Sunday, March 26, 2017

Apple #742: Spring Peepers

As faithful Daily Apple readers may have noticed, your Apple Lady has fallen off the ball. This is largely because I have been stumped by the Trump Effect.  All week long, we are beset by news of whatever idiotic thing he's tweeted, whatever racist executive order he's made, whatever selfish and oblivious thing he's done, whatever outlandish lie he has told.  Each weekend, I try to decide what I want to talk about in a Daily Apple, and all I do is flail.

Do I choose some basic fact of science that one of his brainless minions has gotten completely wrong, and explain how and why it's wrong?  Well, it doesn't really matter to this administration whether they are right or wrong, only that they get their way.

Do I choose the latest bit of information about the ever-growing list of connections between Trump and Russian financiers, legitimate and not?  While an illegal financial arrangement is there, I am sure of it, the money dots have not yet been connected, and in the meantime, it's such a swirling pool of individuals, I'm not sure which person or bank is the one to profile at this point, or if I'd only be contributing to the swirl.

And there's the exhaustion of trying to keep up with all the ugliness of this administration.  Do I really want to spend another day of my week talking about that ugliness?  Would it be better to give people a break and talk about some normal thing from everyday life?  But then am I only sticking my head in the sand and ignoring the thing that is in the process of changing all our lives so dramatically.

Without a decision, I post nothing.  And another week passes.

But I think I found an answer it a tiny little thing.

This weekend, I was walking in a park in my city -- a large, many-acre park with lots of trees and some streams and rivers and even a couple ponds.  I took a little-used path deep into the trees, and it comes out to the edge of a pond at the far end of the park, and the air was ringing with the noise of the spring peepers.

I hope the little video I took to record the sound will upload here.  At first, you hear mostly the wind, but then the noise of the spring peepers emerges.  It doesn't seem as loud on my video as it did in real life.  There must have been thousands of them chirping away, super-piercing loudly.  It was almost tactile in my ears, the noisy peeping from all directions.

  • Spring peepers are tree frogs.  They live in trees and shrubs and bushes.  They have little sticky pads on their toes that help them climb.
  • They come down to ponds or swamps or other watery areas to mate and lay their eggs.
  • They could be any number of colors typical to frogs & toads -- brown, gray, green, yellow.
  • Their Latin name is Pseudoacris (false locust, for its call that sounds like the insect but isn't) crucifer (cross, for the X-shaped mark on its back).

Spring peepers are small, usually about 3/4" long.  The biggest they get is an inch and a half long.
(Photo from Yoopers Teez)

It occurred to me, these little peepers have no idea who the president is.  They could care less.  Well, they are certainly aware that the climate has changed and they're dealing with that, but they are getting about their business regardless. It is spring, time to mate, and that is for damn sure what they're doing.

  • It's only the males who peep.  They make the peeping sound to attract and entice the females. 
  • Most sites say they start their peeping at dusk, but every year I hear these peepers going at it in broad daylight.
  • A male frog won't peep until he's about three years old.  Since spring peepers only live to be 3 or 4 at most, they've got to get their peeping right.
  • They force a bunch of air into the vocal sac under their chin, and as that air passes over their vocal chords, it makes a squeak or a peep.
  • A male does this over and over, about 90 times per minute, for four hours in one day.  The next day, they do it all again.  This can go on for 4 to 8 weeks until everybody's got a mate.
  • Scientists theorize that they band together for their peeping because, even though it increases their direct competition with each other, they benefit from the combined volume of their calls.
  • The result is a gigantic chorus of peeping made by hundreds or perhaps thousands of tiny frogs.

Year after year these frogs get together and do their thing.  They put up this marvelous chorus which is unbelievably loud for their individual tiny size.  They've done this for centuries, and they'll keep on doing so for centuries more.

Yes, their habitats are threatened by over-fertilization and climate change and water shortages and everything else we hear about.  But these frogs, like so many other animals and plants around the globe, are keeping on, regardless of who is president, regardless of what idiotic things get said or done in Washington.  I have been coming to this park for I don't know how many years now, and every year, there are these peepers, peeping away like mad.  Come spring, no matter what, as long as they've got life and breath in them, these frogs are going to show up and get to peeping.

  • When one female is especially interested in one mate, she walks up to him ("enters his calling area," as the scientific site puts it) and nudges him.   Sort of like that old Monty Python sketch--nudge nudge, wink wink, know what I mean--except better.
  • The male climbs on the back of the female nudger and hangs on.  She swims back into the pond and starts laying her eggs, with the male hanging onto her back the whole time.
  • She can lay anywhere from 700 to as many as 1,200 eggs at one go, with Mr. Frog on her back the entire time.  
  • The male fertilizes the eggs after they emerge from the female are laid.
  • Within 6 to 12 days, the eggs hatch and you get tadpoles.
  • That's what it's all about. 

Male spring peeper atop a female. After she lays her eggs, she goes back into the woods. He stays in the water and keeps on singing.
(Photo from Naturally Curious with Mary Holland)

Life goes on, see?  These tiny little frogs, they make sure of it.  So I decided that's what I have to do.  Not, you know, breed like a spring peeper, but keep on.  I can't let some nincompoop with an overlong tie and the stupidest haircut and the most wrongest ideas ever--I can't let a jackass like that stop me.  I have to be like the peepers.  I have to get on with my business.  Help out where I can, do for others when I can, but I have to keep on with my own life too.  Show up and do my Apple thing.  So here I am, Appling.

I hope you're able to find a way to keep on keepin' on too.


Penn State University New Kensington, Virtual Nature Trail, Spring Peeper
National Wildlife Federation, Spring Peeper
Farmers' Almanac, Fun Facts about Spring Peepers
National Geographic, Spring Peeper

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Apple #741: This Is Not News

Last night was DT's first address to Congress.  I didn't watch. I had to take a nap.  I had bills to pay.

After I woke up and paid my bills, I got on facebook.  I came across this interview -- I shouldn't even call it that. Verbal mangling -- between Tucker Carlson and Bill Nye.

If you want a left-wing spin on this interview, here's Raw Story's presentation of it. If you prefer a right-wing spin, here's the National Review's presentation. Whichever one tickles your fancy. 

I have seen "interviews" like this for years, decades. We all have.  Every commentator on Fox has a show like this in which they "interview" people in just this way.  This doesn't deviate from any norm that Fox established long ago.  The difference is, I watched this with that brain-freshness you have when you just wake up.  I took every bit of it in like every moment was essential to my survival.  And what did I see?

Nothing we don't already know, nothing we haven't already learned.  I saw that Carlson is not really interested in anything Nye has to say.  He pretends to; that is the pretense of his show and having the interview in the first place. But his pretense isn't even very well held.  His only purpose is to have Nye on his show and somehow discredit him, humiliate him, show him up so Carlson's listeners can get past whatever Nye has to say and go back to thinking exactly what they were thinking before Nye began to speak.

A true interview should engage, listen, learn from what people have to say.  Then build on that person's expertise to help us advance, however slightly, in our knowledge of the world around us.  Carlson's tactics are to interrupt, obfuscate, poke fun of, ignore, shut down.  When Nye's statements threaten to break through Carlson's veneer, instead of responding, he returns to his initial question as if Nye has not answered it.

This interview asks nothing of its viewers except to put up with the near-constant interruption (which is so rude and awful, a lot of people in fact can't put up with that and do not watch these shows). The pay-off is, you don't have to change anything about what you thought before. You can relax back into your comfortable wish that what Nye has to say, that human beings have accelerated climate change to catastrophic levels and unless we change our course of action double-quick, thousands of people are going to suffer.  Nah, you don't have to hear that. All you have to pay attention to is how clever Carlson was to shut him down. Yeah, Nye can't answer a simple question.  He was asked a simple question and he couldn't answer it. Yeah. Carlson says it 15 times so it must be true. Nye has nothing to say. He's ridiculous.

Even when Nye does Carlson a favor and explains to him what is going on with the leaks in the White House and in the Republican party, Carlson is so baffled by this straight-up unfiltered information he dismisses it out of hand as ranting. He finishes with outright laughing at his guest.

The lesson of this "interview" is don't listen.  Don't engage.  Stick to what you thought before you asked the question and persist in your unbelief.

As I've said, this is nothing new. Fox News commentators have been doing this sort of thing since Rupert Murdoch started the network. And countless people have decried these tactics since they first appeared on the media scene. Rush Limbaugh has been doing this unimpeded for decades on the radio, and his imitators have been slavishly doing the same too. (By the way, Rush and his ilk could never have had a show had it not been for the removal of the "fairness doctrine" which required broadcasters to give equal time to differing opinions -- a doctrine removed during Ronald Reagan's push for deregulation. This article by former staffer Bruce Bartlett discusses this change in journalism and other developments in a pretty fascinating overview.)

But in spite of calls to boycott Rush, in spite of experts pointing out why Fox News' tactics are so egregious, no one has effectively challenged this approach.  If they had, these shows would not still be on the air.  They would not have the viewership that they do.  We would not have Donald Trump as our President.

Because this mindset, of holding fast to your mindset, is comfortable.  It allows us to be comfortable and to stay that way.  It is so enticing, it has permeated everything about our culture.  It's in our colleges.  College, a place you go to have your brain challenged more than it's ever been challenged before and maybe ever will be again.  A place where you are asked to do nothing but learn all day, every day.  A place where you are to be molded by knowledge into a new being: an adult, ready to engage with the world and advance us a little further as human beings.

Instead, students come to college not as students but as consumers. They sit in their chairs, and they expect to be entertained for six weeks and get an A at the end. They don't really want to learn. They've got their devices. They're plugged into their headphones. They're wearing their pajamas to class. They want to be comfortable. They're not doing anything our culture hasn't taught them all their lives.

It's in our movies. La La Land, a movie so beloved it was nominated for I don't know how many Oscars (14) and came within a hair's breadth of winning best picture, asks nothing of its viewers. It presents one cliche after another, it presents only one relationship (what friends? they were only different-colored women in different-colored dresses. Ooh, diversity!), and a white man explains jazz. Jazz, a medium that requires and thrives on listening, is based on the very act of listening to what someone else has to say (musically), to take it in and respond, build on what you've heard, and create something new. I don't think the movie ever even plays actual jazz. Instead, it returns to a theme we heard at the beginning and replays it. The guy who's supposed to be a musician is played by a guy who can't sing very well, nor is he a very good dancer. Doesn't matter. We're not listening that closely anyway.

There are so many things wrong with this promo image, I don't even know where to begin. Obviously superimposed on a fake background, with a fake enormously outsized streetlight, and what are those wooden pier things doing there? There are so many versions of this image, some without a streetlight, some without their feet visible, some with the pair of them reversed, it's impossible to know which one is the "real" one. 
None of the images like this are even real, anyway. Below, is (I think) a screenshot from the actual movie. Messy hair and all.
(Daily Mail above, Independent below)

And when the movie is about to approach a sad ending -- which ISN'T EVEN VERY SAD. She marries a man whom she apparently loves and who apparently loves her, she has a daughter who is sweet, she is fabulously successful so she can go off and leave her child with someone else without fear or worry or any trouble about the expense or the social politics of it. The only thing that is sad is that she marries a different guy -- and just as it's about to face that slight bit of discomfort, it backs away, revisits the entire movie in faced-paced miniature, showing us exactly what we've just seen, and gives us the happy ending. So we get to escape from our escapism and have things just the way we want them. We get to have the happy ending, and we also get an easy-to-swallow dose of the bittersweet along with it. Nothing hard to accept or difficult or thought-provoking about any of it.

People loved it.

It's pap.

It's in our radio stations, our TV stations. Hear something you don't like? Change the station. You don't have to listen to any music that's not to your taste, don't have to watch any movies not to your liking (yes, La La Land turned out not to be my taste, but I sure did learn a lot from watching it, if only how much our culture is drained of real engagement with any subject), don't have to watch any TV shows you don't like. You don't even have to scroll through channels. You can custom-stream whatever show you want direct to your tiny little device and watch that show over and over and over and over and over and over. Talk about tunnel vision.

Hear some bit of science you don't like? Shut it off.  Disable the organizations that put out the scientific data in the first place. We don't want to hear about climate change and the damage fracking is doing, so we'll shut it all off. People have no clue how much science went into that egg on their breakfast table, that steak on their dinner plate. But why should they care? That egg is going to show up whether they know how it was made or not. Someone else will put it there. Someone else will take care of it. Someone else will think about it. I'm just going to eat it.

And what about people you don't like? You can shut them off too. Don't like their religion? Don't let 'em in. Don't like the color of their skin? Kick 'em out. Put 'em in jail. Put them on the other side of the wall and us on this side. We want only people like us here. People who look like us, talk like us, refuse to think like us. Because that's what makes us comfortable.

Daily Show-lovers are just as guilty of this. When Jon Stewart shows up, don't you feel that undeniable sense of "Ahh," of sinking into that mental Naugahyde lounger while you wait to be told just how wrong they are and just how right we are?  Isn't it lovely?  Isn't it rich?

It's the height of privilege, this ability to choose what to hear.  We can afford to buy the devices that enable that choice. We can afford to move out of neighborhoods we don't like, to drive away from a situation that frightens us, to fly to a country where we can drink fruity drinks by the pool and eat spicy foods and fly away again.

No wonder our President is so privileged he has no idea how privileged he is. No wonder he rejects anything he disagrees with. No wonder he tells lies outrageous and small all the time, and gets away with it. The difference between truth and lies has not mattered for a very long time. No wonder he has kicked out news media he doesn't like; we do that all the time. No wonder he is kicking out ideas, people, religions, anything he doesn't like. We have done this for decades.

Take a good long look at the man we have spent decades building. In front of our noses, behind our backs, in spite of us, because of us. We all had a hand in this creation.

If we want to dismantle him, we need to rebuild ourselves.

We can't bring back the fairness doctrine and require media to give equal coverage to opposing viewpoints. Our media is too diffuse to enforce that regulation, if anybody would even support it. But we can do more to encourage critical thinking, demand critical thinking. Seek out opinions that differ from your own. Challenge yourself and see what you discover. Ask questions. Write to your TV station, your newspaper. Subscribe to a newspaper. Subscribe two: a local paper and one that does in-depth investigative reporting. Tell people about what you've learned. Talk to people who have different opinions than you do, and don't just talk.  Ask why, and listen.

Don't disengage. Engage.