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Animals and Warfare

December 7, 2009

NPR’s recent report on animals in the military has me thinking about our responsibility to our nonhuman companions, especially in situations of heightened risk. The US military now trains sea mammals in support of its navel operations: dolphins are taught to identify underwater mines or human invaders, while sea lions are taught to actually cuff swimming terrorists (question: what happens to the animals after locating a mine or terror-bent swimmer?). Both species will be deployed in Washington state by next year and Russian military officials are eager to mimic the strategy. Though I’ve read about military dogs in books (Ivan the dog in Frank McCourt’s ‘Tis and the bomb-laden sheep dogs in David Benioff’s City of Thieves), I haven’t really thought seriously about the consequences of using so many species as tools in warfare. The idea is sort of romantic, recalling the dæmons of Phillip Pullman’s imagination. But real animals are not extensions of human consciousness nor sympathetic participants in human military causes. So what sort of regulatory limitations exist to guide human-nonhuman military relationships?

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Zubin Pastakia’s “The Built Landscape” series

December 3, 2009

A Facebook friend of mine posted a link to Zubin Pastakia’s photography this evening.  I’ve never heard of Pastakia, an Indian photographer, and the link my FB pal provided initially led me to his photos of the interiors of Bombay’s old movie theaters.  I first thought I might post here about this idea of interior landscapes that we touched on in regard to Edward Burtynsky’s photos of mines, quarries, and factories.  But as I explored Pastakia’s website, I came across another series he is currently working on called “The Built Landscape.” These photos bring to mind Andrea’s post about Griffioen’s Detroit photography, decaying urban environments, Burtynsky’s similar concept of manufactured landscapes, and the possibility of reconsidering how we think of and define landscape itself.

"The Built Landscape"

BDD Chawl, Sewri, Mumbai, 2008 - Zubin Pastakia

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“A Cloud Still Hangs Over Bhopal”

December 3, 2009

An op-ed marking the 25th anniversary of Bhopal in today’s NYT:

There’s a really fascinating section on thinking about the gas as a kind of sentient organism. I wonder what it says that Mehta imagines (or imagines the people of Bhopal imagining) the gas as a living being that can make choices (like sparing one animal and not others). I’m pretty sure Animal would disapprove.

Of Ruined Cities and Feral Houses

December 1, 2009

I grew up in the Rustbelt; I spent my early childhood in Chicago and my adolescence (until about two years ago) in the metro-Detroit area.  As some of you may know, Detroit’s in a bad way right now.  Detroit’s real troubles started with the 1967 race riots and have only been compounded by political corruption and the death of the automobile industry.

For a more by-the-numbers understanding of exactly how bad things are, you can check out the 2000 US Census information (with updated estimates for 2006)  here. Detroit’s population is has fallen from a peak of about 1.8 million to under 875,000 people (this number itself an 8.4% drop from the 2000 census!).  In 1999, 26.1% of the population of Detroiters were living under the poverty line.  I understand this has risen above 33% at this point but I can’t find official verification).

In light of our conversation today about Manufactured Landscapes, I am reminded of my home city…the decline in population hasn’t resulted in a decline of buildings.  Many, many abandoned buildings remain. Read more…

Birds, Out of Context (Paul Bellew)

December 1, 2009

Anyone need a coffee table book? Do you like… birds?

The other day I stumbled on a website promoting the book Birds by Andrew Zuckerman. It’s a book of photography full of more than two hundred pictures of birds. To view some of the photos, go to the website and click on the “Photographs” link. From here you can navigate a list of species and see various pictures of birds and even listen to some of their calls. Some of these birds are even rare. Wow!

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Local Dispatches Before a Global Conference (Sarah Todd)

November 30, 2009

As world leaders prepare to meet next week for the United Nations conference on climate change, The New York Times posted four essays from writers in Copenhagan, Japan, South Africa, and Brazil on how climate change is impacting their countries. You can check out the essays here.

Our Noble Fir

November 30, 2009

On Saturday afternoon, my husband Damon and I spent a few hours, a tank of gas and $5 on a permit to get a live Christmas tree from the National Forest. As I contemplate the pine-winey presence of this young Noble Fir in my living room, I wanted to share with you some of the environmental surprises this tradition poses for me.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, Americans buy about 30 million real Christmas trees a year and the USDA reports that about a quarter of these come from Oregon. This year, thanks to the softening economy, Oregon’s tree farmers are in trouble. Mature, ready-to-harvest Christmas trees are staying in the ground, even though by next year they’ll be too big to harvest for home-use. Cost-conscious customers are either skipping a tree completely or going artificial. This latter alternative remains a thorn (or a blue spruce needle?) in the side of the tree farming industry.

As you might expect, artificial trees introduce problems into the seasonal cycle of Christmas tree growth, harvest, and replanting. Artificial trees are imported, inorganic (with scary levels of PVC) and non-recyclable. They’re flammable, chemically-laden, and can’t offer the scent or soulful experience of a real tree. In contrast, real trees can be sustainably farmed and are completely biodegradable (hello firewood!). If you’re going to get a Christmas tree, the NCTA wants you to go real or go home. Read more…