Friday, November 30, 2007

I am a terrible person

Upon hearing about the hostage crisis at Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire campaign office, my first thought was, "Holy crap!" This initial reaction was quickly followed up with, "I hope she doesn't manage to score any sympathy votes out of this!"

Ouch. There's nothing like a knee-jerk empathy-free response to a tragic event--which, luckily, had a more or less happy ending--to make me question my ethical priorities. Now if Barack Obama's campaign had been involved, that would be a different story altogether. Ah, the joys of reflexive tribalism!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In which I try my hand at poetry

It's the question that drives us. . .
Trinity, The Matrix

If the massive number of inquiring emails I've been receiving is any indication, many of you are very curious to know what it would look like if I started writing poetry about food. Dear readers, as of this moment, you need no longer spend your nights tossing and turning in restless contemplation. The answer you seek can be found at Catherine's blog. May it be everything you had hoped for!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Something to be thankful for

Via John Wilkins comes news sure to provoke a bit of timely Thanksgiving gratitude in primate-lovers everywhere: The Congolese government has pledged to set aside almost 12,000 square miles of rainforest as a preserve for bonobos and other endangered jungle-dwelling animals. The Bonobo Conservation Initiative has the full report:

Washington, DC – The Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI) joins the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in announcing the creation of the new Sankuru Nature Reserve, a huge rainforest area harboring the endangered bonobo, a great ape most closely related to humans. Larger than the state of Massachusetts, the new reserve encompasses 11,803 square miles of tropical rainforest, extremely rich in biodiversity.

“This is a monumental step towards saving a significant portion of the world’s second largest rainforest, of critical importance to the survival not only of humankind’s closest great ape relative, the bonobo, but to all life on Earth given the increasing threat of climate change ,” said Sally Jewell Coxe, president and co-founder of the Bonobo Conservation Initiative.

The Sankuru region was hit very hard during the recent war in the Congo, which devastated the local people and claimed four million lives—more than any war since WWII. In addition to the critical environmental challenges presented by unsustainable hunting, the humanitarian crisis must also be addressed. “The people of Sankuru rely on the forest for every aspect of their livelihood. Helping them to develop economic alternatives to the bushmeat trade is one of the most urgent priorities,” Coxe said.

In danger of extinction, bonobos (Pan paniscus) were the last great ape to be discovered and are the least known great ape species. Found only in the DRC, bonobos inhabit the heart of the Congo Basin, Africa’s largest rainforest, which is threatened by the onslaught of industrial logging. Bonobos are distinguished by their peaceful, cooperative, matriarchal society, remarkable intelligence, and sexual nature. Other than humans, bonobos are the only primates known to have sex not only for procreation, but also for pleasure and conflict resolution—and with members of either sex. Unlike chimpanzees, bonobos do not murder or wage war on others of their own kind. They serve as a powerful flagship both for conservation and for peace.

In addition to the bonobo, the Sankuru Reserve contains the okapi (Okapia johnstoni), an exotic short necked forest giraffe also endemic to the DRC, but not previously found outside of their known range far to the northeast. Survey teams from the Congo’s Center for Research in Ecology and Forestry (CREF) sponsored by BCI made this exciting discovery. Sankuru also contains elephants, which have been hunted out in many other areas of the Congo forest, plus at least 10 other species of primates, including the rare owl faced monkey and blue monkey.

The wildlife is under intense pressure from organized hunting for the commercial bushmeat trade. The report from the Congolese Institute for Conservation of Nature (ICCN) on its recent expedition to the area states that “the ecocide must be stopped” and recommends immediate action to protect this invaluable ecosystem and watershed. The DRC Minister of the Environment, Didace Pembe Bokiaga, who officially declared the new reserve, said, “This increases the total area of protected land in the DRC to 10.47%, bringing us closer to our goal of 15%. We are proud that the Sankuru Reserve is being created in the framework of community participative conservation…and will be zoned to guarantee the rights of the local population.”

Andre Tosumba, director of BCI's Congolese NGO partner, ACOPRIK (Community Action for the Primates of Kasai), led the successful local effort to protect Sankuru. “When I saw the extent to which people were hunting bonobos, okapi, and elephants, we began to sensitize them to realize the value of these animals,” he said. “Once they came to understand, the people themselves decided to stop hunting these precious species and to create a reserve to protect their forest. BCI has helped ACOPRIK and the local people at every step of the way; we call on the international community to join our effort.”

Protecting Sankuru Reserve’s forest will contribute significantly to mitigating global warming. Approximately 20% of annual green house gas emissions come from deforestation and other land-use change. Keeping this rich tropical forest intact will make an important contribution to global efforts to reduce emissions while simultaneously conserving biodiversity. The Sankuru Reserve stores up to 660 million tons of carbon, which if released by deforestation would emit up to 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, comparable to emissions from 38,000,000 cars per year for 10 years.

“This is a huge victory for bonobo and rainforest conservation,” Coxe said. “However our work has just begun. Now we need investment to successfully manage the reserve. And, other areas need to be protected to ensure the long-term survival of the bonobo and the integrity of the Congo rainforest.” The Sankuru Reserve is the southern anchor for a constellation of linked, community-based reserves being developed by BCI in the Bonobo Peace Forest, a project supported by DRC President Joseph Kabila since its inception in 2002.

[Editorial note: While I'm very fond of bonobos, this press release--following in the footsteps of many popular news accounts--exaggerates their pacifist nature a bit more than I think is truly justified. See here for some evidence contrary to the peacenik school of thought.]

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What are you doing to fight the War on Christmas?

Like the warmth of springtime and the start of election cycles, the winter Holiday Season just keeps coming earlier each year. While this is undoubtedly a joyous time of year, we cannot forget that the consumption of copious amounts of food and the receipt of presents are by no means the only--or primary--reasons for the season; no, my friends, the onset of Yuletide brings with it a sacred duty for all patriotic and right-thinking Americans: waging the War on Christmas™.

Unlike the many skirmishes of the 20th century, this conflict--the great battle of our age--is being waged on a virtually limitless number of fronts. From the shrill and volatile world of cable news shows--where the forces of darkness have marshaled under the banner of steely veteran General Bill O'Reilly--to the hellish land of internet message boards, the fires of culture war continue to rage unabated, leaving no mountain, valley or plain of our social landscape untouched.

With so many active fronts open at once, it is absolutely imperative that all upright citizens be ready to take up arms at a moment's notice. Just today, I saw an opportunity to join the fight--and I took it. While attempting to spend a gift card at Barnes and Noble, I happened upon the children's fantasy series, His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. Having seen trailers for the upcoming movie adaptation of the trilogy's first novel, The Golden Compass, and having read many pious reviews of the books claiming that they promote "blatant satanism," "anti-christian" themes and "atheism," (and having it on good authority that they are well-written and highly entertaining, but that's beside the point!), I saw immediately that this was my chance to strike a serious blow for liberalism, nihilism, secularism and the multitude of other beautiful philosophies to which we all cling so dearly. Therefore, dressed in full battle regalia--specifically, a t-shirt with a picture of Karl Marx on it*--I immediately walked to the front counter and purchased the trilogy box-set (at a tremendously reasonable price, I might add). Huzzah for another stunning victory!

I write this to you today, my brothers and sisters, not simply to brag about my brave and impressive accomplishments, but to encourage you to follow my example. While my actions were perhaps only tangentially-related to the specific mission of our blessed War on Christmas™, I hope you can see how they fell within our all-encompassing strategic plan for world domination through indoctrination and intellectual conquest. Furthermore, I hope it is clear that only through constant vigilance and readiness for battle will our noble aims be achieved. When your time comes, will you stand up and be a non-gender-specific adult human being? This is a war, and we are the front line. May we never forget our duty.

*Full disclosure: The t-shirt is also an advertisement for a conservative evangelical university, so if the People's War Committee for the Promotion of Politically Correct Sentiments chooses not to give me full points for wearing it, I'll understand.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Something is wrong with this picture

I apparently do not possess the competency necessary to read this blog:

cash advance

Yet somehow I manage to write it. I can think of only two explanations for this curious result: either I'm a genius autodidact, or that test sucks. Lacking the evidence necessary to rationally discern the correct option, I choose to believe the more satisfying narrative--


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Further confessions of an irreparably geeky person

Recall in a post written quite some time ago, I noted that, while possessing many qualities of a decidedly geeky nature, I had never participated in two of the most insidiously geeky pastimes; namely, I had not played a single game of Dungeons and Dragons and I had never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I mention this idle statement made long ago as a preface to a confession I feel I must now make: I have watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I love it. Yes, the metaphorical Rubicon has been crossed, and there is now no returning to the so-called life I once lived. While confessions of undying love for Buffy and its creator, Joss Whedon, have long since become hopelessly cliche in most respectable internet circles, I have no choice but to put social niceties to the side and add my voice to the clamoring mob of devoted Buffyverse fanatics.

Truth be told, oh merciful reader, this confession should have come long ago. While keeping it secret to all but a chosen few, I have for months now harbored a devastating affection for BtVS and its fantastic spin-off Angel. The fateful epiphany occurred last spring, when, wearied by watching the X Files, I sought to undertake a new geeky television enterprise. After consulting with several trustworthy and like-minded purveyors of sci-fi wisdom whose praise for BtVS was both universal and unmeasured, I added the show to my Netflix queue. After suffering great pangs of anticipation caused by the horrendous inefficiency of our postal system, the first disc arrived in my hands. Seven seasons of Buffy--plus five of Angel--later, I can only stand in awe at what is certainly the greatest artistic achievement in television history (for the sake of brevity, I will set aside the oft-debated question of whether the works of Shakespeare are utterly inferior or only somewhat inferior to the works of Joss Whedon).

To my readers, I apologize for keeping the details of my conversion from you for so long. You certainly deserved to know the truth before now, but, I am ashamed to admit, that I was afraid--afraid of what you would think of me. Now, though, having worked through my fears, I stand before you, ready to proclaim the good news of Buffy to all who would listen.

You may be wondering, "What is so great about the show that could cause this otherwise only slightly deranged fellow to write such dreadfully flowery and dramatic prose about it?" A fair question, perhaps, but one for which I have no answer. The beauty and power of BtVS are of such a mystical quality that any attempted rational explanation of them is doomed to absolute failure. One could just as easily calculate the square root of love or distill the meaning of life into a fruity malt beverage as decipher or quantify the true genius of the Buffyverse. Simply put, if you've never seen it, you cannot hope to understand; furthermore, if you've seen it and do not agree with me, your opinions are hopelessly misguided, and I will choose to accord them no further value. Like so many things, this comes down to a choice: A person is either with Buffy or against her, and if the latter is what you choose, then you are no friend of mine!*

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Hooray for overtime pay!

*Points to anybody who can identify exactly which two quotes I bastardized in this sentence.

Recommended reading: Gorillas in their Midst

While reading up on the Dead Sea at the behest of my roommate who just returned from a trip to Israel, I stumbled upon this detailed Smithsonian article about the plight of mountain gorillas living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here are a few representative highlights:

Only about 750 mountain gorillas are left in the world: 350 in Uganda, 270 in Rwanda and a mere 150 here in Congo (formerly Zaire). They have been ravaged by poaching, habitat loss, disease and the violence of war. Many live in lawless regions, sharing territory with armed rebels from Uganda or the remnants of Hutu militias responsible for Rwanda's 1994 genocide of ethnic Tutsis. Today the biggest threat comes from the Congolese area of their range. Rebel groups opposed to Congo president Joseph Kabila control territory in the turbulent east. The most powerful group is led by an ethnic Tutsi named Laurent Nkunda, who commands thousands of well-armed rebels in the Virungas. Not far from here in January, troops from Nkunda's group killed and presumably ate two silverbacks. A female was shot in May, another male and four females were slain in July; their killers had not been identified as we went to press.
. . .
Two hours later, we reach our destination, the Bukima patrol post, a dilapidated weatherboard hut that is home to the rangers who accompany the gorilla trackers each day. Jean Marie Serundori, the post's chief ranger, has spent 17 years with the gorillas. "So many of our rangers have been killed by rebels and poachers in the park," he tells me as Newport translates. "Two months ago, hundreds of Nkunda's troops occupied this very spot and looted it, remaining until just two weeks ago. We fled at the time, and have only just returned. [The rebels] are still just a few miles from here." I ask him why he risks his life by returning. "The gorillas are our brothers," he responds. "I know them as well as my own family. If we don't check that they're safe every day, soldiers and poachers might harm them." Rangers sometimes name newborn gorillas after community leaders who have recently died.
. . .
As if on cue, Rugendo rolls onto his side for a mid-afternoon nap, sated by his bulky snack. He became the master of this group in 2001, when his father was killed by crossfire between the Congolese military and the Interahamwe. Rugendo's easy acceptance of our presence allows the rangers to keep watch over him and his family. But it also allows poachers and soldiers to get dangerously close.

I edge closer, impressed by his brawny arms, many times thicker than a weight lifter's, and salami-size fingers. His massive, furry-crested head holds enormous jaw muscles. While the big chief dozes, Noel and two other sons tussle in mock combat, a favorite gorilla pastime, tumbling, growling, slapping and tugging. The fur on Kongomani and Mukunda, 10- and 12-year-old males, is still black. Noel is especially aggressive, baring his teeth as he repeatedly bangs his fists on the ground and charges his brothers. He leaps on them, pulls at their fur, bites their arms and legs and whacks them on the head. They soon tire of Noel's antics. Now, each time he attacks, one of the brothers grabs him with an arm and tosses him back into the bushes. After a few such tosses, Noel turns to peer at the pale-skinned stranger. Up close his dark brown eyes shimmer.

Seriously, go read the whole thing. The article is quite long, but it is a beautifully-written and--sadly--all too timely piece of journalism.