Frogs, toads and salamanders continue to vanish from the American landscape at an alarming pace, with seven species — including Colorado’s boreal toad and Nevada’s yellow-legged
frog — facing 50 percent drops in their numbers within seven years if the current rate of decline continues, according to new government research.
The U.S. Geological Survey study, released Wednesday, is the first to document how quickly amphibians are disappearing, as well as how low the populations of the threatened species could go, given current trends.
The Detroit Free Press reports that the cash-strapped city, which owes $15 billion, is considering selling off the Detroit Institute of Arts collection to help pay creditors. Excerpt:
Liquidating DIA art to pay down debt likely would be a monstrously complicated, controversial and contentious process never before tested on such as large scale and with no certain outcome. The DIA is unusual among major civic museums in that the city retains ownership of the building and collection while daily operations, including fund-raising, are overseen by a nonprofit institution.
DIA Executive Vice President Annmarie Erickson said the museum has hired New York bankruptcy attorney Richard Levin of Cravath, Swaine & Moore to advise ways to protect the collection from possible losses. Levin is one of the nation’s leading bankruptcy attorneys and was active in the General Motors bankruptcy and other high-profile cases.
“We are standing by our contention and belief that we hold the collection in trust for the public,” Erickson said this evening. “And although to some it may seem to be an asset, we do not.”
Bill Nowling, a spokesman for Orr, said the art collection at the DIA must, however reluctantly, be considered one of the city’s assets in the current financial emergency as the city heads toward a possible bankruptcy filing.
“We have no interest in selling art,” Nowling said this evening. “I want to make that pretty clear. But it is an asset of the city to a certain degree. We’ve got a responsibility under the act to rationalize that asset, to make sure we understand what’s it’s worth.”
Gut reaction: I don’t see how a city in as much trouble as Detroit is can justify firewalling its city-owned art. That debt has to be paid by someone. Why shouldn’t the city sell off its paintings and sculptures? Why is that more important to the city than some other publicly owned assets that would have to be sold off? It would be a terrible loss to Detroit, but it’s not like the art would cease to exist; rather, it would go live in institutions around the country.
What do you think?
So, it’s after 11 here, and on many nights around this time, I’d be trundling up the hallway craving a bowl of Cheerios. This week, though, I’ve been avoiding carbohydrates. Haven’t had a slice of bread, a spoonful of rice, or a morsel of potato since Sunday night. And man, do I ever feel great. In fact, I wonder (as I always do at about this point into a low-carb detox) why I don’t always eat this way.
The answer is because carbs come in all kinds of utterly delicious forms, and because they’re so easy to eat. How hard is it to pour a bowl of Cheerios, or toast a slice of sourdough? You can do low-carb dieting for a while, but inevitably you backslide; a piece of chewy baguette here, a plate of pasta with pesto there, and before you know it, you’re standing over the kitchen sink at midnight shoving Cheerios down your piehole to stanch the craving.
Because I’ve been struggling for nearly four months now with mononucleosis, I haven’t been able to exercise at all, and have put on a lot of weight. Frustrated by this, I decided to go back to the only diet that’s ever worked for me: eating low-carb. Getting carb cravings out of one’s system takes a few days, and today is the first day that I feel free of them. I am always startled by how little food it takes to make me feel full and energetic (well, relatively energetic; there is the matter of mono) when I’m not eating lots of carbohydrates, and dealing with those blood sugar spikes. I don’t ever eat a lot of sugar, so staying away from sweets is not a real problem. But it’s all a real problem for the first three or four days of ridding your system of the craving for carbohydrates. Still, when you come through that induction period, it feels like a fog has lifted.
A lovely meditation by Ta-Nehisi Coates on studying French abroad as a man in early middle age. Excerpt:
I stayed with a host family and took my dinners with them. These were awesome affairs—wine, cheese, meat, chocolate. They took no pity on me. They bombarded me with French, and from snatches of body language, from a smile or a frown, I deduced what I could. I went through entire dinners—and even engaged in conversations—during which I understood only snatches.
We spent those evenings talking, our gestures making up for a paucity of shared words. But I knew, in some unnameable way, that they were good people. And from that, I could tell how two people with no shared language could fall easily and deeply in love; how the way a man expresses longing, or a woman expresses possibility, could be like discovery; how an entire person could be, to another, a long, dark country.
The Internet is overrun with advertisements meant for those who feel the longing for another language, who hope to attain understanding without the fear, the pain of mocking or rejection. There is a symmetry in language ads that promise fluency in three weeks and weight-loss ads that promise a new body in roughly the same mere days. But the older I get, the more I treasure the sprawling periods of incomprehension, the not knowing, the lands beyond Google, the places in which you must be immersed to comprehend.
I love this. I wonder if it’s too late for me, at 46, to learn French. I have rudimentary French, but was hoping that being in Paris for a month last fall would help me progress. It didn’t. Part of it, I think, was that so much of my focus and energy rested on managing the children that I didn’t have time to go much beyond the basic French I needed to get along in daily life, having conversations with shopkeepers. But I have to concede that my brain simply feels far less plastic than it once did. I sometimes think that when the kids are older, I’ll have the time to devote to a more formal study of French, but that’s probably not true. By then my brain will be too old to bend itself around those beautiful words.
I hope this isn’t true. I fear it is true.
(By the way, I shot that photo above with my iPhone, and processed it with the Camera+ app. Swell, ain’t it?)
The Boy Scouts of America on Thursday ended its longstanding policy of forbidding openly gay youths to participate in its activities, a step its chief executive called “compassionate, caring and kind.”
The decision, which followed years of resistance and wrenching internal debate, was widely seen as a milestone for the Boy Scouts, a symbol of traditional America. More than 1,400 volunteer leaders from across the country voted, with more than 60 percent approving a measure that said no youth may be denied membership “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
The top national leaders of the Boy Scouts had urged the change in the face of vehement opposition from conservative parents and volunteers, some of whom said they would quit the organization. But the decision also put the scouts more in tune with the swift rise in public acceptance of homosexuality, especially among younger parents who are essential to the future of an institution that has been losing members for decades.
The decision is unlikely to bring peace to the Boy Scouts as they struggle to keep a foothold in a swirling cultural landscape, ensuring continued lobbying and debate in the months and year to come. The group put off the even more divisive question of whether to allow openly gay adults and leaders, and those on both sides of the debate predicted that, with the resolution’s passage, the Boy Scouts would soon be forced to start allowing gay adults, whether by lawsuits or embarrassment at the twisted logic of forcing an Eagle Scout who turns 18 to quit.
I have nothing new to say about any of this, except to note the bloody obvious: that the symbolism of this event can hardly be overestimated. As traditionalist and conservative churches withdraw troop sponsorship, and parents pull their sons, this will split the Boy Scouts Of America just like the homosexuality issue has split mainline Protestant churches.
I last lived fulltime in West Feliciana Parish in 1983. The parish has changed a lot in the past 30 years, and so, of course, have I. In the past few years, there has been a fair amount of political turmoil here, centered around the “police jury,” which is what the county commission is called in many Louisiana parishes.
I don’t really know what the controversies have been about, aside from a lot of people being fed up with what they consider government incompetence and mismanagement. There’s been an enormous amount of heat generated by all this, and a feeling among many that the police jury’s chronic dysfunction imperils the economic future of the parish. Some of these people got together and formed a committee to draft a “Home Rule Charter” to redesign the parish’s government. The police jury voted to put the HRC on the ballot in last November’s election, and it passed, 57 to 43 percent.
I did not and do not have an opinion on Home Rule, because I flat-out haven’t paid attention. I’ve resisted getting involved in discussions about the controversy, in part because I was busy writing a book, and in part because there’s — how to put this? — an unattractive level of passion around the issue. I’m not putting down those on either side who care enough about local government to be so passionate about Home Rule. I’m simply saying that the issue was off-putting to me, even though I know and respect people who have been intensely engaged in the struggle.
Last week, it came out that a couple of police jurors wanted to put a Home Rule repeal on the ballot for this October’s election. That caught my attention. Whether one was for or against Home Rule, the people voted on it last fall, and it passed by a healthy, if not overwhelming, majority. The parish faces so many economic challenges — a declining tax base, a school system wounded by severe budget cuts — that it seemed absurd to me that we were going to have to fight this thing out again. Time to start paying attention, I figured. Because I have been on the margins of conversations about Home Rule since I’ve been back, and because I know Facebook and things you hear at barbecues aren’t reliable guides to the issue, I started a blog in which I will report a bit on this stuff, and on which I’ve invited local people on any and all sides of the issue to write in with their stories and opinions. My two criteria are that people be civil and respectful, and that they identify themselves. Much local discussion has taken place anonymously on that Topix site, which is a cesspool of slander and gossip that does no good for anybody.
So I went earlier this week to the police jury meeting, which lasted well over three hours. There was a lot of discussion about Home Rule and its implementation, much of it having to do with redistricting and the Justice Department. I wrote about some of that earlier this week. The thing that struck me, as someone new to this issue, is how nearly all the controversy as articulated at that meeting had to do with race.
Black citizens who spoke out indicated that they oppose the Home Rule Charter because they believe it will dilute minority voting strength. A letter sent out by local black leaders prior to last fall’s vote asked parish voters to reject Home Rule because of this. Whites who spoke to defend the HRC –note well that not all whites here support Home Rule — indicated that this is not a racial issue, but a question of good and effective government.
When I posted on Facebook a link to my blog summary of the meeting, a local (white) friend responded by saying she didn’t think the controversy was about race, and why do I think it would “help” (her word) to highlight race. I said that I highlighted race because at the meeting I covered, race was at the center of the HRC controversy, and the jury split along racial lines on whether to put repeal on the ballot. Whatever else the controversy is about, fair or not, race is central to it — at least in the minds of many black citizens.
There was some controversy in the meeting about the work Cedric Floyd, a (black) demographer, has been doing for the jury on redistricting. Floyd’s job is to redistrict for Home Rule in a way that will make the Home Rule system acceptable to the US Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act. Some white jurors questioned Floyd, who came up from New Orleans for the meeting, about the meetings he’s supposed to be having with black citizens, to get their input. These jurors expressed a belief that Floyd is dragging his feet, and wanted to find out how they could get involved themselves in setting up these meetings so Floyd can hurry up and get his redistricting plan done. Floyd wouldn’t give any names, and said that some black citizens could feel intimidated about speaking their minds in public on the issue (this, by way of justifying his discretion).
I’ve been thinking about that point this week, and thinking about the objection that writing about race and local politics doesn’t “help.” I see what the reader was getting at about race being a taboo subject among both black and white, but as a relative outsider, it seems that feeling free to say what one really thinks, and confronting our differences with some degree of honesty, is a serious problem. Blacks and whites in this parish have been going to school together for almost half a century, and living in this same small place together. And yet, a polite distance seems to be the best we can do.
Maybe this is the best anybody can hope for right now, for the sake of keeping the peace. But it seems to me that we can do better than that. It’s hard for people here to see things from the other’s point of view because folks don’t talk openly among people of the other race about what they think. There’s fear on both sides of saying the wrong thing. How substantial is this fear, and how much of it is fear of something that doesn’t exist? I don’t know.
It could be that this public silence was a wise strategic choice. When desegregation came, West Feliciana did not do what other parishes did. We, by and large, did not have white flight. Whites and blacks made it work. Today, the parish has one of the best school systems in the state, even though it just had to lay off all its arts teachers and physical education teachers because it could not afford them any longer. I wonder to what extent the parish has managed to achieve all this because of an unspoken agreement between black and white not to dwell publicly on the past, or on our differences. I do know that my generation (I was born in 1967) of whites here has very little awareness of how things were back in the day. This 1964 article from Ebony magazine, detailing landmark voting rights events that happened here — including a harrowing episode of racist intimidation of black citizens — genuinely comes as a shock to a generation of (white?) people who were raised with no one talking about these events.
This is part of our history, and it bears heavily on the present — and on the future. But how determinative of the parish’s future should it be? I observe that many of those whites active in the Home Rule cause are residents who moved here from elsewhere, and who don’t have this history behind them, at least not in their families. They want good government, because they’re voters and taxpayers who have a stake in the future of this parish. If we don’t have economic development, there won’t be a future for their children here. Whether they’re right or they’re wrong about Home Rule, it seems clear to me that they’re not trying to suppress black people.
When it comes to race, I think that it’s hard for all people here — and this is true of America, by the way — to enter imaginatively into each other’s stories. I’m guilty of this too, I know, but I want to be different. To do this does not mean that you are obliged to take the other person’s point of view, but it does mean that you make a serious effort to see things through the eye of the other, and to understand why they believe the way they do. And you make a serious effort to ask yourself whether or not you might be wrong.
The thing is, like Cedric Floyd said, some black citizens may be afraid to say what they really think out loud. I know this is true for some white citizens. A white West Felicianian who reads that new blog I’ve started e-mailed me with her thoughts on the matter. I thought what she had to say was honest and a good contribution to the discussion. But I also realized, based on part of her e-mail, that she can’t put her name to this. I decided to alter one of my criteria for posting things to that blog. I will post things there without attribution, but only if I know the identity of the person who sent it, and have verified with them that the words are their own. Of course, the comments must be constructive and civil. Here is what she wrote:
I cannot thank you enough for this synopsis of the meeting and the issues involved. What I most cannot get over though, is the article in Ebony Magazine about local black citizens attempting to register to vote in St. Francisville in the early 60′s. Wow, it sounds like a movie! I am a generation once or twice removed from that reality and it truly shocks me that intimidation on such a scale was a common practice by those in power. I am so naive to think that could never have happened here, as it did elsewhere in the South in those days. It really gives a perspective to today’s race issues in this parish that I think we from a younger generation tend to forget about.
How the HRC repeal or implementation unfolds will be very interesting. Those in power now are not going down without a fight. It is my sincere wish that the past could be forgotten and we could move forward to a future where skin color does not determine your political identity and the only things that matter are your integrity and character. I understand a little more about the fear and distrust of the white community by the black community after reading things like this article. But honestly, it seems there is such a huge divide between us, and I see very little willingness for those on the black side of the community to bridge it. Many a field trip, school function and birthday party I’ve attended and been repeatedly ignored or brushed off by African-American parents, though I feel I have tried to be reach out and be friendly. Our kids play and learn together…can’t the adults at least be cordial to one another? I was shocked and hurt the first time we all took a school bus trip together. It might as well have been 1955. The parents on that bus were self-segregated and there was no effort to communicate between the races. I tried and was rebuffed each time. It clearly is an issue of trust, or lack thereof.
Personally, I want each black child in this parish to know they are worthy and capable of doing great things and luckily we have a wonderful school system to help them achieve their goals. But is that going to happen if the black community refuses to let go of the past by constantly drawing the battle lines and territories and refusing to cooperate with the “white elites” because they feel they are the enemy? This is the year 2013. Our president is African-American. I believe we can work together. I know I am ready. But the racism in the black community is holding it back. And of course, fear. It’s so deeply ingrained.
Perhaps in another generation things will have evolved. I could go on and on because I think about the race problems here often. We’re such an anomaly for Louisiana in that we have a diverse public school system that is working and thriving. What I once feared when moving here I now appreciate…I’m so pleased to have my kids go to school with other kids from different racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. I truly believe they will be better people for it. I only feared it because I’d never experienced it. I don’t know what the answer is. But I think just starting to talk about it and think about it intelligently [is a good start.]
I hope she’s right. I believe she’s right. That’s why I’ve asked all people — black, white, people on all sides of this issue — to send me their thoughts and tell me their stories. I’ll post them, keeping their identities secret, but also using discretion; I will not post inflammatory material. I’m going overseas next week, but when I get back, I’m going to seek out black and white citizens to interview, asking for their stories. I want to know what they’ve seen, what they think, what they fear, what they hope for, and what they want for their children.
The past determines the future, but only insofar as it conditions our choices in the present. My hunch is that none of us in this parish, black or white, have nearly as much to fear from each other as we think we do. But we don’t know that. Yet.
Listen, if you want to post on this particular thread, don’t just throw a rhetorical bomb. Say something constructive, even if critical.
I’ve been out much of the day at the annual fundraising luncheon for the Baton Rouge General Hospital. The interim CEO invited me to sit at her table; she is a fan of The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming, and someone who lost her own sister to cancer. As readers of Little Way will recall, Ruthie was treated in the oncology unit of the General, where she found a loving community among the staff. It was so moving to hear people there talk about what a difference humane care by doctors, nurses, and others at the General made in their own lives.
I was able to talk to a few folks about the book, and gratified to hear how moved they were by Ruthie’s story. One reader, aged 70, said that she and her older brother had been rivals all their lives, but finishing Little Way, she thought a lot better of him (by which she meant she reconsidered her relationship with him in a more generous light). We got to talking further, and I mentioned that next week, I am going to Amsterdam to visit an old friend who is fighting cancer. Inspired by Ruthie and her dedication after diagnosis to live each day with gratitude and gusto, I cashed in frequent flyer miles and am headed overseas to renew our friendship: to laugh with her, to remember the good times, and to enjoy the days we will have together.
The lady with whom I was talking said, “Hmm.” And then she said that hearing that story right then inspires her to make plans to visit a particular friend. We said goodbye.
I’m thinking now about the chain of causation here. Ruthie has been dead for coming up on two years, but she’s still inspiring small acts of love and appreciation that could have who knows what effect.
You’re reading this now, and you know somebody who needs to see you, or at least hear from you. Don’t put off reaching out to them. Seize the day. None of us are guaranteed a tomorrow. Besides, as Ruthie loved to say, with great and abiding hope, none of us know what God is going to do with us and through us.
Thank goodness the British government has lifted yesterday’s order to its soldiers, instructing them not to appear in public dressed like soldiers, for fear it would make them targets for head-chopping Muslim terrorists. The disgusting thing is that the order was issued in the first place. Perhaps the government would like to pass out burkas to Her Majesty’s troops so they can hide from the barbarians.
What did the British government do to vocal Nazi sympathizers and activists during World War II? Whatever that was, they should do now to Salafists and their fellow travelers. The idea that a British soldier should hide in civilian clothes as he walks the streets of his own nation is repulsive, and must have made Churchill turn over in his grave. That it was even a thought among the UK’s leadership is a sign of decadence, it seems to me.
David French and his wife were one of the couples audited by the IRS because they adopted a child. You really need to read this. Excerpts:
In 2012, the IRS requested additional information from 90 percent of returns claiming the adoption tax credit and went on to actually audit 69 percent. More details from the Taxpayer Advocate Service:
During the 2012 filing season, 90 percent of returns claiming the refundable adoption credit were subject to additional review to determine if an examination was necessary. The most common reasons were income and a lack of documentation.
■ Sixty-nine percent of all adoption credit claims during the 2012 filing season were selected for audit.
■ Of the completed adoption tax credit audits, over 55 percent ended with no change in the tax owed or refund due in fiscal year 2012. The median refund amount involved in these audits is over $15,000 and the median adjusted gross income (AGI) of the taxpayers involved is about 64,000. The average adoption credit correspondence audit currently takes 126 days, causing a lengthy delay for taxpayers waiting for refunds.
While many returns had missing or incomplete information (more on that in a moment), what was the outcome of this massive audit campaign? Not much:
Despite Congress’ express intent to target the credit to low and middle income families, the IRS created income-based rules that were responsible for over one-third of all additional reviews in FY2012.
■ Of the $668.1 million in adoption credit claims in tax year (TY) 2011 as a result of adoption credit audits, the IRS only disallowed $11 million — or one and one-half percent — in adoption credit claims. However, the IRS has also had to pay out $2.1 million in interest in TY 2011 to taxpayers whose refunds were held past the 45-day period allowed by law.
So Congress implemented a tax credit to facilitate adoption – a process that is so extraordinarily expensive that it is out of reach for many middle-class families — and the IRS responded by implementing an audit campaign that delayed much-needed tax refunds to the very families that needed them the most. Oh, and the return on its investment in this harassment? Slightly more than 1 percent.
As an adoptive family, it’s sometimes difficult to describe the immense challenges in gathering paperwork, opening your lives to social workers for home studies, then expensive travel to sometimes-corrupt foreign locales to then launch a new life with a child you love immensely but who is also experiencing his or her own culture shock and adjustment. All of this places a great strain on family finances and emotions. To then face an audit on the other side? All so the IRS can collect a whopping 1 percent additional revenue? It’s beyond the pale.
To say the least! I heard an interview on NPR yesterday with a writer whose new novel is based on her and her husband’s difficult experiences with the adoption process. I thought with astonishment and admiration about the kind of dedication and stamina, based in love, that these parents must go through. To learn that the government tax authorities harassed so many of them for their good deeds is sick-making.
A reader from Texas writes:
Rod — It has been a blessing to “find” you this spring. I follow Ross Douthat on twitter, which pointed me to your book. I love “The Little Way” for all the reasons everyone else does, but it resonates with me for more personal reasons as well.
I was particularly struck by the spot in the book where you say that, even with you realizing it, your conversion to the Catholic church started when you saw the cathedral at Chartres. I think my conversion started in a similar way, more than 15 years before I actually came into the church. I grew up in a small college town in Arkansas. Raised very Southern Baptist. ”Saved” when I was 7 years old after a James Robison crusade. But I had an experience as a high school senior that stuck with me over the years.
In my senior year of choir, for the spring contest season, our program included a brief piece by Palestrina titled “Haec Dies.” Probably the first time I’d uttered any Latin besides “E Pluribus Unum. But our director translated it for us – we all knew “This is the day the Lord hath made,” of course — and explained that Palestrina was the guy who wrote the church music for the Catholics back in the Renaissance. Fair enough. We started working on it.
Eventually everything came together the night of our spring concert, which we held in the local college auditorium. Rod, there is a feeling you get when you’re in the middle of that polyphony, when it washes over you like warm sunlight, when the haromonies converge on that frequency that makes the hairs on your neck stand up and your bones hum with electricity and something in your chest surge. It’s a feeling that I think is similar to what you described in the book when you saw Chartres for the first time.
That all came back to me when I was going through RCIA. I still remembered that piece we sang senior year, so I bought a Palestrina CD and popped it in the car stereo one early Sunday morning heading to RCIA class. I cranked it up and the first strains of the Kyrie from “Missa Papa Marcelli” floated through the air…I don’t know, it felt kind of like a homing signal to me.
I think your blog entry “God, Geometry — and Music” is relevant to what I’m trying to say. But I’m not smart enough to understand all the theological and philosophical stuff that you get into on your blog, and I’m not even a good enough writer to explain what I’m trying to say. Just thought I’d let you know that part of the book popped out at me and I thought “I get what he’s talking about there!”
A homing signal — yes! That’s it! And: a message in a bottle.
Art does this in a way that argument cannot. Of course, art — that is, beauty — can mislead. From a Protestant point of view, it did mislead in this reader’s case. And of course aesthetic excellence can be used in the service of evil (the most notorious example I can think of is Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph Of The Will,” but there are many others). Still, there is something almost noetic in the experience of great art, and its ability to communicate divine truth, and to help us not only to know God in our minds, but also in our hearts and bones.
Why are some people open to that, but others not? Why could I not imagine being part of a Christian tradition that downplayed the aesthetic sense? Why do some people respond to intensely emotional worship — Pentecostal style — but others (like me) are left completely cold by it, and in fact put off by it? Open question…
UPDATE: I just thought of a Buddhist proverb quoted by Richard Feynman in one of his lectures: “To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven; the same key opens the gates of hell.”
In this respect, art, it seems to me, is the most powerful key.
From the Washington Post, sad amphibian news:
The exact reasons for the decline in amphibians, first noticed decades ago, remain unclear. But scientists believe several factors, including disease, an explosion of invasive species, climate change and pesticide use are contributing.
Tonight I went out to close the shutters on the windows on the front porch. There was a single wee tree frog behind one of the large shutters (the photo above was taken earlier this year). When I was a child in the 1970s, we used to see 20 or 30 tree frogs on a single window at our house — and these windows were about one-third the size of these tall front-porch windows I have now.
It’s not that my dad and mom live in the country and I live in town. I haven’t seen frogs on their windows in anything more than scant numbers in many years. They’re gone, the frogs.
Come to think of it, last spring and summer there were anoles everywhere on our porch. In 2013, I’ve seen maybe one or two. That’s really unusual.