The Sun Stands Still (but not for long)

It’s minutes until sunset and already 8 hours past the moment of the solstice. Think of the sun at the top of a 47 degree arc, sliding now towards the bottom in mid-Winter.

It is interesting to read that this is mid-summer’s eve and, in some cultures, the *last* day of summer. A special day, any way you look at it. Darkness and cold loom — seeming a long way off, like death to a teenager. And then, light and heat again — a resurrection we witness but are denied. A cycle so long it seems never-ending, though even it will someday. mjh

Snake Handlers

Our neighbors called yesterday early evening to say a snake was on their porch. We ran across the street to find J using a push-broom to sweep a 3+ foot long brown and yellow snake away from the house. It moved like a wave in front of the broom. J & S hate snakes; S wouldn’t come out of the house. I heard fear more than hatred in J’s voice. I took a couple of photos that turned out blurrier than a hummingbird’s wing. Then I used the broom to sweep the snake away from J & S and towards the street. Certain it wasn’t a rattler, I grabbed it from behind as close to the head as I could. It was strong as it coiled up tight against my arm. But it stopped struggling and stayed like that for the next half hour as we discussed what was best for it. The irony was I had a great photographic subject wrapped around my picture-takin’ arm. So Mer took a few. (J & S will never look at us the same after this.)

In all likelihood, it was a bull snake (or gopher snake). However, it never hissed or struck at anything, so I suspect it might have been an escaped pet — especially since we’ve never seen a snake in our mid-town neighborhood. We have experience handling a python, so we weren’t afraid. (Though I was less comfortable when someone said bull snakes have a strong bite.)

We decided we should release the snake in the foothills, but by then it was too dark. We put the snake in a pillowcase sealed with a couple of clothespins. Then we put the pillowcase in a plastic tub 6 inches deep. This morning, I looked in to see the snake coiled and still quite calm. About a half hour later, I heard a plastic cup fall over on the counter. The snake had moved — pillowcase and all — out of the tub and onto the counter, knocking over the cup. I put it back in the tub.

We drove to the foothills and walked a less-used trail a ways before striking off cross-country a short distance. Mer picked a spot near a big fractured rock with shrubs — lots of places to hide and hunt. My turn to take pictures of Mer with the snake and the city stretching away in the background. She put it on the ground and it moved magically under a shrub and vanished. Perhaps it will starve. Perhaps it will feed that roadrunner with the heavy beak we saw — or an owl, or another snake. With a 20 year lifespan, perhaps it will outlive us. I hope it remembers us, as we will it. Happy 1st day of summer to us all. mjh

MR and bull snake mjh and bull snake bull snake

PPS: I’m struck by the synchronicity of this incident from a few days before our snake encounter. I was spinning the dial and paused briefly to watch Franklin Graham eulogize his mother. He said that as a boy, he and his brothers loved to kill snakes — rattlers, any kind of snake. One particularly good summer, they killed over 70 snakes. He spoke with pride to an appreciative audience that smiled and chuckled. I wondered what kind of religion produces such a man. God bless the atheists.

See Merri’s Save A Snake for Humanity

[mjh: With the help of a friend, I heard from UNM biologist Howard Snell. This is an excerpt from his email.]

It isn’t a good idea to move [snakes] very far as they then encounter areas that they don’t know and often die as a result of not “knowing” where to find water, shelter, and prey.

If you think the snake has been in captivity it is important not to release it in the wild. Snakes in captivity can come down with diseases & parasites (often caught from other individuals in captivity) that can then be transferred to wild snakes upon release of the previous captive.

Sunday Christians and Pretend Hunters

Sunday Drivers – Los Angeles Times, by Dan Neil

The pre-race activities of the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 were all about the troops. In addition to the usual F-22 flyovers and color guard presentations, Lowe’s track director “Humpy” Wheeler arranged for the U.S. Army to “secure” the front stretch of the racetrack, with troops in full battle rattle, armored personnel carriers, helicopters and a Howitzer. Eight Nextel Cup race teams surrendered $8 million in advertising when they repainted their cars with military-themed graphics as part of an “American Heroes” program. In the money-obsessed world of NASCAR, this was no empty gesture.

Perhaps I was the only one made uncomfortable by this welding of sport and militarism, but it seemed at times I might have been watching the German Grand Prix of 1938. It also seemed to me more than a touch neurotic. It’s possible that, given the fool’s errand on which we have sent our military in Iraq, we feel we can’t say thank you enough, nor can we bring ourselves to say the obvious and more appropriate thing: We’re sorry.

And yet, for all the troop-honoring and American hero worship, the U.S. public is astonishingly illiterate about Memorial Day, which is officially observed on the last Monday in May. ….

The United States wrestled with Sabbatarianism through the latter half of the 19th century and well into the 20th century, but by the 1950s, the Puritan Sunday had given way to enormous pressures for leisure, entertainment, commerce and sports. Particularly sports. Harline begins and ends his book [Sunday: A History of the First Day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl] with Super Bowl Sunday, an event that in its rituals, prayer breakfasts, helmeted heads bowed during the invocation, represents the sacralization of the secular. NASCAR too has its showy effusions of pre-race piety that innoculate it from charges of sacrilege. Thank God and Goodyear.

According to a 2006 Pew Forum survey, 60% of white evangelicals—an audience not unknown to NASCAR—believe the Bible should have more influence on U.S. laws than the will of the people. But are they willing to live by that? If they check their Deuteronomy, they’ll see racing on Sunday is not allowed. The same goes for football, baseball and golf.

It is a curious corner of the American character that allows people who neglect the simplest conventions of patriotism to wrap themselves in the biggest flag imaginable, that permits people who couldn’t name the Ten Commandments at gunpoint to swear they are the divine law of the land.

We’re a deeply patriotic and religious people. Just don’t bother us with the details.

[read it all (free LATimes account may be required)]

[mjh: Cleanse your palate before you read this bonus Neil.]

A Nation Wallows – Los Angeles Times
Dan Neil
June 17, 2007

There once was a pig named Fred who came to a very bad end in Alabama, as I suppose all pigs in Alabama do. Fred was 6 weeks old when he was purchased by farmer Phil Blissitt in 2004 and given as a Christmas gift to his wife, Rhonda. This brings us to the first of this story’s many truisms: Christmas sucks in Alabama.

For 2 1/2 years, Fred was a happy pig. He would play with the Blissitts’ grandchildren and the family Chihuahua. Fred liked sweet potatoes, according to an AP story, and that may have been his undoing. For Fred grew large, more than 1,000 pounds and perhaps 9 feet long, with huge tusks jutting like Ka-Bar knives from his endlessly rooting maw. Dear, sweet, saber-toothed Fred started to worry the Blissitts, so one spring day, Phil sold him to the Lost Creek Plantation, a private, fenced-in reserve where he would be free to gambol and play, until he was shot.

Which, only days later, he was, and with extreme prejudice too. On May 3, 11-year-old Jamison Stone, hunting with his father and three rifle-toting “guides,” killed Fred with a .50-caliber handgun, shooting the erstwhile pet half a dozen times and chasing it for three hours around a 150-acre enclosure surrounded by a low fence. The trophy picture—of young Jamison posed with his apparently VW-sized quarry—exploded across the Internet, while the story made headlines around the world. “Jurassic Pork,” the New York Post slyly offered.

I smelled a large dead pig the moment I saw the picture. First, the now-famous picture of Fred and Jamison —one chubby and overfed, and the other a pig—used a common trophy-picture trick of having the animal much closer to the camera than the hunter, thus making the animal appear larger. I used to edit a hook-and-bullet magazine and, believe me, hunters and fishermen use the forced perspective gambit more than Roger Corman.

Second, no foraging wild boar gets to be 1,000 pounds. Only a domestic pig—and one fed generously with agricultural feed, table scraps and fast-food leftovers—can pack on that kind of weight. Domestic pigs do frequently get loose and, in the wild, revert to a lean and feral state. The most frightening thing about Fred is that he might be the half-ton, hormone-laced canary in America’s dietary coal mine.

The Stones claimed they thought they were hunting a feral hog, but come on. Fred might as well have been wearing a rhinestone collar.

[A]s the Fred episode fairly illustrates, hunting today is a sick satire of the sport as it was in the days when Teddy Roosevelt took to the field. The number of hunters is declining rapidly, for all the reasons you’d expect. Increasingly, hunting is confined to private game “reserves” that cater to well-to-do sportsmen, a reversion to the royal game lands of England. In these confined areas, the principle of fair chase is a joke. …

And so at the intersection of our reckless meat-based food system, our swinish media obsessions, our weird nostalgia for tradition-affirming blood lust, there lies an enormous dead pig. What a country.

[read it all (free LATimes account may be required)]

Criminally Stupid

Lucky Jason Daskalos has been exonerated of charges of drunken and reckless driving. When cops and rich people fight, I’m inclined to cheer them both on from the sidelines.

I recognize that a jury hears more than I do as a casual newspaper reader and, further, has a duty to deal with the charges at hand, so I don’t second guess them. Still, let us now imagine how the evening Lucky Daskalos was arrested would have gone if the cops hadn’t nabbed him. By his own testimony, Daskalos, a self-professed wanna-be racecar driver, may have sped ‘a little’ and rolled through a stop sign in his powerful Porsche to a friend’s house to play poker. Upon arriving, he admits in his own defense that he chugged two vodkas in 20 minutes, having had wine earlier that evening. Now, let’s dream that he would have stopped right there and had not another drop (ha!). In the real world, he was legally drunk hours later. In this dream world, what would have happened? Would he have jumped into his Porsche and driven home legally drunk? Oh, I know! His good friend, who got him drunk, would have called a cab for him. Yeah, right.

Mind you, jurors should not convict people for alternate scenarios. However, Daskalos was a drunk with a killing machine that night. After the trial, I’m sure he celebrated “justice” with at least one vodka. He’ll be in the news again. I hope he’s the only one he kills. mjh

ABQjournal: Daskalos Cleared of DWI Charge By Lloyd Jojola And Jeff Proctor, Journal Staff Writers

“I feel great,” Daskalos said after a round of exuberant hugs with family members in the courtroom. “I feel wonderful. I never had any doubt. … I feel like the truth came out today.

Daskalos took the stand in his defense Friday …

He wasn’t traveling at the high speed the officer said he was, Daskalos said. He wasn’t chased through the neighborhood, he said, and he didn’t speed through a stop sign.

“I did roll the stop sign,” he admitted.

Daskalos told jurors he had a glass of wine with dinner three or more hours before, but no other alcoholic drinks until having two vodka and cranberry drinks after arriving at an acquaintance’s Vista del Norte home for poker night. …

Assistant District Attorney Allison Michael pointed out that Daskalos told two officers that he had not been drinking, even though that was not the case even by his own testimony. He was, as she charged, trying to stick with that story at that point.

She got him to admit that he could have been exceeding the speed limit in the subdivision.

The day included testimony from Jason P. Gross, the resident of the home where Daskalos was arrested. He, among other things, said Daskalos had two drinks at his house before the alarm to his car sounded, and Daskalos was confronted by police.

mjh’s blog — Idiot on Board

“In the past 18 years, Daskalos, who also is an amateur race car driver, has been issued 36 other traffic citations, 20 of which were dismissed.”

Idiot on Board

Alibi Short Fiction Contest

I didn’t submit anything to the Alibi’s short fiction contest this year, so I feel particularly free to say they made terrible choices for 1st and 3rd place (which is a ripoff of a well-known Twilight Zone). My selections are from the Honorable Mentions. mjh

mjh’s 1st: “Second Impulse”

If only the dog hadn’t died. But there was the new neighbor, digging frantically in the secluded corner behind his shed, trying to bury Fido before the family returned to wail over his act of vehicular homicide.

Any minute he would unearth the human skeleton. There would be no wallet, no clothing, no dentures to find; but the bones would reveal the congenital limp. That was always the worst of an impulsive murder. It was so hard to dispose of all the evidence permanently.

Now there was no choice. The unlucky neighbor would have to disappear. An offer to help, a blow from a second shovel. Nothing could be easier.

Only, where would she hide the body?

—Thayla Wright

mjh’s 2nd: “Small Print”

Unceremoniously, the Build-a-Universe kit arrived, crammed into my mailbox, displacing my cat Schrödinger from her favorite sleeping place.

The super-stringed box, labeled with my assumed name Ima Godd, magically unfolded itself at my first touch.

Astoundingly revealed were quantum baggies full of pin-wheeling plastic galaxies, fuzzy balled proto-stars, shrink-wrapped neutron stars, and a dark, sucking bundle of black holes.

Following the instruction book, I Hawking-blended all those ingredients into a cosmic soup.

But time stood still when I read the manual’s last line that froze everything at T minus zero entropy–“Big Bang not included.”

—John Orman

mjh’s 3rd: “Dreams”

The little girl dreamed of having a cat, ballet shoes, flawless skin, and her first school dance. As a collegian she dreamed of straight hair, iambic pentameter, and roaring lions on the steps of the White House. Then came the dream of the perfect soufflé and a baby supported by Ken, the perfect man. (This led to fantasies involving the mailman.) Following were visions of saving polar bears, going vegan, and educating the masses. World peace was in there somewhere.

Now she keeps it simple. She dreams of dancing the tango. And sex—coming out of nowhere sex—unexpected, intense, dripping, and hot—with a stranger. Saving the polar bears is still in there somewhere.

—Judy Garner

mjh’s Honorable Mention: “Not Art”

Dru catches fairies and bakes them into cakes. It’s not an art, she says, it’s a science. She wakes up early and stalks through the garden. The best fairies come out early. Who would want to eat those lazy fairies that only wake up at noon, to drag themselves out and slouch from tulip petal to tulip petal? No. That’s like buying Hershey’s chocolate when you know you could drive downtown and get the good German stuff for just a few dollars more. Only 2 a.m. fairies are cake-worthy. She grinds them into the batter, juices them into the frosting, decorates the top with their crunchy little bones. “Delicious.” She licks her fingers. “Science,” she says. “Not art.”

—Sara Cordova

alibi . june 14 – 20, 2007
– – – – –

[mjh: Until next year, I leave you with my entries from yesteryears:]

2006: mjh’s blog — I Submit

I Submit

2004: mjh’s blog — Ridiculously Short Fiction

Ridiculously Short Fiction

Welcome to Denver, er, Dallas, er, who cares?

We need to get our act together NOW to restrict skyscrapers to specific areas. I can live with downtown as a sacrifice zone, but monster-buildings outside of that basin are a sharp stick in everyone’s eye. The vista is doomed. Someone is going to get rich ruining Albuquerque. mjh

Proposed 30-story Albuquerque high-rise would be tallest in N.M. By Erik Siemers

In what could be the first significant change to Albuquerque’s skyline since 1990, a developer is proposing a 30-story high-rise condominium development on the west end of Downtown.

The estimated $175 million project, called the Residences at Packard Place, would be the tallest building in New Mexico, eclipsing the 22-story Albuquerque Plaza office building Downtown. …

The Downtown project isn’t the only high-rise being conceptualized in the city.

Local commercial development company Chant Associates is working on a project that could bring a 25- to 30-story mixed-use high-rise to the corner of Jefferson Street and I-25, where Johnny Carino’s Italian restaurant used to be.

How long before Lucky Jason Daskalos gives into penis envy and builds something even bigger. He’ll put a bar at the top so he can get higher than anyone in New Mexico. And a ramp for his Porsche. mjh

Oops. Oh, Hell, Everyone Makes Mistakes.

We’re not “playing god” with DNA. We’re playing “not-too-bright kindergartener with razor blades.” All around the globe, people are actively manipulating genes just as top scientists say, “hey, who knew?

My hope is that one of our inevitable blunders in genetic manipulation wipes out humankind. My respect for irony makes me fear we’ll wipe out everything else. Buy more guns today! mjh

Intricate Toiling Found In Nooks of DNA Once Believed to Stand Idle By Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff Writer

The first concerted effort to understand all the inner workings of the DNA molecule is overturning a host of long-held assumptions about the nature of genes and their role in human health and evolution, scientists reported yesterday.

The new perspective reveals DNA to be not just a string of biological code but a dauntingly complex operating system that processes many more kinds of information than previously appreciated.

The findings, from a project involving hundreds of scientists in 11 countries and detailed in 29 papers being published today, confirm growing suspicions that the stretches of “junk DNA” flanking hardworking genes are not junk at all. But the study goes further, indicating for the first time that the vast majority of the 3 billion “letters” of the human genetic code are busily toiling at an array of previously invisible tasks. …

Complicating the picture, it turns out that genes and the DNA sequences that regulate their activity are often far apart along the six-foot-long strands of DNA intricately packaged inside each cell. How they communicate is still largely a mystery.

“There’s a lot more going on than we thought,” said Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, the part of the National Institutes of Health that financed most of the $42 million project.

“It’s like trying to read and understand a very complicated Chinese novel,” said Eric Green, the institute’s scientific director. “The take-home message is, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is really complicated.’