Mary: December 2003 Archives

An obscure item in the news...

| | Comments (3)

I don't know how many people noticed the news yesterday regarding the discovery of a reticulated python measuring 48 feet 7 inches and weighing 984 pounds, or how many people thought much about it, but this is an amazing find. As a devotee of the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet and various nature shows on PBS, I know this snake blows away the conventional wisdom regarding how large these snakes, or any snakes, can become.

Doing a quick Google search, I find everywhere the claim that the reticulated python, considered to be the longest snake in the world, can grow to a length of up to 33 feet and weigh as much as 320 pounds. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest snake ever measured (another reticulated python) was discovered in 1912 and was 32 feet 10 inches long.

While the reticulated python of southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands holds the official record as the world's longest snake, the anaconda of South America weighs more, having a larger girth. In 1944 a 37.5 foot anaconda was shot and measured by a petroleum geologist in Columbia, but the snake disappeared and its size couldn't be verified. There are apocryphal tales of giant anacondas reaching up to 80 feet in length, but such claims are considered to be myth rather than fact. Skins of anacondas have been found for sale in South America that have measured more than 33 feet, but they were probably stretched to bring a higher price.

Some wildlife experts believe no anacondas approaching thirty feet exist in the wild anymore; that they've been hunted for trophies and for sale to zoos, and that prey is no longer plentiful enough to support snakes this size.

This reticulated python, though, is proof that the world still contains places so remote and unknown that wonders can be found. The story accompanying the snake is even more amazing. According to Reuters:

Darmanto found the reticulated python last year on Sumatra island, where it had been caught and kept in captivity by villagers.

But it took months to get permission from the villagers, who revered the creature, to bring it to Java.

"It was seen as the ruler of the Kubu tribe. So, we had to go by the book and the tourism authorities had to ask for it," Darmanto said.

The Kubu tribe live in the jungles of southern Sumatra and shun encounters with the modern world.

The sad part of this story, of course, is that the python is now in captivity. I wish they'd take it back to the jungle and let it go. I hope the habitat is much larger than what we see of it in this picture. I hope it has lots of vegetation to approximate the snake's natural surroundings. I know it will be fed well (four or five dogs a month, according to the story), but will that make up for the loss of freedom? For once being the ruler of the Kubu tribe? I doubt it.

UPDATE: Not nearly as big as claimed. Not a record. Still a big snake, though.

Merry Christmas everybody

| | Comments (6)

This has been a great Christmas. Proof again, though, of the consequences of asking for something for Christmas. I told my mother I'd like a nice box of chocolates--something she could easily order from a catalogue; she's eighty-one years old--and I now have seven boxes of chocolates: four from my mother, three from my brother and his wife.

I bought my son a guitar and some teach-yourself materials and a couple of songbooks to start him out: John Denver and Bob Dylan. He surprised me with a thing of beauty: a Japanese tea set from a specialty store in an upscale mall. (Again this month he won about $300 playing poker; his friends and I all benefited.)

We've had some fun in the kitchen again this year. Mike requested ham for Christmas, baked a la Alton Brown, so we made a fine mess crushing ginger snaps and spraying bourbon from a small spray bottle otherwise used when ironing clothes.

I had picked up a bottle of Virginia Gentleman bourbon for the recipe, which is fairly cheap and tastes fine to me. To be honest, I can't tell the difference between this and twelve-year-old scotch. I asked Mike to pour a little of the bourbon into the spray bottle, and he proceeded to fill it, remarking as he did so that he had tried Virginia Gentleman bourbon and didn't like it. Nothing about this statement surprised me. VG is apparently "The Drink" of the student body at UVA (another thing they don't tell parents at Orientation), and all such beverages are an acquired taste.

Mike had poured several ounces of bourbon into the spray bottle, and only a tablespoon or so was required to coat the ham. When I suggested we pour the rest back into the bottle he balked and said "Just pour yourself a drink." I did pour it into a glass later in the evening, but I was sorely tempted to sit in front of the TV and spray bourbon directly into my mouth.

Hey Liz, I thought of you often during the day--hope you're having a good time in Flagstaff.

I like Howard Dean a lot. Really. And if he becomes the democratic candidate, I certainly will vote for him. But I'm afraid. I'm afraid of waking up on the morning after the election with that sick feeling of defeat that I've experienced so many times. So what follows here is an explanation of my fear that Dean will win the nomination. And although I'm predicting disaster if he does, I will be the happiest person on the planet if he goes on to win the general election. Even though it will mean that I was dead wrong. I'll say: yup, yup, I was really full of it, wasn't I? What a great feeling.

My father-in-law voted for Reagan because Reagan shook his hand in a parking lot one day. That was the sole reason; he seemed like a great guy. If ever a man should have been a democrat, it was my father-in-law. He worked as a parking lot attendant for thirty years. When asked about retirement he would brush it off with "Aww, the company will take care of me." This quaint belief in the largesse of "the company" was an idea he apparently brought with him when he moved to this country from England at the age of 17. As it turned out, the company that owned and operated the parking lots he attended did nothing to "take care of him"-- he lived on social security after his retirement.

And yet, he voted for Reagan. Twice. And he voted for Bush Sr., because there was no freaking way he would ever have voted for the puny wimp who ran against him.

My late husband voted for Reagan because Reagan was ahead in the polls on Election Day. His reasoning was "I figured he was going to win anyway, so I voted for him as a show of support." I believe the real motivation was fear: fear of voting for a loser and thus becoming a loser himself by proxy. And so his voting strategy was to make up his mind at the last minute, based on the polls.

We all know that Bush will get a good turnout from his base, and that the democratic candidate will have to match that. And we know that the democratic base is racially diverse and that the candidate will have to get strong support from the minority community to win.

But aside from the loyal democratic and republican voters, there is a vast pool of voters who are up for grabs, and who vote for stupid reasons. You don't hear strategists or commentators say this, but they know it. There are voters who vote for the tallest candidate because they don't want our president to be dwarfed by foreign leaders. There are voters who vote for whoever is ahead in the polls because they want to feel like members of the winning team. There are voters who will simply choose the candidate who seems like a great guy. To win this pool of voters a candidate has to be likable, optimistic, tall, and have good hair. When was the last time we had a short president? A bald president? A president who wore glasses in public? Not since the invention of TV.

If a candidate appeals to this pool of voters and gets the solid support of the party base, he'll win. The republicans figured this out, which is why they chose a candidate who is laughably unqualified, but gee, isn't he a great guy? I'm sure I'm no more cynical than Karl Rove, who, as he was stuffing the front of Dubya's flight suit, was probably humming this little ditty:

One extra sock
For one percent more
Of the popular vote
In 2004

We know that Dean has the passionate support of a segment of the white portion of the democratic base-- people who wouldn't vote for Bush if the two names on the ballot were Bush and Darth Vader. Maybe he can win over the minority community, if he chooses his vp well. But what about the "undecideds"? Given a choice between Bush and Dean, it's Bush by a landslide.

Let down by That Old Ace in the Hole


Last night I finished reading Annie Proulx's book That Old Ace in the Hole. I felt let down by it, but I know it's because my expectations were so high. Her earlier book The Shipping News is one of my all-time favorites, and I had hoped that Ace would be as good. Unfortunately the same recipe didn't turn out quite as well the second time.

But it was too much, or too soon, to expect her to repeat her earlier success; after all, TSN won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. The two books have similar main characters: men who have grown up in miserable circumstances and landed in godawful jobs due to downtrodden spirits and a general lack of direction. In TSN a history of the part of Newfoundland in which much of the book takes place provides a colorful background for the saga of the main character, Quoyle, whereas in Ace the history of the Texas panhandle seems to become the focus of the book, and the story of the main character, Bob, becomes an aside.

In TSN Proulx quickly takes the reader through Quoyle's development from boy to man, and we understand that he is what he is because he was what he was as a kid. In Ace, Bob's reason for thinking the way he does is less obvious; Proulx keeps telling us that he thinks this or that because of his abandonment as a child, but it seems forced.

That's not my main complaint though. In TSN Quoyle goes through a fundamental change: he manages to dig deep within himself and dredge up a small measure of self-respect that is all he needs to finally triumph by simply becoming happy. At the end of Ace, which is highly contrived, it's not clear that the character has really learned anything or grown in a significant way. His circumstances have changed and there is a glimmer of hope that he will be happier now, but if so it will be because of changes that took place around him, not within him. In Quoyle's case the changes that have taken place within him leave the reader feeling assured that he now has the emotional fortitude to continue to be happy regardless of the curveballs life will throw at him.

Aside from this, there are other ingredients in TSN that make it such a great read. Each chapter begins with the description of a nautical knot that seems strangely apropos as a description of the next stage of Quoyle's life. In fact this literary device was the inspiration for my own decision to begin the first few entries of this blog with definitions of nautical terms. And TSN becomes laugh-out-loud funny when Quoyle, having gone to work for a newspaper, begins to narrate his life as a series of improbable headlines.

So I guess Proulx is the victim of her early success, because although Ace is a good book, it's impossible not to compare it to TSN and be disappointed.

Anyway, after finishing Ace last night I picked up Three Junes, the first novel of Julia Glass. It won the National Book Award so I expect it to be a good read.

July 2012

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31        


Powered by Movable Type 4.12