October 31, 2012

Love, Life, and Elephants

We need another wiser and perhaps more mystical concept of animals. in a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we will never hear. they are not brethren, they are not underlings, they are other Nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of earth. Henry Beston, a WWI vet  who sought solace in nature and wrote about his experiences

And while i have much to learn, this much i know: animals are indeed more ancient, more complex and in many ways more sophisticated than us. they are more perfect because they remain within Nature's fearful symmetry just as Nature intended. they should be respected and revered, but perhaps none more so than the elephant, the world's most emotionally human land mammal. Daphne Sheldrick

And so ends Love, Life, and Elephants, Daphne Sheldrick's memoir about growing up in Kenya and establishing Kenya's national parks in an effort to conserve and protect the nation's land and wildlife. i'm pretty sure i heard about this book from Yao Ming, the gigantic Chinese NBA player. he recently embarked on a tour of Africa's national parks and reserves to bring awareness and education to the Asian population. elephant and rhino poaching have once again reached epic proportions, almost entirely due to demand from Asian countries, who buy ivory trinkets as talismans and signs of wealth. Rhino horns are thought to contain valuable medicinal properties, when in reality they are made of keratin, the same substance that makes up our fingernails. i find it so commendable that Ming elected to take on this cause. here he is visiting Sheldrick's elephant orphanage (babies wear blankets because they would normally be shaded from the sun by their mothers):

anyway, on to the book. Daphne Sheldrick is British, although her family has lived in Kenya for generations as farmers. she was born there while Kenya was still a British colony and lived through its transition to an independent country. she and her second husband David were the founding co-wardens of the Tsavo National Park for 20 years, and during that time Daphne continued her childhood penchant for attracting and raising orphaned animals. they soon had a motley crew of orphans- rhinos, zebras, and buffaloes, all under the watchful leadership of Eleanor, the elephant matriarch who considered this brood her family. after David died suddenly in 1976, the Nairobi Park offered her a small parcel of land to build a home, and she has lived there ever since. she's become an expert on all kinds of animal husbandry and was the first person in the world to successfully rear a milk-dependent baby elephant to adulthood. an elephant orphanage naturally sprang up around her home, as people heard of her and brought her baby elephants who had been orphaned by poaching. today, the orphanage and the trust begun in her husband's memory are still going strong, with dozens of baby elephants being reared and eventually reintroduced into the wild, and the trust also concentrating on anti-poaching efforts, mobile veterinary units, and community outreach.

the older orphans always look out for the newest and youngest
it will come as no surprise that i loved this book. i was a little wary at first, as Sheldrick is now her 70's and her writing style does have a slightly flowery, grandmotherly tone. but her story is so incredible, the content totally supersedes any stylistic prejudices of mine. and as most people know, i have a fierce love of animals- especially elephants- so i was hooked from the beginning. i sometimes joke that i prefer animals over people, but i really do believe that, as Sheldrick wrote,  "they are more perfect because they remain within Nature's fearful symmetry just as Nature intended." She put into words my feelings about animals- their superiority over us, their innocence that we have destroyed, and the notion that they are far more "human" in thought & emotion than science gives them credit for. i felt like i was reading the story of a kindred spirit. especially the way she describes her efforts to rear the orphaned animals who find their way to her. everything from elephants, rhinos, antelopes, mongooses, birds, and more. she named each one (the mongoose was named Higglety), lavished love and attention on them, and always maintained a respectful balance of parenting the animals while slowly, carefully reintroducing them to their own kind, with the expectation that they will eventually return to the wild on their own time. those that are unable to return- the completely blind rhino named Maxwell, for example- have a permanent home at the orphanage.

meanwhile, poaching has once again risen to devastating levels. poachers have become more creative with their efforts to kill the elephants. poisoned arrows and watermelons, wire snares, semi-automatic weapons, waiting around a dead elephant for the others to show up and mourn, then picking off the rest of the family (as described by a poacher on NPR last week)... all of these things happen on a regular basis. National Geographic has a great section on their site devoted to
the issue (which was last month's cover story) if you are interested in learning more. one fact from the cover- 25,000 elephants were killed last year. twenty five thousand.

back at the orphanage, the keepers of the orphans basically become their mothers. to work at the orphanage, they make up to a 10 year commitment, as elephants mature and age at a similar rate of humans and need many years of stable rearing. the keepers sleep in the stalls with their babies, and rotate on a regular basis so the babies don't develop an unhealthy dependence on any one keeper. there the orphans begin the emotional work of recovering from seeing their mother/family slaughtered before their eyes (many exhibit textbook PTSD symptoms), and re-forming a new family with the other orphaned baby, adolescent, and adult elephants. it's a long, uncertain road for them, but for the last sixty years, Daphne & her family, the orphanage, and the trust have dedicated themselves to protecting and paving a way for all the animals they encounter.

if you'd like to follow their stories, you can "like" them on Facebook to keep abreast of what's currently happening. the trust's website is also amazing, with tons of photos, journals of the keepers, updates on anti-poaching efforts, wild animals saved through the mobile vet unit, extensive articles, etc. it looks a little "Web 1.0" but there's lots of valuable content. they've begun a campaign to end the illegal ivory trade- you can sign their online petition here. and most importantly, for only $50.00 you can sponsor an orphan and help give one of these little guys a second chance.

October 26, 2012

Interesting Facts from RG3's Wikipedia page

1. he was born in Japan
2. he was a track & field star in HS and college, advancing to the Olympic semi-finals in the 400-meter hurdles
3. he was HS class president and ranked 7th in his graduating class, and graduated a semester early
4. he went to Baylor University, starting in the spring when he was only 17
5. he graduated in three years with a degree in political science and a 3.67 GPA, having started a Master's degree in communication
6. he is the first NFL/MLB/NHL/NBA player to have Roman numerals on his jersey
7. he is the NFL's first starting quarterback who was born in the 1990's
8. due to his immediate endorsement deals, he earned more than any other rookie in NFL history before the season even began
9. this is his fiancée, a fellow Baylor student

the inevitable Wikipedia-induced rabbit hole led me to this great article about his early life, from the perspective of his father, RG2. my favorite part is his penchant for novelty socks, as seen below:

1, 2, 3
cute, non?

October 22, 2012

Liesbet Bussche

i love people who see the world in a playful and unexpected way; these remind me of Blue Sky's installations in my hometown. Liesbet's site is here; i saw her here. and now i kind of want some cement earring posts...

October 17, 2012

First Cameraman

this book was so great. it's kind of a memoir by Arun Chaudhary, a filmmaker and Washington outsider who became Barack Obama's campaign videographer, and subsequently the first ever official White House videographer. here he chronicles a tiny bit of his background, how he got on the Obama campaign, how New Media helped clinch the victory, and how his essential role evolved into a brand new position in the White House. (previously all video was done by the military.) he also includes some history on political advertising, some theory on the interplay between politics and art, and some really fascinating, amusing, and/or surreal anecdotes that only come from being at the President's side for over four years. one of my favorites was Pres. Obama filling out his census form- "uh, what phone number should i put down? the White House main switchboard?"

it also goes without saying that Chaudhary is a big fan of Pres. Obama, so be prepared lest that ruffle your feathers. he repeatedly mentions Obama's personal authenticity- "[He] is one of the few people in politics who is the exact same person on and off camera". (he also indulges in a tangent on the word "authenticity" itself- its ever evolving meaning and implications.)

regardless of how you feel about the current administration, it's a great behind-the-scenes look at a highly secure (and sometimes secretive) political community, with lots of valuable history made palatable for the layperson.

October 3, 2012

The Book of Jonas

no idea where i heard about this one, but it was quite good. a short, sparse story told from several different perspectives. the blurb from Amazon.com tells it like it is:

Jonas is fifteen when his family is killed during an errant U.S. military operation in an unnamed Muslim country. With the help of an international relief organization, he is sent to America, where he struggles to assimilate-foster family, school, a first love. Eventually, he tells a court-mandated counselor and therapist about a U.S. soldier, Christopher Henderson, responsible for saving his life on the tragic night in question. Christopher's mother, Rose, has dedicated her life to finding out what really happened to her son, who disappeared after the raid in which Jonas' village was destroyed. When Jonas meets Rose, a shocking and painful secret gradually surfaces from the past, and builds to a shattering conclusion.

it's telling that our current war has lingered for so long that novels about it have reached publication. the author, Stephen Dau, worked for years in post-war reconstruction and international development, and i'm sure Jonas is based on a number of people he encountered along the way. Dau is also from Pittsburgh, where the American half of the story takes place. how could you not love a book that includes scenes in the Cathedral of Learning AND The O?