You can help solve a mass murder!

Located in a town famous for its hills, University of Pittsburgh’s main campus climbs an especially steep one like a vine. You can see intelligent design (small ‘i’, small ‘d’) in the way classes, dorms and the medical school all sit within a short walk of Fifth Avenue at the bottom while a more strenuous hike is rewarded with the athletic facilities and an excellent view. Behind campus Center Ave. runs up the spine of the hill and over its peak, into a neighborhood understandably known as the Hill District.

Around dusk Center is busy with Pitt employees looking to avoid Oakland traffic, and crows. For reasons that probably involve old, tall trees that line the street, and the excellent view, crows seem to like that part of Center. Once in a while one can see what seems like half the crows in Pittsburgh wheeling around over the hill and holding corvid debates in a babbling din. You can drive on for miles and see murder after murder headed for Center in the fading light.

The group name for crows is 'murder', as in a murder of crows.  This would be an attempted murder.  Photo via Mudfooted.

The group name for crows is ‘murder’, as in a murder of crows. The above would be an attempted murder. Photo via Mudfooted.

Of course you need look up, so like most commuters I usually missed it. In fact I only noticed it one early spring night when I opened my car window and looked around to see what the racket was about. I have not even taken that commute for a long time now so I have entirely lost touch with how often or what time of year it happens. This weekend I brought Dr. Mrs. Dr. F., Jr. for a walk on the hill at dusk but we only saw clear sky and a great view of Pittsburgh’s east end. The girl loves pointing out birds so I thought a living sea of crows could short out her toddler brain in a delightful and hopefully non-permanent way.

Maybe you all can help. Does anyone know motivates crows to gather in mega-murders like that? Mating season? I would love to hear actual expertise, educated guessing, suitably persuasive BS, whatever you got. Maybe some of you drive that commute and can pass on when you see it happen.

Use this space to share any unexpected wildlife encounters you have had.








Apropos Of Not Much

Picked up a Terry Pratchett off my paperback shelf today pretty much at random — The Nightwatch, one of the Vimes strand.  It’s one of my less-read ones, meaning maybe twice, possibly even three times, but not more.  I just idly flipped it open and looked over the first couple of pages,,,and came to this little digression:

The plain old Sam Vimes had fought back. He got rid of most of the plumes and the stupid tights, and ended up with a dress niform that at least looked as thought its owner was male.  But the helmet had gold decoration, and the bespoke armorers had made a new gleaming breastplate with useless gold ornamentation on it.

Philip_II

Sam Vimes felt like a class traitor every time he wore it.  He hated being thought of as one of those people that wore stupid ornamental armor.  It was gilt by association.

That’s my Terry! — and why I miss him so.  His brain bubbles were the best, and he had  absolutely no shame — none at all — when it came to transcribing whatever floated to the surface.  I tell my son more often than he cares to hear that words are toys.  Pratchett had more fun with the English language than anyone else I can think of.  I take him as a role model (as my students — and family — know, to their sorrow).

As I warned — apropos of not much at all.  What’ on y’all’s minds as Saturday night beckons Sunday morning second thoughts?

Image:  Titian, Philip II of Spain, 1551.








Another Tank o’ Freedom (Early AM Open Thread)

Yesterday afternoon, I was complaining about the rising repair bill on my 16-year-old’s car, which had been in the shop for a few days. They kept finding new things that were wrong with it. I picked it up yesterday evening. The final bill topped out at $1,400 and change.

The kiddo had been driving my car to school and to after-school activities this week since her vehicle was in the shop. Yesterday was a late day for her since she had sports practice and then had to haul several schoolmates around to complete some class project, allegedly.

Somehow during that excursion, she managed to lock the keys to MY car in the trunk while all the way across town. When she called us for help, I decided I’d drive the extra set of keys to my car over in her car and then reclaim my vehicle.

Her stupid car was on empty because of course it was. When I stopped to gas up, I noticed this sign:

(null)

Naturally, when I fetched my car, it was on empty too, so on the way home, I had to stop for even MORE freedom. Goddamnit.

I can’t sleep, so I was half-watching Rachel Maddow on rebroadcast, half-reading something awhile back, and unless I’m very much mistaken, I think Rachel was urging Senator Claire McCaskill to run for president if HRC stays out of the race. Whaaaa?

I can’t believe it’s Friday already, but yay, I guess.

ETA: I found out the hard way many years ago that it’s inadvisable to drive through an automatic car wash with dogs in the car (they go berserk). But being from a state where, if you dig a hole, it immediately fills up with water, I was unaware of the effect tunnels have on babies until I saw this delightful compilation, courtesy of Gawker:

Poor little terror-stricken babies!








Open Thread: Social Media Kidz, These Days

For the past day or two, I’ve been seeing some very inexplicable-even-by-twitter-standards stuff on the tweetstreams. David Roth at Vice Sports finally explained this new “thing” for me, and you:

It’s greatly to Twitter’s credit that no one has yet figured out a productive use for it… It is a place to flush our puns and dispose of our surplus thoughts and spoonerisms, and that is valuable, but there is the question of what all those words are actually worth. Are they just millions of plastic bags clotting the virtual ocean? Or are they poems, each of them, waiting to be read as such?

Ha, just kidding, it’s the “millions of plastic bags” thing for sure. But the site Poetweet is doing its best to advance the idea that there’s some poetry hidden in our Twitter feeds, and uses an algorithm (presumably) to mine old tweets, chop them into iambic pentameter, and turn them into poems. If you can handle soaking in your own fragmented mundanities, you should absolutely try it yourself

Since I am only a twit-lurker (I can get into enough trouble just with FYWP, thanks) I tried feeding Poetweet “inspiration” from our Blogmaster…

Behind that
by John Cole

Meat for his drooling readers?
Out of bounds to get to the one.
Is too small for my fat fingers.
By next week he will act alone.

Decisions. What is a “deportable?”
In next generation power sources.
This is on SNL, but it is horrible
That Judy Miller’s WMD pieces.

That everyone is a sociopath.
Detroit got J O B JOBBED.
Condemn the turkey to death…
.

(Yes: If this, my fellow Juicers, cannot attract a bigfooting puppy-update post from Himself…. well, I’ve done my best.)








Before we go patting Mark Udall and Diane Feinstein on the back…

Remember that they knew all of the stuff in the torture report for years, and they did and said NOTHING.  Feinstein was in the “gang of eight,” as the Chair of the Ranking Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence since 2009.  She’s known all or most of this stuff since then.  A couple other notable members of that group are Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

As for Udall, he has been on the Senate floor today as a couple of earlier posts by John and Anne Laurie pointed out. But he’s been on the SSCI for at least the last two years, and was very involved in the research on the torture report.

It’s good that an executive summary of the report has seen the light of day. It’s important for us to know what’s being done in our names, and I seriously doubt we’d have gotten actual information from the Republicans after they take over late next month.  It would be very nice for the Politicians who oversaw torture programs and the lawyers who twisted the law to claim it was legal to be punished, but I’m not holding my breath. The prime difference between Charles Graner and Dick Cheney is rank, after all.

Having said that, why, if this report shocks the consciences of those who’ve read it, are we only seeing the exec summary, and why only now? Udall waits until now when there’s no risk to him doing this. Well, better late than never for your ideals, I suppose, even if it’s to demand a couple of people resign and not, as he said he would, to enter the text of the report into the Record. Feinstein is as safe as a Democratic Senator can get. She could have read the actual contents of the entire report into the Congressional Record at will at any time and nobody could have stopped her and there would’ve been no cost to her at the ballot box in 2018.

Everything I’ve just said above applies to the other Democrats who’ve served on the SSCI in particular and to a lesser extent on the House Committee on Intelligence since 2001.  We still don’t have effective oversight of the CIA or the NSA or the rest of the Intelligence community because our representatives in Congress are complicit in keeping these secret.  If Congressional oversight is the mechanism by which we exercise control over our government, we are being sadly failed by the people that we’ve sent up there to provide that oversight. And the Republicans are every bit as complicit, but being Republicans, it was absolutely predictable that they’d actively work against the interests of the general public on issues like this, and the few who aren’t are notable for that.

And lastly, look in the mirror. After 9/11, the vast majority of the American public was demanding that the government do whatever had to be done to keep another mass-casualty attack from taking place. A lot of people who otherwise counted themselves as liberals supported the Bush administration in their taking a free hand to do whatever the hell they wanted in those early years.  And while Liberals began to peel off of that support within a couple of years, it wasn’t even as Iraq dragged on, and Abu Ghraib first exposed some of the ugliness did the majority of our country begin to express doubts and question what we were doing there. And in fact, it wasn’t until after Hurricane Katrina landed on our own shores and we witnessed the full extent of their incompetence and mendacity where they couldn’t hide it that the majority of the American public finally began to admit that Bush and Cheney and their minions had lied us into an unwinnable war on the other side of the world.  And our Congress, including the heroes of many people here, supported them for much of their agenda.  The USA PATRIOT Act passed a Democratic-held Senate, and a Democratic-held Senate gave retroactive immunity to the NSA and private corporations that assisted them later on.  These were our elected representatives that did these things or allowed them to happen.  They are our will made whole, and their acts and things, dark and light, are ours.  Before we spend too much time wallowing in the outrage bath, we would do well by our children and our ancestors to remember that.