The following is an excerpt from Zooburbia: Meditations On The Wild Animals Among Us (2014) by Tai Moses, with illustrations by Dave Buchen. Reprinted with permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, parallax.org. This material may not be repurposed without written permission from Parallax Press.
You know how the cure is often worse than the disease? That's the case with palm oil, which has become a common substitute for artery clogging, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. But palm oil turns out to have its own dangers, both for people and for animals. The wild creatures of Indonesia, Borneo and Sumatra -- elephants, tigers, orangutans and rhinos -- are being driven from the forests by the race to cash in on the palm oil boom.
At the beginning of March, in a remote part of Indonesia, five wild elephants were found poisoned to death, probably by local farmers trying to drive them off so they could slash jungle to grow palm. Massive palm oil plantations already spread across vast tracts of land that used to be rainforest.
What is palm oil used in? One of its most common uses are cookies. It has also found its way into crackers, cereals and microwave popcorn. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has launched a campaign asking consumers to boycott products made with palm oil and to let food manufacturers know that, hell no, it ain't ok to destroy our great wild mammals for chocolate cream sandwich cookies, good as they are. The food industry can make its products with other easily available oils.
Even though CSPI says palm oil is nearly as bad for you as the stuff it's replacing, it's predicted to overtake soybean oil in the next decade as the world's most-used oil. And you know what that means: no more orangutans. The pensive reddish-orange apes (who share 97% of our DNA) are already hanging by a thread. When their forests disappear, so will they.
What to do? First of all, read labels and buy only products that use nonhydrogenated oils: soybean, canola, corn and peanut are all better choices for humans and for apes. CSPI is asking Wal-Mart -- the country's biggest grocery retailer -- to reformulate its house brands that use palm oil. Sign the petition here. Says Michael Jacobson, CSPI's director, "Palm oil should be used as a last resort, by consumers and corporations alike."
We will never run out of Oreos. I wish we could say the same for orangutans.
Top 10 lists are a staple of a culture obsessed with ranking things, yet in recent years the ubiquitous best-movie, -book and -music lists have become so baffling it seems as though their only goal is to eclipse the Top 10 lists of other critics. Still, lists can tell us much about ourselves -- our obsessions, anxieties and passions. Our Top 10 List of Lists hopes to capture the essence of 2005 by compiling the year's most superlative, truly notable, absolutely blue-ribbon cultural bric-a-brac.
Merriam-Webster Online has created a window into our national preoccupations by releasing the Top 10 most-looked-up words of 2005, in order of their most-looked-uppedness.
Britney Spears is suing Us Weekly for libel (again). On Oct. 17 the gossipy mag ran a story saying that Spears and husband Kevin Federline were worried lest a secret sex tape they'd made get out. Spears said no such tape exists and demanded the magazine retract the story. Us refused, saying it stood by its report. Britney filed a lawsuit.
This happens at AlterNet all the time.
Still, something seems fishy. According to Us, Spears and Federline viewed the sexually explicit tape with their "estate planning lawyers." We consulted AlterNet's legal expert, Michael P. Kerner, about the seeming incongruity.
TM: You specialize in estate planning. Please explain, in ten words or less, what that is.
MPK: Cheating the government out of taxes.
TM: I notice you didn't mention anything about sex.
MPK: Sex is a critical part of estate planning.
TM: Why would a client ask an estate planner to watch a secret sex tape with them?
MPK: It's well accepted that estate planners are the best and the brightest in the legal profession. And in this particular instance, it's perfectly understandable that Britney and Justin --
MPK: --that Britney and Kevin would be meeting with Britney's estate planning counsel. I am sure that Brit, like our president, believes that life begins at conception and it is never too early to begin planning for your children.
TM: What does that have to do with the sex tape?
MPK: Brit no doubt was meeting with her estate planners in order to ensnare a victim like Us and sue for millions of dollars and offset the incredible burden the estate tax is going to impose on her in the future. At the same time she could discuss setting up a trust for the children likely to be produced by the frolicking and get a jump on providing for their college education.
TM: Us claimed that while watching the tape with their lawyers, Spears and Federline allegedly acted "goofy." Goofy behavior in the company of lawyers. It strains credulity, does it not?
MPK: [Throat clearing, followed by silence.]
TM: However, Spears' suit says, "There was no laughter, disgust or goofy behavior while watching the video in the company of lawyers because they did not watch any video, and because there is no such video."
MPK: Estate planning is serious business. Brit knows that. All of us are going to be completely bankrupted if the estate tax is not repealed.
TM: Don't you mean the "death tax"?
MPK: Yeah, the death tax.
TM: Britney's estate planning lawyers have been curiously silent about the matter. In fact, we don't even know who they are. Could you speculate on their identities?
MPK: Actually I've applied for a job with that firm and I really can't discuss it.
TM: How many such tapes do you view on a weekly basis?
MPK: There are certain privileges that go along with our profession. But trust me, you wouldn't want to see most of my estate planning clients in the buff.
TM: Thank you for your time. You have provided comfort to Americans everywhere, and not just pop stars, who worry that their right to watch sex tapes in private with their lawyers may be eroded.
MPK: My pleasure.
Like many of you, I fret about Turkmenistan. Not only is the mountainous Central Asian republic isolated from the rest of the world, it's ruled by a dictatorial goofball who grows increasingly eccentric with each year.
In 2002, Turkmenistan's president-for-life, Saparmurat Niyazov, renamed the months and the days of the week. Fair enough. This year he closed the libraries because he claimed his people weren't reading; put a stop to the import of foreign literature; and banned pre-recorded music. Then Turkmenbashi, as he likes to be called ("father of all Turkmen"), ordered his government ministers to learn how to speak English or get canned. "I don't care whether you pay for a teacher or you learn it on your own, but you have to talk English in six months. Anyone not fulfilling my decree will be sacked," declared the Anglophiliac tyrant. The jittery ministers won't be able to calm their nerves with a cigarette, since, after undergoing major heart surgery in 1997, Turkmenbashi quit smoking and demanded his ministers do the same.
Now the president has ordered the construction of an elaborate $21 million zoo that will house, among other animals, an abundance of penguins. It must be said that Turkmenbashi's heart is in the right place, or at least within spitting distance of the right place. He says that global warming is starving the penguins and he aims to save them.
Temperatures get blisteringly hot in this desert nation, but the despot is undeterred. Global warming didn't begin yesterday, Niyazov points out; if they want to be rescued, the penguins will just have to get used to the climate.
Stanley Williams has, as they say in the parlance of desperation, exhausted all his appeals.
Just after noon today, Arnold Schwarzenegger denied Williams clemency, declaring bluntly that he did not buy the ex-gang leader's change of heart or claims of innocence. "Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption," wrote the California governor in his five-page statement of decision.
Williams' refusal to apologize for the crimes he has always claimed he did not commit seems to have been the deciding factor in the Governor's decision. "In this case, the one thing that would be the clearest indication of complete remorse and full redemption is the one thing Williams will not do."
Just prior to the release of Schwarzenegger's statement, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the 51-year-old Williams' request for a reprieve. His execution, by lethal injection, is scheduled to take place at 12:01am Tuesday. Reporters are thronging the gates of San Quentin prison, where the California Highway Patrol has beefed up security in anticipation of the thousands of protesters who are expected to gather this evening.
As for Williams himself, by all reports, he remains calm. At 6pm PST, he will eat his last meal in his cell. He will dictate his last words, if he chooses to leave any behind, to the prison warden. As he said recently, "If it's my time to be executed, what's all the ranting and raving going to do?"
Can a shape be politicized? Of course it can. In fact, shapes are the latest battleground in America's struggle for dominion over the world. At the center of controversy is the humble crescent -- a shape most of us associate with freshly baked rolls. To Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo, however, the crescent is the symbol of Islamic fanaticism and he wants it removed from the design of a proposed 9/11 memorial honoring the passengers and crew of Flight 93.
The design of the memorial (although not the memorial itself) is called "Crescent of Embrace," and its creators say its shape is simply an organic outgrowth of the topography of the crash site. It has the approval of Flight 93 family members, local residents, officials, and other national figures. Tancredo has sent a letter to the National Park Service saying the crescent is "unsuitable for paying appropriate tribute to the heroes of Flight 93 or the ensuing American struggle against radical Islam." It is not known which shape Tancredo prefers over the crescent or whether he has yet written to NASA to object to the shape of the moon when in its crescent phase.
Nothing surprises us anymore. We thought.
True, at first we were disturbed by this paragraph -- the beginning of a news story on today's Senate hearings for Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts:
Flying to New York over the weekend, I had to listen to my seatmate complain about how hard it was to meet men. This woman had tried online dating, double dating, blind dating, speed dating, slow-motion dating -- she had done it all. Still, she was single. "Why is it so hard?" she wailed.
I laughed. I did not laugh because I was bitter that she had the aisle seat, although that was true. I laughed because I had recently seen a film that made her problems look like a walk in the park.
March of the Penguins depicts a winter in the life of the Emperor penguin. These intrepid birds trek 70 miles across icy terrain to their breeding ground, which resembles an enormous frozen singles bar without Guinness on tap. Somehow they manage to pick the perfect partner out of a crowd of thousands of identical birds. How do they do this? By singing.
After mating they wait around in subzero temperatures until Mrs. P produces a single egg. She passes the egg to Mr. P in an elaborately choreographed routine in which both birds carefully shuffle their hobbit feet back and forth until the egg is on top of the male's feet, protected by his ponderous, downy belly. If the egg touches the ice, it will turn instantly into an Antarctic egg cream.
The exhausted Mrs. P then trudges 70 miles back to the sea to get some food. Meanwhile, Mr. P incubates the egg, freezing and starving through blizzards and surrounded by a few thousand of his closest friends, who are also freezing and starving and anxiously incubating their eggs. Mr. P does this FOR TWO MONTHS.
Finally the chicks hatch, but the doting Mr. P can't rest yet, because if Little P slips off his feet it will quickly become a penguin popsicle. Fortunately, Mrs. P is on the way back to take over childcare duties, so Mr. P -- stiff, cranky, and near death from starvation -- can waddle off 70 miles to get his own dinner.
I related this story to Miss Lonelyhearts. "You think you've got it tough?" I said. "When was the last time you trekked across an ice field to meet a man?" As it happens, she had once climbed a glacier in Alaska for that very purpose. "Well, try doing it in a penguin suit," I said.
"Why do they do all that?" she asked. At least the story had taken her mind off her dating dilemmas.
Some people say they do because instinct tells them to. I think they do it for love.
If Paul Hackett is victorious in Ohio's 2nd District Congressional race on Aug. 2, he will be the first Iraq war veteran elected to public office.
Hackett's attack on the Bush administration has been relentless, focused, and elegant. He's campaigning -- it must be said -- like a soldier. Hackett, a progressive Democrat and a bit of an iconoclast, takes pleasure in showing how different he is from his far-right Republican opponent, the smooth-talking Jean Schmidt (whose style has been likened to that of "an elementary teacher reading to a group of fifth-graders").
"Look, I'm a Marine Corps combat vet," the Ohio native said during a recent debate with Schmidt. "I'm not soft on defense. I'm not soft on terrorism. Hell, I've looked terrorism in the eye, and I've vanquished it. But I'm hard on an administration that has not had the courage to put forth an Iraq terrorism policy that reflects reality."
Many think the Democrats could use just such a balls-out, tough-talking, strong-on-defense candidate to help them with their image problems.
Hackett, a lawyer who just returned from a seven-month tour of duty in Iraq, regularly blasts the Patriot Act, Bush's tax plan and the skyrocketing cost of the Iraq war (now nearing $200 billion). The driver of a hybrid car, he also criticizes the administration's plan to drill for oil in the Arctic Refuge. While he is strongly pro-choice, Hackett says, "I don't know anybody who thinks abortion is a good thing. Let's keep it safe, legal and rare." (Jean Schmidt is the president of a Cincinnati anti-abortion group).
"Ask yourselves these questions," Hackett said to the audience at the debate. "Are you better off in the past five years? Is your job safer? Do you even have a job? Are you paying more for health care? How about gasoline? If you send me down there [to Washington], I'll fight for you."