Friday, June 24, 2005

Birds in the News #16

Birds Educating People:

National Public Radio (NPR), which yesterday survived another threat to its continued funding by congress, presents this excellent All Things Considered story about chickadees that would make Doctor Doolittle proud; Chickadee Calls Carry Specifics on Danger. This story, which reports research published in the top-tier journal, Science, by a graduate student at the University of Washington (where I also graduated), includes the streaming NPR news report and three audio files of chickadee alarm calls. Many thanks to four of my pals for these links.

Why are people more creative when they are young? Why is it harder to learn as we age? Are we born with an instinct for language? And, provocatively, can we recover lost memories? This story, birds' chirping might provide clues to human learning and memory, shows how birds are helping us answer these questions.

How do hummingbirds hover? In a story that was published in the top-tier journal, Nature, researchers report that hummingbirds hover a bit like bugs (this MSNBC story includes a related hummingbird link). Research co-author Bret Tobalske said, "We were surprised to find that the up stroke in the hovering hummingbird was much less active than the down stroke. This finding provides new insight into evolutionary trends that led to sustained hovering in birds."

Junk food is for kids .. or is it? This research shows that finches given a poor diet briefly in early life become adults that can’t cope with ageing. In Eat Junk, Look Good, Die Young, researchers at Glasgow University found that birds provided a low quality diet for just two weeks grew into adults with much lower levels of antioxidants in their blood, and they found that such birds have shorter lives.

This week at Hilton Pond, two adult Eastern bluebirds, Sialia sialis, were captured in a mist net, and they are the topic for the 8-14 June 2005 photo essay, featuring a closer look at this bluebird pair -- and an intimate view of the female's belly (scroll down on the linked page).

Birds in Movies and on the Web:

March of the Penguins is a new National Geographic and Warner Independent film that tells the tale of emperor penguins, Aptenodytes forsteri, as they struggle to raise their chick during the Antarctic winter. This film is narrated by one of my favorite actors, Morgan Freeman.

This week on BirdNote, the daily 2-minute radio program featured by KPLU/National Public Radio, you can listen to streaming radio stories about the black-bellied plover, California quail, Steller's jay (the mimic), and two stories about George Divoky's research on the Black Guillemots of Cooper Island. There is an archive of all past shows available, along with a photograph accompanying each day's subject.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker News:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology announced new web pages that will help in identifying ivory-billed woodpeckers and in gathering information from the public about potential sightings of this rare bird. The ivory-billed woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, was thought to be extinct for more than 60 years until 28 April 2005, when researchers announced they had rediscovered it.

People Helping Birds:

The Nature Seychelles Reserve received high praise in an international report that evaluated the effectiveness of the management of protected areas in the East Africa and Western Indian Ocean region. Nature Seychelles manages Cousin Island, where many endangered species live and breed, including the Seychelles Warbler, Acrocephalus sechellensis, whose numbers increased from approximately 30 birds in 1968 when the island was purchased as a reserve to more than 300 out of an estimated total global population of just over 2,000.

Where do the endangered Asian vultures go? This recent research is using "vulture restaurants" and satellite technology to pinpoint behaviour of rare vultures. "By fixing satellite transmitters and monitoring vulture movements, we develop a greater understanding of their range size, habitat preferences, and seasonal movements. This increased understanding of ecological parameters allows us to develop more effective, targeted conservation actions and management guidelines," states Dr. Sean Austin, Programme Manager for BirdLife International’s Cambodia Programme Office.

This is a much-needed opinion piece requesting a ban on Delaware Bay horseshoe crab harvests to save the migratory shorebird, the red knot, Calidris canutus, which feeds on them when they stop during migration. The entire population of these birds has plunged to perilous lows, leading scientists to predict extinction of this once-numerous species within ten years. Will public officials agree? Will they do the right thing and ban the horseshoe crab harvests?

Bird Mysteries:

If a city of 28,000 people suddenly abandonded their homes and disappeared, wouldn't that be cause for intense concern and media attention? If you are like me, you will be surprised to learn that last year, 28,000 American white pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos -- one-third of the North American population -- suddenly abandoned their nests and unhatched eggs at the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota and disappeared: Where did they go? Why did they leave? Will they return? No one knows. Why hasn't this event received more media attention?

On small tropical islands, one might think that typhoons are the biggest threat to the bird life, but apparently, this is not true. For example, on Guam, where the native crow population has been declining for 20 years because of snake predation, biologists worried that the recent spate of typhoons would polish off the last few individuals. "But we didn't lose any of the crows and that's just astounding to me," says biologist Bob Beck, the supervisor of Guam's wildlife office. "Did they just hunker to the ground and hang out? We don't know what their adaptations are to typhoons. No one's studied that, and I don't think that I would want to. I'd rather be in a concrete bunker when the winds hit 180 mph."

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No job rejections this week, but also no new job applications. After nearly two years of rejection, I am getting rather sick of it all.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Failure (Again)

Long-term un(der)employment (and flag burning) is dangerous to society: During the course of un(der)employment (I have not yet burned a flag), I magically transformed into a Commie. I am so ashamed of myself.

I am:
"You're a damn Commie! Where's Tailgunner Joe when we need him?"

Are You A Republican?


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Plea From NOVA

I was sent this email message regarding NOVA funding cuts that could potentially be voted on TOMORROW. If you value good science programming such as what NOVA presents, it is crucial that YOU SPEAK OUT NOW: Please contact your congresscritter immediately by telephone, email and FAX to express your outrage regarding this situation.


NOVA usually sends e-mail bulletins only when we have program information to tell you about. However, we thought you might want to know about proposed funding cuts now before the U.S. House of Representatives, which pose a serious threat to public broadcasting, including programs like NOVA.

The House Appropriations Committee is proposing more than $220 million in funding cuts for public broadcasting, effectively a 45 percent reduction of public broadcasting's federal financial support.

The House is scheduled to vote on these cuts this week -- as soon as Thursday, June 23rd -- so it is critical that your members of Congress hear from you today. For many years, we in public broadcasting have relied on our friends and fans for financial support. Now we are asking you to make your voice heard and let your congressperson know how you feel about the proposed cuts. No less than the future of public television and radio is at stake.

For details on how you can help, visit our website.

Please be assured this e-mail represents a special circumstance. As usual, you will continue to receive e-mail bulletins when we have program information to share.

Thank you,
Alan Ritsko
Managing Director, NOVA


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Identity Theft

Those of you who read my article Scammed might be interested to read an excellent article that my blog pal, James, posted today about Identity Theft, Credit Cards and You: Part II or; 12 ways to preserve your identity.

One thing that James did not mention (probably because it is so obvious); you should always check your credit card bills, line by line, against your receipts to be sure that you are always charged the correct amount for your purchases, and to ensure that no one else is making any purchases with your card. Discrepancies MUST be addressed immediately (okay, within a week of receiving your bill, at the latest). I also learned that you must be aware of the precise date that your credit card bill is delivered to your mail box each month (I am) and, if you must, write this date on your personal planner or calendar to remind you. Sometimes thieves will change your mailing address for your credit card bills and thereby steal your credit card account that way.



© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Monday, June 20, 2005

Crybaby Conservatives

I had to share this article from The Nation with you. It's long but well worth the time; The New PC: Crybaby Conservatives. This article asks important questions about the growing furor over the political orientation of college professors; More leftists undoubtedly inhabit institutions of higher education than they do the FBI or the Pentagon or local police and fire departments, about which conservatives seem little concerned, but who or what says every corner of society should reflect the composition of the nation at large? Nothing has shown that higher education discriminates against conservatives, who probably apply in smaller numbers than liberals. Conservatives who pursue higher degrees may prefer to slog away as junior partners in law offices rather than as assistant professors in English departments. Does an "overrepresentation" of Democratic anthropologists mean Republican anthropologists have been shunted aside? Does an "overrepresentation" of Jewish lawyers and doctors mean non-Jews have been excluded?


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Bad Neighborhood

"Face it, you live in a bad neighborhood," said the voice in the darkness. "Look, you sound like a nice lady. My advice to you is to get out of that neighborhood as fast as possible."

I sat on my futon in the darkness, straining to hear the policeman's voice on my cell phone over the earthshaking din that screamed out of a ground-floor apartment and rattled the entire building. I was angry that even the police could do nothing to stop the loud party that had been blasting away several floors below my window all evening. I was incredibly depressed to be confronted with the thought of moving at 230 in the morning, especially since I only earn enough to pay my rent, and not one dime more. How could I possibly afford to move? I felt trapped.

Morning finally arrived, hot and sweaty, and it was greeted by yet another impressive display of bone-breaking sound, except this time, it pounded out of an open car sitting by the sidewalk near the subway entrance.

What was going on? My suddenly peaceful block has been transformed overnight into a hellish envelope of deafening stereos and firecrackers and screaming kids and shouting adults that never stops. The cop had told me that the drug dealers, robbers, rapists and murderers had just returned to the area and the police could do nothing to control the situation because they only had six cars covering the entire precinct, which encompases a fairly large area and many thousands of people.

After last night, I feel incredibly unsafe in my own neighborhood, where I have lived for nearly two years. According to recent statistics, even though burglaries have decreased 8.3 percent across NYC, they rose by 19.8 percent this year in my neighborhood and robberies increased by 14 percent even though the rest of the city enjoyed a 8.2 percent decrease. What will happen to me if I am confronted by a robber? Will I be killed because I don't have any extra cash? Should I should get another cat sitting job so I can earn enough money to carry with me so I can buy my life from a robber? Or is my life even worth that added effort? (honestly, I'd prefer to spend the money on a nice meal, some laundry supplies or even a pair of shoes).

Even Mayor Bloomberg doesn't care; he showed up 25 minutes late to a recent neighborhood meeting, and when there, he gave his usual preprogrammed spiel about "modern New York is a place where a diverse population enjoys improving schools [as a college professor, I can tell you that our schools are shockingly bad], a recovering economy [uh, yeah, right, you're smoking crack, Mr. Mayor] and falling crime." He then tries to placate us with a host of ridiculous comments such as "We have to bring it [crime] down more, and we have a little problem in the 34th Precinct, which is actually where you are now."

Well, duh. We are (suddenly) painfully aware of where we live. The police tell us which precinct we are talking to every time we call them with a problem, which is increasingly often. At this neighborhood meeting, my neighbors complained to Bloomberg about serious issues; drug dealing, prostitution, robbery, burglary, car thefts, drag racing, menacing packs of pit bulls, and unresponsive police. Even though no one complained about porno shops, the mayor appears to be more worried about the porno shops in the Village than murder: a woman was murdered in my neighborhood a year ago and that crime remains unsolved. She was murdered while jogging early in the morning in one of the two neighborhood parks that are located two blocks from where I live, the very same parks where I have been told I should go bird watching early in the morning "because they are safer than Central Park".

Yeah, right. I never felt comfortable in those parks, so I always avoided them. But now I feel unsafe in my own neighborhood, even walking home from the subway on the sidewalks. What will I do when I have to return home after dark from teaching this autumn? Will I be assaulted on the train as that woman was a week ago? Or maybe I will instead be assaulted as I walk home in the dark from the subway terminus? If I am assaulted, how will I afford the medical bills, since I have no health insurance? Who can I trust to take care of my birds if I am hospitalized -- or worse?

I can't believe I sacrificed everything and worked so hard for my entire life only to find myself living near the poverty level, working as a part time temp while supplementing my meagre income as a cat sitter, with no friends or family or really, anyone to turn to. What was I thinking? Or maybe the better question is; was I thinking at all?

On the other hand, it is doubtful that my life is significantly different from what it would have been had I not struggled for my education.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Le Scholar Oblige (Another Book Meme)

I was tagged by Phila at Bouphonia with another book meme! I was tagged quite awhile ago, in fact, and I apologize for being such a slowpoke to respond, but you'll soon read more about why it took me so long. Anyway, in honor of Phila's choice, I chose a variation on Phila's blog entry title for as my own title.

Number of books I own

I currently own about 2500 books. My book population was cut in half when I moved from Seattle to NYC, and I have purchased few books (maybe 50) since I arrived here, almost three years ago.

Last book I bought

Books, that should say "books". I am currently waiting (endlessly waiting) for my copy of the latest Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince by JK Rowling and while I wait, I suffered a moment of desperation so I purchased some books for the first time in over one year (being broke on your ass is a terrible fate for a bibliophile).

I purchased two evolution/dinosaur books;

Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo by Sean Carroll

Terrible Lizard: The First Dinosaur Hunters and the Birth of a New Science by Deborah Cadbury

two epidemiological books;

The Fever Trail: In Search of the Cure for Malaria by Mark Honigsbaum, and

Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus: Tales of Parasites, People, and Politics by Robert Desowitz

and two works of subversion that I do not yet own;

a photoreproduction of Darwin's The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex

and Margarget Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa (I barely resisted adding her Growing up in New Guinea to the pile).

I purchased these books at the Natural History Museum at a substantial discount. Incidentally, I was most pleased to notice that the Natural History Museum bookstore is crammed full of copies of evolution books, including several more that I plan to purchase as soon as I have the money; SJ Gould's Wonderful Life and his monstrously huge tome, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. I wonder if the Smithsonian bookstore has such a wide variety of evolution books available?

Last book I read

Since I have four hours to read in air-conditioned comfort on four days per week, I have made good use of this time. I just finished zooming through Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy again. This is the first time I've read the "trilogy" in approximately one decade (I say "trilogy" with quotes because I actually started by reading The Hobbit). I liked these books more this time than I did the last time I read them (and I liked them a LOT the last time I read them). I wish I had reread them more often!

I am currently reading Endless Forms Most Beautiful. This book describes how some genes act as "on/off" switches that control the expression of many other genes and goes on to discuss how changes in the function of these "controller genes" provides so much of the evolutionary variety in form and function that we see, while using so few genes. This was old news to me (a molecular biologist and former cancer researcher), but I wonder how many non-scientists understand what Carroll is talking about?

I am also wading through the very dry and needlessly dense tome, Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education by David Kirp, a book that discusses how American education is being destroyed (or helped, if you can believe that) by the new educational philosophy of modeling universities after corporations. It's too bad that most universities are being modeled after Enron or Tyco, but you'll read more about my opinions on this matter soon enough.

Five books that mean a lot to me

I find this question nearly impossible to answer and in fact, I have been "stuck" trying to answer this one question for almost two weeks! There are so many books out there that I love that I simply cannot easily choose "just five" that mean something to me (I guess that I have approximately 300 meaningful books that I can list). But here are five that I finally managed to think of this past week or so;

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. It is difficult for me to choose just one Steinbeck work to be most impressed with, but this is one of his that truly affected me longest (the other was Of Mice and Men) and, because I first read this when I was approximately 13 or 14 years old, it gave me my sense of justice, decency and perseverence that my parental units could never provide and yes, it did hone my cynicism to a certain degree as well.

The Malay Archipelago, the Land of the Orang-Utan and the Bird of Paradise; A Narrative of Travel, With Studies of Man and Nature by Alfred Russell Wallace. I also read this when I was approximately 12 or 13 years old, and it absolutely changed my life. It is beautifully, almost poetically, written. I was immediately charmed by the Indonesian islands and her amazing animals and plants, by Wallace's scientific ideas as well as his prose, and I was sympathetic with the natives and their terrible treatment at the hands of the Dutch and British invaders. But more than anything, this book hinted about evolution and biogeography and I believe this was where I gained such an early appreciation for the logical beauty of these concepts. I never again looked at a map the same way after reading this book.

The Call of The Wild by Jack London. Even though this is a book about a dog, I keenly felt Buck's life as if it was my own, primarily because of similar events that occurred in my life and in that of London's fictional hero. I related to Buck's courage and determination because he persevered despite almost unbearable adversity and cruelty, and as a result, Buck comes to know who he truly is. I also really appreciated that, in spite of everything, Buck was able to truly love his last owner, John Thornton. I grieved that his great love resulted in his last, greatest, and most painful transformation. Nevertheless, Buck not only survives but also adapts to his situation beautifully.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. When I first started to read this book, I thought it was science fiction, especially after I read this; Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community... Everywhere was a shadow of death. But the book goes on, with astonishing, lyrical prose that I truly wish I could emulate, to describe the consequences of one of humanity's actions; indiscriminate use of DDT (and also other pesticides that were not yet invented in those days) and its effects upon both the environment and people. It also reveals that the intended targets, insect pests, evolve resistance to these chemicals , which leads to an ugly no-win arms-race scenario. Ugly topic, beautiful prose, impeccable logic. Quite a stark contrast, huh? This book revealed the urgency of the terrible and widespread effects of pesticides and other poisons while it also opened my eyes to the profound effects that words can have upon an entire country and its policymakers.

Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. This is one of the most beautifully written books I've read about evolution. Not only does it describe how evolution occurs, but it tells the story of Rosemary and Peter Grant, two evolutionary biologists who live part time in the Galapagos, and the finches who share their island with them. I loved this book because it so eloquently showed how evolution occurs through the generations due to changes in the environment, and from there, it is easy to deduce how other challenges (especially sexual selection) could also result in huge, rapid evolutionary changes in a short period of time. The author does a good job describing evolution and the historical development of this theory by quoting Darwin. But most beautiful and powerful was the Grants' lifetime of work; small measured differences in beak size of these little finches ultimately make one of the most powerful and accessible descriptions of evolution as it occurs, every day, before our eyes. Weiner apparently agrees because he wrote; The beak of the finch is an icon of evolution the way the Bohr atom is an icon of modern physics, and the study of either one shows us more primal energy and eternal change than our minds are built to take in. Yet like the vista of the atoms, the vista of evolution in action, of evolution in the flesh, has enormous implications for our sense of reality, of what life is, and for our sense of power, of what we can do with life.

Pass it on to five more bloggers

Most of the bloggers whose words I follow have already been tagged with this meme. Probably because I was such a slow-poke about finally answering it, but there you go. But I am going to take a risk that a few of them have not yet been tagged by this and I will tag fellow bird lovers PMBryant and nuthatch, Joseph at Corpus Callosum, Dr. Charles whose words I admire greatly, my funny pal at The Hanging Stranger and because I think at least one of these good people has already been tagged by someone else, I will choose a sixth person to make up for my oversight on the matter; my librarian pal, Joe. I can hardly wait to read what you all have to say! But please don't be as slow about answering as I was, okay?

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© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

This Poll is a No-Brainer

This live MSNBC poll shows that 94% out of 42641 responders think that bush and company mislead the American people regarding his desire to bomb the shit out of Iraq. Dare anyone utter the phrase I am thinking, dare you, dare you?


If Congress thought they were doing their duty by impeaching Clinton for lying about that cigar even though no one died as a result, then why are they hesitating about impeaching bush and cronies for lying about a war that resulted in wholesale slaughter and maimings of many thousands of innocent people?


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Friday, June 17, 2005

Birds in the News #15

Birds in Science:

The linked photo is from this short story (sent to me by a reader!) about convergent evolution between a bird and a plant species; African Plant Grows Perch for Birds.

Five additional species of moa have been identified by evolutionary biologists at Massey University in New Zealand. The researchers say they now have evidence that increases the number of known moa species from 10 to 14. One of the four additional species appears to be a giant moa of well over 140 kg – about the size of the largest moa, Dinornis. Their paper was published in a recent issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). This story also includes links to a picture of the new moa phylogeny and an interview with the scientists that is available in several different streaming formats.

National Geographic and National Public Radio (NPR) have teamed up to produce yet another wonderful story about birds, Searching Out 'The Singing Life of Birds'. This story discusses how Don Kroodsma, an avian song expert, studies birds and collects their songs. The story includes interviews, photos, the Radio Expeditions story (complete with lots of bird song!) and there are more links at the bottom of the story so you can learn more. You can also purchase Don Kroodsma's very affordable new book (with its own birdsong CD), The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong. (I do not receive anything for mentioning Don's book here, but if I do end up finding a copy of his book in my mailbox, gratis, I would happily review it on my blog).

Egg collecting, as a hobby, was responsible for driving many bird species perilously close to extinction. However, some egg collectors were responsible people who balanced their destructiveness by making careful notes that remain with their eggs to this day. This story describes how one family is trying to find a way to preserve their egg collection and allow the public to access it (museum egg collections are rarely on public display due to damage from light, heat and humidity).

Ivory-billed Woodpecker News:

This story was just sent to me by a reader, Ivory-billed Woodpecker viewing station goes up in smoke, probably as the result of arson. A reward is being offered for information leading to arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s) and contact information is provided. This story also has a few photographs.

Streaming Birds:

Last week's BirdNote discusses the song and song dialects of the white-crowned sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys, tells about pigeon guillemots, Cepphus columba, having fun, how nestlings leave their nests, and it also focuses on the barn owl, Tyto alba. Each news story is 2 minutes long. You can also access the BirdNote archive for all the shows, along with a photograph accompanying each day's subject.

People Helping Birds:

This story, endangered condors soar over Arizona skies, is a heartening update on the California condor, Gymnogyps californianus, project that has been ongoing since the early 1980s, when this species' population reached an all-time low. I fell in love with California condors when I met them at the Los Angeles zoo a few years ago and I look forward to the day when I, too, can see them soar above me on desert winds.

Another rare North American bird appears to be making a comeback. The least Bell's vireo, Vireo bellii pusillus, which breeds in the Central Valley in California, was seen raising chicks in a patch of restored habitat near the San Joaquin River for the first time in 60 years.

In this nice story about the apparent rapid recovery of the endangered Asian Black-faced Spoonbill, Platalea minor, as new wintering sites were identified for this species. Several points for concern; this species congregates in large groups in few wintering sites so this makes the entire population very vulnerable to disease and pollution along with other man-made disturbances. I hope we don't lose this species to avian influenza or to the resulting fear-driven and misguided eradication programs in many Asian countries, especially in China.

In a remarkable example of the potential value for "sustainable use" practices to prevent overexploitation of parrots, this story explores both sides of the controversial program initiated by the Venezuelan government.

People Hurting Birds:

The incredible stupidity and arrogance that people can exhibit never ceases to amaze me. This time, the US Army Corps of Engineers is destroying a small sandy island they built near the mouth of the Columbia River because Caspian terns are nesting on this island and feeding their chicks on rare or endangered salmon species smolts that migrate past. This island houses the world's largest Caspian tern, Sterna caspia, colony, along with many other avian species, such as the endangered brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, and a large mixed-species gull colony. So the Army Engineers plans to pursue their plan, despite the facts; that dozens of dams along this river and its tributaries are known to decimate wild salmon populations to near zero; that uncontrolled cattle farming has polluted and destroyed salmon spawning beds; that industrial and agricultural wastes have poisoned essential waterways; that clearing streamside trees that provide valuable shade to young salmon so one more "waterfront" house can be built; that overfishing remains unchecked .. no, nevermind any of those things! Instead, humans, Homo hubris militarensis, in their infinite er, "wisdom", have decided to destroy an artificial island that the Corps stupidly built when they dredged the Columbia River to make it suitable for ocean-going vessels. This is another example of the typical "blame the victim" mentality that short-sighted people are so eager to indulge themselves with.

Birds Hurting People:

As the result of a shocking display of avian aggression, London officials issued a warning over crow attacks occurring in London, UK, parks. "I thought they were very nasty, sinister things," said one frightened survivor. "Two of them focused in on me as I walked past. I couldn't help thinking of that Hitchcock film."

This story about avian attacks on humans was sent to me by a blog pal, Rexroth's Daughter (RD) at the blog, Dharma Bums. RD says this story of avian aggression is occurring in her old neighborhood in California. Incidentally, has anyone noticed that only black colored birds are receiving press coverage for attacking people, whereas other birds, such as owls, who also show similar levels of zeal when protecting nestlings, are not being reported?

Birds Hurting Car Mirrors:

This is a unique story about a male pileated woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus, in Syracuse, NY, who attacked his reflection in car rear-view mirrors, breaking them. Complete with pictures!

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Academic Job Rejections: 1 (Adjunct Assistant Professor at the best school I've ever interviewed with. I am sooo bummed about this).

Non-academic job Rejections: 1 (web editor/writer for one of the finest avian websites known to humanity. I am bummed about this, too).


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Blog Carnivals That I Think You Should Read

(Just because I can't .. yet!)

The Carnival of Education, #19. I liked this entry; How to Make the Most of Your Summer Vacation: A Guide for Elementary Teachers that sounds oh so familiar, even though I don't teach elementary school and would never do so under any circumstances. I am breaking rule number 4, although it's not because I want to, it's because I like living in an apartment instead of a refrigerator box that I have stuffed under the stone bridge in Central Park.

The Tangled Bank, #30 is also available. The emphasis of this issue of TB is mathematically-oriented science. I am especially interested to read this essay, Borneo's lowland forests may disappear because my research birds are endemic to this area (although, not to the island of Borneo). I also am interested to read this three-part series of articles about the building of the Tacoma Narrows bridge (I drove over that bridge thousands of times before I finally escaped the disgusting town of Tacoma).

Smarter than I is an unusual blog carnival where readers (instead of authors) nominate particular blog entries for inclusion in each issue. I am especially interested to read this article that discusses the debate that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in order to seize control of that nation's subsoil resources.

Grand Rounds #38, hosted by another of my blog pals, Red State Moron. I am especially interested to read this essay that discusses the recent study showing that frequent users of the popular pain reliever, ibuprofen, are more likely to suffer a heart attack.

Alas, but for now, I have to write (and then grade) my students' midterm exam.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

NYC Tourist

I have returned to my blog after a brief absence. A friend, G, from England stayed with me this past weekend, ostensibly so he could attend his cousin's wedding celebration this past Saturday. While G was here, I was lured from my long social and emotional isolation and into the wilds of being a tourist in my own city.

Saturday, we visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The Statue of Liberty was not as interesting as I thought it would be because the statue itself is closed to the public. In contrast, Ellis Island was much more interesting than I thought possible. The entire facility on Ellis Island is currently being refurbished after it was allowed to fall into ruins after it was closed in 1954. Some of the refurbished areas are open to the public and comprise the Immigrant Museum, full of artifacts, photographs and video, sound recordings and other items of interest. Looking at these exhibits, I wondered if my grandparents came through Ellis Island? I will never know of course, because my family basically has shunned me since I was 15. Nevertheless, I like to think that my progenitors climbed the stairways and walked the hallways of Ellis Island as they went through the interview process before being granted admittance to this country.

Saturday evening, G and I ran through a brief but impressive downpour to attend the wedding celebration. I didn't know anyone there, except G, his cousin, J, and D, the man she married approximately six months ago. I tried to not give in to my usual shyness when confronted with this scenario. I met some of G's family, who were all very gracious to me. Finally, when we were seated, I noticed that there were disposable cameras all over the tables. Everyone else was too busy talking and catching up on old times, so I took pictures. And more pictures. And more. I took pictures of flowers, of candles, of food, fruits and cakes, of people talking, dancing and hugging. No one was safe from my roving camera, although I did my best to blend in with the furniture when I noticed anyone else holding a camera.

Sunday, my friend and I found some wonderful eggs Benedict (his favorite) at a great little restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and then we were awed by Hopper paintings at the Whitney Museum of American Art. When the Whitney closed for the evening, we walked along Fifth Avenue, which was liberally covered with many many tons of trash deposited by a million brown and black people who invaded that posh neighborhood to celebrate the annual Puerto Rican parade. Their presence must have nearly killed the uber-rich people who live there, people who have proven that they don't like Pale Male and Lola's litter, which is a very minor thing when compared to this reign of rotting garbage, up to a foot deep in places.

Blog pal, James, will be pleased to know that G and I went to a movie Sunday evening (theatres are great havens from excessive heat and humidity), the excellent English film called Ladies in Lavender, starring Judy Dench and Maggie Smith.

Monday, I brought G to the Natural History Museum's new Dinosaurs! exhibit, which I think is the best exhibit they've had since I've lived in NYC. Dinosaurs! is full of computer animations that illustrate how scientists explore issues such as how fast Tyrannosaurus rex might have run, how differing neck lengths reveal different feeding levels for Apatosaurus species, whether or not Apatosaurus species could stand on their hind legs to feed, as portrayed in the opening scenes of the film, Jurassic Park, and of course, the crowning jewel was the Liaoning Diorama (pictured below) filled with artists' renderings of the many newly discovered bird fossils, a real pond with giant waterstriders, cockroaches and cicadas creeping through leaves that had fallen from ancestral Gingko trees and ferns, ancient mammals and crocodilians. Unfortunately, two hours later, I reluctantly left G and the Dinosaurs! exhibit so I could teach my class.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Friday, June 10, 2005

Birds in the News #14

Unfortunately, today's birds in the news is short because I have spent most of this week either teaching or trying to clean my apartment so I will not be embarassed to have a friend from England stay with me this weekend. Despite those commitments, I did manage to find a few links that might interest you.

Birds in Science:

How do scientists tell male from female Tyrannosaurus rex? Well, until recently, they couldn't, but thanks to an interesting discovery, scientists will now be able to identify males and females.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker News:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has launched a new website for weekly Ivory-billed woodpecker updates. Be sure to bookmark this site for future reference.

This is an interview with Terri Luneau, who wrote a children's book about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker based on the video of the bird that her husband took after ten years of searching for the bird. Her husband was a member of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker search party.

Blogging Birders:

If you are a birder and blogger, you can start your own free birding blog at If you like to read birder's blogs, then you can also access their index of birders' blogs for your reading pleasure. It's a great way to become more connected with the birding community.

Hollywood Birds:

This is a cute video link of a performing African grey parrot from my blogging pal, James, at Ruminating Dude. I hope you enjoy it!

People Helping Birds:

In May 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Environmental Defense began an innovative program to protect the endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers in 1995 called "Safe Harbor." After signing up, this program rewards private landowners for managing their property to enhance the survival of rare and endangered species. The first private landholder to join the program was Pinehurst golf course, located in the Sandhills of North Carolina where the U.S. Open will be played June 13 through 19.

People Hurting Birds:

In an example of astonishing human cruelty towards birds, charges were filed against a nursing home operator who maimed and starved Canada geese in Loomis, California.

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© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Special Announcement: Ivory-billed Woodpecker Fundraising Effort

"Elusive Ivory" by Larry Chandler.

Many people have asked where they can contribute money to help save the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (IBWO) and its habitat. There now is a way that you can help this bird and also receive a reward for doing so; an Ivory-billed Woodpecker Conservation Stamp Print Program was just initiated with this purpose in mind. Basically, you purchase a copy of the IBWO stamp or print and your money will be donated to three agencies that are working to save this magnitficent bird and its habitat.

I interviewed Bob Chapman, webmaster for wildlife artist Larry Chandler, and he said that the IBWO Conservation Stamp program will be similar the Federal Duck Stamp and print program in its scale and importance. As you probably know, revenue from Federal Duck Stamps (required for all waterfowl hunters 16 and over since 1934) fund the majority of National Wildlife Refuges across the country. In fact, the Federal Duck Stamp program is one of the most successful conservation programs ever devised. Since 1934, revenues from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps have been used to acquire millions of acres of natural habitat for America's waterfowl in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Even though some people think that federal money will provide enough funds to protect the IBWO, establishing strong private sector funding is very important for several reasons; there is much that can be done with private sector funds that cannot be done with federal monies and federal conservation programs tend to be victims of political pressure. So strong private sector funding to provide long-term support for preserving this species is vital to its continued existence.

Funds raised by the IBWO Conservation Stamp program will go where they are needed most; The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The Nature Conservancy and the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation. These three entities have all have endorsed this program and all net proceeds will be equally shared between them.

Of course, these three agencies have their own set of priorities for use of their fund shares; Cornell needs more money to research the bird and its habitat. The Nature Conservancy will use their share to purchase additional land to protect the birds' habitat (their specialty) and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will hire more game wardens to protect these areas as well as provide more public education.

The great thing about this program is, rather than just making a tax-deductible contribution, people who buy the conservation stamp or print will get something back for their contribution. The print (pictured above) is proof you have done something tangible to help this bird's cause and further, it will make a lovely addition to your decor, too. The limited edition prints are expected to become more valuable in the future on the secondary market, which is an added bonus. For example, the earliest Federal Duck Stamp Prints and the First of State Duck Stamp Prints, which initially cost $15 to $125 each are now worth thousands of dollars.

The lowest print numbers will be assigned to the earliest orders. Each print number is similar to a serial number for your print. As any print collector can tell you, having a low print number doesn't really make a print more valuable per se, but everyone prefers owning a lower print number anyway. There will only be 20,000 signed & numbered Regular Edition prints available. Search team members Tim Gallagher, Gene Sparling, Bobby Harrison and David Luneau and IBWO artist Larry Chandler will sign 2,400 numbered special Search Team Edition prints. There are other options available, too.

Brochures for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Conservation Stamp Print Program that explain everything in detail will be available soon.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Blog Carnivals and Scrabble Score

Here are the latest incarnations of some blog carnivals that I have contributed to in the recent past, linked for your reading pleasure. Unfortunately, I have not written anything recently that is appropriate for inclusion in any of them, but hopefully, I will be back to some serious essay writing soon.

The 10th Skeptics’ Circle, a collection of skeptical writing, some humorous, all serious.

Grand Rounds XXXVII: Commencement. The theme of this collection of medical-related essays is pomp and circumstance.

The Carnival Of Education: Week 18. Stories about education .. this blog carnival will be hearing from me again in the future, as soon as I get my courage up, that is.

This blog carnival is new to me, hosted by a Craigslist pal of mine, Hermit the Crab;

Storyblogging Carnival XX, a collection of short stories and book chapters.

For those of you who love words, what's your Scrabble score? Here's mine;

Pholph's Scrabble Generator

My Scrabble© Score is: 16.
What is your score? Get it here.

Feel free to add yours in the comments section!


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Owl Messenger

aloft on soft wings,
messenger in darkness, light
of knowledge she brings

push back shades of night
before ignorance and hate
smother brilliant sight

Photo link sent by a friend and is linked from here.



© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Monday, June 06, 2005

Blog cartoon

Think again! People are being fired for blogging. I know this is hardly new news, but the fact that an Adjunct assistant professor, whose profession already pays at or below the poverty wage, with no benefits (including no sick leave and no health insurance), is fired for blogging is just .. too .. much.

cartoon linked from here.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Movie Meme

I was tagged by James at Ruminating Dude with this movie meme. Unfortunately, I am much more boring than he is with regards to movies, as you will realize here (maybe I should write a truthful answer and then write the answer that I think you all wish to read?)

Total number of films I own: One! I own one! It's a DVD that a friend of mine, a minor actor whose biggest claim to fame are several small parts on TV's Law and Order, gave to me for Christmas a couple years ago. He gave me a DVD of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. This was when it had first been released, I believe. Anyway, I have never watched it because I don't own a TV, DVD player nor a computer. I hope to eventually purchase a laptop of my own for many reasons, not the least of which is because I'd like to sit in the dark in bed, watching DVDs, starting with this one.

The last film I bought: Um .. I've never purchased one. Although, if I had the necessary equipment and money, I'd go nuts and buy all the HP DVDs that I don't yet own and of course, I'd also purchase the complete Lord of the Rings series (I have only seen the first film, and loved it)! I'd also buy all my favorite films that I describe below.

The last film I watched: Um .. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (Have any of you noticed a theme yet? It's okay, you don't need to answer that question if you don't want to).

I know, I am pathetic. I need to get out more, especially to movie theatres. A friend has been bugging me mercilessly in email about seeing The Parrots of Telegraph Hill because he is certain that the star, Mark (?) Bittner, and I are somehow related. But I haven't seen it, so I cannot comment. Hrm, come to think of it, this is another film I'd add to my "buy right away" list.

Five favorite films: (in no particular order)

Hombre mirando al sudeste (Man Facing Southeast). A wonderful and underrated Argentinian film that explores what happens to people who are labeled "different" by society. I am still surprised to know that this story was filmed, produced and released in Argentina, considering the general state of governmental paranoia in the 1980s.

Schindler's List. A masterpiece (and a true story) that looks at a small-time businessman/con artist in Nazi Germany who, when he had the opportunity, rose to meet the challenge of a lifetime and actually made a difference in many people's lives.

Stand and Deliver. Another fabulous movie and true story, this film tells the story of Garfield High School in east LA and the teacher who changed the lives of poor inner city youth. This teacher ignored everyone's advice and taught calculus to his students. They learned it so well that almost all of them scored well on the Advanced Placement Calculus Exam for college.

Mr. Holland's Opus. Another wonderful film that tries to show the audience that no life is ever truly wasted if it is spent pursuing one's true passion. I try to believe this message every day, although it has been difficult to hold on to that during this past year. I especially loved how this film ended. Does anyone know if this a true story?

Awakenings. Another true story about a medical scientist who "awakens" a group of patients by giving them L-dopa. These patients, whose bodies seemingly turned to stone decades after they suffered from sleeping sickness, suddenly were transformed from statues into whole, living and loving people for a brief shining period of time.

Of course, I also love watching the Harry Potter films and I want to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. I also love anything with Bill Murray in it, especially Groundhog Day, and I cannot forget to mention Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, with Gene Wilder. I love anything with Gene Wilder in it (I almost peed my pants because I was laughing so hard when I first saw that scene in Blazing Saddles when a group of cowboys were gathered around the campfire eating beans, for example).

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© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Friday, June 03, 2005

Birds in the News, Interrupted

Today's edition of the Birds in the News is suspended until next week. Please accept my apologies (all three of you, dear readers, who read each week's issue).

I have a job interview today with the very best college I've interviewed with yet. Needless to say, despite all my recent Adjunct Professor interview activity, this is the position that I want the very most, so of course, I have completely psyched myself into a state of near panic over it. It's a four hour interview and they wish me to give a 45-minute lecture for an animal behavior class that describes the genetics or physiology of a behavior. Because this is the first time I have actually given a real full-length "job talk", this additional demand helps increase my panic because all the other interviews were .. well, short. Easy. My biggest challenge was to remember to smile a lot.

On the good side of things, I am talking about one of the most fascinating bird breeding model systems that we know of, and I will likely write a more detailed account of these birds for you all to read after my adrenaline levels drop to normal once more. Also good; they are feeding me lunch (yippee! free lunch! I hope I don't barf).

I am ready to set off. My powerpoint presentation is burned on a CD, I actually know how to get there already so I don't have to worry about getting lost, and I am dressed to the teeth.

I hope I am not forgetting anything ...


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Revised Smithsonian Statement Regarding the Discovery Institute's Film Screening

Thanks to a friend and colleague at the Smithsonian Institute, I just received this updated statement regarding the Discovery Institute's film screening in their Baird Auditorium (see yesterday's statement here). The take-home message? The Smithsonian is returning the money to the Discovery Institute but they are still honoring the contract. What do you think of that, dear readers?

Subject: Statement * June 1, 2005

National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History recently approved a request by the Discovery Institute to hold a private, invitation-only screening and reception at the Museum on June 23 for the film "The Privileged Planet." Upon further review we have determined that the content of the film is not consistent with the mission of the Smithsonian Institution's scientific research. Neither the Smithsonian Institution nor the National Museum of Natural History supports or endorses the views of the Discovery Institute or the film "The Privileged Planet." Given that the Discovery Institute has already issued invitations, we will honor the commitment made to provide space for the event, but will not participate or accept a donation for it.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

My Summer Reading List

Thanks to PZ's recent article at Pharyngula, I found a list of books that I will devote my four hours' each day commute time to this summer. Interestingly, I made an early start on this reading list (unknowingly) by reading some of these titles, including Mein Kampf (when I was 15), The Communist Manifesto (when I was 18), and the Kinsey Report (when I was 20), but then I stopped. Why? It wasn't as though I stopped reading, but I guess I became interested in more trivial matters. So, I had a strong start by reading three out of ten books on this list by the time I was 20, but none since then!

My numbers are worse for the "honorable mentions"; out of 20 books on that list, I have only read four; The Origin of Species (I read this book three times; do I get extra credit for this?), The Second Sex, Silent Spring (I read this book twice and I read it the first time when I was working in Japan. Is that worth extra credit?) and The Descent of Man.

I am surprised that The Handmaid's Tale is not also included as an "honorable mention", but after I've read them all (provided of course, that the library has copies available), I will be a better judge for what else I think ought to be on these lists. Can you name some books that you think ought to be included on either of these lists, dear readers?

Overall, I am terribly disappointed to realize that I am so poorly read, despite spending most of my lifetime immersed in books. Fortunately, beginning Monday, I will be spending four hours each day in the gaping maw of a speeding subway train. That should provide me with plenty of opportunity to read (or in some cases, re-read) them all. I think a quick trip to the library is in order today even though I am still struggling and sweating over my presentation for my job interview tomorrow.

The List;

    1. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels (1848) Score: 74*

    2. Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler (1925-1926) Score: 41

    3. Quotations from Chairman Mao by Mao Zedong (1966) Score: 38

    4. The Kinsey Report by Alfred Kinsey (1948) Score: 37

    5. Democracy and Education by John Dewey (1916) Score: 36

    6. Das Kaptial by Karl Marx (1867-1894) Score: 31

    7. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963) Score: 30

    8. The Course of Positive Philosophy by Auguste Comte (1830-1842) Score: 28

    9. Beyond Good and Evil by Freidrich Nietzsche (1886) Score: 28

    10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes (1936) Score: 23

Honorable Mention:

    1. The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich Score: 22

    2. What Is To Be Done by V.I. Lenin Score: 20

    3. Authoritarian Personality by Theodor Adorno Score: 19

    4. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill Score: 18

    5. Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B.F. Skinner Score: 18

    6. Reflections on Violence by Georges Sorel Score: 18

    7. The Promise of American Life by Herbert Croly Score: 17

    8. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin Score: 17

    9. Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucault Score: 12

    10. Soviet Communism: A New Civilization by Sidney and Beatrice Webb Score: 12

    11. Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead Score: 11

    12. Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader Score: 11

    13. Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir Score: 10

    14. Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci Score: 10

    15. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson Score: 9

    16. Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon Score: 9

    17. Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud Score: 9

    18. The Greening of America by Charles Reich Score: 9

    19. The Limits to Growth by Club of Rome Score: 4

    20. Descent of Man by Charles Darwin Score: 2

* A title received a score of 10 points for being listed No. 1 by one of our panelists, 9 points for being listed No. 2, etc. Appropriately, The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, earned the highest aggregate score and the No. 1 listing. These 15 scholars and public policy leaders served as judges in selecting the Ten Most Harmful Books; Arnold Beichman, Prof. Brad Birzer, Harry Crocker, Prof. Marshall DeRosa, Dr. Don Devine, Prof. Robert George, Prof. Paul Gottfried, Prof. William Anthony Hay, Herb London, Prof. Mark Malvasi, Douglas Minson, Prof. Mark Molesky, Prof. Stephen Presser, Phyllis Schlafly and Fred Smith.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Smithsonian Snookered by Discovery Institute

This message was forwarded to me by a friend and colleague at the Smithsonian Institution regarding the Discovery Institute's upcoming film screening in their Baird Theatre on 23 June.

Subject: Message to the NMNH Museum Community

To the Museum Community,

After considerable discussion with NMNH staff and in consultation with the Secretary and his staff, we have agreed to issue the following statement regarding the planned presentation of the Discovery Institute film, "The Privileged Planet," in Baird Auditorium on June 23. Please feel free to share this statement with your colleagues. I will look forward to discussing this further with each of you in the very near future.

Statement by the Director, National Museum of Natural History

The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History recently approved a request by the Discovery Institute to hold a private, invitation-only screening and reception at the Museum on June 23 for the film "The Privileged Planet." Upon further review we have determined that the content of the film is not consistent with the mission of the Smithsonian Institution's scientific research. Neither the Smithsonian Institution nor the National Museum of Natural History supports or endorses the Discovery Institute or the film "The Privileged Planet." However, since Smithsonian policy states that all events held at any museum be "co-sponsored" by the director and the outside organization, and we have signed an agreement with this organization, we will honor the commitment made to provide space for the event.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist