May 2007

Verschärfte Vernehmung

Andrew Sullivan:

Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I’m not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn’t-somehow-torture — “enhanced interrogation techniques” — is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.

A reptile expo in Kemptville

Jennifer and Jennifer The folks behind the Ontario Reptile Expo (hi there, Grant) had their second Ottawa-area show in Kemptville yesterday: they changed locations to the local arena, which I promptly forgot until I arrived at the empty former location. It’s the wrong season for me because the colubrids I’m interested in have yet to hatch — most animals for sale were lizards, boas or pythons — so at least we came home unscathed with only a big bag of aspen shavings and a whole whack of photos. The main reason for attending such events is social (much to the vendors’ chagrin, I think).

I’ve never seen such wide aisles at a reptile show: usually the vendors’ tables are packed in so tightly that if people are stopped at a table on each side the aisle is completely blocked. Nice to be able to circulate.

Off her meds

I volunteer for the Pontiac Archives, which mostly involves me opening and staffing the Archives on Saturdays. It’s usually pretty quiet: many days I go without a single customer, but I believe it’s important to be available. Frequently I get people coming in hoping to use our Internet access, which, of course, we don’t let them do.

Today, though, it got weird. Shortly after I opened this morning, a youngish woman entered looking quite flustered. She wanted to check the Internet for something. More precisely, she wanted to check the Internet to see if something had occurred that would, as near as I could gather from what she was saying, be the sign of the imminent Apocalypse or something.

That’s right: she wanted to check to see if the Rapture was nigh. And she was quite agitated about it.

I suggested she try one of the public terminals upstairs in the library. She asked me whether it would matter if she didn’t have a library card.

Now really, if you’re expecting Götterdammerung, shouldn’t you be better prepared than that?

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Pretzel lays 17 eggs

17! I’ve been breeding snakes since 2001, and though I’ve managed to see a live birth, I’ve never once been able to catch an egg-laying snake in the act of, well, laying eggs. Today that changed: we came downstairs this morning and caught Pretzel in the act of laying eggs in her nesting box, which was a clear plastic deli container (so we could see in). We could see how long it took an egg to pass the cloaca, and how long it took the next egg to pass down from its oviduct. I didn’t time it, but it takes a long time. In fact, the whole process took most of the day. A short while ago, we took her out, palpated her to make sure she was done, and counted the eggs.

She laid 17 of them. That’s a record. Normally, her first clutch, which is usually laid some time in May, is around 13 eggs. Why so many this time?

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Local gas prices

I understand that gasoline is expensive; it ought to be. I understand that gas prices ought to be a little bit higher in my small town than they are in the city. But how much higher? A few weeks ago I noticed a nine-cent spread between gas stations here and a gas station in Aylmer (that admittedly has lower prices than some other stations). Last Saturday the spread was thirteen cents: 115.9 vs. 102.9. Can someone please explain why there’s that much of a difference in price between gas stations only 75 kilometres apart?

Gary Doer’s pragmatism

Today’s Globe and Mail points to Gary Doer’s pragmatism as the reason for his success as NDP premier of Manitoba. This resonates with what I’ve long believed: that in Manitoba, the NDP gains power when it can attract and hold votes that would otherwise go Liberal, and loses when Liberal votes either return to the roost (as they did, famously, in 1988) or go to the Conservatives.

Ed Schreyer was able to woo those moderates in 1969 — famously, when he inspired Larry Desjardins to cross the floor from the Liberals. Howard Pawley was more doctrinaire (and less competent) and scared ‘em off, but because of lingering concerns over the Conservatives (the quasi-draconian government of Sterling Lyon still vivid in Manitobans’ memory) and the appeal of Sharon Carstairs, they went Liberal rather than Conservative in 1988, and the NDP dropped to third place and its 12 safest seats. When the Liberals faltered, the NDP recuperated, so that when the Conservatives faltered, the NDP was that much closer to the finish line. Lesson: when the Liberal vote collapses, the NDP wins; whem the Liberal vote is strong, the NDP can’t — they’re chasing the same moderate voters.

Much is made about the PC-NDP dichotomy in my home province: the south and west is reliably Conservative, the north and east reliably NDP, and the electoral battles are fought along the frontier between the two. But there’s a good chunk of moderate voters out there as well: the electorate is more complex than winner-take-all choropleth maps make out. Parties that forget this dynamic and simply try to rally their own supporters do so at their peril.

A quick snake update

Pretzel has had her pre-egglaying shed, so we should have corn snake eggs by the end of the month.

Extrovert ate normally last night. Apparently last week’s nightcrawlers were just the thing to kick-start her appetite.

The gopher snakes are off their feed, but it’s been cold lately, and they’re notorious for losing their appetite in response to temperature changes. The female has a better excuse: we found an infertile egg in their cage yesterday. A nesting box was quickly added in case more are forthcoming.

Feeling listless

It’s been a bitch of a flare. As I’ve discovered, the problem isn’t always the pain; it’s the exhaustion. I’m surprised at how early I’ve been hitting the fatigue wall these past couple of weeks. I’ve never been so listless.

Lazy frog monitoring

It’s nice to be able to do frog monitoring without leaving your house. Spring peepers have been calling like mad for a while, but last night they were joined by American toads (whose calls started weakly but strengthened throughout the evening) and later by gray treefrogs (which were fewer in number). Three species, identified without even having to go outside.

Amphibian monitoring is important: FrogWatch Canada, FrogWatch USA, FrogWatch Australia.

A healthy — and noisy — frog population is a good sign of a healthy environment, I think, and if this is true, we’re doing well out here.

Last week, for example, I actually spotted a leopard frog on Main Street: I couldn’t bend to grab it, but I loomed over it to encourage it to hop across the road to the park. We’ve found toads and green frogs in our yard. The neighbour’s son has caught green frogs in the creek. Jennifer spotted a wood frog along the PPJ trail two years ago; last month we also saw them — and heard them — on Robert and Marilee’s property. We hear peepers frequently, even in town, spring and fall.

That’s a total of six species either seen or heard without too much effort. We have yet to see or hear bullfrogs, mink frogs, pickerel frogs or western chorus frogs — these last two species are quite rare, though; the first two we’ve seen plenty of elsewhere.

Female snakes, off their feed

Pretzel, my female corn snake, is visibly pregnant. She’s also in shed, and she refused to eat last night. She usually eats during shed (unlike some other snakes), but she goes off her food just before egg-laying, so I guess we’re probably a couple of weeks away from her first clutch. Right on time: she usually lays in mid-May. Time to stock up on vermiculite and get the incubator ready.

Extrovert, my female wandering garter snake, has skipped her last few meals. That’s atypical — for a non-gravid female garter outside of hibernation, it’s almost unheard of. So I’m starting to get a bit concerned. She’s definitely not gravid: she hasn’t seen a male in five years. We’ll try fish, but I wonder whether she’s about to suffer the same problem that killed one of my Butler’s garters last year. I should palpate her. She’s eight years old, which is not ancient for her species.

Previously: More evidence of an early mating season; A garter snake update.

Update, 4:45 PM: We just offered Extro three nightcrawlers, which she just snarfed right down. Possibly the garter snake reset button in action again.

Recent photography

Occasionally, I leave my house and take pictures.

Some photos from a walk with Robert and Marilee on their property two weeks ago (Jennifer’s photos).

Photos from the Ottawa Central’s open house last Saturday (see my post on FRN). It was raining, at times heavy, and my kit lens got all spotty towards the end.

Also from last Saturday, photos from our first visit to Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo in years. For this one, I put away the spotty kit lens and used my new 50-mm f/1.8 prime lens, which, you may recall, has to be manually focused with a D40. I shot without a flash, which made for very shallow depths of field (f/1.8, ISO 1600), but I’m quite pleased with the results.