re trying to find enough matching stuff to wear, this feature could come in handy. And what about the scientific advances? The scanner might be able to follow lost socks to a second and even a third dimension!

Add GPS to the equation and when you donate your tagged clothing to charity, you could use satellite technology to watch it disperse around the globe. “Look, honey! My old Def Leppard t-shirt just landed in Ghana!”

Take it in the opposite direction and there’s a business opportunity there to create and sell (for cash only) non-RFID tagged garments under the name “Clandestine Clothing”. No one knows you have it except the people who see you wearing it! Is it worth paying extra for that?

How “smart” do you want your clothes to be?