Interesting Intersection

This one came in over the LSU weekly news wire.

For those who don’t follow much in Louisiana, we just elected Bobby Jindal, our youngest-ever governor (younger than me, even—egads!), a conservative Rebublican, SAOVA endorsed, Baton Rouge native and son of Indian immigrants, among a long list of other interesting and commonly-cited labels.

This story, commenting on Jindal’s win and its portents for our state, is by Rod Dreher (the Crunchy Con) and includes mention of LSU football, and this bit about Wendell Berry.

Weirdly familiar for a national piece, all of it.

“…As it happened, the night Mr. Jindal won I was having dinner in Henry County, Ky., with the farmer and agrarian poet Wendell Berry and a group of his conservative admirers. Earlier in the day, we’d heard Mr. Berry talk about how we Americans educate our children today for outgoing, not homecoming, and what a shame that is. We’d been talking about what kind of country we’d have if folks decided to stay home and learn to love their little place.

“That night, my father woke me up phoning from St. Francisville, La.. ‘Jindal won tonight!’ he said, tickled to death. So did the Tigers, but I don’t think he even mentioned football. “I haven’t lived in Louisiana in a long time, but this election makes me proud and hopeful–two emotions unfamiliar to exiled Bayou Staters. And the promise of Mr. Jindal’s leadership makes me wonder, for the first time since I packed up the U-Haul and drove off, if maybe I–and now, my children–have a future in Louisiana.”

Dreher seems almost regretful for having left his home state, a mixed emotion he finds common among Louisiana ex-pats. I can understand it, although in my case Louisiana was the chosen destination, and the only home my children know.

If Dreher is an admirer of Wendell Berry, champion of much-abused and “backward” Kentucky, perhaps he should come home too.

This is the World’s Oldest Living Animal


Or at least it was until recently. Scientists from Bangor University in Wales dredged up this Arctica islandica clam off the north coast of Iceland. After sectioning the shell and counting annual growth rings under a microscope they dated the clam to between 405 and 410 years-old. This breaks the official record of 220 years held by another clam of the same species.

The researchers aren’t sure why clams of this species live so long but hope to study and find out. They think it’s likely there are some 600 year-old clams out there in the water.

And as far as killing the “world’s oldest living animal”:

“Its death is an unfortunate aspect of this work, but we hope to derive lots of information from it,” said Al Wanamaker, a postdoctoral scientist on the university’s Arctica team. “For our work it’s a bonus, but it wasn’t good for this particular animal.”

The Bear Whisperer?

Well, if Rebecca O’Connor can be the parrot whisperer, the LA Times thinks that Steve Searles of Mammoth Lakes, California is the bear whisperer. Searles is the local police department’s volunteer wildlife specialist. Marauding black bears are a problem at Mammoth, and rather than tranquilizing and removing offenders, and potentially killing them if they repeat, Searles tries to use “tough love” to chase bears away from trouble. He uses firecrackers and flares, rubber bullets, air horns — all nonlethal techniques he refers to as “bear spankings.”

You wonder how long this guy will last, but it sounds like he has sense enough to keep his distance. According to a prominent resident:

“Steve gets along fine with the bears,” said George Shirk, editor of the local Mammoth Monthly. “It’s people he sometimes has a problem with.”

I did like this quote of Searles scolding two treed cubs who’ve just ransacked a condominum kitchen:

“Bad bears!” he growled up at the 100-pound cubs, who peered back innocently. “What are you guys doing? Who do you think you are?”

Hot Chiles are Good for You

Us chile lovers all know this, but there is fresh news in chile research. The active ingredient in chiles, capsaicin, may have a future role in replacing some addictive narcotic painkillers. Think back to a time when you bit into a really hot chile: at first it was hot and painful, but then after a while your mouth and tongue went numb. It’s that numbing affect on pain-sensing nerves that researchers are hoping to exploit. It’s hoped that bathing surgically exposed nerves in a high enough dose will numb them for weeks.

Of course, some people might argue with you about the addictive qualities of chiles.

In the Land of 40-Year Strolls

We fly into the vast devil of the Mid East with this first: a gorgeous verdant beach with the gorgeous Med right there and filled with tiny flawless empty islands, something you couldn’t help but call perfect if you didn’t know you were about 100 miles north of Beirut and risking being shot to shit, flying really crooked from Istanbul so as to not go over that city or any of the others, or Israel at all, because, well…. The first stunning thing is the way the coast is flawless green perfect until the mountains top out and come down their eastern side as nothing but dirt, and pour nothing but dirt on everything else we pass. It’s striking the way from the air mountains are more imposing that they are when you look up at their interminable height. On the other side it’s a vast enough desert to wander in for forty years without seeing the same thing twice, assuming you’re from the desert and can tell red empty hateful desert from pink hateful empty desert, from crimson empty desert, hateful. Inexplicably, over this mass of oblivion, big farms show their faces, nothing at all like the flyover-state farms I’ve seen getting from Albuquerque to the new York or Atlanta or wherever. These are farms by shards, clearly demarked from the air, but by what logic I cannot ascertain. The fields curls and bend and cut into one another. This is west Texas without surveyors, the Wild West when lines of longitude were as mythical as Atlantis (and my poet friend tells me, ‘They lost Atlantis when it got up and moved from the vast Pacific to this mad desert, who can blame them,’ because we’re trying, at his behest, to confuse tourists, calling the whole thing the ‘Trail of Tears,’ where Jesus wept, et c) After seeing a dozen monochromatic cities and pillars of smoke from nowhere and roads that take 90 degree turns in the middle of endless sand flats, I have to think that there’s an order here, some governing force, that is just, simply, different. Stones are piled throughout the desert at what I can only describe as random (clearly not random), like something you would look for if you were the last one out to a deep New Mexican campout and had nothing else to guide you, but these, honestly, seem to have guided 6,000 years’ worth of pilgrims without being taken down. I can see Moses nudging the topmost stones centimeters at a time, coaxing them to balance, knowing all God’s people are relying on these, and they still stand, next to the coincidental chucked off stones of some Bedouin sheepherder who just happens to have the god of coincidental balance on his side. There is some order here, in farms and pastures and even stones, that I cannot guess at. We go to Amman, the capital of Jordan, which is a lot like Istanbul except it is the most boring place in the history of the world. We drink a special mid-east drink, “Not found in Europe or Egypt,” despite the fact that the bottle itself sez it comes straight from ancient Egyptian secrets, and that it is called “Arak” which sounds suspiciously like “Raki,” the official special drink of Turkey (tastes exactly the same, PS), which itself tastes exactly like Ouzo and Grappa, and all the other official special drinks of Mediterranean countries (shh!). Men shout cordially at one another across small rooftop tables. They take off their shoe before they cross their legs. You can’t buy an apple without haggling over the price. (You do get to wash it off right there in the store, though, gratis). Everyone seems very comfortable with this. There is clearly some order here in the kisses and mad traffic and screwy backward writing, something that facilitates society, but it escapes me. All this left me seeing random arrangements I assume must be patterns I just can’t understand, desert djinn, madnesses, appreciating the cosmopolitan nonstop zazz of Istanbul, seeing it in contrast to the pick and choose accommodated by the distance/connection with the west that lets Amman have AC and good roads and a fairly minor amount of anti-Semitism (not to mention ancient decrepit old men with flawless English somehow, working at convenience stores) with none of the madness and conflict and just straight rigmarole of Istanbul, the middle-child of the world, forced to choose and choose fast, and now! The past-as-future, secularism-as-religion Istanbul, so goddamn alive it’s ugly Istanbul, the constantly thinking itself still the most important city in the world Istanbul, to the detriment of just how startling a city it is the world right now…Istanbul. In any event we had a bad night in Amman then missed the bus to Petra by ten minutes (poets and clocks, those eternal enemies) and had to take one of the group taxis that apparently compose the world east of Paris. We slept hungover in this little utility van until around 11 waiting for it to fill up, despite the fact we got to it at around 7, then hightailed it to Petra at long last. Petra is maybe most famous now because of a massive push by the Jordanian government to have it placed on the new list of the seven wonders of the world that Americans don’t care about. (Since then it has been voted, indeed, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.) Other than that, the façade of the most impressive building was the face put on the resting place of the Holy Grail by Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas and Co. in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. So gobs of tourists walk or ride a camel a mile or so down these inconceivable holy canyons to this holy grail of photo ops, then turn around. Us, we climbed some hideous mountain to the other side, and had a world of ruins absolutely and completely to ourselves. It was the anti-Disneyland, we posed on tumbled columns like Greek Gods ourselves, we read English graffiti on the walls of holy holes for the widows of fallen soldiers, we were alone in an ancient, forgotten city, shunned even by the tourists that patronized the accessible half of it, alone outside of time, and for all our talk, beyond words. We took pictures, we wrote words in the sand, we talked self-consciously about Ozimandus (sp?) and reeled from hunger and dehydration and real pure ecstasy, giving candy bars to little gypsy babies that wandered up trying to sell random rocks, the only other people on this side at all, apparently belonging to the tables of necklaces and souvenirs left unattended everywhere, paying something like $3 for a can of coke when we got back to those kids’ well-stocked, refrigerated hovels, (me at least) really, completely happy, taking pictures like mad, gone crazy with heat, thinking that Petra, Jordan, with its vastness, its single-color tonality, its big, New Mexican skies (sans stars, I would later find out, too low) is one of the most photogenic patches on this wart of God we call earth. From there we ran down to the Saudi border, mainly to risk kidnapping, and hit up what they call in Jordan the Gulf of Aquaba, though the Egyptians, Saudis, and Israelis probably all have different names for it. Went scuba diving there, unlicensed, saw a massive octopus, held a seahorse, saw a shipwreck from below and noticed that my air hose was leaking and, ps, I have no idea how to actually scuba dive, and no talent for the thing at all besides stupid fearlessness, and just watch my barometer instead of anything else because some sixth-grade scientist inside of me sez that’s wise. It was amazing. Back that night to Amman, no quick look at the Promised Land, no look at the salt pillars of the Dead Sea, just a quick disappointed look at some worthless scraps of Dead Sea Scrolls in Aquaba, a long bus ride back north, where thousands of people line the freeway having picnics according to some pattern I cannot discern. Sitting in the desert’s weekend night beside the road eating something they must have cooked at home, considering it an escape (I imagine) for reasons I can’t even really guess at. We hoof it out to some castles in the desert that make no sense at all (no pattern I can discern) before hitting our 4 am flight. We meet exactly one person in Jordan who can’t speak English. Not a wit of trouble. Watch something about a Jew boy struggling through Nazi Germany for something ,on TV, remarking about obvious things, impressed. Every single taxi driver we find gives us a colossal parody of American, saying, “AWL-right, HAY-re YA go,” and HAWV-fan,” and, for some reason, “Sayonara,” with big, long, drawn-out American ‘A’s. There’s no doubt some real guiding pattern to this place. We fly back over Lebanon from madmen farms to desert to verdant beaches, without any restoration of familiarity. And it doesn’t go away, this feeling that the cleanliness and orderly beauty of that London and the familiar ease of America are actually not necessarily better than the chaos of arbitrary order laying over these desert expanses. Nor does the trepidation about the intents of certain Muslim nations. You don’t leave Jordan in a blind multi-culti bliss-out, no more than you leave it with a jingoistic hatred of ragheads, you just leave it confused, all too aware of the flexibility of the order that governs life. Or something like that.

Turkeys Terrorize Massachusetts

The Boston Globe tells us that the wild turkey population is up in Massachusetts and that residents of Brookline don’t much like it. Assertive turkeys are harrassing people on sidewalks.

“The problem, according to some Brookline residents, is that the turkeys can be aggressive at times. Dr. Ruth Smith, an internist from New York City, was staying with a cousin in Brookline a couple of weeks ago when she was stalked by what she describes as a 3-foot-tall turkey.

“He came at me and, at first, I tried to shoo him away,” Smith recalled. “I figured I’d just go ‘Shoo!’ and he’d go. But he was very aggressive.”

Smith said she escaped by ducking into the Dunkin’ Donuts on Beacon Street.”

Thank goodness for Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s tough out there.