March 31st, 2005


(no subject)


I realize that it's fashionable in some quarters to claim liberals hate the western world and dismiss much of our past as mere dead-white-males. I know that there are probably plenty of people out there who think that because I detest many elements of our current government that I'm down on all of Western Civilization, or at least America, and assume that I have some kind of historical self-loathing goin' on.

And yes, I'd be lying if I said that there aren't large swaths of Americana I find desperately tacky, like NASCAR and the Religious Right. On the other hand, I assume that if I lived in another country, I would also find plenty to be vulgar and in generally poor taste as well. I just happen to live here. So we'll call that one a wash.

But you know, I really like Thomas Jefferson. He was a helluva guy. I was reading about gardening t'other day, and they included a large section on Jefferson's contributions to gardening, the gardens at Monticello, and whatnot. He reconstructed the first mammoth. He was one of the last great generalists, like da Vinci, before science became so gloriously complex that it is no longer really possible for a single human brain to keep on top of it.

And you gotta love a man who said things like:

Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.

Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind.

You gotta admire that.

(no subject)

There is a bird outside doing an absolutely spot-on imitation of a rotating sprinkler, a series of ticking chirps and then a long run of clicks as the sprinkler ratchets back into position. I don't know enough about birdcalls to know if that's a normal bird call for some species that just happens to be uncannily like a sprinkler, or if it's something like a mockingbird, who are notorious for expanding their repertoire. Regardless, it's hysterical. Even the timing is pure sprinkler, but there's a chirping quality that's bird all the way. I'm sitting in the studio grinning until my cheeks hurt.

One wonders what the point of adding sounds to mimics is. In a lot of birds, birdsong is learned--raise a bird in isolation and it sings gibberish--but they learn some fairly specific songs, albeit with regional variations. But the birds who just add noises--evidentally whole swathes of starling populations have picked up cellphone ring tones in Europe--why? They wouldn't have any particular meaning, the way that an alarm call does in a wren, they'd just be a familiar noise. I assume it's probably some kind of "I have a huge song! You know you want some!" thing, without any particular encoded meaning. I know ornithologists have wrestled with this for ages. I just find it neat.