Saturday, September 27, 2008

Who won the first presidential debate?

By George Harris, Kansas City Star Readers Advisory Panel 2008

September 27, 2008 at 5:40 a.m.

Ignore all commentators' opinions expressed without evidence. The winner is determined by the numbers, especially the votes of the undecided. Here are some preliminary answers:

A CBS Insta Poll of 500 uncommitted voters shows Barack Obama won 39% to John McCain's 25% with 36% saying the debate was a draw.

Insider Advantage reports those polled say Obama won 42% to McCain's 41% with Undecided 17%

CNN reports voter opinions that Obama "did better" 51%, McCain "did better" 38%

The CNN poll showed men were evenly split, but women gave Obama higher marks 59% to 41% for McCain.

The CNN pollster noted a slight Democratic bias in the survey. Well, there are more Democrats in the country, so more Democrats watched. However, this may also suggest Democratic enthusiasm which will help turn out the vote.

The MSNBC on-line (non-scientific) poll showed Obama winning the debate 52% to 33%. (But this is what one would expect from such a poll at MSNBC because of the nature of its viewers.)

Some free analysis: McCain appeared angry and dismissive of Obama and generally impressed as someone who would slap colleagues across the aisle if reaching over to them. He said several times in the debate that he hasn't won the Miss Congeniality contest in the Senate, and he proved why during the debate.

I suspect that women voters especially would be turned off by McCain's sarcastic tone because women do tend to be the conciliators in our society and saw Obama display those conciliatory qualities very well in the debate. Obama looked at McCain, and McCain wouldn't return the eye contact but rather glared or displayed a tight and angry expression.

I also suspect (but don't have the data to support) that older voters were also turned off by Senator McNasty. I believe older voters will also be reassured that, though McCain has been around longer, Obama has a good grasp of foreign affairs and can learn quickly. He impressed as a statesmen, in marked contrast to McCain's warrior demeanor.

McCain referred to Obama as naive or as not understanding on many issues when the listener probably saw a mere difference of opinion. McCain's condescenion felt annoying; to the listener who might agree or disagree with Obama, Obama nevertheless was making good points, not naive ones.

In general, I think the country is tired of negativity, and McCain's performance didn't give anyone the impression that age has mellowed him. In fact, he seemed rather proud of his continuing bellicose manner. The country seems ready for a change from the "fighting as first choice crowd."

Watch for new polls over the next week. Things can shift for a variety of reasons as people reflect on the debate.

Poll Results Suggest More Uncommitted Voters Saw Obama As Debate Winner
by Brian Montopoli

CBS News and Knowledge Networks conducted a nationally representative poll of approximately 500 uncommitted voters reacting to the debate in the minutes after it happened.

Thirty-nine percent of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. Twenty-four percent thought John McCain won. Thirty-seven percent saw it as a draw.

Forty-six percent of uncommitted voters said their opinion of Obama got better tonight. Thirty-two percent said their opinion of McCain got better.

Sixty-six percent of uncommitted voters think Obama would make the right decisions about the economy. Forty-two percent think McCain would.

The margin of sampling error could be plus or minus 4 percentage points for results based on the entire sample.

Keywords: debate poll who won the debate Senator McNasty abrasive Obama won

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What's in a cup?

Going into the teachers’ lounge today made me depressed.

On this blustery fall morning, the toasty smell of brewing coffee and the burbling sound of the percolator should have been welcoming. But all I could do was stare at the coffee pot and think, “Why?”

Because I’ve drunk that coffee before. And I know it tastes like burning plastic. It’s from some cheap canister of bitter Robusta coffee beans grown for maximum quantity and low price. Or so I’ve always thought.

After all, why would we subject ourselves to this weak, acrid swill if not to save money? Adding the non-dairy creamer and cheap sweetener on hand does nothing to lessen the toxic taste. Rather, then it tastes like burning plastic plus chemicals. Mmm, delicious.

As I gathered my lesson plans and prepared for the day ahead, I imagined a different scene. What if I walked in the lounge to the rich brown smell of Arabica coffee? What if there was actual milk in the fridge? Call me crazy, but what if we had actual sugar?

Why do we do this? I asked myself again. Is it simply the status quo, because this is what all offices serve? Is it because these products are what’s available at the office supply store? Is it because it’s the cheapest option? That must be it, but the financial gain seems like cutting off our nose to spite our face. We’re saving a few cents, I presume, but forcing ourselves to drink a nasty, unhealthy mix of synthetic ingredients and cheap, low-quality coffee. Is it really worth it?

I wondered how much the typical office saved by cutting these corners. A little investigation proved that the average cup of office coffee costs between 30 and 40 cents. Twenty-nine cents for a scoop of your average Robusta beans; 4 cents for a scoop of non-dairy creamer (main ingredient: corn syrup solids); 5 cents for refined white sugar or 9 cents for Splenda if you prefer. (Main ingredient: who knows.)

Next I researched the alternative. Grounds for Change offers their organic, fair trade, shade grown Arabica beans in five-pound bags for $42, which comes out to about 18 cents a cup. I was shocked. Eighteen cents, for a delicious-sounding “bright, nutty flavor and subtle sweetness that is enhanced by a delicate medium roast,” produced by an environmentally sustainable all-women cooperative in Mexico. For almost half the price of Folgers? I couldn’t believe it.

As for the add-ins, a gallon of whole milk from Homeland Creamery, our local dairy, sells for about $4.50, or 2 cents per splash. Realistically, I know an office might not go through a gallon of milk before it goes bad. (Thus the corn syrup solids…) But if we must go non-dairy, how about a small carton of soy creamer? A 16-ounce carton of Silk Creamer retails for $1.99, or 6 cents per coffee. As for sugar, raw turbinado sugar from comes out to 5 cents a cup. Same as the refined white sugar for sale at Office Max, and plus lots of vitamins and minerals. And minus some bleaching.

Well I’ll be darned. That comes to 18 cents for a cup of black eco-groovy coffee, 25 cents with the works. That’s a half to two-thirds the price of the rain-forest slashing, farmer-robbing, stomach-irritating slop we’re all subjecting ourselves to.

So why are we doing it?

by Sadie Kneidel

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How racism works: McCain and Obama

From Letters to the Editor @ Fort Worth Star-Telegram 9.17.08

What if John McCain were a former president of the Harvard Law Review?
What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?

What if McCain were still married to the first woman he said 'I do' to?
What if Obama were the candidate who left his first wife after she no longer measured up to his standards?

What if Michelle Obama were a wife who not only became addicted to pain killers, but acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?
What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard? What if Obama were a member of the 'Keating 5'? What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?

If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?

This is what racism does. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference.

-Kelvin LaFond, Fort Worth

Keywords: Obama McCain 2008 presidential election presidential race racism Obama's accomplishments Cindy McCain Keating 5 Kelvin Lafond

Monday, September 22, 2008

The book-banning extremist theology of Sarah Palin


By David Talbot at

Baptist minister Howard Bess says the country should fear Palin's election. She's Jerry Falwell with a pretty face.

Sept. 15, 2008 | WASILLA, Alaska -- The Wasilla Assembly of God, the evangelical church where Sarah Palin came of age, was still charged with excitement on Sunday over Palin's sudden ascendance. Pastor Ed Kalnins warned his congregation not to talk with any journalists who might have been lurking in the pews -- and directly warned this reporter not to interview any of his flock. But Kalnins and other speakers at the service reveled in Palin's rise to global stardom.

It confirmed, they said, that God was making use of Wasilla. "She will take our message to the world!" rejoiced an Assembly of God youth ministry leader, as the church band rocked the high-vaulted wooden building with its electric gospel.

That is what scares the Rev. Howard Bess. A retired American Baptist minister who pastors a small congregation in nearby Palmer, Wasilla's twin town in Alaska's Matanuska Valley, Bess has been tangling with Palin and her fellow evangelical activists ever since she was a Wasilla City Council member in the 1990s. Recently, Bess again found himself in the spotlight with Palin, when it was reported that his 1995 book, "Pastor, I Am Gay," was among those Palin tried to have removed from the Wasilla Public Library when she was mayor.

"She scares me," said Bess. "She's Jerry Falwell with a pretty face.

"At this point, people in this country don't grasp what this person is all about. The key to understanding Sarah Palin is understanding her radical theology."

Bess -- a fit-looking, 80-year-old man in a gray University of Illinois sweatshirt and blue jeans – spoke with me over coffee at the Vagabond Blues, a cafe in Palmer with a stunning view of the nearby snow-capped Chugach Mountains. The retired minister moved to the Mat-Su Valley with his wife, Darlene, in 1987, after his outspoken defense of gay rights at Baptist churches in the Santa Barbara, Calif., area and Anchorage landed him in trouble with church officials. In the Mat-Su Valley, Bess plunged into community activism, helping launch an assortment of projects, from an arts council to a shelter for the mentally disabled.

Inevitably, his work brought him into conflict with Palin and other highly politicized Christian fundamentalists in the valley. "Things got very intense around here in the '90s -- the culture war was very hot here," Bess said. "The evangelicals were trying to take over the valley. They took over the school board, the community hospital board, even the local electric utility. And Sarah Palin was in the direct center of all these culture battles, along with the churches she belonged to."

Bess' first run-in with Palin's religious forces came when he decided to write his book, "Pastor, I Am Gay." The book was the result of a theological journey that began in the 1970s when Bess was asked for guidance by a closeted homosexual in his Santa Barbara congregation. After deep reflection on the subject, Bess came to the conclusion that "gay people were not sick, nor they were special sinners."

In his book, Bess suggests that gays have a divine mission. "Look back at the life of our Lord Jesus. He was misunderstood, deserted, unjustly accused, and cruelly killed. Yet we all confess that it was the will of God, for by his wounds we are healed ... Could it be that the homosexual, obedient to the will of God, might be the church's modern day healer-messiah?"

When it was published in 1995, Bess' book caused an immediate storm in the Mat-Su Valley, an evangelical stronghold dotted with storefront churches. Conservative ministers targeted the book, and the only bookstore in the valley that dared to stock it -- Shalom Christian Books and Gifts – soon dropped it after the owner was barraged with angry phone calls. The Frontiersman, the local newspaper that ran a column by Bess for seven years, fired him and ran a vicious cartoon that suggested even drooling child molesters would be welcomed by Bess' church.

And after she became mayor of Wasilla, according to Bess, Sarah Palin tried to get rid of his book from the local library. Palin now denies that she wanted to censor library books, but Bess insists that his book was on a "hit list" targeted by Palin. "I'm as certain of that as I am that I'm sitting here. This is a small town, we all know each other. People in city government have confirmed to me what Sarah was trying to do."

Soon after the book controversy, Bess found himself again at odds with Palin and her fellow evangelicals. In 1996, evangelical churches mounted a vigorous campaign to take over the local hospital's community board and ban abortion from the valley. When they succeeded, Bess and Dr. Susan Lemagie, a Palmer OB-GYN, fought back, filing suit on behalf of a local woman who had been forced to travel to Seattle for an abortion. The case was finally decided by the Alaska Supreme Court, which ruled that the hospital must provide valley women with the abortion option.

At one point during the hospital battle, passions ran so hot that local antiabortion activists organized a boisterous picket line outside Dr. Lemagie's office, in an unassuming professional building across from Palmer's Little League field. According to Bess and another community activist, among the protesters trying to disrupt the physician's practice that day was Sarah Palin.

Another valley activist, Philip Munger, says that Palin also helped push the evangelical drive to take over the Mat-Su Borough school board. "She wanted to get people who believed in creationism on the board," said Munger, a music composer and teacher. "I bumped into her once after my band played at a graduation ceremony at the Assembly of God. I said, 'Sarah, how can you believe in creationism -- your father's a science teacher.' And she said, 'We don't have to agree on everything.'

"I pushed her on the earth's creation, whether it was really less than 7,000 years old and whether dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time. And she said yes, she'd seen images somewhere of dinosaur fossils with human footprints in them."

Munger also asked Palin if she truly believed in the End of Days, the doomsday scenario when the Messiah will return. "She looked in my eyes and said, 'Yes, I think I will see Jesus come back to earth in my lifetime.'"

Bess is unnerved by the prospect of Palin -- a woman whose mind is given to dogmatic certitude -- standing one step away from the Oval Office. "It's truly frightening that someone like Sarah has risen to the national level," Bess said. "Like all religious fundamentalists -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim -- she is a dualist. They view life as an ongoing struggle to the finish between good and evil. Their mind-set is that you do not do business with evil -- you destroy it. Talking with the enemy is not part of their plan. That puts someone like Obama on the side of evil.

"Forget all this chatter about whether or not she knows what the Bush doctrine is. That's trivial. The real disturbing thing about Sarah is her mind-set. It's her underlying belief system that will influence how she responds in an international crisis, if she's ever in that position, and has the full might of the U.S. military in her hands. She gave some indication of that thinking in her ABC interview, when she suggested how willing she would be to go to war with Russia.

"Alaskans liked that certitude when she was dealing with corrupt politicians and the oil industry -- and there is something admirable about it. But when you're dealing with a complex and dangerous world as commander in chief, that's a different story."

Bess said that he and fellow valley residents have long been charmed by the Sarah Palin who is now dazzling the American public. Despite their strong political differences, "she always has a warm greeting for me when we bump into each other. She's the most charming person you'll ever know."

"But," Bess adds, "this person's election would be a disaster for the country and the world."

Keywords:: Sarah Palin book-banning extremist theology ultraconservative gay rights homophobic gaybashing Howard Bess Pastor I am gay election fear book-banning Sarah Palin fundamentalist Sarah Palin oppression intolerance

Sunday, September 21, 2008

President Sarah Palin: Commander in Chief?

September 16, 2008

By Beth F. Coye
Guest Opinion from Ashland Daily Tidings

Senator McCain constantly describes himself as a military man who always places "Country First." Unfortunately, his first big decision as a presidential nominee puts "risky decision-making first" and "country second."

As a woman who served my country as a naval officer for 21 years and taught American Government and International Relations at several universities, I am astonished by John McCain's vice presidential choice, Governor Sarah Palin. Palin, who governs 2 percent of the U.S. population, has neither foreign policy experience nor knowledge of international leaders and countries.

Let's put McCain's decision in a military context: Captain John McCain, a retired naval officer, understands our military personnel system. Would he thrust someone who is the commanding officer of a small shore-based unit and who has no seagoing experience into the position of executive officer of a Navy carrier, or Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs? These top military jobs directly compare with one of the two highest offices in our political system.

The military's personnel system never allows a Navy lieutenant to fill an admiral's billet or an Army/Air Force/Marine captain to fill a general's billet. Our political system, however, permits presidential nominees to select anyone they want as a running mate — whether or not the person has the requisite skill sets or experience.

Let us remind ourselves that, in the tradition of U.S. civil-military relations, the Constitution names the president as commander in chief. I find it unthinkable that someone with Sarah Palin's minimal resume might someday be president or acting president and be called upon to approve or disapprove recommendations by our most senior military officers (e.g., the Unified Commanders or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs). Sarah Palin has likely rarely read an NIE (National Intelligence Estimate)!

I have worked hard since the late '60s for the rights of women in the U.S. military and in America, and I believe Sarah Palin's nomination insults women who have fought for equality and fairness in job opportunities. This action also disrespects senior, qualified Republican women who were passed over by Senator McCain in favor of an unqualified, junior woman.

The Palin choice — an act of reverse sex discrimination — patently represents exploitation of women for political purposes. In this regard, that Sarah Palin herself chooses to accept the offer mystifies me and many others. Does she not realize that she is ill-prepared for the office and is being used by the Republican Party?

Captain McCain demeans and diminishes the offices of the vice president and president by selecting such an unqualified person. His decision demonstrates a certain cynicism and flippancy toward the highest offices in the United States of America. At this point in American history, our nation requires a president who can reassure the people in America — and the world — that he intends to return to responsible leadership. Does any objective person feel reassured?

The personnel safety nets, for precluding disasters in assignments in both the military and corporate worlds, are finely-honed systems with highly qualified individuals making thoughtful decisions and assignments.

What are the equivalent safety nets for our elected leaders? There are four: 1) elected officials, 2) major political parties, 3) the Fourth Estate (media), and 4) the electorate.

John McCain's vice presidential selection, Sarah Palin, has slipped through the first two personnel safety nets for elected high officials. It's now up to the media and electorate to act as powerful safety nets.

In sum, Sarah Palin's selection literally tests the strengths and stability of our American political system.

About the author of this editorial:
Commander Beth F. Coye (Retired U.S. Navy), served in three intelligence jobs and is a former commanding officer. She is a graduate of Wellesley College, the American University School of International Service and the School of Naval Warfare (Naval War College). Coye taught Political Science and International Relations at the Naval War College and several undergraduate colleges. She co-authored "My Navy Too," published in 1998. She resides in Ashland, Oregon.

Keywords:: Sarah Palin McCain Palin is not ready Palin as President

Illustration courtesy of

Thursday, September 18, 2008

EPA sees potential in deadly coal mine methane

Just after 9:00 on the morning of September 4, an ominous rumble echoed through the hills of China’s Liaoning province. For the residents of the bustling city of Fuxin, it was an all-too familiar sound. This latest in a series of lethal mining catastrophes claimed 24 lives, injured 6, and trapped 3, reinforcing China’s notorious reputation in the hazardous coal mining industry. With an average of 13 deaths a day, China’s mines are considered the most dangerous in the world.

While the cause of the Fuxin tragedy is still under investigation, officials suspect coalbed methane as a possible cause. The mining process inevitably frees this colorless, odorless gas from the pores of coal beds where it naturally occurs. Methane is both highly flammable and an asphyxiant, threatening miners with explosion as well as suffocation.

But some scientists see potential for good in this volatile killer. Although methane is deadly if not monitored carefully, it is also the principle component of natural gas, a powerful source of energy and a relatively clean-burning fossil fuel.

The Methane to Markets Partnership, a new program sponsored by the EPA, hopes to encourage an international effort to capture coal mine methane, or CMM, and harness its energy for good. CMM accounts for about 8% of global methane production. Because methane is a potent greenhouse gas – 20 to 25 times as powerful as carbon dioxide – preventing this gas from leaking into the atmosphere would mitigate global warming as well as provide a cleaner source of energy.

If all goes as planned, Methane to Markets’ three preliminary target sites in China could yield as much as 72,000 metric tons of methane this year alone. The partnership hopes to get its 27 member countries and 750 member organizations harnessing coalbed methane in the near future.

“The Methane to Markets Partnership is an action-oriented initiative that will reduce global methane emissions to enhance economic growth, promote energy security, improve the environment, and reduce greenhouse gases,” touts the EPA. “Other benefits include improving mine safety, reducing waste, and improving local air quality.”

And although it can’t be quantified with science or statistics, the mourning families in Fuxin know that there is another benefit that will be even greater.

by Sadie Kneidel

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Peru's desert coast surprises us: Paracas and Islas Ballestas

A make-shift home on Peru's Pacific coast (click on any pic to enlarge it)

I was leery of the "desert coast" south of Lima. What kind of place to live could that be, with no plants of any kind? What kind of wildlife could we see? It sounded like a moonscape! Bleak!

I live close to the Carolina coast with its maritime forests, or what's left of them - Palmetto trees, gnarly oaks draped with Spanish moss, Southern bayberries sheered by ocean winds. I love the stalky "sea oats" that anchor our white dunes.

What would a barren seashore look like? I imagined a dull and empty gray beach stretching on and on....

As it turns out, I was all wrong. Parts of Peru's southern coast are devoid of plants, but the lack of rainfall doesn't affect life in the ocean. In fact, the marine life offshore is unusually rich and diverse. That's because of Humboldt currents in the area that bring nutrients up from the ocean floor. Plankton feed on the nutrients, fish eat the plankton, and hundreds of oceanic and coastal birds and marine mammals feed on the fish. We knew there would be coastal birds, but were pleasantly surprised by the diversity of birds and mammals. Even Andean Condors venture to this coast during the sea-lion birthing season. As scavengers, the condors feed on the afterbirth left on the beaches.

Below: a Peruvian Pelican,
flourishing on the abundant fish offshore
Once we'd decided to check it out, our first challenge was how to get there safely?? We'd planned to take a bus south along the PanAmerican highway from Lima to Paracas, but then heard that these buses are often stopped by bandits, and that the Paracas bus stations are hot-spots for baggage theft. We were advised to hire a driver instead.

On the recommendation of Dr. Devon Graham, director of Project Amazonas, we hired Miguel Quevedo of Lima to drive us. Miguel proved to be a great choice. He drove at a reasonable speed, he was careful, he couldn't have been more attentive to our needs. When we made pit stops, he found out where the bathroom hole was, if any, and whether there were any snacks or drinks to be had. He stopped when we saw birds to identify, or Tyson-style chicken "farms" to gape at, or photos to shoot. When we left the car to track down a bird, he stayed with the car to guard our stuff. He drove us down muffler-scraping rural tracks without complaint, and prevented many potential problems by thinking ahead. To call him from the U.S.: 011.511.9664.1254. Or email our travel agent in Peru, Rosa Vasquez, at; she can call him from Peru for you.
Above: a clean bathroom along the way

The 5 hour drive from Lima to Paracas turned out to be illuminating. About half of Peru's population live in poverty, many in extreme poverty. Political and economic chaos and guerilla activity of the 1980s, during the presidency of Alan Garcia, fueled an exodus from the Andes into the cities, especially Lima. A lack of adequate space and services has created outlying informal settlements known as pueblos jovenes (young towns). We passed dozens of such settlements on the road to Paracas, many of which lack sanitation and electricity. Some are more solidly constructed than others.

Below: informal settlements along the road to Paracas (click on photos to enlarge)

As we drew close to Paracas, we passed through small towns that had been devastated by a major earthquake in 2007. We saw collapsed walls and lingering piles of rubble alongside rebuilt structures. Reconstruction is progressing, but slowly. The earthquake spawned a tidal surge that flooded buildings close to shore, and those left standing bore the evidence - paint was peeling up to 3 or 4 feet on most older buildings.

Our primary destination was Reserva Nacional de Paracas, and the offshore islands Islas Ballestas, which support thousands of breeding oceanic birds. Our friend and travel agent Rosa Vasquez in Iquitos booked 2 rooms for us in the town of Paracas. The rooms were perfect. The little inn is quiet, small, simple, and inexpensive - we were the only guests of proprietor Isabel Coello, who was extremely helpful. The inn (called Paracas Bay) is also her family's home. It is located on Paracas Bay and right around the corner from the wharf where tour boats take off for Islas Ballestas. It's also across the street from a grocery store, and a 5 minute walk from several affordable and good restaurants. For rates and reservations, contact Isabel at or call 011.56.545082 from the U.S. Our rooms worked out to about $9.25 per person per night. While staying with Isabel, we met her friend Jorge Ibanez Vignolo, an energetic Peruvian birder who lived in California for 10 years, and now runs a kiteboarding business in Paracas Bay. His website is; his e-mail is; phone 011.511.440-2265 from the U.S.

Isabel Coello and her lovely inn, Paracas Bay. Behind the broom you can see the high-water marks from the flooding following the recent earthquake.

Isabel booked our boat tour for us (roughly $10 per person) and the next morning Ken, Alan, and I took off for Islas Ballestas. The tour took about 2.5 or 3 hours, most of which was spent on the boat journey outward and back. Sadie had traveler's digestive distress and stayed behind at the inn with Miguel and Isabel.

Below are shots taken from the boat. We spent an hour cruising around the rocky islands' arches and caves, watching sea lions sprawled on the rocks and thousands of birds: Humboldt Penguins, Neotropical Cormorants, Inca Terns, Peruvian Pelicans, Peruvian Boobies, Oystercatchers, Red-legged and Guanay Cormorants, Surf Cynclodes, and more.
Alan Kneidel searches for rare birds like the Surf Cynclodes from the tour boat.

Pic below: Peruvian Pelicans and Peruvian Boobies perched on ledges.

Above, Peruvian Pelicans.

Below, Humboldt Penguins on Islas Ballestas.
Below, sea lions lounging and socializing on the rocks.

Below: our tour boat approaching a cave on Islas Ballestas

Below: An Inca Tern in one of the caves Photo below: After we returned from the boat tour, Isabel hooked us up with a professional bird guide, Edgardo Aguilar. He normally charges $80 for a full day of birding, but gave us a reduced rate since we used him for only about 3 hours. His email address is

Edgardo (left) showing Alan and Ken the Slender-billed Finch,
in farmland a mile or so back from the water's edge

Edgardo speaks excellent English, is very friendly, and knows his birds. Even better, he's very good at describing exactly where a tiny bird is hidden in the foliage. (Yes, there were plants after we drove a mile or so inland.) I highly recommend Edgardo if you're birding in the Paracas area. He lives in one of the nearby towns - Ica or Pisco - and knows the area intimately. He took us through an offroad agricultural area where we saw Vermillion Flycatchers (my first), Slender-billed Finch, Coastal Miner, Common Nighthawk, Peruvian Meadowlark, etc. and best of all - a colony of Burrowing Owls!



Above: a burrowing owl near Paracas

Below: A child saw us looking at the owls and ran out from her home to see if she could help. She pointed out another couple of burrows to Sadie.

Below, the owls and a lot of the other birds
Edgardo showed us were near irrigated plots
of paprika peppers
After an early afternoon with Edgardo, we dropped him off at home and tooled away in Miguel's car toward Reserva Nacional de Paracas, just a few miles down the road from the town of Paracas.

The reserve is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen - with absolutely no plants in sight.

Pics below: Reserva Nacional de Paracas, on Peru's southern coast

Above: a turkey vulture dines on a seal carcass washed ashore
Below: more shots of the Paracas reserve

Below: Miguel, Miguel's car, and Sadie at the Paracas reserve

Below, Alan peers over Ken's shoulder at pelagic birds offshore

What do you think, beautiful or bleak? I loved the Humboldt penguins on Islas Ballestas - my first penguins. I loved Isabel and Edgardo, I loved the burrowing owls and the little girl who showed us more. I loved Miguel, I loved the stark and haunting coast - the colorful cliffs and hungry birds.

I understand that the area is experiencing a boom in tourism. I'm glad the reserve does actually seem to be protected, and hope the coming development of the adjacent areas can proceed mindfully. The residents could really benefit from more tourist dollars from industrialized nations - mainly, the U.S.

Sadie, Alan, Ken and Sally Kneidel at Reservas Nacional de Paracas

All photos and text by Sally Kneidel

Keywords: Paracas Humboldt penguin Islas Ballestas birding Peru Rosa Vasquez Los Zarcillos birding South America Reserva Nacional de Paracas

Other recent posts about our travels in Peru:

Deep in the Amazon: the wildlife delivery crew

Careening through the Andes

Roasted guinea pig: trekking at 12,000 ft

Rainforest in need: here's how to help

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Palin, Clinton, Michelle Obama: Double standards for women in politics?

Just how comfortable are we with female leaders? Not at all? Very? Somewhere in between? Judging from the current presidential race, all of the above may apply. While the unprecedented participation of women in the current US presidential race marks monumental progress in the acceptance of women as solid political leaders, media spin and water-cooler buzz may suggest otherwise. If there is one thing we can glean from these mixed messages, it is this: gender is and will continue to be a big issue in the political decision-making process.

When Gloria Steinem brought gender to the fore of debate in a widely discussed New York Times editorial last January, she painted a telling hypothetical picture. Take Obama's past experience, she wrote, and change sexes- Achola Obama as opposed to Barack- and you will come up with a political ticket going nowhere. Regardless of our political leanings, many of us had to admit it was a good point. That, however, was in January.

Now with Sarah Palin, an arguably less experienced and more problematic candidate than the hypothetical Achola Obama in the mix, we must ask once again: just how comfortable are we with female leaders? How will our expectations of a 'female leader' as opposed, simply to a 'leader,' color our ballots this November?

As more and more information trickles in regarding Palin's personal life, I cannot help but wonder— how would we react if she were male? Would the debate surrounding her daughter's teen pregnancy be nearly as vocal? Would her physical beauty be mentioned with such avid frequency?

One aspect in this hypothetical can be nearly certain. If Palin were male, the fact that she recently gave birth to an infant with Down syndrome would most likely be a blip on the radar- a talking point to induce empathy and garner votes rather than a reason not to run for VP. Only one week into her candidacy we have all likely heard the same refrain. Often laced with incredulity, it is this: "How can she think of running for office when she has a baby to take care of?"

In terms of logistics, there is only one answer: Palin can think of running for office in the exact same way a man with an infant can think of running for office. Perhaps she will have to confront some extra decisions, such as whether or not she will have the time or desire to breastfeed during intensive campaigning, but these are not insurmountable obstacles. This however, is not just a question of logistics. It is a question of how we define 'politician' and how we define 'mother' and just how willing we are to let the two cozy up together.

The case of Palin is just one example of the ways our ideas about gender will influence politics in the years to come. Whether we are talking about Hillary Clinton crying during a speech, the fashion choices of Michelle Obama, or the intersections of Palin's personal and professes ional lives, gender is there. It is our job as voters, at the very least, to begin to acknowledge and understand this force in our political consciousness.

by Juliana Sloane