'Dawn chorus'

Male blackbird emoting.

Male blackbird emoting.

The birds were singing very loudly this morning, in what ornithologists and others call the "dawn chorus.'' Given how cold it was this morning -- indeed, one of the coldest mornings of this generally very mild winter -- this might sound surprising, but the birds are reacting to the bright March sun, not the temperature. The dawn chorus is loudest in the spring. The noise is related to the birds trying to lure a mate, defend a breeding territory or call in the flock of members of the same species in the same neighborhood. Sounds very human....

I've long wished that New Year's Day came on March 1 instead of Jan. 1 because about now is when things start growing again in southern New England, at first slowly and with much hesitation but by late April, explosively. On Jan. 1, on the other hand, you can't look forward to different weather or visible outdoor biological change for weeks.

Lots of crocuses and snow drops came up and bloomed in the past week or two with the extraordinarily warm weather and now they're in frozen ground. But they're tough and they'll look good again by the the middle of this week when it gets into the fifties. Life is resilient, especially in New England, with the wild weather swings that go with being at the crossroads of such different climate zones.

A few folks around here say they heard some spring peepers (a kind of tiny frog) this past week -- very early in the season indeed. They'll be silent for a couple of days but I wouldn't be surprised if they're heard again in just a few days.

We're beyond this -- maybe

"Winter Blues'' (oil on canvas), by Nancy Whitcomb, in the show From "Wit and Whimsy (Nancy Whitcomb) to Underwater Photography" (Neil Greenspan, M.D.) at the Gallery at Temple Habonim, Barrrington, R.I., March 4-May 5. Artists' reception Sunday, March 6, 1-3 p.m. 

Temperatures may reach close to 70 this coming week, and we've had  a very mlld winter, except for a couple of days of record lows last month. But  blizzards  can descend on us in March -- most famously the Blizzard of '88 (1888), which paralyzed the Northeast for days, and three big snowstorms in a week in March 1956.

Still, that the crocuses are blooming in south-facing places raises one's hopes. Soon we'll enjoy the sweet melancholy of spring fever, which has always reminded me of the similar mood created by Indian Summer, in late October and early November.

--- Robert Whitcomb

Tough flowers; facing Putin's fascist mobocracy

March 22, 2014

The ground is mostly open, if brown, except for some old clumps of dirty snow. Last year's oak leaves crinkle in the big old ugly trees, waiting to be pushed out by the new crop. Anyway, if we get two days of 60 degrees, the greenery on the ground will explode. The stuff higher up will take longer, of course.

It never ceases to amaze me that even with it below freezing at night, the green shoots of bulb flowers keep pushing up. On a south-facing slope two weeks ago, I saw crocuses starting to bloom  even though it had been 10 above a couple of nights before.

The older I get, the more I like walking in the very early morning, not long after dawn. It's so quiet and unpeopled that the direction of one's life and even the world in general suddenly becomes clearer.

I think about geo-politics, and these days about how the Cold War never really went away (not that I thought it did) -- and that some countries, such as Russia, are run by gangsters who make plans with the assumption that nations that should be their forthright foes will put off a strong response to the gangsters with the always doomed hope that they can be satisfied.  For gangster leaders, no  quantity of power and money is ever enough.

More attention should have been  paid to Putin's statement a few years back that the collapse of the Soviet Union "was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century.'' The Soviet Union was responsible for killing tens of millions of people. But then, there's little indication that former KGB man Putin has anything against killing, whatever the retention of power requires.

With Putin's promises not to invade more countries, I think of Hitler's vow at Munich in September 1938, as the British and French were giving him Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland -- "This is my last territorial demand in Europe.'' He marched into the rest of Czechoslovakia a few months  later and invaded Poland in September 1939.

Of course, as with Putin "rescuing Russians'' who didn't previously seem to need rescuing by  the mobster Russian regime, Hitler had to "rescue'' the German speakers in the Sudetenland and put them under the "protection'' of his psychopathic regime. Putin is eyeing the rest of the Ukraine and the Baltic Republics for similar rescues.

Because of  his vast narcissism, cynicism and power drive, Eastern Europe has much cause to be worried unless the soft European Union shows some backbone. But there is one thing that the current Kremlin has much more to fear from than the Soviet regime did. The Russian government and the billionaire oligarchs (but I repeat myself!) have far more investments in the West than the Soviets had.  And despite the oligarchs' claims of being Russian (or at least Putin) patriots (claims necessary to avoid being brought down, or even dumped in the river, by Putin's boys) they'd much rather have their money  in the vibrant West than under the current cold Russian fascist dictatorship where policies are set by the whim of Putin and his associates. Russian businessmen and pols (and they are often the same thing) can be squeezed hard if the West has the will to do so.

I also think that the Russian aggression should help pull European heads out of the sand on renewable energy. The Europeans import far too much gas and oil from Russia, which is so corrupt and inefficient, and so lacking in the rule of law, that extractive industry comprises most of  the profits in its economy. It is less and less an attractive place to do business.  Loyalty to Putin, not creativity, is what counts.

So the  more Western and Central European renewable energy the weaker the mobsters in Moscow.


Ukraine and the Sudetenland


March 2, 2014

Gray but at least not very cold morning.  A little bit of drizzle. A couple of layers of rock salt and sand on the roads. Some of the ground around the trees unfrozen. Stored-up heat from yesterday's sunlight?

Lots of potholes on the roads. Will Providence's mayor, Angel Taveras, fill enough of them fast enough  to avoid lethally damaging his run for governor? How many broken axles can he take?

Happy to hear that we won't get the snowstorm that had been promised for tonight and tomorrow. But heard little birdsong this morning. No bright sun to get the feathered bastards excited.

In some years, plenty of crocuses out by now in sunny spots.  But on this year's tundra, we will have to wait,  I would guess, until the end of next week. Perhaps the big rainstorm that some meteos see coming up the coast at the of end of this week will unfreeze the ground enough to speed things along.

Meanwhile, about five more degrees this morning and the worms will be wiggling in the compost bin.

Russian dictator and former KGB official Vlad Putin is doing to Ukraine what Hitler did to Czechoslovakia: Using the excuse of "rescuing''  his "compatriots'' (if that's what Russian-speaking Ukrainians are)  to try to bring a whole democratic country to heel.

In Hitler's case, he used the  bogus "plight'' of ethnic/linguistic Germans living in the Sudetenland strip of democratic Czechoslovakia as an excuse to take over that country after it was betrayed by France and Britain as then-isolationist America looked on.

Now we have further proof that Putin's occasionally murderous regime is also an imperialist and fascist one. We had plenty of proof already.

Will the European Union do anything? Has the Europeans' relentless  military disarmament emboldened the Russian dictator to follow Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin and create a new empire, or rather reconstitute the Soviet one in the form of a fascist and xenophobic one?

As when the Russians invaded Hungary in 1956 (when Republican Eisenhower was U.S. president) and Czechoslovakia in 1968 (when Democrat and Vietnam-distracted Lyndon Johnson was president) to impose its will, so apparently it is doing now in Ukraine.

Of course, whatever the rhetoric, the West can do little in the short term to stop the Russians, though it would be nice to think that we could ship the Ukrainians some arms. But then, other than risk World War III, we could do little immediately in '56 and '68, despite the demands of conservative Republicans that we "roll back the Iron Curtain.''

But the Russian economy, whose only really successful part is oil and gas exports, is very vulnerable to long-term economic sanctions -- if the Europeans can summon up more courage and persistence that they have shown lately.

The first thing  powerful thing we can do is to start freezing Russian assets in the U.S. (much of them produced from criminal activities anyway) and revoke the visas of Russian officials and businesspersons. Hit the Putin regime very hard in the pocketbook.

And let's hope that we not only take strong measures to thwart cyber-attacks on the Ukrainians, the Western Europeans and us during Russia's invasion of Ukraine but also go on the offensive to do everything possible to make Putin's invasion painful to his regime, which presides over what is in many ways a very fragile, if geographically vast, nation.

Of course, with Putin pal and Moscow resident Edward Snowden probably continuing to feed U.S. systems information to the Kremlin that will be more difficult than it would have been a couple of years ago. (Why oh why has Snowden, who took his information first to the Chinese communist dictatorship and then to the fascist one in the Kremlin been presented as some sort of a hero? )

But America, as an innovative and open society, has far more creativity than does the profoundly corrupt and paranoid Russia ruled by Putin. In the end, we can outsmart it.

respond via rwhitcomb51@gmail.